Monday, November 21, 2011

Why I'm thankful this year ----> My Little Big Brother

2011 has been a whirlwind of ups and downs. Without question, the most difficult pill to swallow was the passing of my only brother, Bobby. A few days after Christmas 2010, we learned that he had a brain tumor that turned out to be cancerous. Something called a glioblastoma. It affected his mobility and coordination which would be difficult for anyone to watch but my brother played basketball all of his life so this was an humbling course of events. However, he never let it break his spirit.

In January, about a month after he was diagnosed and the same week he began chemotherapy, my sisters (Tonya and Racquel) and I took a road trip to visit our baby brother. He's older than Racquel and I, but because he's the only boy he's always been like our little brother. He's 19 years older than I. I just noticed that I'm talking about him like he's still here. In some ways he is.

Anyway, we went to see him while he was at John's Hopkin's (one of the best neurological and cardiology hospitals in the world). Seeing him in a wheel chair was difficult but watching his physical therapy and speech therapy sessions was even harder. Simply because he'd begun to regress to a child-like state. Slowly, but noticeably and he needed us.

He stayed in Maryland until June. Married with children but alone. My parents made their trips to Maryland as frequently as they could and eventually his doctors were disheartened with the lack of involvement with his immediate family (wife and grown children) because he needed to be taken care of. Almost completely immobile and on a host of debilitating medications, they sent him to us. His job chartered an ambulance to drive him from Maryland to North Carolina in June. Which was probably the best gift we could have ever received.

I remember the EMS truck pulling in to the drive way. I wasn't sure what to expect because I hadn't seen him since March. Two young men hopped out of the truck and opened the back of the truck and wheeled my little big brother out on a stretcher. He was extremely swollen from the steroids but his hair had started to grow back a little since his first cycle of chemo had been completed. They sat him on the sofa and asked me to sign to indicate that they'd delivered our precious package safely. I thanked them and they headed back to Baltimore. "What's up, Ash!" He said and extended his arms to embrace me. He always attempted to stand to hug us but didn't have the control in his limbs. At 6'7" that's a whole lot of man to support. I pushed him back on the sofa and embraced him, asked him how he was feeling, and he said he was hungry (as usual).

That month seemed like years and I'm so grateful. He knew he didn't have long but he didn't want us to know. Every day he wanted to do something. "I can't sit in the house. I want to go to Sam's! Let's have dinner at Moe's tonight, Ma! Let's go get some steaks and throw them on the grill!" My mother would set the steaks on the kitchen table and let him season them from his chair. We never wanted to strip him of all of his independence and he always loved to cook.

We'd made plans to have a HUGE family Fourth of July cookout. It fell on a Sunday this year. It's so surreal how short life is and how precious it is. That Friday morning he called a few times, wanting to go out to breakfast and to Sam's to get all the food he wanted to have for our barbeque. By this time, my parents had found him an apartment around the corner from their home. They were basically living with him but he wanted to have his own place. I remember he called about three times back to back. The fourth time, his son called and said he was unconscious and from that point the world started to move in slow motion. In about ten minutes time (between the third and the fourth phone call) our lives changed in an instant. As they wheeled him out of the apartment and into the truck, my mother whispered, "I love you, Yorkie," in his ear and tear ran down the side of his face. Even though he was unresponsive, that was the last sign of life we were given.

About an hour passed. My dad left in the ambulance with my brother's lifeless body while we all stayed behind. After the longest hour of my life, we all caravanned and made our way to the hospital. We hadn't heard from daddy and were getting anxious. He'd left the hospital to meet us at home. He didn't want to tell us over the phone. By the time we all realized where he was, we were at the hospital, daddy got back there a few minutes after us and told us all in the lobby of Wake Medical Center's Emergency facility.

It's hard to say his passing was sudden because he knew all along he didn't have much longer with us but it was sudden for us because we had just started feeling like a complete unit again. He always lived so far away from us (Minnesota, Texas, Wisconsin, Detroit, Spain, Turkey) and it felt like once we got him back he was taken almost immediately. At least that's how it felt.

This week we celebrate why we're thankful. We sit around and we eat and rejoice about who we have in our lives and how we appreciate them. Thanksgiving was my brother's absolute favorite holiday and I'm thankful that heaven gave my parents, my sisters, and I the opportunity to care for and love my brother in his last hours, and that he knew we loved him. He never had to look for us. He needed us but we needed him just as much. And as his days slipped away, I'm so thankful that God gave us his last breath.

A few weeks after he passed, I went to the hospital to get his medical records. I read through it and it said, "Immediate family at his bedside". Those few words will always mean the world to me because we were given that last moment. And not just this Thanksgiving but for every one that I'm afforded the opportunity to see.

All I ask of those that read this, is to take inventory of the people in your life. The ones that matter, the ones that need you and that you need, the ones you take for granted, and the ones you couldn't imagine being without and if you can't think of one thing to be thankful for.... Be thankful for that....

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 10, 2011

He's Preparing Me ----> All Grown Up

I’ve definitely reached a point in my life where I know what I want. Or at least I have a pretty good idea what I want. My needs are better suited for God to sort out. I do believe, however, that he has a knack for intertwining wants and needs if they’re so suited to be…. Intertwined. In this case, of course I’m talking about RELATIONSHIPS.
I’ve spent the last year determined to purge myself of every relationship that was out of the will of God. Things I knew had no possibility of flourishing or prospering because they weren’t God ordained. God has a way of weeding out the unnecessary, unhealthy, and ill-gotten things that we try so desperately to cling to.
After the last time I made a poor relationship choice, I opted to really take the time to get to know who I had become. One of the first things I learned was that, when you are constantly in a cycle of relationships you have very little time to see yourself change and evaluate those changes.
Every situation brings about some type of interpersonal change. Whether it be a resolve to not take or tolerate certain things, think before you act, “make them wait”, take it slow….. you’ve changed and the change can almost always be attributed to a situation or relationship that caused you to think that way.
The time that I’ve taken for myself has REALLY opened my eyes to not only what I want but to what God knows I need. I used to think I took time for myself after a break up when I’d sit still for a month, meet someone and continue the cycle. It’s been a little over a year and my God it feels good to actually be rid of all of the junk and baggage. Like really be rid of it. Not to feel all of the old feelings and hurt feelings when you hear someone’s name or see their face. I’ll elaborate in a minute.
The last person I attempted a relationship with was so far away from who God has ordained for me that God’s ripping the situation from my clutches was more painful than I can remember anything else being. BUT once my hands were off of it and God really showed me the person and their motives and THEIR baggage, I had the Oprah Aha! Moment. I remember asking myself early this year, “Is that really who you’d want to be the father of your children? Would you be proud to call him your husband?” And those two questions sealed the deal.
Lately, I’ve been praying that God prepare my heart to be a wife. It goes far beyond just wanting to be married. My desire to know God has increased. My desire to pray has increased. Not because I’m praying for a man but because the man that I know God has set aside for me, needs a praying wife. I find myself changing in lot of ways. From my saving habits to my housekeeping to planning ahead and the list goes on.

These habits were just things that kind of developed over time. As I started to evolve out of being broken and becoming a whole woman, my desire to be a good wife and to prepare myself NOW increased.

Now earlier I’d mentioned I wanted to elaborate on feelings arising when you hear someone’s name or see them or they hit you up on Facebook. I used to get really, really weak mainly because I never ridded myself of the person and I liked the idea of being in a relationship. Go back through some really old posts from this blog and you’ll see what I mean. I used to get so wrapped up in the thrill of it all that I almost missed what God was trying to teach me and who he was trying to give me.
It’s funny how the enemy waits for you to make a declaration so that he can build road blocks to keep you from your destination. Last week, I’d say for the last two weeks I’ve had three people that I used to date pop up. If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen this tweet but they were back to back to back. One of the men had called himself “The One for me” which I quickly shut down. Another requested to see me and I said “no” LIGHTENING fast. The last one, wanted to feel me out. To see if I’d ask about his life now. My plans for next year. I think he said he wanted to check on me. I think what was most enlightening about all three encounters was that I didn’t flinch. I didn’t pacify the situations and I didn’t act retarded and pretend it was God sending them back to me. Oh and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve done that ☺ I guess another thing that I’ve learned to do is turn up the voice of God and tune out distractions like those three. And if you know anything about Biblical numerology that number three means a lot.
I’m not sure why I felt the need to post this. I think deep down, I’m closer than I think I am to being introduced to my forever. Closer than I realized I was. And I know God doesn’t give you your past and disguise it as your future. So in the mean time, in between time, I keep preparing and who knows…. One of these days you may get an interesting post about destiny, love, love and forever being fulfilled.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Good In Goodbye

The Good in Goodbye

It’s Sunday morning and I literally just got through practicing yoga. Feeling charged and ready to head to church for some good teaching, I couldn’t help but feel a little different. For the past nine to ten months, I’ve been struggling with some internal things. We all know that I seem to be the queen of misguided relationships and since last summer, I haven’t really had a desire to be with anyone. I guess it really takes that last kick in the gut for you to throw your hands up and say, “I’ve had it with relationships.” However, thankfully, I hadn’t reached the point of saying, “Jesus is all I need.” He’s amazing but I know He wants more for me than that.
Anyway, for the past few months, I’ve clammed up, built the second wall of Jericho around myself and turned off my emotions. As the months progressed, I gained weight a little weight, I stopped doing things that I’d ordinarily do and my writing began to suffer. I thought it was because of my hurt feelings but then about a month ago, I went into the bathroom and peeled off my clothes layer for layer and stepped into the shower and had the most enlightening conversation that I’ve ever had. I did very little talking and a whole lot of listening.
In a very soft voice, God whispered to me, “You’re not yourself. You don’t feel like yourself because you’re not yourself. You’ve given up a lot. You’ve allowed yourself to become too vulnerable and now you’re scrambling to piece yourself back together but the parts that fell off you never needed to begin with.”
I kind of scowled and whispered, “What does that mean?” He took me back to myself this time last year having taken several months to purge myself from yet another interesting choice in men but I hadn’t taken long enough. I met someone. The idea of a new prospect, excited me and we seemed extremely compatible except for a few issues that were impossible to overlook. Needless to say, things ended the way they always seem to do and I found myself right where I was, talking to God in the shower.
So, I asked simply, “What do you think I should do?” That was the most vulnerable I’d allowed myself to be since October of last year. “First, you were never breaking up with a man but you were always breaking up with yourself. You just would never let go of the parts of yourself that you no longer needed. Instead of finding the GOOD in goodbye, you lugged all the old stuff along with you. In the process you couldn’t understand why you were so broken, so confused, so disconnected from the one person you’re supposed to understand….. YOURSELF.”
Of course, I began to cry and I asked, “But why?”
“You have to fall back in love with yourself again. Allow yourself to say goodbye to all of the bad memories and even the good ones that are attached to those. (Sometimes we can hang on to the good things about a person even though they are the farthest thing from what God wants us to have). Start liking little things about yourself. Learn to respect and cherish yourself, the way you used to.” This part got me, He said, “The Ashley I used to know would never just accept anything and that’s what you’ve started to do.”
I cried but it was a release and I left all of it in the shower to wash down the drain. I don’t know why I felt the need to share this. Most times I write out of personal revelation to help someone that may stumble across this blog. The last thing that I wanted to share with you was this. As my yoga practice came to an end this morning and my muscles are relaxed and my mind was cleared, I whispered to myself, “I feel like a newer version of myself.”
I got a response, of course. A gentle whisper. “Butterflies carry the same DNA as their former self but they never take the cocoon with them on a new journey.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

TRUST and You won't be crushed....

Good morning or afternoon to you,

I received this story in the form of an email this morning and because it resonated so intensely with me, I wanted to share it with whomever needed a little encouragement this week.....

Trust and You Won't Be Crushed

By Lisa Crum
Scripture Of The Day: "But the Lord God keeps me from being disgraced. So I refuse to give up, because I know God will never let me down." - Isaiah 50:7 (CEV)

It was just at the edge of dusk, 6 months ago this evening, when I woke up to find that I was lying flat on my back on the cold pavement. I remembered seeing the dog run out in front of our motorcycle, and I remembered us bracing and hitting it, then it was like being tumbled in a dark clothes dryer.
There hadn't even been time to be scared, much less avoid the impact. How long had I been unconscious? Someone had already stood up our motorcycle, and a couple of men were looking through the tour pack for some ID. I could see out the corner of my eye that Dana was lying about 10 feet away from me, but I couldn't hear him speak and I couldn't see if he was moving. People standing over us were saying things that indicated to me that we were both bad off.
At first I couldn't even talk, and it was so hard to breathe--I suppose from having had the wind knocked out of me. My helmet was shattered. Later I would find that I had a basal skull fracture and a fractured bone in my neck. I vaguely remember a woman holding my helmet and talking about how messed up it was. Someone commented that my head was bleeding. I wanted to go to Dana but I couldn't get up, and they were trying to keep me still so they could put me on a backboard. My arm was twisted over my head and I thought it was dislocated, but was told later that the shoulder was broken in two places.

In the midst of the confusion and the excruciating pain, for a brief moment it was as if the noise was muffled enough to hear, quite clearly, the Lord whisper just one word to me..."COVENANT." And in that moment, I knew exactly what He meant. I began to cry and say, "Thank you, God, for rebuking the devourer for our sakes!" A peace I can't even begin to describe rested on me, one that would get me through the longest night of my life.

We were airlifted, one at a time, from Williamson Memorial to St. Mary's. My stepson Coby held my hand and coached me to breathe in sync with him while they repositioned my broken shoulder. Then as I lay on a gurney in the hallway, a doctor came up and with no expression whatsoever, told me, "Your husband is unconscious and has a brain bleed. His brain has begun to swell. We'll do what we can." With that, she turned and left. I had to make up my mind right then and I going to trust God or am I going to collapse under a weight of fear? I chose to trust God, and that's what I said out loud to her back as she was walking away.

For just a little while, they wheeled me into a holding room with Dana. He was lying there, eyes closed, not moving. I reached my fingers through the bars on our gurneys, gripped his hand, and prayed for him. Looking back now, I wonder whether the doctors might have thought he was going to die, and they were giving me a chance to say goodbye. But I spoke to him this Scripture which came to my remembrance, before they wheeled us in two different directions, "(You) shall live and not die, to declare the works of the Lord." (Psalm 118:17)

There are those times when we have to choose to believe, or be crushed under the weight of despair. And there are times when we can't just think it or hope it...we have to hear ourselves say it.

Dana spent 82 days in 3 hospitals, couldn't even swallow an ice chip for the first 43 days. He lay in the ICU trauma ward for 17 days comatose and running an insanely high fever. He had multiple fractures and a brain injury, but when Satan tried to take him out, God drew the line and said, "No."

Though it's been a physically and emotionally exhausting 6 months for both Dana and me, we have not lost our joy and we have not lost our love for life and one another. God has been so good to us. I'm telling you, friends, you need Jesus. You need Him, your marriage needs Him, your family needs Him to carry you through times like this. Covenant relationship with God doesn't mean you'll never face difficulty. It can, however, mean the difference between you surviving or being mowed down by the enemy.

Sooner or later, we all have to face the most difficult time of our lives. Are you prepared? God can keep you from falling apart. I can say that because, six months later, Dana and I are still held together by the duct tape of God's wonderful, saving grace. Even these fractured pieces form something a prism of glass that scatters light in every direction, testifying that truly, love never fails.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

God's Love

Hello beautiful people!

It's a beautiful April day and I'm sitting on the sun porch meditating on a few things. Two passages of scripture were dropped in spirit this morning just sitting here and I just wanted to offer a little encouragement. I rarely do this but I'm transitioning into a new season in my life and am finding that God's love, grace, and His voice are the only things that are consistent and "sturdy" enough for me to lean and depend on. Sounds a little cliche but be that as it may, it's my truth. I guess I'm growin' a little. lol!!! Anyway, the next eleven months are sure to be taxing with me moving out of my apartment in a month, preparing to relocate next spring, going back to school and start a new chapter in my life, I've allowed myself to slip into worry and stress mode. For the past four months, I've found myself asking God almost everyday, "How am I going to do this?" If you look closely you'll see the error in my question. Mainly because I won't be doing anything. My level of trust has increased greatly since I've turned off the cell phone and the radio and the television and just listened. And of course, when God chooses to be "quiet" he always puts something in your way to get your attention. Which brings me to what I wanted to share with you all this morning.

First, I was led to Phillipians 4:6-7 (New Living Translation) - Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

So just in case there's a worry wart out there (like me) who tends to look mostly at the impossibility of a situation or the negative things that seem to obscure the beauty of God's goodness..... this simply stated, is giving you the command to put the negative things out of your mind and think on all things lovely and beautiful. And what's more beautiful than God's love? (John 3:16) And by the way, His specialty is the impossible! Just FYI.

Lastly, I often find myself getting a little wrapped up in the idea of, "None of the things that I wanted to happen to by now have happened! When are you gonna do it for ME, God?" His answer?

Phillipians 1:6 (New Living Transaltion) And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

My Pastor always says, "If God made you a promise, that deems you immortal until He completes it." Basically, all my Pastor is saying is it's impossible for God to lie or make you a promise and allow you to parish before He makes good on what He promised you. There's no way that He can place something in you and have it not fulfilled. His Word will never return to Him void. (Isaiah 55:11) Therefore, if He said it, He's obligated to do it. His words not mine! :-)

So as the events of this weekend get closer, don't meditate on the light bill, tuition, car notes, overdraft fees, or hurt feelings. Think on the beauty of God's love. Love in its purest and most unadulterated display. The ultimate sacrifice.

I love you guys and hope this little post offered some encouragement or eased a little stress (at least for today).

Be blessed!

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Uncultured Culture

Last night I had the experience of a lifetime. It seems as if I’d been holding my breathe for 24 years and was finally afforded the opportunity to see The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre up close and personal. My mother had seen them and one of my sisters had seen them (twice) and I’d resorted to immersing myself in the company via DVD and Youtube and if the heavens opened up they may appear on Oprah. However that hadn’t happened in almost six years. I spend about an hour a week looking over the tour schedule and this particular performance lined up with my pockets and I was finally able to go. It was to be held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For anyone that doesn’t know who Alvin Ailey was, he was a dancer and choreographer made infamous because of a production he produced entitled Revelations. A series of pieces that connect the struggle of humanity, the weight of living, and it illustrates the ritual of baptism in the African American community. This production opened during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement and the company became famous because it was a completely African American company of skilled modern dancers.
My sister accompanied me to the performance. We arrived a few minutes late (due to an accident) so we, among many other guests, were asked to watch the opening performance on the flat-screen televisions in the foyer. It was still just as moving. I leaned over to her and said, “Even though we have to watch this out here, just to be in the same building with them is such a privilege.” She nodded and kept watching.
I took a gander or two around the vestibule that seemed to be packed with late arrivals. It seemed like an even mix of cultures. More African American and Caucasian than any other culture. However, this was before we entered the theatre.
When the opening performances ended, we were allowed to take our seats. By the time we entered, the house lights were up and the audience was hardly mixed. There were a few of “us” but I was disheartened by the fact that “we” were still the minority at such a performance. I refuse to use the location as an excuse. I seriously could have taken my sisters and my hands and counted the number of African American patrons in the audience. It was bitter-sweet. I relished in the beauty of seeing a predominantly white audience appreciate a man who revolutionized dance during a period where African Americans were considered less than, mistreated, beaten, and excluded. It was amazing to me that his craft had transcended race and obliterated color. So much so that there were two Caucasian dancers in this performance. Remember this used to be a completely African American company.
Even with all of the standing ovations, the encore, and the cheering, I still couldn’t get past the idea that we don’t appreciate our own. I take that back, if the title reads “All the Good Men Are Gone”, “Hips and Lies”, “Mr. Chocolate”, or “Stripper Chronicles” we seem to always be on board. We seem to feed into stereotypes and the parts of us that are beautifully artistic we shy away from. This isn’t restricted to the arts. We had dinner first at a gorgeous Mediterranean restaurant in a very well mixed part of Durham, NC. We were the only people in the restaurant that looked like us. I remember hearing a conversation between Michael Baisden and George Wilborn about a year ago. Michael urged his listeners to stop reading only black authors, seeing only popular black movies. He went so far as to say, “Stop ordering Ranch dressing and chicken when you go out to eat.”
I could go on about this for paragraphs and pages but all I’m trying to say (as Black History Month comes to a close) is that we are such a gifted group people. It goes far beyond rapping and dribbling or hiking a ball. We’ve pioneered medicine, literature, philosophy, and started major universities. Surely we can dig deep enough to support the good in us and not just the stereotypical, token, and EXPECTED parts of ourselves. I’m just sayin’.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dark and Lovely

Lately, I’m finding myself to be more receptive to the lessons around me. Here’s a tiny one I learned last night.

It’s Tuesday night and I went through the day thinking it would be just another ordinary Tuesday. Seeing as how, Tuesday nights are class nights for me, I spend a good hour and a half with my girls….. dancing.
Because my group of dancers is growing rapidly, we were moved back into our original dance room. A traditional dance room wide (length-wise) with wall-to-wall mirrors. All of these little details will make sense by the end of this post.

I stood facing the mirror, teaching our newest piece. I don’t face them so they don’t get confused and so that they can watch me if they need a quick point of reference. Anyway, one of my silliest and most energetic girls, eight years old, stood next to me. I was teaching a foot sequence that I had a feeling would be tough for them to pick immediately. I read frustration on her face almost instantaneously, so I took her hand and walked her through the steps and before long she picked it up like her older counterparts.

The song being so high and laced with energy, all of my girls were excited and bouncing around and getting really in to the routine but my silly girl was in another place. The mirrors told everything and I knew it wasn’t the choreography. While her teammates danced and giggled and jumped and played whenever we took a break, she sat on the floor with her head in her hands, legs crossed, staring blankly at her reflection.

Even though I was preoccupied teaching some of my younger ones the same sequence I’d just taught her, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. The hour started to dissolve and I took the opportunity. “Okay ladies, I’m pleased at how hard you all have worked tonight. I’m gonna play the song again and you guys can freestyle for the rest of class.” They jumped at the freedom that I rarely give them but just as suspected my silly girl, sat back on the floor. Head in hands, legs crossed, staring at her reflection.

I called her name. “Come here.” I sat on the floor with my legs crossed and she created a nook under my arm and close to my hip. “What’s the matter? Why are you so frustrated?” I asked her. She rested her head on my bosom and answered honestly (at least from what she’d been inspecting all evening). “Because I’m ugly.”

“Who told you you were ugly?” I asked.

“I told myself!” She fought back tears.

“But why?”

“Because I’m turning nine years old and I am.” It sounded simple but I could tell she was referring to her awkwardness and her bony body.

I gave her a good squeeze. “Are you kidding?” I made her face the mirror again, all the while my other kids were hopped up on Valentine’s candy so much so they didn’t notice our intimate moment. Rather than ask her what she saw, I said. “You must not see what I see. Those big brown eyes and long eyelashes. Look at that dark skin. You’re amazing. You might not think so now but you’re beautiful and I’m gonna tell you every time I see you until you believe it.” I looked at her (in the mirror) and asked, “Who do you see?”

She said her name.

“And what is she?”

“Beautiful!” She answered with a giggle.

Some people that come across this may think to themselves, “What a sad conversation to have with a little girl.”

I look at it differently. I felt privileged as a black woman, who at one point struggled with self-esteem, to be able to instill a sense of value in her. That was breathtaking to me. Value of her skin, her big eyes and long lashes, long gangly legs. Things that she may very well get picked on for now but when she grows into the amazing black woman she’s bound to be, it’s all going to fall into place. This isn’t to say my conversation with her tonight is going to obliterate her struggle with her appearance (she’s so adorable though) but at least it’s a tiny step in the right direction. Maybe this was appropriate for the both of us, it being February and all. I don’t know, I was moved and tickled to death to be able to help her see just a little of who she was and how gorgeous “black” really is.