a weary world, not rejoicing

a weary world, not rejoicing

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Early in the pandemic, there were piles of memes to wade through on any given day, but there was one which I found to be particularly funny:

Introverts, please check on your extrovert friends during this time of need. They are not OK.

For many introverts, this meme was not only hilarious but pointed out how often introverts are the ones who are expected to adapt in an extroverted world. In a sense, extroverts found a way to make aspects of quarantine all about themselves, their needs, their comfort, or discomfort. 

 But it’s just a meme, right?

This past week with all the news coverage regarding George Floyd and the woman calling the police on a black man in Central Park, I was flooded with grief. 

On Wednesday, I could not get myself together. 

I sat dazed in a chair and read a fantasy novel most of the day, now and then glancing at social media littered with hashtags and photos AND videos. I hadn’t anticipated feeling quite so assaulted by the images. I mean, it’s sad to admit but apart of me has become accustomed to this horrific violence. I could spend the rest of this post listing the names of those we know who have been killed because of skin color and leave a lengthy space for the names we don’t know, only their families and loved ones know. Each image, every name, a source of trauma attaching itself to my soul, my DNA. 

I haven’t been one who easily picks up a sign or marches for a cause. Maybe I have spent too many years of being polite. I considered myself to be one person in a group possessing a specific amount of assigned power hoping that collectively we might amass some power, some influence, maybe even credibility in this world.

I believed if I dressed a certain way, styled my hair in a palatable way, never put my hands in my pockets while in a store, and chose to let kindness be my guiding principle, then maybe I, this one person, might add a chain link to the legacy of my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles.  Extending to my brother, sister, cousins, husband, children, niece, and nephew to shift people’s opinions and obliterate fears about people who look like us.

So when I scroll through Instagram stories and see a quick photo with a hashtag followed by photo after photo of trivial things to me, it is perplexing. Instagram stories last 24 hours but a physical post can last indefinitely. It feels like announcing you are going swimming but only your big toe gets wet.  Maybe it feels tolerable to display murder on one frame and a sweaty workout selfie on the next frame. It feels like drive-by social justice, fleeting. It’s like jumping on a bandwagon and deciding when the ride ends. The wheels are still moving for me, for many.

Back to the meme at the beginning of this post, allow me to change it up:

White friends, please check on your black friends during this time of need. They are not okay. 

I lost pieces of hope this week. I wish the wearing down of my soul made it smoother but I am unsure.  I have never felt more fear for my male family members and especially for my son beginning to tiptoe into adulthood. 

I have lived as if racism was my problem to fix. When in reality, it is mine to be healed from and for those who don’t look like me to lend their voices, time, and power to end its deadly message. Racism is not a hashtag. Protests, education, and reading books are valid ways to stand against this evil monster of racial injustice but true healing can only start in my opinion when empathy leads the way.

Empathy is not about feeling bad about something and remaining silent, returning to life as normal because the alternative feels uncomfortable. It is a privilege to be able to return to life as usual without the fears so many people of color bear. It is important to be aware of the privilege of not having to change any part of daily life when it is not the reality for Black people and other people of color.

 Can you jog or take a walk without a second thought?

Can you enjoy bird watching without fear of being arrested? 

Are you able to drive a nice car without concern you will be questioned about your ownership?

These are rights and shouldn’t be just for some.

My daughters and I have talked over the years about how we unconsciously exaggerate our actions in stores. We want to make it absolutely clear when we touch something that we have replaced it, if we decided against buying it. This is an intrinsic message based on a  potential (not imagined) threat during a routine activity of life. This is why I keep my hands out of my pockets, in case you wondered. 

Empathy is feeling the pain and refusing to turn away. It is acknowledging your own feelings and turning your eyes from those onto another’s pain. It is a willingness to proclaim your presence beside someone else because their pain is different than your own and experience. Empathy shouts despite the discomfort, it might involve saying the wrong words but affirming a desire to walk together. It’s weeping with those who weep and to mourn with those who mourn. It’s asking “how are you?” and then leaning in, listening without discounting experience, or projecting a defensive stance.

Sometimes it’s as simple as saying I am here for you because I see you.

*****

I wrote this post on Friday and then over the weekend, I had several friends text to check in with me. I was very moved by these offerings. It caused me to debate whether to post this piece but then I remembered one of my aims is to remind people they are not alone. I believe there is at least one other black person who is wondering why there is so much noise online but silence towards them.  Maybe they are wondering if they are really seen by those who don’t share their skin tone. They also may fear by a pointed post like this, they will now be avalanched by concern, so many days and years late. 

So please be gentle with your black friends and family members. 

Be authentic.

Apologize. 

Check-in by making it about them. Use the correct pronouns. not just how badly you feel. 

Listen and then listen some more.

*****

 

May we walk in love with each other.

May we grieve with each other.

May we share space for uncomfortable words.

May we have the courage to look at one another in the eyes and listen to each other’s histories.

May we have the strength to apologize where we have wounded and may we be people who extend grace to those who simply had no idea. 

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  

II Corinthian 1: 3-4

 

when you are watching and waiting

when you are watching and waiting

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From my earliest memories, I have loved ladybugs.

I know I am not unique in my affection.

This past year, I have reflected on the ways ladybugs have flown onto my path.

When I was a little girl, we lived in a house on Clifford Drive and I deemed the tallest tree in our yard, the ladybug tree. I remember during the early summer, ladybugs would magically appear all over the leaves, each bearing 2 black spots. Until we moved from the Clifford Drive house, I would watch and wait for green leaves to be dotted with pinpoints of red and black.

*****

For the last ten years, Carl has been faithful monitored to see if he would fall prey to a genetically predisposed cancer. He has had untold needle pokes and biopsies, each one more invasive and numerous than the last. We have been watching and waiting until a year ago in April, the waiting was over and the diagnosis confirmed.

Even when there is a sense of a possibility, it still can feel like a surprise, as the waiting is coupled with lots of prayers from lots of people.

We sat and listened to Carl’s diligently dear doctor begin to discuss options and he encouraged us to keep the news to ourselves for a bit before the world could have opinions and share stories. But now that I typed the last sentence, I am not sure if I was there. There are many parts of last year I don’t remember and I am sure even more for Carl. But nonetheless after the appointment, we decided to tell our kids and I believe, my parents.  Two days later by the grace of God, we headed to the beach for Caleb’s state chess tournament.

For a girl who didn’t grow up close to the ocean but fell in love with a boy with a blue  pickup, who drove her regularly to the ocean, it is our shelter, our sanctuary and often, our church.

We could have driven down for the day of the tournament but we had the thoughts months earlier to stay for two nights. While Caleb was occupied, capturing chess pieces, Carl and I tried to read and make small talk with other chess families.

The tournament ended and the next day, we were tired and subdued. We ate breakfast at the Pig ‘N Pancake and the guys wanted some arcade time. I asked if they would mind if I took my book and read on the promenade. There was no argument. They fear my skills.

The last traces of morning mist had been replaced by golden rays and kites floating against brilliant blue.  As I gazed at the waves on a bench, a woman joined me and told me she and her group were staying an extra day, I should do the same. Oh how I wanted to text the girls and tell them to cancel life and join us for a week:)

I wished the beach lover farewell as she set out to join her party in the sand below. I tilted my head back and felt the sun tighten my cheeks and forehead. I opened my book, read a few pages and then I was joined by another type of friend.

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The sun was so intensely bright and the ladybug sped along my arms, I wasn’t sure any attempt would prove worthy but I reached for my camera phone and snapped away. I took my index finger and placed the ladybug on the stone railing before me. As I glanced down to the sand at my feet and the stone arched rail in front of me, I saw dozens of ladybugs, crawling along the rail and in the sand. I put my book aside and stared at the ladybugs at my feet.

Even on my best days, I control hardly anything. I can’t conjure the results I want or the scenarios, I would choose. Although all my worrying would prove otherwise. My hands are rarely open in acceptance and surrender.

On that Sunday, God reached into the depths of me. Helen, lover of ladybugs. Many people may happen upon this random fact about me, but God has always known. He knew I look for ladybugs. He knew I felt scared for Carl and what was ahead. He knew ladybugs would speak to me, help direct my eyes to where they needed to reside. The ladybugs could be at my feet but my head could be lifted.  He knew everything because He is the maker of ladybugs. He fashioned ladybugs to be brightly colored with dark spots to ward off predators and as a shield. He has made Carl and me and shields us from every predator that ventures to cross our path. The boys eventually joined me and they were able to bear witness to my ladybug inhabitation. I sat on a hard stone bench weary and defeated but we all rose wearing armor, ready to walk.

*****

As Carl said this week, he’s in the middle place. He is a month shy of a year post-surgery. All his test have come back clean. He has another year to go before he is deemed cancer-free. We would never take this reality for granted and even more so because we know so many who have different stories and prognosis.

This past May, it was chess time at the beach again. The weather was lovely, Caleb made more checkmates and we lingered again. We took one last walk on the beach before heading home. As we headed downhill towards our car, laughter mingled with gratitude is the only appropriate response to such a sighting.

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***I have been trying to write this post for the last several months but I haven’t been able to get myself in front of the screen to type until today. Today, I needed to remind myself of God’s faithfulness. I needed to renew my belief that He sees me in my weakness and weariness. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed, weary, discouraged or lost. Maybe you are waiting and watching for something dreaded or hoped for. It might not be a ladybug, but what can you look for that shouts your name? He sees you and He is willing to use the most seemingly insignificant ways to draw you to His side, the nearest and dearest place to find His comfort.