In Being Surprised

I pulled out several journals from my closet yesterday.  They are all kept in this basic 64 gallon storage bin, and have moved with me from place to place over the last 10 years.  I’m not a person who keeps a lot of stuff–however, these journals are what I have not parted with since childhood.

Writing has been my way of making sense of the world, for awhile now.  I’ve journaled routinely since I was 12, and before then I loved learning cursive, and practicing different signatures over and over again.  I wrote letters, and had several pen pals.  Collecting gel pens and different colors of paper and stationery made me excited.

Now, I don’t think I care to pull out what I wrote when I was 12 years old.  I’m sure I will part with these before too long.  But as I reached into the bin and sorted through the journals, I pulled out the ones from the last 5 years.

The ones that kept me sane through the worst parts of my illness.

The writing that saw me through all my pain and fatigue, confusion and questioning.

Those pages that existed to help me sort through my shame, guilt, anger, sadness & despair.  The pages that helped me to feel intensely, who told me that I must move through these emotions, rather than to bypass them.

My journals are a mess-as my sister likes to say.  I’m a pretty structured and organized person and my journals are a place for me not to be organized.  So in those pages are letters that I’ve received, grocery lists, poems, prayers, impressions, hopes, longings, outlines for books, gratitude prompts.

Those pages contain business ideas, to-do lists, and in the worst of my illness, lists upon lists of things I needed to do, written down just so I wouldn’t forget.

My writing is a live record, not just of my growth, in a vague, broad sense.  I believe they contain subtle shifts, cues, directions, themes.  They point to shifts in awareness, discernment through small and big decisions, relational quality, how I’m processing my emotions.  They highlight my honesty, or lack of it, how my view of the Divine shifts from day to day.

These 5 years of journals are going to be my companions for the next month or so.  Some of these words will make it into my next draft of my manuscript, adding authenticity & clarity.

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When I met with my spiritual director on Monday, I spoke to her of these journals, of my upcoming vacation to Michigan, this strong rootedness I’m feeling towards the past right now.

She asked me how I felt when thinking about reading through these journals.  “Even though I’ve dug into my story deeply, and know it well–I think I’m going to be surprised.  I think I’m going to see clues everywhere of how Spirit was present and I didn’t even know it.  I’m going to see things that worked out that I had forgotten about, deep pain that has lessened in its intensity.”

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I’m taking these next few weeks pretty slow.  I’m finishing up with my students for the summer.  I’m leaving on vacation in less than two weeks.

I’m letting myself say yes to things and people who give me joy, stretch me, that place me in a position of learning and listening and receiving.  I’m saying yes to theatre, to music, to nature, to writing, to political engagement.  I’m saying yes to being with people, and I’m still saying yes and going places alone.

This summer has already been more than I’ve expected in so many ways–and I haven’t even gone on vacation yet!   What I’m most thankful for is the ability to be outside for so much longer.  Yes, I still get tired, but tired just like everyone else, rather than extra-extra-extra tired, where I’m recovering for several days afterwards.

I’m thankful that I haven’t had huge reactions to mold in buildings.  I’m thankful I didn’t have to move my tutoring locations for the summer, which I thought I might have to do.

I’m thankful for this deep centering I feel, which has come from my own inner journey and solitude, yet surrounded by many supportive friendships.  I’m calling summer this deep time of integration, where I’m learning how to step into my gifting, where I’m learning what my strong “yes” feels like, where I don’t feel guilty for saying no to most things, where I know that my hard-won inner wisdom must align with my purpose in the world, or illness will come knocking again.

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While talking to a friend last week, I said, “I feel like I’m entering into the fall more aligned with my values than I’ve ever been in my life.”

As I said that, I took a breath.  I was surprised at how true that was.  And yet learning to trust my intuition and my body naturally has put me in a position of alignment.  I just wasn’t quite sure how true this was before I said it out loud.

Alignment for me looks like: regular times of spiritual practice and rest, both communal and individual.  Right now this looks like centering prayer, breath work, qigong, walks in nature, quarterly weekend retreats, spiritual direction, massage, sauna sessions, an inter-spiritual practice & discussion group and Sabbath.

Alignment for me looks like: not working before 10am.  And on Wednesdays, having a longer, drawn out morning, and not starting work until 2pm.  Strengthening relationships with families, continuing to press in deeply in conversations regarding limits, scarcity & fear.  Continuing to be aware and interrogate dynamics around power and money.

Alignment for me looks like: starting my last year of spiritual direction training, participating in the anti-racism team at my church, and helping to facilitate/gather white folks to read My Grandmother’s Hands and engage in the healing process around white racialized trauma.

Alignment for me looks like: continuing to write.  And not setting deadlines & timelines.  But writing and pursuing publication and letting go of the rest.

Alignment for me means be willing to be surprised, being open to wonder wherever it may be found.

 

 

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Whiteness & Autoimmunity

Sometimes creativity & clarity just come.  You weren’t prepared, caught off guard even.  And there is this deep peace, this deep knowing in your body.

Yesterday I had this experience while making breakfast, and then while drinking coffee outside.  Simple everyday moments.  Making coffee.  Cooking a pork patty & cutting an avocado.  (yep, that really was my breakfast!)

I had gotten almost 9 hours of sleep the night before, and had spent the morning finishing up a book on whiteness.

I had just finished the first draft of my book manuscript 5 days before.  And while writing this draft I knew that there was this invitation for me: to compassionately notice how personal and collective healing must be intertwined.  How my healing journey has also included a spiritual and racial awakenings. To dig even deeper into my longings and desires and stories.

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I started having significant issues with my health at age 14.  Blood draws.  Heart monitors.  Stress tests.  Surgeries.  MRI’s.  All these became a pretty regular part of my life.

What’s also important to say is that both my parents are white.  They both worked for a chemical company as engineers.  They both had excellent health insurance.  They had already paid off our house.  They had access to excellent doctors (and therefore so did I) and had flexible enough schedules with enough paid vacation so they could take me to these numerous appointments without having to worry if they would lose their jobs.  They had friends with power & privilege to ask for referrals and get me into certain doctor’s offices.

I grew up in a town that was 97% white.  I had white parents, white teachers, white friends, white doctors, white dentists, white pastors, white coaches…..and was told from a young age that I could trust authority.  Not only that, but that I should respect and listen to authority at all costs.

And then starting at 14, I was in and out of doctor’s offices repeating my symptoms—and being told that I was fine.  Over and over again.  Already 2 years later, I started editing my story, hoping that I would have a better chance of being heard, of being believed, of being diagnosed, of being treated.

I was interrogating whiteness and I didn’t know it.  I didn’t have the words, the constructs, the setting, the relationships to realize what was happening.

I knew that to be heard I had to be rational.  I had to be objective.  I couldn’t cry or show any emotion related to frustration or anger.

That’s the language that the white male doctor spoke.  And I had to learn to speak it if I was going to survive the medical system.

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Even as I moved, and I had doctors of differing races–the language still dripped of whiteness.  The medical schools, the Western thought & training–couldn’t be ignored.

The numbers & data was believed over personal experience, by everyone.  We all, to some degree or another, had internalized this belief that the doctor is the one with external healing power.  They must be right, and I must be wrong. They can heal and I am the one in need of healing.  This binary of doctor/patient had to be adhered to–or the whole construct would come tumbling down.

I had a white female endocrinologist at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago throughout college.  She was willing to put me on medication even though I couldn’t prove with the blood tests to date that I had a thyroid disorder.  We had a good working relationship until it just wasn’t anymore.  She started nit-picking at my weight, looking at the scale and shaming me that losing weight was so difficult.  She criticized me when I only worked out 5 times per week instead of 6.

I walked out of that appointment at 21 years old–and I knew what was happening.  I was being blamed in any way possible, because she didn’t know how to help me.  Her inability to “fix” me made her angry–especially as she worked at Northwestern and had numerous credentials.

I saw another painful aspect of whiteness at work: emotionally shutting down and/or becoming angry from a place of not being in control anymore.

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I was a deeply imaginative, empathetic, intuitive child—and I shut down a good portion of this creative part of myself–in exchange for becoming a competitive track athlete.  But, of course, it didn’t go away altogether.

I spent my summers running in meets in Detroit, Lansing, Battle Creek.  In those early years at 9 and 10 years old, I had experiences of what it felt like to be the only white sprinter, and I am deeply grateful for this part of my childhood.

And I remember what I noticed as I went down to Detroit, and then drove back up to Midland, MI over and over again over several years.

Even as a young kid, I knew that I had access to resources that my black track friends in Detroit didn’t have.  I never wondered if I could find starting blocks to practice my starts, or if there would be a rake for the sand in the long jump pit.  I knew that my city would have money to have the track re-surfaced.  I knew that the high school track I practiced on was of higher quality than some of the cinder tracks I ran on in Detroit.  I knew that in the off-season I had facilities to run on, whether indoor or outdoor.  I knew that my parents would just pay for my uniform and that as a track club, we wouldn’t have to put on a fundraiser to buy what we needed during the season.

But at 9 years old-I already knew the power of silence.  The only comments I heard adults saying were complaining about why Detroit hosted meets if they didn’t have enough volunteers, or a reliable clock, or enough resources, according to their standards.

I knew that the adults felt that the meets they put together in Midland were exceptional because we had a press box and made announcements quickly, because the meet ran on time, and all the volunteers knew what their role was during the day.  “Our” meet was better because it was efficient.

I kept all these observations inside.  I already had internalized that I shouldn’t question the status quo, that white authority figures are to be trusted at all times.

Because of my sensitive nature, this created a deep guilt for having everything that I had.  A deep guilt around being white.  And also a deep aloneness in feeling like I couldn’t talk to anyone else.

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Growing up white without a sense of racial identity, and feeling the heightened sense of guilt because of my racial disparity observations–I felt like I only had two options.  Be overly kind to people of color and/or try to help them.

Another aspect of whiteness at work: Dealing with difficult emotions is troublesome and uncomfortable.  Let’s find a way to still be in control and yet serve.  This makes me more comfortable and looks “Christian.”

Growing up in evangelical Christianity as an intuitive, sensitive white girl was heavy.  I was to deny myself, serve, & suffer.  That’s how I knew I was a Christian.  God loved me, but he was also angry at me for all my sin.  Jesus forgave me, and all, and yet I was still invited into a life of suffering.

So what was encouraged from the all white male leadership from the pulpit? To go where there is deep suffering–and share the gospel.  (aka: this would help with my white guilt, still putting me in a position of power & yet service).

That rhetoric influenced my life deeply–both in body & soul.  Jesus, as the White Savior, was who I was to emulate.  The white evangelical church encouraged my white guilt complex and my white savior complex all at the same time.

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There are many, many more stories.  And I will share over time.  And yet while making breakfast & drinking coffee yesterday, I sank into the reality of how “whiteness as the air I breathe” connects with autoimmune disorders, connects with my life with Hashimoto’s.

Yes, people of all races have chronic illnesses.  And, I believe that while the symptoms might manifest similarly, the path of healing necessarily looks a lot different.

People of color since the beginning of United States’ history have experienced genocide, colonization, slavery, Jim Crow, deportation, and racist policy after racist policy to this day.  The amount of stress this places POC in every day life is enormous and can lead to chronic illness.

And, I’m also asking the question, “Why do so many white people have autoimmune issues today?  And why does the number keep growing?”  (The occurrences of autoimmune disorders are larger than cancer now.)

I cannot answer this question alone.  This question will lead to conversation after conversation after conversation.

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Recently, my mom told me that thyroid issues go back to my great-great grandmother.  I wasn’t aware that thyroid issues had affected my great-grandmother’s mother.

That piece of information made me relax a little, and it connected me more deeply in a very small way to an ancestor I never knew.

I also took a breath and could name that my healing journey is much greater than me.  I’m connecting to the trauma of my ancestors that also lives in my body, that is connected to whiteness and a genuine mistrust of the body.

So, I’m learning to trust my body more and more every day.  I’m trusting nature’s rhythms, and letting myself rest.  I’m letting myself be creative, and letting my words just flow.  I’m confronting various ways I have internalized that “keeping with the status quo” encompassed my life’s purpose.  I’m taking deep breaths and asking my body what it needs. And I’m reaching out for other people to be on this journey with me.

I’m letting my healing journey reveal all that needs to be revealed.  And I’m learning to say YES to all of it.

Stay tuned for more, friends!