You know those moments where it’s one thing after another, & it’s often the stupidest, most easily avoidable things? That’s me lately. In fact, I keep visualizing that fairground stall with the things that pop up out the hole & you must try to shoot them before they sink back into the hole again. Except, this is real life. “Shooting it” is messy, the prize isn’t an adult size stuffy teddy bear, & most likely you find yourself saying: “I think I’m done, get me off this ride now.”
On Tuesday I did the stupidest thing. I put my glasses down, which slipped without me realizing from where I had put them &… I sat on them. My dad asked me if they broke because of the size of my bum, I told him no, it was because I have buns of steel. I wish my butt was made from steel, but let’s not go there.
You see, I didn’t just break my glasses. I broke my life line. I rarely talk about my hearing, but Tuesday I was confronted with quite a serious issue. I can’t hear, & now I can’t see. My sight isn’t the best, the shocked faces of those who try my glasses on tell me that. You know, just in case eyeballing my laptop keyboard didn’t give me that message. But even still, because of my hearing loss my sight has become my dominant sense. Go figure, our bodies are crazy cool. My level of dependency on my sight is insane… & without it, I don’t just struggle to see, I can’t hear.
I read an amazing quote recently from a lipreading person & I thought it was so perfect:
“There is a misconception that lipreading is just like reading a book. You look at the mouth & read. But no, it’s far, far more complicated than that. I have to queue up words in my mind, invent possibilities that fit the facial expression, body language, approximate number of syllables etc etc. Sometimes there are a couple of possibilities, & I hold both in my mind simultaneously, waiting for it to become clear. While I’m doing this, collecting possibilities & sifting through them all, I need to keep the conversation going. So I smile, nod, & say “mmm” & “yep…” as appropriate. If I don’t do that, the speaker stops, & we haven’t gotten anywhere. Sometimes though I get right to the end, & I realize that none of the possibilities work. The whole thing just doesn’t make sense. & then I have to say, “Sorry, can you go right back to the start?” & you might wonder, well why were you nodding & smiling & saying yes all along when I didn’t understand. But that’s because it’s how lipreading works. It’s not a lie. It’s the only practical way to do it. It can take a whole minute or two after the speaker finished, that it suddenly comes to me what was said. As you can imagine, this is incredibly hard work. I have an hour of lipreading in me a day, tops. After that, fatigue sets in. And if I go too far, pushing myself for maybe 3 hours, I am WIPED afterwards, & my head pounds. It can literally take me days to recover. This is way I prefer other methods of conversation….”
I WISH I wrote this. This quote is 1000000% accurate. My mum can tell you horror stories of how frustrated I would be after school each day. As an adult, the many “side effects” still exist; like how more days than not I struggle with headaches & feel overly stimulated. But every single day I fight my hearing loss & refuse to bow down to this disability. My ability to cope is a rock. But it’s a rock that’s balancing on a very fragile system of “everything must go correctly in the universe.” Take away my glasses, my rock suddenly free falls.
Ironically yesterday God talked to me a lot about His Provision. How He is strong like denim & tenderly compassionate like lace; & how He goes ahead of us to make a path possible or to soften a heart. So, when the butt snapping glasses incident happened I had a deep sense of peace. It didn’t take away the freak out & the tears but the first thing I did was point out to God who He just said He was, & that I really needed Him to show up because I was massively screwed.
What followed next was: (1) I found an old pair of glasses that are old, awful on the prescription & give me a monster headache but it’s better than nothing; (2) I went to life group later that evening & they immediately spoke encouragement over me when I told them what happened; (3) their offer to help practically was also immediate; (4) a friend from the life group arranged for me to see an optician yesterday; (5) the optician ever so graciously gave me a discounted rate for the test eye & offered to get me free trial contacts to tie me over until I get back to the UK; (6)…
You see 1-5 can be examples of the Almighty Strong Denim God. God the go getter, fighting for us, lining everything up: friends, support, practical help… But point 6 was my highlight.
My friend who organized the appointment with the optician wanted to pay the bill. He’s the kind of guy who is so quick to extravagantly bless people where finances are involved, & normally he won’t take no for an answer. This time around however, when I said no to his offer, he accepted it. It was only later as I reflected that I realized something. I don’t know why he accepted it. Was he strapped for cash? Or did he have discernment & understand the importance of letting me pay? Either way, his actions of lining up an appointment for me & allowing me to pay for myself gave me an incredible sense control in a horrible situation. Not control like pride, but control in the way of a real sense of dignity & empowerment.
You see, as humans we are all trying to reach for the same key things right? Ability being central. Ability to work, be in community, live life to the fullest… Being “disabled” is “simply” a matter of trying to reach for the same things as an able person but having to make significant adaptations to get there. We are a strong group of people; & now that I think about it, that makes us quite powerful I guess. We fight for our quality of life every single second of every single day. Most of us do it “behind the scenes”, taking ownership of our disability & the fight for quality privately on our own shoulders. We so often “just get on with it.”. We fight simply, & for no other reason than because we have a deep desire inbuilt into our human DNA, just like an able person, for connection & intimacy.
Every day we face separation, isolation & exclusion in every area of our lives. And maybe that’s why it’s so powerful when someone comes along side us individually & communicates: I see you. Remember what I once quoted? “Intimacy: Into Me You See.” So yes, whilst we can fight & do what we need to do, we also understand how precious being connected is. I don’t know if I can describe what it does to our souls. There is LIFE. You bring someone life, real tangible life when you communicate they are seen & not alone. It’s easy to do the obvious surface level seeing but the deeper seeing is a whole different ball game. It can be a friend reminding another friend to not cover their mouth with their hand when they speak to me, or it can be the honor of a wish to let me pay the bill.
This is the tender compassion of God. Lace. I, the LORD your GOD will provide for ALL your needs. Both Denim & Lace. He meets us in the practical, & He meets us in the heart stuff. He doesn’t just care, He sees. Me, Akila Knight, a speck on planet earth, who is currently trying to ass crunch her way through life is Seen.
It’s been a long time since I wrote to you, or about you. Recently I’m finding that I’m treading into new areas of grief, as well as revisiting well walked areas of grief. But I’m not sure it can be as distinctive as that. Because lately life seems to be a like an old map over a new land. A combination of the new and the old, the familiar and the foreign. Like I’m navigating new foreign lands by grasping hold of familiar old knowledge.
I’m in a foreign emotional land releasing parts of my identity to God, channelled through revelations long ago discovered. I’m in a foreign spiritual land discovering who God is, reaching out to truths long ago exposed. And I’m in a foreign physical land, where I’ve been for 3 years, but still relearning how to live life.
And well, there is you.
And where do I put you?
You overflow into so many of my lands Mike, and suitcases for that matter. How do I possibly begin to help someone outside of my heart to fully understand the depth of this? You are one whole of my identity as my brother; like the waters of the earth which are completely connected. One third of my identity as a sibling; the way the stars, dust and dark matter complement each other to create the galaxy. One fifth on my identity as part of the “Knight Family Clan”; the way the world knows of the “Big Five” Animals.
I’m not suggesting any, “we are one with the world” type of thing by saying these things. I’m simply trying to navigate foreign lands, with old knowledge, to illustrate a reality I face in my heart. Once upon a time something that was once “complete”, is now incomplete because the rivers topped running, the stars died, and the Big Five became, “Just Four”.
At so many land marks and sign posts I think about you Mike. When I see other people with their brothers. When I see pictures of you. When I think of something I want to tell you. Sadness is one dimension of grief, but being sad is an incomplete picture of grief. For example, I love talking about you. I would talk about you all the time if I could. The retelling of such precious memories warms my soul and draws me as close to you as possible. In those moments, it’s the underlying reality of separation that makes grief bittersweet… and BEAUTIFUL.
Mike, people here often say I am the glue that drives and hold our community together. It’s something that is incredibly honouring to be told. But Mike, I want to give you credit for that. Because any truth in these statements comes down to you. In your death, you taught me life is fragile; to seize the moments; to make the memories; to live freely and intentionally because we only get one shot. You always said you wanted to lead worship and you did. You, lead me into a different life style. God used your death to change the course of my life. How wonderfully redemptive and tragically broken.
I wish someone told me Mike, that in time the life alternating revelations God gave me through your death would lose its power as I allowed other things to take priority again. Busyness, compartmentalising, superficiality, worrying about what others think, allowing things to rent space in my mind. Your death was so precious, and for a while there I felt the freest I have ever felt.
If I could do it again, I would hold onto to those revelations harder. It’s not about staying in sorrow, it’s about ensuring the life death brings isn’t wasted. The very concept of death bringing life is one of grief’s truest and most beautiful conflicts. Embracing the fullness of life and death; walking fearlessly in the memories, lessons, regrets, revelations; and recycling everything you carry to give purpose to the present day.
Being in South Africa is hard Mike. I’m away from mum, dad and Laura and I’m not around for so many things that are passing by in their lives. I only get one family; and I don’t want to get to the end of their life or mine to find I regret not doing life with them when I had the chance. I struggle with the thought of living anywhere but England. Not because I love England, but because my family are there. I don’t want the separation from them Mikey. It’s already my story with you.
I left home to go to university when you were 15 years old, and I missed out on the three most important years of your life. I missed your 18th which was your last birthday. We missed our last Christmas. I missed your whole adventure of going to the ship for six months. I missed out connecting with you when we were at the age where we could relate to one another. I missed out on every imaginable, boring, special part to your last three years. And then, you were gone. I wasn’t even home for that. I wasn’t home when you left.
The thing of not being home is hard Mike. So flippen hard. Any thoughts I have about not being there for you, I try to use to wisely influence present day decisions; like about community, intentionality, living with open hands, and vulnerability. But when it’s thoughts about not being there for mum, dad and Laura… it breaks me a little sometimes. Every day I’m stepping forward; every day I’m choosing to follow God; every day I’m believing that being in the centre of His will is greater than being home… But that daily decision to step, chose and believe so often feels like I’m dragging an elephant over a mountain size step.
Mike, I honestly don’t know what the future holds, or what it looks like; especially when it comes to family. I have a lot of questions, some fear, and some pain. But at least with pain I can use it to physically push me forward. The fear thing though, it competes exhaustingly with having an open heart.
I’ve been given so much freedom, and an unimaginably honouring privilege, to do vulnerability so openly. However, I often wonder if the people around me have any idea the price said vulnerability came at, or still comes at. The price of choosing to reach down into the depths of the stinging pits and to recycle your very being, in hope that from your vulnerability is birthed hope, freedom and life for someone else. That’s the most intense type of bittersweet.
Death still amazes me. It’s power to shift the entire landscape of one’s life. The way they think. The way they operate. Their decisions. Their behaviour. Their words. Life becomes so unimaginably intentional. Whilst I sometimes feel the shudder of the earth under my feet, whilst I sometimes see the walls of water racing towards me, whilst I don’t always know how to read old maps, and whilst I don’t always know how to draw new maps… I wouldn’t trade these valleys and mountains to not be in a foreign land.
That all being said, I miss you Mike. I really wish we could just chat and I wish you could see me. Not that I want you to sacrifice the fullness of what you have in Heaven; but just so that I knew there was still a connection between us. Because no matter what people say, and people try to say kind words, the reality is death separates. Jesus redeemed the eternal consequence of death, but until He comes again, death still momentarily exists. And in its existence, separates. No matter how short the time is until we’re reunited, the separation is still awful. I wonder if that’s why Jesus cried when Lazarus died, because he knew the reality and power of death on Earth.
Anyways Mikey, I’m going to stop for now. I could write and write and write to you. There’s so much I long to share with you. I love you. And I can’t wait to see you again.
It’s been very interesting to watch my life group lately. The deeper into community we get, the more each of us are open and vulnerable with each other. It seems to me that we are all figuring out this thing called “identity”.
A community of people doing rugby matches, movies, meals, drinks, hikes, holidays, dancing and so much more together has been the catalysis for leading each of us individually to a safe place of togetherness, realness and authenticity. I don’t know why or how it happened. I have an idea but I think God is doing something far more special than what I can see or understand at my human surface level.
“I’m not sure someone will like what they see if they got to really know me.” “I’m not sure there is someone out there for me.” “I don’t know how to react if someone says they like me.” These are just some of the many things I or others have said in the past couple weeks. These ponderings are and grappling is just the tip of the deeper questions, the deeper needs, the deeper exploring that is happening in our hearts.
I personally have been saying a lot that I need to figure out who God is and who I am in God before I can embrace my true identity. That being said I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately with the enormity of my own deeper questions and my own deeper exploring. But the more I think about it… the more I wonder if it comes down to one ultimate question: “Do I have value?” Every question I have about my identity and my identity in God can, I think, be rooted back to this very question. Packaged differently, but still the same question: “Am I of value?” “Do I have value?” “What value do I bring?”
I’ve always said “I just want to do life with others and empower them to be greater versions of who they already are.” This can be done in so many ways but it seems the way I’m wired is for the framework of vulnerability. I love asking questions that make people think. I love understanding how and why someone behaves the way they do. But it can feel incredibly exposing. I do realise that. I also think a lot of people run from vulnerability because feeling like parts of them are being exposed is freaking scary. There’s little control once things are exposed about how someone sees you, or what they think about you. We don’t want anything to rock our fragile sense of value.
So why be vulnerable? Why let parts of your inner being be exposed? I guess it all comes down to growth. Growing in your true identity, growing in truth, growing in freedom, growing in love, growing in grace, growing in understanding value… “Above all love God and love others…” You can only truly love others if you understand what love is. In all its glory. In this case starting with, and maybe even ending with, Love is vulnerability.
BUT, I can’t encourage others to be vulnerable if I don’t do vulnerability myself. In fact, asking someone to be vulnerable always means the person asking needs to be vulnerable first.
Last weekend I nearly didn’t go to church. I wanted to turn my phone off, hide in my bed for the day and not see anyone. I felt tired of being exposed. I felt tired of being vulnerable. I felt tired of showing parts of myself I’d rather hide. I felt tired of bringing to light the fears and lies in my life. I felt tired of the vulnerability hangovers where I’m left thinking “Oh God, what do people think of me, how could anyone want to choose to hang out with me after this.”
I wonder if it looks like it comes easily to me because I do speak about my own areas of vulnerability a lot; and if that’s true that people view it like that, then I wonder if sometimes people forget that for me, just like it is for them, it’s a choice. I only make this choice because at age the age of 14 years old God told me, “Akila I made you for people.” My belief in my calling, in breaking power and in people’s greater identity outweighs my fear of judgement and condemnation; but it really truly comes at the personal price of deep vulnerability and exposure for Satan to attack my value and identity.
As Roosevelt wrote in his speech, “… The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…” Yes I want to hide. Yes I want to stop revealing my heart and mind to others… But to do that means I’m not being faithful to how I am created, to how God wants to use me, and actually it just gives Satan territory in the arena.
The really beautiful thing is, vulnerability isn’t a one man show. Being vulnerable calls others out to be vulnerable. Every time someone choses to be vulnerable to me or in my presence, it paves a way for me to be vulnerable. If Love is vulnerability, and God calls us to Love one another, then I wonder if the act of vulnerability is a community thing. Something that all of us need to be faithful to.
If I’m right on that, then vulnerability needs trust in its community environmental factors. I can only be vulnerable with others because I know I can trust them. Trust is intimate and as one of our pastor’s said, “Intimacy is defined as – Into Me You See.”
We all know treasures are found in dark places so why do we run from vulnerability? Why do we think vulnerability is going to lead to something negative? Why do we associate vulnerability with destroying value? Why don’t we really understand that, if we want and choose, our vulnerability leads to intimacy; which develops trust and growth, and subsequently actually leads to the deep treasures of our true value.
The truth is our value is there, our choice is being willing to find it. Don’t run. Don’t hide. Get into the arena, and together with your community, take back the ground Satan is claiming on your identity and value.
Sometimes when I look back on my life I think to myself, “did that really happen?” God has shifted & redeemed so much that when I share some parts of my story, especially in the area of guys, it feels like I’m telling it from the third person perspective.
Whilst my head questions where my chains are, & whilst my heart fills with love and joy for what God has done for me, I do struggle to look people in the eye when I talk. There’s something about vulnerability &looking someone in the eye. I can be vulnerable but most likely I’ll be more honest if I don’t look into the eyes of the person I’m talking to.
Last night I was part of a conversation that led Toes to say to me, “I can’t believe guys have hit you in the past.” Toes was referring back to another conversation we had a couple weeks ago. Chief & Island were also part of the conversation & they were shocked. I shared two stories briefly & they said more than once, “that would never happen here.”
It seems God knew what He was doing sending me to South Africa. In the Afrikaans culture guy’s treat women really well. They offer their chairs, they walk girls to their cars, & they let the girls go through the door way first… All stuff that is simple & nothing more than courteous. But actually, all things that are so powerful to a girl with marks all over her. Emotional marks, physical marks & metaphorical marks.
I don’t feel shame anymore. But I do hide behind humor when I talk about many of the incidences that have happened between myself & guys. There might not be shame but there is still a level of sadness. I avoid people’s eyes when I talk about it. Or if I do look I can’t maintain it for long. I prefer to look off to the side or straight ahead, but I don’t really look at anything, just space.
I think there is another reason for that whole looking into the distance. My heart isn’t hard but it’s very guarded. I became very good at compartmentalizing. Pushing all the pain deep down. I was so good at compartmentalizing things that I could do things & have no shame or fear. I was numb. My brain literally shut down & stopped thinking.
Sometimes I cannot remember things in its truest emotional form because I didn’t feel it. Staring into space when I talk kind of makes me feel safe & like I have a chance to really try to reflect on what happened; to allow me to feel things I maybe refused to feel before.
The beautiful things is God’s stories are so interwoven with my story. His stories of love, grace, mercy, kindness, dignity, restoration… sometimes it’s so hard to remember things because He’s removed it. For example I remember the level of guilt & shame I felt. I remember that awful moment a close family friend said in front of a crowd of people, “Akila you are God’s daughter.” I remember that was the moment I felt the most unworthy.
But I don’t remember the emotion itself, I don’t carry that shame & guilt anymore. Whilst I can tell you that was the most unworthy I felt, I don’t have the emotional recall to that moment. I don’t feel it anymore. That’s how I know for myself how powerful God is. That’s how I know how much He’s done in my life.
Also, my ability to compartmentalize has rapidly disintegrated. God in His mercy helped me to make that very conscious decision the moment I got the news that Mike died. He used Mike’s death to teach me how to feel & how to think. It’s still a journey though, I’ve swung the other way & now overthink everything haha. But knowing where I came from, dealing with overthinking to find a healthy balance is a joy filled journey with God.
Some things are tangibly measurable & others are not. Because it’s heart stuff sometimes only God really truly knows how much He’s done in my heart. One thing that is measurable is the change in my heart towards the future. I never wanted to get married or have kids until about 2 years ago. That’s a whole story in itself that I’ll save for another day but the start of story goes simply like this.
One day I was at work, doing something that was mind numbing boring. I had all my walls down because the task required no brain work; & I heard a voice say to me, “Akila you are going to get married.” Because I had no walls up my heart could give a reflex response. I smiled. & I frigging couldn’t stop smiling. No reasoning, no justifying, no doubting, no unworthiness, just smiles of joy.
Smiles of proof of the marks He’s leaving on me.
SPOILER ALERT: The post I intend to blog after this one will be called, “The Marks you Left on Me.” It will be a little x-rated & a little intense as it shares some of my experiences with guys. Sometimes it’s difficult to show just powerful God is but when we share our stories then God’s power speaks for itself.
Nearly two weeks ago I went out for dinner with my friends & as we sat around the table I couldn’t help, yet again, thinking how blessed I am to have this amazing community. Unfortunately the moment was slammed with another thought, “The last time I had an amazing community of friends my brother died. Why do I have this community? Who is going to die this time?”
Lately I’ve been very aware of fear in my life. It’s like my heart is conflicted in a beautiful tension of feeling paralysed & breaking down walls or lies. Let me give you two battle grounds where this is going on.
Firstly, I love my community of friends here; so much so that I made a decision to be very intentional about not letting anything happen to it. For example, our group has guys in it. The fastest & surest way of division happening is to like someone & they don’t like you back.
So I purposely set out to make sure no guys could pick up a signal of interest from me & misinterpret it. In fact I was so set on doing this that it was a surprise to me last Sunday when one guy said to me, “But I thought you didn’t want to be in a relationship. You keep saying you don’t want anything to compromise this community & family.”
I realised then that I can think I’m communicating clearly but what I’m communicating may not be what people hear. I do want to be in a relationship, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid of loss, of rejection, & I’m afraid of losing my best friend (at least you should be BFFs if you’re dating them?! Haha).
After Mike, after my last relationship, after saying goodbye to the UK… I’m not closed to relationships at all, but my heart is fragile to loss & change. This community is my family, I’m scared that too will go away. Yet, if a guy does come along in my life, I do want to be brave enough to jump in.
The second battle ground is this. One of the coolest things about this group of friends is they give me so much permission to be myself… I know what I’m about to say is going to sound like a complete contradiction but bear with me… however, the deeper into community I get, the more this seems to be challenged.
I’m still figuring out who I am. Especially post Mike. A lot changed once he died. Especially the way I see the world, people & life. Certain things became more meaningful & I became a lot more intentional. I like deep conversations, I like encouraging people to be greater versions of who they already are, I like asking people how they are really doing… But in order to do that I first must be vulnerable. Even if my vulnerability is simply asking the question. No matter how great or small the vulnerability, it’s direct contrast is rejection.
The constant threat of rejection is exhausting but lately the consequences of vulnerability seems more intense. Like recently things have happened, or comments have been made to me that were not supposed to be negative but Satan has used it to cut deep into my heart. The thoughts going around in my head subsequently are:
“You drain people Akila”, “People want to laugh & deep stuff doesn’t refresh them”, “Akila people can only handle you in small doses”, “Akila people push you away because you are too intense”, “Akila you are too emotional”, “Akila you think you are trying to treat people the way you want to be treated but really you are just broken.”
I don’t want to be any of those things that are in my head. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I didn’t ask for Mike to die. I didn’t ask for me to change. I don’t want to drain people. I don’t want people to only be able to cope with me in small doses. My heart feel so raw, shaken & vulnerable thinking this could be.
Tonight, before church, I was trying to put on mascara without crying it off & I was talking to God about all this. I said to God, “I want to me just me. I want to be real & intentional. I want the deep conversations. I want to genuinely know how someone is doing. I really love & care for people. Even if people can only cope with me in small doses, I don’t want to change because this stuff matters to me, this is how I show people they matter to me.”
As I’m trying to figure all this out with Jesus a thought came to me, “Akila they’re not running from you, they’re running from vulnerability.”
Later after church I shared my fears with my life group leader & she gave a really beautiful illustration of a needle with thread. The needle point of vulnerability is so sharp that it can be painful for me & for others, but the thread that the needle brings is community.
Community is so much bigger than just a group of people hanging out. If God is the heart then community is what He uses to pump life into our souls. Life that fills our being with purpose. Life that He uses to demonstrate His love, His freedom, His truth. Community is life. Messy, beautiful, adventurous, living life. But it’s His life, & He gives it to us. He calls us to be our Brother’s Keepers.
This fear malarkey is hard core to address, but once upon a time when I was 14 years old God told me, “Akila I made you for people.” I want to be faithful to that calling. It’s my heart, it’s how I’m wired. What an incredible joy it is to be called my Brother’s Keeper. I’m not confused about this, but the fears bury this so that everything dumped on top causes confusion & disunity.
I don’t have a conclusion to this blog post as this is still a journey. But I do know that I don’t want these fears to kill me. I don’t want to change the root of who I am. I do want to grow. I do want to walk in freedom rather than fear. & whilst I’m trying to move away from acceptance in other people’s eyes, I really do hope I can be a good friend to people.
Last week I was walking down Long Street in Cape Town CBD with a group of friends at about 11.30pm when a guy pushed himself against my back and rubbed himself on me. I spun around only to see he was already doing it to another girl who was with us. Then he walked off. It happened so quickly.
Later that evening I was talking about it to the girl’s brother, let’s call him Abs, and to another guy friend, let’s call him Toes. Abs asked me did I say something to the guy and I said, “No, why would I put myself in an intimidating situation? I’ve no idea if calling him out on it will cause him to get aggressive with me.” Abs said, “But Akila, you were with 4 other guys at the time who have your back. What did you think would happen?”
I found myself unable to respond but inside thinking to myself, “You have my back? I didn’t even think of you guys.”
The next night it was New Year’s Eve. We were on the beach overlooking Cape Town City and once the firework shows ended we decided to go to the restaurant directly behind us because for NYE they had a DJ. Once we got our faces painted by the staff – literally, it was white paint and looked freakin awesome – we hit the dance floor.
I never really realized this until I was going home, but all night I had been looking around me. The whole time I was on the dance floor I did what I always do, observe what others around me are doing. Who is where, who looks shifty, who should I be alert to, do I need to protect someone…
Do I need to protect someone? The number one question I continually ask myself.
Back home when we go out I’m usually the oldest one in the group and/or with my younger sister. Between her and the younger ones in the group I end up stepping into that protector role every time we go out. There is always at least one guy who gets far too close, physical or friendly. Whilst it’s such an honor to be used as a trusted shield by my sister or our friends, I have to switch off my brain, compartmentalize any fear, and address the guy.
The guy’s reaction 99% of the time is either to then hit on me, or to get aggressive. Once a guy punched me three times in the face and busted my lip when I explained the girl wasn’t interested. Another time the guy grabbed my hair so hard I landed head first on the edge of the street curb which caused my head to bleed.
But on the night of NYE something magically strange happened on the dance floor.
I was dancing next to the sister, the same one who was with me on Long Street the night before, and noticed the guy behind her was bumping his backside against her. So I grabbed her hand and spun her into the opposite direction. But then that left me with butt guy and I was thinking, “Oh no?! Where do I go?! His butt is going to bump into me now?!”
I think I dived to the other side of our circle of friends but when I turned around Toes had moved into the spot where the sister and I were. I wish I filmed it because it was genuinely the funniest thing – Toes had no shame, he just danced the same way as the guy, backside to backside, and soon enough the guy moved away.
After a while the lights dimmed and the music got better so myself and two other girls moved to the center of the dance floor. And we just went for it dancing. I could see this tall, creepy, older dude dancing near us and sure enough he made a move on one girl. I grabbed her away from him but then the creep started hitting on the other girl. I grabbed her too and held onto them while dancing in hope that creep would get the message that we were not interested. But as I looked over my shoulder all I saw was Toes and Abs leading the other guys in our group across the dance floor straight to us. They gathered around us dancing and Toes made conversation with creep.
P.s. creep doesn’t deserve a capital “C”.
I cannot tell you how much that blew my mind. It was so simple and non-threatening but so effective. It never crossed my mind that I wasn’t the only one observing things on the dance floor. I never thought our guys would have our backs like that. I never thought they would step into that protective brother role. I never thought it because I never saw it before.
I know what happens when I say no. I know what it’s like to be hit repeatedly in the face and on multiple occasions. I know what it’s like for guys to force their hands onto me. I know what happens when a guy 60 years older than me kisses me inappropriately. I know what it’s like to not be able to press charges because there, “isn’t enough evidence to make the case stick in court”. I know so much more than what anyone should ever have to know.
More than anything I know exactly what it’s like to be a woman in a world where men are animals.
I didn’t know, genuinely did not know, that a group of guys, like my friends, could exist. I don’t know what overwhelms my heart more with love and gratitude – that these guys exist or that I have the joy of calling them my brothers.
I shared some of my personal life story with a friend on the way back to Pretoria from Cape Town. And after she asked me do I have someone who can help me work through some of the things I’ve been through. I do have people, but I said to her, “Do you know what, God’s really amazing. The stuff He’s doing in my heart is insane. I can’t escape Him. He’s using so many people and situations to address things in my life and to heal my heart. It’s absolutely incredible. Just like the other night the way the guys responded on the dance floor. That whole event has shifted so much in my heart.”
I really wish I could show my South Africa family how much God is using them. I’ve said this before but I can’t help repeating it when I realize how full my heart is when I think of them. I actually kinda get sad at my human limitations in expressing my gratitude to them. But I guess I can only keep encouraging them with words of affirmation; and before God just continually ask that He blesses each of them.
In the mean time, I’m so so so freakin blessed to call them my brothers and sisters. Teddi, thanks for pushing me to write about this.
Once upon a time, a situation happened where I think I accidentally pooped on a policeman… I’ll get to that story in a second. This week has been a big week for me!
For starters I learnt how to ride a motorbike, alone?! Ok so my friend was chasing the bike up and down the road in case I started to tumble but still, I was alone on the bike! Secondly, I hosted my first ever dinner “party” here! For 2 years I’ve been putting it off, mainly due to the size of my flat. But I really really miss having people over so I just decided to make it happen. God was kind, the thunder and lightning was CRAY (down with the lingo) and it rained but not enough for us to move from outside to inside. However what made this a big week was – for the first time in South Africa I told someone my testimony.
It’s been interesting for me coming to South Africa. I came to a place where really no one knew me. Apart from one person who was my cabin mate on the ship. I have no history here. No one I went to school with, did life with… in so many ways it has been kind of freeing. Like a way to start over. No one remembers that one time I may or may not have pooped on a policeman. True story. It’s titled “The Flying Poo Story”. Keep reading, I will get to it.
But what has also been interesting is no one has asked to hear my story until very recently. Each one of us has a life story; stories of powerful journeys that shape us into who we are today. Our hopes, dreams, fears, memories, heartbreaks, failures, winning moments, funny stories, family… our heart and mind is formed from these. So I’ve been wondering a question, do people not ask me, or is asking, “tell me your story”, something we just don’t do?
If my guess is right, and we are just not very good at asking people to share their story, then why is that?
When I was invited to share my life story this week I was a little anxious. Anxious because it has potential to bring up thoughts or even past addictions; and anxious because it does definitely bring up fear. Fear of rejection, fear of judgement. I know in my head the issue lies with that person if they chose to reject or judge but in my heart it’s still painful. I find people sometimes don’t look at me the same way again. I’m so sensitive to loss and change; and that type of relationship shift is next level sucky.
On the flip side, do we actually really want to know people? Sometimes I chose to not ask people to share their stories because I fear being burdened with it. Like somehow I will open Pandora’s Box by asking them to share and I then will have to deal with any life issues they reveal about themselves. Sometimes my relationships existed only for the purpose of having a good time; and there was no reason to break the illusion by bringing authenticity in it. I think I was a little too broken to know how to do real friendship with my old party friends. We only knew how to party. Hard.
In other words, maybe we don’t ask people because we’re afraid of their reaction; the impact it might have on us; the fear of being burdened; or maybe we just don’t want that kind of friendship. Maybe we have relationships where we are actually actively saying, “I chose not to know you.”
I know right… #micdrop
I’ve always loved people but I think my attitude to relationships changed after I got sick when I was 19 years old. My body gave up a little and I found myself in hospital for 3 weeks, then a wheelchair for an additional month. It changed even more when I was 20 years old, once I went to the ship for a year. Then when Mike died… shoot, at 21 years old there was no going back for me after that.
I changed, and I’m not the same person anymore. I still struggle with that change. Especially after Mike. It messes a lot with one’s identity. Like for so long I was confused whether I really was an extrovert or if I was actually an introvert. Thankfully I’m still 100% an extrovert?! But I’m deeper, way more sensitive, far more intentional, and the story matters to me. Your story, their story, my story, His story.
Asking someone to share their story is major. Yes, you need wisdom and discernment in doing so. But where possible I really want to encourage you to look for those opportunities to ask someone to tell you their story! It has so so so much potential:to bring healing to the person; to bring fresh revelations of who God is for you and for them; to bring reestablishment of their identity and value; and to basically bring truth, hope, and freedom to their lives.
Unless you really want to choose not know someone, if asking a person to share their story has so much power, why wouldn’t we want to embrace these beautiful opportunities to say to each other, “I see you”.
P.s. Yea, so sorry. I’m totally not ready to blog about the poop story yet haha 😉
PCOS is not a new concept to me. In 2007 I was struggling with my health and I had a laparoscopy operation where they went through my belly button to investigate. The doctor later told me I was borderline, some doctors would say I had PCOS and others wouldn’t. In his opinion I didn’t have PSCO.
However I was apparently borderline and so when things seemed to be getting serious with my last boyfriend I told him. I just explained what had happened, what the condition was and that maybe there might be difficulty getting pregnant. He couldn’t handle it. More than once in the months to follow he said, “Akila did you do something to cause this? You must have done something.”
The possibility of having PCOS was one of the reasons why our relationship came to an end. So you can forgive me for being so afraid of rejection now that it’s been confirmed I do have PCOS. Why in my last blog I said, “I can’t envision a guy having that faith. Am I belittling people’s faith – no, not at all. What I’m saying is I don’t think a guy will have faith in me. I can’t imagine being good enough just as I am for someone else. I can’t imagine a guy would pick me…”
But God is incredibly faithful. I didn’t tell anyone back home that I was going to the hospital last month; and the very day after my hospital appointment my sister told me she received a message from my pastor.
“Laura was just thinking about your Akila and then Genesis 8:11 popped into my head ad I just wanted to pass it on to her. A seemingly random verse but wondered if it is specific to her situation this week. But I don’t have her number on this phone or whatsapp?! Could you please forward this message please? ‘He waited 7 more days and sent out the dove again. It came back in the evening with a freshly picked olive leaf in its beak. Noah knew that the flood was about to be finished.’”
I was so surprised. And yet not at all. Surprised my pastor sent this message to me but not surprised that God was speaking. Speaking hope, peace and truth back into my life. I suppose like Noah I felt a little trapped, scared, uncertain of the future, and no way to really know my fate. Noah looked out and only saw water, I looked out and only saw aloneness. Noah sent the dove out to get confirmation of his being able to return to land; God sent me an olive leaf confirmation that He is faithful and He hasn’t abandoned me.
My church life group here in South Africa have been amazing. God’s really used them to bring community and belonging into my life again.
Side note: for the first time in my life I find myself feeling so free to be me. I don’t feel inadequate in their spirituality, I don’t feel I need to prove anything, I just feel embraced and included. It helps that some of them seemingly have very high emotional intelligence levels haha. But because they give me so much freedom to be myself I find that I just want to keep giving back to them. At the moment it seems to involve a lot of food haha. Two girls moved recently and there were plenty of guys to help them physically move their belongings, I just bought the cinnamon rolls and chocolate croissants to keep them all fed and happy haha.
Side Note 2.0: I miss my parent’s house so much. I miss the big kitchen and the big living room to have people over. I miss people coming over for a cup of tea, or for dinner or just to hang out. But because my friends in my life group bring out a desire in me to invest in them I’m looking for ways to make things happen in the context I’m in. This week I’m attempting my first dinner party in my teeny tiny flat haha.
But back on topic. The depth of community and belonging is going deeper than what most of them probably realize. For example there is a guy in my life group that is really helping me navigate through some of the health things. I don’t think he really knows about my health, or that he’s helping me, but he is.
Back in August he was in a bike accident where a lady in a car turned right and cut him off. He was in hospital for a couple weeks and the doctor had to remove 3 toes on his right foot because they were too damaged. His attitude though is really amazing. I keep thinking if someone did that to me I’d be so pissed off. But he’s really trying to lay it down and give it all to Jesus.
Our health situations are very different but his continual laying it down and walking in grace helps me to think about my situation and how I can do that. He seems pretty unburdened by the accident, and that encourages me to keep working on getting to a place where I too can just be free and unafraid.
I just find it so special when God uses our friends to help us in deep ways without them realizing it. It inspires me to keep striving to be available to God to help others like that also. And to believe I too can be a candle in people’s lives even if I can’t always see it. But mostly I’m just really grateful God is using this amazing group of people to redeem past words, past rejections and past dreams that have been buried out of fear. I hope one day they each really understand what they did for me.
“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:4-7
In the past few days so many people have asked me, “So how are you settling in?” It’s insane to think I have only been here 26 days… 2 days shy of 4 weeks. I feel like I’ve been here a life time already. I’m really enjoying it here.
Let’s start with an update on working in Personnel. It’s actually hard to explain what I do because it can be SO varied. Personnel is absolutely overlapping with recruitment, finance, immigration and member care. And I could be doing any or all of those at any given time depending on a person’s situation.
We get a lot of people enquiring about OM and so we have a small team of people called “mobilizers” that filter out those who are just asking questions to those who are genuinely looking to volunteer with us. From there, the mobilizers send Personnel the information of these potential recruits and we go through the application process. Depending on what area of OM they want to volunteer I could be talking to any one of 100+ OM bases around the world. If they want to volunteer for something in South Africa then I just work alongside that particular base. Then, while a recruit is volunteering with us I help to look after them and recently the OM South Africa leadership team were looking for someone to oversee the exit interviews and so I asked to be that person.
Basically when someone is leaving OM they’ll have a final interview with me assessing their experience with OM. This is after they have all their formal leaving interviews and appraisals. The exit interview is more looking at where we as OM can grow and develop in supporting our volunteers.
It seems along with my daily jobs I have some bigger projects on the side. Last week one of those projects was to compile information regarding visas from about 100 recruits. This past week I’ve been sorting out our file room and this week I hope to shred everything that is over 5 years old. One of the core underlining things my job entails is working with a computer database system that hold everyone’s information. Thankfully it seems things are going well with learning this database and I seem to pick up on it all quite fast. I knew all those hours spent using Facebook would come in handy!
On the side, I’m aiming for one day a week, I’m doing hands on ministry. So far I’ve got to spend a little bit of time with Aids Hope and last weekend I went to Durban for partnership functions. Durban is on the East coast of South Africa and about an 8 hour drive from Pretoria. It was cool to drive through and to see more of the country. Partnership functions and connecting with churches is definitely the more glamorous side of what OM does.
On the Saturday morning we had a partnership brunch whereby business men and women were invited to attend. Whilst they enjoy a spectacular meal we put on a program sharing what OM does and why we would like them to partner with us. Usually these said business people will give financial donations but sometimes they are able to give more specifically. For example, if someone owns a factory that makes stationary then they may give a donation of stationary for our Aids Hope school kids.
On the Sunday our team split up and went to 3 different churches and shared at a total of 5 different services or meetings. We share about missions, what we do in OM and why the world needs more missionaries. This is a great time to share specifically about the programs OM South Africa does and to encourage people to get involved.
Our weekend was exhausting and so Ema, Deborah, Josh and I decided to go Shark Diving at the aquarium next to where we were having one of our functions. Jonathan took pictures from the viewing floor. It was so much fun. I laughed so much I’m sure I would have drowned. P.S. I think I need to elaborate on the enormity of me getting in the water – I have a serious phobia of FISH! True story! In fact I was so scared of them touching my toes I kept my feet moving at all times… And accidently kicked Josh a lot. Including in the head haha. OOPS! The drive back from Durban was rather entertaining! I saw 10 tornados, monkeys, an out of control bush fire and ostrich.
I think this is a good spot to share about some of the people I’ve made friends with here. You know, I started writing their names and nationalities down for you but there are actually too many people to list for you. There is a girl here called Chanri and she was actually one of my cabin mates 5 and a half years ago when we were on the ship. Now her desk is the one next to mine. It’s cool how our paths have crossed again like this.
So there are a couple pieces of news for you. Firstly, the visa situation. After a lot of prayer and discussion I’ve decided I’m coming back to England at the end of November. There is nothing I can do about the visa here. Dad and I will go down to London and visit the embassy in person in order to sort out my visa. My chest X-Ray will be out of date and so I may need to get that redone however we will still go to the embassy without it in hope they can just accept my current X-Ray.
It will take a minimum of 30 days to process the visa and should I need an x-ray I’m intending to give a leeway of an additional 30 days. So bizarrely enough, it looks like I’ll be home for Christmas, Laura’s 21st and a friend’s wedding. Work wise there will be lots for me to do but I can do it all from England which means I will continue to work with OM South Africa whilst I’m back.
The car situation also continued to be a bit of a drama haha. Last week we decided the best way forward is to wait until the person I’m buying the car from is back in South Africa. There’s just too much red tape involved trying to sort out the tax for the car when it’s not in my name.
So, so this means I’m quite limited in how I do things as I’m so dependent on transport (public transport and walking are not options) but that’s OK. I do enjoy my down time on an evening because I’m with people from about 7.30am until 6pm. Plus I live on the property of my boss and her family so I get to spend time with them outside of work hours. Weekends are quite busy! :)My first weekend here in Pretoria I did a lot of chilling out; my second weekend was sports fanatic weekend whereby I watched a 3 hour cricket match, a 5 hour swimming gala and then a football match on TV; last weekend I was in Durban (if we’re friends on FB you need to check out my album called “Remember Who You Are.”); and today I was at Aids Hope in Mamelodi for a braai.
It’s such a sad situation in Mamelodi at the moment as there’s a serial killer who is raping and killing young women. The police are on it but it’s not like England. Mamelodi is one giant township of around 1 million people… where and how do you even start looking for a killer? So it’s been additionally hard for the Aids Hope Team who live and work in Mamelodi with all this extra turmoil going on. The community keep taking things into their own hands which makes things so much worse. There have been many “suspects” who have fallen victim of revenge beatings and even one person was killed. Sadly they killed the wrong person and so the serial killings continue.
Speaking of safety, the car I hoped to get is operated by a standard key and an immobilizer. And it has a hijack button that sets off a crazy alarm should I need to press it in such a situation. Surreal.
I know I have so much more to share with you all but it seems all memory has left me at it inches closer to 9pm. I’ll save anything else to share for another time! 🙂
So here I am!
I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this blog and starting with my entry into South Africa seems logical – I tried to make it glamorous. I really did. I searched my brain for great phrases to step off the plane and into the country with. You know, something to carry with me through thick and thin. Maybe not even a phrase or word but a profound conviction. But I think tiredness was suppressing every in my brain and as I stood at the baggage carousal I did the whole “What have I done, I don’t want to be here” conversation with myself. Thankfully I did have enough wisdom floating through the haze to recognize the transition signs. So in that moment of panic and even now when I have a little “Oh no what have I done moment” I actually try to not dwell on any of the thoughts that could potentially send me off the edge. That, and I’ve just been trying to walk life with Jesus. I attempted to watch a movie in bed last night with Him but if we were to judge how that was going by my waking at 3am this morning with my glasses still on and no memory of falling asleep then I would say, I’m still finding my feet with this concept of living intimately with God haha.
What is Pretoria like? Well leaving Johannesburg Airport and driving to Pretoria was slightly bizarre. It reminded me a lot of home. Miles of just… land. Like the Lake District. Except, the ground is orange, red and brown; the grass is dried out green; the wildlife consists of giraffes (I’ve yet to actually see them); the second day of spring consisted of blue skies and a high of around 27 degrees C… It’s hard to see how I drew the connection to the Lake District but somehow I did. Go figure. I think it was more to do with the way that for miles there is nothing but land and roads and then all of a sudden there is what I can only describe as “random islands of community”. I say this because it’s like there are literally islands of densely populated areas surrounded by enough land to think “Why don’t they just spread out more to give everyone more space?”
My flat is pretty cute. It’s like 3 rooms all joined together in a line. When you open the sliding door you step into the kitchen and living area; the next room is my room and attached to the bedroom is a bathroom. My flat is where the domestic maids would once upon a time live. The mini kitchen/living space was added on in the past 5 years. Over the past 2 days I spent most of my time unpacking, cleaning and making the flat more my own. Actually on that note, let me tell you about my community.
I live in a gated community. There are maybe 50 houses in this community surrounded by walls and electric fences. You drive up there are security guards. But then each house has walls, electric fences, signs saying “Armed response”… I’m not sure you’d believe me but the neighborhood it’s quite beautiful, safe and peaceful all things considering. I asked some of the long term people and people from Pretoria about safety and it’s not as bad as the horror stories everyone seems to be telling me. Thank God. Outside my community is a mini shopping complex and get this… It has a Hooters. The first thing you are greeted with as you come and go from my community is this Hooters. Which I just think is so comical. And Dad, I hate to tell you but apparently it’s a “conservative Hooters”. The girls wear tights under their shorts and vest tops instead of tops that resemble bras. It’s the most random mini shopping complex too. It does have normal stuff like a McDonalds and a supermarket but along with Hooters it also has a business called “Play Time Café”. Put it like this, it has neon lighting and about a meter past its open doors it has a wall preventing you from seeing actually IN the “café”. Somehow I don’t think this is a café.
It all feels a bit surreal here in South Africa so far. Here they have people to fill up your petrol at the petrol station; when I say hello to the maids standing on our street taking a break from their work they call me “Ma’am”; there are signs for an “internet monitored baby care service” (creepy); the Woolworths looks like it’s either associated to M&S or someone went to England, checked out M&S and stole ALL the designs and layout… I’ll have to add to this list as I continue to experience South Africa. In amongst all of this I was also talking with my manager and saying that there is a lot of respect here in Pretoria. Like those maids, I am WAY younger than them and therefore my Western ideology tells me respect should be the other way around. But as it is, that’s not what the deal is here. I’m definitely sensing the skin colour ranking here. I dunno, I’m still trying to understand. It’s a bit surreal.
Speaking of differences between England and South Africa. OMG the driving?! Roundabouts just got more confusing and I fear greatly for the day I drive again back home. So the deal with roundabouts is: mini roundabouts, if you’re turning right then you don’t have to go around them you can just go anticlockwise; if you’re all approaching a mini roundabout from the same exit some will go clockwise, others will go anticlockwise immediately after, and both vehicles just hope they won’t crash into each other when they reach their exit at the same time; and at all roundabouts you don’t give way to the right you go according to who reached the roundabout first. SAY WHAAAAT. So if there are several cars all at the roundabout before you reach there, no matter what the entry point is, you wait until they all go before you. My head hurts just thinking about is.
Yesterday morning I went to Mamelodi. And that was a pretty awesome experience. One of the OM South Africa projects is Aids Hope and they have been working alongside a primary school educating the final year group on Aids, HIV and Sexual Health. Here in South Africa primary school finishes at the age of 13. The class had around 60 kids and statistically speaking 1 in 5 of those 12-13 year olds will have Aids. Which means 12 of them. It’s quite a lot to take in and I couldn’t help but look at their faces and which of them would one day die from Aids. There’s a lot of sigma and ignorance surrounding Aids here in South Africa and so a lot of what Aids Hope does is correct these beliefs (i.e. sex with a virgin will cure you) and break down those barriers (i.e. we are all loved and equal regardless as to whether one has Aids or not). Tradition, witchcraft and culture makes it really hard to challenge and correct attitude towards Aids. Once I get more settled in my role I’ll also take up a ministry day which will most likely be working with Aids Hope. I can’t wait.
I should tell you what Mamelodi is like. Imagine an “island” of an estimated 1 million people living in makeshift one room shacks. Shacks that are smaller than the shed at my parent’s house. Surrounding the entire place is rubbish. I kept seeing rubbish being burnt and I asked my manager if they were burning the rubbish off – thinking they were trying to rid of it. But she told me no. They burn the rubbish to keep warm and to fend off evil spirits. I don’t think there is any real way for me to explain what these places are like except to take photos. However these are not really places I would dare to get my camera out.
I have been in South Africa for 58 hours, less than 2 and a half days and I feel like I’ve been here for a life time already. Stuff even happened today that I can’t share except to say it was literally a “Paul style jail break”. If you wanna see the bible stories in the 21st century you gotta leave the western world to see them for real. Absolutely crazy. I also had my first day at work today! It was fun! I think I’m going to really enjoy my job…
That’s it for now!
P.S. I was asked what I’ve been eating since I got here. So far I have been eating a lot of peanut butter on bread; bananas here are 40p a kilo so I foresee a lot of them in my future; and the only weird stuff I’ve tried so far was raw beef called Biltong. Eak!
So something really cool happened on Sunday morning but before I tell you what, I have to give you the background story first 🙂
When Mike died I felt really close to God. I needed Him so much to get me through Mike’s death that I felt inseparable from Him. We talked together, walked together, lay in bed crying together, laughed together, grew together, healed together, explored life’s mysteries together, learnt about His heart together… I have never been that close to God. I loved it. I thought that feeling of being so connected to Him would never change.
But in amongst it all I believed a lie. I believed that our walks with God are like a hierarchy and I finally reached THAT place everyone wants to be in but is preserved for only the most vulnerable, or the most wise, or the most special, or the most spiritual. I thought I was in the first category, and I thought that once you were in that particular realm with God you couldn’t go back. How and why would you? Once you’ve experienced it why would you want anything different?
But then something happened. The further I got from Mike’s death, the more distant I felt from God. My life turned more and more back into “normality“. That deep connection to God felt less and less. And I panicked. I panicked because I thought I did something wrong. I went through all my mistakes that happened post Mike and questioned, “God was it this one? What about that one? Must of been that other there because that’s a bit of a stinker of a sin...” Post Mike I started to freak out because I didn’t know who I was anymore. What were my dreams? Am I an introvert or an extrovert? What about my life? My friendships? My relationships?
Before I knew it I ended up in a place where everything I thought in my mind was a lie. I allowed negative things people spoke over me to define me. I allowed panic and fear to shape my walk with God. I allowed guilt to follow me and judge me. And the thing that really stood out to me about it all is… I had NO freaking idea any of this was happening. It was only maybe 2-3 months ago did I realise all these lies. Lies are sneaky, subtle and shaped in such away that they look like the truth. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I listened to it all, that I didn’t realise all those thoughts were lies.
But still I felt like I had failed. Something went wrong between me and God. I just couldn’t work out why or what happened. I felt like I was back at square one. Because doubting my self worth, listening to lies about myself, struggling with the things I struggle with… they’re all things that I’ve struggled with for a very long time. All through my teen years. I thought they were gone when Mike died. But they’re back. They’re been back for a couple years. And I thought all these struggles I have was proof that I wasn’t a good follower of Jesus after all.
Sunday morning I had my daily script running through my head. Asking myself what went wrong, asking myself why I felt distant from God, telling myself I failed, telling myself I needed to do more… But this time God stepped in and told me something.
“Akila, you’ve struggled with these things nearly all your life. Even leading up to Mike’s death. You just didn’t always recognise it. When Mike died you were in no position to deal with any of the struggles you faced prior to August 1st 2009. So I loved you the way you needed to be loved. I hugged you all night and helped you gain your strength back during the day. All your struggles that you’re talking about I took from you so you didn’t have to face them in your vulnerability. You grew Akila, you grew stronger. And in time I slowly revealed your struggles to you again because we need to deal with them. In the past you dealt with those struggles in ways that didn’t set you free from them. So this time we’re going to walk together, just like we did with Mike. We’re going to explore the lies you face about yourself and we’re going to deal with them together. I need to show you the truth. I need to show you how to speak the truth into those struggles and into those lies. I need to show you the lies so you can stamp all over them and say no. You are not a bad person and I am not showing you these lies to point out your struggles. I am showing you in order to give you power to destroy Satan.”
For the first time in a long time, something shifted inside me. I started seeing truth and a realisation settled over me. A realisation of God is in control and none of this is in vain. My eyes and my head physically felt cool like I’d come into the shade after standing in the blistering sun. I’m on a journey. I’ll be on this journey of finding truth for a while. Satan will attack from every side just as he has been. But each revelation of truth from God is one more weapon.
Three days into the new year already?! Laura and I are off to London tomorrow which is so exciting. We’ve already had our first major debate: which suitcase to take. Apparently me hogging both sides of the suitcase meant we needed a bigger one so she could have at least one side to herself. Haha. Oops. I suppose that’s the disadvantage to self catering, packing the toilet paper can be a good idea… But there are serious compromises to be made else where. Having said that: one coat, a rain coat, two pairs of shoes… Dang this girl is doing good. I was thinking about packing a sharp kitchen knife into my bag but I’m not entirely sure what the laws are in the UK for knives. I’m aware knives on the street are a “no-no” but a kitchen knife with a chopping board? Where do you stand with that Mr Policeman? ! In all fairness, when you buy knives the majority of people walk out from the shop onto the street with them… Maybe I can blag this. But I’ll save that adventure for a rainy day.
Some cool things have happened over the past few days. I was able to shine light into darkness a couple times; I had a really great catch up with a friend; my hearing aid split last night at work but was able to literally walk into audiology today and walk straight back out with it fixed; I was able to sleep when needed, wake when needed and get all my jobs done; it held of raining until I completed all my jobs in town… Sometimes it really is the most basic of things that can make such a difference in life 🙂
It’s been months since I last updates my blog. Yes, I’m still alive. My reason for not writing as been quite simple really: it’s not exactly been appropriate to share my life’s journey lately. So much of my life evolves around my job and so a lot of my adventures, personal development and daily randomness involves work. I’m not sure what the company policy is for talking about things that are work related and so I’ve just avoided writing. That, and the fact that I’ve been so tired I just haven’t had the mental capacity to deal with blogging.
So, is this my new year’s resolution? To start-up blogging again? No. We sat around the table last night talking about new years resolutions and actually… I don’t believe in them. Why wait a whole year before putting determination and dedication into play? I do appreciate the start of a new year can be symbolic for people in various circumstances. However I can’t help but feel that whilst we preach it so much that “every day is a new day“… I don’t believe people really embrace it the same way they do when the dates hit January 1st. And then, when people fail… I think it’s safe to say the feeling of disappointment felt by those people is so much greater.
Life is a continuum. There isn’t a start or a stop date for us to get things right. Whatever your hopes and goals for 2014, take it day by day. Moment by moment. Push yourself to meet your goals and bring reality to your hopes in such a way that when you look back over the year on December 31st 2014 you can say with confidence: “I pushed, I fought, I got up, I continued…” The achievement for so many of us is not the number of days we stopped something or did something… Our greatest achievement is that moment you refuse to believe you failed. Your journey through life and the demonstration of strength, determination and dedication speaks so much louder than any achievement of any goal. So power on friends. Make sure you always have at least one person walking life with you who can encourage you!
On that note, Jewels, my cat has been in a funny mood over the past few days. He’s had a funny eating pattern and last night he slept 14 hours on my bed and basically didn’t move. I started panicking that his behaviour was a reflection of him getting old. He is 14 and a half… And apparently that makes him approximately 75 years old in cat years?! But still I gave him a mental lecture that he is to power on and keep living. But on a more exciting note than my cat dying… January 1st has been pretty awesome. An old family friend got in touch this morning to bless my sister and I with dinner in London and West End tickets to see “Mojo” next week (OMG I’m so excited!!!); Nicole came to visit and it was lovely catching up with her; I was able to find and buy a portable sound system 25% cheaper than what I thought I’d have to pay; my sister kindly dyed my hair for me; I also was able to find and buy a good size satchel bag for our London trip… Finally, my oldest bestest friend text to update me on our plans for Saturday which will be her making Laura and I a homemade dinner, cracking open some bubbly, getting a cake in for Laura’s birthday and just spending quality time together! Life doesn’t get better than having great friendships 🙂
“You never leave someone behind, you take a part of them with you and leave a part of yourself behind.”
This is what I wrote as my Facebook status yesterday. You see, it was July 11th. Which meant it was the anniversary of the last time I saw Mike. This year, 2013, marked the 4th year that has passed by. When I mentioned this to someone earlier in the week they were confused and said: “I thought he died August 1st?” He did… But my journey leading up to the anniversary of his death begins in the weeks leading up to July 11th.
To many this may seem completely irrational; and that’s OK. When I said goodbye to Mike on this particular day I was saying goodbye for the reason that I was travelling to the Caribbean to work over the next 3 months. It was temporal. Completely temporal with the intention of keeping in contact via email and MSN. Little did I know that exactly 3 weeks later he would die. I couldn’t prevent his death. No one could… If you die in your sleep at the age of 18 and the coroner concluded there was absolutely no reason for his death… Then the only one who could have prevented his death was God. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling sad that I couldn’t prevent it from happening. The weeks leading up to July 11th comes with feelings of “It’s coming.” A journey with an outcome that I know is inevitable. I find parts of my life are being mentally relived from 4 years ago. Mike isn’t going to die every year. It’s done. He’s not going to die anymore. But it doesn’t stop me from having these feelings. Finally that moment comes where we say goodbye. Unlike in 2009… I know what’s going to happen. In three weeks time there is a date in history that will confirm he is gone. You would think these three weeks would be the hardest, rather than the weeks leading up to July 11th. But truth be told there’s almost relief in something being out your control. However, prior to this, I feel like I had every opportunity in the world to change the course of history before 11/7. After it… we were physically out of each others lives. I guess what I really mean by changing the course of history isn’t so much about preventing his death but more all the things I should or shouldn’t have done.
There is so much that I failed him on. And there’s so much heartache that we couldn’t grow old together and have the opportunities to make mature memories. Not all those childhood ones. I look back and see an argument here, a fight there… I remember so many things I wish I did differently. I wish I got him a present for his last birthday. I wish we did more together. And I feel so hopeless when I look back on all this because there is nothing I can do to change it. Nothing I can do to put any of it right. I can’t help but wonder if my passion for people’s birthdays (creating cool birthday parties) and gift giving (birthdays, Christmas, general etc) is rooted in the fact that I failed to do this for Mike and feel guilty about it. I was recently speaking to a friend about how our loved ones go on ahead to heaven and help build our heavenly homes for us to arrive to. It’s biblical… Check it out! And I was thinking, “Man, that’s like so unreal when you think about it! Mike’s up there building me this home and I’m sure he’ll do an amazing job at it!!” But then after a day of thinking this I started thinking: “I don’t deserve that sort of honour and love from Mike. It should have been me who went before him so I could serve him.”
I do realise the truth and I do know that so much is based on irrationalities. But that doesn’t change the dynamics of grief. It’s all still stuff that’s got to be processed. Even 4 years later.
So I was having this conversation with a friend from work about talking to ourselves in the shower. It really is quite random how we use the time in the shower to sing, talk or even dance around. Shhhh… Don’t tell anyone! I’m lucky I haven’t slipped and decked myself haha. My friend mentioned she does a lot of thinking in the shower which was soon followed by her asking the question “I wonder why the shower”.
I think it makes total sense. For many of us it’s the one place and the one time where we spend long enough to stop. No distractions… Unless you’ve stubbed your toes on the side of the shower as you were shaking your booty about and got soap in your eyes (nope? just me??). Ok, so limited distractions. It’s a place where it’s just you.
We think through our plan for the day, we think through situations with people, we reflect on our latest drams, we remember we forgot to buy milk, we have two or even multiple sided conversations with ourselves. Psychologically I can’t help but wonder if there’s something to do with warmth and water that makes us feel safe. Back to the future type situation with the shower and our mum’s womb. Hopefully the shower area allows us to feel slightly less claustrophobic.
I went through a stage when I was little of filling up large jags of water and throwing it at mum in the shower. I only remember doing it with cold water and it being winter. And I remember laughing my head of at it. When I was really little… like 3 and younger I remember me, Mike and dad would cover the shower plug on the ship with a flannel cloth and wallow in the water together. We called it “wallow wallow”. I still remember it. Mike must have only been like a year old. I remember bath times with Mike & Laura were we would cover the sides of the bath with soap, turn the shower on and make ourselves our own mini water slide. I remember all the times we would get into so much trouble for splashing so much water out onto the floor on the bathroom. And I remember that the shower was the place I fully and completely broke down for the first time after hearing Mike died. It was the first time I was alone… The first time I stopped. The first time I actually processed what was happening around me.
Yep, there are many things that happen in the shower.
We’re told as children to say thank you. Our parents drum it into us and I think it’s safe to say it almost becomes a reflex. But this concept of acknowledging appreciation for one another has become something of a concern to me. It seems to also be safe to say, as we get older saying “thank you” becomes harder for us.
Now, I’m not talking about those two words exactly. It’s easy to say “thanks“. It’s one syllable. I’m thinking a little deeper than that. I think sometimes we take it for granted that people know we appreciate them and what they do. But I’m not entirely sure we actually do know how much others value us. Recently I was at a baby shower when my friend, at the end, gave me a little bag with a card and a gift. I was like “What’s this?!” She just wanted to show she appreciated what I had done to help her, yet I had done it without ever once thinking “I wonder if she’ll thank me.” In fact I was really blown away at her gesture! I knew she’d appreciate what I did to help but it meant a lot to me that she went above and beyond a simple two worded phrase.
Often we do things for one another just because actually, it makes us feel good. So we don’t really expect them to thank us. But it’s deeply encouraging when those who benefit from your kindness turn around and show it. Saying thank you is one thing. Saying “I hope you know how much that meant to me” takes it slightly deeper. Words of affirmation always does. But to really go all out, when opportunities arise we can go even further and show our appreciation for one another though acts of service, gifts, quality time… That’s when I think people really know they’re valued. I think it’s really cool when someone out of the blue says to me: “Hey remember that time… Well, I still think about it and it still means a lot.” I have this friend that out of no where… she just went and bought me a brand new iPod. I think I had a mini heart attack because it was so out the blue and I didn’t know how to respond. I think for the most part we don’t always know how to respond to extravagant generosity. And I wonder if that’s partly why acknowledging our appreciation can be hard to do. I’m still learning. I mean, I get really shy and feel really awkward when I go to someone’s house for dinner and thank them for the meal! It’s bizarre!
We say we don’t do things in return for anything else… But I think we’re kidding ourselves. No one can press forward doing things for others if there is no appreciation. And I hate to break it to you… I don’t believe simply saying “thank you” is actually enough for any of us in life.
The first duty of Love is to listen.
Paul Tillich wrote that. Apparently. I’ve no idea who Paul Tillich is. Actually, this is a good example of something that makes me smile. When it comes to debating whether God created the universe or science… So many people struggle to accept something or have faith in something they can’t prove yet there are about a billion things we accept without questioning every single day. Why is that? Anyways… That was a total side note and wasn’t what I was going to write about lol.
I think listening is often easy to do. It’s what you do with the information that is the issue for most of us. How do we respond? People and situations bring out the worst in us. How do we use people and situations to bring out the best in us? Sometimes when people act in an unusual way we are quick to judge rather than ask questions. I find myself reacting firstly with the thought: “Why are you being a dick?” Right there… That’s already judgement passed. I haven’t even gotten onto “Haha, you are so uncool”; “OMG thank god I’m smarter than you to not react like that”; or even one of my personal favourites: “Wow there went your dignity.”
Dignity. What planet am I on? I’m pretty sure my own dignity is in a turd hole somewhere.
Most of us know how to listen to each other. Whether we practice it or not is another thing. But… Do we listen to ourselves? I know I don’t many times. And when I find myself starting to realise I’m having these thoughts… It takes a lot to fight against my number one human error: Pride. The ability to listen in love is hindered by pride. I’m better. I have a right to say this to you or to treat you this way. I can. I will. I want. I am. I. I. I.
I know of a few people who have held me in a place of error because of a mistake I’ve made. Holding me in that place has prevented me in moving forward in their minds. So whilst it’s in their own mind. It does still mentally, emotionally and even physically affects me. They will always see me in the eyes of a mistake rather than what I’m trying to do right. But then I am aware there are things that I hold against people. Mistakes they have made. I too hold people in places where I should allow them to be free. I can’t explain why other people may have held me in a place I don’t belong in. But I can say most of my judgement comes from a place of not understanding.
I don’t understand you. I don’t understand why you do things. Why you say things. And I can’t help but think if I did understand then my thoughts towards people would be a lot less harsh. But then again… Do I have that right to understand? Quite possibly not. And if that’s the case… Man, this goes to a level of comprehension that boggles my brain. I fear I’m never going to learn or successfully get anything right at this rate! :S This would be simple if I wasn’t complex.
So it seems my blog updates get further and further apart. But I figured it was time to write again 🙂
Recently I’ve been thinking a little bit about how time can change so much. I look back over the past 12 months and think “Wow! This happened. Or, that happened.” Some things feel like yesterday and other seem so much longer than 12 or even 18 months ago.
I wrote a lot in the past about not knowing where my life is going. Not having anything in my name was at many times a real struggle too. On one hand I was aware of what a blessing that was and on the other I felt like I simply had no identity what so ever. I struggled to make decisions. Was it the right decision? A purposeful decision? Was it ok to make spontaneous decisions? What if it wasn’t wise? How do I know? What if I commit and then find a couple of months down the line I couldn’t commit? Mike’s death changed so much. It changed me. In every single way. The enormity of that level of change or difference I couldn’t and still can’t grasp. The first 12 months after Mike’s death was filled with hurting and trying to get through my final year of university; the next year was really about trying to stay “safe“; the next 18 months was actually in retrospect a very difficult time with “rejection” being a very key theme… And these past 10 months have been a lot to do with stepping out.
I made decisions… Good ones, ones I won’t make again… I have a mobile contract, gym membership, a job and even, as of yesterday, a car all in my name. I took risks and figured if things change again we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. I’ve found myself and lost myself almost daily. I’ve messed up my priorities and other times I have made myself feel pleased with what I achieved. There’s still so much I want to grow in and change. There’s still so much I struggle with. But somehow in my somewhat blind stepping out… God’s using it to bring me slowly but surely closer to other things that make slightly more sense to me. Or things that make me think “I’m going to be ok.” I’ve allowed work to take over my life and I’ve allowed exhaustion to prevent me from hanging out with Him. I’ve found seeing my monthly wage increase with every hour I work to become slightly addictive. I haven’t made the time for others like I should have. But… having said all of that. I don’t feel guilty. I don’t feel like I’m messing up. I feel simply like, I’m learning to walk again. I’m learning to move to the melody of my life. Sometimes my life looks like a jumping jack high on speed, other times it looks like a psycho serial killer, and sometimes it looks like it needs some serious TLC. I feel ok to just walk and I feel like I’m safe to put one foot in front of the other in however way seems right to my heart because I have chosen to simply believe that God will guide me. If I’m on the wrong path He’ll show me.
Friendships have been an interesting one. These 4 years have taught me a lot about myself. And a lot about others. Maybe more than ever I’ve become more aware of what I am and am not willing for in my relationships with others. I’m learning what it looks like to love people from a distance. I’m learning that not all relationships are healthy. Even with Christians. I’m learning that people suck. And I’m learning that I suck. I know what I look for in relationships and I’m learning to not feel guilty to not have people in my inner circle who don’t match up to what I want, need or look for. For the first time in the last week or so I deleted people off my Facebook. Admittedly they were all “deactivated accounts” haha. But still, its steps forwards in directions I feel I want to go. I don’t KNOW where I’m going in life. I just go on feelings now. Again… I know the problems and the advantages of that. But if I don’t do something then I sit still in a very harmful place.
Where does my future go? I don’t know. I still feel the need to justify my job. Why I’m not using my degree. I still find I panic and struggle to breath when I think of certain people or situations. I prefer one on one to big groups. I even like being alone a lot these days. I hate people looking at me with what I call “knowing eyes“. I still day-dream about forensics. I feel restless and confused… But more and more, I’m finding I’m feeling “OK” about different things. Or people. I see glimmers of growing and learning. And my gut tells me to stay put with a couple of things until I find contentment. Until I can say “God, if this is what you want for me, then I’m OK with that.” Again maybe I’m wrong… And that’s where I just have to believe in God and his ability to show me otherwise.
I turn 25 really soon. And yes, I still very much think to myself “God, will I ever…” Get married? Have kids? Have a job I truly love? Travel the world the way I dream of? Sometimes it’s easy for me to literally cry big fat drops of tears in fear that I will never see any of those things. And again, I realise that it’s ok to feel that way. It’s ok because Mike’s death has influenced that fear. And it’s also ok… Because whatever happens, I’m going to be OK. True my whole world could caved in all the more tomorrow. But the belief that I’m going to be OK is growing. It’d be pretty cool to see these dreams become reality… But honestly, I think my biggest success in life will be to stand before God, face life and simply say with complete conviction “It’s OK.” And if I can do that… That one simple thing… Well, I think it’s possible it might outweigh the joy of any other dream I have.
P.S. Fallen in love with this song. I put it in the context of God, myself, my life, my future… and a little treasure called “opportunity” 🙂