Mary Still Matters – Remembering Mom on Her 80th Birthday

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A collage of moments with my mother ‘Mary’ through the years

 

In life we may forget certain moments but I dare doubt anyone forgets the day their mother transitioned to be with the Lord. March 10, 2010 is that day for me when my dear mother passed away…and I watched her take her last breath.  The memory of her words, laughter and determined spirit stay with me.  Born on July 4, 1937, she would’ve turned 80 this year. A beautiful woman, I still see my mother’s face in the pictures throughout my home and the writings on this blog.  Her own life journey serves as a model for me, to keep persevering in the face of adversity and making a way anyhow as she did as a single parent of four children.

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I miss her a lot and so grateful for all she did for me.  My mother ensured I learned, was involved and churched in God’s  love and grace.  The words of the image above ring true for me in my daily comings and goings.  She now rests securely in the hands of God.

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Absence Of A Father: A Story of Regrets and Rebounding

Still a missing part…

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Mary, a determined single parent kept going! With her children and grandchildren in 1994 Mary, a determined single parent kept going! With her children and grandchildren in 1994 We desire to bequest two things to our children — the first one is roots; the other one is wings. ~Sudanese Proverb

Father’s Day stirs up emotions for me because I’ve missed having a relationship with one. Although knowing there is no guarantee that my father and I would’ve had a close bond, it’s still an absent anchor of my life.

You see I was born while my mother was a high school teenager with no father recognized on my birth record. She went back to receive her diploma and then got married a few years later. So I did have a stepfather. A brother, sister and then another brother followed over the next seven years. But my stepfather didn’t legally adopt me. The money or inclination for this type of formal procedure wasn’t an option…

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Pondering the Past: Success of Being

 

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Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.

James Baldwin, Harlem Renaissance author

 

In  the Disney epic musical The Lion King, the main character Simba is crushed when his father dies. Then his conniving uncle Scar holds him responsible for this tragedy. Disillusioned, Simba runs away from the comforts of his home and family in Pride Rock. As he ventures into new territory, he encounters a couple of new friends. They all roam the jungle together with a ‘no worries’ strategy. Watching over Simba during this time is the wise Rafiki, who had been counsel to Simba’s father Mustafa. He guides Simba to soon face to the reality of his destiny.

One day Simba comes upon a pond while he’s out roaming with his friends. He stops and looks in the water— all of a sudden seeing his father’s reflection. The authoritative reflection says to him, “You have forgotten who you are Simba and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the circle of life.”

Those ‘still waters ran deep’ into Simba’s psyche. His IPS (Internal Positioning System) recovered— now knowing he had work to do. In this time of wandering, Simba had grown from cub to lion— he was now stronger. He could deal with his uncle Scar. The moment had arrived…all events came together to send him on to the next phase of his path…back to Pride Rock. There Simba was to claim his throne and marry his childhood friend, Nala. Going back home would put him on track to complete his journey.

There are times to go back home and face… Spiritual or other type of work needs to be dealt with. And we know when we’re ready. As a Hebrew proverb tells us, “Time is a great healer.” Going back to our roots can provide such an opportunity for this effort.

My first trip to Africa in February 1996 was a seminal and healing act of my odyssey. Traveling to the ‘motherland’ was something I’d thought about for quite a while. I wanted to explore what in my ancestral place mirrored my culture here. There was the ugly past of slavery to confront and release. And see another truth in this part of who I am.

A nudging spirit put me in queue and an opportunity presented itself with a local travel agency.  With an eight day itinerary to the African countries of Senegal and the Gambia, this tour was also billed as a Black History Month Celebration.

I just had to go.

As the date of departure approached, I prepared for my expedition. Yes, there were medical shots to take, diplomatic items such as visas to check off and packing lists to monitor— but this was to be a personal pilgrimage.  I thought, How do I want to honor the toils, tears and triumphs of my ancestors who survived that Middle Passage so that I am here?

As I reflected on the people, memories and experiences that have weighted and framed my life structure, I made a list of articles to take on my sojourn. Pulled from my past, present and future, the choices of what and why to take “home” took form.

First came the Bible my mother gave me for Christmas in 1992. A symbol of the time-tested salvation and wisdom of God the Father in which she wrote this gift was “a guide through her daily life —with pride, love and devotion.

Second, my grandmother’s watch was going to “the motherland.” She had passed on to eternal life three years before my trip. This watch represented her timeless generational love and strength for me.

Third, I packed a piece of wood shaped like a boomerang that my then 11-year-old nephew wrapped for me one Christmas. My sister told me he’d seen it at a flea market and decided he had to buy it for me. I’ve kept this special gift billeted in my bedroom window ever since – a message of returning. While in Africa I wanted to pray for the collective embrace of our ancestors—to ask them to shield my nephew—as he faced the challenges of his future.

Last, a card from my college best friend was included. She’d been there for me with her support and faith for almost two decades. The card read, “When God closes one door, he opens another.”  The association of this saying to the Door of No Return at Goree Island’s slave castle, one of tour stops I would be making on this trip, was overwhelming.

Then this journey of mine back home began. The visit to Goree Island was the highlight of my pilgrimage, seeing this place of export for thousands of Africans who descended people like me. I’m not sure this site would’ve provided the same type of healing catharsis for me if I’d gone in an earlier age of my life journey. The distance of the years to understand and process this part of my history was needed. All things do happen when the time comes forward.

There was also a familiarity in the faces and ways of the people as I moved around the countryside in Senegal and the Gambia. What I experienced wasn’t always pretty, but much like the home of my youth at times, it was mine to claim.

I’m glad I took that first trip to Africa when I did. What’s important is that the door is now wide open between the continents and I could—and did—return. I came back from that pilgrimage feeling strong, with a knowing that I would go back again.  There is work left for me to do – on me and there. “Return to sender.”

Thoughtful examination and awareness of the strides we’ve made can refresh our identity. Taking the time to reflect and acknowledge our rituals is affirming.

The complexity of our lives is known, yet unknown.

Let’s trek to the many places and spaces of our true selves.

Parts excerpted from my motivational autobiography, Navigating Life’s Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey in print and Kindle eBookhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B008FQDPYE

 

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Write On! Chronicling the Journey

Writing: The # 1 Way to Review and Reconcile Your Life

My first book signing in 2011

 

As I celebrate almost six years as a published author, there are times to reflect back on the evolution of this goal.  Below are some excerpts from my first book, Navigating Life’s  Roadways, which chronicle the process of birthing those words.

A good memory is a blessing and a curse.

            Growing up during an era of shifting social trends in my family and society has made me attentive when it comes to listening and observing others. I remember a lot—stuff lingers in my brain’s recesses. Some described me as ‘quiet’ but I’ve always had a voice on matters. This trait at times has served me well or done me in. This blend is evident as you read my stories. The blessing has been in recalling these memories, allowing me to share my insights. Hanging on to these same memories has at times blocked possible moments of my inspiration.

This is not a perfect book because it’s written by an imperfect person —I’ve tried to do my best in imparting what I hope are helpful narratives. Readers may or may not see the relevance in some of my stories. The ways in which I present positive things from my life are ‘no brag, just fact’. Painful times of my journey still sting, but have proven instructional and strengthening.  Some redundancy can be found in the lessons and concepts, but that’s what happens in life sometimes—we hear and see things a few times before we get it!

Discovery

I’ve discovered that discovery is a good thing; particularly discovering how your life works in terms of its unique cycles and circumstances. Why so? Knowing the design of our flow helps us navigate and heed the messages in the ebbs and flows of our seasons.  I have come to realize that my life has to hit the low place before I slowly make my way out to higher ground and another level that God has waiting for me.

Also moving through the roadways of our journey we have different emotions and experiences that bring out our strengths as well as our frailties. This history accumulates, becoming cargo as we launch in another direction. Whether it’s good or bad we carry this load.

Within those pages my life is carved into metaphors that portray these discoveries, seasons and cargo as I’ve navigated challenges using my God-given gifts, while displaying the emotions of my flaws. My hope is that readers will find correlations through our shared humanness.

Once I was led to and committed to writing, energies from everywhere cooperated—seems like phrases, memories and lessons abounded at every corner. My mother knew of my writing aspirations and I feel this creative force was her way of working through God to stir up my spirit. While out walking, ideas would flood my head as I looked at the sky or the landscape around me. I’d hurry back to my office and quickly capture the thoughts—adding fresh words to the manuscript on my computer.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Latin proverb

We give to fill a void. I am single and don’t have children, so birthing  books is one of the ways I hope to leave a footprint on the world. After my mother passed in March of 2010, I’ve felt a chasm of many emotional proportions. Yet the process of grieving her transition gave to my writing books in ways I couldn’t recognize at first. She left a legacy in the circle of life.

The journey continues, well worth navigating the hills and valleys.

Excerpted from my motivational autobiography, Navigating Life’s Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey in print and Kindle eBook http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008FQDPYE

 

 

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The Gold Standard Test of Faith

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Whether we like it or not, life demands some type of tests, to meet requirements or standards. For example the education system requires us to pass standards of learning to graduate, employers evaluate our performance, and some professions administer fitness tests to check our physical and mental stamina in order to serve. And the reality is that some tests are not fair. Educational testing standards have biases.  Supervisors set-up employees to fail. Now also, a test is defined as a means of trial, those events which ‘challenge our mettle, the core of who we are.’ Tragedies happen, illness and suffering, abuse and violence abound. Then there’s the ultimate unfair test, a confrontation with evil or an attack. As this is Black History Month I’m reminded of how The African American story speaks of this type of trial, beginning with slavery, an excess of evil, permeating mind, body and spirit. Our faith gets tested as well. In the scripture, Job was someone who faced this type of trial; with loved ones, livelihood, and livestock taken away to see if he would remain faithful to God. His body festered with sores, friends of comfort turned into purveyors of their own brand of theological blame. Even sometimes others may blame our trials on ourselves. When I was diagnosed with cancer 12 years ago, some folks said I must’ve done something wrong to incur this horrible disease. My faith waivered. As the ancestors did, I did, we all might ask as Job did,Why Lord?

Well, in the text we find some ways to think about the tests and trials we encounter.

Job exhibited what I see as a gold standard of faith during his tests of excess suffering. As he states in verse 10 speaking of God ‘when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold..’ You see gold is a precious metal of great value or something which exemplifies a high standard. Think about it, Teachers give gold stars for getting an A, employers gold watches for long-term service, Olympians compete for a gold medal. In medicine or economic systems, the gold standard is one that has to hold up under the toughest of circumstances, such as a market collapse, or rare disease. It is the best available thing of its kind. And that describes God period. I know I’m still here having received God’s grace along with the gold standard of medical treatment. But most importantly I’m under God’s Affordable Care Plan and Actions. Your story, my story and our ancestral story of survival to thriving is a gold standard of faith; coming this far and leaning on it, praying to be delivered from evil, and keeping hope alive. Hebrews 11 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. No matter what’s going on we need some substance for the stuff of life, an assurance in our nature, that we’re clear on what we’re working with, a firm foundation in our trust in God.  We need substance to meet the standard. And during our trials this is not the time to run from God. Job said he wouldn’t turn aside from God; he was committed to God’s word and his way. And so were our ancestors, to hold out and hold up. Somebody persevered through the horrible ship’s hull of the middle passage with a resolve and strength of character, their substance evident. I often say if ancestors got through what they got through, I can surely get through this mess of today. This testing gives us as 1 Peter states an authentic faith–more precious than gold.

So how do we, like Job, pass the gold standard of faith test?

First, Job was certain of God’s presence and plan in the outcome. Back to v. 10, Job states that after the test…’I shall come forth like gold.’ He didn’t say I think, I might, he said I shall.  Shall is a word of intention for a future situation.  Job also would not waiver from God’s order of his steps, further stating in v. 11. ‘My feet have closely followed his steps; Job did was he was supposed to do and didn’t get ahead of God.  So even in the toughest of tests, we must trust in God’s order of things. Our foreparents did the same in the midst of oppression. We Shall Overcome was the song of the Civil Rights Movement, as they kept on marching even if somebody let the dogs out or turned the water hoses on. They sang as a way to encourage themselves and tell the world about the expected results of this way too long final exam for equality.

Next Job was competent in his faith walk. He’d heard and internalized God’s commandments that kept him pressing forward. He didn’t go looking in any other books or trying to find a popular motivational speaker. In v. 12 he states, ‘I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread. God’s word is an authoritative treasure trove, with instructions for us on how to pass the tests of life.  When our ancestors weren’t allowed to read, they heard God’s word and kept it close daily. During my treatment, I’m grateful for visitors who sat with me and read scripture. I needed to up my competency level to make sure I could pass the standards of learning for this trial. Then I could agree with what the Psalmist wrote, it was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn His statues. When you know Him, you can speak of  and to Him.

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Family Love: The Ridge for Restoration

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My siblings and I through the years with and without our beloved mother Mary, most recently Christmas 2016

The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul

in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden,

and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Those from among

you shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the

foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the

Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.

Isaiah 58:11-12

 

Former President Bill Clinton referenced parts of this scripture in his 2nd inaugural address in January 1997. I remember hearing his charge to this country from this reading and experiencing feelings of hope while ever thankful for these words of God.

Triumph over tragedy, change, staying true to the promises of freedom and continuing to find ways to bring people together and not apart were themes represented in President Clinton’s speech. The applications of these words to my faith have continued to resonate throughout the years, the themes represented in Clinton’s speech and the scriptural verses speaking a special truth.  Ultimately they are about our mission in this earthly odyssey.  There are times when the breaches to repair are in family and relationships.

Finding ways to apply these truths show up in my life

For my sister, brothers and I, the loss of our mother back in March 2010 left a serious crack in our life’s foundation. We’ve grieved— but there was also work to do to close up her earthly journey. My siblings and I argued a lot over this division of labor— our riffs vast and wide. One of the tasks to take care in settling my mother’s affairs was the selling of her home, which actually legally belonged to us. A few structural issues surfaced with the house and hampered the sales process. Next we had to think about: Who’s going to handle the tasks before us, like getting inspections or estimates on repairs, etc.? The situation in dealing with these questions was not pleasant between us.  Finally the repairs were done and house sold 18 months later in September 2011.

As the oldest and the administrator, I felt separated as the divide continued.Trying to stay on the ‘high road’ is hard as a way of moving past our differences. Love finds a way.

One morning while I was out walking, I felt my mother’s presence, leading me to later share this scripture with my siblings. We need to ‘repair our breech.’  Continually working to keep our relationship bonded in the absence of our mother’s cementing walls is important—family continuance.  Releasing slowly, we’re still recovering from these gaps.  She wants us to. And I believe all will happen as they should. This Christmas of 2016 I heard my mother’s voice even stronger, telling me to host the family at my home.  I did and it was a wonderful celebration of peace and memories. We stood on a ridge of restoration.

What’s the learning here that can be useful in other parts of our lives?

  • Life has its bumps, bruises, and battles. We will get damaged.
  • Find a place to repair our soul and soles. Climb high to heal.
  • Learn to do patchwork. Change streets or make a new one.  Begin again.
  • Keep passing on lessons of strength to children. Old can be made new.
  • Knock out a wall to make space for something wonderful.
  • Take the high road sometimes. Decide to fix the divide.

Parts excerpted from my motivational autobiography, Navigating Life’s Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey in print and Kindle eBookhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B008FQDPYE

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Passing Through Rejection for Purpose

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An image of purpose in the mirror

‘Sometimes you have to encourage yourself, speak victory during the test.

Words from a gospel song

There are few of us if any that can go through life without being on the receiving end of rejection or the rage of others. However when we pass through these situations, we can be on the way to our God revealed purpose, while He protects and positions us, to build possibilities.

I preached a sermon on the topic of rejection in one of my seminary classes, taking the scripture from Luke 4:28-30 (NRSV) where Jesus dealt with this issue, called The Rejection at Nazareth. When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and                                          went on his way.

Yes, life does present circumstances where we face rejection. My mother Mary was someone who encountered this as well, especially being a single parent.  Even now for some of us the dis might be no response to our emails, texts or calls, no invitation to a meeting at the church, or the lunch gatherings at work. There are also times we’ll be denied the job we applied for, the relationship we desire, or gain the acceptance we want. If dealing with those plights weren’t enough, still we may encounter the rage of others because their perception is that ‘we think we’re something’ with our nice words or big ideas.’

In the text, when rejection happened to Jesus, but he passed through it and went on His way to fulfill his purpose. Because God had other plans for His only begotten son. Sometimes we too have to be rejected to get on our way to something better or bigger that God has in store. Once His plan is in place, we’re anointed and favored for the right season of all working together for good. Now we can probably look back and see how that person, situation or position was not for us or in line with God’s purpose for our lives.

Once Jesus passed through the crowd, He could then go about His Father’s business. For now he had GPS, God Provided Safety, for the completion of His destiny. Jesus didn’t try to get back at these folks, which He had the power to do. We too may encounter enraged people who will gang up on us to run us out of the relationship, family or church. But we can’t let their emotions or mold of us mess us up and divert us from purpose.

So think about how you will pass through those situations of rejection.  My mother did this from a place of sheer faith and determination, not letting doubters detract her from raising us the best ways she could.

And now I do as well, not letting naysayers or others keep me from doing the work God has purposed me to do. Yes, the struggle to do so remains but I stay tuned to my personal GPS, God Purposed Salvation.

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