In celebration of my 30th birthday, I'd like to share some things that I have learned over the last decade. These experiences derive from my journey through college, graduate school, career advancements, family changes, relationship shifts, and a series of gain and loss. My passion to assist others in doing the hard and heart work was birthed from these life lessons, and I'd like to share those lessons with you.
1. Self-care is not luxurious.
Truly caring for myself and my future has been one of the hardest processes that I’ve had to initiate. I was thrown off when I learned that prioritizing my spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being would cost me comfort, convenience, and consistently challenge my ego. I’ve shared before how I have learned my body’s response to stress. At its peak, it manifests through chest pains. It got so bad earlier this year that my doctor made me wear a heart monitor for a while. I was losing sleep and was struggling to find peace. In my prayer time, I was challenged to choose what I was prepared to do differently. (At the time I was reading “Forgiving What You Can’t Forget” by Lysa Terkeurst.) The three forms of self-care that I implemented were self-reflection, self-discipline, and engaging the hard conversations.
What is my contribution to my heartache? What am I prepared to do differently? How am I maintaining my mess? Why do I respond that way? How can they know how I feel if I don’t tell them? Could I have said that differently? Were my intentions pure? What is my plan to achieve what I want? How much time have I put toward seeking solutions? What is my responsibility in this? Have I prayed about this? Am I even open to direction from God? There’s no need in asking if I plan to do what I want anyway. What have I learned about myself from this? I need to apologize. I need to forgive.
Engaging the Hard Conversations
These 3 forms of self-care afforded me the strength to relentlessly pursue peace by letting go of a serious relationship and sharing hard truths in love with my family this year. I had convinced myself that "pursuing peace" meant not saying anything and just "hoping" things would change; but when your spiritual and emotional well-being are at risk, you cannot afford to stay silent...or at least I couldn't. I first had to be honest with myself, and then my loved ones. I don't share this lightly, as I empathize with those who feel stuck or are just not ready for change at this time. I've been there! The truth is, I could have been engaged right now and checking all the boxes in other areas of my life, but at what cost? When my thought process shifted from "What will others think?" to "If nothing changes, am I okay with this for the rest of my life?", suddenly nothing mattered more to me than to be in the will of God. One thing I know is that His will is not harmful to my soul, mind, or body. (His will may hurt our feelings temporarily, but that's just like any good parent who may hurt our feelings to spare our life.) Everything and everyone that was harmful to my spirit had to be addressed - and that started with ME.
2. Let People Help
I used to subscribe to the notion that if you want something done right, do it yourself. While I do believe that the greatest leaders lead by example FIRST, the most effective ones do not lead ALONE. I have seen this play out with my organization, Pretty Proverbs. Starting out, my partner Mo’Nique and I did everything ourselves because we had to. When people were ready to help, I’d only let them help sparingly. We spent a lot of time training and molding our leadership team (monthly meetings and devotions, leadership retreats, monthly prayer calls, etc.), but I still would rely only on myself. When life transitioned for me, I was challenged to delegate. We were given an opportunity to allow our team to put their training into practice, and the ministry is the better for it. Recently when I hesitated, our campus chapter leader told me, “Bri, let them help. That’s what they’re here for.” That’s so true! We’re going strong seven years later, and I’m so so so grateful.
(I'll be teaching our next Sister Circle on November 14 @ 6:30 PM. Join us. ☺️)
3. The Illusion of Purity Culture
Growing up in church, there was often a fixation on women “keeping themselves”, but far less rebuke and instruction for men to honor Christ by honoring their body. It’s not just in church either. Culturally, there are far more stigmas, rules, and stereotypes for women and their presentation than there will ever be or have ever been for men. From the religious sector, if not careful, I could buy into the illusion that being a virgin makes me superior or purer than others. As a licensed therapist with a focus in trauma work, I work often with victims of sexual abuse who were raised in the church. It's not uncommon for them to feel more disgust toward themselves for being "impure" than they feel toward their abuser. Are they any less pure than I am? Purity is a matter of the heart and soul. When we truly work to be pure from the inside out, it will be reflected in our actions and interactions with others - not the other way around. Our deeds, connections, and knowledge of scripture have no bearing on how “clean” God sees us. It’s the application of His Word and the posture of our heart that He righteously judges. “Only God can judge me.” (Ummm, He will.) That is not a statement to speak boastfully or defensively. God’s righteous judgment redirects, challenges, redeems, and protects…if we allow it. “God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.”
Matthew 5:8 NLT
4. Life After Death: The Lesson I Never Wanted to Learn
I battled hopelessness after losing my mom. Will my family ever be the same again? Why is everyone in a rush to move on? Why aren’t we talking about this together? What do I do with all of these emotions? When will the pain stop? Why are people trying to compare our pain? Why does anyone have to be more hurt than the other? What is the point of life if this is what life is going to be like?
I learned that a portion of my discontentment was due to an unrealistic goal to begin with: Wanting everything and everyone to be how they were before my mom left this earth.
The 2 best things I did was release my loved ones of the expectation to make things “like they used to be”, and go to therapy.
The 2 best things I did was release my loved ones of the expectation to make things “like they used to be”, and go to therapy. I wrote about grieving with grace last year.
“When tragedy strikes and change occurs, our human nature grasps for some level of familiarity in our routine, emotions, and community. When everything around us is changing, we desperately want something to look and feel familiar…predictable even. I am just now accepting that some things will simply never be the same without my mom. While that is a hard pill to swallow, I find solace in it…because that means I can release that as an expectation for myself and my family...”
While everything can't be the same, the foundation of love, laughter, and respect can help us mold a new normal after loss.
5. Compassion is the greatest connector. “Hardened hearts have such a propensity to get shattered. Softened hearts don’t as easily break.” - Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa TerKeurst.
Most messages of gratitude I receive are in response to my content on pain and grief…the biggest thorn in my flesh. It wasn’t until I allowed my grief and God’s glory to collide that I realized the power of compassion. I was certain that I’d become a shell of a person after my mom passed away. I just knew that I would have no capacity for any more pain, people, or even purpose.
I had no idea that grief and grace would ultimately soften my heart.
I had no idea that grief and grace would ultimately soften my heart. Before, I always admired but never envied my mom’s burden for the broken because it seemed to weigh so heavily on her heart, prayer life, and emotions. I’d be like, “Mom, that’s on them. Relax.” Oh, but now…here’s my prayer for us:
May His grace be sufficient for every thorn, hurt, and mistake.
May His wisdom and Holy Spirit expose all harm & deceit - not just in others, but in ourselves.
May His comfort soften the blow of the hard decisions, hardships, and hardened hearts.
May God’s faithfulness fuel our testimony and will to Honor Him.
May our lives be proof that God is mighty to save.
May His strength be made perfect in our weakness.
May God’s goodness be ever-present and praised in our lives.
May we recognize that while parts of us may be or feel broken, we are made whole in Him.
May we know that He delights in us and has deemed us worthy and His.