Blessed.

Who am I? But like………really?

It’s a question everyone wrestles through—in some junctures of life more than others—and it’s a question I’ve found myself asking a ton lately. Well, more than usual. I’m introspective by nature, so existential questions are kinda the norm for me.

But if you didn’t know me, and I tried to rattle off a quick “who I am” elevator pitch, these are the words I might be tempted to use. Weird. Abrasive. Intense. Eccentric. Outsider.

On the surface, I’m a person who knows the rules, looks the part, wears the mask, says the right answer, maintains the control. But deep inside, it’s like I never quite belong.

When I was younger, it became a source of frustration and confusion that my sharp, awkward edges just couldn’t seem to fuse with other people’s smoother, glossier, more acceptable fronts.

I was too clunky and barb-wired for anyone to experience at close range. And that was by design. It created an illusion, both of safety and rugged independence, but it came at a price—lost connection to myself. Decades thrust inside a linear prism of conformity when I was made to be less straight, more spiral, oblong, uncontained.

For awhile though, I’ve sensed this boxed-in life is not the “abundance” I hear God talk about on more than a few occasions in his book. So I posed my question to him one afternoon, not sure what I expected in return—maybe silence, maybe static, maybe a cliche sermon. What I didn’t bargain for was a question of his own.

“Alright, God. Who am I?” my voice, brash with skepticism, demanded of the heavens. And then I started to walk as if daring his answer to follow and pursue me. Which it did.

What’s your name?

I scoffed. “Umm…pointless detour in the conversation, God. You know my name. Weren’t you there when I received it?”

Daughter, what is your name?

Cue the melodramatic eye roll. “Fine, but this is just because I’m humoring you. Mary-Beth.”

Nope. Your real name…

“Mary-Elizabeth?”

Right. And why did your parents name you that?

I immediately flashed back to a discussion with my mom from several years earlier when I had pressed her on the same topic. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated being called Mary-Elizabeth, and I insisted on some context as to why she cursed me with the fate of a double name which took forever to break down for other people.

No. It’s not just Mary, and Elizabeth isn’t my middle name. Mary-Elizabeth is my first name. My whole first name. Two words hyphenated. I don’t have a middle name. And I’m not Irish Catholic either. My parents just figured they would make me sound like a 60-year-old nun. 

Welcome to my childhood.

Even though I was known as Mary-Beth for convenience sake, I decided as a precocious fourth-grader that my mom owed me an explanation for the headache that was my name. Why did it have to be so complicated? Why didn’t she choose Mary or Elizabeth? Why had I been doomed to both? So I asked her—and she told me a story.

More than 2000 years ago, there were two women living in the Middle East. They were cousins, and their names were Mary and Elizabeth. The girl Mary was just a teen, but God already had a radical purpose set in motion for her life, and Elizabeth knew it. So when Mary—pregnant with a son who would (casually) be Jesus the Messiah—visited her cousin, Elizabeth splayed her hands across the teenager’s stomach and announced, “Blessed are you among women!” 

That story comes from the Bible, and those powerhouse females are my namesake. But how is any of this relevant to the original question of “who am I?” Yeah, I wasn’t sure either.

Blessed among women. This is who you are. Your name says it all.

I stopped walking. My feet planted themselves on the concrete, and I glanced around in a daze. Did someone else hear that, or was it audible only to me? I mouthed the phase a couple times. Blessed. Among. Women. Testing it on my lips, tasting it in the back of my throat.

I shuffled home, absorbed in thought, and made a beeline for Google. I typed “blessed” into the searchbar and skimmed through the billion or so results. Sacred. Adored. Redeemed. Exalted. Beautified. Saved. In each result, this was the recurring pattern of words—could that be the definition of blessed among women?

Could that be, well………me?

This new question has sparked within me a voracious appetite for inner reflection. And I don’t mean in the navel-gazer sense. I mean, like I want to understand this human God created.

This desire for impact, connection, purpose and nonconformity that surges in her veins. This soul that craves acceptance but will not be hemmed into constructs of the world. This iconoclastic spirit with the hair of a lion, the eyes of a warrior, the heart of a nomad and the dreams of a hippie. This girl who is less of a Barbie Doll and more of just herself, who is required to earn nothing—not beauty, not dignity, not even identity.

Because I am blessed among women.

That’s the answer to who I am. The one responsible for making me declares it. Which is all the assurance I need.

(And I will most likely turn this into a tattoo somewhere down the line. Because my priorities are so intact.)

blessed

dear body…

in all our years together—two decades plus eight

i never said “thank you” for being constant and safe.

for this miraculous tangle of blood, skin and bone

this shelter for my heart, this home for my soul.

this flesh that can rupture, bruise and then heal

this lattice of imprints and imperfections revealed.

this face streaked with laughter and tears unabated

this frame that’s been tough yet frail and berated.

sometimes unsteady but always strong to endure

a bittersweet mural of both stories and scars.

body—you were resilient in spite of all my disdain

when i branded you a traitor, the root of my shame.

you are the warrior who fought to keep me alive

chest breathing, pulse beating and a will to survive.

i wanted to tame you and i ferociously tried

i ached just to separate, to denounce you as mine.

but you were a force, relentless, stormy and wild

you would not be conquered, outcast or exiled.

i made you the villain but no—you protect and defend

so for the first time: “thank you, my friend.”

 

 

An Elemental Manifesto

i am a seed anchored by the earth

i am a feather skimming the breeze

i am a vessel who dances on water

i am a spark awash in amber flames

my body is of the soil, my heart belongs to the sky

my vagabond spirit calls out to the rivers and seas

my russet brown eyes crackle with stardust and fire

my voice is tuned in to the rhythm of the wind

i am a creature of the elements

both above and below

outside the reaches of space

unclasped by the hands of time

fully human, shred of mystic

a piece of my soul in each world

but this terra which roots me

this ground that nourishes me

is not mine to call home

i was planted on earth, baptized in water

refined in fire, then unleashed on the cosmos

but my inheritance lies beyond the clouds

it’s there i am bound

there i am summoned

and there,

an elemental manifesto of heaven and nature combined,

i am destined to fly

 

what if…

brokenness and healing

can you evict the pain that barricades your world —

or does it just become the shadow of your soul?

the atoms in your skin, the marrow in your bones —

the chaos in your skull of questions and unknowns?

is that heartache who you are, all you can ever be —

the extent of this story, the whole identity?

does the fear which threatens to gnaw your insides clean —

rebel against the pretense of your cool smoke screen?

do those hollowed eyes mirror chinks in your bravado —

a vacuum in your heart that quivers in staccato?

but maybe that’s acceptable, could it be alright —

to expose these battle wounds in the direct sunlight?

if sorrow heals, and scarred remains soften into flesh —

can you be a human who is blemished and refreshed?

is the most you can hope for just to stay alive —

or might a chance exist that you were made to thrive?

instead of seizing a belief that you’re too foregone —

what if it’s the brokenness which makes you brave and strong?

She Used to Dream

sex trafficking

all she used to dream of was a future

honest wages for her family, a wide-eyed taste of opportunity

she boarded a plane on his words of assurance

that her life would improve once she criss-crossed the globe

but then promises turned counterfeit

and the neon lights of a new city faded to shadows of gray

he was in control now, an Armani suited pimp

she became his to command, as all her freedom disappeared

time no longer seemed to matter

as weeks stretched into months, and the earth reeled off its axis

a name erased from her grime-smeared face

the stamp of commodity on her bruised, starved, exploited body

her narrative is common, her affliction epidemic

another headline for consumption, another hashtag to retweet

yet these statistics fail to humanize

the person whose agency was taken, whose dignity was tarnished

injustice like that can asphyxiate the soul

but she is more than her ravaged hopes and crumbling spirit

her life is worth rescue, her freedom worth ransom

because the future she used to dream of is just what she deserves

 

Unity in Diversity: Embracing Our Differences in 2019

In the past two years, our nation has arguably suffered more blatant division and polarization than it has confronted in decades. And with a societal framework that has the capacity to turn partisan lines into bitter rivalries, we might fear those who are different than ourselves.

We might feel compelled to distrust our own neighbors, coworkers and even those we encounter in the grocery store aisles. If they don’t share our cultural norms and ideologies, too often, we’re tempted to view them with suspicion.

And still, many Americans are also determined to look prejudice right in the face. Sure, these institutionalized forms of bias have caused us to experience friction with one another, sometimes on implicit or unconscious levels. But the story doesn’t conclude here—it continues with a hope that we can rewrite the next chapter in love and acceptance of our equal humanity.

Instead of allowing our differences to thrust a wedge between us, we can choose another option. We can embrace the unity in this full-spectrum of diversity. The fact is, all humans are welcome at the table of community. Each of us represents a strand on the unique, vibrant, colorful tapestry that makes this nation an extraordinary place.

For that reason, the onus to resist discrimination is ours alone. We are accountable for harmonizing this country across all perspectives, backgrounds or affiliations. We can choose to treat one another with basic respect and dignity. We can resolve to change the discourse.

But we need to remember that people are defined in terms of their character and individualism—whether they are black or white, male or female, refugee or citizen, Muslim or Christian.

Socially constructed labels cannot begin to encapsulate the intricacies of a human soul. From the most powerful and affluent to the most overlooked or disenfranchised, we all add value. We all bear significance. We all can yield an impact. We all matter.

If these are intrinsic beliefs we strive to uphold about each other, then it’s time to mobilize some action behind the conviction. And as with any undertaking, it starts at the grassroots.

So we need to listen to the accounts of those who don’t share our worldviews and learn from those whose narratives we don’t know enough about. We need to start looking people in the eyes and affirming their worth instead of deflecting our attention from that which we don’t personally understand.

As stewards of the cultural fusion that is our American experiment, we need to behave like true United States. The well-being of future generations will depend on the harmony we reclaim in the present.

So as the lessons of 2018 become a launchpad for the possibilities of 2019, just imagine if our combined New Year’s resolution was to love each other with the radical, fanatical abandon of a movement poised to soften—and strengthen—the course of our history.

Politics aside, that is a cause we can all march behind.

unity in diversity

 

Why Do You Write Like You’re Running Out of Time?

write like you're running out of time

Two mind-blowing, earth-shattering weeks ago, I joined the ranks of people who have officially seen Hamilton.

And yeah, it’s just as phenomenal as what you’ve heard. But enough #humblebrags. There is a point to this besides me needing an excuse to talk about its genius. Although I will take advantage of the opportunity. No shame in this girl’s musical theatre game.

I knew that I would be enthralled and obsessed and astounded and moved to sloppy tears. I was right, of course. The stage mesmerizes me in ways I can never explain. And that soundtrack will forever blare inside my brain. But one detail of Hamilton has stuck with me in particular—the sheer force of language, the depth and soul of words.

They’re like characters in the narrative. Breathing, pulsing, sweating, living just as the actors are. More than 20,000 words comprise the Hamilton manuscript, and a certain Alexander scrawls them into the art of revolution. What he creates with the flourish of a quill rouses the other Founding Fathers to pose my favorite question in the entire musical:  “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

I love it since I’ve been asking myself that same question for decades. So when I heard this turn-of-phrase chanted from the mouths of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Burr, my first thought was, “This could make a dope tattoo.” My second thought was, “Here’s my next blog post.” Because I relate to Alex—I too write like I’m running out of time.

I have always written from the moment I learned how. Since the time I grasped that letters form sentences which contrive stories which animate worlds. This became more than a desire or passion—it was a necessity.

Intrinsic as hunger. Insistent as oxygen. Writing for me is a matter of survival. And like my dude Alexander, I’m consumed with the notion that words can speak to life resistance and deliverance.

Words make poets and iconoclasts out of ordinary people. Those who resemble me, and those who don’t. Our contrasts are not important—words are the equalizers. Under responsible direction, words turn strangers into lovers, enemies into allies. Words mobilize warriors and actualize movements. Words raise a sigh into a clamor. Words inflame conviction. Words effect change.

Words are the product of human minds and tongues and hearts. And writing is the heart’s semantic. Traced with fingertips, fleshed out with ink. Alex understood that words can either be decisive or divisive, so wielding this power justly is a delicate mission to undertake.

But for some, there’s no option or alternative. They write because their souls demand it. Because each minute elapsed is one minute less to craft the message this world needs to hear.

One minute less to spawn a gender reform wildfire through a hashtag and a keyboard. One minute less to dismantle broken policies or biased ideologies with the stroke of a “publish” button. One minute less to scream out for children on the border, people of color on the margin, and females on the witness stand. One minute less to collude with other renegades who are done status quo-ing.

One minute less to exercise the sharpest artillery we humans possess—our voices and our pens. So I imagine that’s why Hamilton wrote like he was running out of time. Because otherwise, he would have been.

That’s why he wrote each second he was alive. If he was like me, Hamilton needed writing to survive.