Saturday, December 31, 2016

Telling the Story - NMAAHC

There are parts of our history that are too painful to tell but must be told so that younger generations can have a sense of who they are, where they're going and how they got here. In the Bible, the oral tradition was established; the Israelites told their stories every year of their exodus from Egypt at Passover.

The recitation of the Haggadah, a liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah is the fulfillment of the biblical obligation to recount to our children the story of the Exodus on the night of Passover.

In addition, they had items of significance in everyday living so that when a child asked, "What do these stones mean?" they could tell the story again. They could point to the stones as a memorial of how God delivered them over and over again. The stories remained fresh because they were always told.

The African American story hasn't always been told in depth, but with this museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) there's an opportunity for the story to be told to a broad audience with authenticity. The fact that this museum exists on a national scale is a story in itself as it was a long winding arduous road to NMAAHC.

The layout of the museum is such that you start from the bottom and work your way up - literally and figuratively. You start from slavery and travel to modern times. Slavery is a difficult truth and the facial expressions of patrons indicated such - no smiles, all twisted faces, pained expressions, brooding thoughts and maybe some tears. I personally wished that there was a weeping room, so I could just sit and cry. I'm still baffled by how a slave owner could rape his slaves, produce his children and could only see them as profit. Slavery was a time when the heart was turned to stone.

Jim Crow and Reconstruction took up another floor. Again, very painful. I saw a segregated train car and also Emmit Till's open casket. (BTW no pictures are allowed of the casket; if you get caught doing so you will be escorted out).

Then it was up to the Civil Rights Movement; I was particularly moved by the "Women of the Movement and learning about Gloria Richardson - who by all accounts seemed fearless because the injustices against her and her people were so wrong.

At this point, we broke for lunch at the Sweet Home Cafe. Cuisines are divided up by regions - The Agricultural South, The Creole Coast, The North States and The Western Range. I had the stuffed Rainbow Trout with Potato Salad from the North States and it was pretty good, though at that point I'm convinced anything would have tasted good as we were all starving at this point in time. This is part of the experience, so though a bit pricey it's worth it to eat at the cafe.

With more energy, the rest of the museum is more uplifting. The upper floors highlight African Americans' contributions to all aspects of society - music, dance, poetry, sports, style, language. I also took in a movie exhibit that asked the question - "What does it mean to be a Black Man?" The vignettes in response were poignant.

Some logistical items to consider - we were able to get tickets by getting walk-up tickets that are distributed daily as we had no luck getting tickets online. I parked at L'Enfant Plaza and paid $20.00 for the entire day. Then from the parking structure, it was about a 10-minute walk to the museum.

The stories of our histories need to be told; everyone should visit this museum so that the appetite is heightened for greater knowledge of the African American experience. I hope as families we share our histories openly and perhaps this museum can become a rite of passage for all. I was saddened and inspired by my visit and was glad that I got to go.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

This is 50 - A Letter To My Younger Self

Dear Nylse;

You've done all right for yourself; you really have. You have been blessed with a wonderful husband and four children; after putting in many years of hard work you are beginning to reap the rewards of having raised decent (actually better than decent) children with a husband who stands by your side. You are surrounded by love in the form of family and friends in many states and countries.

You had minimal expectations for your life - you just wanted to be happy. That seems like a low bar but that is pretty high because you've learned that happiness is fluid and is made up of many ingredients.

As you see your oldest daughter embarking on the next stage of her life, you think about when you were her age. Her generation communicates a whole lot better than yours did. They have the benefit of accessible knowledge well before they may need it. You're impressed with the way your daughter and her fiancee communicate. They ask and they listen and then they figure out the "we". You see them putting this into practice for little things and it bodes well for their future. Sometimes you wish you had mastered this sooner.

You've learned that communication determines the quality of your relationships; that it's central to relationships. You've learned that to outward appearances of some communication may appear awkward, difficult and tenuous,  but yet when you look at the quality and longevity of those relationships - there's something that's working in spite of what is seen in a moment. You've learned that an ideal may not always be attainable, but getting pretty close is good enough. As it relates to communication, the foundation was laid at home. You learned, "speak when you're spoken to, answer when you're called." You learned to respect each other but that greater respect automatically went to your parents. You learned how to determine a mood based on how something was said. You learned how to make your voice heard in a large setting - this you learned well for you have a loud voice that you have often worked to tone down.

Confidence is great (and sexy), but knowing how to communicate with the people in your life is important. It is not a one-time lesson but one you will need to relearn over and over again. Our communication shows evidence of so much that goes on internally - strive to be genuine, yet kind, authentic yet loving, truthful yet precise.  Since you have what may be perceived as a  problematic tone, let that be the opener to your deepest heartfelt conversations so that your hearers don't get stuck on how you're speaking but on what you're saying.

But about that loud voice, it's part of who you are - so embrace it and use it well. When others need a mic to be heard in a loud room, you don't. If you want to train or give presentations, your voice lends itself to that. Speaking with authority comes naturally to you - never shy away from this but also recognize your influence. Work with what you have and use it to the best of your ability. Don't make your voice small for others, for in doing so you shortchange yourself.

You have learned that love makes all the difference in the world. Because if love is the foundation, you are quick to forgive each other. You were never good at holding a grudge - too much energy to do so or you were lazy. Whatever the reason, I'm glad you don't hold grudges. Grudges lead to resentment, which leads to long-simmering anger, which can rear it's ugly head over the stupidest things. Try not to hold grudges; the only way to do that is to remember your foundation of love so that you can forgive quickly.

Life doesn't end at 50 or any magical age that you've placed in your mind, as a matter of fact, as you turn 50, you feel more hopeful. Though this year has been hard in ways that you could have never imagined, you're so glad you made it to another birthday. It was imprinted on your heart this year after your mother's passing that every day is a gift; every day is an opportunity to start anew - start new habits, start new careers, take on new opportunities, start new friendships. Take nothing or anyone for granted; unfortunately, it's very easy to do. Don't wait until someone is gone to appreciate them; show your appreciation in as many ways that you can, for as long as you can, while you have them.

You've learned in this half a century not to ever give up on your dreams - for just as disappointments come when we least expect them so do appointments, so does joy and so does fulfillment. You've learned that where there's life and breath there is hope.

None of what you have done or achieved was done in a vacuum; God was with you all the way and that is something you will continue to acknowledge. It humbles you and keeps you grateful. It is because of the foundation of God's word and your decision to follow Him that your life has unfolded in the manner it has.

Keep learning, keep laughing, and keep enjoying life.

Lots of Love;

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Wishing Wall

The Wishing Wall
Christmas is synonymous with peace, love, joy and fellowship. Christmas reminds us to be generous and kind. Christmas celebrates the good, the beautiful, the pure and the holy. Christmas is associated with nativity scenes, shepherds, the wise men and the Baby Jesus. What the Baby Jesus represents is Christmas and all of the good feelings that we wish to feel are embodied in Him. Never was a baby's birth so significant - it was the promise fulfilled of a long-awaited Messiah and over his lifetime this promise would play out. It was the beginning of everything good for mankind.

Some saw the promise and the fulfillment of that promise of the little baby in the manger, but many couldn't see it. Some were angry with his birth and tried to kill him, to no avail. But he was preserved and kept; his life was guided by a divine hand.

At Christmas, though many may not be religious they want the promise and the beauty of Christmas. The wishing wall at a local mall is new; it's where you take a moment to write your wishes with the hope that they're fulfilled at Christmas. This wall is inspiring yet sad. Some of the wishes were heart wrenching - "I wish for my brother to walk" and some were comedic - many wishing misfortune on the President-Elect. Many needed resources for basic necessities and some were wishing for jobs or college acceptances. There were also wishes for world peace and love. Of course, there were also wishes for finding a girlfriend or boyfriend. Bystanders were drawn to the wall - many took it all in and many left their wishes also.

A wish is a prayer, a desire, a hope. Many of these wishes won't be fulfilled though there is some release in anonymously expressing a wish on a wall. But I hope this isn't it for most of these wishers. I hope they have something more to cling to and hold on to. I hope at Christmas this year it's a start to knowing the Christ of Christmas - that the little baby in a manger was the Son of God, who grew up and was crucified for each of us. I hope they know that he's the only religious deity that died and rose again and in Him is where true hope resides because nothing is impossible with God. I hope they recognize the love that someone had for them and made the ultimate sacrifice. I hope they realize that Immanuel, the Messiah - God with us, is here with us at Christmas and every day of the year. And I hope some of those wishes on the wishing wall come to fruition.

A sampling of wishes

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 

 Hope and love come with Christmas and go with every other day of the year. 

What are you hoping for at Christmas this year?

My favorite version of the Christmas story is found in Luke 2.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Fun With Technology

With all the technological advances available today, our children have access to more information than we ever did. I don't necessarily see this as a problem since I view technology as a tool that can enhance life experiences while closely monitoring its usage. Here are some fun things I've discovered recently.

In a pinch, signatures on the iPhone can substitute for a note signed by a parent. Just text said note to your child and attach your signature. Easy peasy! Yes, I did this recently; yes it worked. No, it wasn't my idea but the Little One's.

I've had a pressure cooker since I got married 28 years ago; I believe it was a wedding gift. I've used it on and off throughout the years. I started using it recently but I wasn't happy with my outcomes. With a pressure cooker especially when making stews - you have to overseason to compensate for the water that is to be added. You also have to add the right amount of water if not everything is watery and bland. These are minor hurdles to overcome but I was out of practice. A pressure cooker is a working mom's dream - it cooks food quickly with minimal cleanup. That's when I discovered there are electrical pressure cookers on the market that are multifunctional. Well as life goes, I decided to buy an Instant Pot since someone on the internets mentioned that it was on sale. So I committed and boy am I happy! The right tools in the kitchen make preparing meals fun and right now I'm having fun and my family is not starving anymore. I've made steel cut oats, white rice, beef stew, curried chicken, turkey wings, broth which I then used to make rice, and soup. I'm still itching to do beans, quinoa, and cheesecake. Apparently, the instant pot was made for cheesecake - who knew?

I am part of a large family on all sides. So this year after our family reunion in Jamaica, a WhatsApp group was started and in this case, it has been one of the most refreshing things since we are literally spread across the globe. It's as if we never left - the conversations are rich and deep. We're a smart bunch and I'm grateful for the technology that keeps us talking ALL THE TIME.

Of course, it's hard to keep track of birthdays - so a family page was created using Shutterfly. It's the coolest thing because once members are entered, you'll always get an email telling you of an upcoming birthday or anniversary.

One last thing - Twitter is a great way to contact companies when you're dissatisfied or have a question - the response is much quicker than sending an email.

When I think of technological advances, I'm amazed by God because I'm sure none of this catches Him by surprise. After all, he made us, and knew exactly what our capabilities were. I hope you enjoy these finds as much as I did.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Then God blessed them...; Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! Genesis 1: 26, 27, 28, 31 [NLT]

How has technology enhanced your life?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Book Review - Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was her debut novel. I had heard this author's name and wanted to read her works but when I saw the eloquent tribute she left to Michelle Obama, I knew I had to delve into her work.

Purple Hibiscus is a story of zeal based on the Catholic religion. Zeal can be good or bad; in the case of Purple Hibiscus, it is horribly bad. In the name of Catholicism, the family is abused - physically and verbally by its leader - their father and husband. He is fanatically religious and a tyrant at home.It is the tale of domestic and spousal abuse in the name of religion, set in upper-class Nigeria.

A purple hibiscus is a hybrid and is rare - perhaps the elements around this tale are rare also as I never expected such brutality in this setting, and the trajectory of the story is unexpected.
But the hibiscus is also beautiful - so in spite of the abuse, there is a beautiful story that is told around family connection. The family yearns to be free from this tyranny and like the hibiscus, they eventually bloom and are free. But the road to freedom is heartbreaking.

After reading this book, I am more knowledgeable about Nigeria - its customs, its foods, and some of its traditions. The author has a gift for making the story come to life while searing your soul.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Daily Vitamins

Some habits start in childhood, wane over time and then are refreshed once you remember their value.

As a child, I learned the importance of taking vitamins daily. If I scratch my head and think really hard the one thing my parents always made us take was Cod Liver Oil. Every morning we got a spoonful and washed it down with juice. Of course back then, living in the islands we got a fair amount of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis so the focus was more on diet than on vitamins. When I moved to the States I became more aware of multivitamins and their various forms - capsules, chewable, pills, etc.

There's a mantra that governs my life - 'when you know better, do better', so of course when I had my children and we were more informed, I made sure to give my children vitamins every day especially when they were younger. I tried to give them cod liver oil also, but I was not as successful as my parents. (That habit bit the dust!)

As my children have grown and moved on, I am now in a different stage of my life and once more, I am keenly aware of the importance of vitamins. Every day I make a green smoothie and take a litany of vitamins and supplements. At this stage, I won't stop because I want to take the best care of my body that I can and I've seen what happens when I don't take my vitamins.

In the quiet of the morning, as I'm taking my vitamins I am reminded of two things:

  1. The same vigilance that I give to the physical, I should give to the spiritual.
  2. I should put on God's vitamins daily - the armor of God.

On a daily basis I take - vitamin D3, vitamin E, magnesium, a women's multivitamin, glucosamine, fish oil and a hair and skin chewable with my green juice that usually contains spirulina, flaxseed, cucumber, kale or spinach, banana, and blueberries. This seems like a huge haul, but over time I have realized that this combination works for me.

On a daily basis I also spend time in prayer and reading so that I can put on - truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, and salvation all likened to various parts of a warrior's armor. Again, this works for me; I am equipped to handle what comes my way.

In both of these instances, the preparation and ingestion take time; they are intentional and focused. When you stop preparing and ingesting you see detrimental effects - your skin is dull, your hair falls out, you feel more fatigued. In the spiritual world - you're not spiritually discerning, you don't remember scripture, you're not loving, you're easily manipulated.

Vitamins are essential for growth and nutrition; taking the right amounts allows your body to maximize its potential. As you make a habit of taking care of your physical body, do the same for your spiritual body.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle, you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:13-17 [NLT]

Physical, spiritual or both - what vitamins are you taking daily?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei translated means Lamb of God and is first used in the New Testament - John 1:29, 36

Webster defines Agnus Dei as:

1: a liturgical prayer addressed to Christ as Savior
2: an image of a lamb often with a halo and a banner and cross used as a symbol of Christ

When I first heard this song I was awestruck by its beauty; its ability to elevate my spirit and its worshipfulness. This song seems to be played often at Christmas - but I could listen to it throughout the year.

This song is 10 minutes long, but in heaven, that's all we'll be doing - singing Hallelujah all day and it will seem like nothing.

Listen to this sound and be transported to a heavenly mode.

What other songs do you like to hear at Christmas?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Fill My Cup, Lord

Courtesy of Solo Cup
When I was growing up there was a song that we sang that went something like this:

Like the woman at the well I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy
But then I heard my Savior speaking
Draw from my well that never shall run dry.

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up Lord
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul
Bread of heaven feed me 'til I want no more
Here's my cup fill it up and make me whole.

Every time I heard that song, even as a youngster I could relate to it. At the age of 8, I knew I wanted Jesus to fill me up and since then, recognizing that so many are seeking, I've tried to let my light shine because the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few.

The harvest is plenty - your co-worker craves that peace you display; they notice how you handle problems; they notice that you don't do "Happy Hour" but yet you're happy.
The harvest is plenty - to that child in your classroom, you're the kindest person he has in his life.
The harvest is plenty - that homeless couple could use a warm blanket
The harvest is plenty - the young lady who finds herself pregnant and needs someone to be there for her.
The harvest is plenty - that neighbor who's talkative but seems to always want to hear more.
The harvest is plenty - that young lady who sat next to you on the subway who seemed really tired.
The harvest is plenty - that family at the bus stop waiting for a bus that's not showing up.
The harvest is plenty - those that are hurting because of systemic and institutional racism.
The harvest is plenty and they're all walking around with cups that need to be filled.

As we are filled, let's go out and be Jesus to others so that they can come to know Jesus. Let's pour into their lives. As believers, we have what the woman at the well and so many today are looking for. Let's not get bogged down by the cares of this world to the point where we are blind to the needs around us. Let's not let seeds of doubt prevent us from sharing or living the way Christ wants us to live.

If one were to describe my life they'd say it's uneventful - perhaps even boring. But my response is always that line from a Winans song that goes like this, "it's really no goodness of my own, no, but it's by the grace of God that I've been kept all this time." You don't need to have a "dramatic" change to make a difference in someone's life. I tell my story through living life the way Christ would have me live, so that I can be a bright light.

As a Christian, your life is impactful because you are a new creation in Christ; what He's done in you can't be hidden under a bush.

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” Matthew 9: 35-38 [NLT]

Do you know the good news of salvation? How do you share your story?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Book Review - Homegoing

"History is storytelling. So when you study history you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice can come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect picture." (Yaw - Homegoing)

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is the story of the suppressed voices of Colonialism, Slavery, and Racism from the coasts of Ghana to America. It spans a period of approximately 300 years with stories told through the eyes of members of each generation. The story starts in Ghana where we learn about tribal practices - polygamy, war, prisoners of war and the initial slave trade. To bring this home there are two sisters who anchor this story: Effia from the Asante tribe who is betrothed to a white slave trader in Ghana and her half sister Essi from the Fante tribe who was captured and sold into American Slavery.

Homegoing is a collection of atrocities borne out of institutions that no longer cared for humans, where greed and pride are what's important. It highlights the strength, resolve and unfortunately the resignation of humans when dealing with horrible circumstances.

Though the underlying thread is slavery - the effects of slavery in America portrayed in Homegoing are more heart-wrenching than those from Ghana. Slavery in America an institution based on white supremacy, that lasted too long, with unimaginable cruelty, led to ramifications that have never been addressed -  the convict leasing system, which was an outgrowth of Jim Crow, which led to the Great Migration, which led heroin in Harlem, which led to the war on drugs, which led to the crack epidemic, which led to mass incarceration. All of these are touched on in Homegoing.

With each person's story in Homegoing, the legacies and ramifications of slavery in both continents are addressed. Near the end of this book, I felt like it became an autobiography and some of the stories lose their richness.

There is a family tree at the beginning of the book which I referred to as I started each chapter; this was helpful as it can become hard to keep track of characters over such large periods of time

For the breadth of time that Homegoing covers, it is done well and deeply impactful.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Think It Not Strange

I once stubbed my toe in my backyard. It was on a raised piece of concrete that I did not see but it was always there. I stubbed my toe so hard, I think I saw stars. I had to take several deep breaths to regroup; the pain was intense.

As I dealt with the pain, it reminded me of another type of suffering we go through - the trials and tribulations of life: taking a stand for the right thing and being alienated, the car not starting, insufficient funds, dealing with tough problems at work, dealing with difficult people, poor health. There are tons of trials in this life that happen to each of us, sometimes through no fault of our own.

That pain gave me clarity (and made me write this post). Though it seemed intense initially, over time it subsided and I learned to deal with the pain until it passed. Pain does not last forever but in the moment it felt like an eternity.

The English word 'pain' probably comes from Old French (peine), Latin (poena - meaning punishment pain), or Ancient Greek (poine - a word more related to penalty), or a combination of all three. Pain is usually an indicator that something may be wrong and in medical parlance it can be throbbing, chronic, acute, steady, pinching, etc.
As it related to my toe, I could have some degree of solace because I knew it would eventually subside and it did; that's the equivalent of accepting and rejoicing in your suffering.

The pain due to suffering because it's part of life is no different; suffering because of who we are as Christians is almost to be expected.
First, it's not strange. So we should stop questioning why things happen to us.
Second, trials make us stronger; they make us think differently, they make us resourceful.
Thirdly, they ultimately draw us closer to God.

The pain eventually subsided, just like most trials and I was wiser for the experience. I am now keenly aware of that rise in the concrete and will do all I can to never stub my toe again. But it just may happen again, and if it does I am now better prepared. Like the pain from a stubbed toe, your fiery trial won't last forever. It may seem intense as you're going through, it will force you to stop and breathe and it will eventually end.

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.  

Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. 
If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. 
But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! 1Peter 4:12-16 [NLT]

How do you handle the fiery trials in your life?