Monday, August 31, 2015

Notes From My Daughter - The Surprise of Disappointment

My Daughter

Occasional notes from my 21 year old daughter. I never know what to expect when she writes, but it's usually a pleasant surprise. Read on!

The first time I recall challenging God I was about 6 years old. I remember learning in Sunday School that if you ask God for anything, He will answer - John 14:14 - "You may ask for anything in my name and I will do it." It sounded a bit too good to be true but I decided to give God a chance anyway; I was going to ask for something big so I knew that only God could answer and was really all He claimed to be. So I considered my 6 year old desires and offered a slightly selfish, yet really faithful prayer that went something like this:
"Dear God, I heard that you answer prayers if we truly believe. I am tired of being the baby in the family and I believe you can hear my prayers so God if you are willing please give me a younger sibling, and if you are really willing please let the sibling be a girl. This way I will always know that you are God and you answer prayers."
I didn't tell anyone about my prayer nor did I stop praying this prayer for a few months. I believed God could really do this and so I was persistent. I didn't nag my mom to see if she was pregnant either, I somehow believed that if it was to happen I wouldn't have to do much on my end besides believe. I guess this is why God admires childlike faith.

A few years later while Mummy was in New York and the rest of the family was in Jamaica my Dad came into the room after being on the phone with Mummy and said "Something has happened with Mummy, guess what?" and I immediately yelled, "SHE'S PREGNANT!!!!" To which my Dad silenced my joy with a very quick "No, guess again." More no's came with every new guess until finally my dad gave in and said, "Yes, Mummy is pregnant."

We were all jumping on the bed celebrating when I briefly stopped for a moment and said, "Thank you God for answering my prayer."

Fast forward to today and I have a brilliant, argumentative, loving 12 year old sister who really has completed the spectrum of personalities in our vibrant family. She likes to use this story of me praying for her as a reminder for me to be kind to her. She has a point. While she is a walking reminder of many things including that God answers prayers, she is simultaneously a living conviction that I always need to pray.

When she was first born I was elated, and I still am; it's great being an older sister. But as she started to grow I wondered why I am not naturally awesome at being a big sister. My childlike faith was not easily transitioning into loving faithfully, especially when she started to talk, have emotions of her own, or get upset with me for things I didn't think were a big deal. When I had trouble teaching her how to read, my patience was tried.  Or when I had to explain to her over and over again that because there is 10 year difference between us we wont be able to do everything together, it didn't always go over so well. When I couldn't relate to her in different ways I was surprised. I did not expect this disappointment, I did not expect to "fail" her in these ways. I did not expect to not know how to love someone I always wanted in my life.

Quite frankly expected disappointment is just self-pity and a defense mechanism. We classify it as "low self-esteem." You know the person who wakes up in the morning and is overwhelmed with the thought of another day because they have no idea what their supposed to do with it. Yea that's not what I'm talking about here (though I could in another post because I've dealt with that too).

What I'm talking about is wanting to be good at something, trying, and still not having the expected results. Or not continuously having those results, when good seems to be by chance and bad seems to be an inevitable constant road block. You're not mad at the thing/person you want, but you are confused with your own actions. Your success seems chaotic, and it's exhausting to think "Why do I suck?!" because you have no real understanding of why things aren't falling into place. That's how I felt at one point with the role of being an older sister. It's not a role I can quit, but at one point it was a role I stopped being as intentional about because  other things that COULD bring me peace of mind had more priority.

I write all of this to say, sometimes the falls take us by surprise but that doesn't mean we'll be spiraling down forever. Sometimes we need more maturity to really be able to accept the positions we want in life, a maturity we're not looking for, a maturity we do not expect to come in the form of unwanted mistakes. Even experts make rookie mistakes, they just learn to be be aware and move on. They know there's a resolution. Disappointments may surprise you, especially if you are disappointed with yourself, but there are 2 ways you should not react:
  1. Trying to rush through the recovery- you will get hurt again, or hurt someone else in the process.
  2. Avoiding the pain of the fall- awareness is key to finding out what you're made of.

You have to recognize that you are not the problem. A more recent prayer went something like this:
"Dear God, Am I ill-equipped to live my own life? In this continual quest to "get my life together," I keep on messing up in minor and major ways. Is there some intrinsic self-defeat characteristic in me that I just don't know about? What's going on? I'm so tired to people temporarily expecting so much from me only for me to perpetually let them down."
The day I said this prayer I looked at my sister and I'm reminded God hears us, even if we feel alone in our own mistakes. Just as I've learned to love my sister through the ups and downs of our relationship, we all need to learn to love ourselves through the surprises of our own disappointments.

We are not our own enemy and we don't have to be. Pray and know that you are heard and watch God comfort you as you believe Him to do all that He said He would do, and be all that He has promised to be. It is not just about the childlike faith that God hears you, but also your belief in Him, the process of life which make you question, "Why does God believe in me?" God has faith in you, even when you're disappointed with yourself. Those moments of questioning are part of the journey that strengthen your relationship with God. Your life won't always meet your expectations, but God will always go beyond them.

"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."Ephesians 3:20 [NLT]

Trust Him, give him a chance, let him surprise you in a way I promise will not be disappointing at all.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Writing about Writing

Here's what's happening:

I want to write. I have a great conversation or a thought runs across my mind. I  think, "I should write this; it''s really good; I'm sure somebody will appreciate this perspective." I sit down to write. I click "New Post." I start writing the initial thoughts and then nothing, absolutely nothing. I know at this point I should keep typing until my thoughts become cohesive.  Just get it down on paper is my mantra. But there seems to be a disconnect between my brain and my hands.

So I have many incomplete posts; though frustrated I'm glad I've done that, because at some point I know I will be able to finish.

There have been times when I would write and my thoughts would flow and I was quite happy with the result. This is not happening now. I want to get back there, but until I do, I'll keep writing what I can. I know what's happening with my writing is what we all go through at different points in life, so even in this I'm encouraged to keep going. And just in case you've missed me, I wanted you to know I've missed you too; I didn't intend to stay away so long.

I've seen many bloggers and writers come and go. I don't want to leave yet as overall I enjoy the process too much. My faith is my anchor and I rely on it heavily.

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17 [NLT]
This verse doesn't say when things are good or when you're writing He rejoices. It says He is with me and He rejoices over me. There's no mention of my circumstances. Writing is like running to me - it's not something that I cannot do - some days I run well, these days not so much. However I'm just glad I am able to do something. Even in the trying times I'm learning that the most important thing is to keep relying on the One who sustains my faith.

Writing this post just may be cathartic and hopefully my writing becomes prolific again.

If you've gone through this, I would appreciate your thoughts on how you got unstuck. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

This Person I've Become - Earth Conscious

Having lived in California for the past 7 years, certain things were bound to happen, but who knew they would happen to me.  About a year ago California banned all plastic bags at the grocery store. We were warned a year in advance and then once the law was implemented had a six month grace period to comply.

I, who never cared about such things,  now keep a supply of bags in my trunk at all times. When I go grocery shopping, once the bags are emptied I find myself immediately walking back to the car to store them in the trunk. I ensure that anyone in my house who may shop, also has a supply of bags. This is a new routine for me. The consequence of not doing this is having to pay .10 per bag whenever I shop and I refuse to do this. It seems that many folks think like me, because if they forget their bags they put everything back in the cart until they reach their car.

This new law has made me:

  • Cost conscious - It seems that you shop based on how many bags you have. I haven't seen any research to substantiate this but just by observation I've seen this phenomenon. Also many grocery stores now give you a credit depending on how many bags you have.
  • Bag conscious - Any bag that comes in to my house now has the potential of being reused as a grocery bag; so those fancy bags from high end boutiques, beach bags, or tote bags all now double as grocery bags in addition to grocery bags themselves. I have relearned the art of folding brown paper bags and then stacking them neatly in to one of my tote bags. I haven't gone so far (yet) as to make bags out of old t-shirts though!
  • Environmentally conscious - apparently those plastic bags were wreaking havoc on the environment, killing marine life and generally becoming a nuisance to clean up. In writing this post and digging a little deeper I've learned that those plastic bags are non-biodegradable which means they don't decay; so long term those handy bags cause more harm than good.

This bag is surprisingly sturdy! I carried one in my pocketbook all the time

And this is a complete surprise to me since I was never a hippie tree hugging sort of person (please excuse my ignorance, if this offends! :)) Changes in the law can force us to change our routine, but other things may do so also. For instance I was recently convicted by my lack focus and I am now consciously working to change that.

Though change may be hard, if it is for our good why not embrace it to see how much better we can become.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.The world and all its people belong to him. Psalms 24:1 [NLT]
What new routine have you recently started? It can be anything but I'd love to hear.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Graduates From A Peculiar Institution

Have you ever reviewed or become aware of your family history and discovered some appalling fact? Slavery in American history is like that - appalling. Perhaps I was asleep during much of my history lessons, but I do not recall learning for any length of time about the cruelties of slavery and what Black Americans endured. In hindsight, I would have to say it was glossed over or whitewashed (pun intended). I did not intentionally start out to discover all I could about slavery, but the more I read the more I wanted to know, and it has been a devastating knowledge. Like Malcolm X, I can honestly say, I will not forget how shocked I was when I started reading about slavery's total horror.

I struggled with how men could be so cruel to their fellow man; what goes on in one's mind to remove all humanity from another soul; is this what happens when profit is placed over people; why the need to punish so severely with whippings and maiming; and why was all of this sanctioned by the laws of the land.

My curiosity was stoked by current events and by reading fiction and historical fiction around the Civil War. In the past months I have read:

  1. The Invention of Wings - Sue Monk Kidd
  2. Somebody Knows my Name - Lawrence Hill
  3. Candle In the Darkness - Lynn Austin
  4. Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
  5. 12 years a Slave - Solomon Northrup
  6. Thirty Years a Slave From Bondage to Freedom: The Institution of Slavery as Seen on the Plantation and in the Home of the Planter: Autobiography of Louis Hughes - Louis Hughes
  7. When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection - Norman R. Yetman
  8. American Slavery As It Is, Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (Illustrated and Annotated) - by Theodore Dwight Weld
  9. Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the escape of William and Ellen Craft from slavery - by Ellen and William Craft

For approximately 250 years black people were treated worse than animals in the name of capitalism. So much of this country was literally built on the backs of slaves. Slaves were used to doing labor that the white man would not do. In America, there were two distinctions of slavery - Northern and Southern and every slave knew that if you were sold down south it was worse than your worse day as a Northern Slave. If you were white you could own a black person and no one would question it; therefore the worst white person could own a black person and no questions would be asked. As a slave, you were subjected to the whims of your master - whatever they may be. As a slave, you were not entitled to any thoughts or rights. Being kidnapped into slavery was a very real fear - thousands were kidnapped from the North and sold into slavery in the South.

The slave had no family - he could be married, bought or sold at someone else's whim. Women were forced to breed either with other slaves or with their masters. Many were the children who were separated from their mothers never to be seen again. As a slave, the sanctity of marriage was invisible.

A slave was not fed or clothed as a human - livestock received better treatment than a slave. The favorite form of punishment seemed to be whippings with a cowhide or bullwhip. If one was particularly stubborn you could also be maimed or have your teeth knocked out. You were also branded like common cattle. Even if a master was not cruel in the outward sense of the word, a slave was considered "property for life."

Slaves were whipped without mercy for minor infractions, worked from sun up to sun down, were given the worse food and only fed twice a day, could not take care of their babies and lived in constant fear while yearning for freedom. Though human, the slave had no rights. The slave was flogged, tortured and brutalized, yet was expected to continue working and produce. One of the greater cruelties of slavery was the child of a slave took the condition of the mother; therefore if the mother was a slave, the child was a slave even if the child was fathered by the master. How heartless a man must be to treat his flesh and blood as a slave; the slave had no rights except what his master desired.

Even if they were treated like brute beasts, not being allowed to learn, they knew what they were going through could never be right. Mothers murdered their children so that they wouldn't know the horrors of slavery. Many ran away; some succeeded and some did not. A slave knew that there was no worse fate for a slave than one who ran away but was caught. Dogs were set on him to catch him and if caught his punishment was more severe than anything he had endured to that point. For a slave was property and in running away you reduced the earning potential of the master.

The laws of this great country sanctioned slavery:
If more than seven slaves are found together in any road, without a white person— twenty lashes a piece. For visiting a plantation without a written pass— ten lashes . For letting loose a boat from where it is made fast— thirty nine lashes; and for the second offence, shall have his ear cut off. For having an article for sale without a ticket from his master— ten lashes. For being on horseback without the written permission of his master— twenty five lashes. For keeping or carrying a club - thirty-nine lashes. For having any article for sale without a ticket from his master - ten lashes. For traveling in any other than the most usual and accustomed road when going alone to any place - forty lashes. For traveling in the night without a pass - forty lashes. For being found in another person's negro quarters - forty lashes. For hunting with dogs in the woods - thirty lashes. For being on horseback without the written permission of his master - twenty-five lashes. For riding or going abroad in the night, or riding horses in the day time, without leave a slave may be whipped, cropped or branded on the cheek, or otherwise punish not extending to life, or as to render him unfit for labor.  (a subset of the laws in Southern slave code).
100 lashes were considered a severe whipping and depending on the offense, which could be anything. it could be up to 500 lashes. Overseers were the primary administrators of whippings, but sometimes it was the master himself or another slave, threatened with punishment, usually whipping if he didn't comply. "The slaveholders of America resort to every species of cruelty, but they can never reduce the slave to a willing obedience. The natural elasticity of the human soul repels the slightest attempt to enslave it." - Frederick Douglass

One of the more appalling cruelties that resulted from slavery was the rationalization by slaveholder that this was what God intended. It just goes to show how the mind of man can be so corrupted when he is blinded by his own sins. As Frederick Douglass so eloquently states: "It must also be stated that the American pulpit is on the side of slavery, and the Bible is blasphemously quoted in support of it." (Frederick Douglass) This is not the slavery of the Bible - for even when the Israelites were persecuted by the Egyptians, the Lord raised up someone so that they were removed from this slavery. The Bible does not condone White supremacy or any human supremacy for that matter. The institution of slavery as practiced in America was never sanctioned by the Bible.
Contrary to the claims of many skeptics, the New Testament proclaims that all people are equal in the eyes of God - even slaves:
  • There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) 
  • knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. (Ephesians 6:8) 
  • And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. (Ephesians 6:9) 
  • a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11) 
Over time,  slavery became a necessary evil. A startling statistic emerged in the 1970s, when economists taking a hardheaded look at slavery found that on the eve of the Civil War, enslaved black people, in the aggregate, formed the second most valuable capital asset in the United States. David Brion Davis sums up their findings: “In 1860, the value of Southern slaves was about three times the amount invested in manufacturing or railroads nationwide.” The only asset more valuable than the black people was the land itself.

In his impassioned new memoir, “Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” This statement seems inflammatory, but history and current events show the truth in this statement.

Frederick Douglass along with many others was a graduate from the peculiar institution of slavery. "I was a graduate from the peculiar institution," Mr. Collins used to say when introducing me, "with my diploma written on my back!" (Frederick Douglass Douglass, Frederick, 1817?-1895. My Bondage and My Freedom.) Many of our ancestors had their diplomas written on their backs. Since I am here today, it is from whence I came. I truly thank God, that my diploma is not written on my back.

As a Christian, I am called to be in the world but not of the world. In the world around me, I see racism toward black people in many shapes and forms. They are the stories that make it to headlines which can make one more wary and weary, and they are many that don't. Because of the cloud that hangs over our interactions, in trying not to make everything about race you recognize that race pervades many of our interactions.

I am grateful for the elasticity of the human soul, and that as a people we have been able to repel attempts to enslave. Hopefully, we can all learn from our history so that this never happens again. I'm also hopeful that this knowledge will help in strengthening the divide between races; that it won't continue to be minimized but at the very least acknowledged.

PS - I started writing this ~3 months ago, and even now it is one of the more difficult posts I have had to write.