February 2008

Well, the good news is Bobby Brown isn’t going back to jail… at least I think that’s good news. According to the AP, Brown will not face charges stemming from the recent discovery of some cocaine in his possession. I’m sure it wasn’t his ::big big exaggerated wink::

And really, who wants to see another picture of this fallen hip hopper clearly going through withdrawal as he enters jail again? Instead the courts have recommended that, as penance for his crime — criminal possession of a controlled substance — he should volunteer to mentor young people. This punishment for Bobby seems, um, ill-advised, but perhaps I need to look a little deeper at the definition of mentor.

According to dictionary.com, a mentor is defined as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” Wise and trusted? Wise and trusted?! Bobby Brown, bless his every little step you take heart, is many things, but wise and trusted? Can we really consider a man who is repeatedly found with illegal drugs wise? Trusted, maybe, but wise?

This sort of celebrity-favored discipline is perplexing. The notion that young children would be offered a mentor who is currently, not recovering, but currently abusing drugs, is disturbing.

Remember when the children were our future?

When it’s over, it’s still there in your mind, vividly, all that has transpired.  My muse demands that I speak.  Ten years ago, my father, Poppy, was diagnosed with Cancer.

Cancer doesn’t look at you before it takes hold of you.  It doesn’t care about your race, or your age, your name or your educational background.  It couldn’t care less about your bank statement or your health.  It doesn’t look at your permanent record, your weight loss attempts, your high score in basketball, or the book you never read.  Cancer doesn’t check out your church attendance record or whether you helped the little boy learn to tie his shoe.  Cancer doesn’t verify your social security number or test your ability to drive.  It doesn’t look inside your car, and it doesn’t care if you wear white after Labor Day.  Cancer is the only thing in life that never discriminates. 

I remember my Poppy’s response to the question, “Why you?”  He courageously said in his matter-of-fact manner, “Why not me?”  It did not matter that my Poppy took great care of his body, with regular exercise, vitamins, and a generally healthy diet.  Cancer did not care.  Cancer came inside his body and attempted to wreak fatal havoc with him and with our family. 

Whenever I thought about Cancer, before it came into my life, I associated it with suffering for families, not my family, but other people’s families.  I was so wrong.  I never thought of it in my home, in my family, threatening to take my daddy from me.  I now think of Cancer as an evil that comes into your body and grows and destroys everything in its path.  I didn’t realize that Cancer would dare come into my life.  But it did.  Cancer did not care.

When Poppy told us, his three adoring adult children, that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, we were each devastated.  I began to weep, almost uncontrollably.  Cancer did not care.  Given how close I am with both of my parents, I knew how hard this disease would be on both of them.  Mum and Poppy have a love the way God himself intends love to be.  I felt pity and sadness for my parents, fear and anger.  Cancer, of course, did not care. 

After much prayer, much prayer, much prayer, God gave me peace about the situation.  Knowing that God was in control, I awaited the day when the Cancer would be removed from his body.  There was a chance that the Cancer had spread to the lymph nodes.  If the lymph nodes were infected with Cancer, the surgery would be halted and there would be little hope of a positive outcome. 

Watching my father and mother walk hand in hand down the long cold corridor of Johns Hopkins University hospital, my eyes welled up with tears, realizing at that moment what life was really all about, having someone there for you during that long corridor of life and regardless of the pitfalls that may lie ahead, still holding on.  The two of them, Mum and Poppy, would be forever changed by the next few hours.  Cancer still did not care.

I sat beside my mother in the waiting room, with my brother and sister on either side of us.  My mother’s sister was also there, along with close friends from the church.  The pastor’s assistant had been at the hospital early to pray with us.  Poppy’s longtime friend from college also came to support his friend.  Conspicuously absent were my father’s brothers-one because he was not told of the Cancer, and the other because he was too selfish to care.  I will never understand how collectively they couldn’t manage to be half the brother to my father that he was in spades to them. 

When the doctor came to us after the surgery, I knew the good news.  The cancer had not gone to the lymph nodes and the surgery went well.  As so many others in the waiting room looked on, again, I wept – this time, with joy.  Again we prayed and thanked God.  There was still the final report to arrive two days later, but I was renewed.  I just wanted to see my Poppy. 

It was hours before I got to see him, but when I did, I saw a man I had never seen before in my life.  He was pale, weak, and almost helpless.  I saw the humanity of my hero, and it frightened me a bit.  Cancer transforms a person.  When Poppy awoke from the anesthesia, he looked into my mother’s eyes, his own eyes glassy with tears, and asked what the surgeon had said. My mum held his hand, smiled, told him the good news, and buried her head beside his.  

Although the surgery was a success, the recovery would still be the hurdle to surpass, and this is the worst part of Cancer.  How do you recover from near death?  How do you recover from almost losing everything? 

There is no Cancer in my father’s body – he fully recovered several years ago. During his recovery, my family was inundated with telephone calls, cards, prayers, flowers, and gifts from our church family and my mother’s family, from people as far west as Missouri and Texas, and Seattle, Washington.  My mum hung every single Get Well card in the entrance to the living room, and those cards remain there 10 years later. We have learned the power of prayer and who is really supporting us in the long run.  Cancer is not only a killer, but it is also a teacher.  I have learned not to take anything for granted.  I want to spend the rest of my life surrounded by the people who love and support me.    

My father is a remarkable man.  He is a strong Black Christian man with an eternal love for his Lord and his family.  He is retired and gets to do whatever his heart desires. He has everything any man really needs.  What’s more, he has a second chance at life because he beat Cancer.  It doesn’t matter that Cancer didn’t care.  There are so many others who did.

There’s been another shooting. Another group of students has been subjected to terror that can no longer be described as unimaginable given the frequency of such events, and lives again are forever changed. Some time yesterday afternoon, Stephen, a 27 year old man armed with at least 2 guns walked across a stage, and started shooting randomly at a room full of people at Northern Illinois University. After killing and wounding several individuals, he killed himself. But his story is not over.

His story will be told by a myriad of former friends, family, professors, coaches, psychologists, television newsies, and bloggers, of course. News reports updated hourly continue to point to the missing motive, and speculation abounds and ranges from bad past experiences to missed medication. Only he and God know the truth.

His story will morph into debates arguing the pros and cons of gun ownership, and call for stronger gun control laws. Mr. Heston will once again refer to this killer as an exception, so far from the rule with regard to gun owners, and then likely invite everyone over for a good shoot. The store owner that sold the killer his weapons of choice just a few days ago will defend the sale, and the story will be lost.

When I saw the news coverage this morning, I reacted much the same way as I reacted to the shootings at Columbine and the shootings at Virginia Tech. I sat in silence and allowed the tears to roll down my cheeks. I looked at the students running for their lives, and I cried.

I cry at these events not just for the loss of life but for the loss of innocence. Decoding these events is so far from my realm of understanding. My high school experience, recently brought to my mind by a new friend*, as well as my college experience were far from terror-filled and tragic. I walked without fear, believing in earnest that each of us — at college and in high school — shared many more similarities than differences, and that there were no hidden wounds so deeply painful that murder and suicide seemed the only cures. But looking back on those 8 years, I don’t suppose that I or anyone knew much about anyone, except what each person opted to invite the other to know, and our desires or abilities to accept the invitation.

The gunman at NIU has been described as an outstanding student, and, naturally, everyone says favorable things about him, thus proving the point that none of these people knew him or his pain. And though I don’t presume to know the nature of this pain, something painful drew him to purchase 3 or more guns in an 8-month period, to costume himself in all black, to linger in the shadows of a lecture hall, to fire a gaggle of weapons into a crowd of likely strangers, to take the time to reload, and to take his own life. No one, I would venture to say, expects that any sort of pain is worthy of this level of violence, but the fact remains that people walking in our daily lives experience, live with, struggle through this sort of pain all the time, more than we tend to admit possible.

The Word says that the suffering of this world can’t even compare to the glory that will be revealed. That promise sustains only those who know and believe and rest in the arms of Christ. And how can those in pain walking among us, sometimes walking in pain as us, function in any possible way without an understanding and appreciation of the manifesting of His love? We who call Him Father need to exhibit a certain consistent level of Christ-like love in as vigilant a manner fathomable. Who knows if an exhibition of love would have avoided this horrible horrible event–it’s much more complicated than that. But I think it’s safe to assume that the pain in this Stephen had not been sufficiently addressed by the intense power of Love as presented by his fellow (hu)man.

I visited Montrose Christian yesterday, at the suggestion of a friend who visited last week. She was excited about the topic, love, and the experience of the service. I have visited Montrose on several occasions, and find that it is absolutely the kind of place I would like to call my church home, but am hindered by two issues of varying importance. First, I have not felt the direct call to leave my current church, and second, that the commute is a bit longer than I’m ready to commit.

While the struggle continues, I can say that I believe in the mission of Montrose, and enjoy the atmosphere of spiritual connection–to others and to Christ–that I have been missing at my home church. Of course, the Word says that I will find God when I seek with my whole heart, and it would be unfair and untrue to say that I have, or have even been able to do that at my home church for a variety of reasons. Still, I enjoyed the experience at Montrose, feeling closer to relationship with God, and touched by the familiar faces whose care and concern stem from their own relationship with Christ, and who see me as sister in the Kingdom.

Pastor Ken spoke on the subject of love, and specifically, on the need for Christians to express that love. He began with the idea, one that I fully embrace, that the characteristics of love detailed in I Corinthians 13:4-7 are, in fact, behavioral characteristics, action words even. Verse 4 reads, Love is patient. Pastor Ken interprets that verse to mean People who love are patient. He spent the bulk of the message on this concept, using a variety of examples, some directed at parents and spouses, but most directed at people of all ages and life stages.

I don’t suppose I’ve ever dealt with the idea of patience at any great length, likely because I lack any real evidence of having any patience. Pastor Ken noted that patience manifests in other ways, including forgiveness. He referenced Proverbs, where patience is described as part of wisdom, and it’s that point that pricked my heart the most. After all, who among us would not choose wisdom? He said that wisdom and patience let us know when it’s time to let something go. That’s a word!

Patience is so important in the expression of true love, real love. Christ demonstrated immense patience with me, and He continues to do so.  If I take the time, as the pastor suggested, to tally up all the time that Christ has spent letting my stuff go, I will find the example of patience by which I should model my life. He has watched me fall, after I’ve struggled from His grip, and He lovingly picked me up after I was broken in pieces. And He’s done that over and over again because I failed to learn from the lessons presented before me.

So maybe that’s what this love thing is all about. Maybe just remembering who Christ is what He has done is enough to affect the behavioral changes that lead to the life changes that lead to loving wholly and purely and authentically.

One thing is certain, the time is now to start living and loving.