Black and White Narratives

Photo Credit: Mike Blake/Reuters

Photo Credit: Mike Blake/Reuters

 

If you’ve ever spent time around old country folk, you know how they’ll spend 5 minutes getting the date and weather right for a story. “It was spring…no wait, it was June, because that was when my daughter…no wait, that would have been in ’71 because…”

I’ve been thinking about what and how we remember. How we frame the history we know and the history that happens in front of our eyes, and once set, how difficult it is to change that framing. How unlike country farmers we are, in that a lot of us don’t really care to get the details right, because for so many people, it doesn’t matter.

Think about the news of the last two years. In general, white and black people remember this time very differently. Black people see a long list of deaths at the hands of the police as murders. Lynchings. White people wonder why black people just won’t stop aiming guns at the police.

I have seen so many people confused as to why white society is upset with Colin Kaepernick, and it’s because white people don’t think there is anything to protest. And by his actions, they think, he is legitimizing this ‘false narrative’ of police brutality.

I was at a meeting last night where they were discussing the history and legacy of The South and slavery, and there were some people there who talked about The Lost Cause and The War Between the States. But I noticed there were others who stood up and said, “this is just my opinion, but I think the war was fought over slavery”.

How did something that is historical fact get turned into merely an opinion? This is just my opinion, but I think grass is green. This is just my opinion but Keith Lamont Scott was holding a book. This is just my opinion, but Ferguson cops violated people’s civil rights. This is just my opinion, but cops lie.

And here’s the thing with historical narratives. They take time to form. They necessarily take time. But white people have short memories, especially when they view time linearly as they do. Something happened and then it’s over, this is how I want to remember it, case closed.

White people with short memories will sit in judgment on the Ferguson and Baltimore protests while they’re happening, and then move on. They never learn that the Department of Justice investigated and found that they were both guilty of civil rights violations

Most white people do not know, to this day, that the protests of Ferguson and Baltimore were legitimate and founded on historical truth, because they stopped looking. They stopped caring. They had their narrative that they liked, and that was all that mattered.

And now this week, we see two more deaths. More protests, and again, already two different narratives. By this point (and honestly it always has been), it is willful ignorance on the part of white people to so quickly accept the narrative they prefer over seeking out the facts, the long history, and the experiences by black people.

*Just this week* video has emerged from 2011 showing a cop planting a gun on someone he killed. Gun rights and policing in America has a long, intertwined history with anti-blackness and white supremacy. That is not just my opinion.

It is time for white people – white christians especially – to move beyond the narrative they have been given and prefer. (Also – why do they prefer this narrative???) It is time for white christians to stop merely being sad that people are killed; it is time for them to stop clucking their tongues in disapproval at burned buildings and cars, and instead look at the way their lives, their votes, and their opinions aid and abet white supremacy. (And then change them, obviously.)

And if any of this has been upsetting to you, ask yourself why and sit with that for awhile. Acknowledging and changing the narrative of white superiority you’ve been given can be painful. There is nothing pleasant about this.

But people are being slaughtered and too many white christians are still saying “yeah, but….”

Too many white christians are policing black grief.

Too many white christians ignore that the riot is the cry of the unheard.

Too many white christians are choosing to be unempathetic.

Choosing to prioritize their white safety.

Choosing the simplicity of white supremacy over the complexity of history.

Too many white christians are choosing to live a life directly opposite to what Jesus taught and then condemn others for not doing the same.

 

But if you are on board with all of this, and you want to learn more, because there is always more to learn, here are a few resources:

Read and watch your way through:

Black Lives Matter Syllabus

Charleston Syllabus

Find your local branch of Showing Up for Racial Justice

Follow:

Propane Jane

AAIHS

Ed Baptist

Blair LM Kelley

Wesley Lowery

prisonculture

Read:

Sundown Towns

The Warmth of Other Suns

The Half Has Never Been Told

The History of White People

Slavery By Another Name

Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

Prophetic Lament

 

When the Sore Memories Encroach

 

grief memories

 

“This is the worst day ever!” my nine-year-old son claimed.

Since nothing of consequence had actually happened that day, I countered, “Oh, there have been far worse days.”

“Like what?” he asked.

“Like the day Grandma died.”

“I don’t really remember that day. I was only four years old,” he replied.

I would’ve been okay if he’d left it at that. Maybe even viewed it as a mercy that he didn’t remember the awful day my mom died in Michigan while we were living in South Africa.

But he didn’t stop there.

“I don’t really remember Grandma, either.”

I instinctively clutched my stomach, as if I could hold in the pain.

The tears came fast, stinging as I sped to the bathroom and closed the door. I turned the shower on cold and stepped into the tub, wishing the shower curtain could separate me from the bite of his honesty. I wiped a cold cloth over hot tears and let the water wash my sobs down the drain.

My fears were coming true. We were forgetting her.

When my mom died in 2011, I clung hard to my grief with a possessive jealousy. I fought off anyone who tried to take my burden from me. I held it close and dear, in case people started to think I had moved on. Gotten over her. Recovered from the gaping hole in my heart.

Five years later, I’m still terrified that I’ll forget the sound of her laugh. The tone of her voice. The shape of her smile.

I have a love/hate relationship with remembering. Memory is a gift and a burden, a blessing and a curse. The parts of life I crave to remember are the ones that seem to slip away; the parts I long to forget often come back to haunt me.

I recently wrote my first memoir. The whole crux of a memoir is found in the remembering—and yet that’s the hardest part.

To make the words appear on the page, I had to force my mind to relive the good parts and the bad. I had to pry my eyelids open and gape into the deepest crevices, the darkest holes. I had to make myself look long and hard at the scenes I’d covered over, hoping to leave buried forever.

“I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;  I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: ‘Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?’” (Psalm 77:5-9, NIV)

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me” (Lamentations 3:19-20, NIV).

Those are painful rememberings. It’s far easier to brush over them with thick, black paint, never to be seen again.

But that’s not where my story ends.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23, NIV).

Even in spite of frequent, acute aches, the Lord has been so good to me.

Sometimes we have to let our minds go to the hard, dark places in order to see the grace.

I have to remember that Jesus died an excruciating death because of my sins before I can remember that he rose again.

I have to remember that he left me here and ascended to the Father before I can realize he went there to prepare a place for me.

After thinking about the former days and remembering his songs in the night, the author of Psalm 77 determines to be intentional about his remembering:

“Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. …With your mighty arm you redeemed your people…’” (Psalm 77:10-15a, NIV).

When my son admitted that he struggles to remember his grandma, I largely blamed myself. I should be showing him photos more often, telling him more stories. But it hurts. It stabs my insides every time I go there and remember all that is gone.

Yes, there are painful aspects to my memories. But there is so much more.

When the sore memories encroach, I want to be like the psalmist and call to mind the wonderful deeds of the Lord.

Are you remembering that right?

For a while, I was struggling to have her pose for me. Recently however, she asks me to take pictures of her.  This is one of those. I had my camera and she requested that I take a picture of her. She made faces like this and asked me to show it to her right after. I won't complain when it's that easy ;)

The first time I ever remember feeling shame for who I was, I was in early elementary school. My sisters and I were playing some wild game where we were all running around the house screaming. Or was it just me? Was I the only one out of control? (These are the questions my memory asks me.) Anyway, I was yelling. Not angry or scary or mean, just yelling because it was after school and we were playing. My oldest sister’s best friend came down the street and into our home to hang out like she always did. Only this time, she wasn’t alone. Her little cousin, just a few years older than me, was with her. 

According to my memory I shouted very loudly at him. HELLO!!! According to my memory he bolted. I probably got my child face a little too close to his child face. I probably was not controlling my volume. (I still struggle with that.) My sister’s friend and my sister went searching through the neighborhood looking for this poor frightened boy. I went to my room and cried. I had ruined everything. I had scared this boy. He was going to be lost forever and this was ALL MY FAULT. If I could just be calmer. If I could just be quieter. If I could just be smaller some how, this would all be okay. 

It did turn out all okay. About ten years later I started dating that boy, and while we, like most high school sweet hearts, broke up when I went to college, we are still Facebook friends. No permanent damage done.

Except maybe to me. This wasn’t the last experience I had with being told to tone it down. Some were like the hand signals my sisters developed for me. When I got excited and started talking too loud they would put their hand in front of them and turn down an invisible volume dial. They didn’t want to interrupt me, but I was hurting their ears. This adjustment was about space for other people and me.

Then there was the time I got told boys would like me better if I just had less answers in Sunday school. That was less kind, that wasn’t really about space for me at all. Every time something like that happened, I felt like the little girl in my room. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I didn’t mean to make them run away. I was just trying to be me. Sometimes I would get told to turn it down after hours of thinking I had done a pretty good job of holding all of me in. 

Two summers ago I was on a writers retreat in Minnesota. It was led by one of the most gentle men I have ever met in my entire life. I don’t know that I heard him raise his voice all week. Every single other person heavily identified as an introvert. I think they could have gone most days without talking to people at all. We came there to write after all. Then there was me. As extroverted as I could get, and just plain loud.  Did I mention it was at a monastery? Everything about that experience told me to tread lightly, and while I was cautious and courteous of other people’s spaces, I did manage to bring my whole self there. 

At the end of the week, while we were saying our thank yous and our goodbyes, I began to cry. I realized it was the first Christian retreat space I had been in where I had not been pulled aside and asked to tone it down. Every summer camp, every women’s retreat, every…everywhere I had been told I was too much. Always, the memory of that little girl, crying in her bedroom sure she had ruined everything. 

I didn’t even realize I had been waiting to hear that I needed to tone it down. But there I was, relieved it hadn’t happened. 

I started seminary a few weeks ago. It has been a whirlwind of new things to learn, new people to meet, new vocabulary to develop. In the midst of a discussion group one of my colleagues answered what would have been a point blank question with, well….I’m a little extra so….

I’m a little extra. YES! I thought. THAT IS ME. I AM A LITTLE EXTRA! (A little extra writes in all caps and exclamation points sometimes.) I talked with her about it, stopped her in the parking lot to tell her how much I loved that phrase. She looked at my bold glasses and my bright lipstick and started laughing. I didn’t have to tell her I was a little extra too. She said to me, “Yeah, we are a little extra, but Abby, who doesn’t want a little extra?” 

There are so many memories I have where I feel as though I am too much. But what if I am remembering wrong? What if I am just a little extra? What if it takes people a minute to adjust to the extra, but it is inherently a good thing? After all, once he got used to me, that boy who ran away LIKED my little extra. Too much isn’t the right term. I am remembering it wrong. I am, a little extra.

Sitting with Jesus at Sex Camp

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This isn’t the *actual* painting from the week. We had devices confiscated and when they returned them to us, I forgot to grab a picture. Womp, womp, womp.

I remember meeting Jesus once at sex camp. It wasn’t our first meeting, but an important one.

Everyday I walked up to a giant, beautiful, colorful painting of Jesus’s head, hair blowing in the wind. The massive painting hung on the wall of the Church where I was attending a week long retreat for women being treated for female sex addiction…what I like to call ‘Sex Camp.’

When I first saw the painting I was taken aback. Great art captures one that way. And the size, my God, it was huge. I said “well hello there Jesus.” In that moment he seemed so real with his piercing brown eyes bigger than my head.

 In the course of the week, every time I passed it I’d say “Hi Jesus!” I’d try to say sweetly but somewhat sarcastically “it’s another great day at sex camp!”  “How are you feeling about sex camp?”  “Me?” “Oh, well I feel deep shame & loathing self-pity, so there’s that. I’d rather be on a cruise. No offense.”
 
I could not help but smile at this morning ritual. There was Jesus. His face so colorful, the painting as large as the wall felt much like his presence in my life, always in my face, pretty but comfortably hovering. I stopped to look at the painting and sit with the painting several times throughout the week. His head was made of every paint color the artist could think of which did not lean towards him having blond hair and blue eyes which pleased me to no end.
 
There was Jesus at sex camp, with this ominous happy smirk as if he was singing the tune of Mr. Rogers neighborhood. He was very welcoming. It did not surprise nor shame me that Jesus was here at sex camp. Where in the f–k else should Jesus be than at sex camp with a bunch of adulteress, whoring, cheating, slutty women whom the world views as hoes, thots, tramps, hood-rats & sluts that’s been ran through so many times we are found to be of the most heinous variety of women alive?  The only Jesus I’ve every known is exactly the one who would show up for at a week long rehab for female sex addicts. And He showed up, in more ways than in a wall size painting. I have more stories of meeting Jesus at sex camp than I have time to write.
 
The painting stood as a beacon of hope for me that week, tethering me to the reality of His presence amidst the exposure of my deepest shame. If the painting had not been there what other symbols would I have grabbed onto? Every break, every morning, every meal, every evening I stopped to look at the grooves in his face, the bend of his cheekbone, the wave of his hair, the intensity of his stare. And each time, I said something.  I always said something. “I’m sorry,” or “I’m ashamed,” or “I’m such a fuck-up,” or “why?” or “what’s going to happen?” or “what do you think about all this?” or “this is misery,” “forgive me,” or “hey” followed by a deep heavy sigh. The beauty of this painting is that His expression seemed to match my sentiment each time.
 
Once, during a break I sat there by Him on the floor. There were no audible words, just the tears, the heavy shame, the grief and the loss. His hair blowing in the wind, he remained calm and sweet. I felt comforted like maybe His imaginary painted arms reached out and rested on my shoulders as one would do when they are a perfectly painted empathetic Deity. I rested there in those imaginary arms and let the worries fall from my eyes into the worry lines of his face.
 
We sat and we cried for all that was lost, which at the time, felt like everything. And I do mean everything: divorce looming, custody in peril, job lost, housing in peril, a horribly dysfunctional romantic attachment while sitting in rehab for sex addiction.  Surely this was rock bottom. I laid down there under Jesus’ big head with all my big problems and cried and cried and cried. The moments were healing moments, ones I’ll never forget.
 
I expected to meet Jesus at sex camp but I did not expect my healing to connect directly and so vividly with an amazing piece of art. But that’s Jesus isn’t it? Showing up where very few want to go with you, in unexpected ways, at unexpected times and whose healing is as unique as your issues.
 
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*This is an excerpt from an e-book I’m working on, Dear God: Am I a Sex Addict? 
 
If you or a loved one are in need of sex or love addiction resources or treatment, I’d highly recommend the services I used: Bethesda Workshops.

The Best Years of Our Lives

best years

Legs curled under my body, I stole a few minutes from studying to sit on the floral couch in the chapel hidden in the attic of Williston Hall, scribbling in my journal. I’d sometimes sneak in here for an hour of quiet between classes since it was in the middle of campus and my dorm was a much farther walk away. Suddenly, the door burst open and a woman in her early 40’s entered with her two school-aged daughters. She peered around the room, eyes wide. “I spent so much time here,” she whispered. “And it hasn’t changed at all…”

In her, I saw my future self.

What will life be like when I’m 40? Where will I have gone? What will I have done? I thought.

Later in the day as I crossed Blanchard lawn on my way to class, I passed some alumni visiting for their twenty year reunion and one of them stopped me to ask for directions. Before turning away, though, he said, “Enjoy this. These are the best years of your life.”

The “best”? So it’s all downhill after college? I thought. Sad.

Now that I am nearing 40, I understand more of what that man meant. From his life of mortgages, insurance, bills, retirement savings, car payments and parenting, what my dad’s description of college as “living with your friends and studying a bit on the side” sounds pretty amazing.

 

****

I now have two teeny children who I avoid taking to the grocery store at all costs. But when I do, I catch some grandmother fondly admiring my two blondies and I know what she is about to say. “It goes so fast. These are just the best years!” she’ll call over from the other aisle. And if she’s especially anointed that day, she’ll add, “Enjoy them!”

 

Another woman left much the same message on one of my blog posts about motherhood recently. In fact, I think she actually used the words, “Those years with little ones were the best years of my life.”

 

I think that was the day we woke to my daughter giving herself a diaper spa treatment (I’ll spare you the details). I rolled my eyes, firmly closed the computer and resisted the urge to give a sarcastic retort in a public internet space.

****

From these experiences, I have to deduce that “the best years of our lives” are the ones we can finally look back on with the perspective and wisdom of our older self. They are the years we are living without realizing that those times will never come again. Those bodies will never be as young, those children will never be as precocious and hilarious, and those new experiences will never be new again.

The succession of exciting “firsts” in our youth is eventually replaced by a repetition of the same tasks day after day. The thrilling love affair with life dies out just as all illicit affairs eventually do. But it is replaced by the deeper, richer, more cultivated love that is less fickle and fleeting, but more gratifying.

Growing up, coming of age stories in movies and books always fascinated me. I was oddly conscious of my own story even as it unfolded. One summer as a 15-year-old, I jumped on the trampoline in the fading Florida sun with my brother and some neighbor kids and I had the thought, I won’t be able to do this again next summer. These days are coming to an end. I’m growing up.

I believe it is healthy to mourn the loss of our younger self. It’s also natural to look ahead in hopeful anticipation of the next new thing. But right now, I’m learning to admire the magic of an era while it still swirls and sparkles around me.

I’m discovering what it’s like to stand at the edge of the beach, let my feet sink down into the sand and be buried by the incoming waves. A natural “go-er,” I am learning to stay in this place long enough to memorize the details and appreciate the beauty I never noticed before. This is not my mode—to see my toes slowly disappear, letting the waves lap at my ankles and the Coquinas tap on my heels. My mode is to move, change, do, and go. “Let’s run and see what’s on the other end of the beach!” is more my style. I do not want to stay in one place. The fear of missing out is petrifying.  

But now is the time for lingering. Now is the time for noticing. I have dreamed, studied, graduated, worked, played, traveled, married, moved and born children. Right now, there is nowhere to go but here.

And so I take in the view.

The critters scurrying in the sand. The sun blinking covert messages on the waves. The shiny dolphins dipping and laughing in the distance. What I fear I’m missing out on is a fallacy, because a glorious scene is unfolding even as I stand with my feet stuck in the sand.

It would be a shame to miss this.

I am just beginning to recognize that right now, here, in this place, I am living the best years of my life.  

Love Is a Battlefield

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This morning I sat down with my coffee and some old photos with no other intention than to reminisce. Today marks 14 years of marriage for my husband and I, and to celebrate, I decided to take a little trip down memory lane. Because if there’s one game in life I enjoy more than “Name that movie,” it’s “Remember When.”

Everyone close to me has grown accustomed to my random blurting of sentences that begin with “Remember When…”

“Remember when we all snuck out of bible college to pull an all-nighter at Taryn’s house and Danny, and John climbed through the window to scare us at midnight? Remember how we all panicked and thought we were going to die, but Amber B. was the only one smart enough to run out the front door?”

“Remember when you had giardia, and you were high on pain medicine and came into the library where I worked at 11pm in your sweatpants loudly demanding some kind of meat, preferably jerky?”

“Remember when we were dating long distance, and you’d call me every night at the same time, and you’d always be wearing that same noisy jacket that crinkled in the background? I still have that jacket.”

I could go on, but you get the picture. I like to relive the past. There is a whole compartment of my heart dedicated solely to nostalgia. Usually the memories I find myself returning to again and again are the happy moments, the funny moments, or the unbearably tender moments. But today was a little different. I found myself looking through old photos, scanning to find an echo of some of our more difficult moments.

Because, can I be honest? This last year was harder on us than we expected, and today I found myself simply needing to remember another time like this. A time when we overcame. A time when we burrowed down into the foxhole together until the storm passed. A time when we learned to tear down certain walls in order to strengthen our foundation.

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While we’ve always been a couple that generally gets along, we’ve certainly had our share of trying seasons before. (Side eye to you, colicky babies.) But if pressed for a reason, I’m not sure I could even tell you why this year was harder on us than most others.

Maybe it’s the fact that after 14 years, we’ve been married just long enough to actually have baggage. Old wounds that have been healed and forgotten can be pricked right back open again in an instant.

Maybe it’s all the new dreams sprouting in our hearts, and the fact that those dreams require a bravery and vulnerability that have left us both feeling fragile and exposed in our own ways.

Maybe it’s all the outside pressures of work, money, schedules, and ministry that press in and down on us, threatening to burst our happy, intimate little bubble.

Or maybe?

Maybe it’s just growing pains.

After all, growth means change, and change can be rather uncomfortable at times.

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My husband and I are still very much in love. We get along. We enjoy each other’s company, and even prefer it above anyone else’s. We are fun-havers and that will probably never change.

Yet, other things have changed. Our love languages have changed. Our needs have changed. More than once we’ve had to come back to the basics of who we are and what we need from each other. We’ve had to redraw those lines for ourselves, and I suspect that we will have to do so again in the future because we intend to be married for a very long time (forever) and odds are, we aren’t done changing.

But we’ve realized that’s okay because part of marriage is being willing to adapt.

At times, realizing this has looked a lot like hurt feelings, tear soaked pillows, and difficult conversations. But it’s also looked like honesty, forgiveness, and resilience. It’s been hands clasped together in the dark, and whispered promises to always fight for the best version of us.

Today as I looked at photographs, all the snapshots of our life strewn about me on the living room floor like a highlight reel, I sat back for a moment and took it all in. I picked up a glossy photo of us on our wedding day. I can easily say that was the happiest day of my life. But I look at the love we have now and I see that happiness has multiplied, grown down roots, been seasoned with hardship, and grown into something deeper and more lovely.

It is a hard-earned love that we have fought for, chosen, protected, trusted, and reshaped a thousand times over.

This is the real truth of marriage.

It’s the shiny smiles and tender moments captured in photographs, the moments we’re proud to share with the world. But it’s also the moments we aren’t proud of. It’s the mundane, the gritty, and the rough edges of ourselves rubbing each other raw until we both feel like wounded birds. It’s continually choosing each other both publicly and privately. It’s calling out the good in each other and shouting it from the rooftops. It’s seeing the bad and quietly loving anyway.

It’s understanding that sometimes love really is a battlefield, but that’s okay as long as we’re fighting our way towards each other.

It is all of it together. Forever and ever, amen.

What’s Your Trigger?

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I know the panic which rises, gripping and pulsating, when a certain number flickers on the phone. I am a well-seasoned avoider as my heart races and I wait for voicemail, confident I am in trouble. I stall. Do laundry. Later, I listen.

The same anxiety wakes me on days I meet with her. Well before the sun rises, my stomach begins its tumult, flooded with adrenaline, fueled by an incoherent fear. Because no matter the voicemail, no matter the meeting’s topic, I am never in trouble. Ever. She thinks the world of me, yet evokes such a visceral response I grow ill.

I endure this crazy for years while wondering its source; Until I begin preparing for a trip back to a time and place when another woman triggered similar panic. Suddenly, finally, I realize how alike they are. The firm, set way in which they share opinions. The sweet salty manner of disagreeing with me. The method of inviting participation while maintaining control. And with the former woman, the one whom I would vividly recall on my trip down memory lane, I was always in trouble.

My recent panic has nothing to do with the present day person, but everything to do with the one from before.

I wonder how many of us struggle with these current triggers unaware of their source? The marital fights over seemingly benign things: he gets uncharacteristically angry when the fridge is empty because deep down are unprocessed emotions from his childhood home, with its little food and arguments over money and diminished father. Her blood rises on the playground and with every emotional recounting of the day from her five-year-old, not remembering, but feeling, all the playgrounds and lunchrooms in all the new schools she entered as a child.

We are an undigested people, latent with memory and emotion whose roots rear their heads in the most unexpected ways. Like stomach aches before meetings and avoiding phone calls. If we do not deal with the before, will we fully move beyond?

I’ve never been to a counselor, but I’m married to one. I think this counts. He’s taught me the importance of story. He’s shown me the value of metabolizing our narrative, digesting the themes and making sense of the bits and pieces that make up our lives. Together, we’ve seen the power of naming the before and truly moving beyond.

We’ve named the rather humorous: fear fills us when we go through airport security and passport control from years of missionary life in the Middle East. And we’ve named the painful: a recent question to his mom surfaced a litany of her memories about his disabled sister, to the exclusion of him, poking at all the wounds of feeling unknown by his own family.

In the beautiful mess of daily life, memory abounds. If we allow it. If we allow our heart to see past the triggered response and if we are able to read our own narrative.

I am the new girl on the playground: Exclusion is my fear. I am the micro-managed teammate: False-stepping is my fear. I am the missionary in a Muslim world: Power and authority still make me cower.

What’s your before?

When we’re able to name the trigger, it’s hold on us releases. I may still tear up when my youngest feels rejected at recess or wait for the call to go to voicemail before screening it, but these emotions no longer rule me without domain. I can handle a few tears or a little uncertainty when I know what’s going on. I’m not crazy. It’s not that time of the month. Nothing drastic has to occur, like we change schools or I quit the team.

It’s going to be okay.

Because I’ve metabolized these memories. I’ve chewed them over and chewed them up and given them a place in my story. They aren’t erased or thrown out, they’ve shaped me and belong. They get to stay. But they stay on my terms.

I’ve moved beyond.

Until the next trigger.

The Time I Ruled the World

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Before there was Barack or Hillary, there was me.

Black. Female. President.

In the photo above, I had just been elected Beaumont Middle School’s first Black President. I knew in my heart I had enough love to change the world—one heart at a time. Our student body council bonded quickly in the name of “equality” and “diversity.” However in the days to follow, it was going to take more than just a shared mission to see true democracy realized in our classrooms, hallways and cafeteria.

It didn’t take long for my election high to wear off.

Sitting in room 227 of Mrs. Morgans 8th grade social studies class, my eyes stayed glued to the posters of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln. I wondered if these two American icons ever felt confused about what side of the fence they stood on. Warring sides of race were firmly being positioned around me, and I stayed lost, wandering somewhere in the middle.

You see, many of my black friends felt like I was abandoning them. They saw my involvement in the dominant school culture as selling out. They warned me that my white peers would switch on me, that it was in my best interest and safety to hang out with only my kind. Their concern for me was genuine.

What I had tried to communicate to my black peers was that my intention in becoming involved with student government was to change the status quo of our predominantly white school, that instead of excluding myself and others who looked like me from the school norms, culture and decisions affecting all of the student body, I wanted to make sure that we were included.

On the other side of the fence I was being hit consistently with subtle and overt racist jokes. White ignorance was being kindly draped around my neck-giving others the ability to yank their untamed white power leaving me choked and speechless with statements like—

I really dont consider you black.

Your hair is so nappy looking today.

Were all the same, but it must be hard being black.

Navigating my cultural sanity and identity in the midst of democracy was not easy, but I felt it was worth the risk. I still do. I had never really been interested in politics however I found myself drawn to standards of truth and principles that held everyone equally accountable.

Social justice principles reminded me of the Bible—God’s truth, standards and commandments that give order to the chaos of our human hearts. Truth, justice and equality aren’t just words to me. Historically, these beliefs made real were the only way my people made it out.

Mrs. Morgan, without sugar-coating it in class, showed us slides of slave brutality, awful ships and lynchings. These gut-wrenching and heartless acts upon human beings, who also happened to be my ancestors permanently stayed imprinted in my mind’s eye. In ships they were stacked like sardines, raped to create labor and then thrown out without regard. The least I could do was do my best in school and find intentional ways to make progress and honor their life sacrifice with dignity by digging into my own courage.

The election had brought many sides together, but it also stirred racial tensions including my very own. I had been so careful in placing firm boundaries and set divides with my black, white and Asian friends. I didnt know what to do now that I had freed myself and others outside our boxes.

Fast forward to today, thirty years later. I still find myself pressing my way outside the margins, but wisdom has taught me that running back to home plate is crucial to staying in this justice gamelonger.

I make no apologies for being Black.

I make no apologies for being female.

I make no apologies for believing in the power of love, justice and forgiveness.

Praise God that despite the opposition, setbacks and battle scars Im still that 14-year-old girl who believes she can still change the world—one heart at a time.

The First Day and All Those After

school-3

I imagined how it would go down more ways than I can count. I spent the week before with a pained jaw, a pit in my stomach, and a headache. Would I have mimosas with friends after the drop off? Would I hit the gym, relishing my child free morning? Perhaps spend the day writing? Surely, when this is your first truly child free day in almost nine years, you should do something momentous, right?

They let you walk them in on the first day. All the kids line up next to their room number as music plays on the speaker and the Assistant Principal calls each room in to the building. The big kids go in on their own, but the Kindergarten kids get to have their parents come with them. And so we walk, hand in hand up the cement stairs, through the metal double doors, and down the hallway. We walk into her room and find her cubby. Her backpack, lunchbox, and sweater find their home and she quickly finds her spot on the rug, next to another little girl who shares her first name.  The teacher tells the kids what fun they will have and assures the parents she will take good care of them. The kids are then allowed to get up and give one last hug. All the kids run to their moms, dads, and grandparents. All but mine. I motion to her, begging her to act sad. She hugs me and looks up smiling. “I’m gonna rock it, Mama.”

 I stop at Target on the way home. I look through the bargain bins and then gather a few supplies for dinner. I think I’m supposed to want to walk through the store, aisle by aisle, without any children with me, but instead of being drawn to whatever it is that tempts us, I watch the moms with their kiddos and wish mine were with me.

I go home and find myself curled up with a dark chocolate salted caramel bar and the Newsroom streaming on Amazon. And that is Day One.

Day Two I go to a long put off doctor appointment and clean the kitchen. I have another piece of my dark chocolate and one more episode of the Newsroom. Day Two.

Day Three I go to the gym after drop off, go to another appointment, stop at Trader Joe’s, and listen to the Newsroom as I put away groceries. I kick myself that I am out of chocolate. This is the end of Day Three.

Tomorrow is Day Four. I have work to do that can’t be put off. There are emails to be sent and lesson plans to go out. I want to spend tomorrow and all the days to follow missing my baby, but she is doing what she was made to do. She’s growing and learning and blossoming in ways I can’t even imagine yet. And perhaps it’s my time too.

There Is Hope for Alzheimer’s Forgotten Children

Debby Hudson at The Mudroom: The Long Goodbye

 

We said our earthly goodbye earlier this year. But she had been gone a long time. Our grief began eight years before Mama died.

She was the last parent I had. Daddy died too early and now she was dying a slow death before our eyes. Nancy Reagan called Alzheimer’s the “long goodbye”.

They say there are times you’ll never forget: your wedding day, the birth of your children, those landmark events in life.

But she did. She forgot the times, the milestones, and the memories. She forgot she was a pastor, forgot my dad and forgot me.

Alzheimer’s does that. It robs those things you’ve tucked away in your memory, the moments you whisper to another, “We’ll never forget this day.”

We never imagined it would happen to this vibrant woman. We didn’t know she wouldn’t remember her three children or her eight grandchildren. We didn’t know her memory would crumble into pieces of our past.

The journey of Alzheimer’s is uncertain. The stages cannot be scripted. Disease is never one-size-fits-all.

‘Why?’ was a constant, silent question. At times, we were brave enough to ask it out loud to each other. It seemed a selfish thing to ask when we knew there was no answer.

How long would we watch her decline? How long would she suffer the indignity of losing her speech and becoming childlike in every way? There are funny moments and ones that aren’t — but you have to laugh anyway. It’s like having a two year-old again, only she is 72. It’s not cute when a 72-year old is unsure about how to spell her name.

We wrote back and forth to each other, my sister and I. We wrote things we never wanted to say out loud. We confessed our hurts of the past and planned for a funeral long before necessary.

When someone loses their memory, it seems important to hold on to whatever you can. An apple pin Mama gave me on one of my visits sits in a drawer. It’s something I would never wear and had she remembered I was her daughter and not just someone with a “nice smile,” she would have known that. But she didn’t know me as her daughter and even still, her gesture was sweet and kind and, I hope, a moment I’ll never forget.

Over the years, grief ebbed and flowed as grief does. It often came as I stood in the card aisle searching for a Mother’s Day card I didn’t need to send. She may have forgotten her daughters, but I didn’t forget she was still my mother.

She kept snapshots of our life in shoeboxes. I pulled them out, one by one, probing the remnants of her fragile memory. “Who is this, Mama?” Her eyes focused with intention as she paused, then pointed at the man, her husband who had died a few years earlier.

“He used to be with us,” she said was some certainty. She recalled neither his name nor his role as husband, but she knew he was “with us.” Yes, Mama, he was.

One after the other, I gathered photos ranging from her childhood to more recent times. I was looking for where she was living. I couldn’t find her. How could I? She couldn’t find herself.

I don’t know if I intentionally numbed those emotions and feelings or if it was God’s divine intervention that kept the pain from wrecking me. I didn’t cry in her presence, not once. Even in its sadness, the moment was too precious.

I searched God for answers to the why. When they didn’t come, this verse did:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast

    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget,

    I will not forget you! Isaiah 49:15

She had forgotten the children she’d borne. My sister and I stood on each side of her and she didn’t know she’d birthed us to life. Though she forgot, God was faithful to remember our longing and our pain. He is faithful to bring hope even in the heartbreaking pain of grief.

Yes, we wrestled with anger and questioned God. But He didn’t forget us.

No, she didn’t receive a miraculous healing or have a last moment of clarity where she knew us as hers, but God didn’t forget Mama.

In the middle of our sorrow and the turmoil of loss, I put my hope in knowing His loves endures forever. I breathe: “Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

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