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."