The Gray In Between

I’ve always existed in the gray space… between black and white, between the hard lines. It was about so much more than the color of my skin. This “red-boned” girl with untamable curls had thoughts and feelings and an essence of being that drifted into places the hard-liners wouldn’t go. Everything and everyone around me was a hard line.   

She was a high school dropout; a teenage runaway; a girl escaping the hand life dealt to her [a pocket-sized fireball mother, who was an abusive, alcoholic reservation brat… and a burly, racist, womanizing, European-bred farmhand father; neither of whom cared much for the multitude of children with which they populated the Midwest] in order to live by her own rules. Life abandoned and free, she forged new worlds into her reality. The imagination of a 15-year-old is limitless, and so was her determination. Unable to steal away her younger siblings for her voyage to the Golden State; in about a year’s time, she’d know for herself the struggles of being a young mother. She would be met with the responsibility of birthing a brown-skinned, curly-haired, mixed-race baby into the space between black and white. But, her hard line of freedom at any cost had been drawn and cemented into place. 

He was a smooth-talking country Cajun; a star athlete; a ladies’ man in the making [his high school sweetheart, turned wife, had little use for him after he was stationed overseas for the war… even a baby-on-the-way couldn’t keep her faithful or them together], who turned young girls’ heads with his 6-foot, 2-inch athletic physique that he carried with authority as he exited whichever high-profile vehicle he was driving that day. By way of Baton Rouge, the Los Angeles inner-city became home to him and his matriarchs when his father decided to plant his next church there. A decade later, he was the sole provider; a hardworking construction manager, toiling through life’s rubble; lending his spare time to only mom and nana, until the day he saw her. The 4-foot, 9-inch narrow frame crossing the avenue in a canary mini-dress and white go-go boots would soon call the number he scribbled on a napkin. Not long after, he would rescue her from a violent beau, take her in, and gamble away his freedom in one night… the night he conceived me… the night his black and her white became gray. His hard line was opposite hers, so he wore a veil to keep the peace. 

Here I am – exactly like both of my parents, and not. Free-spirited, strong-willed, earthy, imaginative, inclined to run away from what hurts… secluded, compromising, stately, disciplined, inclined to defend and fix the hurting. The Gemini zodiac sign wasn’t wasted on me. I was born into duality. It is my birthright. It is my gift. Between the hard lines, between the black and white; I am the conceding gray. It is my ticket to the glitz and glamour; as well as my pass through the slums and alleys. I am the proper among the poor, and the meek among the privileged; in neither case being disingenuous. Gray carries significant weight. 

Some people consider life to be fated – a series of events beyond their control; a dishing out of servings they sometimes delight in devouring, but more often than not trumpet as an outpour of spoils dumped upon their heads, creating a stench they can do nothing about but cry “victim.” Others see life as a game of chance in which one never knows what is around the corner, good or bad, lucky or unlucky. The roll of the dice keeps them teetering on the edge of life’s seat, and an ample supply of hearty superstitions may be just enough to bring more positives than negatives into play. Of course, neither perspective provides much ambition for the soul. Fate and chance are hard lines… with no relative influence of choice. If all is fated or left to chance… well, one must wonder – what’s the point of any of this. What’s the point of me?

She was not one to be tamed; she never was and never will be. The men she seduced served a purpose. They were part of her lifelong escape; just as the drugs and alcohol, which helped to coat her existence with a passing numbness that required frequent refills. Her motherly instincts, however haphazard, were strong. She never laid a hand on us when we were children. Perhaps her childhood beatings granted us this favor. And either one of our birthdays meant presents for us both, though presents for any occasion were often returned to the store a few days later because we couldn’t afford them. Her laid back nature and long leash provided ample room for her life posture to be absorbed by my sponging spirit. From father’s perspective [once he removed his blinders], she was a harlot, a manipulator, a thief, an addict, and an unapologetically bad mother. From the wide accepting eyes of her firstborn, she was fun, creative, cunning, adventurous, real, unafraid, crazy (in a larger than life kind of way), and she gave us the freedom to evolve. Even though this growth took place among prostitutes, thugs, perverts, and criminals, all of whom were usually high or wasted in their functional capacity as professional outcasts, they all had fascinating stories about their pasts. Their recounts led me down paths of compassion and intrigue as I sat, often for hours, listening to their tales of “the good ole days,” before society abandoned them to the playgrounds of scum. They were my friends. Well, at least the ones who didn’t attempt to violate me were. Some of them had been gray, too; but migrated to the outer lines and commenced the waving of fate- and chance-ridden flags, once life had its way with them. I felt okay about it, though. Like hers, their hard lines were ones in which I could revel freely. 

He, on occasion, would carry me off before daylight in his chariot. The deep orange streak above the hills fought vigorously to push up its navy nightcap as we scurried to work at the construction site. At the time, I didn’t know why I’d get to spend the day frolicking in the dingy warehouse among rolled up industrial rugs, cold metallic machinery, and endless mountains of bits and pieces that didn’t make the cut. But it was dark and vast and I could play with the old desk phones if I liked. Daddy knew my imagination would keep me quietly stowed away until he could find a place for me to go while he worked. It was one of those days when she didn’t come home the night before. It was also one of the treasured glimpses I had into his mysterious life when I was young. He was always working. I imagine the way she taunted him made him want to work more. He wasn’t a violent man, though very intimidating. He was the king of his castle, and no one could tell him otherwise. Well, she could, but anyone else might live to regret it. He was proud, strong, and quite full of himself. Eventually, two failed marriages proved his outlook to be slightly inflated. She often said he was a liar, cheater, abuser, neglecter, and a self-righteous hypocrite who always made her out to be the bad guy because he was better at keeping his secrets. He must’ve been quite good with secrets. All I saw was a giant, gentle, mysterious man of integrity; who never smoked, drank or said much because there weren’t a lot of good things to say. I revered his hard line, seeing little less than perfection. [He wasn’t always fair, though. I knew if I bet a dollar against the Lakers and they lost, he would not pay me my winnings. One time I inquired and learned it is very disrespectful to ask a parent to pay a debt. To this day, I’ve never asked for any remittance of any sort from any family member. It was a good lesson.] What’s more, he loved Asian artifacts, bear rugs, Chuck Norris, and Bruce Lee. I loved these things too, which made me special. Most importantly, I knew where he kept his gun – a perk for being the responsible one.  And when he was especially proud of me, he would pat me on the shoulder gruffly and say that I was his favorite son. I knew he was being funny, but couldn’t help but wonder how my older brother would feel if he heard such a thing. 

Grandmother was my abiding cornerstone. When parental care was reduced to Wednesday night sleepovers at dad’s and Sunday visits with mom, my heart rebelled. I had grown accustomed to instability. Being grounded was boring; spending three days a week in church was frustrating [as Southern Baptists rarely complete the moral of the story once they are captured in the throes of the Holy Ghost, selfishly leaving the rest of us searching for the closing point that the adults somehow already knew]; and grandmother was always suspicious of everyone’s intent, which made her over-protective, over-bearing, and not gullible enough for my alibis. Often, I mumbled my wishes for her immediate demise. Within moments, however, I would quickly recant my desires, believing that somehow that would be the one prayer God granted and I would be forever vexed by my evil tongue. I did not cry at her funeral. I’m still not sure why. She was my everything. I remember crying for my father’s pain when he heard the news. I remember being angry when I found out my uncle pulled the plug without my father’s consent. I remember empathizing with the grieving elders of our church, whom I’d grown to love as my extended family. I remember despising neighbors and friends who had a field day rummaging through my grandmother’s treasures; as though they had any claim to her belongings [I polished her jewelry. I brushed her wigs. I clipped and polished her nails. I applied the fancy Oil of Olay cream to her supple cheeks every night before I “accidentally” fell asleep in her bed. She belonged to me, making me by default the executor of all her things. Still, no one consulted my authority on the matter. They likely underestimated the sophistication of my twelve years of life.] But I did not shed a tear for her, and that always weighed heavily on my heart. Perhaps, this first loss of a loved one began the shaping of how I respond to disappointments. Little things tend to unnerve me, but big things… the tragedies that shake people at their core… well, those are the times when I am a rock of comfort and understanding – when my feelings sink to the bottom of the well and I’m flooded with the conviction to make things better for everyone else. Or maybe I just don’t know how to deal with tragedy, so I don’t. There was nothing iffy about grandmother’s line. I knew it and I knew it well. It planted the seed for my salvation.

There’s a third way of considering life. Those with any type of faith base tend to receive life as a gift. Any realized circumstance is acceptable, as something grander can be gleaned from it, adding to the shaping of character, the building up of wisdom. Breath and experience are to be valued and only questioned from the perspective of perennial growth.

Today, my step-mother is as two-faced and bitter as she was the day she promised my grandmother on her deathbed that she would take care of us girls. I don’t have much to say about her, as my views are pretty much the same now as they were then, and I prefer to speak in terms of evolution. I will say, she harangued my dad into non-existence during our teenage years, when she reigned as tyrant and passive-aggressive overlord over us all. We spritely ones escaped with notable scarring. Unfortunately, father remains a prisoner of war, waiting to see who will outlive the other. On the upside, the passcode to higher education was her gracious contribution to my wellbeing. As an educator and patriot, two non-negotiables in “her” household were a college education and respect for our nation. I might not have benefitted from either had it not been for her utter commitment to emasculating my father. As such, her hard line granted me the tree of knowledge (and -yes- this is a pun referencing both Eve and the serpent). 

Aside from four years of cranial refinement, social networking, and emergent independence; from university, I netted a husband with whom, in total, I spent twelve years of my life. With those twelve years came emotional and psychological abuses, along with lesser doses of physical exploitations, both externally and upon my own person. Anyone interested in those sordid details is free to peruse my poetry to deduce which belong to this muse. Amazingly, the greatest gift in all creation through the eyes of any true mother came from our collision of courses, and the resulting salvage is an even deeper shade of gray than I.   

He is the dragon to my ox, and we both flow deeply as water, filling up the containers we encounter in our lives and washing out that which shouldn’t stick to our souls. He is everything I am not, but also am. I am sure his aptitude surpasses mine. But then, he does not have the forty plus years of experience I have, which – he admits – puts me at a superior ranking of mad genius than he. I accept this glowing compliment from my jovial teen and know that, despite my sheltering, he will soon catch up to me.   

Someone as fuzzy and fluffy as I (per my step-mother), with an exceedingly stupid heart (per my father), inevitably had many knight-in-shining-armor dreams, which stubbornly persisted from the time I was very young to sometime before yesterday. Words, music, and pictures crafted the most magnificent representations of romance that my lofty mind could compose; as I was sure that love looked nothing like what I saw growing up. I suppose the unpredictable nature of my parents’ relationships caused me to be charged with a desire to plan a much better course for my impending love life. As it were, a series of dead-end fairy tales [beginning with my divorce] effectively snuffed out the breathing room of my heart, and it seized with fear of being permanently annihilated.

Then there’s that fourth posture towards life: life is a trust given to us from God. Whatever portion we are granted, we are intended to multiply and, subsequently, bear fruit. Every experience is a deposit into one’s spiritual wealth; it is an opportunity to plant, nurture, harvest, and feed… expanding our capacity to relate and develop intimate relationships with God and one another. He promises abundance to those who manage His trust with hope, compassion, love, and authority.

From there (infancy) to here (maturity), I can overload the airwaves of the universe with jaw-dropping parables, gnawing soundbites, and perplexing parodies that most would cast off as imaginings if I didn’t claim them as testimonies. The groundwork was sufficiently laid by my family, which constructed these cross wires of breeding and circumstance, forming the hard lines all around me. One line shouted I was never good enough, strong enough, nor focused enough for his exemplary standards; making me timid and filled with humility, always questioning my worth. Another line snickered and taunted that I was too well-behaved, a miss goody-two-shoes, and a challenge to accept because my looks and personality didn’t fit in with her revolving door of sketchy situations; making me increasingly loyal and socially adaptable, determined to be whatever I needed to be. The third line framed my conscience and all of my early beliefs and concepts of God, which were unquestionable; making me afraid to fully commit my life as a Christian, for fear of imminent damnation at my first failure following baptism. One more line taught me that every privilege has a price, as nothing is freely given from one person to another without consequence [usually a painful one]; making me immensely independent throughout life, intent on accomplishing what is needed by my own accord, but also being that person who does give freely from the heart… because I should treat others better than I’ve been treated. Finally, with the escape route of my hopeful fantasies severed, the last hard line dropped upon the others, roofing the walls I spent half of my life trying to climb over. The culmination of all the black and white lines of this world, the hard places that rejected everything I was and wasn’t, closed in on me. I became trapped within the confines of all the conditions that eventually broke my spirit.   

At ground zero, God entered and breathed life back into me. He lifted the pieces of my heart, my worth, and my understanding, and began to reveal greater purposes for my life. Were it not for everything I’ve been through, I would not be so centrally positioned to love with my mind and think with my heart. I wouldn’t be able to sit, walk, talk, laugh, cry, work, play, serve, and pray with anyone of any station in life, of any faith, creed, race, gender, age, and belief. I can do this because I embrace being gray. I own the messy composition of my life. I appreciate the jagged edges as much as the smooth ones. And because I’m this hodgepodge of all the hard questions and even harder answers, I love the hard lines and everything in between. In this rigid, hateful, segregated world; I am blessed to be in the gray space… the malleable, forgiving, encompassing freeform that is only seeking to multiply the portion God has given to me.

Dying to Live

Lights of the Soul

I die every day.

Every day, I die… just a little, letting go of pieces of me which no longer serve a purpose. I must die daily if I am to make room for more. I suppose the “finale” is somewhat the same. This life, this plane of existence, concludes with a shedding of that which is no longer necessary for the evolution of self. What is the point of being, if not to evolve?

While parts are fragile, not all of them can be easily discarded. Some fight to survive, no matter what the costs. Such is the bane of humanity. We are what we are… because of what we don’t let go of. We can become so much more… because of our freedom to choose to let go.

Therein lies the concept of “life comes from death” … not burial, though, but cremation. When we bury what we no longer need, it eventually rises again to haunt us, to chase us down and overcome us when we least expect. Burial is a covering up. But to give the spirit power to set flames to the proverbial flesh and singe out the lesser self… well, that is how life transcends, when ashes begin to transform into fruit..

Let me clean this up a bit. “Death” and “cremation” sound like a finite ending to existing, but that is not my meaning. I am only speaking of an ending in perspective, in self-realization, in world truth as it pertains to the elevation of thought, emotion, and nature. Outside of that prescript, nothing truly dies. Energy transfers from one form to another. We are energy. And when we release that which drains us…that which takes up significant space with insignificant matters… and that which muddies the waters of our fluid, ever-evolving design; we provide room for growth, expansion… transcendence.

Living is this process. It is the active engagement of all of our senses striving to realize the divinity of our higher selves. My son views life as planes of existence which compose the whole of the universal God (whatever you may call Divinity). Depending on where you started, where you’ve been, and how quickly you evolve (and we all have differing capacities at various stages of the spectrum); you occupy part of the universal body of Divinity, either closer to the feet (flesh-based) or closer to the head (spirit-based), for simplicity’s sake. He has an engineering mind, so I find his conceptual outlook rather intriguing. He views physical death as neither a fixed occurrence nor a rebirth experience, but rather a transferring of energy from one form to another, and whether you transfer higher, lower, or make a lateral move simply depends on your level of conscious development at the time your current reality ceases and becomes your next reality. As such, death is not an end, but a means for moving on.

Taking Inventory

I am infinitely more than flesh and bones.
I am infinitely more…

Deeply valuing the energies which compose me; I hold myself to a high standard. But mainly, I just hold myself. For, as much as I am infinitely more than flesh and bones; I am still flesh and bones… and they are a heavy load.

Flesh and bones tempt me to live as “I am,” to carry the weight of merely existing until this life passes. Living as “I am” fosters a – putting up with – perspective which prods the soul to get by via any feasible means until the end is realized. But to live as “more than I am” is to utilize this life as a means to elevate myself and others. It charges the soul with facilitating growth toward transitioning to a higher existence. Walking the jagged path between living as “I am” and living as “more than I am” makes for a rigorous journey. Choosing to be more is a formidable choice. In as much as I strive to keep it all together, I must occasionally fall apart. I must be reminded that I am still in progress. I must stay connected to my mortality, but be careful not to lose myself to it. Taking inventory is necessary.

I check in regularly to ask myself, “Am I living to die or dying to live?” Which is in control at any given moment, the flesh or the spirit? Am I maintaining the desired balance? The answer is never straightforward. How can it be? … as I am flawed from breath to breath, and to achieve progress in this process requires labor on every level. Still, I try. I try intently to see beyond the chaos. I try intensely to feel past the reaction. I try diligently to transfer negative energy into positive energy. I try wholeheartedly to nurture this very basis of ascension. I try quite earnestly to show up as a constant in the ebb and flow – a constant in dying to truly realize living: dying to self to uplift others; dying to fear to embrace freedom; dying to temptation to reinforce integrity; dying to lust to exalt love… In short, I endeavor to die to my lower self in order to empower my higher self.

To empower the higher self is to reflect a depth of truth, light, freedom, genuineness, love, and power which expands without end and permeates everyone and everything around us. The universe as a whole is elevated when we empower our higher selves.

The Deeper Dichotomy

Be divinely human.

Dying to live is not hard. The soul is impassioned by our desire to be more, by our need to manifest purpose, by our hope to live altruistically, by our longing to be love and experience love in its highest form. When we are spiritually motivated, every struggle is worthwhile and contributes to achieving ultimate fulfillment. Dying to live nurtures our divinity and is deeply fulfilling.

Dying to live is not easy. The soul is challenged by our aptitude to settle for less, by our willingness to submit to circumstance, by our craving for immediate gratification, by our tendency to live in fear and attribute love to everything it is not. When we constantly gravitate toward our carnal natures, temptations appear more satisfying than any eternal growth. Dying to live ostracizes our humanity and is quite lonely.

The journey is not the same for any two of us; and yet, we are all affected by these threads in some form or fashion, directly or indirectly, for better or for worse – we are all connected in our divinity, in our humanity, and in our unique paths of development. How we manage the dichotomy of our existence is paramount in defining our lives, as well as the progression of collective mankind.

Finding Balance

I am flawed from breath to breath.
Breathing is significant.

Managing this existence is about finding the right balance internally. It requires breathing in what is needed and breathing out what is not. Maintaining the proper flow of energy is crucial to being centered and focused. However, the balance between inhaling and exhaling can be tricky… if I remember to breathe at all.

Often, when circumstances get intense, I forget to exhale. I draw in deeply and hold. One would think so… but breathing doesn’t always come naturally. Our complex biological design gets tripped up by the esoteric, and the “in and out” reflex becomes stifled. The floodgates open to receive all the stuff… the endless waves of stuff… and failing to employ tributary exits can cause a drowning out of healthy responses and spiritual connections. The spirit must breathe to survive; not physically breathe, but constantly manage the transfer of energy.

We take in so much. The volume is so massive that our hearts and minds become entwined in continuously assessing, judging, feeling, comparing, defending, and ultimately fostering unilateral perspectives; which, in turn, cause us to lose objectivity, understanding, tolerance, forgiveness, and the ability to consider that all perspectives reflect personal realities that differ from our own. Only through such consideration can we even begin to relate to one another.

But, we take in so much. We become consumed in the processing, paranoid in the vetting. We measure morality with our hearts; what feels good and what feels bad shape our compass for navigating life on our own terms. Our minds analyze and break down everything based on these persuasions. When something wondrous or tragic overcomes our circumstance, the common response is an accelerated pulse of emotions; a flood of thoughts and reactions; and an overwhelming sense of anxiousness. When we inhale too much, whether quickly and all at once or slowly over time, and do not allow ourselves to properly manage the intake and release; our ability to thrive freezes up. And, our capacity for destruction multiplies. We start living to survive each moment. In other words, we start living to die.

All of it matters.
Therefore, none of it matters.

How, then, can we manage to experience life as more than a sentence to survive when life hurls so many conditions our way? How can we live without seizing up in so many moments that our journey reads like a lifetime practice of suffocating? The soul must be groomed in altruistic indifference.

Indifference is not a dirty word if it is applied to the relativity of all things. There are a universal place and purpose for everything which exists, regardless of what we think, feel, or believe. If something were not meant to be, it wouldn’t be. Whether we comprehend the reason for any person or condition taking up any portion of time or space, is irrelevant. It all matters. It all generates cause and effect toward an unknown end, but – ideally – a greater one. Therefore, the truest form of understanding is indifference.

I am not referring to the stereotype of indifference, which is marked by stoicism, and often cynicism. What I am referring to is the recognition of life as ebb and flow… a rise and fall of extremes, and everything in between… a consciousness of all that is subjectively fleshed out by the influences of humanity’s singular self-vision. The soul must be trained to see outward and inward simultaneously, embracing the relevance of all and accepting that the only “control” one has is over the energy one personally projects throughout existence. This energy defines one’s quality of life and how one’s life will impact others. Accordingly, we are compelled to think, feel, and believe to play our parts; but we can do so far more effectively once we recognize the relevance of all parts in the grander scheme and free ourselves from suffocating under the misnomer that we have power over anything other than ourselves.

When we know and understand what we can and cannot control, we develop the potential to become a positive force of life.

Sustaining Peace

Be the eye of the storm.

We are surrounded by chaos – worldwide, nationally, regionally, locally, personally, and spiritually. Each of our lives is affected by the storms of existence in one way or another, by a few or many. How we live and how we leave this life depends on how we relate to these storms.

My life, for one, has the advantage of having been infused with all aspects of the storm throughout my journey. I was born into the storm: lost in it; judged by it; controlled by it; abused and abandoned by its many twists and turns, faces and places, truths and lies; and so, I know its suffering well. I have been the storm: unleashing my powerful spin; outpouring my drops of fury; devouring that which has blocked my path; and so, I know its temper, as well.

Having experienced both the aftermath of suffering through storms and the discontent of affecting them; I’ve learned to attain peace by keeping the highs high and the lows low while navigating my spirit through the center. It isn’t a matter of numbing myself to the fluctuations, but rather completely encompassing them all, so that I can become the balance… so that I can be the eye of the storm – the quiet, watchful place which embodies security, strength, and stability, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.

A Complex Choice

Interestingly, the seldom occupied eye of the storm tends to be the most envied; the least understood; the space both desired and rejected at once; and the very center of attraction for everything it is not. It is a complex position to hold.

To be the eye of the storm in life, exhaling is imperative. Chaos and destruction must be released into the periphery. Calming, embracing, loving energy must be retained at the core. Living this life with universal purpose requires constant breathing in and breathing out to facilitate a deeper awareness of self and others.

Dying daily to the unnecessary is crucial to spiritual peace, relevancy, and growth. I choose to live and die and live this way… in hopes that my soul and all that it touches rises in the body of Divinity.

Image credit – http://www.serraphim.com

A Reflection on Intentional Living

My Defining… 

Not so much calculations, but revelations – conscientious estimations regarding outcomes. Before endings become, the intentional ones ascertain the losses and gains awaiting the conclusion of any chosen path. The fallout from wrath; the break of too many mistakes; the accumulated scars which brand their mark after one too many broken hearts; the void when give succumbs to take; the bite in the air when the room is full, but no one’s really there… are all reasons for each of us to be subconsciously awake and moving, thinking, speaking, acting and being intentionally. Always sharpening the blade…

I don’t believe in chance. I believe we are each designed by the Creator for a purpose. And so, the universe engages us constantly toward that end. Whether and how we choose to engage with the universe is the only questionable variable. Life can just happen to us, and we absorb, defend and protect; or run, hide and curse; or maybe react, fight and regret… or perhaps find ourselves utilizing all of these responses in some form or fashion along our way. However, when we enact authority in our existence by premeditating good outcomes, thoughtfully restraining, lovingly interacting, and considerably processing how the worlds of those around us are impacted by our choices, in addition to with what we fuel our own existence and its ultimate meaning as our personal piece in eternity’s puzzle; we are enforcing a phenomena intuitive in nature… one that wealth, fame and notoriety cannot conjure. Although, knowledge and attractiveness often do empower greater influence, enabling one to more effectively walk out whatever lies at the base of one’s heart and soul – one’s truest motivation for breathing.   

I have a proclivity for intentional living for various reasons. One being, I do not react well to the unexpected outcome; and, I have no desire to contribute to any untoward end. When life constantly throws you for a loop and your point of reference is unstable, bitterness and skepticism begin to take hold and reshape the posture of your heart. However, cynicism is a faulty shield, as the spirit is genuine and knows what the flesh may not willingly reveal. We all suffer blows in this lifelong sentence and scramble to secure ourselves in our own ways. While walls are constructed to keep harmful inquisitions at bay, mainly they simply keep us locked within, smothering in our own reason, fear and anxiety. Such seclusion takes courage for a species created to love one another. Yes, courage, because as love-based creatures, the decision to be disingenuous, reactionary, solitary and unwaveringly formidable as an island of one is against the very grains of our spiritual sculpture. This lends to my second, more evolved reason for intentional living… it is what the aware spirit is called to do. One may remain faultless if unaware, but there is no peace for those who know better and choose to submit to a haphazard life, steering recklessly, if at all, toward no defined end, no greater good, and no enlightened cause. I cannot in good conscience carry that burden, and so, I choose the other.   

The intentional life is indeed burdensome. It can be quite uncomfortable, quite overbearing, quite offensive and most deeply humbling; and yet, it is the most bountiful and altruistic path. This complex journey is full of oxymora. Inconsistent variables meet the constant spirit and we find ourselves compelled to acquiesce or flee; compromise or abandon; succumb or break; love or feel less hate. In sum, we either subject our power to the world by letting conditions and circumstances dictate the stability of our being or we subject the world to our personal God-given power by infusing our intentional energy into every effort we commence, experience, and conclude. 

Half the Battle… 

Unleashed from before 
Spirit readied for war 
Subjected to earth’s dominion 
Influenced by man’s opinion 
Wearing its heart of armor 
The soldier and the farmer 

Credit: Paul Woodward 2010
Credit: Paul Woodward 2010

In this lifelong war, we each play a part in attaining fulfillment and influencing the fulfillment of others. As the champion, the victim or the passive observer; we each make choices based on our strengths and weaknesses, conditions and circumstances, reach and immobility, minds and hearts, bodies and spirits. And as we begin to measure our grounding and those things which have the power to shift it, we realize that intention is only half the battle. One can mean well without having the assets to walk out good intentions. We must know ourselves, what we believe in, what we believe our purposes to be, and have some type of reference for the opposition that we will be met with on our journeys. This is the launching point for self-direction; self-direction, as opposed to being directed by the world. No matter how we arrive to this battlefield, we will be tested, prodded and beaten… some beyond recognition. Without a solid foundation, with a weakened spirit, we are unable to rebound and focus; and the world will prey on us, leaving us incapable of walking out our inherent designs. 

In our core, we all desire peace, happiness, companionship and satisfaction, but not everyone can utilize or even understand the means for achieving these goals from a pure point of origin. Temporary gratification, living in the moment, sacrificing oneness for systematic symmetry, sacrificing sanity for survival, sacrificing thoughtfulness for self-preservation… these are all challenges to our ability to evolve the posture of intentionality into the practice of sowing and harvesting. There has to be a realization beyond the innate will of the heart. There has to be an application of our heads, hands, feet… our entire being in order to achieve anything close to true fulfillment in the purposeful life. We must hold the seeds in our hands and actively plant them; as we sure up our armor to stay the course. We must be farmers and soldiers to have any hope in finishing victorious. 

This is not the torch I’ve always carried. While my life before my now had always been somewhat off-putting, I didn’t understand why. I simply tried harder, submitted lower, cried longer, prayed deeper and fell farther; wrestling with the demons I didn’t know I had; holding on to destruction I didn’t know I granted; denying all of the purpose I didn’t know I carried. Thus, my journey began… 

Dimly Lit… 

Yesterday danced around me like a crisp winter’s night. 
The darkness was deep, the stars were dim, 
and the warmest of blankets could not ease the chill in my bones. 
Still, I peered so intensely at every glimmer, every flicker 
of brightness against the backdrop of existing 
and tried to glean something bigger than life 
from the burn left behind my eyes. 
But I could not see at all. 
I chased the lights blindly, until the moon grayed… 
and the stars became ash… 
and all the spark of being left me. 
Having wandered too far for too long, 
I fell limp upon the universe and surrendered 
all I had ever hoped and longed for 
into the black hole it had fashioned for me. 
Diffused and disengaged, I closed my eyes 
to mourn my soul and put its journey to rest. 

Surrender is a humbling phenomenon. At its depth, you expect nothing good to come of it. After all, you are giving up, submitting, acknowledging your utter failure at self-sustaining survival. At its height, you expect nothing worse to emerge from it than that very moment which caused you to discard the last sliver of hope that once whispered to you. The consummate paradox, surrender overwhelms you with the intense release of everything you have ever felt into a wounded numbness of letting go. It is the wake and the burial in one, and demands to be grieved. “I can’t, I won’t, and it hurts too much to care” make for a sufficient mantra to protect one’s shredded remains through the process.   

For me, surrender led to something divine occurring. I was drawn out of my perspective of searching to realize my purpose in becoming. As I began to unfold the complex tapestry which cocooned me in darkness, I started to see that I was the light I so desperately reached for in the world. My soul wasn’t destined to be extinguished, but reborn. My light wasn’t meant to be acquired, but revealed. And I urgently needed to understand that, while there are many forms of illumination, not all light shines in the same way or for the same reasons. I wanted to be more than a graying moon or diminishing star. My flame was exceptionally molded, and should be used to draw into its warmth the chilled bones of others, running through winter’s darkness, chasing falling stars.   

I had fallen broken and shattered, a victim of my own inability to see, and God reached in to convince me of to whom I belong. My existence became dimly lit and I began to pursue my own light, an energy which took me completely out of myself, so that I could be redeemed, rediscovered, restored and released. And I soon realized that I can, and I will, and it hurts too much not to care. I was reborn. I would make it count. 

Dancing in the Fire…

As the flames rose up, 
she watched her coals char into oblivion. 
Her fiery fortress melted away the useless layers 
until the burn revealed the jewel, and there within her heart
glistened the crown of her refinement.

I believe an exceptional life is marked by a challenged mind, tested will, and labored heart. By choosing to emerge from a defeated spirit, with these elements intact, I had no reasonable explanation for living anything less than an intentional existence. A life with purpose should be lived purposefully, even if the meaning is still elusive. It is that vague sense of knowing which called me to submerse into the fire of living with abandon in faith. This statement says so much about the commitment I’ve made to live intentionally, and it proves that anyone can.   

I am an introvert. I am a fixer. I am a perfectionist. I am a loner. My greatest fear is a broken heart. My greatest difficulty is to truly trust another. My greatest peeves are to be unprepared, unknowing, and unworthy. Well, the irony here is that my definition of intentional living goes against every fiber of my learned being. Intentional living is about reaching out; touching others; accepting brokenness; allowing disappointment; sharing of self – deeply; investing one’s heart entirely; trusting a higher hand in my encounters; and, most certainly, engaging a faith-based life with limited preparation, little knowing, and a posture of unworthiness. As such, to be the person I believe I am designed to be, I have to abandon everything comfortable to me in order to run into the center of all that threatens to burn me, and do so with a peace of spirit which relies on refinement over demise. I have to dance in the fire, be the fire, and spread its flames to ignite others.

Holding to the Flame… 

Had I thought about it with my head, 
I’d have likely put the thought to bed; 
but, lo, it’s set within this heart, 
emerging labor into life’s art. 
Thus, though the ash will leave its stains, 
I’ll cling eternal to the flame. 

By no means does such passion and faith shield me from the other elements. I have been smothered with tainted soils, doused with unforgiving floods, smote with overpowering brass, and incited by false airs. Being committed to affecting takes its toll. And since intentional living comes from a hopeful place, a center focused on producing the best outcomes, influencing positive energies and believing in the power of nurturing wounded spirits; it can create a veil of overzealous naivety. I’ve discovered that people tend to react to me with two extremes; they either view me as “too good” to interact with from a place of truly genuine expression, hiding who they really are based on their assumptions regarding who I am; or they view me as susceptible to manipulation, providing an opportunity to be taken advantage of based on my determination to identify the greater value in those I encounter. Not too long ago, these labels bothered me and I could feel myself walling up… taking a protective stance against the lens of the world. But I’ve realized that the greatest misnomer is making oneself accountable for the misperceptions of others, if they simply choose to see what they want to see. This is undoubtedly where intention gets a little tricky. While I can control how I approach the world, I cannot control what the world chooses to do with my efforts. As such, it is quite easy to feel defeated.   

Familial relationships, romantic relationships, professional relationships, service relationships and daily exchanges with passersby have all deeply challenged my commitment to walking out intention from a “glass half full” perspective. Of particular note, tremendous strength has been poured into managing the disappointment associated with dealing with those who propose to be of equal measure, professing to intend well and desire good, only to reveal that they either have no concept of what that means or have tritely attempted to take me for a fool. 

Ironically, I find that even in the worst of these cases, a positive effect still emerges somewhere down the line. Something supernatural transforms the base composition of most human beings when, in spite of their ignorant, malicious or decidedly passive contributions to the discontentment of others; they are intentionally met with grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope. As painstaking as it may feel in moments of dealing with combative energies, holding to that inner flame which compels me to burn truer, brighter, and longer to achieve a higher end is more than worth the struggle. If this is a foreign concept to you, you must test my claim that anything you do – any end you seek out – in love will bring a mysterious calm to your senses, a far greater peace than avoidance, than denial, than defensiveness… than blindly navigating throughout life. This choice offers a deeper peace because it stabilizes one’s center – one’s point of reference – with good roots, and constantly strives to spread that goodness into the hearts of others, regardless of their state of being. The resulting effects may not be clear, may not be immediate, and may – in fact – never be witnessed by you, but you have engaged and influenced in good conscience, with undeniable intention and, if nothing more, have deposited something beautiful and productive into the universe.

Here I stand, the lioness lamb, 
roaring aloud 
my tender heart. 
I’ve hunted through the wilderness, 
seeking out 
the sacred parts. 
As I approach the journey’s end, 
I know 
what sets apart; 
one who not only finished well, 
but intended 
from the start