Recently, as part of an assignment for a mentoring group I’m a part of, I had to answer the question “Who am I?” The assignment asked us to tell our personal and spiritual narratives but with a lens that understands how our stories can change and shift as part of our life’s journey. I thought I’d share what I wrote here.
In many ways, I’m still that bright eyed and bushy-tailed baby brown girl from Louisville, KY. I can’t shake her although, trust, I’ve tried. Oh have I tried! I’m a “Loo-a-vull” girl through and through. Born in what used to be Methodist Evangelical Hospital on Broadway. A “Redskin” graduate of Seneca High School who, despite my ability even at an early age to amplify and spark conversations about race and racism, still could not begin to comprehend the devastation and harm my school’s mascot inflicted on native and indigenous people. There were many intersections and complexities that sat just outside of my intellectual and spiritual reach back then.
I am deeply informed by my childhood in Louisville. And yet after finishing undergrad at the University of Kentucky in 1996 (only a slight deviation in my devotion to the Cardinal city), I couldn’t wait to leave. I couldn’t wait to run as far away from the bluegrass state as I possibly could. First to Chicago, then to the NYC area, and finally to Philadelphia. I was in pursuit of something even as God pursued me. Success? Sure. Love? Maybe. Independence? Definitely. One thing was for sure…I vowed never to return.
And so far, I have not.
I think I’ve had a lot of reasons over the years. As I get older and more willing to tell the truth about my journey, I find that my reasoning, my understanding, evolves. My early childhood in Louisville plays an illuminating role in, what author and speaker Glennon Doyle would call my brutiful (brutal and beautiful) life. Every memory is both painful and glorious. Each is a part of a story that is paradoxically unique and universal.
I experienced rejection in Louisville.
I lived through sexual abuse in Louisville.
I was bullied in Louisville.
I learned to wear a mask in Louisville.
I also met Jesus there.
I found the seed of my voice in Louisville.
My destiny of “story” began in Louisville.
So at my core, I’m a storyteller. The manifestations of that varies. 10 books. A film. A stage play. Numerous articles. Many speaking platforms. I’ve come to learn that the way my stories take shape, the method, the way they arrive are often only determined by the season, my level of skill, and who needs to hear it. That’s it. Today it might be a book, tomorrow a film, next year a series of blog posts. I’ve learned to be OK with God not really being all that interested in the mechanism as long as the message is His and serves His purpose.
I’ve also recently come to terms with the fact that at the core of my calling even as a storyteller is my identity as a kind of midwife. I not only tell and write stories but as a publisher, I facilitate other people birthing their own stories. As a professor, a teacher, I teach my students the skills they need to craft their stories well. As a mother, I help my daughter discover her own voice and define the early chapters of her story in a way that hopefully shifts the generational narrative of my family.
Here’s the thing though: I look around me daily and see all the gaps and injustices that exist. I see all kinds of need. My students come to class with all manner of trauma. My writers come with a heavy burden to share their hearts on the page. My own stories well up in me to the overflow. And yet—and this is my challenge–I have to work especially hard to see past the need and trauma—others and my own– to the abundance of brilliance we all have BECAUSE of those life experiences. This, despite the fact that I have seen God transform lives over and over again…including mine. I still have to force myself to see past the scarcity or deserted places that make up my perceived reality. So yes, I am that disciple of Jesus who he has to say to, on the regular, look again. Jesus regularly lays on my heart the command he gave to His disciples in Mark 6:37 of “You feed them” which always shifts my perspective. It helps me find my “act right” as my granny used to say.
In sum, I am a 42+ year old, unapologetically Black, Jesus-loving, mama-wife-sista creative who in this particular season has decided to be a disrupter in the Body of Christ; to eschew convention and norms and, like Abraham, just GO. Like Noah, just BUILD. Anxiety can’t stop me. PTSD can’t stop me. Fibromyalgia can’t stop me. Disappointment and shut doors can’t stop me. My steps are ordered so I suppose I’ll go ahead and see what the end is gonna be.