Growing in Grace

green leafed seedlings in black plastic pots

“What we pay attention to grows…what we put our attention on grows”

I recently finished reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy and took note of these words (and many others). Since then I’ve been in an inquiry around transformation, and what it really means to live a life committed to growth, transformation, resilience and healing.

It is a process and it is hard.

I should have expected this because I read the book (which I recommend that anyone reading this blog also read).

“Transformation doesn’t happen in a linear way, at least not one we can track”

“Emotional growth is nonlinear.”

“It is so important to cultivate our patience, our thoughtfulness, our willingness to slow down and seek the wisdom of those not already part of our movements–not to get them in step with our point of view, but because we need their lived experiential wisdom to shape solutions that will work for the majority of living beings.”

Yes, and…

…this is so antithetical to my internalized, individual norms of fixing it now, internalizing critique, making it always and only about me.

But as Lisa Thomas Adeyamo says (and adrienne maree brown quotes on p. 123-124 of Emergent Strategy), “Everything given time and nurturing, is moving towards balance and healing…healing is our birthright.”

I have been re-reading these words, these two pages in my journal where I’ve taken notes, multiple times today.

They are grounding me.

They are reminding me that I can teach myself new things. I can grow in grace. Perhaps there is no greater calling in this new year.

Later in the book, amb shares a conversation Jodie Tonita during which Jodie says, “In the face of daunting challenges, we must summon the courage to believe we are the ones we have been waiting for, take risks and experiment towards solutions. We’re being asked to behave in our inherent capacity, step into the unknown and challenge deeply held assumption. For most of us, that’s radically disruptive and contrary to how we’ve organized ourselves to succeed in life to date.”

Yes. It is so much to unlearn and to relearn and to learn anew.

There is courage in saying, “I did my best, and I will continue to strive to do better, now that I know better.”

There is courage in listening without personalizing and defending, but with openness to grow.

There is courage in change.

There is courage in extending grace to oneself as well as others.

But, it is a process and it is hard.

“What we pay attention to grows…what we put our attention on grows”

I am seeking to grow.

Uncharted Waters (Final Reflection Fall 2020)

Dark sunset over water

Just over 10 months ago, I accepted a new position.

Just over 9 months ago, the world, and with it the educational world that I had previously known, completely shifted.

6 months and 3 weeks ago, I started a new position.

Just about 4 months ago, I began the fall semester, teaching courses I’ve never taught before, in a new university, using a new LMS, with new administrative responsibilities, in a very different educational world, with a child starting online bilingual kindergarten in a language that neither her father nor I know, with another child starting 9th grade, with everyone at home.

It has without a question been the hardest semester of my life.

I can only completely feel the weight of this as I look back.

During this semester, my primary goal was to make it to the end, to survive.

I kept focused on what was directly ahead of me at all times, moment by moment, facing directly ahead and moving forward.

I hoped desperately that my family would be alright, that my students would learn something, that I could contribute to my program, and to the many individuals and communities that I hold dear.

But honestly, I just wanted to survive.

To do this, I had to draw from everything I’ve developed over my lifetime that has helped me to survive: hard work, years of classroom teaching, my love for teaching and learning, an adeptness with technology, my partner who loves me wholeheartedly and supports everything I do, my community who reminds me to care for myself, my refusal to do less than I’m able in any circumstance, therapy, tears, and incredible focus.

I made it. I survived. My family did well, all things considered. My students reported learning.

But surviving has come at such a cost.

It is my first real moment to sit down and reflect on it all, the victory and the cost.

The Victory

There is always beauty in the growth of my students. They grew so much and brought so much to our classes and our community. I got to bring in friends and educators from across the country to speak to these talented future teachers. I got to teach subject specific methods in my three credential areas which was a joy.

My program co-constructed a beautiful collective vision. It can become our North Star, and move us forward towards transformation. I got to co-facilitate beautiful and powerful professional learning workshops with an incredibly talented colleague and friend (shout out to the brilliance of Dr. Kristal Andrews). I got to work alongside some incredible educators and future educators. I got to work with leadership that sees transformation as the goal of our work. We are building with the help and support of the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity. I’m making fewer mistakes.

While I try to limit the pictures of my (home) family I post here, I am so proud and grateful for them. They have somehow thrived in this time, of all times. My 5-year old has learned so much Korean in the last four months. My 14-year old and I have made a tradition of Tuesday-Thursday hot beverage runs and he has largely self-managed himself to an earned 4.0 in the first semester. My husband still loves me despite taking on a large portion of the childrearing responsibilities while working full time from home.

My communities have been a constant encouragement. Whether they are colleagues from my current or previous institution, whether they are friends and/or friends turned family, whether they are church family, social media connections, they have helped me, encouraged me, walked alongside me, loved me, empathized with me. I couldn’t have made it without you.

I am so grateful.

The Cost

I am so exhausted. I am spiritually, emotionally, and physically drained. I was listening to the brilliant Season 2 Episode 7 of the Black Gaze Podcast and the concept of taking on too much as violence against the self hit me hard.

To survive, I have begun in the last few weeks to read books for my survival: Healing Resistance, Emergent Strategy and How We Show Up and I have fought for my survival through therapy (individual and collective) and the message from God and the universe have been consistent. I cannot keep contributing from emptiness. If I am to engage in non-violence, I cannot continue engaging in violence against myself, giving away my time, energy, heart and life to institutions and systems without consideration for myself and my community.

There is a lot of unlearning, relearning and learning to do if I want to move past survival into a life where I am thriving.

These are perhaps the most terrifying uncharted waters.

But I keep being led here.

I keep finding myself washed up on shores and looking out at the horizon, but wandering the same ways to find something better.

I am not where I was 10 months ago, or 9 months ago, or 6 months ago, or 4 months ago. I am not where I was yesterday. I am where I am, and choosing where to go next.

There is power in choosing anew every day.

Tonight is the winter solstice.

Tomorrow the days get longer; there is a bit more light.

May it guide my choices.

Closer to Fine

Close up of a heart made out of small lights on brown sand

2020 has been a year of so much heaviness, darkness, and isolation.

It has been a year of missing so many people, missing proximity (even sometimes when you share a household with others), missing normalcy, missing boundaries to be embraced instead of set, missing escapes.

It has been a very hard year.

But, personally, there have also been some profound moments of healing, insight, and becoming.

When there is nowhere one can escape to, when there is no one or nothing to set boundaries, when you must resist the demands from the outside to listen to the voices of those closest to you and those within you (yours and those of the ancestors you carry with you), you are forced to become something different.

It’s been a strange few weeks since the end of November when I forced myself to take a week without meetings. The world continued. I felt better. Things were good.

After that though, I found myself in such a fog. Not wanting to return to the 80 hour weeks I had assigned to myself (because there is always too much work to do), confronted by the numerous projects to which I had committed (but not allotted sufficient time for), often wanting just to be done with it all, but still compulsively doing it because it felt like the thing I had to do (even though these were the things that might not fully deserve the level of sacrifice I gave). I was exhausted from the inner battle. I knew I needed rest and to act differently. I had seen that this was possible. But I knew I could not just drop everything indefinitely.

In talking with my therapist this week, I told her about the struggles to show up for myself to set healthy boundaries for myself, to do the things that I needed when I felt others needed me more or when they felt they needed me more. I told her that it didn’t feel like anything was right and it was all a jumbled mess in my head and my heart.

Then she asked me if maybe this was something that was so hard for me to sort through because it was something that I carried with me from previous generations.

And her question broke me.

[Fortunately, I was bound together by the jumbled mess of obligation I was caught up in, so this just resulted in a lot of tears and no actual collapse into pieces.]

But, the brokenness was the beginning of healing.

Of course it was.

Because it was a new grief, for my mother and grandmother who fought such different battles than those I have, so that I could have the privilege to fight the battles that I do. I don’t diminish my battles to make theirs more noble. Our battles are different, but done with the same depth of love.

They pushed forward to survive for their children so that I could push for greater opportunity, not just for my children, but for the children in the (future) classrooms of the teachers with whom I work.

They sacrificed so much of themselves so that I could sacrifice less of myself.

But what do I know besides sacrifice?

So how would I know to choose differently?

I don’t….yet.

It is a lot.

But through the fog, I have found myself closer to them, and closer to myself.

Drawing closer to them and closer to myself, I find myself closer to healing.

For all of this, I am deeply grateful.

The Presence of Grief

Photo of stencil wall art, a girl letting a red heart balloon go

Another December 14th.

The 8th since my brother called to tell me something had happened at my nephew’s school, since he texted me an hour later, saying that he had my nephew. Something that 20 families didn’t get to hear.

I am well acquainted with grief.

Collective and individual.

With days that are remembered in our collective national conscience because they are so painful that those of us it impacted, those of us immediately adjacent to it, those of us further away from it.

The grief feels somehow more acute this year, as we are in the midst of another period of collective national grief…ongoing over the last 9 months…that grief rolling in waves and touching so many. The grief from Sandy Hook, so acute, so sudden and so painful with each reminder.

Be gentle, my friends.

We don’t know one another’s loads.

Remember our fragile humanity, friends.

Make space. Hold space.

And when you are able, act in a way that honors your true humanity and that of others.

It is all so much and it is the best we can do in this moment.

The Next Checkpoint

runner approaching the 13 mile marker in a race

“We are almost there,” I keep telling myself, the students in my classes, my friends, the faculty in my program.

But almost where?

Yes, we’re nearly to the end of what has felt like the longest semester of my 20-year teaching career.

But the end just leads to another beginning…

Which will be more of the same unless I choose to do differently.

Sure, I have the experience of surviving this semester to teach me how to make next semester more sustainable.

But that also means, revisiting, retooling, reworking.

I am so tired.

It reminds me of running the race set out before you.

If 2020 had gone the way I had planned it, I would have completed by first marathon, a charity run of the New York marathon, last month. I have been running half marathons for about 5 years and thought that it was finally the time to take on the longer distance.

This is similar to the way I have always approached all things in my life, particularly my professional life. Take on a challenge, develop comfort at that level of challenge, then move to a greater challenge.

But, during this pandemic, I have realized that this is not sustainable, nor is it really what I want to do.

I have been operating under an internalized sense of what “progress” is supposed to look like, what it means to contribute at a greater level, to do more, to live up to your “full potential.”

What it means to keep going, for the sake of a team, even when your heart isn’t in the race, even when you are exhausted and sacrificing your health and well-being and your family whom you love deeply and dearly.

I am so tired.

Perhaps the “there” that we are almost to, is a checkpoint, a water station, a point where we can pull off the course for a breath of air, a moment to re-energize.

Or perhaps the there requires waiting on the side of the road for the medic van to take us (perhaps gasping for air, or crying, or injured with bruised pride and hearts wondering if we’ll ever be able to race again) back to those who are waiting for us at the finish line.

Back to those who will remind us that we’re loved for who we are, no matter what race we drop out of, or what detours we take.

I don’t know.

But I know I’m almost somewhere because I can’t keep limping along much further.