Honey Suckle Anyhow

Honey Suckle Anyhow

I was leaving home, heading into the city to pick-up my grandparents to take them to church, one Sunday morning when I decided to grab a hand full of fresh honey suckle from the nearby forestry to sweeten my ride.

Honey suckle grows wild in my neighborhood. But I hadn’t thought to pick some to freshen my home and car until I saw a neighbor picking it.

I had loved honey suckle since I first noticed it’s sweet fragrance as a little girl. It grew in the front yard of my biological grandmother, the woman who had given my mother away as a toddler and later rejected my mother’s attempts to reconnect. I hated visiting her because she was so mean. But I was forced to spend time with her, and, to make the most of it, I delighted in whatever I could. When my cousins and I discovered the honey suckle bush in her front yard, we delighted in pulling the stem from the flower and dipping it on our tongue to savor its sweet juice. Honey scent of honey suckle always reminded me of this grandmother I loved to loath.

This grandmother had been contrary when not down right mean. Unlike the woman who adopted my mother and became affectionately known to me as “my real Grandmother,” my biological grandmother had mocked religion and church folk, calling it all “some foolishness,” and “non-sense.” This grandmother, who had conceived 11 babies by a married man and given all but three up for adoption, had gone to church only on Bingo nights as far as I knew. She had left her three young children at home to fend for them selves. She had used the child support money their father gave her to gamble. She had died a withering death, first losing her ability to maintain her own health and hygiene, then she succumbed to heart disease. But honey suckle always reminded me of her because I had discovered it first in her front yard.

As I picked a couple fists full of honey suckle to scent my car for my ride to church this particular morning, I delighted in realizing that God had blessed this grandmother with abundant honey suckle in her own yard despite her often spoken disdain for our notions of God and for organized religion. God had blessed her with honey suckle anyhow.

I was reminded that the sun shines on sinner and saint and the rain nourishes us regardless of our beliefs.

 

 

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A Personal Resurrection

Previously published in The Washington Post

As millions of Christians around the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ Sunday, I joined my grandparents, 92, for the celebration at Tenth Street Baptist Church on R Street, N.W. We read from Mark 16:11, and Pastor Michael A. Durant gave a powerful sermon about redemption and resurrection. But the real ministry for me was from the brothers in the congregation who jumped up in joy and broke down in tears.

 

First, the church band cranked up DeAndre Patterson’s gospel hit “He’s Alive – And I know it” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hbcD-u4pPY). That got us stirred up, and had me on my feet rocking and swaying and singing at the top of my lungs. “Jesus died, and I know it. He’s alive, ’cause he rose again.”

 

The pastor lectured on resurrection – from despondency, disappointment and despair. He lectured, too, on resurrection from death.

 

“Even those who say they want to go to heaven don’t want to go through the cemetery,” Durant said. With that, I understood clearly my sadness about recent deaths in my family. There’s something sad about putting our loved ones’ bodies in the dirt even if we believe their souls are going to some place better. That “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” reading over their buried bodies somehow reduces our grand love to something as common as the ground. So, Easter morning I relished the idea of everlasting life, keeping our loved ones alive in our hearts. I belted out my hopes in Patterson’s song. “He’s alive! And I know it!”

 

The band was electrifying. A keyboard artist in his 20s sang out loud, inviting us to follow. A slightly older man in beautiful dreadlocks wailed on his electric guitar. A bearded, bow tied brother kicked on his drums, and a calm, bespectacled young man rocked the bass line. Next, a young woman in the choir stood to lead an Easter morning classic, “The Lamb of God,” and all manners of restraint were loosed.

 

Individuals began shouting. “Hallelujah!” Praise him!” The shouting gave way to people jumping up from their seats, dancing in the isles, spinning, twisting, shouting, and crying. It was a typical southern-Baptist-style, “holy-ghost-getting” kind of celebration. A middle-aged man in the congregation jumped up, shouting and crying. He bowed down on one knee crying on the front pew. Another middle-aged man in the pulpit shouted, jumped, jerked and cried. The young man who had been sitting next to him pressed the palm of his hand to the crying man’s back to keep him from falling off the platform. What we witnessed was an enormous emotional release.

 

I used to think there was something wrong with such public displays of emotion. Growing up in the Nation of Islam, I had learned to dismiss such overwhelming emotions. (Malcolm X’s legendary passionate oratory skills aside, our Sunday services were decidedly cerebral.) At best, I believed, emotions were a sign of weakness. This belief was reinforced by many other influences over the years.

 

In recent years I have preferred the quiet, happy, guilt-free sermons of Joel Olsteen on Sunday mornings. But a couple of my friends have been urging me to go to church. It’s a different experience than watching it on TV, they insisted. Easter morning found me completely engaged at Tenth Street Baptist.

 

As the young woman sang and the men shouted and cried, I considered how much better our world might be if people simply cried sometimes. I wondered if we would have less violence – and fewer unwanted pregnancies – if we accept, expect, even encourage crying sometimes as a proper emotional release.

 

As the singing continued, I reached for my smartphone to research the benefits of crying. Sure enough, doctors say crying is healthy physically, and psychologically. (http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/wellbeing/the-health-benefits-of-crying.htm) I was reminded of when and why I had stopped crying so many years ago. Where I’m from, the motto was curse, don’t cry. Those of us not inclined to cursing – simply held it in, watered it with liquor, numbed it with drugs. I had not seen my grandparents cry until they were past 90. I saw my dad cry only once in his life – on his death bed a couple days before he died. So I delighted in the flow of tears Easter morning.

After service, I wanted to know what my granddad thought about it.

 

“I haven’t seen that much crying – ever,” I said as we were leaving.

 

“Oh yeah, people shout in here,” he said with a chuckle. “Even the pastor will be up their shouting.”

 

I prefer crying to shouting.

Millions of Christians around the world – and many in this Washington area – will spend this week, known as Bright Week, from Easter Sunday through the following Sunday, celebrating resurrection. For the whole week, they will meditate on Psalms in the Bible, and in other ways tune into spiritual songs and truths celebrating Christ. I will be with them in spirit. Celebrating the resurrection of Christ – and of my own compassion and emotional compass.

Butterfly Inspirations

One Sunday evening earlier this month, I received what felt like direct inspiration from God. I was on the job at Barnes and Noble, learning my way around the children’s section, straightening books on the shelves when one book caught my attention.

It was “The Hungry Caterpillar”. I began reading the book, fascinated by its colorful illustrations, and found myself transported back to when I was seven-years-old. I remembered my delight at the neighborhood library, walking home with an arm full of books. But as I began reading the story, something else occurred to me. “Hey! This is the story of my career!”

The story told of an egg hatched one dark night. The sun shined on it and it hatched and grew legs. It began to crawl and eat. It ate fruit the first several days, then binged on a feasts of everything edible and got a stomach ache. It created a cocoon and hid a while then hatched again, this time a beautiful butterfly. This story hit me like a divine message put in my path to explain something I had been struggling to understand myself – much less explain to others in upcoming job interviews. In the moment, it made perfect sense:

* The egg – my idea, inspiration to pursue a career in journalism.

* The sunshine – encouragement from family, friends and mentors. *Growing legs and crawling – education, learning the skills and theory of the trade and moving through entry-level jobs.

*Eating fruit – the jobs where my innate talent and passion for communication was nurtured. Feasting on everything edible – after the journalism industry crumbled, I took any job available – some good for me, some frustrating and some down right traumatic.

*Stomach ache – I could not digest it all. Could not understand it all. I ached, felt like a failure.

*Cocoon – I withdrew, shunning party invitations and visits with my grandparents who I believed must be privately judging my failures.

*Cocoon breaks – I could see the light through my dark, self-condemning thoughts in this moment that Sunday. I can break out of the condemnation, old judgments, sense of failure.

*Wings – my beautiful appreciation of all the job experiences I’ve had and my bright optimism about new job experiences, including this seasonal job at a book store allows me to see me career as the big, beautiful butterfly that it is.

Ironically, by Tuesday I had decided against reading so much into the book about the caterpillar which had caught my attention. But, on my way to the post office (a message distribution center, right?), I noticed a caterpillar in my path. I could not ignore the irony.This wasn’t even caterpillar season. We mostly see caterpillars in the spring time, right?

The caterpillar on Oct. 11, crawling across my path could only have been a wink from heaven, right?

The Grass is Greener – When You Water It

This morning I woke up, as usual, about 5:30 to meditate and pray before tuning into Steve Harvey’s 6 o’clock call to God. That’s not what Steve calls it, but I call it that because I consider it similar to the early morning worship I learned growing up as a Muslim. (But that’s another story for another day.)

Steve’s call to God-morning testimony-moment-of-inspiration, whatever we want to call it, was about God’s gifts to us this morning. He used the famous quote, “God’s gift to you is your potential, your talents. Your gifts back to God is what you become, what you make of your talents and potential.” Or something like that. He told of individuals who turned their talents for cooking, baking, singing into businesses and successful careers. He didn’t reference a Biblical scripture to support this as he sometimes does, but the real-life anecdotes from people he knows, rang true enough for me. This got me to thinking about my own talents and potential. I love to write. It prospers me psychologically even before it adds up to dollars that makes sense. I like to spend my first hour of the day writing and more often than not I do.

But this morning, something that Steve said reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday with my 91-year-old grandparents. We were in their backyard, where they had proudly showed me the tomatoes, okra, bell peppers, and chives they are growing. I marveled at the mere fact that even as their health has declined and age as slowed them considerably, they are still producing. They still grow vegetables they freeze and can to have through the winter months. But their level of productivity was not what amazed me the most.

Grandma had sat on the steps for a rest as Granddad was digging up a cluster of chives to send home with me. I told them that I am growing a pot of basil my next door neighbor gave me, and a pot of mint. I have not planted a whole garden, but someday I may. We talked about the mint that used to grow wild in their garden. They told me how many, many years ago, when my granddad worked for Marriott, managing its contract for food services at a hospital, for extra cash, they sold the company mint from their back yard. This story of their enterprising and collective effort was only another small gift from this moment spent with them.

They offered me mustard greens and offered to pick them because they figured they could pick them faster since they’re old pros at it.

“I just can’t stand to see you struggling, picking one at a time,” Grandma said, bending over, pulling up handfuls.

“They don’t look ready to me,” I told her. “Looks like they need to grow some more. They’re so small.”

“They’re tender when they’re young like that,” she said. “I like mine tender.”

“But I don’t want to take your greens you put all the work into growing,” I said.

“We got greens going to bed!” Granddad said. “That little bit you got there ain’t enough to feed me. Go on and fill that bag up. We got plenty greens. Here, let me help you.”

Granddad’s hip is bad, so rather than bend, he had to kneel to pick greens.

“We gave away our first crop,” Grandma told me. “The Bible says give your…what is that they call it?”

“Your first fruits. Give your first fruits to God,” I said, surprised that this information had been inside. I had not thought about it. Couldn’t remember where I had read it or heard it. Some church somewhere, or one of the may self-help books I’ve read, probably.

“Yeah. That’s it. Give your first fruits to God and you’ll never want for anything,” Grandma added.

Before I left their home with a box full of books, dated as far back as 1914, a bag of fresh greens, and a pot of chives to grow my own seasonings for the future, I also felt blessed by stories they shared, stories I had not heard in our 45 years together.

I had not known, for instance, that Granddad had helped take care of his parents and carried some of the lessons he learned from theme the rest of his life. He didn’t put it that way. He simply mentioned, by way of explanation, that even when he was missing in action, according to my Grandma, he was not missing at all.

“Granddad is it true that you were gone for three years during World War II and Grandma didn’t know if you were coming home or not?” I asked yesterday, determined to clear up a few issues while there is still time.

“I didn’t know if I was coming home!” he said passionately. “We were at war!”

He told me about taking the ship to Italy and losing friends. They were not sure what might happen the next day.

“You couldn’t call or write?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you what though. I sent my checks home,” he said. “I had half of it going to my momma and the other half going to your grandma.”

“So Grandma, you knew he was alive because the money was coming,” I said, begging the question of why she had told me only half the story, but also feeling relieved as I realized this inclination I have to tell only my half of the story is maybe a trait I inherited. She looked chagrinned and Granddad finished telling his side.

“My momma saved all the money I sent to her. Your Grandma here didn’t have a nickel of it when I got back.”

Grandma shrugged and I smiled imagining the conversation they must have had when Granddad returned. I knew that she had felt like she had been left in the big city, at 21, to fend for herself after she moved her with her new husband then he was called to war. I never knew that Granddad had not considered her totally alone and helpless. They took a train together back to his home to visit his parents and he told his mother to use the money she had saved for him to build a bathroom onto the house.

“I told them I didn’t want to have to go to no outhouse the next time I came. So take the money I sent and get a bathroom built.” They did.

They told me about when they bought the house we were standing in, how they looked at house all over the city, but Grandma wanted this one. So they bought it. Granddad had told me years ago how he had not known how they could afford this house, but everyday when he rode by it on a bus going to work he prayed and knew in his heart this would be his house. Yesterday he told me that it turned out that the man selling the house was a fellow member of the masons and allowed them to move in before they went to settlement.

They told me about using the attic in their house to cure hogs. They would drive home to Georgia to visit and return with two whole hogs. In their basement, they soaked the hogs in salt water.

“How long did they have to soak?” I asked.

“I don’t remember now. A certain amount of time, you had to soak ’em,” Granddad said.

“Then you hung them in the attic. I never knew how you could keep them from stinking. I mean it’s dead meat – not refrigerated,” I said, recalling bits and pieces of the story I’d heard over the years.

“That’s why you soak them in the salt. The salt preserves ’em. Then we hung them up there in the attic. And my father, he had showed me how to make sausage and everything. My children never wanted for nothing!” he said proudly. “Well, I don’t know about after they got grown cause they joined the moozlems and stopped eating pork.”

We laughed.

“They still got the lesson though,” I assured him. “My mother taught me how to buy in bulk and stay stocked with staples. Always a bag of rice, some beans…”

He smiled at his memories.

“I always keep a stock of things. You would never see me going back and forth to the grocery store every week. I got a store in my basement,” he said.

I had noticed three gallon jugs of laundry detergent in the basement. I did not mention that I like going to the grocery store practically everyday because I had wasted too much food buying fresh produce in bulk, not having the time to cook and freeze like they do. Since I could remember, they had always kept two freezers full of food in their basement, too. One freezer was full of meats and fish, the other was full of vegetables they grew, apples and peaches they picked. When I lived with them through a job transition once I had helped scale and gut a cooler full of fresh fish they had caught. We formed an assembly line, the three of us, at the double-sink Granddad had installed himself years ago.

“We have always had a freezer full of meat,” Granddad told me. “When they first sold us the freezer, that was the way they sold it to you. You bought the freezer, and for a certain amount each month, they bought you the meats.”

“Haven’t you ever lost it, had it go bad in a power outage?” I asked, because I had not remembered ever hearing him complain about something like that.

He shook his head.

“I have always trusted in God. And I never went through that. Never had the power stay out so long the meat went bad. I trust in God.”

I nodded, smiling.

I noticed what looked like a pan of cornbread covered in foil on the counter and asked for a bite to eat – having already declined their offer to cook something for lunch. I just wanted a small taste of something and remembered Grandma’s cornbread was actually better than the boxed Jiffy mix she started with. She added her own enhancements on the box mix. 

“I made biscuits. You’re welcomed to them,” she said. 

“Take them all,” Granddad said. “Take them home.” 

I only wanted one to take the edge off my hunger. I had left over beef and veggies waiting for me at home. I spotted a jar of Grandma’s homemade jelly and ended up eating three biscuits because they tasted better than they looked and the jelly was heavenly even though it had not jelled. Grandma apologized for the lack of firmness in her jelly. Granddad proudly explained that it had been made from apples they picked from the tree at their vacation camp site a short drive from where they live. He suggested I take a jar of jelly home with me, too. 

We covered a lot of ground in my short visit. Grandma disclosed a couple secrets she probably was supposed to take back to heaven with her. Granddad denied it all. One of her complaints I tried to mitigate, but couldn’t. Granddad assured me that he is taking good care of them as he always had. 

“And when we die, ya’ll don’t have to come up with a nickel to bury us,” he said. He’s got that all taken care of, too. He told me of when and how he decided to pay for it all.

“When I die, all you got to do is call the Latneys and say, ‘he’s dead,’. They’ll come and pick me up, and everything is taken care of, paid in full. You don’t have to worry about nothing,” he said. 

Grandma had begun preparing me for their inevitable departure a few years ago when we wrote the obituary she wants used. She told me the particulars about what she wants to wear. Last year when she was not sure she would survive major surgery, and she lay restless, strapped in bed in an intensive care unit, she called out to me as I was leaving. 

“My obituary’s in the punch bowl!” she had said, telling me that if she didn’t make it out the next morning, the story of her life we had worked on was in with all her other important papers stashed in a glass, crystal-looking punch bowl. 

“Ya’ll are miracles in my mind,” I told them yesterday. 

“Bless you,” Granddad said. 

I had told Grandma a couple weeks ago that the mere fact that she’s still alive after professing her surrender before going into surgery last year amazes me. She had told me, “I’ve lived a good life…I’m ready…whenever God sees fit to take me I’m ready…I’m tired…” I did not expect her to live past Christmas. But by spring, she was planting seeds for another harvest. 

Yesterday as Granddad pulled greens for my dinner, I offered to mow their lawn. No, he said, my uncle is planning to teach my 12-year-old cousin, how to cut his grandparents’ grass.  I used to take pride in keeping up their lawn. Granddad had taught me how to mow the grass evenly, how to trim the hedges using his electric clippers. He had taught me to water the grass early in the morning or late in the evenings, never when the sun is high.  

Yesterday’s visit – their stories, the fruits from their garden, the laughter, the memories – was such a blessing, it came to mind this morning as I prayed and considered making my morning writings, my morning thoughts, my first fruits offering to God.

Rather than pondering my current problems, past regrets, and fears about the future, “weed” thoughts that choke the life out of my potential, I should begin my day with nourishing thoughts – and writings. Thoughts of thanks for all that I do have, praise for all the good in my past, and thoughts of hope for my future will nourish my God-given talents and potential, while lamenting all that I seem to lack will, like weeds, choke the life out.

I got out of bed this morning, thanking God that although I do not have the job I expected to have had a year or more ago, yesterday I had time, un-rushed, to spend with two people who have lived well a very long time trusting God and the many gifts He has given them. Jobs helped sustain them, but so did their relationships with their parents, their passion for gardening, their practice of tithing, their relationships with their children, their grandchildren, and their church.

Today I will water my basil and mint and the chives – and many other “fruits” I got from Grandparents yesterday, fully appreciating them as gifts God has planted in my life.

When You Walk through a Storm…

As I stepped out my front door this morning for a power walk around the neighborhood, I was taken aback by the rising storm. Just like that, a song I learned in junior high school came to mind and I began to sing it internally. 

When you walk through a storm

Keep your head up high

And don’t be afraid of the storm

At the end of the storm is a golden sky

And the sweet…something and something and something

 I couldn’t remember all the words, but the part I did remember brought a smile to my face.

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on

Walk on

With hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone

 I took in a deep breath as the main phrase filled me up.  I remembered vividly the music teacher and glee club director who taught us the song.  A smile curled my lips as I remembered Mrs. Overstreet, as heavy as Aretha Franklin before Aretha was heavy. Mrs. Overstreet was very passionate about her work and the messages she intended to impart.

 “Sing!” she demanded, pounded the piano keys.

“You will NE-VEEEEEER walk alone!”

“Louder!”

“You will NEEEEEE-VEEEEER walk alone!” We sang as loud as our voices could stretch.

The memory of the song and the woman who taught it to us quickened my pace as I race-walked through my neighborhood.  The winds whipped up dry leaves around me. Clouds darkened the sky. And the trees whistled, swayed, and danced to the rhythm set by the pending storm. I replayed the song in my mind. When you walk through a storm keep your head up high. But when I glanced down I noticed a shiny nickel and was reminded of another childhood treasure.

My uncles used to tell me, “Don’t take no wooden nickels.” I was delighted by the memory. I didn’t ask them what they meant, because I thought I knew.  A girl in my neighborhood had become the fool of the group because she had taken a wooden nickel from one of the boys in exchange for a sexual favor. We were only eight to ten years old and some of the kids our age or slightly older played a “nasty game” where a girl would let a boy hump her for a nickel. A “hump” was a boy’s bumping his pelvic area into the girl’s pelvic. For a dime he could hump her butt one time. It’s ironic that even at that age, even with strict parents, which most of us had, we found ways to test the taboo and to put a monetary value on sexual gratification and submission. Even at that age at least one of the girls, the one who took the wooden nickel and became the joke of the hood, learned to pay closer attention to what she was giving and getting. When I picked up the shiny nickel on my power walk this morning, I was reminded to pay closer attention to my gifts and exchanges.

Walk on through the wind

I turned the corner and noticed a penny on the ground. Yes, it was a shiny penny, not a dull, dirty one, ironically.  I put it in my pocket, too.  It didn’t generate any memories or inspiration. It was just a shiny penny that could close a sale at the grocery store I planned to walk to later. 

As the wind got stronger, I felt charged and wished I could breathe it in and harness for a flight, as if I could spread my wings and lift up like a bird. I breathed in deeply, thanking God for the fresh air, the charge, and the memories.

 Mrs. Overstreet died some years ago, but the lesson she taught us through a secular song was resurrected in my heart today. Our teacher loved Broadway musicals and used them to connect us to the whiter world outside our nearly all-black one.  This song she taught us for our graduation, had been written for the musical Carousel that opened on Broadway in 1945.  A song written by white men in the 1940s, taught by my school teacher in the 1970s, could still inspire me in the new millennium. Now that’s classic, I thought. Thunder clapped, then roared.  The skies opened up and the first sprinkling of what promised to be a downpour delighted me as I made my way back inside.

I looked up the lyrics on the Internet to fill in the words I had forgotten. Once in cyberspace I saw a news headline saying 250 people have been killed in storms ripping through southern states in the past couple of days; hundreds were injured. As the skies dumped torrential rains outside my windows and I hard the loud clash of thunder, I thought about natural disasters that tore up whole cities, states and rocked whole countries.

How blessed I am to walk through a storm.  To draw inspiration from a storm because it has not threatened my life and the very foundation beneath me. Even before the storm ended, I heard birds singing in the rain. Within minutes this little storm would be over, and I will step outside looking for a rainbow.  Then I’ll find a reputable charity through which to make donations to help others who have suffered life-flattening storms.

Keep your head up high.

Here are the lyrics:

When you walk through a storm

Keep your chin up high

And don’t be afraid of the dark.

At he end of the storm

Is a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark.

 

Walk on through the wind,

Walk on through the rain,

Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone,

You’ll never walk alone.

Now sing! Just kidding. Here’s wishing you inspiration from the storms in your life and from your fondest memories as well. A yoga instructor once told our class she loves a storm because it seems to clean the air.  How have storms, real and figurative, inspired you? Does something you learned from a teacher – or coach – in your youth inspired as an adult?

What’s in Your Hand?

What’s In Your Hand?

Yesterday, out the blue, Adam Clayton Powell’s famous, “What’s in Your Hand Speech” came to mind. I remembered happening upon his speech about 15 years ago, during one of what would become a series of my mini-retirements (more on that another time).

I had been in line at a library when I noticed a documentary on him on a shelf nearby. I grabbed it, and when I watched it, I was so blown away by the clip of his speech at the end, I rewound it over and over again. I jotted it down verbatim in my diary and memorized it. I loved it so much. It was a call to political action, an attempt to jolt people from apathy.  But I imagined it could be an inspiring call to personal and professional action, as well as a call to celebrate the gifts that we have.

I imagined using it in a speech I would give someday, encouraging beauticians to realize they held in their hands the gift of making others beautiful, calling teachers to realize they have the gift of guidance and instruction. Everybody’s got a gift and often we don’t fully appreciate what we are giving right where we are.

I once envied a friend who made six figures as a personnel specialist. He lamented that he had no special gift. Money isn’t everything, he said. He prayed for God to show him his special gift.

“Are you kidding?”I asked. “Not only are you making money, adding value to your own life and by extension the lives of others you give presents to, causes you donate cash to, your church, which is sustained partly by your tithes and offerings. You have the gift of modeling a level of success that is possible. Plus, in your job you help match people with the right opportunities. That’s a gift!”

Of course, he was thinking of an artistic gift. He admired my gift of – and passion for – writing. He said he envied that I could be content in a corner anywhere with a pen and a notepad or journal. Of course, I did not see what I had as a gift because as much as I love journaling – and now blogging – there’s no money attached to it – yet.  

It can’t be a gift without monetary value, right? Never mind the peace of mind, and what we now call “psychological income.” That doesn’t pay the mortgage, right? At some point it will.  (I have complied trunks full of journals, that I am now considering a gold mine of material for novels.) That’s a gift to be shared, right? 

This morning I tuned in to hear Steve Harvey’s morning testimony, something I’ve enjoyed off and on for at least two years now. I like “witnessing” him share his love of God with his audience of millions. At the end of his 12-minutes of testifying this morning, he talked about gifts God gives us all.

“He gives a lot of people a gift. Some are not using it, now they’re life ain’t what they want. But, guess what? You made that call,” he said in all his sassiness. “You know how to cook, but you won’t bake a pie. You’re funny, but you ain’t on stage. You can sing, but you ain’t got a record deal. You can counsel, but you ain’t took up social work. What you want God to do? You the best painter, but you ain’t got your art displayed no where…That’s crazy.”

I considered the coincidence of recalling Adam Clayton Powell’s speech on using God’s gifts last night and hearing a similar message from Steve Harvey this morning an interesting enough coincidence to follow it somewhere. I googled Adam Clayton Powell and found a clip of him giving his speech on YouTube. I listened and not only felt inspired all over again, I felt compelled to share the inspiration.

Here is the text of Powell’s famous “What’s In Your Hand” speech:  

“As far as I know, here, you’re in trouble. It says you’ve got about 30 percent unemployment. That’s why I’m working hard to get this surplus food here. Some of you say to me, ‘well, I’m not like you. I’m not a congressman. I haven’t got education. I haven’t got work. But you’re a human being. And you know what you’ve got? You’ve got in your hand the power to use your vote and to use even those few cents you get from welfare to spend them only where you want to spend them.” The crowd applauded and cheered. “A young slave boy stood one day before the greatest ruler of his day. And God said to Moses, what’s in your hand? And Moses said, ‘I’ve got this stick, that’s all.’ He said, well let me use what’s in your hand. And God used that slave boy with a stick in his hand to divide the Red Seas, march through a wilderness, bring water out of rocks, manna from heaven, and bring his people to freedom land. What’s in your hand?”

“What’s in your hand! George Washington Carver, who was so frail that he was traded for a broken down horse as a slave boy, and George Washington Carver sitting in the science laboratory at Tuskegee told me, he said, ‘Dr. Powell, I just go out into the fields each morning at 5 o’clock, and I let God guide me, and I bring back these little things and I work them over in my laboratory.’ And that man did more to revolutionize the agricultural science of peanuts, and of cotton, and of sweet potatoes than any other human being in the field of agricultural science.”

“What’s in your hand? Just let God use you that’s all. What’s in your hand!!!!!!!” he boomed. “I’ve got a string in my hand, that’s all, and I’m flying a kite, and way up in the heaven’s lightening strikes, and I Benjamin Franklin, discover for the first time, the possibilities of electricity – with a string in my hand. What’s in your hand!!!!! Little hunch-back sitting in a Roman jail. ‘I haven’t got anything in my hand but an old quill pen. But God says, ‘Write what I tell ya to write!’ And Paul wrote, I have run my race with patience. I’ve finished my course. I’ve kept the faith. What’s in your hand little boy!!!!” ‘All I’ve got is this slingshot, but the enemies of my people are great and big and more numerous than we are.’ Well Little David, go down to the brook and pick out a few stones and bring them back, and put them in the sling shot and close your eyes if you want to and let them go. And David killed the enemies of his people, and his people became free, just letting God guide a stone in his hand. And a few years pass, and David is King. And God says, ‘What’s in your hand?’ And David says I’ve got a harp. And God said then play on your harp. And he played, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters. Yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. What’s in your hand!!!!!”

Now here was my favorite part.

“A man hanging on a cross with two nails in his hands said ‘Father I stretch my hands to thee. No other help I know. If Thou withdraw thy hand from me, whither will I go. And that man with two nails in his hands split history in half, B.C. and A.D. What’s in your hand tonight? You’ve got God in your hand, and with God in your hand, He’ll let you win because he’s on your side, and one with God is always in the majority. So, walk with Him and talk with Him. And work with Him and fight with Him. And with God’s hand in your hand, the victory will be accomplished, sooner than you dreamed, sooner than you hoped for, sooner than you prayed for, sooner than you imagined. Good night and God bless.”

 Click here for link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuZjcd7t-sE&feature=related

I Believe I Can Fly – Just Not Today

I was power-walking again for exercise a couple of days ago when I decided to exercise my imagination for inspiration. 

Bundled in a red ski coat, sweat pants and tennis shoes I walked through our neighborhood where Cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom even as some trees remain naked. Purple, pink, and yellow flowers in my neighbors’ front yards already are promising spring. I noticed birds flying high or perched on trees.

“Self?” I said in my mind. “The next bird you see is you. Watch its patterns.  Note what it does. Imagine the bird is a reflection of you. The very next bird that catches your attention.”

“O.k.,” I agreed.

“You can’t look for a bird. The trick is the bird has to catch your attention.”

“Ok!” I said, emphatically.

It seemed odd that I was noticing birds until I started the internal conversation. Now I was only hearing them, none were flying in my view.

“O.k. I hear them. I don’t see them, but I know they’re all around me because I hear them,” I said to myself.

“Then just listen and realize the birds are singing even on this cold and dreary day. They’re not waiting for spring to break. Can you sing in the rain like Gene Kelly suggested?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I absolutely can. Is this little exercise over? I was just supposed to be reminded to sing in the rain?”

“No. Keep your eyes open. The next bird you see is a reflection of you.”

I noticed a tiny bird bouncing around on the ground. It was a red-breasted bird.

“Oh no!” I thought. “Get up from there! Get up! You’ve got wings. You can fly!”

The bird bounced around on the evergreen grass in an opening beyond a clump of trees.

“Fly birdie! Fly!” I thought, standing still to observe.

“There’s your bird. Now what do you think?” my invisible friend asked.

“Well, even though it is small and on the ground instead of in the air, it caught my attention. Maybe I will catch the attention of somebody – a manager  who will hire me or a publisher who will sign my book for publication and a movie.”  

A chilly wind whipped at my legs. I noticed a large bird flying above my little bird, but I remained focused on the small bird, since this was my assignment.

“O.k., So once I get their attention, I’ll keep it even though they may have bigger birds in sight. They may have high-profile authors on board, but I will keep their attention.”

Just then a flock of birds swooped down near my little bird, but quickly took flight again.

“Oh, those are all the self-published authors, touching ground (working their day jobs), but immediately taking flight again (going home to work on their dream job of self-publishing books).” They will not keep the people assigned to work with me from focusing on me and our project.”

Streaks of sunlight broke through the clouds. A smile rose from my heart.

“Little birdie, fly. Are you content to stay on the ground? You can’t be. We were made to fly,” I thought, hoping the bird could hear my thoughts.

I was reminded of a time when I was about 14-years-old and one of my favorite uncles, my greatest inspiration at the time, handed me a copy of the then-popular book, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.”  It was a very small hard-cover book, only 150 pages or so. I accepted the book as if he was handing me money.

“You are Jonathan,” he said. “We both are. This is our story.”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“Don’t ask me. Read it for yourself,” he said. 

I read it quickly. It was the story of a bird that dared to leave the flock of birds pecking around on the sea shores for leftover scraps of food. The bird, named Jonathan, decided that since he had wings he must have been made to fly, not waddle around on the sand for crumbs. He decided he would fly simply for the joy of flying. He would fly simply because he could.

The other birds, of course, laughed at him and swore he would starve if he did not work as they did. But Jonathan’s hunger was more than belly-deep. He hungered to do what he felt he was designed to do.

Jonathan flew high until he met other birds of like-mind. They taught him new flying skills and encouraged him to fly even higher. He did, and at each new level, he met other teachers who taught him the miraculous things they could do with their wings.

This story came back to me as I watched my little bird bouncing around on the ground. I also remembered a conversation I had with my recently departed aunt, who also had been my best friend.

“Stop worrying about some little job,” she would say. “You’re an eagle. God made you to fly high above the rest of us. Stop pecking around here like some little chicken!”

She had good-gubment job security, so she wasn’t exactly in the position to convince me I did not need the same. But her encouragement came back to me as I watched my little bird a couple of days ago.

“Fly little bird. Fly,” I mentally projected as I watched her from a distance.

I decided to stand there and watch to see how long it would take her to get off the ground, but I became impatient, and went home. Later that day I considered the bird may have been telling me it is ok to be content on the ground for a while. Even birds must rest, right?

The 23rd Psalm came to mind. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me to the paths of righteousness for His namesake.”

I considered that my little bird had been simply lying down in green pastures for a moment.  Of course she took flight again at some point. Birds fly because they can and they must. They know they can fly.  I know I can, too – when the time comes. Until then, I am becoming more grounded in many ways. Grounded, as in: being in touch with reality; gaining a secure feeling  my personal feelings.

Yes, I can, and will, fly again. Just not right this very moment – and that’s o.k.