"Don't get so caught up in the explosion, and miss the damage..." - Bishop TD Jakes.
It was May of 2014, and I remember my phone blowing up that afternoon. I had just finished speaking and sharing poetry at a three-day retreat in Lake Geneva, WI to a group of energetic, bright, and motivated middle schoolers. The retreat had just come to a close and I was surprised to receive text messages from people saying "congratulations" and asking if I heard the news. My spoken word poem entitled, "New Jordans" was released a week prior and was now featured on World Star Hip Hop as the "Spoken Word of the Week." Furthermore, the video was all over Facebook and Twitter. In a short few hours, the video was starting to go viral.
(click picture to watch video)
Literally within a day I probably received over 400+ friend requests on Facebook, gained a plethora of new followers on Instagram, and people were slipping and sliding in my inbox/dms. I received mostly encouraging comments, a few negative comments, and even people asking me to marry them.
Within a week it was hard not to see the video down my timeline. Comedian D. L. Hughley shared the video on his Facebook page and generated an entire discussion around it, radio stations in the UK were airing it on their shows, a teacher in Philadelphia contacted me to use elements of the poem for her class curriculum, and I was contacted by several universities. I even remember the time I went into a local Culver's restaurant and one of the cashiers was nearly "awe-struck," because they recognized me from the video. I was getting attention, affirmation, and applause I never could've imagined. My video went viral, but little did I know, my life would start to spiral...
Little did I know, but God wouldn't just use this moment to elevate me, God used this moment to teach me and humble me.
I was now faced with this immense pressure to "perform." I felt like my pictures had to look a certain way, I felt like my social media presence had to be a certain way, I felt like my life had to be a certain way. Due to the video circulating as quickly as it did, it created an illusion that I was a full-time spoken word artist. However, that wasn't nearly the truth. I had recently graduated from undergrad, and was soon entering my master's program at the time. I was very much still trying to put the pieces together in relation to my life and career. My life wasn't as put together as people's perception.
The video created expectations that others put on me, and my life couldn't live up to. Additionally, I was that child who was written off by many people growing up. In many aspects I was still that child who was wide-eyed and naive from all the attention I was receiving. I loved the fact that I felt like I was important, valued, significant, and more importantly approved. I didn't necessarily want fame, I just wanted to be validated. To those who are reading this, please pay attention to your deep-rooted desires; your desires can lead you to your demise if you aren't careful.
Today, I see now that God intentionally orchestrated all of this to happen to show me my own brokenness hidden in my ministry (Tweet That!). I remember watching the same people that followed me, now unfollow me as quickly as they followed me. My anxiety sky-rocketed, because every time someone unfollowed me it continually fed this narrative in my head that said, "I wasn't good enough," "I wasn't interesting enough," and "I wasn't approved." This eventually led to depression, frustration, and a slip up of going back to pornography to "numb" my emotional pain.
"If you live for the applause of others, you will die by their rejection."- Lecrae.
Not only was I facing internal battles, I was also facing external battles. I experienced people in my own hometown treat me differently, I saw others build a wall of competition between me and them that didn't even exist (imaginary barriers), I experienced people only wanting to get close to me, because they felt like "I could put them on."
At that time, I didn't realize God was continually showing me the beauty of the gospel and my DAILY need for the gospel. The gospel eradicates our need to perform, because Christ "performed" on our behalf. Even in my brokenness, God used my brokenness to show me that HE is the only one that could mend and put my broken pieces together. God will sometimes get through to you by way of other people.
God would use my parents and my fiancé, who was my girlfriend at the time, but one of the people God would use was my boss/professor in my master's program. During the first year of the program, I was also working as a graduate assistant. Through my work as a graduate assistant, I was blessed to meet a lady who I would later call my "college mom." I remembering having a conversation with her about all that was taking place in my life in regards to poetry, counseling, and my purpose. What she said next is something that would reshape my perspective. She said to me, "That 10 year old boy who needs to hear your words and see your empathy is not going to care about your name or videos, he is just going to remember how your words resonated with his pain."
That was my "AHA" moment. It was that moment when the light bulb flickered on. It was that moment when God gave me my current motto, "Hope > Hype." Christ was my Hope in midst of all the Hype I was experiencing, and my responsibility was to offer people a hope in the midst of all the hype around them.
It took a video going viral to show me that my motives were wrong. It took a video going viral to show me that it didn't give me what I needed. It took a video going viral to enhance the ministry and voice God has given me today. It took a video going viral to discover the hidden aspects of my soul.
*Remember that God's restoration comes by way of our repentance ( See 1 John 1:9).
Today one of my biggest desires is to help and have much needed conversations with other artists, speakers, dreamers, entrepreneurs, etc. Due to social media I have seen so many people attempt to chase dreams that they aren't ready for. I have seen ill-motives disguised as humility. I have seen people pray for a life they aren't prepared to have. The main reason I can SEE IT, is because I LIVED IT.
God has allowed me to experience things and go through things as a speaker/artist that were needed for my own conviction and perspective. Now, my heart is to help support the HEART (who they are) of other artists/people in general, and not just support their ART (what they do). I would like to see everyone win, but more importantly I want to see them win the right way!
Through my own experience, it has improved my writing and has reshaped the entire trajectory and mission behind the ministry God has given me. I am at a place of being content!
Just remember God knows when to put us in PARK, when all we want to do is DRIVE. It's never about us.
Matthew 5:16 NLT
16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see,
so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
1 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.
4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.
When they are troubled,
we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
Final Thoughts: GET REAL with yourself
Some Questions for Reflection:
1) Do you always feel entitled? Do you feel entitled that people should automatically listen to you, support you, or love you just because it's you?
2) Do you constantly complain about not having support?
3) Is your motive really to get famous, gain validation, want significance underneath your safe phrase of "reaching souls?"
4) Who is in your life that will help keep you grounded? Who will really keep things real with you? Who will check you? Who will ask you the right questions?
5) Do you look at other people that do similar things as you, and think that you should be receiving the same "praise" they receive? Do you get upset that they gain recognition, that you feel you should get?
6) Can you sincerely celebrate other people?
Answer these questions honestly!
BE FREE! Keep growing, but stay grounded!