Let Freedom Ring

“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you.  You will suffer for ten days.  But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you a crown of life.”                                                                                                                                                                     Revelation 2:10

Even after living in Connecticut for 24 years, I still consider Charleston home.  My roots, my heart, my soul are all stored deep in the south – I don’t believe that will ever change.  The news of the Emanuel AME Church shooting Wednesday evening rang through me like a shockwave.  Someone, an intruder, had violated MY HOME…killed MY PEOPLE…damaged MY TOWN…it feels just that personal to me.

I scour social media to get the latest on the offender, his whereabouts, input from President Obama, outcries from the families, reactions from the community – but I know one thing I don’t have to ready myself for – more violence in retaliation.  That is not how MY HOME works.  I love the response of my people…banding together in churches and sports fields, to PRAY.  These people have been through this experience and worse before, and they know who to turn their troubles to, and who not to blame.

Being raised in this community, the difference of race was out in the open, always.  My Mother’s best friend was African American, half of my classmates were African American – heck, the first boy who ever loved me was African American…it was there, and you were either going to deal with it, or you were going to be the problem.  Sure, ignorance existed back then too, but we kids didn’t tolerate it, at least my group of friends did not.  If someone had the gall to actually say something ignorant out loud, they got stared down mighty quickly by about 10 people more than ready to ‘bring them to Jesus,’ and then they were allowed the grace to retrieve their dignity and simply move on.

I understand I can be fairly naïve about many things, though I am not naïve enough to believe my experience was the sum total of race relations in South Carolina, with its Confederate Flag whipping in the wind and the good ole boys making deals in back wood bar rooms.  But these references, as I’ve heard mention, as well as a few others in the last few days, are not the origin of racism, of the hatred displayed Wednesday night.  This story, unfortunately, is not new.  And as the pieces of the puzzle still unfold and we hear from the offender himself, a variety of conclusions can be drawn.  One point is transparent:  this young man messed with the wrong town, the wrong people – the evidence is clear.  His repayment for such unthinkable acts?  Riots, looting, burning my precious city down?  Quite the contrary…prayer, worship gatherings, vigils…inviting Jesus right back to where He was forced out by gunpoint.

I worship a God worth dying for.  I have that right because men and women have given their lives for me to serve this country I call home.  They gave their lives for Dylann Roof without him ever asking or approving as well.  I read an amazing quote last week that I really loved…basically it said Jesus died for you knowing that you might never love Him back.  Jesus died for Dylann Roof, knowing he might never love Him back…he was worth the risk.  Jesus certainly died for Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson, and though they may have feared what stood before them Wednesday night, they had the promise of eternity with God ahead of them and freedom from this broken world, and we must try to focus on that positive picture.

Please continue to lift up Charleston in your prayers – for healing and wholeness, and continuing to let God reign.

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Getting to Gray

The last few days have been a series of revelations for me.  I know every day should be a revelation of sorts, but some days I’m pretty thick, set in my own thoughts, my own ways, often bogged down in my own junk so much I have trouble seeing over the piles I’ve created for myself.  But these last two days there’s been a clearing of sorts, and I can’t keep quiet about it anymore.

One of my Pastors preached this morning on a very sensitive topic for this world, homosexuality, and he did a phenomenal job.  The irony was that it was his last sermon at our church, as he and his family are moving to a new job, a new state, and this, as he plainly stated, would clearly not have been his choice of topics to leave his legacy upon.  And while I have my thoughts and beliefs on this topic, I don’t want to write about that tonight.  What I do want to take away from his message, however, were his exceptional parables and use of visual aids, and how relevant they are to what I’ve been revealing in my own walk.

For most of my life, I have been a self-professed ‘black and white’ viewer of the world.  Things were simply wrong or right – and each of us came down squarely on one side of that clearly drawn line or the other, with little room for ambiguity.  And while it’s been explained to me prior to now that the world exists much more in an area of grayness, I struggled with my delineation and my vantage-point so much that there was little room for the grace necessary to view that gray…until this point in my life.

The examples given today’s sermon were so telling: how we manage to draw our lines in ‘waves’ to allow for what we view as acceptable into our area, and back out for what we clearly think is less than.  The dilemma, however, is that these lines are drawn by us…by men…with all our failings and shortcomings.  When God originally drew this straight unwavering line, He allowed for grace by way of a ‘door’ – Jesus – for we sinners to pass to the good side.  When I stand in judgment of someone who fails my ‘moral line’ test, I have no ‘door,’ no safe passage for people to overcome what I have deemed appropriate behavior.  I can be as ‘moral’ as I’d like to appear, but if not for that doorway left open for me, every minute of every day, I am nothing more than those I quickly, mindlessly cast over the line.

God wants us to care about people – on both sides of the line.  Without Him we have nothing, plain and simple.  We can do all the right things, live what by worldly standards, appears to be the best lifestyles, but without an eternal destination, that line might as well be a spiral staircase to nowhere.  If we don’t learn how to extend grace, love and compassion as Jesus did to those who live differently than we do, we are not in obedience to God’s will.  It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

I have been working on this behavior of mine – this judgment I do in silence – for months now.  Yesterday as I relayed the story of my week to my therapist, I was overcome with many emotions.  I was talking about how tired I am of being strong; of always being the bigger person; of how this whole process of going to court month after month is wearing me out physically and emotionally, and that I just cannot continue to do it any longer; that I am thankful to have someone in my life that is simply my companion – that cares for me in little ways that were taken for granted for so long I forgot what it felt like to be cared about in such tiny, insignificant ways; that I don’t want to keep fighting and I want to let the kid’s dad come to events and not feel like I’m doing something wrong.  I looked up and she was smiling, and then she said the nicest thing she’s ever said…”You’re gray now.”  My instinct was to argue, because I know I still have a lot of work to do…but for just a moment, I let that sink in.

If this experience, this current season has taught me anything, it’s that we all have room for growth.  I have gained so much over the last 26 months – the greatest being happiness.  But not to be forgotten are also strength, self-confidence, self-worth, a better relationship with my children, a good beginning on determining my value, forgiveness of myself and pride in who I am.  Never again will I let another person define me.  And hand-in-hand with that, I do not define who anyone else is.  My challenge is to love others, as Jesus loved them.  As my Pastor said today, I’m going to trust the One who drew the moral line for me, and get out of the judgment business.

Sweet Victory…?

“Victory begins when you are willing to run by faith, trusting that He will lead the way.”

When a marriage ends in divorce, there are no winners.  No matter how amicable things are, someone, somewhere ends up being hurt by something that is either said, done or unintentionally willed against the other party.  It is not possible for two people to spend any length of intimate time together, share things that a man and wife do, and walk away from that time unscathed.  Bring children into the mix, and the wake of devastation increases exponentially, causing normally rational adults to act in ways they would otherwise not act, all ‘for the sake of the children.’  The shame of it all is everyone suffers damage – everyone.

After preparing half the night for what promised to be an epic battle at court this week, I felt ill at ease.  I thought these feelings were my typical issues with self-doubt creeping back in; I had prepared well, and had sufficient documentation to present a balanced argument for the points I planned to present.  As I finished with my outline for each of the three planned motions, I could no longer contain the overwhelming dread I had been feeling.  I called the one person I knew who could balance my rocking canoe and help me calm the waters before I set off to court.  As usual, she listened to my concerns for what might happen, my lacking abilities, and all my doubts.  And in perfect step she surrounded me with Gospel Truth – and reminded me that this battle was already decided, I was merely walking it out that morning to completion; she reminded me that God had wonderfully gifted me with the ability to speak eloquently and remain on task and that He would be with me that morning, as He always was; and most importantly, she told me God loved my children more than I did, and that He would not allow harm to come to them…those were the words I held on to as we hung up and I got dressed.

What I found at court when I arrived was as I had expected – he had support in his sister and brother at his side.  I did not come unarmed, as three great friends joined me as well.  The process began as it typically does – Family Relations – where he usually disagrees to all I present, and then we are sent to an awaiting Judge in a courtroom.  Two cases were heard before ours, and as I half-heartedly listened to those cases, I found it difficult to quiet my spirit.  The atmosphere there is so negative, even hostile at times, to breathe in the air seems almost toxic.  I closed my eyes trying to focus myself, trying to replay my plan again in my head – anything to disconnect me from where I was yet again…and then it was time.

We both approached our respective tables, took our oaths, stated our names and sat down.  I began my initial motion, and immediately the Judge questioned my direction.  I was thrown, seeing instantly that I’d made a tactical error – that what I’d considered an ‘order’ from the previous Judge was in fact listed in my notes as a recommendation, and thus not subject to a contempt order.  I felt childlike and stupid in that moment, and my mind raced as I tried to recover – I could feel ‘their eyes’ burning the back of my head, taunting me.  The Judge ruled against my next point, and while not critical, again I received it as a blow.

We moved on to the most important of the three issues at hand, and I tried to regain my stride.  I spoke off-script, and while most points were mentioned, I was far less succinct as I am capable of being.  He was offered a chance to rebut, and his words were void of truth and hurtful.  I hurriedly made my notes, sure to catch key phrases to use in my retort.  Almost directly on cue, he began to cry – again – and I found myself not anguished over his emotions but disgusted by his display yet again.  I quickly brought us back to task, and felt I finished strong.

As the Judge began his summation, his initial words led me to feel he was not going to rule in my favor.  I remember shaking my head and immediately thinking what would the next move be, as this would be completely unacceptable.  But as the Judge continued, he did in fact, rule in my favor.  A few more formalities, and I was up and out of the room.  And once again, as soon as I made it out the doors, I was sobbing – the stress of holding it together had completely overwhelmed me – and my friend grabbed me into her arms, apparently in an effort to shield me from them as they exited.

The physical and emotional toll these court days take on me I find difficult to express.  That was yesterday, and mentally I was garbage for the rest of the day.  But when you are a single mom, you do not have the luxury to mentally check out, for any length of time.  I try as much as possible to shield my children from what transpires during these days – because football, chess club, dinner, Click the Mouse, soccer, going to a friend’s house, going to the park, getting to their job, selling fundraising tickets, PPT meetings…all of these things happen whether court goes well or not.

So today, as I lay in the bed for most of the day, reflecting on what happened yesterday and where we go from here, I realized there was no winner in court.  We all lose…we all lose.  Until such a time when we can communicate together and parent these children without the law having to intervene.  Until we can BOTH have parenting time with these children and not disparage the other parent.  Until these children are not hurt by our supposed ‘grown-up’ actions…both of ours.  Until ALL the people in these children’s lives get on the same page about what is in the best interest for them, and work to that end.

What I know is this:  I cannot control him or his actions.  But I am responsible for me and my actions.  And that means I can still continue to be the example – to my children, and to him and his family.  It cost me nothing to be who I already am, so that is no sacrifice.  To sacrifice, I need to take an additional step.  I have the benefit of Jesus Christ, and because of that, I am required to do more.  So I will be seeking God’s face on how He wants me to do more, to take additional steps to make this work.  Because doing what I’ve already done isn’t getting it – it’s merely wearing me out – and that will accomplish nothing in the end.