It’s still so surreal to me, I am finally graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from University of Maryland University College today.
I started this journey towards a college degree back in 1983 when I graduated from high school back in Yonkers, NY. I graduated at 16 and entered an elite Urban Legal Studies program at City College of NY where I was supposed to have earned a Bachelor’s and a Law Degree in 6 years. This program was started by the late great W. Haywood Burns, a civil rights lawyer and general counsel to MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign. My intent was to become a civil rights lawyer and use my legal skills in the service of the underserved urban community in NYC. However, as life goes, circumstances in my life changed the trajectory of my path and I became disenchanted with the legal system, since it failed me and my family in our time of need.
My career path took me into the US Army then to a career in Telcommunications for the past 2 decades. I would have never imagined myself in such a technical occupation, but as I have said before God laughs at our own plans. I started in commercial telecom back in the 90’s when cellular phones first became practical and affordable for regular folks. At the time there was really no formal education for this because it was a new and ever changing technology. Since I was already working in the field, and being trained in proprietary practices for each company I worked for, I felt there was no reason to pursue a degree. I mean my only reason at that time to pursue a degree was to earn more money with a “professional” job. My logic was if I was already making good money and working next to folks who spent good money and time getting their degrees, I was already ahead of the game. After working in this field for so many years, since it was never my passion, I became bored and could no longer motivate myself to learn anything new in the field. I always wanted to pursue my creative talents of writing, promotion and marketing and even some motivational speaking. Since I am a veteran, and I was blessed to work for a company that offered tuition assistance I had many opportunities to pursue higher education. I stopped and started many times over the years. I started at UMUC while still in the military, but because of my schedule it was too taxing to keep up with the assignments. I attended a couple of community colleges and earned enough credits for an Associate’s degree but I never thought that was good enough so I didn’t take the steps to get that degree.
Finally back in 2008, when President Obama took office and he gave his speech on the importance of empowerment through education, I was inspired to take advantage of my benefits and finally complete my degree. I realized that I was squandering the very benefits that immigrants like my Mother come to this country to take advantage of. I also realized that since this is the latter part of my life, I might as well not chase the dollar but chase my real passion. I have always felt that my unique perspective and personality make me a “brand” of sorts so I wanted to get a degree that would help me capitalize on that. This is where the marketing comes in, I figured this knowledge will assist me in effectively promoting my blog and eventually my book, Memoirs of a Bitter Bitch.
I guess I have always held myself to such high and unrealistic standards that I have been reluctant to celebrate my accomplishments. I wasn’t even going to walk in the ceremony until my sister Wanjiku convinced me that at the very least, I should celebrate that I actually completed something worthy in my life. I also have to shout out my dear friends like Malcolm Wellborn, Reshonda Carroll and of course my partner Johni who always congratulated me and told me how much I motivated them, although I never thought that I was doing anything special. It’s so crazy how I give others such inspiration but in my own mind, I deemed myself not good enough. I remember one class I had where I procrastinated horribly until literally the last day when I had a 16 page paper due. I was so disgusted with myself once I hit the send button after working from like 4am to midnight to complete this paper. I just knew that I would be taking that class over and I was so surprised to get an A on this paper. An A on 16 page paper that I did in one day! That was when I began to realize that despite all my anxiety issues and my addictions, my brain was still functioning properly and I can accomplish great things. Of course I prayed and smoked through every minute of writing that joint, but in the end God’s grace prevailed and got me that A. LOL
So today as I walk across that stage to get this degree that I went through the fire to earn, I feel so grateful and amazed at God’s grace and Blessings upon my life. I made it through the loss of my parents, financial loss, homelessness, illness, surgeries, addictions and most recently a heart attack…to end up here, on the threshold of my next career. I hope I can keep it together without weeping for joy over God’s goodness, but even if I don’t…I don’t care if everyone knows that my unwavering faith in the Almighty Creator got me to this point and it will carry me on until the time I transition from this earth. I am so at peace with myself and my emotions now, since I have gone from weed to worship that I may just break out in a praise dance while crossing the stage! So, to everyone that is on this same journey to gain a higher education, keep on pressing and keep your faith in God, nothing is impossible with God, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Now, I am even toying with the idea of pursuing my Doctorate, if I can figure out how to not go into debt by taking student loans. LOL Oh well, as I have learned, God will make a way that is perfect for my situation. Please keep me in your prayers people and as always I wish you Peace and Abundant Blessings! #UMUCGrad2016
It’s so crazy how things that have been rooted in my life can change in an instant with the right motivation. I always say that God got jokes, and He has proven it to me time and time again. So I have been contemplating writing this post for at least a year now, but in order to do it, I had to first get past the whole smoking all day every day thing. Real Talk. Every damn Monday while lighting up in my bathroom, it was the same conversation I had with God, “Please help me stop.” “I know I need this for pain and anxiety but I also know that there was a time when I operated quite well while sober and I desperately want to get back to that place God, Please, Please, Please Help me!” I felt the signs that something was physically wrong but the need for weed simply had taken over my brain. Every time I would get down to my last little bit of shake, I would tell myself, OK this is it, it’s time for a new habit of health and holistic living…but when I took that last puff I panicked and went looking for some new good good. You know it’s a problem when every one else says the shit is loud and you feel like you smoked some dirt. #toleranceonridiculouslyhigh Anyway, although I do enjoy the medicinal properties of the natural herb, I hated the hold it had on my mind. Never did I think that I would get to the point where I choose herb over having money. I mean my habit became part of the household budget, to the tune of $300 a month! I had also been told repeatedly that I become a bitch when I’m unmedicated, so I added that to my arsenal of justifications for continuing my habit. Crazy thing is, God gave me numerous warnings. Blatant and subtle warnings for the past 9 years really.
First warning, my bestie and I were driving to a party on 12/27/07 and she told me she had a dream that I had a heart attack after smoking with a group of people, she said they left me there to die and never even called 911. My plan that year was to stop on Jan 1st, like everyone else with New Year’s resolutions…I was going to ride that shit till the wheels fell off. Anyway, I played it off with her in the car but when I got home, I was like OK God, if I knew you felt like that I would have stopped a long time ago. And I did, for a few months but then I reasoned that I didn’t want to stop out of fear of retribution…so I started back up again. Then about a year later, while going through the process of emotional healing for a few issues in my life, I got the bright idea to ask God directly why I did some of the crazy shit I did. Before I went to bed, I posed the question to God and asked Him to let me know in my dreams why my behavior was so erratic and self-sabotaging. The dream that I had that night was mind-blowing in its clarity. The whole dream featured weed prominently in every area of my life. I was trying to get dressed for work and a friend came by and handed me two blunts as big as tree limbs and I was trying to stuff them in my pockets. There were trees and loose joints everywhere in my apartment that I was stepping over the stuff and the smell was intoxicating. It was so obvious that I woke up and said OK God! Sheesh, I get it it’s the weed. However, I am a hardheaded individual and I actually told God the next day, well Look, we are going to be at an impasse with this one because I can’t deal with all this emotional shit and not self-medicate. Can you imagine, I had the gall to argue with the Creator of the Universe! Thank God for Grace and Mercy cause looking back, that shit was insane. So, He let me go for about another decade, until 4/4/16, when I had a heart attack. When them chest pains hit me, I immediately put the herb down. Addiction gone. Well, kinda. LOL
Actually, when the chest pains first hit me, I ran out and got a vaporizer. I reasoned that I knew I had to stop the smoking part but vaping was better for me. I had meant to get one a while ago but just never did it. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of rolling and enjoying the smoke through a blunt because it burned slowly and I would just sit and chill for hours. All my herb connoisseurs know what I mean. Also, I am now terrified to take painkillers for my chronic pain, so herbal relief is my only choice! My doctors have already warned me that the prescription painkillers cause more damage than relief, and now after this episode I don’t even think about popping a Tylenol, Motrin or anything else pill related. To add to this, after hearing about Prince and the Percocet, I am thanking God that I listened to my body and stopped that shit ASAP. (See my previous post, “Post Surgery Reality Check” for that hilariousness.)
Anyway, back to the story. I guess I had been having symptoms of heart issues for a few months and didn’t realize it. Since I have other health issues whose symptoms mimic heart disease, and my physical body is getting older, I always chalked it up to menopause and being out of shape.
While I was having these chest pains one day in the shower, I started thinking about my Mother and her heart experiences. This kept me from freaking all the way out because she had a couple of heart attacks and never told us until she eventually ended up in the hospital. She had one while driving and actually dropped off her friend before driving herself home! Everyone used to remark how Mama’s stubbornness and faith sustained her through these episodes. I kept telling myself, “I get it from my Mama, I’m strong and I have faith, God’s got me.” So, I guess God had to tap my chest a little harder to make me get to the hospital in time. LOL I also started thinking about the similarities between my mother and I, the good and the bad. The bad being that my mother was unwilling to exercise or drastically change her diet and it ended up being part of her demise. She also randomly stopped taking her meds, because she felt she knew better than the professionals. I realized that I had turned into my Mama! Once my diagnosis came through, I remembered that I had taken myself off of one of my blood pressure medications about a year ago. I also figured out that I had been neglecting to take my insulin more often than not, which raised my A1C drastically to 8.1. Since I had also slacked up on regularly checking my blood sugar, I never caught the change in time. In my mind, I minimized how I was neglecting my body, but clearly my body took notice. Through all of this, I continued to go crazy with the blunts and fatty foods and with all of that going on, exercise took a back seat.
So this leads me to sharing what I learned firsthand about heart attacks.
Symptoms leading up to the actual heart attack can persist for months and you can function through it all. In my case, I had been feeling fatigued after running errands or after working out but I thought it was due to my Sjogren’s autoimmune disease. All that damn sweating that I thought were hot flashes and night sweats, umm weren’t. As soon as I rested, I felt replenished and went back to my normal routine; this went on for a few weeks.
You can actually be having a heart attack for hours while all blood work and other tests show no signs of an event. I was literally in the ER for the second time in 2 days, writhing in unbearable pain after eating a couple of forkfuls of a Spicy Black Bean Lean Cuisine entrée and the doctor tried to convince me it was simply indigestion. Now had I not been in tears from the pain in my chest, I probably would have cussed out the doctor for real. I know what heartburn feels like and this was NOT it. All of this started about 11:30 PM and they took all kinds of blood tests, ECGs and a CT Scan none of which came back abnormal, at first. I was in that joint asking Jesus, what’s going on? They gave me morphine, Percocet, and Toradol in my IV and none of that shit worked. The thought came to mind that if this was going to be a constant addition to the pain I already lived with, I was ready to go. I finally drifted off to sleep and was awakened at about 3:45am by the same doctor telling me that my blood work showed a slight change and I was going to be admitted to the hospital immediately.
So there are 2 types of heart attacks, STEMI and Non STEMI. I happened to have the Non STEMI kind, which does not register an elevation of troponin in the blood, one of the cardiac markers used to detect heart muscle damage. What I don’t understand is if the doctors knew this, why was I sent home the first time without even acting as if NSTEMI was an option? Again, another reason I gotta stay prayed up, even the doctors can be wrong. Thank God for persistence.
As it turned out, once I got to the hospital, the Cardiologist came in and finally advised me that I was officially in the throes of a heart attack. I was pushed to the head of the list to have an angiogram, where they found a blockage in my artery and a stent was put in. I felt better immediately and once I processed what had happened, you know I was in there doing a Praise Dance in my head for God sparing my life. I always thought that I would have a near death experience but it didn’t happen exactly the way I envisioned it.
Now back to the worship part…I never thought of myself as a worshipper per se. I was never one of those people in church falling out while speaking in tongues or even overtly showing any type of emotion, except if the music was good. Every time I heard the phrase, “Worship God in Spirit and in truth”, I thought that was such church speak. What did that even mean practically? I definitely pray daily, read my Word, I even keep a Prayer List and a God Box, where I record who I need to pray for and the prayers that have been answered. However, I never really thought this was considered being a worshipper. I always felt that I wasn’t doing enough, part of my shame based mindset I guess. About a year ago, I realized that I walk around the house humming gospel songs to myself. I also would burst into tears on the treadmill while listening to certain songs that spoke about God’s grace. It got to the point where I had to stop listening to certain songs from Mali Music or Jonathan McReynolds because I would cry like a baby every time. I was like, “who am I becoming, I don’t know if I like this”? I always prided myself on showing no emotion but now, it was like the floodgates had opened and they didn’t want to shut. One day while doing my Bible study, I came across a scripture in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 that simply said “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. With this verse came a revelation in my Spirit that what I had been doing was exactly what it meant to be a worshipper in Spirit and in truth! All that running prayer in my head, conversing with God all day long and being grateful was ALL I needed to do. I was indeed good enough. Although I clearly had some issues to work out, the fact that I was still seeking to do God’s will and willing to serve others made me a worshipper. I didn’t need to speak in tongues, do a Holy Ghost shuffle or even be a member of a church, I was justified by the Almighty Creator. So, with this revelation also came the notion that I needed to rearrange my priorities and make prayer and meditation my new weed; I just never had the discipline to follow through…until God tapped my heart, literally.
Last year I vowed to become addicted to the gym, and I did. However, after this heart attack, I realized I needed to become addicted to my PRAM routine. Prayer. Reiki. Affirmations. Meditation. The gym was great but after I got injured, I felt lost because I couldn’t be active and I really filled the time with weed. I really didn’t mean for this to turn into a heart attack lesson but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves of this information. I know typing out my story is keeping me aware that I need to stay vigilant regarding my health and spiritual life. I have vowed to make myself a priority and practice self-care daily. No more marathon grocery store runs and attempting to make 5 complete gourmet meals in one day. I can’t even believe I went from a Starbucks Espresso a day to maybe having a cup of decaf once a week. Shit I think the Bucks might have been messing me up more than the smoking! I can’t say that I have completely given up the weed yet, because it does work well for pain management and my glaucoma, but perhaps the day will come when I give it up altogether. Until then, my new mantra is all things in moderation and I refuse to act like I NEED the weed to function. All I ever NEED is God, just like Lecrae said, “All I need is You, By my side, thick and thin, highs and lows, don’t let go, we gonna ride, we gonna win, Don’t know how, all I know, All I need is You”. I humbly thank God for another chance at life and the opportunity to share my gifts with the world. Until next time, as always I wish you all Peace and Blessings!