Chased Memories

Today, I found the school of my childhood.  I have visited San Francisco several times but I have never tried to look for a place I once called home.  In fact I rarely look back too far.  To look back too far is to find a past riddled with questions and pain.  I like the life I now live.  So I don’t run with haste to revisits those spaces.  But with enough time and years today I went looking.  I knew a few landmarks and my partner says I have a microscopic geographical memory of places.  Looking for my old apartment, I stumbled upon my school.  And both joy and sadness filled me to find the school I attended when I was only 7 years old.  Ironically, I arrived at the exact time of drop off.  Muddled with my own memories I saw kids still flooding a place that impacted who I am today.  Memories were chasing me as I felt both a need to laugh and cry.  It was there, miracle of miracles, with a fresh coat of pain but pretty much everything was the same.  It was proof that I had once lived here.  No one around me knew the world was spinning around me at that moment.  I saw my classroom and the cafeteria.  A few kids were eating.  Parents were rushing to get their kids to classes; I can relate to that feeling.  But for me, it was like being on a hover board transported back to 30 years ago.  It was proof of a short time when life was incredibly wonderful for me as a child.  And yet a reminder of an abrupt change in my own life that would drag me all the way to the east coast.

Painful memories will find you.  You can push them away.  You can run from them.  You can remember but not really remember.  You can dust the service and keep it moving.  You can even let them push you not fully realizing their power.  You can feel like you are drowning still be standing. No one knows how much a human spirit can take.  Trauma suggest we are reaching beyond a point we should have been taken.  Or you can look at them for what they are/were.  You can stare them down hoping that they will release the power they have over you.  Today I embrace them.  I look into them deeper.  I remember and let those memories flow through my veins.  I was once here.  I once had a very different life.  It is okay.

I am so glad the places my feet traveled as a child are still standing and providing haven for others.  I even got to talk to a few people and share.  I went to the school office luckily because they had already seen me on camera snapping pictures. I talked with the lady cleaner at my old apartment.  I felt silly and yet it felt so good.  They asked questions and I gladly answered.  The pool I snuck to, the one thing as a child I did and got away with, is gone but the delicious memory is not .  I wished I could have lived the rest of my childhood here but all I am is because of all the places I have lived.  And I like who I am.  I’m glad I am here about to celebrate another birthday.  I’m glad my blurry memories helped me find my way to another home.  As I approach my birthday it’s kind of cool to be here






The Gap: The Good Schools v. The Mediocre Schools

So this Saturday my bff let me have it.  As we were passing the school in my neighborhood, she commented I could take Josiah to this school and homeschool him regarding what this school did not cover.  She explained our parents raised us and never took us to top schools and look at us, aren’t we okay.  It’s not the first time I had heard this argument.  I tried to explain the statistics on the local school versus the school that takes 45 minutes to commute to one way.  I tried to explain how many kids were not even meeting expected levels of reading and math much less exceeding.  But she wasn’t hearing me.  In her mind, I was a fufu middle class bougie parent.  It was an unnecessary gesture and another indicator of my middle class tendencies.

As a social worker and pastor who has served in urban financially impacted areas, I have seen some things.  And one of them I swear is the gap between those who have and those who do not.  By that I mean as early as 12 months I see a difference in toddlers.  And by kindergarten the gap is unmistakably huge.  I see average white children excel because of their exposure, education, and parents.  And I have met plenty black intelligent children who are barely making it in schools that neither engage their mind or utilize their time well.  It see this gap when I meet with teens of all nationalities and the white suburban kids can express themselves clearly while the black child is laughing and stumbling with their words.  And for me the three clear markers are education, exposure and parents.

I had an okay education.  My parents did their best.  And even with my global exposure (military child), I still entered the world with a clear gap.  Even though I have several degrees and attended an Ivy League School and got into more than one, there was a gap.  I knew by graduate school that others had received exposure and an education that I did not have.  And I struggled.  More than any grade or course, my self-esteem plummeted.  And it took me years to be able to hold my head up a little higher.  I suffered.  And, while I have navigated life with some success, I dare say where I could have been had the gap been less.  I will not give much energy to that sentiment because it doesn’t do me any good.  I know there are gaps and we often deny and/or are awkward about them.  I have seen how hard it has been on my people, not only because of the playing field is unfair and racist, but because of gaps of missing information.

So this fufu parent is gonna drive 45 minutes to the school across town where every staff person, down to the janitor, knows my sons name and plays a role in his educational and social development.  I’m gonna stress about getting to school on time because the curriculum and teachers are good and the principal always has an open door to my concerns.  I’m gonna take work home because I love talking with other parents who also care about their kids getting a good education.  I’m gonna celebrate his 8 As on his progress report and explore the 3 Cs to see if I can better support his mastery and understanding in these three subject areas.  I’m gonna keep my foot in his ass because I understand he has not yet grasped my value of doing his best.  We are going to do more than what the teacher requires because learning is not just about memory but knowing and being and figuring things out for one’s self. And I’m going to do my part to make sure this black child boy has enough to be a force in this world!





Take It Back: Reflections on Raven Symone’s Latest Blunder

In my own coming of age story, probably through my 30s, I have been known to say a thing or two out of order.  In all honesty, I became aware in awkward moments or when I was scared I would make a joke that wasn’t a joke.  I notice with others that they laugh.  One classmate was laughing all the time and one day I told a friend she gets on my nerves.  My older classmate said Charlene she cannot help it.  That’s a nervous laugh.  Since then I’ve met others who have that same nervous laughter but I still am unable to pick it up until told.  All of us deal with our stuff in different ways and sometimes it comes of in ways that are offensive to others.

Recently, on The View, Raven Symone made a comment.  She said she would never hire someone with a name like Watermelondrea   and further commented that’s so ghetto.  What she did not say is that she would not hire a black person.  What she did not say is that she has a thing against black names.  What sh did not say is she wouldn’t hire anyone with a black name.  While what she said was bad enough, half of the articles reporting what she said have taken the journalism license to say what she didn’t say as well.  And since what she said was bad enough lets be clear on what she said.  Some names are a stretch.  We all have heard some names.  Lets not act like we haven’t heard a name or two and wondered what was that momma or parent or guardian thinking about.  I am a former social worker and for the record I have heard some names.  I also was a substitute teacher and taking attendance was like walking through a land filled mine.  Raven spoke without having a clue of the full ramifications of what she said.  However, I am still not giving her a pass.

I think Raven needs to take back what she said.  I know it sounds ludicrous because once something is out you really can’t take it back.  But this time she needs to take it back.  A formal apology is a beginning but she needs to go the extra miles and retract her words.  And this is why…because in a world where words are important sometimes the impact of our words injure and exclude others.  A person cannot help what they are named.  I wake up not sure I feel like a Charlene but recognizing the folks that loved me gave me this name and I am not interested in having it changed.  I accept is as a gift.  But I feel like a name is a opened door to each other; it is our entry and our access.  And while we know that folks discriminate based on people’s names it’s unacceptable.  I  want Raven to realize how your words may make another person feel who has struggled with their name.  And that’s not okay in my book so take it back Raven.

I don’t know what’s wrong with Raven.  And because I don’t understand her I am resisting the labeling that is happening a lot as it relates to Raven.  I’d rather pause because at 29 one is still trying to find one’s self and one can get lost from time to time.  I’m celebrating my birth day this week and as a mature woman I’m still trying to figure life out.  I’m not willing to give up on her or label her racist.  I hope she is learning the full magnitude of her words.  As offensive as what she said was I hope Raven uses this opportunity to learn something about herself.    And I hope, not for us or them, that she, with integrity and full conviction, takes it back.  Take back what you said Raven.


Withdrawing: An LGBTQ Issue

I have been withdrawing for a while.  The world is so very big and yet sometimes my world has become so small.  I did not consciously decide to withdraw, it just sort of happened.  I couldn’t bring myself to even dial certain folk’s numbers.  I could not bring myself to be in certain people’s company.  I could not put myself through the misery of boredom and misunderstandings and harsh judgments.  And so slowly I stopped.  I am obligated to remain in contact but I have given up, for at least this moment in time.  And that’s the way it is.

I have had one friend for a long time.  I walked with her through parts of her own ‘falling apart’ marriage.  And I know because of my partner she really can’t be as present with me.  She wrote something really judgmental on my page.  I issued a warning that you can debate but not judge.  I respect a good argument.  I actually like a good respectful disagreement.  But a simple brimstone and hell lashing will not work.  You will not put me in hell on my own damn page.  You have to do that somewhere else.  But as we journeyed forward she starting writing anti homophobic stuff on her page.  And I thought you got a failed marriage, a daughter who got pregnant at 13 who you made have the baby, and a son in custody of the state and you want really want to go there.  And I thought this is not good for me.  Judgement brings judgment and this relationship, along with a few others, had reached an unhealthy place.  As hard as it was, cause I’m in relationships for the long haul, I did withdraw.  I am glad I made that decision.

I know everyone has their opinion on same gender relationships and the sides are tensely in opposition to one another.  It’s hard to argue about something that is your life, your way of being.  I know that there are many who are changing and growing.  I also realize there are many that are not and somehow feel this is an ‘abomination before God.’  I get it.  I work hard publically and so in my free time I really get a say so about who I want to invite into my space.  I get a say so about who will impact my child and family.  I get a say so about who comes into my home and my heart.  And that is changing for me.

Some babies come into the world with substances in their system.  They have to go through a withdrawal period.  It’s not pretty for the beginning of life.  But it is a period.  It takes time to withdraw from something that your system is use to having.  I think a little of myself in that camp.  There are people who have been a part of my life for a while.  And now it’s time.  Tomorrow I may make the journey back but right now I’m just trying to take steps forward living the life I want.  And so you see I have found myself withdrawing for a while from some people.


Human Connections

There he is again.  There’s this guy at my health club.  The firs time I saw him was in the swimming pool.  Most of us swim or sit in the sauna area but not him.  He did something that bordered on meditation.  He went through a series of slow movements as if he was focusing on something really tough.  I tried to wait, until he entered the water, but he was taking too long.  Later, dressed, I walked by the area and there he was.  He wasn’t really swimming.  He was gliding through the water like a fish.  For someone who is trying to improve her technique he looked amazingly natural.

Every now and then, usually now, we find people that grab our attention.  People that catch our eye.   We encounter another person who holds similar values as us.  There’s a chemistry.  There is something the person says or does.  There’s a list of possibilities but we find ourselves wanting to cross the carefully constructed lines that keep us on our side, in our lane, and amongst our own.  And that’s amazing given the ways in which the world root for us to be busy, wired, and constantly moving.  Connections still happen, but the disconnect comes as quick.  I suspect we are moving away from knowing how to connect with one another.

I feel connections all the time.  I experience a connection when I feel someone’s humanity; I see something funny; my eyes meet another persons;  I experience kindness when I wasn’t expecting it; I look at other appreciate my kindness when they were not expecting it; when I am embraced in a really warm heart felt hug; sharing a meal with my bffs; holding my son; when my step son accidentally calls me mommy; talking to another parent about our kids; waiting outside the school for the kids to be dismissed; in nature; when I end up in a conversation with a stranger in the store; the passing of peace at church; when my mom tells a funny story and we laugh.  Okay so I confess, I’m all about connections.

Recently I felt a connection I tried to follow.  I kept encountering this person who was funny, graceful, a lover of books and knowledge and as curious about life and people as I perceive myself to be.  Perhaps words fail me, but I felt for a moment a kindred spirit.  And so I reached out.  I crossed the line of formality.  I allowed myself to be awkwardly vulnerable.  And the connection I thought was there faded.  The person, initially, was amicable but soon they were not there.  And I got that feeling of being left on the dance floor by myself.  And I get that getting to know someone is scary for a lot of reasons and a lot of people.  And so I retreat because the sustainability of connections takes two.  And I don’t regret reaching out even though I have to hold the ambivalence of something that could of been seems gone.

I’m at the health club again.  There he is.  Even as he walks he feels as though he is moving to a different drummer.  It’s like his feet are not touching the ground.  It’s as if he lives in perpetual peace.  His yoga class is right after my step.  Our eyes meet.  We connect.  I’m not ready for more words.  I am not ready to knock on the door.  I am not ready to start a conversation.  I am not ready to cross over and be vulnerable.  And I think we’ve already been talking on a different sphere.  And for now, it’s perfectly okay to greet each other with our eyes and move on.



The Tooth Saga: Belonging

For the last two years, many of my son’s friends have lost at least two teeth. During this time my son’s baby teeth stayed totally intact.  We learned about the tooth fairy and the money one gets for lost teeth.  We also watch his friends prance around with missing gaps in their mouth.  And all the while, my son felt like he had been excluded from the in club.  He felt sad that none of his teeth had come out.  I even grew concerned and consulted the dentist.  At one point, he informed me he had lost a tooth further back in his mouth and that I could not see it.  Poor child, I thought; this is really bad.  Then he started imagining teeth were loose and would show me.  While he moved his finger I noticed the tooth was not loose at all.  It seemed like losing a tooth was never going to happen for this guy and it was causing him distress.

Last week my son announced his tooth was loose.  Honestly, I thought it was another one of his stories except I saw blood.  We now had a new situation.  He was so hysterical he could not resume eating his food.  I thought given the wait period the tooth is probably only slightly loose and we may be in for a very long ride.  The next day he reminded me of his loose tooth and again there was blood.  Our conversation filled with his predicament and woes.  Later that same day walking to our car, Josiah said, “look mommy my tooth came out.”  So it didn’t take so long.  He was happy.

Now we had to talk about the tooth fairy and the money he would possibly be getting.  He was so happy and worried too about his tooth getting in the appropriate spot before bedtime.  I was excited about his tooth loss too.  I learned on that Monday several other kids in his class had loss a tooth and there was a board for loss teeth.  I was excited because, after waiting over a year, he was going to get to be a part of the kids who had a tooth missing.  It sounds like small stuff but in our household you better believe it was big.

The loss of the tooth got me to thinking about our need for belonging.  It may be a stretch here but we do desire certain things and travel down certain roads all to fit in.  It’s so basic and so wanted.  We want to belong.  We want to fit in amongst our peers.  We want to feel like we are a part of something.  We want to be included.  And my son will probably not remember this event, or maybe he will, but the lost of his first tooth ever, though later than most kids his age, has afforded him access to being a part of his peer group.



So it’s been a minute since I’ve written a blog entry.  I’ve not felt like I had anything to say.  But alas I feel a little stirrings worth sharing.  About a year ago I experience a rock bottom in my own life.  I didn’t lose my job.  I didn’t lose my hair.  I didn’t lose a person I love.  But even still sometimes we fall and I fell hard.  More or less I decided to give up on some things in my life but my partner would not let me.  It was at an emotionally weak point and perhaps I not as capable of making a sound decision.  And she gently encouraged me to not quit.

So the last year has been a gradual process of climbing from the valley.  With encouragement I decided to make the arduous process of dealing with all that that had happened and slowly trying to repair my life.  It has been about a year and I now know I am no longer in the valley.  Slowly things on my to do list are getting done.  With each accomplishment I feel a little bit stronger.  I have so far to go says my critical voice but I am well on my way says my affirming voice.  And I received a lot of encouragement from my partner on the way.

Life is a series of ups and downs for most of us.  Sometimes life is harder for others based on their mental maps.  We all get to experience some not so pleasant feelings.  And how do we cope?  What do we do?  Where do we look?  And what’s our plan?  And what do you do when you try and it seems like you get socked again and again?  I say this because I work with people who also landed in the valley but for whom recovering is a lot harder.

Encouragement goes a long way.  A flower blooms.  A child smiles.  A man sticks his chest out.  A woman weathers the storm.  A person is made to feel special.  One feels less alone.  It’s contagious and it gets shared like most other feelings.  It pushes the clouds back.  It gives you the added strength to push through.  It’s small stuff.  It’s free.  And it’s so easy to do.  And yet the world is in need of so much more.  And I know for a season that though I’m still climbing, encouragement made all the difference in the world.


All Lives Matter

My views are a reflection of a well lived and thought out journey.  By that I mean I did not always occupy the space I am in.  I use to be often labeled as a black militant.  Many of my seminary friends, I later learned, did not associate with me because of my views.  I had one friend to say she was afraid to hang with me for fear of how I might utilize her words later.  I thought I was passionate about black life and nothing more.  And perhaps for different reasons that scared some folks.  Black life mattered.

I remember, around this time, my mentor said I was too narrow minded and that as a soon to be ordained minister I needed to expand my circle of called ministry.  What did she know was what I thought.  I did not give her words 5 seconds to register before dismissing them.  God had called me to care for and deeply love blacks.  I wasn’t trying to hate anyone; I was only trying to love a highly unloved neglected group of people.  Black life mattered.

Then life got complicated.  I ended up in a rough space.  And the hand that reached out to me looked nothing in color like my own.  It came from a far reaching place.  And it left me in such a vulnerable spot to better examine all my formerly held opinions about race.  The kindness of a white person, maybe more, made me reconsider my mentor’s words, ministry is larger than your race.  I cannot convey how much this experience changed the trajectory of my life.  Perhaps it didn’t help that I had been deeply wounded by the hands of a black person.  My life mattered.

I can’t say I embraced this new part of my journey but I stopped fighting it.  I remembered my multicultural military family upbringing.  I remembered all of my schooling.  I remembered my Inter Varsity days.  I remembered my Mennonite journey.  All of these spaces were filled with lots of non black people and lots of wonderful life evolving memories.  And in that moment I began to see with greater clarity the humanity of others.  Often we think the world does not see the humanity of blacks but really we’re all struggling.  And yes I know that not seeing the humanity of blacks is a BIG problem.  I get it.  I also think we all could do a better job of seeing other people’s humanity.  Other people matter.

I don’t feel comfortable saying all by itself, “black lives matter.”  And yet I feel it every time I encounter a black young person.  I feel it when I say to my drop out black male young adult, I see your heart and in the same breath encourage him to have goals.  I feel it when my smart sassy young black female, graduates as Valedictorian of her class.  I feel it when I beam with pride because a black young person took charge of our barbecue because of her leadership and desire.  And I think my feelings must matter because I just got a note from a young black adult I worked with over 18 years ago who was very angry at that time….that as she looked back over her life she thought of me… and she remembered someone who was nice, caring and kind to her in a difficult time in her life.  I get that black lives matter 200%.

But I have come to love a lot of folks who are not black.  I have friends who are marginalized for their sexual orientation.  I have friends who are wrong in their analysis of stuff but right in their commitment and love towards me and my family.  I have friends marginalized because they are different.  And so it is because of where I am on this journey, remaining true to myself, that I must say “all life matters.”  Because that is true of my experience.  Every person my heart has room for and those my heart does not; those who are grand and those who have done unspeakable horror; those who have so little power and those who abuse power;  those are are black and those who are non-black; all of us matter.




The Doors We Enter: The Bill Cosby Discussion

In my teen years, when I was able to select where I wanted to sit in church, I often sat on left side farthest away from my family.  I don’t know if I sat there because it was farthest away but I only noted that I did as an observation and not an implication.  Now, when I go to churches generally I will gravitate to the right side.  I notice in my own church that more folks sit on the right side but if I do sit in a congregation I sit on the left.   I think much of life and how we enter discussions is like the congregations’ s seating arrangement I signed on to early in life.  We generally sit, eat and enter certain doors in our life.

Bill Cosby has resurfaced in public squares.  With the release of new incriminating information, those who believed the victims allegations of rape by the hands of Bill Cosby have more ammunition.  They are speaking out loudly.  While the other side, who defended Bill Cosby and thought these women’s allegations were a conspiracy, are almost silent.  Some have switch sides like Jill Scott now saying he was wrong.  While other die hards like Whoopi Goldberg are still defending him until there is proof.

I know that most of us enter this conversation through certain doors much like I sit on the right side in churches.  You have the black lives matter people defending Bill Cosby.  It’s not that they do not believe in the women’s stories but they are rooted in supporting black men and are suspicious of any allegations that try to tear down the black male.  After all, the black male is an endangered species facing possible extinction with the discrimination he faces in the United States.  And Bill Cosby was such a icon of healthy black family that this must be some sort of conspiracy to tear down one of ours.  This group includes strong black women who sacrifice daily to uplift the black man.

I suspect there are shades to this discussion but the other solid door is often those of us who are aware, all too often to abuse we have endured ourselves.  We know the statistics that says most women do not lie about abuse.  And we know the one or two that has has been given more air time pales in comparison to  the victims of sexual abuse.  We know the shame and guilt that accompany such acts.  I remember the first two people I confided in blamed me instead of offering compassion.  That shut me up for years.  It was only on my Dad’s dying bed that I saw my perpetrator after 20 years and I still did not have the courage to speak, not then and not now.

I ponder another door similar to the first one above or at least close by.  I have noted the silence of heterosexual men.  And black men who have had no problem being vocal about police brutality say very little on the affairs of women bodies.  I silently wonder if they choose this door because they are male and so there is some sort of testosterone connection with Bill Cosby.  And then I wonder how many of them are guilty too.  I secretly wonder with the number of women that have been sexually harmed, what does this say for men.  And so I ponder if there silence is an awkward awareness that they have done similar acts.  So we can’t out Bill because there are eyes, if not voices, that testify to our acts as well.

Because of a professor I am intentional about trying different doors.  In trying different doors it helps me to see things from different perspectives.  I’m not accusing Bill Cosby of anything.  The evidence is incriminating to me.  But more than Bill I am choosing to say that what those women said happened is totally believable.  Because of the scorn and criticism that often accompanies such confessions/truth telling there are no perks in telling.  Because of the door I enter and my own life experiences I believe and support these women.  As for Bill Cosby I really don’t have much more energy for him.  As much as the door I enter potentially biases me and gives me a blind side it also makes me compassionate towards others who have been victimized.  This is the door I enter.



I Can’t Imagine: Reflections on Bible Study & the Murdering of 9 Churchgoers

Every week I call my mother and we talk.  Generally the church is a large part of our conversation.  She frequents different churches in addition to her own and usually has some very interesting stories about her visits.  The church has sustained her through critical periods in her life.  Sometimes as we are talking she can even slip into a testimony, though, through the years, I’m good at catching her.  Her community and fellowship is largely with the people she has developed strong ties with in the church; they know her in part and she knows them.  The church is a vine to her spirituality.

My mom generally attends bible study.  She will share with me her questions, others inquiries and an occasional funny moment from Bible Study.  I have context because I remember going to the same Bible Study.  I remember the casualness of a Wednesday bible study compared to Sunday worship service.  I remember the zeal and passion I had for delving into God’s word.  I remember the different setting that bible study provided for people to bring themselves and where they were on their journey.  Question were welcomed.  Generally the bible study was sandwiched between opening prayer and a  song and a closing prayers.  Bible studies back home will always hold a special place and I keep that awareness through my mother’s continual attendance.

It is with that context I think of the 9 victims shot by terrorist Dylann Roof.  I can only imagine that these victims were coming from different places and circumstances throughout the day but they were arriving for relief.  I can only imagine the yearning for spiritual sustainability met by unknown terror peaking around the door.  I can only imagine the warm embrace that comes from black people met with a hatred they will never again witness so up close.  I can only imagine their vulnerability and holy moment being splattered with their slaughtered blood.  The truth is I can’t imagine; I struggle with this senseless act.  I can’t imagine 9 people in heaven now in a much better place; this does not soothe me.  Racism, bigotry, ignorance, religion (bad theology), etc. do not explain what happened.  I can’t imagine family members holding this information in the absence of love ones who will never come back.  I can’t imagine justice righting the horrific nature of this crime.  I do know the space which has formed me and molded me will forever be trained by this heinous crime.  #itsokaytobeangry