Suffering, Sacrifice, and the Weight of Words.

Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old woman, is all over the media right now because of her violent, terminal brain tumor, which is expected to take her life in less than 6 months, and her decision to eventually take a pill that will end her life peacefully instead. I’ve watched her videos and read several responses to her decision and spent all morning thinking over this tragic story that is so far removed from me, and I don’t know what to say. I feel like I have a good sense of both sides’ arguments and I know where I should stand, but I don’t know where I actually do.
How would I feel if I went to the doctor and heard something that harrowing? Would I want a bunch of people sitting around arguing about whether or not I was a coward for wanting to hold on to the last bit of power I had? For not wanting to suffer unnecessarily? For wanting not to succumb to paralysis and losing control of my bodily functions? To be in limbo between weeping and powerlessness and terror and have a slew of able-bodied strangers plead with me to keep living and tell me to suffer through my sickness would probably tempt me towards rage.
My heart cannot completely agree and still, I cannot say that these people are wrong. It hurts to watch people call it “sin” and “selfish” and “weak”, but aren’t we all? Aren’t we all dying? Aren’t we all grasping at cliff-side twigs as we free-fall towards death? Snatching fleeting moments of comfort from our food and our electronics? From our alcohol and music? From our relationships and religions? Trying to push death to the back our consciousness, or at least dull ourselves to its power over us? Trying to avoid suffering, blaming others for theirs, and refusing to see it may be some fault of ours that it continues? Who are we to so brazenly pass judgement on another person if we are not lifting a finger to ease their burden?
How much of this post is me rationalizing my own fear to suffer like so many people expect her to? Maybe I am afraid to tell a truth I am not prepared to live myself. Maybe I’m afraid that I’ll have to have this conversation with someone in person one day and be responsible on much larger terms to suffer through a slow death beside them. Maybe it’ll be someone I didn’t want to live without. Maybe it’ll cost me some sacrifices I didn’t want to make.
Either way, I just needed to write it out. Maybe I’ll get my answers one day. I hope I have enough valor and faith to live them all the way through.

Beer over Wine.

“Throughout the later 20th century, wine makers have done a fantastic job of convincing people that wine is the complex, sophisticated drink for erudite people with discerning taste – and during that same time period beer marketeers have done just the opposite for their product. It turns out that these marketeers did all of us a great disservice.”

“Beer can be many things; from thirst quenching, sprightly and light to complex, full and contemplative – and everything between. Beer in all its complexity is blossoming to its full expression.”

“Those of you familiar with wine terms will recognize some of these terms, but you will also quickly realize that many of these can not be applied to wines. This is because as good as wine may be, wine just does not have the same breadth of flavors and aromas that beer does.”

slightly Buttery
and Complex
Crisp and Edgy
Expansive and Expressive
Firm with Finesse
Fresh, Luscious
with Rich Overtones
and Smooth Textures

This is me.
A beer in a society convinced that wine is the pinnacle.
Judged because I prefer jeans to slacks. Because my jazz
and hip-hop and rock mesh.
Because the Christianity I see biblically condemns capitalism and condones cursing. Because I believe courage is the highest virtue, while niceness is a vice,
and well-placed anger is righteous.
I exist in the tension between murder and taking life.
My feeling is poetry should work on pages, stages, and beats,
and some graffiti deserves galleries.

I know Christian culture ain’t always right
and European tradition shouldn’t be seen as king. I know most nobles wear name tags, yet remain nameless; always asking how they can help, never asked if they are well.

The Kingdom of God belongs to these.

I know that racism is wired into the fiber of our society.
I know I am often racist
elitist towards my own people
I look down on those who don’t understand as much as me.

I love beauty too much and value tact too little
and know
Passion and patience make ticking time bombs of men,
of which I am the least…
I am too many things, and oftentimes too much, but that’s okay, they say good brews take time.


Even though this pains me, I’m going to be really vulnerable and honest here, feel free to skip over this if it bores you, it’s perfectly okay. This doesn’t really have a lot of practical application like most of my posts do. I just need to be honest right now.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my evening watching a web series following a truly phenomenal group of spoken word poets called Striver’s Row as they tour, perform, and share their hearts behind the scenes. Seeing them, their hard work, hardship, and commitment to do whatever it takes to follow their calling is jarring. It’s an earnest slap to the face to watch a bunch of 20-something year old kids like myself pursuing doctoral degrees, writing their asses off, performing their poems around the world, in the White House, for television, at their alma maters as commencement speakers with awards named after them, all because they know that this impact is exactly what they were made for and they are committed to making it, life or death.

Meanwhile, I’ve known since I was a child that I want to change lives, but I grew up lazy, arrogant, foolish, entitled and most of all, terrified.

Terrified of my own gift.
Terrified of all of the work I knew lay before me.
Terrified of standing out.
Terrified of failing.
Terrified that I might not be everything I’ve sorely wanted to believe I am.

I’ve known all my life that I owe a huge debt to the world and I’ve run and run from it over and over and over, and now by some miracle, it dawns on me as I watch these videos:

I can do this.
I am absolutely capable.
All I have to do is work for it. Work hard for it. Really hard.

It’s in me, and I’m finally ready to do what is required of me. I’m not afraid anymore. I see myself better than I ever have, and I’m ready to suffer, to pour myself out because I know that I have a message that people desperately need.

Thank you Josh Bennett. Thank you Striver’s Row. Thank you for showing me what I am worthy and capable of. What God expects of me. What the world needs from me.

Failing En[courage]d

I’ve been asking for summer hours at work for the last few years, and I was finally offered some recently. Today was my first day of that work, and at 7:15am, I was supposed to meet a group of people and drive out to Yucaipa to do some heavy lifting.

I thought it was tomorrow.

Long story, short, I didn’t have my phone when they called me twice this morning wondering where I was. I didn’t realize it until nearly 9 o’clock.

Embarrassing on so many levels.

I let that team down (who waited at least 30 extra minutes for me), my supervisor down (who helped me get that opportunity), and the ladies who actually offered me the hours. I know I’m one of the youngest employees, so my mistake may affect the way other young people are viewed, and being black and male in a white female-dominated organization doesn’t help either… I sent a couple apology emails and left a remorseful voicemail, all to no reply, and am realizing that I might not get another chance at this.

I’m okay with that.

In the midst of all of the negative that I recognized in myself in this situation, there was a stronger positive. My mistakes don’t define me. A few months ago a mistake like this would’ve sent me into the depression and I would punish myself severely for being a “screw-up” or for “ruining ANOTHER good thing” and telling myself that I deserve my consequences. The last two are still true, but I don’t need to anchor myself to them anymore. I know better now. Carrying that extra weight slows my progress forward while it drains and discourages me. Instead I am tethered to the positive of all of this; the humility I continue to learn, the discipline of using my calendar that I need to stick with, the maturity of acknowledging my flaws and owning up to my failure, a heart that accepts God’s forgiveness and looks forward to the grace coming to help me show who I know I really am beyond the mistake.

In the midst of my shortcoming, I am encouraged.

A God Bigger Than Buildings and Books.

Sunday morning, I was in a worship service joyfully singing about an incredible God who “placed the stars in the sky and knows them by name” but by Wednesday afternoon, I realized that I didn’t really know sh*t about what I was singing about Sunday. Continue reading

Downhere | How Many Kings

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe, after all we’ve projected,
A child in a manger?
Lowly and small, the weakest of all,
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl,
Just a child,
Is this who we’ve waited for?

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior
All that we have, whether costly or meek,
Because we believe.
Gold for his honor and frankincense
For his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he will suffer
Do you believe?
Is this who we’ve waited for?

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only one did that for me.


I’m writing this post because I want to remember today.

I wrote a poem today, a hard, ugly poem that really hurt to come out of me. I would’ve shared it here if it weren’t so terrible. It’s angry. Really angry. So angry that I used the “f” word. A lot. A day ago I didn’t believe in the “f” word and never would’ve used it, but today, I couldn’t seem to find any other words. I blamed, and blamed, and blamed. I cursed almost every way I know how. I came out astonishingly honestly with my hate and I didn’t know I was capable of so much of it.

Even as I type this I’m so frustrated I want to cry, though my brother can’t even tell and he was just right next to me. I still don’t know how to let it all go…

Future Michael, look back on this and remember how much you fought and hurt. Remember that your success was stained with tears that still won’t come and pain that just doesn’t want to quit. Remember the man that showed up at the bottom when you look down from whatever height you one day find yourself. Remember who lied in case they try to come back. Remember everything you feel because someone else will feel the same thing and come looking for compassion and if you forget these moments, they’ll have to look somewhere else.

Michael today, be the man of your future. All you can control is what you do in response. Do it wisely.

Extraordinarily Selfish

“”For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 19:45) […] They [the disciples] soon learned that servant leadership ultimately means giving up yourself so that others can have the life God desires for them.”
— C.Gene Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership

I’ve done this terribly.

Like many of us, I’ve spent the latter half of this week intentionally diving deep into the story and life of Nelson Mandela, desiring to know who he was, what he was motivated by, how he accomplished what he did, and generally desiring to know what life looked like through his eyes.

What moved me most was simple; a handful of letters he had written to his wife during his 27 year long political imprisonment. What was immediately apparent was that he loved her deeply. What also quickly became apparent was that he detested the fact that in many ways, the movement had to come before his family. He hated that.

But he did it willingly.

That is leadership.

That is why I fail at being a leader. I serve as long as it is convenient or beneficial for me. I serve people all the time, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t lay my life down. I do a little bit, give some encouragement, share some knowledge, but I don’t get all the way in and suffer, cry, and love people with all of me. I don’t give until it hurts consistently. I boast in my freedom and I love it so much it keeps me from pursuing my mission. Yeah, I serve, but I don’t live to do it, my life doesn’t revolve around it, and it isn’t what I’m all about. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t tell you what my life revolves around… Well, I guess that means it revolves around me, doesn’t it? I guess I’m just being selfish.

I’m not discouraged though. I’m excited because all of the difficult discussions I’ve been finding myself in recently are adding up to this moment. Every person that has told me that I’m not where I need to be, that I’m capable of more, that I have so much more to give than I currently am. I’m ready.

Finding a Voice. Forging Ahead.

Poetry is not preaching. It is my belief that a good “Christian” poem doesn’t simply state Biblical truth, but rather animates it. Poems should give us pictures and colors where we only saw words before. They should make us re-examine the depth with which we understand the things we perceive to be simple, and challenge us to engage the things that seem out of reach. It should open new worlds within common knowledge, not just restate it. Poems should fuse truth to us in ways that traditional study and research can’t. The same should be said of all art.

I’ve been fighting to let my writing have that kind of depth and as frustrating as it is, the reward is spilling over into all of me. My writing process is becoming more and more fulfilling, and my daily life right beside it.

I can only imagine how it will feel to actually excel at it! I’m very determined to know. Meanwhile, may God give me grace to keep diving deeper.