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.
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!
Yep, it’s Valentine’s Day. Sorry, there is no history I will offer on Saint Valentine of Rome. I have become colonized to the history of Hallmark cards and flowers; that’s really sad on my part, but I’m just being honest. Anyway, thinking about love today I wondered all the ways I have looked at this word, love, through all of my 61 years and nope, Hallmark won’t come calling. Here is what I found:
Love is Mom
Love is strange
Love is desiring
Love is hard
Love is breathless
Love is painful
Love is tiresome
Love is determined
Love is intentional
Love is blistering
Love is happiness
Love is sad
Love is healing
Love is kind
Love is sexy
Love is dangerous
Love is crazy
Love is satisfying
Love is transparent
Love is scary
Love is demanding
Love is acceptance
Love is justice
Love is God
I’m pretty sure my list will grow a little more. I might even look at love a little bit different in my seventies. But this is what I know for sure, “LOVE bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. LOVE NEVER FAILS.” 1st Corinthians 13:7
My brother Henry passed away five years ago. He was diagnosed with cancer, I can’t remember what kind of cancer. I wonder if that even matters, but I do remember the day our sister told me of his diagnosis. It was Thanksgiving, and I was in West Virginia, in a cabin on grounds where union and confederate soldiers battled. Believe me it was not a place of my choosing. In hindsight, it is rather strange that a Black woman would be present on a holiday that can be oppressive to Native Americans, in a place where Blacks were definitely oppressed. But that is a story for another time.
Henry died three weeks after his diagnosis. I got an opportunity to see and pray with him before he left us. I loved Henry. He was the brother who did not expect much. He told jokes and always had a smile and kind words for everyone he met. Henry loved me. I wasn’t an easy person to love, the youngest in the family and the one with privilege that demanded attention. Privilege because I did not have to pick cotton before school or call a white person, Sir or Madam. My generation wouldn’t take that crap, at least that is what we thought. No bowing down to the white man for us! In so many ways, my generation wanted to move on from those oppressive things, thoughts, emotions. All the things that reminded us of our struggles.
The family gathered to make Henry’s funeral arrangements. Henry’s daughter, Kimberly, comes to me and says, “Daddy wants you to sing, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral. I hated that song. I thought I had said this to myself but I blurted it out, loud with an emphatic “NO!” This song brought back all the things my generation, okay I, was trying to escape from. The song reminded me of the black struggle, the way my mother would sing it in the kitchen while she was cooking a meal of corn bread and collards! The song was depressing to me and really, don’t you think singing this would take us back another fifty years?!!!
After my drama subsided after a little while of privilege shaming, my niece touches my shoulder and calmly says, “Auntie, I know you love your brother.” She was right. I am so glad my niece is so much like her Dad. So I braced myself, walked up to the mic, and held my head high and sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” like it was the most natural thing for me to do. No, it didn’t sound anything like the great Mahalia Jackson in “Imitation of Life”, but I felt connected to our struggle. I felt the pain and burdens of my ancestors and found joy in that connection. I heard my ancestors say they were tired, but in their tiredness, they thought of me and others who would follow them. Henry understood that for his children, they needed to hear that he did his very best in a world that brought pain to a black man who did not require much, but simply wanted to live free and whole.
On this Sunday morning, I found myself humming this song. I saw my mother in the kitchen cooking and Henry sitting at the table smiling. I smiled, still humming Thomas Dorsey’s song in my head and realizing that the song is not a depressing one but it is a song of victory, for standing and moving in a world that often at times will hate you, but our God stands with us, giving us strength to walk on so that another generation will see just how far we have come.
In honor of Black History Month, I lift up Henry, my brother, who loves me anyhow! Listen to the words of this amazing song, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” song by Ledisi from the 2015 “Selma Movie Soundtrack” and be blessed!
She wore all purple. A purple suit that looked like it kept her warm in an old church building where cool air seeped in from the beautiful stain windows that are definitely historic and have much more character than any efficiency windows. She probably gave money towards the upkeep of those glorious windows. Her purple hat sat perfectly on her seasoned hair, falling at the top of her eyebrows just right with a wide brim, not too wide to hide her smile, but wide enough to pronounce her wisdom. In all purple, she exuded royalty and demanded it.
The church lady in all purple, who probably marched in many Civil Rights protests; raised her fist against her oppressors; stood outside in the cold registering folks to vote; prayed for her children and her children’s children; told the pastor what the community needed; demanded fair housing; grew a garden in her kitchen; organized the annual women’s tea; took the bus to sit with a sick friend; made a pound cake from scratch; learned how to navigate Facebook; washes her bed linen and iron them weekly; keeps a lace handkerchief and mint candy in her pocketbook; praises her God with no shame; this black woman in all purple, walks up to the church mic and begins to sing John Lennon’s song, “Imagine”. It was absolutely beautiful!
This was a bold move. I love this song! I have always said that it should be a hymn but the lyrics of the song would force us to think, to do exactly what the song calls for. To imagine a place, a world where love and unity resides. Instead of preaching a heaven and hell we imagine there is no heaven or hell below us, above us only sky. Above us only God. No religion, but only God. No possessions, but enough for all. Imagine sharing all the world. What would communities of faith look like if we walk in revolutionary love, repenting as a community, instead of finding ways to separate ourselves from each other? Imagine this kind of world can truly exist. We would have to be intentional in our thinking and caring of each other. We would have to see each other, fully.
The lady in all purple, with her best Sunday church hat on, holds her her high and belts out the last verse of the song. She is determine. She is strong, with no fear as to what the congregation will think or what they will say and she sings out with the voice of an angel, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” The church lady has spoken! Let it be so!
I am creating a space to practice yoga in my home. Yoga is not new to me, but because I am not disciplined in my practice, I consider myself still a beginner. The room is the smallest in my home but it is the room I gravitate to the most. Hanging on the walls are two pieces of art work which are very precious to me. One is a drawing of a young woman with locs, her head gently bowed, the palm of her hand turned graciously and she is softly swaying. The drawing is titled, “Thoughts in Movement”. The other piece is a painting of three older full body women, colorful scarves tied around their heads, aprons tied around their round waist, looking like they just came out of a field, jubilant and dancing with the sun lighting their joy. There is no title for this piece. In fact, this piece was balled up in the back of my truck for years after I moved away from an abusive relationship and was about to throw it out! It was worn and had a small tear but I restored the art piece and had it perfectly framed.
While creating this space, I found myself dancing, with no rhythm. My body went in whatever direction it wanted to. My belly shaking with sounds and the flaps of my arms joining in with harmony. I looked at the picture of the three older women and laughed out loud and danced along with them, dancing through fields of hardship but swaying with an ease. I then turned my attention to the young woman and thanked her for her bravery and determination to keep moving, because of her I remember how to dance. I remember to how unravel myself from the bruise spots on my body. I remember how to hear the soft whispers instead of the harsh blows. I remember that there were other women who danced through the pain with me. I’m so glad they did not allow me to keep them rolled up in the back of a truck or thrown out in the trash.
This journey comes with some trials and tribulations. At times it may appear to be easier to hide in a corner, crumpled up because unraveling yourself will hurt. Unraveling our past mistakes, our past failures; unraveling how others have harmed us, these things are not pretty. But unraveling helps smooth out the wrinkles. Unraveling brushes away the debris of all the wrong things we have said to ourselves. Once the process of unraveling starts, we remember who we are. We remember we are creative, intelligent, loving and we can dance to our own unique rhythm.
So what should be the name of the picture? The picture of those women dancing triumphantly, the one with no name. What should it be titled? I don’t know, yet. But what I do know is that I have the power to figure it out. And for that, I dance!
The last Sunday of 2020. And my pastor decided that I would be the one to preach the last sermon of the year. Of 2020 y’all?!! Of course I could have preached about the pandemic, the fourteen million people who are unemployed, eviction notices being issued, and black lives still being brutalized. So, yes, I did preach about those things, but I also challenged what things would look like if we all participated with God in making these disturbing, ugly, sinful, issues disappear for good. How can we find ways to partner with God?
No, I am not one who believe that all we have to do is put everything in God’s hands and well, then walk away. Let God handle it. I mean, God already created the universe, provided the land for food and kind of just dropped the planet in our lap, so can we do something that God will be in total awe!? If anything from 2020, we have learned how to survive with little. We finally realized we don’t need all the stuff, the perfect phone, the sharp car (I do drive a 2011 Mercedes Benz) or the social media fame that makes overnight celebrities (well, let me rethink that one). But seriously, in all of this year’s darkness, we found people helping each other, people working with people they would have never given the time of day. This pandemic destroyed lives and in a weird way, this pandemic allowed us to see how precious life is.
So here’s my challenged. There is this scripture that points directly to how we can partner with God; yes I’m a preacher, get over it, but just hear me out, okay?
“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others.” Philippians 2:1-4
We need each other and God needs us. If we truly want peace; if we truly want to see people made whole; if we truly want to eradicate homelessness and hunger; if we truly want all people to live free; then we must learn from 2020. Let’s see if we can show God what we’re made of!
I love church. I love being church, community, the ecclesia. The church has caused me a lot of problems, but today I realized how much church is big part of who I am. I have to say that I wasn’t expecting to feel love for the church in the way I felt it today. I have been critical of the church. Somedays the church is good and other days I wonder how I allowed myself to become a part of an institution that has preached hate and homophobia to the point where there have been times that I just want to walk away. But today, I saw a congregation hold each other as they discovered their church had gone up in flames.
Middle Collegiate Church (middlechurch.org) is a place where everyone is welcomed. It is a community of people who believe in God, don’t believe in God, straight, gay, all races and ethnicities, who stand and fight against the injustices in that ravage our nation. They are a group of people that every Sunday morning, I don’t know any of them, but at 11:45am I can’t wait to sit in front of my laptop to attend worship because they don’t know me, but it’s almost like they do. Their love is intentional. As I watched the service today and saw the congregation crying, singing, praying and still making sure that the community in which they sit is still provided with food and clothing for the homeless, holding on to each other, but still being a force and standing, speaking against those powers that keep the marginalized oppressed. As the building burned, so many of them spoke saying, “we are the church”, this is a building. In that building were memories of baptism, weddings, dancing and laughter and funerals of love ones. They grieved publicly, being human, being fully seen, being fully embraced by God. The most beautiful thing is that the world in which they gave themselves with their radical revolution way of love, responded with arms wide open, to receive this group of amazing people, because their radical revolutionary love planted a big heart in souls that had once been broken. I saw God today.
I fell in love with church again, because of a community that is showing me that revolutionary love works. I fell in love with church again today because I saw what church can be. For us pastors and preachers, for us lovers of the Gospel, for us lovers of God, I pray we will be intentional about loving people, not trying to change them so they can go to heaven, but instead love them so the world can see God. I’m so glad that Middle Collegiate Church reminds me that we are the ones God has been waiting for. Check them out on a Sunday morning. You will be so happy you did!