Outside of Me

I listen to a lot of folks for a living.  As recent as today someone called me to help pull them in from being deep in ocean.  Listening is not even a job anymore but something I do naturally even though I am not so sure I hear self as well.  It’s so natural I even hear the girl crying as her mom brisk her pass me off to class late.   Somedays as I’m listening to others I have to work hard at hearing the lyrics in their story as separate from my own song.  Somedays it seems like all of our stories are like wet tangled hair easily meshed together.  I dance between joy and wonderment.  I find myself starting out in one emotion and dancing through a rainbow of emotions.  And so life is a prism of experiences.  It is not as clear to me anymore as I juggle many balls while walking on a tight rope where I am or what I am doing.

But there are these invitations, that sometimes find me, that invite me to step outside of me.  By stepping outside of me, I mean the me that is bombarded with to do list, errands, and obligations.  By stepping outside of me, I mean the person who has my family and friends in categories to call on different days of the weeks.  By steeping outside of me, I mean the person who balances listening with responding and being many things to many people that I care and love and knowing that some days I am not what they wanted me to be.  By stepping outside of me, I mean the person with two jobs, a blended family, family and friends, and unfulfilled personal aspirations.  By stepping outside of me, I mean the person who wants to go crazy sometimes but instead holds it all together because it’s what’s expected of people like me.  All of this is the me that I sometimes need to escape.

And so the latest of invitations, that I remember with a chuckle, is my son’s challenge to a race to the car.  Seeing as how we were less than 50 feet from the car, it was a surmountable distance but not something I was expected to do inside of me.  Somewhere a yes erupted from my mouth and it was on.  We both got to the car at the same time.  I believe this only to be true because my boots were unzipped slowing my movement down (lol).  But when we both arrived at the car we looked at each other and laughed.  I wonder if this is the joy of play.  We were both breathing a little harder, smiling a lot more and basking in exhilaration.  And in that moment I realized my son had invited me outside of myself.  Outside of me was beautiful, carefree and light.


Pain is Part of the Journey

Yesterday I had lunch with the former and first pastor of Good News Community Church.  He is sort of like a miracle in that he has had some health challenges and is still alive.  Doctors have commented on him having survived.   He looks well but he explains to me he is very sick.  They are treating him for an auto immune disease that only 500 people in the world carry.  His daughter, whose field is not even autoimmune, worked tirelessly to find a cure and refused to let the doctors pull the cord on him, years ago when he was put in a coma for life preservation.  Finally she came up with a treatment that he responded to and that saved his life.  His memory is like a dried out rubber band so that in seconds he can forget the day or time or location.  His phone has his emergency contact information should he have an episode or should his brain not remember.  All the brain exercises that strengthen most people’s brain are a no no for him.  His brain is best relaxed.  As I sat listening to his story over the last few years and experiencing it, as I saw his mind working to communicate, I felt an unbearable weight.  I felt  a mix of gratitude and sadness.

I have always thought of pain as something we cause one another for our unwise acts.  But in those moments the former pastor shared the incredible pain he has caused to his wife and family without guilt.  I know if he could  he would take this pain away.  It is not a pain he would want them to have nor is it a pain they would not carry out of their love for him.  He is grateful for what his family does for him.  He complies more readily with the care plan designed for him.  His life is a series of calendars, alerts, phone calls, medicine and check ins. He must be monitored.  And yet, even with the work of fully listening to another whose brain is fleeting, we broke bread.  We had a wonderful meal and we talked about our lives.  We inquired about each other.  I understood him perfectly.  Perhaps I expected to pick his brain more but when I saw what that could do I adapted to a less rigorous conversation.  And I was encouraged because we shared and that inspite of his brain challenges we were able to find our way to each other.

In that moment I saw how pain can be something we tolerate and carry out of love for another.  I saw pain differently.  I saw it as more than a selfish act that hurts another.  Life brings us pain.  Love ones bring us pain.  Living brings us pain.  It is out of our connectedness with others that we can feel at all.  It is out of desires and hopes that sometimes the distance between where we are and where we want to be that causes us to bow over in pain.  I have felt a lot of pain, both physical and emotional, in the last year but it is not all that I have felt.  But after my meal with the former pastor, I understand pain not just as a burden but a part of my journey.


Anthony Stokes & Second Chances

There’s a young adult at my church who loves to takes pictures of himself holding alcohol and money and then post them on Facebook.  I know he thinks it’s cool but is about the craziest thing I’ve seen.  I get he is a part of a different culture and this is what you do.  I sort of think of him as I look at Anthony Stokes picture of himself holding a real gun pointed somewhere.  He too is a part of that same age group and culture that finds it cool to post pictures that portray self as bad motherfucker.  I get it but once again it send a different message to many outside of that culture.  It definitely doesn’t give me the warm fuzzy feeling.

Anthony Stokes seems to have had a few brushes with the law and some criminal activity.  He had a bad heart.  He was on a waiting list two years ago for a heart transplant.  He was turned down.  The whys are not very clear.  His family believes they turned him down because of his criminal activity.  The hospital says it was because of noncompliance with medicine.  The family says that the hospital did not have proof of noncompliance.  Some advocacy work was done on behalf of Anthony and the hospital reversed it’s decision.  Anthony got the heart he needed and said he would take advantage of this second chance.

Anthony got his second chance with the heart transplant.  By second chance I mean he got the heart that allowed him to live two more years before stealing a car, burglarizing a home and shooting at an elderly woman and speeding away from the cops, only to have it end with him losing control of the car, hitting another women, and crashing.  By second chance I mean he got 600 more days to make choices and self actualize.  By second chance he got the opportunity to do things differently.  By second chance he now had time to do the things he said he would do with this second chance, like going to school.  But maybe a second chance wasn’t enough.  Maybe he needed more chances.  Or maybe chances wasn’t what he needed at all.  Or how many chances should one get anyhow.

Anthony’s heart transplant was controversial.  Those that felt like he should not have been given one are now saying it was wasted on him.  I read one mom’s comment on losing her 12 year old son who was on a list.  There are others that think this could lead to the demonizing of all black males.  I’m sure there are many stories and many paths.  This case evokes all kinds of feelings in me too.  I can’t erase the images of Anthony holding a gun, like it’s a cool thing to do, hoping he did not think it was cool to shoot that elderly woman.  But that said, I think he deserved a second chance.  I regret that it wasn’t enough for him but I’m glad he got it.  I’m glad Anthony Stokes got a second chance.


The Quality of Life: Bobbi Kristina On Life Support

A few years ago I attended a church member’s relative funeral.  The pastor, giving the eulogy, used a lot of words but two sentences registered.  He said there’s one way in and one way out.  Second, he said it’s not how long you live but what is the quality of the life you live.  He was saying you can live and be so sick that you are not really living.  Sometimes we equate longevity with a good life but his distinction helped me to see clearer that living is the capacity to engage and be engage.

I asked my bible study group, this past week, if there child was brain dead for several weeks and on life support could they pull the plug.  A group of diverse people racially and gender wise answered differently.  Everyone said yes except my two black mothers.  I, a black mother too, also knew that I had struggled with this question.  I’m not sure of my own capabilities.  Somewhere I still have this belief in the impossible.  However, my partner, who is also a black mother says she could.  It’s not an easy decision but it seemed so hard for the black mothers in the room.

I think people tend to hold on to a lot of in life.  It seems to be in our DNA.  We hold on to good and bad memories.  Some of us hold on to hurt real good.  We hold on to those we love.  We hold on to those we love deeply even when the situation seems less than ideal.  We hold on to promises and hope.  Depending on what we are holding on to we can be pulled down or ignited out.  But I try to ponder the ways in which we hold on, to journey to Bobbi Krsitina’s family keeping her on life support.  And if this were me, would I be holding on as well?

It was posted on the internet that Bobbi Kristina celebrated another birthday which gets me back to the pastor’s comment about the quality of life.  Did she eat cake or blow out candles?  What did she do?  Oh no I forgot she’s in an induced coma.  It seems like Bobbi isn’t living.  Based on the doctor’s reports she’s not brain dead.  The road back is so hard and far and uphill and she’s shown no signs of being up for the journey.  When they tried to take her out of the coma it did not work.  The quality of her life is being compromised.  Maybe, and only in such instance when life isn’t life, it’s okay to let go.



The U in Success

So my son’s school has this corny saying, we can’t spell success without u.  It’s so corny, but I get it.  Seriously, kids need their parents to succeed.  I’m not just talking about grades and academic competency, but parents are crucial to a child’s holistic development to become what they need to navigate an increasingly more complex and stressful world.  I understand that having parents involved really is a part of success.  It’s not the only thing but it’s most certainly important.

I’ve started using it with my church.  As I struggle with the challenges of a small church – finances, volunteer participation, vision, etc.  It seems like the church becomes accustomed to a few folks doing all the work.  Or maybe the few leave the impression that the rest are not needed.  Increasingly, I realize that we really need all the members to sustain the small church.

This leads me to what I really want to talk about and that’s the distortion of success.  For much of my life I have looked at how society labels and affirms some as successful while others are less rarely spoken about.  It’s unavoidable.  My last job before church employment I was a director.  There were two directors that were lifted up as successful.   They had the most dollars coming into their departments.  They received awards after awards.  One of them was my boss and I knew she was crazy before she became my boss.  You may question if I was hating but honestly I was not.  I am an organic intuitive mental health therapist and crazy was coming from my boss’s pores.  The years rolled by and it became increasingly clear.  We even had to consult a lawyer as my boss deteriorated.  But I knew it from day 1.  I knew it and my boss knew it.  Hospitalization was next.  The situation got worse.

Some of who we label as successful are people who are successful.  A turn of good events comes their way.  They look favorable to those around them.  For a host of reasons, partly them, and external they get labeled successful. Some people have worked hard and a kairos moment that sparked their visibility.  They experience the accolades of success.  They get more opportunities.  It’s not a matter of one door closing and another open but multiple doors open to them.  The harvest is experienced in abundance.  This is their season and year.

And here is my concern.  It gives the sense that others are not successful.  A man walks to work for 10 years.  His story is told.  A college student list him on an internet raise money site.  300,000 is raised.  Now he’s scared for his life because there are other crabs trying to get out of the pot.  He is relocated.  He no longer walks to work.  His life has changed.  But there are others.  There are lots of others that get up and do similar unbelievable things.  I serve them.  I see them.  I work with them.  Many of them I have not met but I know they are out there.  I am them.  And for those people I just want to say we cannot spell success without u.


Jackie Robinson West Little League: You Are Winners!

So when the Jackie Robinson West Little League was the first African American little league team to win the U.S.  Championship in the Little League World Series it sent a wave of pride through the black community.  I didn’t even know such a thing existed but I felt the enormity of this title.  A little league team from Chicago won was one of those feel good stories.  In a community where crime and violence have a great impact, this was a positive.  And the black community needs such positives.  So all kinds of stories around the players and team came out.  And we ate it up like we were starving for more positive things about us.

So today we are being told that the team redrew it’s boundaries.  And they sought top players from other close by areas.  And they broke the rules and regulations of little league.  And they did this all without anyone’s permission.  And even after the first investigation was closed they did a second investigation.  And now it’s been proven that the manager was unethical.  And he got other local teams to sign on to this unethical decision.  The team has had it’s title taken and the manager is suspended.

So I got a few questions that probably mean relatively little. Why were we investigating this team?  Why did we do a second investigation when the first one was closed?  Could we not fathom or accept that a team of black boys could win?  Why are we coming out several months later?  And no team has ever violated any boundaries?  I’ve seen invested parents and they are crazy and none stops them usually.  I don’t know but this all sounds just a little fishy for someone who is not a conspiracy theorist at all.  My nose thinks it smells a fish somewhere.  By extending their boundaries perhaps they improved their odds but nobody gave this team anything.  There’s bad sportsmanship and it’s not the kids.

Personally,  I would have tried to sweep this one under the rug.  For all the good it did, I think sometimes correcting what is perceived to be a wrong is more harmful than letting it go.  I think one can move forward enforcing the boundaries and having lengthy discussions but my heart goes out to the kids and their families.  Whether they stretched the boundaries or not they still played the game.  When there are so many strikes against young black boys, winning at anything, including sports, is worth a standing ovation.  So for those impressionable young males alone I would have tried to handle this situation differently.

So unless some other stunning information comes in, I think this team won the national championship.  Even more, black young males got a chance to experience the success that comes with hard work and team spirit.  They got a chance to be exposed to the larger world.  And they got a chance to receive praise and affirmation. As far as I am concern nothing has changed but I know it has because the world can be very unkind.  The real work begins now as we show our support and we encourage them to believe,  even when no one sings you a song of praise, you are a winner.  As the press releases this damaging blow I hope that each of those boys, with the support of the village,th-26 will move forward to be the winner they have already proven themselves to be.


Precious Lord Please Get Beyonce

You ought to know I am not a Beyonce follower.  But it’s also important to know I am not a hater.  I recognize that she is talented and poised and brings a new flavor for what it means to be black, woman and intelligent.  I even took the time to watch part of her tour with JayZ.  The Beyonce movement felt a little contagious.  She works her body and voice in such a way that one does feel mesmerized.  The girl is a force!  And I am glad we have her.

So Beyonce sang Precious Lord at the Grammy’s this year even though she was not chosen to sing it in the movie, Selma.  According to news sources she came forward making the request to sing it to John Legend and the response was you don’t say no to Beyonce.  This girl really is a force.  But Beyonce says this song has deep meaning for her.  Her grandparents marched with Martin Luther King Jr.  Her father helped integrate schools.  And the male choir symbolizes for her the vulnerability  black men face.  She wanted to show black men in a positive light.  She wanted to support the message that black lives matter.

Were their men standing behind Beyonce?  So this this performance was about black men?  So she asked could she sing so she could bring a political message to the Grammys?  Honestly, I barely remember the men.  What I remember was Beyonce standing in a partial see through outfit, long weave, and barking in her performance voice.  It was an nice performance but that’s all I saw.  I miss the political piece.  And again she gives great concerts.  This was no exception.  This is what Beyonce does well.  I am not hating.

So I already said I have nothing against Beyonce.  What does bother me is this marketing of self to the extent that it becomes all about her mostly.  I think Beyonce promotes herself 200%.  And I’m not mad at her.  But given who she is and the opportunities that have come her way, I think this once when she stepped forward, she could have step back to support and even promoted another sister, like the one who originally sang the song, Ledisi.  And if she really wanted to promote brothers why not promote one sister and arrange the whole piece and then again, step back like an Oprah Jr.  If it really was about black lives matter then why did we need to see her face at all. because Beyonce when you are on stage the black lives message all but fades away.

If Beyonce had just said I wanted to perform the piece then I would have gone on about my business.  But she said it was a political message.  She said it was about the violence happening in our world against black bodies.  She wanted to add her voice in support.  And if that is even remotely true then I think she could have gone about it much differently.  Because yes black lives on all spheres matter.  And Ledisi life matters.  And sister to sister you could have added to your power by showing just how far this message is a part of your being.  So I am asking Precious Lord please take Beyonce’s hand, in fact humanity’s,  and grant us more capability for seeing the entire human choir.


Crack: Bobbi Kristina Brown

There are cracks.  Perhaps you have not really noticed them but these are places where people can fall.  Perhaps your heal one time or another got caught in one otherwise we rarely notice them. But there are cracks that bring us down.  Sometimes we are pulled back.  Sometimes we are pulled back. And sometimes we fall long and hard.  And sometimes we are lost forever.  I think Bobbi Kristina fell through a crack.

I am aware of the fragility of life.  I’m not talking about I heard a gun shot or saw an accident kind of awareness about the fragility of life.  I’m talking about living in my own body.  I hear sometimes my heart jumping over obstacles and throwing me out of rhythm.  I feel aches in my feet and arms.  I feel my emotions soaring.  I feel gravity tugging and pulling on me.  I feel my brain unable to recover information or getting lost in the dark.  And sometimes I feel myself vulnerable, shaking, and close to falling through the cracks.  It is in that moment, like today, where I sit very still hoping I will come back.  I am aware, the longer I live, of humanity’s fragility through being aware of my own.

I can only imagine the life of Bobbi Kristina.  Every time I look at her parents in the throes of addiction I can only imagine.  Her parents had all the money to extend a ride that should have ended much sooner.  And out of their fall they produced a girl child.  And they raised her with the privilege of money and the abundance of addictive substances.  They lived in their addiction limiting the amount of nourishment they could instill in a girl child.  And she loved them back in spite of themselves because that’s what children do.  And I believe their daughter never had a chance.  She was cursed day by her parents.

I cannot pray for God to bring her back.  This is a really bad song that has played out.  There are mountains and then there are mountains and this girl would have to climb a serious mountain.  She would have to slay demons.  She would have to walk through hell.  She would need shoulders to cry on and plenty of arms to hold her and hands that never let her go.  She would have to experience healing not just by the laying on of hands but the sitting in someone’s chair for years.  She would have to be born again.  And there would still be a void and visible scars.  She would have to crawl back through the crack.

I am reminded of a preacher who said people don’t commit suicide but situations and things kill people.  I’m not implying Bobbi Kristina committed suicide but she’s been killing herself for a while finishing off what her parents began.  I don’t blame her cause this girl never had a fighting chance.  I think places and things happened and Bobbi Kristina was knocked out.  I think that trauma is written all over that girl and it’s taking her out.  Bobbi Kristina is already dead and for some of us we hold out the possibility that she will live because it makes us feel better.  But as for me I recognize and accept this one fell through the cracks.


Closer than Close: Gun Shots Outside My Son’s School

On Tuesday, when I went to pick up my son, I parked the car and busied myself while I waited but I had this eery feeling.  Unfortunately, I saw six black young males moving back and forth seemingly idle.  I need to emphasize the presence of black males was not disturbing, as they are present most days when I pick my son up.  But on this day it was their movement and flow back and forth.  I just could not shake my sense that something was wrong.

That said on the following day when I picked up my son from school he had a note on yellow paper with a red highlighted title.  I probably wouldn’t have noticed it except he went out of his way to hand it to me and make sure I had it.  It read “IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR FRAZIER INTERNATIONAL FAMILIES.”  In the letter it stated that gun shots were heard at the conclusion of after school program yesterday.  Just a note of clarification, I was picking my son up from after school programming.  The letter goes on to say students were immediately returned to the building, no one was injured, and that the suspect was apprehended.  The police have been requested to be present from the letting out of school and after school programming.  I believe this because I saw two police on foot yesterday when I picked up my son.

I rarely feel scared of something happening.  I am not the scary type though I know some folks, just based on life experiences are amazing survivors.  I am not trying to make light of violence and its impact.  I am trying to indicate that as someone who doesn’t easily scare and has entered into many impoverished conditions as a social worker I do not scare easily.  I am again not unsettled by boarded up houses and broken glass amidst uncut grass or the stench of urine so strong you think you were dropped in a urinal or graffiti overtaking concrete walls. I have not had a lot of fear in this area of my life which is why I take seriously that feeling that came over me.

In a world where a bullet can snatch a life so quickly, I feel numbness right now.  I cannot fathom losing my beloved child.  This may sound selfish in that I focused on my own, I think we all enter through our own story.  I know that a second or any altering of movement in this event that happened on Tuesday could have resulted in a very different scenario.  This incident could affect some of the kids who were outside.  Even though nothing did happen, you cannot not be alarmed that something could have happened.  I generally learn how to look away sometimes to cope.  The death toll, the homicides, gun violence, black on black crime, the police brutality, gets to be too much.  But yesterday was closer than close always gets your attention.

It seems more than appropriate that two years ago, January 29, 2013 a life, Hadiya Pendleton ended close to school grounds.  Gun shots were heard.  Kids were too far from school to be heralded back into the school corridors.  At the end of gun shots, a beautiful girl woman child lay dead.  And a family and community weeps because a gun shot that was closer than close took her life too soon.  And her family and friends have had to take their psyche to God and mental health therapist but the anguish is great.  And this closer than close incident at Josiah’s school makes me numb.



Selma: The Humanity Challenge

A little over a week ago, a former high school classmate of mine, who happens to be a white male, posted a blurb entitled “Why the World Hates Muslims.”  He then threatened if anyone posted anything in opposition to this post he would defriend them.  This title greatly offended me and I didn’t get far into reading all the reasons the world hates Muslims.  When I think about the sentiment behind the title I still can easily access tears.  And I have wondered why this title injures me.  I have wondered why I am so bothered by it.  I have wondered why it’s become personal especially since I don’t even have one Muslim friend.

For a long time, I have struggled with my white male classmate.  I’m sure I’m not the only one but I thought defriending him was too easy.  Rather than move away, I thought it was important to try and understand someone different from me, but I also wanted to give him an occasional challenge since those who were responding sounded similar in beliefs.   It’s too easy to live life singing with the choir of our choosing.  He and I both agreed it was crazy for folks to defriend someone because they disagreed with your beliefs.  So I was rather shocked, hurt and relieved that this friend would defriend me for speaking up.  I guess he really felt strongly about his post.

The title, “Why the World Hates Muslims,” reminds me of the part in the movie, “Selma” where the policemen are beating unarmed black people with a bat.  These police officers are coming down on black people with such a physical force it becomes hard to watch.  Put the popcorn aside, this is no longer entertainment but history.  At some point in time a group of people (police officers) in a racist system (pre civil rights) beat other humans (black).  I realize in both instances, Selma and our present global world, we have lost the ability to see others (blacks and Muslims) as human and that seems like sin to me.

I think when we lose the ability to see other people’s humanity, we are in trouble.  But when those in power cannot see another person’s humanity systems become heavy and treacherous.  And while I think we have definitely improved at seeing other’s humanity, I think we have a long way to go.  We still have to work hard at seeing black people as humans.  We have to work hard at seeing young black males as humans.  We have a ways to go at seeing Muslims as humans.  We have a ways to go at seeing a few marginalized groups as human.  And when we don’t see those marginalized groups as human atrocious things can happen.  #selma


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