Today is the First Sunday in Advent. Advent is a period of four Sundays before Christmas and observed by Christians preparing for the coming of the Christ child. Advent is an expectancy of something greater to come. I love the Advent season because it reminds me that past troubles and woes do not dictate my future. This year has not been the greatest for many of us. I lost my brother, my best friend and a woman who raised me like I was her own child. My car was totaled because someone decided they would run a stop sign and not check to see if I was okay and my job cut hours. As I write this, the song comes to my mine, “I Won’t Complain” by the Rev. Paul Jones. Seriously, I use to hate that song because what is wrong with expressing hurt and pain? Nothing at all. What is wrong though is remaining in the hurt and pain. Don’t remain in the hurt and the pain of this year. Expect greater.
I am grateful that I had a best friend, a loving brother and a woman who showed me compassion. I’m grateful that I was not hurt in my car accident and I’m grateful that I have some income. But I expect greater to come, not because by some miracle rewards will land in my lap. I expect greater because life is still happening, life is still moving, life is here and life is still to come. I expect to keep finding ways to produce in order for the earth to provide a home for me and those I love. I expect to experience joy when I see my grandchildren run and play. I expect to feel the arms of my husband always embracing me. I expect to live my life with purpose. I expect greater because greatness lives in me.
During Advent, I pray that you will expect greater in your life. I pray that you see all the good that you have around you and in you. You have come this far, why give up now? Expect greater love, joy and happiness. Expect greater.
I’m looking at the 2020 Oscars and having a moment. Remembering when I was eight years old and saying one day I’m going to be on stage getting that Oscar. I loved acting and singing, knowing at such an early age what my talent was. I just knew one day I would be there. I’m not.
Yes, I’m sad that I did not reach out for my dreams. I’m sad that I didn’t try, at all to go for what I knew I could do. I should have listened to my heart and not listened to my mother who wanted to make sure I was able to eat and said, go to college, study business administration and get a skill to fall back on. I remember sitting in the back of the college auditorium, seeing students rehearsing for their upcoming play, “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Me, next day, singing, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, in the girl’s dormitory bathroom and hearing one of my floor mates applauding the sound of my voice. I should have changed my major then.
It’s not anyone’s fault. But let me just say this to a parent who could be poor, afraid that you don’t have much to offer to your children, afraid that your children’s life may pattern the life of yours. Tell your child to trust their gifts, tell your child their talent is big enough to carry them into success. For if you don’t, you child will pattern their life after yours, a life of being afraid, a life of shoulda, woulda, a life of sitting sixty years later, drinking a glass of red wine, wondering what could have been.
I don’t dislike my life now. It took be a while to get to a place of contentment. But damn, I could have been a star!!
I was attending a visit with a client and his daughter when suddenly I had this urge to check Facebook. I gasped when I saw the first status of my friends were from my niece with the message, “It is with sadness that Carl Pinkney passed away on Jan 2, 2020.” Immediately, I ran out of the room in tears that my nephew, who I called my brother was gone. I wasn’t upset on the way I found out about his death; that wasn’t an issue. I was upset because I never told him how special he was to me.
Carl and I were born ten days apart. Carl was the oldest. Carl’s grandmother, Katie, took me into her home when I was only a couple of hours old. If anyone from the South read this, they would understand that when a young teen girl gave birth and was unable to take care of her child, there were families who stepped in and raise that child. No questions asked. No legal papers drawn. This was how shame and caring functioned at the same time. This is how Carl and I met. Babies who would be raised together, sleeping in the same crib, starting kindergarten together, first grade, fighting with each other and being friends. We were inseparable. We held hands walking into our kindergarten class together and when we went to first grade, we were in the same class. I always felt safe because he was near.
Our homes were next door to each other and I spend almost every night at Carl’s house for supper. To be honest, Carl’s mother, Katie’s daughter-in-law, was a great cook. I felt like I belong sitting at their kitchen table. At Katie’s house there was just her and I, but the house next door was always filled with laughter. Carl love telling jokes and sometimes they were not clean jokes. One time, his mother actually washed his mouth out with soap. He was my hero.
Carl and his family moved to another part of the county when he was a teenager. His high school and my high school were arch rivals. Of course, Carl’s high school had the better football team and marching band. Carl played saxophone in the band. He idolized his older brother, Earl, who also played saxophone. Earl died when we were eight. We still found ways to see each other on the weekends, partying in places we should not be, smoking weed and drinking Colt 45. His friends became my friends and vice-versa. After graduation we attended the same college; we both dropped out. We both seemed to be chasing a dream or chasing life that would, so we thought, make us whole and complete. Carl joined the military. I moved to New York. We became distant from each other, chasing whatever desire we had that demanded us to give up our childhood.
This is what I remember about my brother, Carl kept his childhood alive, I gave up mine. He always had a twinkle in his eye because he kept chasing life. The way my niece described him, Carl was optimistic. He never lost hope. Even in his flaws, and there were many, the twinkle was always there. Carl lived life on his terms that were always not so pleasing to all of us, but he lived life still chasing the fullness of it. He struggled, got back up, struggled and got back up again. He told stories, yes some fabricated, but he had a gift of gab and he knew it. His stories were warm and humorous; his mission to make people laugh at themselves, stop and see the beauty and struggle of life.
Carl purchased a home in October of 2019; something that may seem simple for some but for him, it was major! After his 60th birthday, which was August 2019, he finally did something to let people notice that he could never fail. He was proud! He posted pictures of his home on Facebook, with emphasis of the pool in the backyard. He standing proudly with his wife after signing the mortgage papers, with key in hand! I can only imagine him saying, some folks counted me out, but God never did. He won’t get to swim in that pool but I’m sure he takes delight that his grandchildren will. He won’t get to sit in the rocking chair on the front porch, sipping on ice tea, or something else, telling his stories, but I’m sure those of us who love him will sit and sip ice tea, or something else, re-telling his wonderful fabricated stories and remembering to laugh at ourselves.
Carl was baptized a few months before he bought his home. His vices tried to defined him but he kept seeking life and he kept seeking his dream. I love him for that. I believe he found peace. I believe he knew, this time for sure, that he could never fail. Failure just wasn’t in him. John 16:33, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world!”
I hope we all can learn from my brother. Carl would say this; “When the world is kicking your ass, because the world will, never give up, never give in, never stop fighting, never stop believing; because God has already ordained that, you will win.”
Recently a clergy person tweeted a different view of looking at the Prodigal Son, a parable Jesus teaches in the Gospel of Luke 15:11-32. The clergy came from the perspective that the younger son is not a terrible person but from the view that possibly the son could be gay and when the Dad greets him on his return back home, his Dad affirms the son, and says I love you. I actually thought that view was great. Reading the Bible through the eyes of someone else, a marginalized and oppressed group of people can be quite compassionate.
For me I read this parable through the eyes of a black teenage boy who is struggling with a mental illness. I notice that every time I hear this parable preached in the church it is always that this young son was too fast, cared too much about himself, didn’t want to obey his Father and wanted freedom to do whatever he wanted to do. This preached word was always built on behavior, a bad terrible behavior, the young son has a sinful nature. The young son didn’t know what he had…and so he was taught a lesson. Now returning home, the Father embraces him and therefore God embraces the sinner when you return home.
I wonder why the young son is viewed through our eyes as being sinful. I wonder why we accept this view. Could it also be the young black boy who suffers from a mental illness is trying to cope at home but can’t and tries but becomes addicted to things he thought would make him feel better, realizes he made a mistake, didn’t think things through all the way. And Dad doesn’t focus on the “why” of the young son’s journey but instead embraces him and the family sets out to try again.
We do great harm at times to ourselves and to other people in our lives when we make the “why” a defining point of a person. Even the young son had determined that he was unworthy, he was no good, all because he spent all his money, became homeless and the only thing he could determine, because his journey wasn’t a successful one, is that he is not worthy. We make up the reasons we want for why someone is homeless, why someone is broke, why someone is gay, why someone is mentally ill…and we labeled them as unworthy. But you know….God will love you…when your behavior warrants an understanding from us.
I am a female black clergy concerned about our black youth who are dealing with mental illnesses. For me this is not a taboo subject. It is imperative that we view scripture from the lives of these young people whose journeys are different, but whose journeys are also worthy.
And yes, when reading this parable it becomes obvious that we are all the older son. The one who has already judged the “why” because we have determine that God sees others through our eyes.
It’s quiet. I should be doing something. Maybe turn the TV on? Bathroom needs cleaning. Wait, do I hear squirrels in the attic? No. Maybe I should check out twitter to find out the latest happenings. Oh well, there goes spending time with myself.
Ok, I will give myself another chance. Let me start all over again.