Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Choose To Live

By now you may have heard of Brittany Maynard - the 29 year old who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and is choosing to die on November 1st, 2014. She moved to Oregon so that she and her family can take advantage of the Death with Dignity Act, and received the sedative that will end her life. She is married, and is her mother's only child. Somehow she is being hailed as a hero but something in me does not sit right with all of this.

All of us have had dark days where at some point we may actually think we're better off dead. The irony of life is that when you're dealing with something in that moment that's all of you have - the culmination of experiences leading up to that point. The beauty of life is to have survived, and look back in amazement, with new strength. If you hadn't overcome you wouldn't be where you are today. By choosing to die, you are shortchanging yourself of all the good life has to offer; the yin and yang; the growth and reward; the trials and overcoming.

But even when you don't overcome, you grow, because you realize life isn't perfect.

Choosing to die at a time that's convenient says I get to take my life in my own hands. I get to determine my perfection. I get to quit. The ultimate fallacy is it fools you in to thinking that you are really in control - when you're not.

We are not totally in control of our destinies, God is. [Job 14:5, Psalm 139:16] By choosing to die, you're trying to take over something that you have no control of, because you really don't know what death will bring. Death is a huge unknown; death is more uncertain than dealing with a terminal illness.

I also believe dying with dignity is a crock. Dignity is ideal but death isn't always dignified. Sometimes it's sudden or gruesome or painful. More importantly, since death is inevitable we should be prepared for death, but not in a controlling way but rather as an inevitability that we all have to face.

When my brother left this earth after 17 years of a long terminal illness one of the things that struck me was that he was no longer here. He didn't have to be perfect to be missed. He just needed to be here and he no longer was. He could no longer make an impact on those around him. He was gone. It didn't matter if his fingers were perpetually curled, or his skin had darkened, or he could no longer move - he was a presence in his house. He could still communicate with his family members the best way he knew how. The others around him were learning also - how to deal with adversity, how to smile, how to deal with pain, how to be tender and compassionate, and much bigger lessons. Lessons that were absorbed but were never spoken. He may have been diminished physically but he still had a lot to give, as the gap that is his death proved.

Diagnoses aren't final; as far as we know my brother outlived many people with his illness by at least 10 years. In this way, he made his doctors think and ponder all they knew about his illness. His living provided a challenge so that they could help the next person.

Do you know that dark days don't last forever? I know that's not a fair comparison to a terminal illness but everyone has something that they are dealing with.
What if everyone who had a terminal illness chose to die? What if the beauty is in living? Who says one has to be perfect to enjoy life or make a difference? 

I hope Brittany has a change of heart and lives as long as the days that were allocated to her.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Notes From My Daughter - Here's The Thing About Saying, "I would never date a black girl."

Occasional notes from my 20 year old daughter. I never know what to expect when she writes, but it's usually a pleasant surprise.  Read on!

PS - I have tried to instill in my daughters the following thoughts: Know your worth, stand your ground and men are stupid.  The stupid men part is a caveat and only applies when men aren't willing to accept any woman's, but in particular my daughters worth. Men aren't really stupid.  Seems like this daughter knows her worth, and wanted to share some thoughts on dating.

My daughter
The fact that this needs to be explained is so utterly surprising to me, but being a black woman living in South Africa, I've heard this phrase expressed with unbelievable frequency. It’s not the individual component of you not wanting to date me that hurts, it’s the inherent racism that you condone that hurts black women globally. And the same goes to you black men across the world who would “never date a dark skin girl” or “never date a black girl” unless of course she’s an exception.

I realized long ago that for some people, I as an individual was an “exception” because of my body type, hair texture, and because “I’m not like other black girls” and I REFUSE to take that as flattery. (And this is warning for girls: when a guy finds you to be his exception, he will typically keep you around as his “friend” all the while trying to go after others. You’re his back-up plan because he is confused by your existence not because you’re his ideal. You have just been warned because he will never say it). I don’t need you to consider me as valuable by deeming my sisters as unworthy. But once again, let’s get away from the individual component and get down to the issues. There are only so many things about a person’s external appearance that can possibly make them attractive:

1. Their features; skin, hair, facial structure, body type, etc.

2. What the culture assumes about said person because of their features

3. What you conclude about yourself and how you would relate to the conclusions you’ve made about someone you do not know based off of culture and/or your own perceived notions.
Beautiful Black Women
How do you perceive blackness and how do you perceive womanhood to the point where when they intersect you are no longer interested? Seriously, I challenge all men to consider that. Many times we know a lot of stereotypes but we don’t really know the people that we are either consciously or subconsciously condemning as lesser than. 

Why is it that if I say white woman, you don’t think she may have a loud or “intimidating” (I hate that adjective) personality, but that’s the dominant apprehension one typically has when it comes to dating a black woman? Can white people not be loud? What makes someone intimidating? Can a black woman not be introverted without being praised for her “atypical” demeanor as if her culture guarantees that she will be a loud banshee with no “class”? WHAT. IS. THIS. TOMFOOLERY?
Beauty in all shades
As you may be able to tell from the tone of this post I do take offense when I hear this from men of any color because this idea about dating in general is not simply coming from a vacuum of personal preference (that’s another post for another day) but from a culmination of messed up ideology that leaves the black women with the role of inferiority while everyone else is considered better than. Men I know this post might make you feel guilty, but have you ever considered that you just might be? I’m not here to criminalize you, but to really make you consider the common lack of empathy, consideration, and compassion projected towards black women globally. You do not experience her pain and you cannot tell her she is being dramatic because “it cannot be that deep.” The concept is foreign to you, but just because it is invisible from your point of view doesn't mean it is mythical. It may be difficult to understand but go out of your way to do so.

And black women, love yourself in the face of the mainstream ideology convincing you that no one else will. I am not saying this as though it is a simple task but I know I’m charging you to do something truly difficult. Don’t ask yourself “Will he ever date a black girl?”, as if you are some sort of alien to this world. I understand the distrust we have because of the experiences we know, but darling do not let them consume and DO NOT encourage the idea that you will never find love. Relationships are difficult and the way in which the world has framed them is very broken, but you are a beautiful complete human being made in the image of God. He’s your creator, not men. Don’t feel like you have to adopt other people’s culture, lose yourself, hide your culture, or anything else because of the lies and rumors that you've heard about your existence. You are accepted because of the unique elements that make you, you, including your blackness. There are challenges to loving and there are challenges to being loved but please know that you are not less than. You are so much more than you know.
2 generations
So in conclusion understand that by saying “You would never date a black girl” you are indeed validating every notion that society has upheld in efforts to oppress black women. Conversely understand that if (not saying it’s right, but if) a black women says “I would never date a white guy” its typically out distrust for the hurt they've already experienced unlike the disgust that typically comes from men and the stereotypes they have of black women whether they've experienced them or not. Also IF (once again not saying it’s right) a black women claims “I would never date a black guy,” you as a male typically still have other options that will potentially accept you. However, there is no privilege or mobility for a black woman; as a black women it’s typically understood that no one wants you because you are not the norm or ideal in a majority of cultures. This topic is too complex to fully address in one blog post but I hope I clarified the general pain, and expelled the foolish excuses that encourage the acceptability of the phrase: “I would never date a black girl.”

Young Beauties
 Lastly, this is not a request for black men or white men or any men to start asking me out. Once again, this is not about the individual act of dating but the mindset we condone around the simple human issue of relationship. Please leave me and my singleness alone :). I am content, I just wanted to explain the mechanisms feeding a deeply rooted wound that no one seems to understand besides those who have to feel its pain on a consistent basis. That’s all.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lost and Found Stories - Stolen Laptop

I love sharing these types of stories with you because they provide hope. This lost and found story is a bit different in that an item was stolen, but it was found and returned to its owner.

My son has a Macbook. On his off days he would go to a local coffee shop and set up his "office." On this particular day, three weeks ago, he went to the restroom and when he came back the laptop was gone, but everything else was there. After going through a range of emotions, he spoke to the store manager and reported it to the police.

When I checked with him two days later, he said he was over it. He knew his faith was being tested but he would continue to believe. BTW the ability to bounce back higher after adversity is a quality I admire in others.

In addition, he had activated "Find my Mac" on the laptop so he knew that it had not been turned on because he had not received any notifications. This week he received a notification on his phone which provided the exact address of the laptop. I suggested he call the police since a report was filed and provide them with this information. Ultimately the police were able to go the address and retrieve the laptop. On Wednesday he picked up the laptop and it is none the worse for wear - all of his data is still on the laptop.

All I could say was, "Wow!"

Despite all our good intentions, sometimes horrible things happen. I am so glad he had the presence of mind to initiate the tracking software (I never knew about this), but more importantly to continue to trust God in spite of his circumstances.
That's what trusting God is all about - doing all that we can and leaving the rest up to Him.

O Lord, you alone are my hope. I’ve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood. Psalms 71:5 (NLT)

Have you lost anything lately? Are you learning to trust?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Presentation is the Key

Today on the way to school we saw a high school girl wearing a medium cropped top and sweat pants. As you get closer to the HS one can see all manner of dress and undress.

I am not the modesty police or a fashion cop - but as I think back to HS I wonder, was I so influenced by everything other than what was in my household that it changed the way I dressed? To a certain degree, yes. I read magazines, and all sorts of books. I've always had a strong personality and a strong sense of self. I went through a phase where I wore long t-shirts with booty shorts for two reasons: I liked my legs and knew they looked good; and I wanted you to think I was walking around with only a t-shirt on, though if you knew me you knew that couldn't be true. I was trying to make a statement and I don't know how much I succeeded - keep that in mind when you see high schoolers walking around in questionable outfits; they may be testing the boundaries.

I grew up in the Bahamas and Brooklyn. We were never given strict guidelines of what we could and could not wear, but we were taught to take pride in our appearance. My mother was a seamstress so I think we inherited a sense of fashion and its choices from her. My mom did not wear pants in the Bahamas but once she moved to NY and went through one winter, pants became a practical choice.

I grew up in the church and the girls and guys hung out together. At church picnics we were in the pool together. Most girls wore a one piece and guys wore trunks. Either sex had a great view of the other but babies were not being made in the pool! (BTW as humans it is inevitable that we will notice each other). We didn't have any rules about hemlines and cleavage. We wore shorts during the summer, arm holed shirts or camis as they are now called, t-shirts, shorts. Clothing choices were dictated by climate and practicality. But then there was also an unwritten line. To be sure I don't think crop tops were the rage in the Bahamas (but I could be wrong). We were taught about sex, but there was never a direct teaching about what we wore affecting our sexual actions.

Sunday Best!!
Once we moved to NY, I developed a sense of style of fashion. I was never ashamed of my body and teachings at home or at church did not cause shame. Quite frankly, some how I had a healthy sense of self. Sunday was when we wore our new outfits to church. I experimented with various colors, shapes and styles; back then everyone did. I do appreciate seeing a well dressed male or female and being well dressed. As I grew older, I took the subway and bus to get around. In NY you can be the recipient of cat calls whether you dress provocatively or not. As an obviously pregnant married woman, I was hit on. I found it amusing. Every female in NY knows this and comes up with strategies for dealing with it and it's not always changing your outfit.

All of this comes full circle as I think of my Little One who attends a private christian school that has all of these crazy rules about how each gender should dress. Kindergartners can't wear pants on the playground; every female wears skirts that have to be a certain length; they are prescribed haircuts for men and women. None of these rules allow for cultural differences; and sometimes I wonder what the point of all of this is. It's not as if dressing a certain way makes us better Christians. I think there is a fear that our clothes will make us act in a way that is unbecoming, particularly as it relates to sex.

As a society, we have sexualized everything - they really are people who just want to wear certain things "just because" and their minds aren't geared to fleshly thoughts. And then they are those who want to create a reaction. Either way they're making a choice and with choices come rewards or consequences.

As you become an adult, as a female, you begin to realize the power you possess in your sartorial choices. And just as women can look good in certain outfits so can men; this lusting is not a one way street. We are each responsible for our choices. Clothes do not make a person or change a person's heart. Clothes may reveal a person's motive but that may be giving too much power to apparel. The burden is not only on the female to watch how she dresses but it is also on the male, after all what would happen if men walked around in their Speedos in public? You begin to understand what's appropriate and what's not. You learn to work with your body - accentuating positives and camouflaging negatives. You recognize that beauty and attraction varies. You recognize that sometimes no matter what you wear you always attract attention. Or you wish someone would notice you, so maybe a particular outfit will make that happen. But these are all thoughts and choices.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself,  for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body 
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. Psalms 139: 13-14 NLT

Do clothes make the man or woman? No, but they surely influence how you are perceived, and as much as you can control that you should. Presentation is the key.

As a teenager, did you struggle with clothing choices? Do you think about your impact on others or do you dress for you? Can you dress for you and curtail unwanted attention?