Finding freedom to be … whole

Jazmine Rivera is the administrative assistant for National Program at Mennonite Central Committee U.S. She is a full-time M.Div. student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. As a single mother, she is intentional about spending time with her three girls and loves teaching them how to stand firm in their identity. Together, they attend Laurel Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When Jazmine is not involved in studies or work,  she enjoys cooking, hiking, biking, skating and road trips with her girls.

In 2017 I felt like I was walking in confusion, lies, alienation and anger constantly. I couldn’t tell if a person I encountered was for me or against me; my anxiety seemed like it was in a steady panic mode.

Past experiences had taught me not to let just anyone be a part of my life and to keep people at a distance. Although not everyone had the privilege of being a part of my life, I couldn’t figure out the difference between being cautious and being fearful. Because I wanted people; I needed them to see me. I desperately wanted people to join me on this walk through life. But I consistently wrestled with my own truth. It felt like voicing my opinions and experiences with dogmatic religion, systemic oppression, racism, sexism, post traumatic slave syndrome and passive aggressiveness, would always leave me feeling as if my truth was deflected, and I became the problem with my overly sensitive, unexperienced and uneducated perceptions. As the year progressed, I fell into this vicious cycle of complacency. It became easier to simply smile and nod, to accept the perspectives and beliefs of others and to give up on sharing my experiences and views; I remained silent.

On the flip side, hearing those around me tell me how strong, resilient, stubborn and courageous I was, always made me look snidely, “What do you mean?” I often questioned.  Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these words aren’t true, but the reality is I’m human; I’m a fragile and scared woman who doesn’t have the freedom to express my truth without having to brace myself for the negative impact. As an Afro-Latina, single mother of three beautiful girls, a full-time student and full-time employee, negativity, both professional and personal, are the last thing I need in my life. I often found myself questioning, “What is a good Christian?”

I have been demonized for my choice to study and work fulltime — my kids should be being my first and only priority. I’ve also been pitied for being a single mother; rejected and silenced for being opinionated.

Maybe it was just my own ignorance. Maybe people could see the fear, the hopelessness, the spiritual drought, desperation for authentic relationships, the exhaustion from having to “push past” everything, the depression and maybe, just maybe, they could hear my silent screams. But even if they saw it, the fact is, I have been conditioned to live in fear, and I couldn’t trust anyone enough to let them in.

Prayer became the only place where I could be naked in my darkest closet, it became my safe space. As I learned to let go, prayer became my place of solace, where I didn’t feel the need to plead or negotiate, hide or be strong, or to simplify my history so that it is more easily digestible.

There were many times I had absolutely no words, but in this space, I knew words weren’t always needed to communicate, because to God all was evident. Can you imagine a space in your life, where you can be naked — no shame, no hiding, no fear?

Towards the end of 2017, I found myself becoming increasingly angry with living a double life. I could not understand or accept how I could be free in prayer, but as I interacted with others, I was pressed down and tired. The idea of needing to run into prayer for me to catch my breath became exhausting and was not conducive for my health or relationships. So I started to dream, “What would life be like if I could be naked holistically? What if others are experiencing the same things I’m experiencing? What if I’m not alone in this fight? What if others need permission to be raw and true to themselves? What if we’re all paralyzed by fear? What would life look like? What would our relationships be if we truly opened up ourselves and allowed nudity to have its place?”

My hope for 2018 is to burn all of my all of emotional and mental conditioning so that I can stand in this new nakedness. I want to mourn the life of the girl I once was, all she endured and all of her potential. I’m not sure what life will look like, nor am I sure if it will work out. To be honest, I’m scared and I know I will continue to experience pain and trauma, but I’m no longer willing to be oppressed.

Holding myself in only reinforces the barriers society has set against me, and I cannot let those barriers rule over me anymore. I cannot give in.

My future depends on my own liberation. And my freedom directly impacts the lives of those I am called to walk with.