Being a Brown Girl in Nude Heels

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I started writing this blog post nearly two years ago. I’m continuing it now. Almost two years ago in June,  I took my first ever teaching course with the first professor to tell me to call him by his first name. After four years of undergraduate study I took the best class I had ever taken my first month of graduate school. My teaching cohort spent that month huddled in circles, crumpling up life stories, paired against each other defending our sides on various issues and growing close to one another as a teaching cohort. Of everything that teaching has given me, one of the biggest gifts was that summer with that cohort.

Of the lessons I learned in that classroom management class, the first that hit was: Privilege is having band aids match your skin.

Or in my case, my lack of privilege is wearing nude heels that stick out against my dark skin. It’s always feeling like you don’t just quite fit in and worrying that you never will. I first grew up in a predominately black and hispanic neighborhood. I was generally accepted by my peers and felt proud of being an Indian. I was surprised to find that when I moved to a high-school that was made of 99% whites students, it wasn’t as cool to be “Indian”. In fact, many people didn’t even know what it meant to be an Indian.

I spend a lot of time completely unaware of issues of race and class. It was always underlying every event and circumstance but I never knew what to call that feeling of knowing that my peers looked and grew up differently than me, despite the fact that we attended the same school.

Learning that bandaids didn’t match the skin was at first upsetting. But that summer opened me up to a whole new world in which I learned that when we become aware of a problem, we can do something about it.

I eventually found “nude” heels that matched my skin color. But I first needed to be aware that the shoes I had on before weren’t quite right.

 

Do we give up too easily? | Being a Woman in the Indian Church

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I was watching a video of Aimee Mullens’ Ted Talk, for maybe the eighth time. I had already watched her talk several times before deciding to teach my students about about her speech or more so the power of her passion and how that elevated her speaking. She was poised, put together, passionate and was standing on prosthetic legs. She challenged society’s notion of what a “disabled” person should be and I looked at her and thought that if I were her, I wouldn’t have dared to stand on that stage. I wouldn’t have become a runner like her. But she, with her disability, was doing things I could only dream of accomplishing. 

Watching Aimee Mullens made me think- she trusts her legs. She trusts her prosthetics, probably more than I trust my flesh and bones. If she doesn’t give up, why do I? There are many times in life when we may face seemingly insurmountable challenges. Some of these hurdles have presented themselves in my experiences as a woman in the Indian church. In the moment we believe that things cannot and will not get better, that we are limited in some way. But looking at Mullens I am reminded that our definitions and perceptions of situations can be challenged and that maybe- we give up too easily. 

There are two ways people can respond to set backs. There are the Cains of the world and the Davids.

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Characteristics of Cains 

  • Jealous
  • Cynical

Cain and Abel are the children of Adam and Eve. Cain grew jealous of Abel’s sacrifice to God and this ultimately led to his demise:

…Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. Genesis 4:3-5

Cain’s jealousy of what his brother had and what he lacked led him to ultimately killing his brother. Instead of trying to offer something better to God, to be something more- he turned to sin. How many times do we feel like we just cannot do or be more? I believe we all know that feeling all too well. We fail in some way or form and instead of trying again, we give up. A friend of mine told me that before getting the job he now has at a big financial company, he applied to 99 jobs at the same firm. He now worked in hiring and can see all applications that come in for the company and noted how most people apply maybe once or twice. While hearing his story, most of my friends admitted that we would do the same. If a company rejected us after a couple of applications, that was it for us. But my friend didn’t give up on the company he wanted to work at until he finally got a position.

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Characteristics of Davids 

  • Resourceful
  • Hopeful

David was the youngest of his brothers and naturally passed by for opportunities. But David didn’t let his background hold him back. In fact, David leveraged the very qualities that would make others think he was weak. In the classic bible story of David and Goliath, David used the unusual tool of a slingshot to defeat a giant.

 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.(1 Samuel 17:49-50)

In a situation in which others would have given up, David remained hopeful. He trusted in everything that God had provided and in the end was triumph. Growing up as a female in the Indian church, it was hard to have an older brother in some ways.

Being a Woman in the Indian Church

I frequently spoke at church and was very open about how I loved public speaking but no speech I ever gave seemed to measure up to the sermons my brother spoke. He rarely spoke publicly and didn’t care for it, but the few times he spoke were admittedly spectacular. There were many times I wanted to give up on my love of speaking. Why try to have a voice in a society that would rather hear from a man, especially when others could speak better? There were many times when I felt as though the opportunities given to me in the Indian church would be so much grander if I were a man. How could I not think that way when even in one of our most prominent organization, Pentecostal Youth Fellowship of America (PYFA), I have only once seen a female leader in an organization founded in 1981.

My parents and grandparents would pray every night for my brother to be a minister of God, but I never once heard them pray for me to minister God’s word. My grandfather was a prominent pastor and my brother was the only grandson born with the last name “Thomas”, the default heir. My mom recounted that a prophesying preacher once spoke to my parents and told them that they had prayed and hoped for ministry to come from their family from their son, but it would come from their daughter. My mom shared what was said to me but reminded me that she still hoped for my brother to one day minister.

If Aimee Mullens doesn’t give up even when she was prosthetic legs, why would I give up because I’m a woman? Everyday we choose whether we give up or keep going. Giving up can happen in small ways. We stop working towards that goal we really had set in our heart. Or maybe we stop moving forward in acquiring a new skill we long to have. It could even mean underestimating ourselves because of whatever our “disability” may be. There are days that can feel so dark and times in which all hope is lost but I pray that if you cling to hope, you too can do the seemingly impossible.

 

 

 

 

How my Pride Led to Insecurity

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As a Corporate Communications undergraduate major, I gave a ton of speeches back in college and naturally grew tired of a once intimidating task. On one occasion I gave a better speech than usual and upon leaving class two classmates ran up to me and asked, “How were you so confident?” I don’t remember what I answered but the truth was that the secret to my perceived confidence was that I didn’t care about the opinions of anyone in that class I gave a speech to. In a college of 17,000 people, it was easy to be in a class with a bunch of people I never met before and I didn’t care for the opinions of people I didn’t know.

I began to adopt an odd pattern of feeling a sense of pride around people I grew comfortable around or who I felt better than or didn’t care for because I didn’t know them. That is until one day I realized how my pride was the seed from which fruits of my insecurity sprout. But luckily, in learning this lesson, I was also presented with the incredible hope that comes from understanding that humbleness can lead to a God centered sense of security in who God created us to be.

These realizations around my pride all started two weeks ago after  I taught my sunday school students a lesson on a pride- pretty logical progression, right? We explored how pride distorts things meant to be good.

Beauty can become vanity.

Instead of feeling joy in the accomplishments of others, we wonder why we didn’t get what they have.

When criticized, we are defensive, never assessing the validity of the others claim.

I taught that lesson and admitted to my students that I failed “The Pride Test”. I looked at myself with a sudden awareness of how Pride was ruining what was meant to be good in my life. I realized that Pride had led to my feelings of insecurity.

The lies of Pride become smaller next to God

I became prideful in small ways, in comfortable circumstances. My mom would always joke about my cavalier attitude around family members and my church family. I would take up as much space as I liked and probably said some things I shouldn’t have without thinking much about it. I felt confident of myself because I saw others as less. That person doesn’t have a job, at least I have one. I could only feel secure if I could imagine myself as better than someone else. I hate that I thought that. I hate that I’m writing this paragraph and that I’m admitting something so disgusting about myself. I feel ashamed to admit that I treated others so poorly and in turn hurt myself.

How would God look at my heart? I think he must have felt so disappointed. This is the same God who came to earth and didn’t look for any of the things we look for in others. Does the bible talk about how he chose a disciple because of his PhD from an Ivy league? Did he befriend the stylish woman at the well? Sure the bible will give merit to beauty and wisdom, but those factors never stopped God from loving or helping someone. God chose the lowly and despised of the world to shame the wise.

One lesson I taught my students and continually remind myself to remember is that we can begin to feel humble when we remind ourselves of how great our God is. You’re proud of your beauty or intellect? Have you heard of the almighty God? He’s so majestic and beautiful that our eyes cannot even see him and live. When we change our perspective to see ourselves in light of who God is, how can we not be humbled?

How Pride breeds insecurity

In the same way that I would feel better than certain people, I felt worse than others. Pride lied to me and told me that because of my looks or education or my background, I was inherently worth less than someone else. Seeing the success of others made me fear failure.

Did I deserve to work at my job? Was I worthy to be that person’s friend? All of the things I built my worth on crumpled because my pride was built on such an insecure foundation.

 

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Without Pride, we see ourselves and others and God intended

God offers us a unique freedom and privilege to gracefully accept our limits as humans. We are beautiful but not the most beautiful. We are given wisdom, but only because God allows it. We may have accomplished a lot by worldly standards, but how small are our feats in light of eternity? How different would our lives be in a different place or circumstance?

Just as pride brings forth fruits of insecurity, I believe that humbleness can lead to fruits of security in who we are and who it is that God longs for us to be.

You can become anything…

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In the age of perfectly chiseled bodies, bleached relaxed ombres and reconstructed noses on celebrities as a norm- I am constantly reminded of the scene above in the graphic novel American Born Chinese. The protagonist told a woman that he wanted to become a transformer, to which she replied, with words that have haunted me since I first read it more than two years ago, “It’s easy to become anything you wish […] so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.” On my blog, my social platform, I bear my heart out as I admit to constantly struggling with valuing vanity more than virtue- with unknowingly sacrificing important values in trying to become someone or something that I realize I never wanted to become.

I think back to being in middle school, aka as the worst time of my life. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and as a chubby Indian girl, it’s needless to say that I stood out and hated it. Man, I couldn’t even cut gym class in high school without the gym teachers noticing; all I wanted was to blend in. There was an unwritten social code for fitting in. The uniform was Juicy Couture jumpsuits with chestnut uggs or a tank top with so low pants. The cool look was sleek straight hair and dark eyeliner. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I was one of maybe 10 Indians in the school, I had such a terrible sense of style and the fact that $13 for jeans was a lot for me while other girls spent $100+ dollars on a pair of sweatpants left me longing to be like everyone else without much of a means to become like everyone else.

Back then my mom used to remind me that I wasn’t like “them”- so why try? I wasn’t ever going to be white. But deep down I wanted to be like the other girls in my grade so I entered into 9th grade with Japanese straightened hair that my mother somehow complied to. We were in India the summer before and were able to get a treatment for around $150, a steal at the time. And do you know what happened? People like it. That’s what’s so confusing about doing whatever you can in order to fit in for the wrong motives. You might be rewarded for it. I’m not saying straight hair is bad. The motive behind my decision was the problem. I swear to you, straight hair, getting eyebrows done and growing a few inches can do wonders- but every part of who I was, was motivated by an insatiable and unachievable goal of blending in.

A decade later and I sense traces of my middle school self dictating how I live my life. As I scroll through my Instagram feed it’s easy to value things that are fleeting. During my residency year of teaching, nearly 2.5 years ago when my journey to become a teacher first began, I was asked to create an “image” of the kind of educator I wanted to be. And I’d like to take that exercise a bit further and ask you as a reader of this blog to imagine who it is you would like to be. Who is it that God created you to be? Who is your very best self? Are you making steps towards being that person?

I don’t know who exactly I imagine my best self to be but I imagine someone who is prepared for the obstacles in front of her- confident and strong. I am reminded of the fruits of the spirit and wish to become someone who is slow to anger. I long to be disciplined and kind. Creative and comforting to others, I want to be an advocate and someone who lives a life that encourages others. There are a million traits and ideas to meditate and pray about and as I think of who it is God wants me to be I am reminded of the smaller actions I take that draw me further from that person- forfeiting my soul in the process.

It’s easy to look like everyone else. This blog post is really to anyone else who feels that struggle to sacrifice themselves to bend in. The world doesn’t need another person who dresses and looks like everyone else. The world needs you- whoever it is you were created to be.

 

 

Learning how to love yourself

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Is love something that we are born knowing how to do?  Is love really a choice?

I learned late in life that writing is a lot about learning how to edit, and this is exactly what I’m doing to do in this post.  It started as a post about learning how to love, period.  But now it is a post about learning how to love oneself because this is something I feel a lot of people fail to do.

I grew up most of my life believing love was something natural, something we were born conditioned to do.  And I believed even more strongly that the ability to love was not a choice.  I didn’t love my family because I choose to love, I loved them because I just couldn’t feel anything other than love for them.  Now that I’ve grown up, somewhat, I’ve come to some sort of conclusion.  Loving someone isn’t simply a choice or not a choice.  I know this because sometimes I force myself to show love to people, this is me making a choice.  But there have been times when I’ve been so hurt that all I’ve wanted to do is hate someone, but still I found myself loving them.

There are times when loving people feels so hard.  My mom will say or do something that upsets me and the idea of showing love in that situation seems impossible.  There are times when I find it really hard to love myself.  It doesn’t make sense but sometimes the most hurtful things are not said by strangers, they are thought by ourselves.  We fail to recognize the power and authority held in words, even when these words are said to ourselves.  The bible tests to this fact as well.

Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life [are] in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

In the above verse we are taught that life and death are in the power of our tongue!  This doesn’t just apply to what we say to people we love, this is found in the words that we tell ourselves.  The devil is a liar.  To anyone who has ever thought that they were meaningless, that their lives were meaningless or that they are alone- do not believe that lie.  Your body is the temple of God!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

This is how precious we are!  And we are never truly alone in this world, never at all.  The amazing thing about God is that even if everyone we ever love leaves us, we always have him.  This is something we can put our hope and trust in regardless of circumstance.

I mentioned this in passing earlier but love can also not feel like a choice.  I find myself unwilling to let go of some friendships because regardless of pain I may have felt, I still love that person.  With the same token, sometimes it make feel like we don’t have a choice in how we feel.  Although I believe this is somewhat true- we always have a choice. We may not be able to dictate the way we feel, but we can choose the way we act on these feelings.  This is even more true in regards to how we respect ourselves.  Please, love yourself enough to respect yourself.  If you are feeling hurt by someone or something, remove yourself from that situation.  And if you are hurting yourself, please learn the value held in your life.

The saddest thing for me to think about is the fact that so many people fail to see how amazing they are.  Those people who can be told time and time again that they are beautiful but fail to see it!  If you are someone like that, please just take a second look.  Give yourself a second chance.  Because you are valuable and you are loved.  I can guarantee it.

Everyone feels sad sometimes

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It feels odd to write down, but it’s so true.  Everyone feels sad sometimes.  I don’t know why I imagine that I am the only person who feels the way I do when I go through rough patches in life.  Sometimes that sadness can seem engulfing and the scariest thing in the world to do is to address what I’m feeling.  The bible says that there is a time for weeping and a time for rejoicing.  But all I want to do is rejoice!

I’m sure that there are lots of people who feel the same way that I do.  I don’t want whatever situation I’m going through to burden others.  I don’t want other people to know that I’m experiencing pain.  And I imagine that everyone really is exactly the way they appear to be on the surface.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Absolutely everyone we meet in life is facing his or her own battle.  And this is all the more reason to love and to love like never before.

My mother was the first person to make me realize this.  She told me to be kindest to the people who seemed the meanest.  Because when you stopped and took time to get to know them, it’s like peeling an onion!  There are layers and layers underneath and everyone has a reason for being the way that they are.

In particular she told me there was a woman who she saw daily who seemed to hate her.  It’s so hard to love those who hate us.  The bible can vouch for this fact.  But she told me that when she learned of the pain this woman experienced in her life, she suddenly understood the bitterness.  She understood it instantly.  And her love for this woman was not in vain, now they’re actually really great friends!

The perfect biblical model for this kind of compassion is embodied in the life of Jesus.  He looked at the defects and the outcasts of the world and somehow he chose to love them.  I guess he saw us in a way that we cannot even see ourselves.  It’s funny because sometimes it’s not even people who are putting these labels and ideas on us.  We do it to ourselves.

If there is anyone like me, who is reading this, please know that you’re not alone.  Sometimes I feel so sad tears feel like tiny needles shooting from my eyeballs.  Or so angry that my veins will burst!  Or even so happy and loved that I imagine my happiness is contagious.  We are not our emotions or our temporary feelings.  Feelings change.  And we are never ever really alone, never at all.