A grandmother’s legacy

My eyes swish in their sockets, moving left to right beneath my eyelids. I’m about to wake up.  My eyes open as I hear a door gently close and then the synchronized creaking of a banister and the heavy footfalls of worn house-shoes. Slowly, both sounds fade to the floors beneath me.

It’s still dark and, as my eyes adjust, I realize that the day hasn’t yet begun.  Though I am never willingly up this early, I find myself climbing out of the daybed in the large, converted attic of my grandparents’ house and heading downstairs. My bare feet move down to the homes second floor with a stealth usually reserved for Christmas Eve.

Two more sets of carpeted stairs stand between me and what I now see is a dim light emanating from the first floor. As I turn the corner to arrive at the last set, I see my grandmother sitting quietly by herself at the dining room table. The lights are dim, and a single candle is lit before her. Within seconds, she turns to notice me. I’ve caught her in an intensely personal moment, the only such moment I would ever see.     

Ma died a little over a decade later. But a few weeks ago, she appeared in one of my dreams. I remember walking through the front doors of her immaculate and richly decorated home into a living room that seemed to be edged in clouds; its duskiness a frame for the scene before me. My grandmother stands before me elegantly styled in a manner almost identical to a photo I’ve seen of her on my mother’s wedding day. In both, she’s barely smiling, yet a weighty joy covers her face and seems to emanate from every pore. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s love.

She walks the few steps toward me and cups my face in her hands. And while this moment is not one we’ve played out in real life, it is one we fall into seamlessly. We stay this way for a long while. No words, no tears, just a silent and joyous greeting that could only happen on the other side of eternity, only in Heaven.

I love my grandmother, my mother’s mom, though I barely know her at all. My grandparents’ home – one that always welcomed and made space for children – was a place where children were seen, not heard, speaking to adults only when spoken to. She died just as I was entering a time when I could be both. As a result, I know more about her through watching her ways than by actually talking to her.

My wise-cracking grandmother – who had left Jim Crow and a family farm in rural Virginia for big city living and its resident chaos and hypocrisy in the North; married and faithfully loved my grandfather for over half a century; raised eight children, plus one in heaven; and nurtured countless others through fostering – didn’t have too many conversations with children.

But love was there. It was in the clothes on our backs, sometimes purchased, other times hand-sewn, ice cream and homemade desserts after dinner, dance lessons and a special room in the basement called the playhouse – a room filled with enough toys to fulfill any fantasy. Love was everywhere she was, though I would learn that much too late.

But there is one thing that I know for certain. My grandmother prayed for me. Though I only saw her in that scene once and never heard her words, this singular experience told me that she knew God and that one day, or perhaps on many, they would talk about me.

This realization, gifted only in the hindsight of adulthood, is a thought I return to often. In the years since, I have wondered what situations those prayers have covered. I’ve wondered whether they shielded me from harm, opened doors, saved me from myself or simply kept me sane in a world that she knew all too well was crazy. 

When I think about her story and where her life took her, I see a woman who trusted God – with her future and her family – despite rarely, if ever, saying a word about it in my presence. Sometimes I wonder if I owe my entire relationship with God, and its many benefits, to my grandmothers’ unseen prayers. Is this detail a key part of how the profound loneliness of my depression led me to God? Maybe. I may never know.

But one thing I do know, is that this simple example and my suffering combined to open me up to the possibilities of an intervening God; a God who was interested in what happens to me and what I have to say.

Hers was just one simple, yet impactful example; a small part of who knows how many other pieces that joined together to spark my faith in God – The Father, Son & Holy Spirit. For her role in bringing into my life even the possibility of consciously living in God’s passionate love for me, I will be forever grateful. She was one of many direction signs, stepping-stones and signals pointing me to an available and loving God. Yet, her contribution was vital and one that I stand on today as proof that God loves me. And it’s one of many reasons why I can look you in the eye and tell you that God loves you too.  

©2022 Creatorskind

What’s love got to do with it?

Last week, I told you that you are loved – present tense. You are and that will always be true. But I would understand if you didn’t believe me. I would understand if you were frustrated by those kinds of claims. When you look at your life or the suffering around the world, I would understand if you had a hard time seeing God’s love in it. I would get all of it because I’ve been there.

When I think of someone loving or taking joy in me, especially God, I expect to be rejoicing. I expect that same love and joy to intrude upon my circumstances and change the atmosphere. I expect it to change me. I do not expect to remain in struggle, pain, or fear. I do not expect to remain brokenhearted. Really, I don’t expect to suffer at all. Yet, we do.

There are times when my war with depression, anxiety and PTSD seems to be on the brink of a victory, though not in my favor. That rowdy bunch seem like they are winning on days when the dosage of my medication is no longer high enough, or when my hormones fluctuate and collide, or when too few sunny rays have penetrated my skin. On their own, this doesn’t sound like much. But in real life, they are a force pushing me to the end of my rope.

On those days, taking a shower or making a sandwich require a herculean effort. Just having the routine, a bit of an odor or a growling stomach aren’t enough. It takes more than a need. On those days, all I see when I look in the mirror, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is failure. It breaks my heart and holds me down.

On those days life is interrupted by painful flashbacks that disrupt the business of everyday life, at work, while driving or cooking dinner. On those days, even my dreams are no escape. There nightmares are the norm. On those days, any demand placed upon me makes panic flicker across my shoulders like lightning and all I want to do is run and hide. On those days, nothing around me looks like love. Nothing is joyful. It is all dangerous; a threat to my very being.

When I made the choice to pursue God and accept Jesus, I thought I was on the road to being fixed. I expected an end to my loneliness, correction of my flaws and protection from new pain. I hadn’t bargained for a depression that would dig its heels in, panic attacks or trauma. I hadn’t known they were even possible for someone that knew God. But they were. In fact, they are. We suffer with God and without God. So, what’s love got to do with it?

There are many verses in the bible that speak to our suffering. Among them, are these: “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds” (Psalms 147:3). And “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalms 34:18). My interpretation? When my heart is broken, I am not alone. God is right there in it with me. God helps me and rescues me from my grief.

Even though I would rather be saved from suffering all together, at least I’m not in it alone. I mean, if suffering will be a part of life in one way or another, then I’d rather not face it by myself. And when I think back, I can see it. I can see God in it with me, invisible, yet helping me along.

Out of bed, into the shower, ordering food, making a doctor’s appointment, putting pen to paper, or finding a quiet place to pray. It’s God’s strength making me strong enough to move through this episode of suffering, to survive it, though in my mind and body, I feel weak. God bears it with me, so that I am not crushed under the weight. Isn’t that how love is demonstrated – not in the absence of struggle, but in the help one receives within it? Isn’t that love?

©2022 Creatorskind

Your “crazy” new friend?

In my imagination, I see you, my new friend, looking at me with wide eyes as you slowly walk backwards to the door. Noting a forgotten engagement, you make your apologies and are seemingly through the door and down the steps almost as soon as your hands touch the door knob. Now alone with my thoughts, I’m wondering, hoping really, that you haven’t come to the conclusion that I fear … that I am stark, raving mad – as my grandfather would say.  It’s a reasonable conclusion.

What are we … seven posts in? You’ve just met me, but you’ve learned some (maybe) unsettling things.  Your new friend (me) struggles with mental illness for which she takes medication, claims to have a relationship with God, and just told you that this God somehow inserted God’s own love of the world into her body for a whole day, allowing her to see everyone and everything through God-tinted glasses. Yep … that’s definitely a little strange. That’s the thing about opportunities to build faith, they often come in strange packages.

But let me ask you this … when was the last time that you created something? It doesn’t matter what it was. It could be a song, a cake, an IG post, an important report or even another human. When you look at that thing (or person), how do you feel? Do you find yourself returning to it again and again to either perfect or simply enjoy it? Do you watch, read or listen to it, in awe over the simple fact that it came from your own mind? Does considering its transformation from thought to a tangible thing excite, inspire or bring you pride?  Does it bring you joy?

I’m an arts and crafts, DIY kind of person. So when it comes to making my house a home, I like to decorate it with objects that reflect my sense of style and imagination. One of my favorite projects is to add paint in rich colors, dazzling beads and other found objects to a canvas to add a splash of color and texture to an otherwise bland white wall.  The final product may not look like much to anyone else. It may not be everyone’s style. But it’s not for everyone else. It’s by me, for me. To me, it is a masterpiece. And my guess is that, when it comes to your own creations, you might feel the same way.

So let me ask you, is it that far-fetched to believe that the one who created you might feel the same way about you? Would that really be so strange?

One of my favorite reads is a book, that was also made into a movie, called The Shack. It tells the story of a man’s journey through tragedy after tragedy and into an unexpected relationship with God – The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It’s a beautiful story that turned what I thought I knew about God on its head in a variety of ways.

One of the things that was so profound to me, in the book especially, was the unbridled interest and joy that God took in experiencing creation. Whether it was a bird on a windowsill, the music of a generation, stars in the sky, or in healing invisible wounds, this was a God who fully immersed himself in his own creation and took pleasure in it all.

Isn’t that a clear side-effect of love? Isn’t that what love does … bring joy? I had learned that God loved me and realized that I loved God in return long before I read The Shack. But until that day of unmatched joy, I hadn’t realized that joy figured so prominently in that love. 

One pivotal point of the story (spoiler alert, but it’s still worth reading or watching) is when the protagonist, Mack, is forced to choose who among his children he will save and who he will condemn to hell because of their wrongs in life.  Mack finds it to be an impossible choice and instead, because of his love for them, offers himself in their place.  At that moment, it clicks and we see the impossible position that God was in when man fell. Here we see how joy, love and sacrifice are connected. And too, how it applies to us – how God sees us. 

As for me, it put an exclamation point on the supernatural joy that I felt that day, years before, when my heart sang at every single thing around me. And because of that, as scary as it is, I’m willing to risk your rejection.

I want you to know that there’s a God who is interested in you, loves you, and takes immense joy in you just being you. Whether you are in your splendor or in a mess, this God loves you yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever. Believe me friend, there’s nothing crazy about that.

©2021 Creatorskind

The Answer

As I write this, my heart is in turmoil. Have you ever been stressed out over something important that you had forgotten? Maybe it was your keys or where you set your wallet down last, or the time and place of an important event.  It could be anything really. But because it’s important to you, and possibly to someone else too, you rack your brain trying to remember it before something happens that is worse than forgetting.  Right now, I am having one of those moments and it’s a long one.  

What important thing have I forgotten? The moment when it all clicked. The moment when I realized the why behind God’s obsession with the hardheads of the bible and, by extension, me. I would love to lay out the order of every epiphany that I had, day by day, and build to the final day when it suddenly all made sense. I’d love to do that. But whatever I would come up with wouldn’t be true. And while a part of me cringes to write those words, another part shrugs in surrender, recognizing my limits as a mere human.

It’s a hard thing to accept. Even as I continue to search for a memory in the background of my mind, I am considering the possibility that maybe there wasn’t an “Aha moment” at all. Instead, maybe it’s a slow realization that I am still working out even now, as I continue to experience God’s partnership in my life. And maybe being certain about any of it will never be as important as knowing God’s why.

The why is a simple one. It’s love.  It sounds trite, I know. And maybe you’ve heard it all before. I’d love to have built the tension to a fever pitch and then, at its peak, dropped that bomb on you, bringing a sense of awe to your day.  But… life is already complicated enough. And when you think about it, doesn’t it just … make sense? I mean, for what other reason would anyone be so committed? It’s love in all of its simplicity and wonder. 

As I read about the humble beginnings of God’s chosen people and their stumbles toward maturity in a world that is still cold-blooded, I also saw a God of action. I saw a God who showed up, got angry and doled out severe consequences, yet stayed long enough to clean up messes and offer reassurances along with many promises.

I can’t say that love was ever the first thing that came to mind when I thought of God. I knew about God’s sacrifice. I knew the verse “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son” of John 3:16.  But I didn’t grow up thinking that God loved me.

Like many people, I thought God was to be respected and revered, if not outright feared. Love wasn’t part of the equation. I don’t know when it all changed. I don’t know the exact moment when I began to see God as a friend, a confidante or as someone who loved me. But when I asked God to help me remember so that I could write this post, eventually a singular memory rose to the surface of my mind.

I have lived in a handful of cities over the years. Their locations are often how I remember certain chapters of my life. Important memories are stored in my mind based on where I was living and what I was doing with my life at the time. But this memory is so fuzzy that I can barely place it. Yet, while I cannot remember the usual details that would add depth and meaning to the image in my mind, what I do remember, quite vividly, is how I felt.

For an entire day, out of nowhere, I was filled to the brim with what I can only describe as joy and an intoxicating feeling of love for absolutely everything and everyone that I encountered. In fact, I was bursting with it. Imagine a brown version of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, preferably Audra McDonald, singing and dancing through the streets of your nearest metropolis. That was me, on the inside, at least.

I can’t tell you what day it was, whether I was in college or at a full-time job, whether it was winter or spring. I can’t even tell you the events of the day. Truly, what I remember is the feeling. It was like every person, every creature, even the sun above had a beauty and perfection that I had never noticed before. When I passed people on the street, I saw them as breathtakingly beautiful and full of promise. It was as if everything excited and inspired me and I relished seeing it all with new eyes. I was in complete, joyful awe.

To be clear, I had no idea what was going on. My analytical brain couldn’t produce reasons for the shift as it was taking place. But sometime later, long after the feelings of that single day had faded, I would come across this verse, along with many others, that would give shape to that unusual experience. “The Lord your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).”  Eventually, I would realize that on that fuzzy day, I had been given a gift. I had been given a brief glimpse into the heart of God and it was filled with love for absolutely everyone.

©2021 Creatorskind

Another kind of genesis

Sitting on the edge of my bed, I rubbed my fingers along the imprinted letters on the hardcover bible in my hand. Within moments, I moved down toward the floor, knees first. With my head lowered in reverence, I spoke some version of these words:

‘God, I don’t believe that you would lead me wrong. When I open this bible, I am asking you to steer me away from any part of it that isn’t the truth. Steer me away from any part of it that comes from the minds of the men who wrote it and doesn’t represent what you want me to know. Help me to see what is true and ignore what is not. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.’

Then I opened the book and started at the beginning.

By this time, my interaction with God had evolved from a desire for protection when I felt fear and help when I was running late, into a simple child-like wonder. Questions filled my quiet moments. From my first musings of the day to the fading thoughts before sleep, I pondered question after question and found exactly zero answers. These might sound familiar: “If God created everything, who created God? Does God have parents? Is God really a “he”? Why did Jesus have to die? And who sacrifices their own kid anyway?” I was cultivating a curiosity about God that was bordering on fever.

This curiosity wasn’t limited to Christianity. Along the way, I had learned about Christianity’s role in the African slave trade, and the various critiques of it as ‘the white man’s religion’ and a religion based on a book written by men. And as a result, I had become cautious, if not outright skeptical of Christianity. So, I did a little exploring. I made my way through some of the Quran in a feeble attempt to understand Islam and had a fleeting interest in other religions, like Santeria and Buddhism. But Sunday after Sunday, as I watched churchgoers in my neighborhood joyfully greet each other on my way to work, I felt a different pull. I wanted what they had.

In the smiling, sun-kissed faces of the people flowing in or out of that small church around my way, I wondered whether I was glimpsing the solution to my loneliness. I wondered if I was seeing a place where I could belong.

I didn’t ask my family. I didn’t know what their lives should look like exactly. But I saw their flaws up close and decided that they had missed the mark. I expected perfection.

My struggle with depression gave me a pre-occupation with perfection. I saw and was grieved by my own flaws and, somehow, came to believe that if I could fix them, happiness would swiftly follow. I didn’t know then that happiness was a fleeting feeling, not a permanent state. I fully expected to get to the bottom of this God-thing and amass the knowledge I needed to not only live, but live fixed. And so, the mingling of my loneliness, questions and judgments led me to that moment in my bedroom and that prayer.

Now free from the thee’s and thou’s of King James, I was quickly drawn in by the story-like structure of the passages in Genesis. It wasn’t completely new information, but in reading it from the source, and in common English, I could see nuances that I hadn’t understood before. Now, with firsthand knowledge, I could imagine the creation of the world and its inhabitants with a crisp realism that had felt unreliable before.

It all felt fresh and new, and I wanted to learn. Now I’d be lying if I said I read all of Genesis that day (LOL). But my curiosity would drive me to pick it back up day after day.

What I remember most about the experience of reading the bible with new, curious eyes was a sense of shock. As I read about Adam and Eve’s disobedience and subsequent blaming, Cain’s murderous rage, Noah’s drunkenness, and Abram’s cowardice, I was disgusted and perplexed that they would be written about in the first place. If you’ve ever seen the 80’s movie, The Never-Ending Story, you can imagine my puzzled expression as I looked up from the book to a God I could not see and said “What?!”

Again, I had questions. Why did God keep blessing these people? Coming face to face with these folks and their faults, I didn’t get what made them special. All I could see was how they failed most of the time. They failed at obedience, failed at being honest, and failed at holding themselves back from the ugliest inclinations, like jealousy and violence. At the time, I couldn’t see why God would want anything to do with them, much less actively intervene to make them prosper.

I didn’t realize that the story that Genesis was telling wasn’t really about them, at least not solely. Eventually, I would realize that what I was reading was God’s character on display.

I knew I was a mess. But honestly, in the moment, I thought theirs was a next level mess. LOL. I didn’t see myself in their problems, at least, not at first. What I did see though, was that I could never be God. I didn’t have the patience! I hadn’t even gotten to the midpoint of Genesis, and I was already through with the world.

God’s habit of patiently cleaning up their messes, picking them up and dusting them off, and blessing them again and again made little sense to me. But it wasn’t too long after this that my initial judgy shock blended with the mistakes and missteps of living in the world to birth a little empathy in my heart. Eventually, I would come to understand that I could look at how God treated the aforementioned folks as a lesson on how God could or would treat me. But then, I had another question, ‘Why?’

©2021 Creatorskind

Why I believe part 2

I’ll be the first to admit it…I struggle with relationships. The kind of relationship doesn’t really matter – family, friendships, romances and more continue to confound and challenge me on a regular basis. Relationships take work! You can’t be on autopilot and do relationships well. Instead, we have to be able to adapt to the needs of the day, person, and place because what was required yesterday might be different than what is required today.  Relationships have BIG demands, like presence, vulnerability, boundaries, compassion, self-control, and a certain level of inter-dependency. And that’s a tall order.

What I struggle with most in my closest relationships is that “certain level of inter-dependency.” We’re all imperfect. It’s something that we all learn through experience and, eventually, learn to live with.  But, because we’re all so imperfect, we’re constantly bumping up against one another, causing bruises and breaks that sometimes take a lifetime to heal. And what’s worse is that none of it happens in a vacuum. Life goes on and we get the hang of walking with a limp.

The sheer pain of my bruises and breaks had me believing that independence was safer. Self-reliance in everything was necessary, because the less I had to rely on someone else, the less opportunity they had to hurt me. I clung to that belief like my life depended upon it. But it’s not a perfect system.  The walls that I built came down to be dependable for others, but not much else. So, when I struggled, I did so alone and in silence. It’s only in retrospect that I realized that was a dangerous place to be, especially if you have depression.

What’s interesting to me about those nightly walks home is that despite declaring my independence in every other area of my life, when it came to this one thing, I readily relinquished it over and over again. At the time, that fact didn’t register at all. I had no idea that I was laying myself bare before God. In fact, if you would’ve asked me about it, I would’ve thought you were a little “touched in the head” or, at the very least, a little too hard core for my taste.  

But in those moments, I was saying much more than I realized. By simply saying, ‘God please protect me,’ I was admitting that I was afraid. I was admitting that I didn’t have enough power to protect myself.  I was saying ‘God, you’re bigger and badder than anyone out here, please keep me safe.’  I didn’t wait for evidence that I had been heard, I had to move forward.  So, my fragile hope in God’s willingness to help carried me home.

It would be years before I would learn that this dependency was crucial to faith, crucial especially to a relationship with God. Then though, it was just a small thing; one tiny area of life. But over time, it became a reason to believe that God saw me and was interested in what concerned me. It became what I could point to that would give me the courage to approach God again, and again, and again and have the assurance that I would be received. That small request opened the door to relationship.

What about you? Is there something you have brought or would bring to God, if you thought it would be received?

©2021 Creatorskind

Why I believe

I thought that the next logical topic to post about would be why I believe in God.  But the more that I thought about it, the more the “how” seemed to be an equal part of the same conversation.  Really, it seemed like a chicken and the egg kind of thing, because I’m not sure which came first.  Why I believe in God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is a function of how I came to believe, and vice versa.  And while I may have confused myself on that one (lol), I think that they might actually be the same thing.  So, you may see a bit of both in this week’s post.

I went to catholic school for most of my pre-high school years.  That’s where I was introduced to God.  And in the way that little children often do, I accepted that what I was told was true.  I learned to sit still in church, despite the infinitely more interesting distractions provided by my classmates and my own mind.  I learned to pray the rosary, went to confession, and said Hail Mary’s as penance for my sins.  With my mother, I prayed before bed and believed that I had been heard.  But did I know God?  Did I have a relationship with God?  I don’t know.

In the years to come, now in public-school, my interaction with God had become limited to a daily chant.  “Please don’t let me miss the bus.  Please don’t let me miss the bus.” I would sing those words as I half- speed walked, half-ran to the bus stop.  Eventually, I began to wonder whether I was pressing my luck.  Would I run out of chances?  Would God be done with me?  God was a genie in a bottle with a low tolerance for my nonsense – or so I thought. 

When I ran into situations that a child’s mind isn’t equipped to handle or later, when my teenage brain entered a fog of sadness, distraction, and loneliness from which I could not emerge, I turned to my catholic school roots.  I sought God – the Father through the saints, like the virgin Mary, and my ancestors. I sought the long-gone forebearers that I had known personally, and one, who had been as close to a saint in my eyes as anyone could be. 

I called on them to put in a good word.  I called on them believing that now from their position in heaven that they saw me in a way that they couldn’t while on earth.  In my holy imagination, I believed that they now had a comprehensive view that was unlimited by time, and hopefully, weighted by compassion.  With that in mind, I sought them in the quiet of my bedroom and often with tears that I didn’t understand.  But I felt a little less alone.  I had believed in God.  But would I call this a relationship?  No.  I didn’t really know God. 

I remember the red-edged bible that I had gotten from who knows where collecting dust on my nightstand.  I would read it from time to time, but inevitably, King James’ thee’s and thou’s would command me right into a nap or onto something less boring.  It wasn’t until the middle of my college years, on my own in a new city, that my thoughts again climbed heavenward.  I was feeling both the familiar loneliness of my undiagnosed depression and the now tangible loneliness of day-to-day life without close friends.  It was hard.  I looked around and felt different from everyone else…and very much alone.  I had been released into a freedom that I had longed for while under my parent’s roof.  Yet, I didn’t know what to do with it and  felt like I was failing.  But I didn’t ask my family for advice.  I didn’t consult the saints.  This time, I sought God directly in everyday life, not with a chant, but a request. 

Walking home from the train at night, I started asking God to protect me.  And as I walked the blocks home that were sometimes dark and empty, sometimes marked with stares and catcalls that echoed behind me, or sometimes the footsteps of those that would try to follow me, I would hope that I had been heard.  My feet crossing the threshold would bring a thank you from my lips.  And somehow that simple experience began something inside of me that even today is hard to explain.  It was the same belief, yet somehow different.  After all this time, I’m not even sure that I understand it completely.  But what I do know, is that it was the start of a conversation.  The first tender shoots sprouting from a seed planted over a decade before.        

It would be some time before I would encounter the bible verse, “But without faith it is impossible to please God.  Anyone who comes to God, must believe that God exists and rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).  But when I did, it rang completely true.  Because  not knowing much at all, I had reached out to a God that I hoped would be able or available and discovered a God that was both.  And it was because of that discovery that I wanted to know more.

What about you?  Do you know why or how you came to believe what you do about God, whether positive or negative?  Leave a comment and let me know.

©2021 Creatorskind