Like a Tree Planted by the Water

To say my heart has been broken these past few days would be an understatement, and yet, I know that this feeling is nothing compared to the crushing blow of the families who have lost their loved ones, the fears of so many who wonder if they will be next, and the weight of living in this day after day after day.

When I came out to my good friend and mentor, Kim, she responded to me by recognizing her privilege – that while she had asked many of the same questions I was wrestling with regarding faith and sexuality- she recognized that I lived in them with “every thought, every prayer, every breath.” I don’t pretend to know anyone else’s pain. I don’t pretend that I know what it means to be black in America. This is not my story or my life.

And yet, I am moved. My soul feels heavy. I feel this urgency and need to act deep within me. The urge to use my voice in every way I can.

I am tired of arguing. I am tired of repeating over and over why “black lives matter” is not discounting other lives. I am tired of trying to convince others that racism is still rampant and thriving – when really I am just trying to at least get an acknowledgment from others that it is real.

Instead of repeating these lines of thought which so many others have eloquently done, I simply want to share some stories – my stories. Stories which are meaningful to me. And then, I will share my take aways, my hopes, and my own mandate. Then, I’ll invite you to join me.

Light a candle. This is sacred space. 

When I was growing up in the very rural and very white area of Falling Water, TN, I wasn’t around black people much at all. Like many churches, ours was absent of any color other than white. My school looked very similar. Occasionally, I saw people of other races when I was out and about with my family. Some of my extended family used “the n word.” My momma taught me that that word was wrong. From an early age, I started arguing with my family members who said things I thought were wrong. Even though I didn’t fully understand.

When I was 12, I went to a drama camp over the summer. I had a very hard time making friends. Until a black girl named Tiffany sat next to me while we ate our sack lunches, and she started talking with me and we became fast friends. I hung out with her and the other black kids the rest of that camp. We laughed, we had fun, and she introduced me to eating dill pickles with fun dip – a habit that lasted until high school.

When I went to Middle School, things changed. For the first time, I was in a school and riding a school bus with black kids. For the first few weeks of catching the bus to go home, I had to stand up, because the bus was very crowded, and for my chubbiness, my buck teeth and every other flaw, I wasn’t allowed to sit down next to anyone. Until this one black girl made eye contact with me, and scooted over ever so slightly. She was too busy listening to her walkman to talk with me. I don’t know her name, but I remember her face and her compassionate eyes. I rode next to her the rest of the year.

Middle School was hell on earth. I was punched in the face, pushed around, made fun of incessantly for everything from my name to my teeth to the way I walk. I was hated for my very being. Before classes – at breakfast, and then again at lunch, I found solace at one table. The “black” table. When I sat there, I was invited to be me. Not a single person at that table ever laughed at me, laid a hand on me, or made me feel less than. Instead, I felt valued and affirmed. Every single one of my bullies was white. Some of the black girls took up for me. Two even threatened my bullies that if they messed with me again, they would have to answer to them. I felt protected.

In high school, I still found some connections and though the bullying lessened, the damage was there. It was with my black friends that I felt I could be the most real – the most me. They never said a hurtful word to me.

When I was going to community college, my parents were separated and going through a divorce. I was struggling. I sat outside the choir room in the Fall semester and listened to the gospel choir practice. In the Spring semester, I joined. The friends I made in choir were mostly black – and they embraced me. They encouraged me, prayed with me, and they supported me in my own music – giving me a boost of confidence when I needed it most.

I moved with my mom to Murfreesboro. I went to Nashville to attend audio engineering school. While there, I had a terrible car wreck and totaled my car. Among the faces running toward the wreckage, a black woman who called 911.

I got a pickup truck to replace my car. It was longer than what I was used to, and one day, I had to parallel park much to my chagrin. As I tried for the 8th time, two black guys walked up smiling and motioned for me to roll down my window. I did. One stood at the back, the other at the front. They called out directions, and taught me to park my truck in a parallel spot that day. And I continued on with that valuable knowledge.

While in Middle Tennessee, I joined a church that I thought was fantastic. I was quickly embraced with open arms and included, by the black girls in the church. We hung out at each others’ homes, made meals, talked over coffee, and worshipped together. Unfortunately, the leadership (white leadership, I might add) in the church was incredibly spiritually abusive , and when I left, I left behind all of those valuable connections.

After that, I found more and more welcome by brown faces – at new jobs, new churches, new schools.

If there is one thing that I have been taught by my black friends, it’s that I matter. That I have inherent worth and value just because I’m me.

So, to Denisha, Tiffany, Kimberly, Quincy, Char, Chris, V, Jacki, Monique, Angela, Moe, Celeste, Yunice, Ms. Bynum, Lassundra, Sherri, CC, JC, Kay, Anthony, Amber, and so so many many more…

THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart. 

Secondly, 

YOU MATTER.

And I will be damned if I ever let anyone get away with actions that degrade people who look like you.

I love you. Even if we lost touch over the years, your impact stays on me like a musical memory in my mind reminding me of compassion and care.

 

There’s an old spiritual – I Shall Not Be Moved,

Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved

Though the cross and burden are heavy

when the darkness is thick

when hatred is loud and violent

when people turn their heads away…

 

Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved.

I am with you. I stand with you. To my friends who can join us – will you?

 

I say all the time that love wins, because it does indeed. Love is the water of life to the tree. It is where we live and move and have our being. Can we not love more? Can love not be what removes our blinders and moves us to action for our neighbors, our friends, our brothers and sisters?

Can love not bind us together and drive out the darkness as Martin Luther King Jr has said?

In my life, black has been beautiful and welcoming, and I have received life and affirmation for being me. It’s my turn to only do the same.

Like a tree planted by the water.

With much love.

C.