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.
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.