Observations of a Blown Mind – Who’d a Thunk?

Observations of a Blown Mind – Who’d a Thunk? | By Sonya Finley
A Freedom Challenge Story

This past June, I had the opportunity to participate in the Bryce/Zion Freedom Challenge 2018. I was unprepared for the unexpectedly awesome experience it would be. Who’d a thunk hanging with a bunch of women in the canyons of Utah would be so mind blowing? I walked away with quite a few profound observations.

Who’d a thunk. . .?

. . .a great love could be displayed in so many small ways?From the very beginning, I felt like God was reminding He loved me in very small, special ways. From being upgraded to Premium Class on our departing flight, to the “I got you” attitude of the young lady working the counter at the car rental office, to the sweet ride (Nissan Armada, fully loaded, leather seats, sunroof…you get the idea) I drove in to Utah, to the women who supportively listen to my story without judgement, to Ms. Barbara whose prayers reminded me that “the who” that I am has purpose, to finding the perfect cluster of trees with a wooden “bench” that made it easy for me to “take care of much needed business” on my first hike, to the surprising connections made, to the leader who sought me out because she had not seen me all day, to the care shown by the prayer team as they prayerfully massaged the aches and pains from our feet after each hike. And even though I felt a wee bit discombobulated (well a lot discombobulated), my Beauty for Ashes painting presentation was well received and gave the ladies a much needed “lightness” after a very heavy day. I gotta say, I left feeling very loved indeed.

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. . .A single word could be so powerful?This year the prayer warriors gave each hiker a word. One word prayerfully considered and totally applicable to the woman who received it. These words resonated with the women all week long and for some, was the difference between giving up and finding strengthto keep pushing.  There were also quite a few ladies who latched on to an “unexpected” word spoken in a manner of power and joy. Hallelujah!I do not recall the context in which I was asked to say it, but I did. And while the women responded in kind, I thought that was the end of it. But for the next few days, I was told several stories of how that word was spoken from the “mountain top” and how it inspired songs of praise. I saw it being intoned at the beginning of prayers and I, myself, used it before my presentation to bring focus in a moment of perceived chaos. A simple word, so full of power, praise and joy. (Of course, I have now been dubbed the “hallelujah hiker”.)

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. . .that challenging yourself for someone else’s freedom would lead to your own?We were there to fight for others who were in no position to fight for themselves, but much was said about how we are all overcome with our own versions of enslavement. Issues that hold our identities hostage filtering everything we believe about ourselves through a lens so dense we lose sight of our purpose, our power, our possibilities. The challenge of the hikes provided an opportunity to put a very physical action to a very spiritual deliverance. The act of pushing oneself beyond your comfort put the women (including myself) in a venerable place open to healing and deliverance. For the Level 1 group, the “Sassy Silver Sistahs”, we picked up a burden at the beginning of our second hike. We named it and then literally through it away, an action that symbolized a burden being released and given to God. There were tears and the released burdens were weighty. We all came down the mountain a little lighter that day.

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. . .stories of enslavement can be found in our back yard?We were blessed to hear the story of an American woman’s journey from being enslaved by her mother and stepfather to finding a life of freedom that included a long-lasting marriage, children, and a passion to help others out of where she used to be. Her strength to endure being locked in a room where she was practically starved and sexually abused daily and her courage to share her story was powerful. It reminded us what we were there for.

. . .a professed non-athlete can stand proudly and call herself a hiker? So, shortly after I said yes to this challenge, I realized the magnitude of what I agreed to. I agreed to hike for three days in a row?! Not one, but three?! Say what now? But I’m good, right? I walk 5k’s, 10k’s and half marathons, so I should be okay. I thought, until I began training. I felt well out of my depth—unqualified and unable to complete the challenge. I professed this lack—often! I’m pretty sure I annoyed my teammates to no end. My anxiety around this event was high. But I’m no quitter, so I showed up and faced my fears. Fears, which, I must be honest, did not abate until I sat with our Sherpa (Roxy Hicks—she’s awesome!) and she let us know what to expect. I will even admit I got a little excited …what?! I hiked three days! Three very different types of hikes! It was not a walk in the park (literally), but I got through it and I actually enjoyed it. Our leaders’ approach went far to make all of us feel less self-conscious about our level of abilities and kept our focus on enjoying the journey (and taking pictures!). On the last day of the conference I proudly proclaimed, “I am a hiker”. This declaration received a round of applause, a standing ovation from my dear Sherpa, and I became the proud recipient of the proverbial (and literal) “big girl panties”!

. . .that I am capable of far more than I think?What I didn’t think I could do, God should me I could. Simple as that.

Who’d a thunk indeed…

A Freedom Challenge hiker, that’s


20180625_171510Sonya A. Finley has been living the single life for 24 years. In that time she has raised four awesome young men (James – 26, Kevin – 23, Joshua and Johnathan – 18), graduated from college with a BFA, and began a huge step in her professional career. She is on the verge of a new season in her single life that now focuses on a journey not centered around child-rearing. She has made many mis-steps, learned quite a few bits of wisdom along the way and is happy to share with women who find themselves in the same place.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

What’s Love Got to Do With It? | By Sonya Finley

Featured image from: (https://www.walsallcollege.ac.uk)

A couple of weeks ago, my “blogger in crime”ended her post with the question, “What if we considered how we loved our children as a measurement of success?” Well, I ask you, “What if we considered how we loved people (all people) as a measurement of success?”

These days, there is a lot of discussions centered on diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias. The responses range from defensive anger, to candid conversations, to denying its importance. Even you, as you read this may have a polarizing reaction based on what you have read, heard, or experienced. But have we really taken the time to see what those words truly mean? And what does it have to do with loving others?

As a person of color, my default meaning of diversity and inclusion is the never-ending fight to belong, to be included, to be seen, heard, and accepted for being me. Understanding bias is accepting the fact that when I go shopping I will be followed by a sales clerk who tries to hide it by surreptitiously fixing a rack of clothes that don’t need fixing at all because she believes I will steal (yeah, that happens a lot). This vision is based on my own experiences, yet they are certainly not the only way these concepts can be experienced.  Diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias encompass so much more than just race relations.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Dr. Aaron Bruce, Chief Diversity Officer at SDSU, present on this topic. He was African-American and has experienced marginalization because of his race, but his presentation was not race-centered. It was presented in a way that greatly expanded the attendees’ understanding of what those big ol’ words mean on a much larger scale. He pointed out how all humans have biases against a variety of characteristics—gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, background, education, physical abilities, politics—the list is endless.

Here are a few highlights from what I found to be a powerful and enlightened presentation:

  • “Equality is about ensuring everybody has an equal opportunity, and is not treated differently or discriminated against because of their characteristics. Diversity is about taking account of the differences between people and groups of people, and placing a positive value on those differences.”Equality is not enough. The goal is diversity or in this case equity. Dr. Bruce explained this concept using the illustration of three different people, one tall, one short, and one in a wheel chair,all trying to see over a fence to watch a game. Equality says give them all the same crate to stand on—which is fair but still does not enable everyone to
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    Original image concept Craig Froehle

    see over the fence. Equity considers their differences and gives them what they need to achieve the same goal. One person (the tall one) needs nothing, the other (the short one) needs double crates and the third one (in the wheel chair) needs something totally different. This reminds me of what parents do when they have more than one child. Each child is different and so, understanding this, they may employ different methods to raise a healthy, happy, successful adult. Equity is giving everyone what theyneed to be successful and understanding that it may not look the same for all.

  • “If you are not intentionally including, you are unintentionally excluding.”This was kind of my “aha” moment. He proved his point by engaging us in an exercise where we listed our top ten “ride or die” friends (your “go to” homies that know you best). Then asked us to note which ones matched us in characteristics such as, gender, race, age, social class, and sexual orientation. Not surprisingly, for most, our friends looked very much like us. Dr. Bruce let us know this was not a negative, it just highlighted the fact that people are naturally drawn to other people who are like them. Because of this, we may find ourselves within an exclusive community—unintentional, but exclusive all the same. So, since it is not our natural inclination to engage with those who are different, in order to achieve diversity and inclusion, we have to intentionally step out of our comfort zone and seek out those that are different.

 

  • Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own consciousawareness. Racial prejudice is pretty straight forward and needs no definition. Implicit or unconscious biases, not so much. Biases are those generalities we apply to whole groups of people even though we have only experienced it with a few. They are those unconscious feelings we have that influence our judgement of certain people and how we may treat or react to them. These biases can be determined by a number of things; lifestyle, media, environment, experiences, or how we were raised. For example, the media constantly bombards us with the stereotype that fat/overweight people are lazy, ugly, and unhealthy. And while you may not purposely be mean to people like that, you may find yourself judging their eating habits, changing yours, and vowing to lose weight so you never find yourself in their place. Your conscious mind says you would never treat a fluffyperson differently, but your reaction to them is different than your reaction to a slender person would be.

So what does love got to do with this? Dr. Bruce ended his presentation with the concept of empathy (which is a key component of love). “When it comes to the inability to practice empathy/love, lack of exposure to or an understanding of other people or cultures is the primary culprit.” We are called to love one another in the way Jesus loved us—with unmerited grace, mercy, and without boundaries or conditions. To do this, we must intentionally step outside of our own likenesses and like-minded communities. We must be authenticand seek to understand our own identities—what are our triggers and fears. We must practice active listening, turning off our inner voices and focusing on the other person. We must get curious, assume a learning mindset and find out what has shaped the other person’s life. We must respect and connectby being more open and respectful of one another. Doing all this leads to empathy and understanding of the world around us. Only then will we be able to say we truly love people as we have been called to do.

Yeah, that’s what lovegot’sto do with it.


20170113_074913-1-1Sonya A. Finley has been living the single life for 24 years. In that time she has raised four awesome young men (James – 26, Kevin – 23, Joshua and Johnathan – 18), graduated from college with a BFA, and began a huge step in her professional career. She is on the verge of a new season in her single life that now focuses on a journey not centered around child-rearing. She has made many mis-steps, learned quite a few bits of wisdom along the way and is happy to share with women who find themselves in the same place.