Hurt by the Church

“I have never been hurt by anybody the way I’ve been hurt by people in ministry,” my friend said with total conviction. I knew she wasn’t exaggerating. I also knew that she wasn’t the only person feeling this way.

Just in the past month, I’ve spoken with several people who’ve been hurt very deeply by others who claim the name of Jesus Christ. I understand it, because I’ve been there myself. When you’re in a situation like that, it’s easy to want to act in the flesh because of the emotions and disappointment keeping you up at night. However, slashing people’s tires or pushing them into wet concrete won’t change them for the better, and it will likely land you in jail. So how are you supposed to deal with hurt from our brothers and sisters in Christ? Here are some things I’ve learned from experience that have helped me. I hope they’ll help you.

1. Check yourself.
Did you play a role in the situation that caused you to get hurt after your own actions backfired? Have you done something wrong? If so, make it right. If not, after you finish looking at yourself in the mirror without having to turn away, lie down and try to get a good night’s sleep. Then proceed to #2.

2. Remember that imperfect people make up the Church, so we can’t always expect a smooth ride.
We all know what happened to Jesus. It wasn’t only people outside of the faith who hurt him, but inside, and he said since they treated him like that, we shouldn’t expect anything different. Now, this doesn’t make the pain any easier to bear, but it does put things into perspective. Exercising grace keeps us sane, but it does not justify bad behavior in the Church, which brings me to my next point.

3. We, as Christians, are called to treat each other right.
This is why it hurts so badly when a believer hurts a fellow believer; we should know and do better. Paul tells the church of Galatia to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Jesus himself said in John 13:35 that people will know we follow him by our love for one another. There are no excuses. If you call yourself a Christian, the purpose of your life is to represent Christ through love. If you’re dealing with someone who consistently treats people like garbage, maybe they’re the fakes that the Bible warns us to watch out for. People will always show you who they really are, and when they do, take their word for it. If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck…

4. Don’t become like what has hurt you.
If your offender ends up on top, you may be tempted to adopt their practices in hopes of not being victimized again. The pastor of the church I used to attend once said while speaking on a similar topic that “Christians will shank you with a Bible in the name of Jesus.” I couldn’t disagree. When you’re hurt, remember what it feels like to be on the receiving end of your situation and rise above the urge to be like your offender. If you’re left with a gaping wound, wrap it in some gauze and…

5. Forgive.
It’s not easy, but it’s necessary because:
a. If you don’t forgive, God won’t forgive you (Matt. 6:15).
b. Bitterness will eat you alive. Forgive so that you will be healed of the pain of the offense.
c. Forgiveness releases the offender of having power in your life. It helps you, over time, to let go of the hurt the situation caused.

6. Try to make things right.
Reconciliation is a cornerstone of our faith. If you don’t tell people they’ve hurt you, they may not know. Some people, however, are hard-headed and won’t care one way or the other. They may even justify their actions and tell you to man up. We don’t know how they’ll respond, so, in love, we need to let them know that their behavior is unacceptable. What they do with the information is out of our hands.

7. Recognize that this could be the best thing that ever happened to you.
The people who’ve told me about these Church hurts lately are in position for big changes to take place in their lives. Without the hurt, they may not have been prompted to move on. They may have stayed where they were and missed out on something great that wouldn’t have happened had the situation never occurred. Instead of being mad at the people who hurt you, it may be appropriate to send them a thank-you note.

In extreme situations, I’ve seen some people turn away from God because of what people have done to them. In those cases, they didn’t worship God to begin with; they worshiped the people who represented God to them. Be careful not to fall into that trap.

Finally, for those of you who aren’t believers in Christ because of how his followers often treat each other, I encourage you to not write off the Father because of what you see his knuckleheaded kids doing many times. We have a lot of work to do, and we will until we don’t live on this planet anymore.

Do you have any suggestions about how to deal with hurt from the Church? Leave a comment!

Back off of Miley

Awards shows are not something I enjoy, so when something goes down on one, like Chris Brown’s rousing tribute to Michael Jackson on the 2010 BET Awards, or Gaga’s meat dress at the 2010 VMAs, I learn about it through the grapevine of social media. Needless to say, I’ve been seeing Miley Cyrus’ name all over the place. Jay Leno is talking about her twerk fest right now as I type.

There’s a lot to be said about Miley’s behavior, and people are indeed saying it. But I have to ask, can we learn anything from this? I think so, and these are the three main thoughts that come to mind:

1. Girls want to be desired.
Like it or not, it’s true. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, girls want to be attractive, noticed, and memorable. This desire often manifests itself through physical appearance. As grown women, it is our responsibility to teach our girls the difference between being attractive and trashy. There was a time when I wasn’t concerned with modesty. I wanted men to tell me I was attractive, and that my body was worth looking at. Don’t blame my parents; they didn’t teach or condone that behavior. My mom is one of the most conservatively dressed ladies I know. My dad was around and loved me tremendously. I was just figuring out who I was, and at the time, I was looking for validation for how I looked. So I gave people a lot to look at and judge, hoping to gain approval. I may have even done an unholy dance or two in the process.

One day, my daughters will want to wear a bikini, a skirt, or a belly shirt that took less than a square foot of fabric to create. They’ll do this because they’ll want to be noticed and approved of by the guys around them. They’ll want to knock a man off his feet, and they’ll think this is the way to do it because they will have seen other girls do it. I get it. That day, I will look them in their big, beautiful eyes and tell them, with full conviction, that the most memorable girls are the ones who leave an imprint in a man’s mind with their personalities and more than a smidgen to the imagination with their wardrobes. They will know that men are most captivated by a woman with confidence, especially if that confidence is held by a woman of virtue. If they know that in their hearts, they won’t follow what the teeny bopper of the day is doing. Confidence overrides trends. Let’s teach our girls the difference.

2. Nobody is exempt from needing grace and prayer.
We don’t know what goes on in the Cyrus house, and we can’t assume to know. We can guess, and our guesses might be on point, but we do not know. Yes, they are celebrities, but they are people, and people have major flaws. The difference between Miley’s mistakes and our daughters’ mistakes is that our families’ lives aren’t broadcast for the world to see. If I had to watch my daughter pimp herself for attention in front of millions, or even one person, I’d fall asleep in tears. Stop pointing fingers. Start praying for their family’s restoration.

3. We cannot give people we don’t know the responsibility of being our children’s role models.
Seriously, you don’t know Miley. All you know is what the media has shown you, and if you’re disappointed with her right now, then you bought the facade of her previous persona hook, line, and sinker. Athletes, movie stars, and singers do not owe us morality. I am one of those who thinks that when entertainers sign contracts, they are committing to entertain us, not to be role models for the youth of America. For more on my view of people only being able to disappoint you if you give them the power to, please see this previous post of mine. History has proven that we can’t rely on images in a square box in the living room to provide quality role models, and you know what they say about history. Leadership shouldn’t come from a square box in your living room. I bet the Amish aren’t upset with Miley right now.

You want your daughter to have a great influence in her life? Find a person that she can talk to, who’ll listen to her, and help her make good choices. Better yet, if she’ll respond to it, you be that person. While you’re at it, grab a few others who lack that element in their lives and be a light for them, too.

Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.
Proverbs 11:22

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in a comment!

Red, Yellow, Black, and White

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These two have no idea. All they know is that they’re shorter than the rest of the people in their homes, and when they get together, they have size and ballet in common. They understand each other’s tiny voices. They understand that if the other one takes a toy she’s playing with, the playroom will become an MMA ring. What they don’t understand is that one day, sooner than any thinking person would like, they’ll be ridiculed for their friendship for no other reason except that one of them has more melanin than the other. And you know who’ll teach them to think that way? The big people around them.

I know these two kids. One is mine, the other is her friend, so I know that such hatred won’t come from their parents. But like it or not, we live in a nation full of people who hate other people because of the color of their skin. It’s called racism, and yes, in our great land of America, it is alive and well.

Now, before you brace yourself to get gung-ho or ticked off at what you think is coming next, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and open your mind. This post is not really about Trayvon, George, Paula, or anybody else who’s made national headlines due to racial issues. This is about what I, a young black woman in Southern Mississippi, view as the bottom line of this mess.

Over the years, I’ve experienced a lot of racism. Recently, as I was walking with my baby girl on the campus of a major university, a young white man yelled “White power!” at us. Another young white man echoed him, saying, “H*** yeah, white power.” That was fun.

I’ve been patted on the head and commended for not falling victim to my upbringing and getting a college education, instead. This was by some older white men who knew nothing whatsoever of my upbringing.

I was in attendance when a stupid teammate declared, in front of a bunch of black college kids (most of whom had stellar grades) that black people can’t read.

I even had a run-in with a Klan member when I was a high school kid working in Wal-Mart. He really was in the Klan; he had on his ring to prove it. He went to my manager to “complain” about my customer service. Fortunately, my manager, a white man, wasn’t listening to his foolishness because he knew how hard of a worker I was. I appreciated that my character overrode skin color and lies that day.

In kindergarten, a white girl told me not to lean on her because she’d get greasy, which, by the way, was my first experience with being belittled because I was different.

Management has followed me around stores, and I’ve watched white customers grab their purses when my brothers or I came too close in those same stores. People have let their kids run around like Olympic athletes until I got too close, then it became super urgent for their kids to get in the basket. Newsflash, lady. I see how hard-headed your kid is. A kidnapping is the last thing you have to worry about.

On the Other Hand

A few years ago when I was pregnant with my first child, I was put on bed rest during my first trimester. It was August in Mississippi, which meant the low for each day was about 90 degrees. My husband’s job demanded his presence pretty much from sunup to sundown, and our yard was starting to show the signs of some major neglect. It didn’t help that the lawnmower was broken. At least one person dropped in everyday to bring us meals. One of them noticed the yard and told her husband, who came later on that day, mowed the yard, and bought us a new lawnmower. “I can’t do much,” he said, “but I can mow a yard.” They were white.

I graduated from a different college than the one where I began my higher education, which happened to be an HBCU. I went back to visit that first school one weekend and ran into somebody who said he’d not seen me in a while. I told him I now went to State. An older black man, who was never invited into the conversation in the first place, scoffed, “Oh, you went to the white school.” Well, the “white school” offered me a full scholarship after this one didn’t renew my scholarship just because. I had a 3.6 GPA and never got in any trouble. I was a hard-working athlete. So I really don’t care about the “color” of the school; scholarship ink is all the same.

This past week, we moved out of our house. Other than my parents, guess what color the people were who came and voluntarily helped us pack?

My best friend since first grade, Shannon, is as porcelain as the day is long. I’d take a bullet for that girl. I’d probably give one, too. She’s my sister, and she’s not the only one. I thank God for the Laceys, Erins, Gessicas, Ashlees, Jennifers and all the other white friends I have in my life. Yes, I do see color, and it’s a good thing I do, or else I couldn’t make my point.

For the past few days, I’ve seen endless examples on social media of murder cases that didn’t get national attention. Black on black crimes, black on white crimes, white on black crimes. In the comments, I’ve seen a lot of references to “us, them, we, they,” as if this is a turf war. I guess it still is. I can’t really understand why, though.

Honestly, whether you like it or not, our ancestors got around. Most Americans are not pure anything race-wise, so to be racist, on some level, is a hatred of a part of yourself. Racism has existed in this country since this country was established. The people I’ve had this discussion with who disagree are usually the same ones who deny racism’s existence today. They’re useless in the fight against it. If you’re trying to help move this country forward, ignore them. This stuff is woven into the very fabric of our country. I’m just grateful that I had the upbringing I did and have been around enough people unlike myself to know that just because somebody shares melanin tones with me, they’re not inherently good, and those who don’t aren’t inherently bad. People are people: complex and unique.

Am I denying cultural differences? I’d be blind to do that. Go to a “black” church, then the next Sunday, go to a “white” one. Tell me you didn’t notice some differences. Go to a wedding between two black people, then wait for “The Electric Slide” to play. Then, go to a wedding between two white people and wait for “Love Shack.” I classify these as cultural differences, not exclusive to race. If certain things that are often said to be so were exclusive to race, I never would have surfed, snorkeled, or hiked a mountain. And I definitely wouldn’t bump Red Hot Chili Peppers in my car like they’re the only band on the planet. Good thing my skin never got in the way of these experiences.

So many people attribute racism to ignorance, as if it’s a valid excuse. Racism can no longer be called ignorance. The abundance of information and people around us everyday provide all the information we need to make better judgements about other people. If you’re choosing to stay ignorant despite these resources, well, you’re not ignorant; you’re stupid.

Do you want to fight racism? Teach your kids the whole truth. One thing I loved about teaching is that I was able to tell kids that slave owners weren’t all white and abolitionists weren’t all black. We had discussions about where people originated, and most people agree that the whole human race came from the same two people. Get educated. Get to know somebody different from you, and love them. You might learn that all black people don’t use “the n word,” or that we don’t all aspire to live off of food stamps as a career when we grow up. You might learn that all white people don’t think they’re superior, and plenty of them really can dance or even dunk a basketball. There are a bunch of Hispanics who speak fluent English and earn pretty prestigious degrees, not at the government’s expense. I bet it would blow plenty of minds that all Middle Easterners don’t walk through the streets with bombs attached to their backs. You might find that the very things you hate about another group of people exist in your own, they just may come in different packaging. Am I an idealist? Maybe. Am I tired of all this fighting? Certainly. If you have an issue with somebody, consider that it may be because they stink as a person, not because of the color of their skin. Stereotypes serve as a prison of the mind, and you are the judge who inflicts your own sentence. Why don’t you unlock the doors and start rehab?

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To Daddy

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Once, I was having a conversation with a kid about how great my daddy is. Later on, I was telling my daddy about the discussion, and he said, “Jasmine, have you ever wondered how that makes other people feel, you talking about your daddy all the time? Everybody might not have that. It may seem like you’re bragging.”

I’d never thought about it like that. All I knew was I loved my daddy. He was great. He was a superhero to me, and I thought people needed to know it. I gave it a try, not rambling about Daddy incessantly. I will admit, however, that I failed. And I will fail again today.

Daddy, I’m blessed to honor you on this day for the 30th time. Today thank-you for much of what I’ve learned from you that helped me get this far.

1. You taught me to stand up for myself. Because of you, I’ll threaten anybody.

2. You taught me how to do stuff myself so I wouldn’t have to pay others inflated prices. Stuff I couldn’t do, you did. You’ve saved me around $28,000.

3. You taught me to endure discipline, even when your methods didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I was ready for life to be challenging, sometimes unfair, and often confusing.

4. You taught me how to love all kinds of people without ignoring loving my own heritage through wearing that “I Love Being Black” t-shirt on a bi-daily basis.

5. You showed me that I didn’t have to settle for any old fool if I ever got married. You were a tough standard to reach. Thank you.

6. You taught me how to walk in high heels. That’s all I will say about that.

7. When I was five and all the other kids were learning nursery rhymes, you had me listening to Ramsey Lewis, Teena Marie, and Frankie Beverly & Maze. I’m already passing this down to my kids. Priceless.

8. You taught me to endure endless, confusing rambling. You helped me get through college long before I actually got there.

9. You taught me to do the best with what I got, plan my work, work my plan, go from there, and see what happens.

10. When it comes to situations in life, “it is what it is.” This has kept me from going insane.

11. Thank you for teaching me that “ignorance can be overcome with knowledge, but stupid is forever.” People have proven this to be true over and over again.

12. Lastly, and most importantly, you taught me the love of Jesus Christ. That is everything.

Daddy, I thank God for you regularly. I appreciate who you have been for me, what you have done for me, and all you’ve given me—even my funny shaped forehead.

Thank you for being a daddy to all the kids who didn’t have one.
Thank you for being such a loving Paw-Paw.
You’re not perfect, but you sure are spectacular.

With all my love, covered in mounds of ice-cream and wrapped in denim. Happy Father’s Day.

Delight

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Last week, my little girl had her first performance experience. After months of learning ballet on a two to three-year-old level, she had her first dance recital. All day at work, I watched the clock in anticipation, anxious to see my little girl dance on the “big stage” as she’d called it all week. I was a little nervous. We all know how three-year-olds roll sometimes. However, it wasn’t just the fact that this would be her first time dancing in front of hundreds of people, but something that happened earlier in the week that made me wonder what the night would bring.

Tuesday prior, we got to the church, and she sat in my lap while we waited for practice to start. She looked at the stage excitedly and whispered to me, “Mommy, can I get on the stage?”
“Yeah baby, go ahead,” I replied.
She ran towards the stage and up the stairs. She was so happy to be up there with her friends and started dancing and running. Then she started sprinting. She got carried away with the sprinting and sprinted right off the stage. I heard the splat on the floor, then my friend say, “That was Judah!”
I haven’t run that fast since college.

Before I knew it, I was on the floor right in front of the stage with my tiny dancer in my arms. She was screaming, tears flowing, blood dripping from her nose. I encouraged her to calm down and finally got her to look me in the eyes and say she was ok. After some snuggling and coddling from me and her teacher, and a quick once over from a fellow dancer’s mom/doctor, Judah thought she was ready to get back on stage and give rehearsal a shot. Then she got up there and freaked out. After practice, she agreed to go on stage with me and do a “tippy toe” or two, but it stopped there. She was ready to go home.

On the way home, I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t want to push the issue too much, but I needed her to know that falling wasn’t the end of the world, and certainly couldn’t be the end of her career. Before we left the church, I texted her daddy to let him know what happened. I told him not to freak out, but to encourage her to get back on the stage when he saw her. He did.

There was no practice the next day, but dress rehearsal was Thursday. Wednesday, I was in the car with Tiny Dancer.
“Judah, mommy was an athlete and fell down. Daddy was an athlete and fell down. Uncle G. and Uncle B. were athletes and fell down, too. Even Gabby Douglas has fallen down before. But you know what all of us did when we fell down?”
My question was met with silent anticipation.
“We got back up. And you can get back up on stage and dance, right?”
“Right,” she responded. I’m almost sure it was my mentioning the name of her favorite athlete, Gabby Douglas, that did the trick.

Thursday’s practice gave me confidence that she would be fine the following night. She participated and looked pretty good. Then came the big show.

My girl looked beautiful, a perfect little brown ballerina with two curly pigtails decorated with hairpieces made of pink flowers and bows, made especially for her by her dance teacher. She was adorable in her pastel tutu and shiny lip gloss. She was excited to start, and I had to keep her from going on the stage once or twice before it was time. When the appropriate time came, I gave her a quick pep talk and left the rest to her.

I found out that night what it means to be a proud mama.

I have won several championships over the years, but I don’t know if my heart has ever swelled the way it did watching my baby nail her first recital last Friday. She loved being on stage. She was focused. She was almost flawless. She was ready. She was happy. That night as I thought about how great my baby girl had done (which is pretty much all I thought about for the next couple of days), I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this how God feels when he watches me do something I love? It must be.”

I couldn’t get Psalm 37:4 out of my head. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
As usual, David wrote Psalm 37 at a time in his life that wasn’t easy. Throughout this scripture, he encourages the reader to not be mad at people who deserve to feel God’s wrath. God will take care of them. You just rise up and be happy about who God is, what he’s done, and what he is going to do for you. It’s my favorite Psalm.

I’m aware that Judah’s fall at Tuesday’s practice isn’t quite comparable to the hardships King David had to endure, but I believe her performance was so much sweeter because of the fall she overcame on Tuesday.

Does God feel the joy I felt when he watches me do something I love? He’s a loving father. I’m sure of it. Especially since he knows that I love him and recognize he’s given me the passion, the skill, and the talent to do the things that make me feel alive. I don’t know about you, but knowing that fulfilling my calling–putting into action the dreams that make my heart flutter–thrills my Heavenly Father so much that he wants to keep giving me opportunities to do these things makes me happy.

What makes your heart flutter? What makes you feel most alive? What do you do that makes the Lord smile and delight in calling you his child? Do it. Do it often. Do it well. Fall down, get up, keep going. Do it with the freedom and bravery of a little girl on the big stage for the first time. Find your own big stage and dance.