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.
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.
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