Thursday, May 11, 2017

"At least I got a man."

When I was a teenager I remember being at church and there was a girl there teasing me. I can't even remember exactly what she was making fun of me for but I remember at the end she said "You might be smarter than me but at least I got a man."

As soon as she said that everyone around us started laughing and saying things like "that's true," and other stupid comments. I walked away from her feeling like I had just been hardcore shamed, like my intelligence was something but nothing compared to the fact that this girl had a 'man.'

The other day I had a deja vu moment with one of my friends, a moment that took me back to being a shamed kid at church. This person is someone that I consider to be extremely intelligent, successful and on their way to even bigger success.We were texting about our lives and things that we're doing currently and at one point she said "Well you're still doing better than me because you have a man now."

When I read her message I was dumbfounded. I sat there just reading the message over and over again and I couldn't help but to laugh. Why is it that being in a relationship determines how well someone is doing?  I sat there thinking about her, someone that I look up to so much and felt so sad that she thinks that I'm in anyway doing better than she is simply because I'm dating someone and she's not.

For the last five months or so I've talked a lot about my relationship, it's really hard not to. Patrick is my first boyfriend and we spend a lot of time together. Patrick is an amazing human and friend and I just want to tell everyone about him. Being with him has added even more joy to my life than was there before, he's an answer to prayer.

Let me say this though if for some reason, God forbid, Patrick and I broke up my worth on this earth wouldn't change.

As an educator that works a lot with teenage girls, this is an issue that is very close to my heart. I see girls everyday, ones that are running from relationship to relationship trying to find worth and meaning in this world. They're reaching for dirty hands and unattainable hearts hoping to find belonging and acceptance through their relationship status and I know how it feels.

Even though I grew up with a present and loving father and amazing brothers, when I went to college and got a taste of the rat race of false love I was addicted to the attention. It's only by God's grace that I didn't end up sleeping with some no good man and really changing the trajectory of my life.

I'm saying all of this to say, that I am so proud to be a woman. I am proud to be made in the image of Christ and to be a portrait of his creativity and goodness and my identity and my worth is firmly rooted in that. I'm proud of the places I've been, the stories I've walked through and also the many lives that I've been able to impact through work.

If Patrick and I get married then I think part of my identity will change. Being married will require so much more commitment from us than just being in a relationship and with a name change, moving in together and the merging of families we'll become one. Even when that happens, the greatest and most enriching part of my identity will still be in who I am in Christ.

I've written about this before but society often tells us that as women we haven't fully made it until someone wants us, marries us and makes us their own. Today I want to tell you that you're wanted, you're cherished and you're loved. You're loved by someone that will never leave you, never fail you and never forsake you until the end of age. God is that someone. If you're single and someone throws it in your face than dear just let me remind you that you always have God and he's not an "at least" he's more than enough.

"If you are not attaching your identity to the unshakable love of your savior, you will ask the things in your life to be your savior and it will never happen." - Paul David Tripp

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Your deadly comfort.

On the last day of April my pastor preached part two of a message called 'Simplify.' He talked about our time being one of the most important things we have and that the way we fill our minutes before we know it evolves into the way we fill our life. The take away and what really struck a chord with me is that we need to focus more on who we want to become and less on what needs to get done.

As I sat there listening to his words my planner flashed before my eyes. All of the color coded plans and clearly outlined appointments played like a slideshow in my mind. My calendar is filled with things that need to get done, tasks upon tasks upon arguably meaningless tasks.

As I sat there thinking about the person that I want to become I realized that the things currently on my to do list don't add to my big picture. A few years ago I created a mission statement for my life, the idea behind it being that I would weigh my actions, my decisions and my weekly tasks against it. It would become the measure by which I would weigh my life. Today as I sit here I don't even remember what that mission is or even where I wrote it down.

Sitting in my warm seat at church I was slapped with the realization that I wasn't optimizing my time and dare I say it out loud that I was comfortable with my life.

One of my friends has a shirt that says "Comfort wants you dead," and it's a phrase that for the past week has been on my mind. As my minutes become my hours and my hours my days and my days my life, I see a recent string of comfortable days. Days where I push just enough, or lean in just enough to do a good job but not enough to break molds. Molds like the one I'm comfortably housed in right now.

My comfort zone, though safe is slowly killing me. Killing the passion in me that thrives on new situations. Situations where I give a little more, love a little deeper and push myself just ever so slightly pass my normal stopping point.

This week I decided to make one slight change to my schedule. I set my alarm for 15 minutes earlier than my normal wake up time so that I can spend quality, uninterrupted time with Christ. It's a small and ever so slight change but the peace that it's brought to my week has been incredible. If I look at my planner and the circumstances that I was faced with this week, the outcome should have been unrest but instead it was peace.

I used the first 15 minutes, just 15 minutes, of my day differently and it affected the entire trajectory of my week. In the days to come I'm planning to look at my schedule even closer, with the goal being to subtract and minimize things and tasks that are unnecessary and aren't adding value to my life.

I'm also going to recreate the mission statement of my life and set myself back on a path of growth and discovery, back on the path of life.

If you only take one thing away from this post I hope it's the truth that your comfort zone may be safe but it's not beneficial. Comfort is not a place where we can thrive or grow. In order to do more and to get closer to the person that we so desire to be we have to take a step outside of and away from what's familiar. A step outside of our deadly comfort.

"In this world you're either dying or your growing so get in motion and grow." Lou Holtz

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My first 40 days.

This year I decided to do lent for the first time. For some reason when the opportunity presented itself and I had the chance to give up all of my favorite things for an extended amount of time, I took it.

For 40 days I gave up coffee, candy, social media and alcohol. I wish I could say that the hardest part was the no coffee but lets be real, it was giving up candy.

Before this year I didn't really know much about Lent. Growing up my family wasn't big on Easter, we would go to church the weekend of but besides that we wouldn't do Easter egg hunts, or baskets or anything. I grew up with the sense that Easter was another holiday that society capitalized on but didn't truly understand.

The last 40 or so days have changed my entire view of this season. Easter is more than just another day out of the 365 that we get each year. The concept, the truth behind Easter, is the foundation of the Christian faith.

For those who aren't super familiar, the 40 days leading up to Easter, lent, is meant to model the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. The bible says that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness and he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and when it was over he was tempted by the devil. Hebrews says that because Jesus suffered and was tempted he is able to help us when we are tempted.

On Easter Sunday, as I sang a set of worship songs to a congregation full of people the truth of Easter reverberated in my soul. I realized that regardless of what we add to the day, how we enhance it and make it marketable, Easter is and will always be about Jesus.

Lent for me was not about just taking a break from things that I enjoy. It wasn't about forcing myself to stop going on Facebook and to lay off the candy for a few weeks. Lent helped me to be able to narrow my focus, It took away the heavy distractions and clutter that often fogged my view. Lent pulled away the junk in my life and pointed me straight to the giver of life, it pointed me to Christ.

Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's what happened after the disciples saw Jesus hanging on a cross, crucified. Jesus, their hope for the future, was gone. The messiah had seemingly been defeated and death had won.

The truth though is that death is defeated and Christ is risen. He rose again on the third day and renewed the disciples hope in him as their savior and as the savior of all mankind. The darkness of the weekend and the sight of him hanging from a tree was erased by the joy of seeing him again in all of his honor and glory.

Easter is so much more than just pastel colors and packed church services. Lent reminded me that the resurrection is the Christian story. It's the three years that Jesus spent preaching and reaching out to the lost coming to an abrupt halt and then beauty, glorious beauty, being born from the ashes.

Lent was the path that I needed to take to become truly connected to the Easter story. It was the defining moment that made Easter not just another bible story but rather the moment in history that makes everything that I believe in truth.

"If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn't rise from the dead then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything stands is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead."  - Tim Keller

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The happiness of a Patriots fan.

I've been a Patriots fan for as long as I can remember. Growing up my brothers, all 5 of them and my dad, loved the Redskins. It seemed like the Redskins were the Magloire family football team but I never seemed to develop a liking for them. Instead, I gravitated towards the team with a coach that never smiled and a sixth round quarterback draft pick from California.

Before I even knew what it meant to be a fan of anything I was a fan of the Patriots. I didn't really know what I was doing as far as being a football fan was concerned. Eventually, I figured that I just needed to model the behavior that my brothers displayed.

So I would look up stats and players names and I would watch games and make noise when we scored a touchdown and make noise when we got scored on. I figured if I was constantly making noise during a game I was doing something right.

Now that I live in Denver, I often get slack from people about the team I like. The most common things I hear are "But wait, you're not even from New England," or my personal favorite "Oh great, another bandwagon fan."

I love football and I love being a Patriots fan but during the Super Bowl I had a moment that forced me to take a look at myself and be reminded that it's just a game.

Picture this, there I was on Super Bowl Sunday, eight minutes left in the fourth quarter and I was sobbing. I was sitting there crying so hard, not at all embarrassed because I thought the Patriots were going to lose. My friends all laughed at me and called me ridiculous and I just sat there crushed. Feeling like the game was so important, like the Patriots really needed to win or my life would be affected in some major way.

For every game that is lost in football there's a coach, a team, investors and a few others that are greatly affected. It changes the trajectory of their season, whether they go into the playoffs or not and for some players it affects whether they're able to even stay in the league. When the Patriots lose, nothing in my life changes. I wake up the next day, the same as I did the day before and I continue going on with my life.

The truth is, for the majority of us Football fans, besides our emotional state being altered for a few hours, our lives don't change at all by the results of these games. Yet there we are, crying,  in a room filled with people we love because we think that a game might not end the way we want it too.

Super Bowl Sunday was kind of a reality check for me. It was like I had an out-of-body experience by seeing my behavior through my friends eyes. Is football really that important to me?The answer, is that it's not.

What's really important to me, one of the things that I want people to see me engaging in passionate conversations over and fighting for, is education.

So many of the students that I work with want to play in the NFL or the NBA. They want to be famous singers and rappers, they want to drive Ferrari's and live in mansions in LA and a lot of that is far fetched for 99.9% of them. What shouldn't be a far fetched dream though, is for them to be able to go to a high school in their neighborhood that offers them a rich education geared towards their learning styles.

I want to yell and raise a ruckus about things like that. About all of the thousands of  under served and disadvantaged youth in this country and my city, that don't have access to the opportunities they deserve. For kids from low income families that aren't able to get an education that gives them a chance to have a better life. One that is better than the one their parents had and equips them with the tools they need to break the cycle of poverty.

Football is often as simple as win or lose and maybe that's what I love about it. There are four quarters, a slight chance of overtime but regardless it always ends with someone winning and someone losing. Education, on the other hand, may not be as simple but it's undoubtedly more important.

I firmly believe that I was made to help youth. Made to support them in their struggles and provide them with the resources that are often just out of their grasp. Football brings me happiness but education and being a bridge for students in that way, that's what brings me real joy.

I'll probably still watch football next season. I may buy a jersey and even try to get tickets for the Patriots vs Broncos game. What I won't do, is forget how small it all is. In the grand scheme of things and the big picture of my life the Patriots are just a team and football is and will always be, just a game.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Leotards, body image and me.

"Okay Nikki, go grab a leotard and a pair of tights, put them on in the dressing room and meet us in rehearsal room 1."

It was my first day of dance class and very quickly my excitement turned into dread.

"I'm supposed to just wear this, in front of everyone," I thought to myself as I picked up the black leotard and the darkest pair of tights I could find and headed in to the dressing room.

Growing up, I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I wanted to be taller, have straight hair, have a smaller waist and didn't want to be the biggest girl in a leotard in a room filled with ballet dancers.

I started taking dance classes because it was something I had always wanted to do. My best friend was a dancer and if I started taking classes we would be able to do it together. I never really thought about how it would make me feel about my body. Where it should have made me feel strong and capable, it instead led me to thinking that I was the DUFD of the group...the designated, ugly, fat, dancer.

The mind is a powerful place. It can grab hold of your attention, warp your reality and make you to believe that this flesh that you live in, is not just your home but also your worth. That the number on the scale and the size on the dress determines how good you are and how much value you add to the world.

Instead of basking in the joy of being a dancer, I often drowned in the weight of not feeling like I leveled up. Like the dance room was a place I never belonged and dancer was a title that was never meant for me.

Have you ever felt like that? Like your looks disqualified you from fitting in or doing something that you really loved?  A feeling that your mind grabs hold of and instead of replacing it with truth, enforces the lies and cements them as facts.

I haven't taken a dance class in over 5 years but my mind is still often visited by the lies. The lies that I'm not skinny enough, that my body doesn't fit the mold, that I need to work harder and eat less. That I'll never measure up and who I am will never compare to our world's standard of beauty.

The beauty of it all, something that it took me years to learn, is that the world does not determine my worth or what makes me beautiful. The bible says in Psalms 139:14  "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works."

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. When the truth of that statement grabbed a hold of my soul it changed the course of my thoughts. I'm not a dress size or a number on the scale. I'm an educator, a daughter, a writer, a singer, a sister, an aunt and most importantly a fearfully and wonderfully made child of God.

My body is not something that I work against anymore but rather something that I work with. The food I eat is fuel for me to be able to have the energy to impact the lives of student, pour into friendships and relationships and to live a vibrant, Christ focused and joy filled life.

My body doesn't define me. It doesn't determine my worth or the value that I bring to this world and your body doesn't determine your value either. Marvelous are the works of God, every single one of them and that my friend, is truth.

"I will shed all of this skin, down to the very bone beneath it, if that's what it will take for you to come to the realization that appearance is not what makes a human beautiful."

Thursday, March 30, 2017

More soul, more heart.

The words will fall out of me
like rain from the sky.
Each letter playing it's part
to form the words
that can't wait to be heard
can't wait to be said.

The mind stops us
from looking silly
from making mistakes
it also can stop us from setting someone free
from opening the gate that guards the heart

Sometimes we need less mind
less holding back
more soul
more openness
more heart.

Writing for me is easy. I can put my feelings in a letter or in a text. I can outline a blog and convey my thoughts in a way that is clear where my intentions are easy to understand.

When it comes to speaking, it's not as simple. I think a little too much, reword a bit too often and more likely than not I can utter a sarcastic comment quicker than I can get a loving word to free itself from my tongue.

I wrote the opening poem about two weeks or so after I started dating Patrick. The beginning of our relationship was such a whirlwind. I had never met someone like him before, never had someone be so open about their feelings and their intentions. Where he would openly share a piece of his heart I would share a stale smile or an awkward giggle, never knowing how to fully put my feelings into words.

His patience and consistency has made disclosing my feelings easier but even after four months together and months of 'I love you's' it's still not exactly easy.

That's the cool thing about love though, it's not easy. It's also not exactly hard. It's uncomfortable and challenging and a growing experience. Love, I've learned, will stretch you and teach you and push you to be a better version of yourself.

It's not two pieces fitting perfectly together with no adjustments or additions needed. It's two imperfect people coming together despite their flaws and trying to build something beautiful.

Yes, I struggle saying the words, initiating the cuteness and the heart moments but I do it. I do it because I know how amazing it feels when Patrick is open and vulnerable with me, it makes me feel like he trusts me. Like he trusts me to safe guard his words and to not return his investment with empty stares and completely opposite feelings.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I need to try. Try a bit harder to step outside of my comfort zone and invest in a relationship that really matters to me. Try to utter the words that are often difficult to say but are without a doubt felt. Words that convey my trust in him, in his consistency and his integrity. Words that share just a little bit more soul and a lot more heart.

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. " - C.S. Lewis.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The importance of representation.

This week I went on one of my first field trips in years. Myself and a few of my colleagues took a group of thirty high school students on a trip to the Denver Police Department and it was awesome.

DPD is one of the many groups that sends their staff to mentor in our classrooms. Out of the 30 students that we took, about ten or so of them have mentors that are cops. It was such a positive and inspiring experience because having cops as their mentors has completely changed their perception of law enforcement. Where these students once saw just a badge and someone who saw them as only a nuisance, they now see a mentor, friend and a role model. 

Something that really impacted me from the experience was meeting the Executive Director of safety for Denver. The person that holds this position is in charge of over seeing everything that has to do with safety in Denver, that includes fire, police and the sheriffs department. Pretty much the Executive Director is the head honcho, the main boss and all around a big deal and surprisingly to me an African American woman. 

When Executive Director O'Malley, stood in front of us and started welcoming us and sharing about her role and responsibilities, I was mystified. It was so cool to see someone that looked like me and like a lot of the female students that we brought on the trip, holding the highest position in the building and one of the highest positions in the city. I hung on to every word that she shared and when she finished I sat back in my chair feeling like I had just experienced something really important. 

When the field trip wrapped up and I walked my group of students back to the train I was deeply moved by the conversations that I overheard.

"I think I want to be a cop someday," one girl said, " I think I want to be like the Director of safety," another young lady shared. Where they once struggled to see possibilities, they now saw themselves represented clear as day. 

It is so important for young people of color to see themselves portrayed in high profile jobs and in the media. I am overjoyed that kids that are in school right now are able to grow up having lived through the tenure of our first black president. I'm excited that young ladies are able to see the first African American Bachelorette. More than anything, I'm elated over that fact that my students are able to see people of color holding offices that are impacting their communities. 

Mentioning the Bachelorette makes me feel a little silly but honestly I do think that this is monumental for young women of color. For them to turn on their televisions and turn to one of the most popular shows in this country and see someone who is educated, wise, beautiful, composed AND looks like them...that's important. 

Representation is a necessity. I was reminded of the importance of that this week. Growing up I so wanted to be a doctor and when I got to college and the road was rougher than I thought, I dropped that dream like a hot plate. This week was the first time, since changing my major and exploring different career options, that I wondered if my choices could have been different. If I had grown up being mentored by a woman of color that was a doctor or if I had a doctor that was a person of color, would I have made a different choice? 

Would I have tried harder? Where I saw uncertainty and the impossible would I have thought of her and seen a tangible example of hope? It's hard to tell and since I love what I do so much, I honestly don't want to spend too much time thinking about it. What I do know, is that walking to the Police station none of my girls mentioned wanting to go into Public safety or any career for that matter but on the walk back, they all did. 

There is power in thinking about your dream job and being able to recall a memory of people who walk like, talk like and look like you in those positions. There's a confidence that comes and I think in your subconscious a switch is flipped and it tells you that people who look like you have done it and so can you. 

Representation is an essential step in giving young people of color the proper tools to be able to achieve their goals. It's the black president, the first Latina Justice on the Supreme court, it's the African American woman saving NASA and the first Muslim American man winning an Oscar.

It's about giving young adults, both male and female, an image to focus on, one that mirrors who they are and what they can be. One that gives them hope, inspires them to dream and allows them to see themselves serving in any capacity that they wish.

I wish every adult that interacted with our students treated them the way that those cops did. They treated them like they were the future, like they had potential and like our city will be a better place because of each and every one of them. They showed them Officers, Commanders and Directors who looked like them. People who told them that the sky was the limit and I think for the first time in maybe their entire lives, our students could actually see it and without hesitation, believed it.