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Songs that held me together in 2022

Zach Williams’s music has been my soundtrack for at least the last three years. And I had no idea until a few months ago. He wrote and performed songs that seemed to pull my heart out and wring the tears directly from it. His voice is rich and soulful and his writing is soul therapy. If you haven’t enjoyed his music yet, do yourself a favor and listen to his last three albums.

Along this thought train, I want to share a smaller volume of songs that have ministered to me over the last year. Here are my top picks from K-Love’s rotation plus one from elsewhere. Be blessed as you go.

My playlist on Amazon Music: 2022 Songs that Held Me Together
https://music.amazon.com/user-playlists/18464eec4dc1417481a69ed338324e8bsune?ref=dm_sh_0sTpYdIeakYqi91AyZmCSbnmp

Amazon playlist: January 2023 favorites
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Reflection Friday: I’m taking you back…

Prompt: What don’t you want to go back to?

“I’m taking you back to the very place you suffered shame and defeat and you will have victory.”

A couple of years ago, I came across this old journal entry. At the time I wrote it, it spoke to me about my return to Arizona in 2018. Heavy, profound, life & family altering changes happened during my first stay in Arizona in the 1980s. When I stumbled upon this message a couple of years ago, I had just returned to Milwaukee after sixteen years away. This time, a return to all the places, people and things that  have impacted my life seemed to be the warning and lesson. 

I don’t know what the victory is, but I know the promise is that I won’t die in defeat. My end won’t come while I’m low. If I’m not shouting for joy now, I need only hold on because the morning will certainly come.

The first time I left Arizona, I vowed never to return. I was thirteen. It’s now a place I think of as an ideal home for myself. A place I want to settle in before retirement so I can build a community to age with before old age keeps me in place.

The last time I left Milwaukee, I swore I was done with it. I was thirty. Yet when I came back in 2021, Milwaukee was the most promising city for me as a new real estate investor. Among other cities, my top considerations were Atlanta, Baltimore and Detroit. Anywhere may have been a profitable choice, but I knew none of those cities intimately. However, I understood Milwaukee – it’s markets, culture, neighborhoods and its people. It’s biases. I remembered where it was  twenty and thirty years ago. I was beyond excited about recent, current and future development projects.  More importantly, I could afford to buy in a neighborhood that was one minute from the interstate, ten minutes from most major points in the metro area, and adjacent to a neighborhood I wanted to work myself into. 

When I left New York City, the mantra that drove me was, “I’m not going to die here!” I was forty-three. New York is where I first became my most authentic self. I was able to push boundaries, explore concepts, sample possibilities, and dismantle walls boxing me in identities I wasn’t sure represented me. It’s where I was most alive even when the City began to feel like a gilded cage. Six months after selling my co-op apartment and completing my relocation to the Tortolita Mountains in Southern Arizona from East Harlem, the Covid-19 lockdown began. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be a shut-in during a global quieting.

How we begin our journey is no indication of how we will end it. How we leave a place, people or situation doesn’t mean we will return the same way – stuck in our hurts, frustrations, disappointments or soaring on triumphs and memories of greatness. If we are open to change, not only will we evolve but the way we interact with the world will bring opportunities we never could have imagined the first time around. As our perspective expands, life forms everywhere we look and joy becomes an expectation.

Reflection

  • Where is the one place you are determined never to return to? Why? Is it fear based? Shame? Regret? Whatever the reason, have you confronted and explored it? 
  • What is the best lesson learned after you returned to a place you didn’t want to go back to?

#live #life #covid_19 #chooselife #getup #go #newperspective #newchoices  #newday #newmercies #live #woman #womanhood #iamwoman #harvestlife #reflection #doover #keepmovingforward #onward #whatsnext #rethink #restructure #reflect #build #reapingmyharvest #Iamtheharvest #joy #peace #selfawareness #chooselife

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Poem: the blessing of ordinary  

if i should happen in quite 
some ordinary way 
to remain 
sustain or 
simply maintain 
my existence 
i would count myself 
among the extraordinary 
 
if I should happen in quite 
some ordinary way 
to breathe 
consistently 
deeply 
repeatedly 
without thought 
difficulty or obstruction 
 
if i’m able to exist… like air 
then certainly i’d number 
among the extraordinary 
 
we’re conditioned for selfishness 
immediate self-gratification 
taught to despise emotion 
ignore empathy 
discount sympathy 
without understanding practicality 
taught to live in the moment 
for ourselves 
for what feels good 
we’re told self-focus 
make us extraordinary yet 
such flings us like a wisp of wind 
 
appreciation of the ordinary 
exposes abundant blessings 
allowing for extraordinary 
insights in a world where 
we’re expected to accept  
what’s given to us 
done to us 
told to us 
shown to us 
where we’re not expected 
to think for ourselves 
of others or beyond  
what we see, feel, want, or need 
 
however, having learned to 
grow through vulnerability 
navigate darkness and greyness 
unlearn toxicity 
confront abusers and their enablers 
having learned to love myself 
embrace and accept my wholeness 
reenforce my strengths 
confidence and faith 
basic life elements 
uncommon to many 
yet necessities for wellness 
it’s clear i’ve been favored 
 
if I live to remember  
a dream 
loves embrace 
happiness’ pursuit 
then the ordinary has  
become a path to the divine 
 
so many years of yearning 
for extraordinary happenings 
only to discover blessings  
in the ordinary course days 
 
Asé 

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Relics of My Imagination

Returning to a former hometown has been revelatory in a profoundly impactful way. We remember people as we were last with them. Memory is faulty. It leans towards rosy hues and comfort connections. If prior interactions were positive, or what we may have considered to be warm, friendly, or loving at the time, memory will serve rosy images of comfort. If prior interactions had been overwhelmingly negative or emotionally damaging, memory will bar any images of comfort attaching to lingering thoughts. If the relationship was a mixed bag of all life has to offer, the love, admiration and esteem you held for the person will overshadow everything. Until it can no longer stand up to the truth of character and time.

shown me more of. Releasing my thoughts release their hold on me.

Since the turn of the century 😊 (the last twenty years or so), I have been trying to understand myself in tandem with my core relationships. I have chiseled away the elements I didn’t want to be a part of the woman I am becoming. Likewise, I began holding my relationships up to the same harsh light. I saw they all needed infusions of Spirit, Love and Truth. Only then was I able to see people as are, rather than as my imagination remembered them.

Even as my relationships collapsed and wasted away one by one, there were a few I genuinely believed would survive close scrutiny. The friendships I thought were based in truth and mutuality of intent. The friendships I built on shared belief in the Word and compatible spirits. The family members I loved more than myself and would have laid down my life for… until my life became an expected forfeit for their ease. I thought some relationships would survive the fire God was purging my life with. For many years, I held on to some stubbornly. Refused to let go. Kept doors open. Maintained lines of communication. Fanned the flames of hope. All the way up to my return to Milwaukee last year.

Returning to a point of beginning has shown me like nothing else, how much I’ve grown – how much I’ve BECOME. In many ways, all the people I’ve been holding on to are in the same places emotionally, mentally, physically and/or spiritually as they were when I left. Effective sharing has been impossible because I’m not able to be fully who I am now in conversation. My current troubles, concerns, hopes, goals, views, ideas are nothing close to what they were twenty years ago. And yet they speak to me as if twenty years have not passed, even though we’ve been communicating throughout this time.

Twenty years ago, I subjugated myself in every arena of life. Everyone I encountered and interacted with were treated with great esteem. So much so, that it may have appeared that I esteemed myself less than I esteemed them. This is true to the point that I chose to leave home – family and friends – for a faraway place (New York City) to explore who I am without everyone else’s demands and influence on my personhood, time, and resources. That was the beginning of me chiseling my identity out of the narrative I was born, and repeatedly placed, into.

I’ve been gone from Milwaukee for as long as I’ve ever lived there, yet it remains the place I’ve lived the longest. As such, it has a deep impact on my early worldview and life expectations. These ingrained perceptions transformed into re-writable code during my fifteen years in New York City. A whole life recalibration in the Southern Arizona desert followed my time in New York. Living in quiet solitude allowed me to gently revisit core family and friend relationships. The tranquility of my environment provided space for honest evaluation and the ability to listen with an uncluttered heart.

During that time, I learned I wasn’t important to any of the mother and sister figures in my life. I was useful, but not valued as a whole person. What I could do for them kept them in contact with me. When I let their words and actions reveal their hearts, I was able to see how they viewed me as only a fraction of who I once was. They kept me in a mental space of need, lack, silliness, and inferiority. Easier to exploit if they thought they were doing me a favor with their attention and demands.

Painful revelations to be sure, but from the distance of a few years, I now appreciate not misunderstanding my place in people’s lives. They held a special place in my heart, but now what I thought we were has become fond memories. I’m no longer burdened with a desire to be present, to perform or to even communicate. When I stopped buying into the performative nature of our interactions, they began giving up the performance as well. This unmasking has been a great process for repositioning relationships more appropriately according to their nature rather than what I imagined they were.

Returning to Milwaukee has cleared away fog, doubt and shaken the stranglers completely loose. I’ve been looking at this period of my life as the end of an autumn season. There’s been vibrant change, amazing color, and opportunities for joy, but the whole season has been about transition. From changing leaves to winds of change. The shaking loose of the dying leaves from trees can be traumatic with its suddenness. Sometimes, all it takes is one good storm to leave you shaken, naked and barren. Ferocious gusts of wind to take away the glory of your foliage. An overcast darkness to usher you into a season of dormancy.

As we transition deeper into winter, we lose light and heat. We become grateful for the few leaves that weren’t shaken loose when one storm became many. We cling to those resilient leaves for as long as we can. Until the light becomes brighter and the heat starts to warm our roots again. Transitioning from winter to spring reminds us that adorning ourselves with dead things hinders growth. That storm we hated for shaking our beauty and comfort loose was necessary to prepare us for new life, new possibilities, for our next season of blossoming. The storms also deepen our understanding and sharpen our sight.

I still don’t know the full purpose of this extended return in Milwaukee, but I recognize the need for purging, clarity, and rejuvenation.

There will always be questions. What if my past hadn’t been what it was? How different would my life be? What if I had made different choices? What if I had stayed and not sought to chisel my identity from the harshness of the world? All those what ifs would still be what ifs with the addition of “who am I” – the question that sent me out into the world – if not for the path my life has taken.

One thing my solitary existence has taught me is the firmness of my identity. I’m not fluid. I’m not unsure. I’m not scared to ask hard questions. I know I’m created in glory as a Child of the Most High. I know my will and moral compass bends towards the Word of God. I know I will achieve all the purposes I’ve been created, prepared, and positioned to achieve. I need not chase or worry. I need not torment myself about who is with me or for me. It is only me and My God as it has always been – even when I wasn’t aware. I am confident in proclaiming my name, and my determination to fully develop into My Creator’s purpose for me.

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Breathe. Release. Repeat.

There was a time when I held on to everyone and everything

for dear life. Periods when life was defined by the people I craved
relationship with, things I strove to acquire, and status I worked hard to achieve. All these were cultivated by family and societal culture.

This current stage of transition and transformation doesn’t accommodate such baggage well. It’s taken away my appetite and done away with most of my desire.

Over time, relationships have disintegrated, things have
lost value, status no longer has meaning. Contentment has come with releasing them all.

Learning to simply be is a joy. Embracing my breath. Learning its pattern. Knowing without it, I am nothing. Breathe. Release. Repeat.

Today I choose to release yesterday’s hopes, plans, and disappointments.

Right now, I focus on my breath. It’s softness and it’s power.

In this chain of moments, I honor my cycle of inhaling and exhaling. The pleasure of simply being.

Wherever I am is where I choose
to be present, so there I be.

Selah.

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Poem: Have I ever loved?

Who am I if not
A creature created in the
Image of love?
But what is an image
If not a facimile?
Non-original
Incapable of being
Authentic
If love is a reaction to receiveing
For we love because
We have first been loved
Then what of the love
That was supposed to pour into me?
What am I pouring out
If I haven’t first received?
In this dimension there has been no
Sheltering arms
Encouraging embrace
No partner or mate
With whom to lay down
Or to build up
What would I know
Of a gentle touch
A tender kiss
A thrusting merge
An expectant birthing
A purposed feeding?
How am I to learn
The deep nature of
Sharing in true
Relationship?
When my existence
At every level
Has been solitary
Relating to myself
Even in
Disagreement
I am right
Though my conclusions
May be wrong
If I don’t even know
What love
Looks like
Feels like
Sounds like
Smells like
Tastes like
How could I possibly
Recognize love
Identify myself
As love
Give what I haven’t
Recieved?
All these years
I thought I was offering
Though I knew I was begging
Trying to avoid my emptiness
Attempting to camouflage
My brokenness
Seeking to heal to
Wholeness
While offering my image
Of wholeness to the broken
But if love is
Absent from my being
How was I ever whole?
How was I ever able
To offer myself?

7/15/19

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Poem: No Straight Lines

If life isn’t linear
Then we’ve already loved
Believing time wasted away
Waiting for what’s
already been

If love isn’t chronological
Surely there are no regrets
Deja vu confirms
What’s come and gone
Past is prologue to future’s past

Reality is never knowing you
Even as my spirit calls you home
Though we’ve only shared shy fleeting touches, my body
Flushes with memory of joys
Yet to come
How can there be certainty of tomorrow while languishing on yesterday’s dead-end paths?

If life were a straight line
Perhaps we would have missed each other in the rush to reach all the next destinations

Perhaps it’s better that we met on this long winding road and continued our separate paths

Perhaps combusting too early would’ve been mutual destruction
Fire that once consumed may now simply keep us warm
Comfortable enough to sustain life
Not enough to turn back time
Maybe we needed to learn to control passions, hopes, expectations
Maybe we needed to unlearn biases, roles and assumptions

Is that reductive reasoning?
A function of call and response?
If existence is a squiggly fifth dimensional experience
Suffering must be an element
Necessary for elevating consciousness

I see you. I feel you.
Yet you’re always out of reach
Present in mind, absent in body
Still, I am here. Where in the continuum are you?

How do we reconcile space, time, and
Waiting through choices that made
Parted ways divergent lives?

~ by LaShawnda Jones, 2022

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Thoughts from the Road: Purifying Change

Since mid-March, I’ve been traveling across the country. I hit the road after selling my home in Southern Arizona. There were no immediate thoughts on where to pitch my tent next, so I decided to roam a bit and see where the Spirit led.

Before Covid-19, I thought I’d travel abroad for a few months to a year. But even homeless and mostly untethered, I wanted to be in a land I understand how to move in during a global pandemic. So international travel was out. 

Driving across the United States was initially an exciting proposition. It’s been on my to-do list for over two decades, but I had hoped it would be done with a partner. A test of sorts of our compatibility and adaptive skills together. That thought was one of the first things I released as I began planning my post-Arizona life. No more shelving hopes for a future that isn’t rooted in today. No more putting things I want to do on the back burner because there’s no one to share the journey with. I released myself from that tether and the fear of becoming so comfortable in my singledom that I no longer allow space to accommodate another.

That’s when the opening began. As each tether and fear is released, hidden spaces are exposed and unexpected grace appears for my vulnerabilities.

I thought I would make time to write a lot while on the road, but of course that didn’t happen. All the “free” time I imagined was actually spent driving and sleeping. There was a lot of thinking and even more releasing. I focused on healing and opening. Still working on both, but more aware of how I’ve closed myself off over the years as a process of self-preservation. For a time it was necessary to remain isolated and nurture my solitude. That time has come to an end and its important to flow in the direction of life.

I don’t know how I’m being purified, but I know it’s happening.


I don’t know what the end result of this process will be, but I know I am already changed.

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POEM: I Am from…

I am LaShawnda, sister of Kim and Nicolette.
We are daughters of Terry Ann, the daughter of Bessie Mae,
The daughter of Lizzie, the daughter of Mae Emma, the daughter of
Many Unknowns.

I am from coconut oil and bergamot grease
From pinto beans and bananas.
I am from the light.
From home-cooked meals and shadowy corners,
From Thanksgiving feasts are for week-long leftovers.
I am from the iris;
The majestic maple tree,
Whose thick trunk I remember climbing and falling from.

I am from nowhere and everywhere.
From many mothers and no real fathers.
From silence, violence, solitude and perseverance
From hard work tempered with spots of joy.

I am from share-croppers and life-long toilers,
Farmers, gardeners, strong women, and providers.
I’ve been formed through the oppression of my ancestors
The generational resilience of my grandmothers and
The unruffled pragmatism of my Mama.

I am from lies and “keep it in the family”
And God is trying to tell me something
and do unto others as you… well, just do as I say.
I am from stardust and grace, refined in the fire of supernovas.

I am from Gary, Indiana by way of Mississippi and Arkansas
By way of Virginia, South Carolina and Louisiana
By way of Cameroon, Nigeria, West Guinea, and Britain
By way of One Africa seeding the World.

I am from the beginning and the end.
From all that is and all there will ever be.
From salvation and damnation, prophecy and legacy
I am from abundance and sufficiency. I am existence.

~ LaShawnda Jones
from I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America