“Beginning Again” started out to be a blog about me finding the what next after retirement and could I possibly still dream after turning 60 years old. I am grateful because I am still dreaming. The dreams are not what they once were. The dreams are much better. Because my dreams are not just for me but I realize that my dreams are connected to something bigger than I. My dreams are connected to a better humanity. A humanity that uplifts all, treats all with dignity and grace, stand for the rights of all, ensure that all have enough. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught how much we have hurt each other. We cannot return to a normal that is abusive mentally and physically. We must seek forgiveness. We must apologize. So, here I am, with a dream that offers an apology for those who have been hurt, especially by the church.
To the gay youth at church who stopped coming because we called you a sin.
To the single parent who only wanted to belong but instead we gossiped about your clothes.
To the immigrant who only wanted to worship but the church refused to protect you.
To the homeless person who joyfully expressed his voice every Sunday, only to be shush.
To the trans person who boldly walked in the sanctuary as themself and told they could not be.
To the once incarcerated who comes back and no one greets you with open arms.
To the children who are told to sit, not talk, because their voice is not valued.
To the black boys and girls who scream as we sit by, saying nothing, seeing them murdered.
To all who have never felt the unconditional love of God's hand,
I am sorry.
God is love. God commands us to do better, to be better, to be who God has created us to be. We, who are created in the image of God. God shows up in the gay youth, the single parent, the immigrant, the homeless, the trans, the incarcerated, the children, all of us. God makes God self present in all of us.
This is my apology. I pray you come and dream with me. I pray you find your apology so that all good dreams will be fulfilled. So that all we see in each other is God’s image. What a beautiful sight to behold!
My home is a happy, funny and spiritual place. Two pastors in the home can be quite entertaining, especially when you hear broadway tunes being belted out and our neighbor so graciously smiling instead of telling us to stop the madness! We can be a handful! But that is what I so love about us! My husband grew up Lutheran and I grew up Methodist. Both of those denominations come with liturgies, prayer books, catechisms, books of worship, crosses, banners, and so many other items that make up our religious tradition. We have some of those religious findings in our home, but there is one thing that we did not see in the churches my husband and I grew up in. A portrait of Laughing Jesus!
Laughing Jesus greets us with his squinting eyes, head tossed back in the air, mouth wide open, inviting us each day to join him in the laughter. Laughing Jesus is the joy of watching children run in the playground, swinging and hugging their friends. Laughing Jesus is the being of a young man who snags his first job, swags as he walks down the street, his headphones, slightly turned down, listening to the sound of his generation, greeting everyone he meets. Laughing Jesus is the couple who is now planning that wedding and getting the news that the venue of their dreams is available for the date of their nuptials. Laughing Jesus is the old man in the nursing home who now gets to sit outside in his favorite spot and smoke his pipe, without the staff knowing. Laughing Jesus is the high school senior who will experience a graduation this year and will beam from the podium as they try to quiet the noise from their parents in the balcony who are celebrating to the point of embarrassment. Laughing Jesus is the thrill of being able to see our grandchildren soon and hugging them, never wanting to let them go. Laughing Jesus is breaking free to simply breathe.
Laughing Jesus tells us to love boldly, to fly with no fear, to dream that impossible dream. Laughing Jesus gives us permission to have fun, to run, play and laugh so loud and so hard that the universe shares in the laughter. The humanity of a Laughing Jesus should tell us that laughing is divine. So maybe you don’t have a portrait of Laughing Jesus; you don’t need one. Just raise your head back, open you mouth wide, close your eyes and let out your loudest laughter! Keep that image of yourself locked in your wonderful brain. There you have your Laughing Jesus!
I may have written this before. Somewhere I am pretty sure I have used this same title. For that, I will not apologize. It’s complicated. So here we go…
As a black woman of faith, I am taught to seek joy in time of trouble. I am taught to experience gladness in time of sorrow. Sunday comes and I am reminded that whatever was or is troubling me the day before, my countenance should be as a holy glow, not a droopy woe. I am to clap my hands in praise and shout with joy before my God and be humble and thankful. Do not get me wrong, please. I love extending my hand to my God in praise of all the many blessings. But after one more child being killed by police, it’s complicated.
It’s complicated for me to smile and not show the trauma that impacts my body. It’s complicated to sing a song of triumph when my voice instead wants to moan. It’s complicated to lift up encouraging words when you know darn well the words are falling on ears that just want to hear, “Can we be real before God for a minute, please?” It’s complicated in our preparation that we clothe ourselves in an armor that is tough and hard to break, when in reality we are breaking. It’s complicated that we plan for the future with the past still in the back of our minds and the present showing up with past pains. It’s complicated that still we rise in the mornings and must meet the day like there is nothing wrong, like all is just a terrible dream and we must just get through it.
Just get through it, as we hear of another son’s death. Just get through it, as we hear of another’s son’s death, just get through it as we hear of another daughters death. Just get through it, as we notice the anger and violence that we are facing and the anger and violence we do internally to ourselves as we just get through it. I can’t get through it.
So now, God. Can I be real with you? No, I present myself before God with sadness, not joy. With anger, not gladness, with lament, not a smile. Not clapping my hands to pretend that all is well. Not walking with my head held high so others will feel comfortable. Not making a joyful noise for others who refuse to see my tears or hear my cries. No! For me to do otherwise is just too complicated.
So, I’m back talking about plants again. Bare with me please! And if you are asking about the last plants I talked about, where I said I would find out the names of the plants…well, I haven’t yet. Don’t fuss, it’s on my to-do-list. I just want to tell you about my morning glories I planted last spring. They were absolutely beautiful, trailing up my deck and then cascading across the top. But, since I don’t know much about plants, I did not realize these were annuals, meaning they were not going to grow back on their own again. I am having to plant these beauties again, hoping I will get the same results as last spring. We will see. But yep, you should know me by now, it got me to thinking; in my amazing southern voice!
When winter comes we all hibernate in our homes, close the door and see no one until the season changes. We may see our neighbors only because we have to shovel the snow from our sidewalks, but once that is over, slightly waving to our neighbors, we enter back into our places, close our blinds and pull the cover over our lives, making sure there is enough popcorn, bourbon for the cold that is, and Netflix; these will be the things that will keep us company through the winter months. I’m pretty sure I am not speaking about myself here! What happens when we finally emerge from our dark places? Will there be some who will emerge full blast with so much enthusiasm that they can outshine the sun? Will there be some who it will take a few moments to peep out and find their grounding? Will some need to be nurture more demanding new seeds to be planted before they can see their beauty?
My daffodils, which are perennials (I’m working it y’all) burst through the cold ground and had no problem, bright yellow and stems so strong. My purple flowers ( don’t ask) peeps behind the daffodils but you notice they are there! The morning glory seeds sit in the unopened packet, waiting for me to plant them in their special spot and once they are nurtured, watch out! Like the song says, “ain’t no stopping us now, we are on the move”.
However you come into this season of Spring, enter in knowing that you are your own unique awesome self. Have a conversation with your neighbor and hey, maybe we can start a garden party!
I know this, whatever this is, will pass and things will get better.
I know that my tears will stop falling.
I know that I will stop struggling day in and day out.
I know that I will experience happiness and joy.
I know that I am loved.
I know that I give love.
I know that the summer sun will shine bright on my face.
I know that the sound of music will inspire me to imagine again.
I know that I will have fun sitting on my deck, sipping a nice glass of Chenin Blanc.
I know I will hear children playing, riding their bicycles, as their parents shout, "Be careful!"
I know I will feel excited about making plans for our future lives.
I know... that's all... that's enough...today....I know.
I grew up in a place call Dalzell, SC. I thought that growing up in the south as a black child could not possibly be the most pleasant place to live. Of course there was truly racism around me, discrimination and lack of a quality education. I could only play with my one white friend outside, where our mothers could keep an eye on us. The day my mother responded to my white friend with a “yes m’am”, I went numb. I did not want to play with my white friend anymore and come to think of it, my white friend did not ask me why. Yes, after experiencing that kind of trauma, you would think that growing up in a place call Dalzell, SC was mostly unpleasant, but it was not. This was a place of dreams and laughter; a place of joy and celebration of community.
On Sundays, I remember everyone gathering on the church lawn to eat the meal the women had prepared the night before. If there was a worship service after church, you would smell the fried chicken and cornbread that was wrapped in aluminum foil in the trunk of someone’s car. I don’t know to this day how those women kept the potato salad from not spoiling sitting in the back of someone’s car trunk while we wait for a two hour worship service to end. The tables were dressed with checkered red and white table cloths, the plastic ones, because they were easier to keep clean. The food spread out on the table, with the watermelon slices at the end so that the children would not grab first. And of course, let us not forget about the Kool-Aid with all the flavors mixed together with five pounds of sugar added. My mother’s pound cake was to die for! The children played, the adults gossiped. It was community.
On Sundays where there were no afternoon worship services, we gathered on our front porches. Waved at everyone that past by even if we did not know their names. It was a time where the older women taught the younger women how to shell beans and peas, how to prepare collards by dusting them off, looking for the small worms, so that they can be cleaned to go into the freezer for next Sunday’s dinner. The real reason, sitting among those women of wisdom was so they can tell the young women how to prepare ourselves before the Sunday suitors came calling. The front porch became the second Sunday church service. Someone raised a hymn and others blended in finding their parts making the most beautiful music together.
In this place called Dalzell, SC, on a Sunday afternoon, after church service, there was this sense of peace that could not be disturbed. What ever happened during the week, whoever called you out of your name, the person who followed you throughout the general store, it did not matter. Not on a Sunday in Dalzell, SC. I imagine that it could have been this way for every black child raised in the south, that on Sundays you got a pass to dream, you got a pass to believe. It is understandable now why Sundays in Dalzell, SC were so important. This was the time as a child we were taught to let our imaginations flow, this was the time we were taught to embrace our worth, this was the time to receive power, because Monday would come and when Monday comes, we must remember who we truly are.
Sure, as a black child growing up in the south in a place called, Dalzell SC, which had one post office and a caution light and adults monitoring black and white children playing together so as to make sure the black child didn’t cross a line, one may think this place to be a memory you would want to forget. I don’t want to forget it. This was a place of dreams and laughter; a place of joy and celebration of community. This was a place that taught me that oppression still raises it’s ugly head, but in spite of it, remember the fun you had running with your friends on the church lawn and hold tight to the lessons the porch women shared with you about how to act on a first date.
We all have stories of our childhood places which have shaped us to be who we are today. Some of those stories may not be so pleasant. But let me challenge you to find a single remembrance that maybe at the time did not seem such a big deal. A single remembrance can be just the smell of freshly cut grass or your very first kiss. You will realize that your hometown, the one you could not wait to escape from when you turned eighteen years old, is the very place you gave birth to your dreams. It is the very place you found out who you are.
My family no longer live in Dalzell, SC. We have moved in all directions, from California to Japan. But that small town with a caution light and one post office, was my home and for that I am grateful.
Bravery must be practiced. In the past I have shied away from confrontations and conflicts. I am one of the people who like to make sure everyone is pleased. Pleasing folks was important to me. I don’t know why; maybe it was something I learned from childhood, possibly just wanting to be loved and appreciated. I don’t know the origin, but pleasing folks was hurting me and honestly even hurting the same folks I was always trying to please. How would they get to experience my weird sense of humor and how would I hear their laugher; me offering a gift of joy and they receiving that joy with gladness, all because we fear our own light. Bravery must be practiced.
Last week I attended a meeting with some difficult people. I have always wanted to impress these difficult folks. My heart was racing, my hands sweaty and my mind racing. The night before I could not sleep because I kept trying to figure out how can I get these folks to see me; how can I get them to listen to me; how can I get them to see my worth. Every idea I presented was always overlooked. I sat listening, with a big smile, pretending that all was well. An hour past. All of a sudden, there she was! Before I knew it, my voice burst out of her hiding place, burst out of her cocoon, burst out with a loud pride and spoke with so much force, “I AM TIRED OF GETTING ALONG JUST TO GET ALONG AND I AM NOT DOING IT ANYMORE!” I said nothing else. I didn’t need to.
The Sunday morning hymn played today was, “Brave’, song by Sara Bareilles. Apparently I have been practicing bravery and even though I was scared, bravery showed up, stood by my side and gave me my voice. Go and practice your bravery. Your bravery is always there even on the days your voice is low, squeaky, soft, meek or silent. Keep practicing your bravery and I promise you, one day your voice will come through with so much power, you will even surprise yourself! As the song says:
"You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody's lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing's gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle 'neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave."
It’s sunny in Philadelphia! And I am glad that the snow is melting, not to say we won’t see snow again before Spring, but this sun is absolutely beautiful. It shines on my dusty floors and dirty windows, displaying that my cleaning days have been void or none really. But the ray of sun makes the dust dance with joy.
We have been inside our homes for a long time. We have been with our children, spouse, friends, and unfortunately even enemies, in the same space, every second, every minute, every hour, every day and to be honest, we are sick and tired of it. Some of us have made our way to the outside, just not to the grocery store or to take a walk, but courageously to do normal things we use to, like siting in a restaurant, eating and drinking cocktails. I’m not there yet, but to those who have done this fabulous thing, I salute you; keep your mask on please! But if I may, let me point to something we probably never paid much attention to and have taken it somewhat for granted. Dust!
Who thinks about dust?! Well apparently I do? Sounds like I may have too much time on my hands. Anyway! The sun shining on my hard wood floors, that are about a hundred years old, displays dust that rolls from one corner to the next. But the dust is a reminder that life is steady happening around us. The dry skin cells that falls from our bodies, the environment that leaks through the old windows; the last bit of snow we shake off our boots and cracks in our house we don’t even recognize is there, shows us that inside the places we live are really the places we really live! The dust shows us the place in which we are showing up in our lives and in the lives of others. In the homes we have built, the places where we are our truest selves. The dust reminds us that the laughter we shared on a ZOOM call stays in the air of our home and bounces from one wall to another. The dust reminds us of the living room sofa, sitting with the whole family when everyone finally decided on the same movie to watch. The dust reminds us of the tears our older child shed when her senior class dance was canceled and the comfort offered by our hugs and brushing the tears away. The dust reminds us of our partner saying how much they love us and the dust also reminds us of our saying goodbye to loves ones through a cell phone or laptop screen as we gently brushed away our anger and loss.
The dust reminds us that we are still moving, still striving, still crying, still laughing, still grieving and still being. Yes, I must sweep up this dust; it is allergy season! But I know the dust will return. We will return again to a life free from a pandemic. We will return to a world that is new because we have discovered that dust looks the same, feels the same, blows the same and is relentless! So I’m hearing someone say, “we were created from dust and to dust we will return.” Okay, but don’t get too caught up on that please!!! Just appreciate that when the sun shines on your dust, it sparkles and rises up in the air, dancing before you, letting you know that life still happens, because of you!
My biological mother died from lung cancer. When I first started my blog, I mention her as my inspiration to start writing, with this being a process of my grief and hopefully finding out new things about myself. I use to write when I was much younger. I wrote plays and songs, but I stopped because, well, I thought I wasn’t good enough. I am learning I can be my own worse critic, so I’m working through that and getting better. This thought brought back to my memory a question my mother asked before she died on her death bed, in a hospice center in the Bronx. She asked, looking up at the ceiling, with tubes in her hand and the oxygen tubes stuck in her nostrils, breathing as best she can, “What have I done?” Can I tell you that this hurt me to my core. For a woman, who struggled in her life, not totally because of her own doing; living at a time when Jim Crow was the order of the day, getting pregnant at age 15, running away from home, getting addicted to alcohol. “What have I done?”
Her question made me see that she was still wanting to be whatever her dream was as a little girl. Her question made me see that she was still dreaming a dream she had as a young woman. Her question made me see that she was still even dreaming that dream as a woman now in her seventies. But the question was one of guilt. She was angry with herself. She was angry as she laid in that bed, looking over her life and thinking about the things that she had not accomplished, thinking about the things she would never get to do because her time to leave was near. I felt her anger. I hated that she still felt she needed to ask this question even in the midst of her dying! Her question, unfortunately, became her main thought while in hospice. She could not respond to family members loving on her or being by her bedside. She became defensive, and to me, the child who was born to her at 15 years old, she saw only what she believed to be where her dreams started to end. I understood fully her pain, I understood her will to live and fight, I understood her wanting to prove everyone wrong. I understood her wanting everyone to see her as she saw herself in her dreams; a great captain on her basketball team; a great singer, orator, friend, woman, person. So on those days in her anger, I stood by her bedside so she could have a right to her anger and offered myself to the mental punches and throws that she was unable to dish out to the world that would not see her, the world that harmed her for being 15, pregnant, addicted and deemed unworthy. For this, the remaining of her life would be proving the world wrong. What a horrible struggle for a teenage girl! What a horrible journey that her one moment of mistakes would be what she focused on and would dictate the majority of her life.
My mother’s question stays in my head as a reminder that I am enough. Even in my struggles, my failures, I am enough. And it is unfortunate, that most women will have the question my mother had because somewhere along the line when a woman slips and fails, she immediately turns it into her own guilt. I hear this question when my daughter questions her abilities. I hear this question when I listen to the stories of women I work with whose children are in a foster care system and they are struggling with substance abuse. “What have I done?” is internalize that there has to be something wrong with me, something I did wrong to deny my dreams to live. Please take it from me, you have done nothing wrong. For a moment, you failed, you made a mistake, it was only a moment. Don’t allow that moment to be a lifetime of disappointment in yourself. You are more worthy than a moment. There is no shame in mistakes, we learn from them and we journey on.
My mother had over 20 years of sobriety before she died. I’m grateful for that. I know she was too. Loving yourself means loving all of you, your perfections and imperfections; your flaws, your missteps, your journey. Be kind to yourself. I love you!
I am adding plants to my home. Y’all, I am not good with plants. I know they should be green? At least the leaves? I bought two small plants, one I keep in the basement and one I have hanging in front of a large window in my dining room. Please don’t ask me the name of the plants because I threw away the little tab that had the name and instructions of how to take care of the plants. I figured adding water was all I needed to know. I mean, you add dirt and water, anything else, like plant food, correct temperature, singing to your plant is just a bonus, right? Actually, I bought three plants, unfortunately one died, so I kinda don’t count it. I did feel some remorse though, when I threw it in the garbage. The plant in the dark basement is thriving; I’ve learned this one doesn’t require much light or water. The plant in my window is holding on, leaves are dry and falling and it doesn’t seem as vibrant. I think I could be overwatering it and the cold air coming in the window probably don’t help, but I am giving it more attention by watching the branches and eyeing if more leaves are dropping. I agree, I should not have thrown the “how to care” instructions away.
It has been almost a year of being inside away from the things that we enjoy. Being away from those that we love, from from our churches, synagogues and mosques. Away from the things that also brought us life, our favorite restaurants, attending concerts of our favorite artist, partying with friends and celebrating getting a pay check on a Friday night. We all are dealing different with this Covid-19 season. Some of us are thriving, finding new ways of being and growing in wonderful ways. Some of us are drooping along, trying each day to make it, trying to find our way by figuring out what is it that we need so that our bodies will stand tall again and our countenance will no longer seem sad. Some have found that right amount of sunlight and water; some have found that they may require something different. We all come with a different set of instructions and my belief, intuitively, we already know what that is. But there is one common thread that we all require and that is love. We require to be love and to give love. Without the instruction of someone’s DNA, without the tab that tells us how to care specifically for one another, we seek to pay attention to each other. We notice if someone is hurting, we notice if someone is hungry, and we even notice when someone is happy and join in their joy.
The plant in the window looks like it may survive. I love the hanging basket that it sits in, but I may have to move it. As beautiful as the sun shines on it, the cold air stifles its’ growth and I want it to live. In fact, I need for this plant to live, in hopes that I can redeem myself from the one I threw in the trash. But more importantly, I need for you to live. I need for you to live strong. I need for your branches to reach to its highest height. I need for you to have the right amount of water, the correct temperature and a song that only belongs to you. And when you smile, I rejoice in seeing your face glow with excitement. God requires us to care and love each other. Let’s do that! “A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34
Yes, I agree. I need to know the name of my plants. I will work on that!