Enter: Risk

Photo by TJ Zafarana

Photo by TJ Zafarana

Jodi used to tell me that life was about becoming. She would tell me this over coffee, as she was encouraging and challenging me in all things mentorship. She challenged me to be less-hard on myself, and always enter relationships first with selfless and then with love. Jodi, a fierce advocate for teenagers especially those with disabilities, did this well. Transforming, trusting and becoming with each new season of her life.

Becoming means that nothing remains stagnant. Instead, life (and the adventures that entail) are fluid and ever-changing. That you move with change, instead of struggling against it. Becoming is being dedicated to this wild, unpredictable process and letting yourself be transformed by it.

I wanted this, and I had tasted bits of this “becoming” but never in the way I truly wanted. Then I decided to move to Richmond.

Richmond is a gritty city, where poverty and lavishness collide on street corners. Where “Old Ways” of the South clash with progressiveness of the North. It is a city of contradictions, not easily explained or packaged. Nonetheless, I felt drawn to it. 

The move in itself felt risky. The logistics were a nightmare (how do you move a furniture set, a life AND a cat) in one car. There were more questions than answers. (What will class/friendships/school/work/church look like? Answer: NO CLUE.) It was clear that I didn’t choose the option that made the most sense.

Although, there was a steadiness in my heart, a knowing that I cannot describe. It just said: yes, this will be okay.

A cat and car ride later, my mom and I arrived in the city. My mom left me a week later and I cried the ENTIRE night. I doubted the three months of planning and missed my family more than I thought possible. That night, Dar told me to set a goal for myself. We both decided that the goal would be to go to Target before the next day. A baby step in the wide scope of change.  

I realized that it was here, in these tiny steps that Richmond became my home, where I was transformed by this process; I was becoming.

I realized that risk, the art of not knowing ANYTHING about anything is the first ingredient. Then humility, (which is being okay with not knowing) is the next step. Then, like my brother Mac told me- just follow people around for the first week. Creepy, but helpful advice when you are new on campus.

There is always an invitation to risk. When Jesus is calling Peter out to the waters, he says to his dear friend “Come.” A call for faith that is lived out as the turbulent waters and the wind remained present. Challenge always follows risk and requires us to act. Action requires our feet to get out of the boat and onto unsteady waters. It is saying “yes” to growth and change. I promise you, it always uncomfortable, usually the second choice- but always so good. 

Risk is the foundation for joyful surprises. I know that is not what you wanted to hear, as it was not what I wanted to discover. In my heart of hearts, I wanted my parents to cook me delicious meals the rest of my life and I wanted to spend every day with Currie and Nico until they graduated from life. Beautiful, unrealistic dreams for my future.

Here I am. In a city that I have adopted, ever so cautiously. 8 states away from my family (we counted.) And many questions still mostly unanswered.

Before Jesus calls Peter onto the water, he says “Take courage, I am here.”

Enter: grace.

Grace is always tethered to healthy risk. It is the steady hand, the unexpected gifts and unexplainable peace. Grace is the idea that we don’t have to do hard things alone, with God and our crew we are stronger than we know. Grace was a phone call back home, a “check in” text message, getting places without GPS. All of these things feel like sweet relief in the midst of ultimate newness.

Richmond has been full of joyful surprises. I was quickly surrounded by a group of friends who I never expected. Feisty, smart, hilarious women. Ana has an unmovable strength and a habit of telling it like it is. Corinne and Adriane are witty, joyful people. Corinne has a deep obsession with ALL animals. Adriane calls her mom as much as I do. Taylor guards our hearts with great intention and Daisa reminds us about the beauty of shaking it off. These are my Richmond people. These folks are sweet gifts from the Lord. A surprise that has tempered the consistent fear and provided light to my wandering feet.

On Tuesday, I left the most beautiful worship night at church. Lately, I have felt the undercurrent of gratitude.  I am thankful for my team back home who has cheered me on every step on the way, for they have given me the courage to step onto the unpredictable waters. I am thankful for the new and old. The good stuff and the hard stuff.

And I have realized that in order to become, we must be willing to risk. Risk, challenge, grace: repeat.

Posted on August 6, 2017 .

On Leaving.

Photo by TJ Zafarana

Photo by TJ Zafarana

This passage was written to the teen moms that I have had the honor of sharing life with for the past 3 ½ years. They are a source of hope, inspiration and joy for me. They have truly transformed my life- bringing laughter, babies, and wisdom to places of my heart that I did not know could receive such love.  I decided to write them a letter to package some of the “lessons” I have learned along the way before I head to my next adventure in Virginia. I am deep, deep gratitude for these beautiful women.

Dear Mamas,

Gosh, can I just say that I can’t think of you or your sweet babies without smiling. Not just any smile, but a “BEYONCE is on-stage” kind of a smile (and y’all know that makes me happy.)  

As I am getting ready to start a new chapter of my own, I wanted to share with you some of the things I have learned. I know this to be true- that it is of the most importance that we record our lessons including our triumphs, our failures and all the in between places. In the bible, God often uses the phrase “Remember.” I find this particular, why is He always asking us to remember? And what is He is asking us to remember?

The answer has become a tiny bit clearer. When we remember, we are able to grasp this beautiful thread of God’s faithfulness, His love for us, His no matter what-ness. The idea that He loves us, no matter what and we are never too far away from His love and peace.

The wisdom I will share with you is mostly from women in my life who offered their whole hearts to me with their insight, their deep compassion and their truest selves. They were the women who cherished and cradled my heart in all its glory and all its trouble.

Strong women can and will always be a source of strength for you. But it must be you who finds and keeps your village of tenacious, brave women to walk beside. At times, they will be there to provide safety and comfort. Their words will either be be like sweet honey to your soul or it will feel like salt of the earth, depending on what you need more.  For me, that is Jenny and Jamie. That is Dani and Darlene. Their love for and in me is woven together like a tapestry of hope. I promise you, they know the DIRT. The stuff in your story that you cringe at when you think about it. But this village of women, your hope tapestry- they will always see you for who you really are.

 They will call you Beloved, and Worthy. They will demand that YOU demand more respect for yourself. I only say this because I know this to be true, I’ve walked down the road of self-disrespect and disappointment. Our village women will not let us stay in places we shouldn’t, I promise you that. Your Jenny will call you back, listen patiently (when you are most likely sobbing through the phone) and tell you that no, this is not who you are and yes you should try to change. Your Jamie will not shame you, instead she will say (with a confidence that is both bold and beautiful) that the only reason you should let the past into your present is to let it teach you. I encourage you to let these kind of women near your heart. It is not always comfortable to have truth that is so clear that it stings but it is so, so good.

So after your find your village of strong women, I ask you to do the good work of trying to like yourself. It is better to start this sooner than later, because it can take some time like tending to a garden that is full of weeds. I ask that you be the most patient with yourself. Because you will most likely find that there once were seeds of self-hatred and past offenses. You will get frustrated because you want this garden to grow and it takes time.

But you must be patient. In the meantime, offer yourself simple things like music, deep breaths and your child’s laughter. Just as you are plucking out the weeds of frustration, disappointment, and self-sabotage- know that you plant the seeds of joy, hope and love in those very same places.

Finally I ask you, ever so kindly, to love others. There is a verse in the bible that says “Blessed are those who are pure in heart for they will see God." (Matthew 5:8) Blessed are us who invest in the lives of other people because that is where we see God. We need to see God, to see goodness, hope and holiness in the flesh of other people. And we don’t have to wait for other people to do that we can and should BE those people.

No, God is not asking you to be perfect but pleading with you to be pure at heart.

My time investing, learning and growing with you has been some of the sweetest. Baby birthday parties with cake smeared on tiny hands and feet alongside lavish dinner on the top of a mountain are some of my favorite. The spills at Starbucks and Valentines photo booths remind me of you. It reminds me of my beautiful, worthy, strong friends who happen to be moms but mostly importantly are loved by God. 

I hope that you take time to remember too, and I rejoice in all that your story is and all that is will be.

Love,
Alexa

Posted on April 18, 2017 .

On Loving Our Neighbors.

Photo by TJ Zafarana 

Photo by TJ Zafarana 

In my notebook, I have the most precious gift. It is a small, square sticky note that reads: “I love you, Alexa.” The sticky note is pink with robin egg blue lettering. The penmanship is of a small child.

It is simple, yet it is one of my most favorite things.

It is one of my favorite things because it reminds me to love and give out of an open place. It reminds me that every single thing that we do has an impact. That the seconds, minutes or hours we spend with each other count.

The way we take care of each other, indeed leaves a mark. 

As a social worker, sister, friend and daughter, it is the continuous call to carry light and love wherever I go. It matters. I know it’s hard, our hearts get weary, we get selfish, and we wonder if what we do or say has any bearings on the world around us.

These question often nag my own heart as well.

But then I am reminded of the pink sticky note that gently hangs in my notebook. The love I carry matters, and it matters that I continue to choose it.

Jesus talked and shared about many important things when he was alive. He tells us that we must have faith as big as a mustard seed and that those who have little power on earth will inherit the heavens. He gives us these wonderful, paradoxical messages on how we are to interact with the world.

But most importantly, Jesus is specific in his commands on how we treat others. He tells us that we must love our neighbors, as ourselves. Jesus is the ultimate includer in his actions, reaching out and drawing near to society’s disenfranchised, disregarded or disowned. He met with the sick, the poor, and the prostitutes. His own crew was a bunch of common fisherman.

Our attempts of pride, of selfishness, of self-exposure are not the end game for this Jewish rabbi, instead his clear call for us is to love.

So he says, we must love others as ourselves. This is the most important commandment.  

My heart has been torn in recent days, as some people in the government have attempted to create policy and practices that would exclude people. I can just not reconcile this with the words of Jesus. 

Rather, I seek to be a pink sticky note person. One that accepts and offers love freely and graciously. I may carry the mark of love; that the beautiful words from Jesus’ own lips would be the banner of my life.  I pray often that my own hands will be part of protecting and cherishing others. 

I pray that I do not grow weary of doing good, and instead the love I have been given will extend through me onto others.

That I continue to greet, love and serve my neighbors.

 

 

Posted on January 30, 2017 .