DON’T BE AFRAID, SPEAK - student project


     March for me has continued to be filled with reflection. In January, I promised myself I would not engage in the tradition every new year brings – resolutions. I was pleasantly surprised and challenged when Chrystal Evans Hurst (one of my favorite podcast and YouTuber’s) posed a question to us on her Instagram live feed; If you could advise your 18–20-year-old self, using four words what would they be? I stared blinking at the screen as she repeated the question adding, “Just four words”, she said. I rolled my eyes and laughed out loud because for me, four words would never, ever be enough to send advice back through time to my 18–20-year-old self. As I pondered this thought-provoking question, I grew more amused knowing I had accepted the challenge, yet I thought it funny and even said out loud, “I’ll give the advice in four words, but will she listen?” Again, writing this I’m laughing out loud! Seriously, looking back over that stage of my life, fresh out of high school, finding my way in new spaces on campus, navigating the highs and lows of all things collegiate including interpersonal relationships and falling frequently- at times miserably. What to say to that 18-year-old? What is common between what represents my life to 18 and now at 56 that continues to be relevant? What could I say that would be impactful enough to shatter the solid foundation that affects me today? After a few days of sitting with these questions that bloomed from the challenge question, the four words quietly materialized in my consciousness. Don’t be afraid - Speak!  And just like that the advice to myself solidified and not only has the power (if time travel was a thing) to alter past choices, but also changes everything present because real time decision making is a thing. 

     The word “speak,” in the advice to my 18-year-old self symbolizes asking questions for clarity and making known preferences, perspectives, and viewpoints. For most of my life I have been terrified of using my voice. One couldn’t detect it outwardly, but inside there exists a battlefield littered with missed opportunities to speak up with questions to gain clarity or give voice to important matters of my heart.  This is a monumental discovery for me because in retrospect I was exposed to, experienced and was educated by the consequences of remaining mute. Never fear reader, victories are on the horizon in this inner war.

     Toward the end of her life my mother experienced a series of health events that led to hospitalization for two extended periods of time. Looking back, I realize there is a direct correlation between my muteness and complications to my mother’s healthcare path. This realization is not regret of being stuck in the guilt stage of grief, instead it is clear cut a result of not speaking up, asking questions to intercept a chain of events that ultimately ended in her transition. Twice over the course of her hospitalization during the busiest time of the year (Thanksgiving through Christmas) I kept silent choosing to allow the authority of the doctors be my voice. Why? Because they are the experts of course and I have always trusted and yielded to experts and those in authority because I believed they knew best. Now I’m not saying I totally discount my ability to understand processes or refuse sage advice and decision making by those in authority. What I am saying is not being so paralyzed and intimidated by those in authority that the questions of my heart cannot and will not be uttered because of the war within.

     That probing question triggered a deep dive behind the enemy lines of fear to speak to find out why I was so terrified of vocalization. Why I absolutely avoid conflict of at all costs. I believe at my core I am a peacemaker. Truth be told, I have discovered that my being a peacemaker is rooted in the enemy of fear of rejection, confrontation, and belittlement. The seed that formed this root was planted when I was five years old at my home in Chicago after my father’s funeral services. 

     Every corner of our house was filled with people who came by to pay their respects. As a five-year-old my vantage point was from the floor up to approximately three feet maybe a bit more. All I saw were people’s legs as I searched from room to room for my mom. Family from near and far, neighbors and lots of people I didn’t know came to grieve with my mom. As I made my way through the sea of people the sound of unfamiliar voices bombarded my ears from every direction; People reminiscing, sharing stories about my dad, some laughed loudly while others wept softly. All I wanted was to find my mom. Every room I entered was crowded and the strong smell of cigarette smoke filled the air and made me cough. Finally, in the back bedroom of our house behind the half-closed door was my mom. I couldn’t see her face and she didn’t see me because she was bent over with her head in her hands; she was crying. “Momma what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”, I said to myself. Suddenly, a woman who was sitting next to my mom (I found out later she was a family member) aw me staring. She walked over to me and with a sneer on her face through gritted teeth said to me in what I perceived as a growl, “What are you looking at?!”, all I heard after that was the sound of the door slamming shut. Terrified I ran up the hallway avoiding the tangle of legs all around me, hot tears running down my face. I just wanted my mom! My dad was gone, and I was alone. I sat on the stairs in the basement and cried for a long time. It was then that the seed of silence was planted, sprouted, and grew into the fear of inquiry. That fear was present whenever I wanted to ask questions that would bring clarity to circumstances, situations, and events in many areas of my life. Throughout my formative years, post-secondary education, and into young adulthood there were many missteps that would not have happened if I would have only spoke.   

    Because of discovery and the uncovering of the root of my affliction I am happy to report that the battlefield of my heart is a lot less cluttered. I am intentional about speaking and I live by the words penned by the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of Holy Spirit in the book of Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”  I cannot stress enough the importance of how exposure, experience and education play a vital role in every life. The advice I would give to my 18-year-old-self and to you reader is, don’t be afraid – Speak!