not all who wander are lost

I was 21. I was so over El Paso. I was so over him.  I needed a change. And, I wanted adventure. So, I did the sensible thing: I dropped out of college.  Tossed my wardrobe in black garbage bags.  Hitched a ride with a new friend to Arizona. And, I spent the next year with my high school bestie living in Phoenix, trying to figure out my 21-year-old-self. 

I made decisions that I wouldn’t make again.  I made decisions I’d make over & over again. I experienced things that I am grateful that I literally survived. I met people that taught me a lot about who I never want to be.  I made friendships that will last a lifetime. 

If I am honest, this was one of the darkest times of my life. I was wandering. I was searching for my purpose & my place of belonging in the world. While at that time, I only knew of Jesus, today knowing Jesus intimately, I see his fingerprints in my memories.  I can trace the moments in my memories where Jesus was breaking into the darkness to bring me purpose and belonging. Even when I wasn’t looking for God, in the midst of my darkness, there God was anyways, revealing and pursuing.

The culmination of these messy decisions & untidy experiences coalesced, revealing to me who it was that I wanted to be in the world.  

I packed my bags.  Called my parents to pick me up in Phoenix.  This time, when I reenrolled in college, I had a sense of direction. I knew how I wanted to show up in the world.  I wanted to walk with & for those who were searching for their path amidst life’s obstacles.  I wanted to be an advocate. In my 20s that looked like working at a Group Home with youth, who were struggling to find their way in the world while using the cards life dealt them. 

Fast forward to my 30s, during my most recent wonderings, I received a necklace from a thoughtful bestie with the engraving “not all who wander are lost” because again, I had been & was searching.  But, this time, I was drowning in the caldron of pain, hurt, regret, denial, rage, anger, confusion, shame and unanswered questions while searching for meaning, purpose & belonging with the cards that life dealt me, the cards I chose & the cards I blindly drew. 

At some point during this time, it became apparent to me that I had forgotten how to be my own advocate. 

I fell asleep on me.  

I had been swallowed up & spit out of the beast of oppressive systems, beliefs & identities.  I was struggling to understand my ethnic & racial identity.  I was raging and healing from the traumas of toxic black masculinity. I was warring against white supremacy. I was battling with the demon of patriarchy. I was discovering the history of my ancestors while lamenting what I didn’t know that I should have been taught in my formative years. I was mourning the loss of black bodies & black lives taken by police brutality.  It hurt something fierce when I discovered that massive numbers of the black men from my generation were swept up in the system of mass incarceration. As a bi-racial single woman who identifies as black & will likely only ever date black men, the hurt is intimately personal!  

I was confronting the terrors & hopelessness in my family dynamic as a family member of someone who has been directly impacted by the criminal justice system. As a family, we were responding to the devastating realities of reentry barriers, under-treated substance abuse and mental health & gun violence within our own family dynamic. Simultaneously, I was grappling with the reality that at times I was caricatured as the “angry black woman” both inside & outside of my family dynamic & black community. I was sorely misunderstood.

I was confronting my own demons, interpersonal demons & social demons.  I was searching for a new language, a new identity and a place of belonging. For nearly a decade, I have been wandering but I was not lost. I received that necklace at the midpoint of my sojourn and a few days before my family almost lost my younger brother to gun violence. While I lost the necklace, those words have never left me. 

In the midst of my wandering, struggling, wrestling and confronting, there was Jesus—the Liberator—sitting with me at times, walking with me at other times & most often times carrying me to the next point on our sojourn.  

Reflecting on this reality in light of James Cone’s assertion:

“where human beings struggle for freedom and refuse to be defined by unauthorized earthly authorities, there Jesus Christ is present among them”

James Cone, God of the Oppressed, 32.

it is vividly clear to me that my wanderings—with Jesus fully present—was my path to becoming fully liberated. I wasn’t lost; in my wanderings, I was being liberated! 

It was only through being liberated that I could become my own advocate. Recalling the purpose revealed to my younger self, today, I see within me a holistic, empathic and unapologetic advocate, not only for myself but wherever I witness the marginalization of others. Because in my wanderings, I did my work (self-care), there is now a fierceness and a boldness in my advocacy that was not present in my formative years.

Along the way, I garnered a few nuggets of wisdom that I will forever cherish:

Sometimes we have to go off path to find the right path.

God is fully present in our darkness whether we see God or not! 

There are somethings that cannot be fixed—we can only heal & grow. 

It is our duty to be an active participant in cultiviting our own wholeness & flourishing.  

It’s impossible to be liberated from that which is not confronted.  

Wherever you are on your sojourn, keep going…whatever you do, don’t stop…keep growing.

cheering you on…

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