Day 7, 2019

I had no idea about the “gift” of isolation that awaited me there or the test that my character would undergo (to bring me forth as gold) nor the sweet surrender that I would do after being wrestled all day and night for days.

Isolation, (Mental) Retreats, Quiet Time and Peace of Mind

Author: Melissa Barber

Happy Seventh Day of Thanks Everyone!

Today, I give thanks for isolation, (mental) retreats,  quiet time, and peace of mind, all of which allow me to reflect and wrestle myself into loving myself, transforming myself and surrendering to God’s greater purposes for my life.

Last Sunday, I went to my best friend’s church and heard a sermon preached called “It is Worth Fighting for.” The reverend used the text in the book of Genesis, chapter thirty two, verses twenty four through twenty six.  Those particular scriptures talk about a protagonist Jacob who is left alone in the wilderness and begins to wrestle with a “man” all night long. When day break comes, the man who is wrestling with Jacob demands that Jacob let him go. However, Jacob refuses and tells the man that he will not let go until he is blessed. The man then asks Jacob his name.

As she expounded on her sermon, the reverend mentioned a few things that resounded in my core. First, she said, “every now and then, there is something valuable enough to you that you will fight for it.  Then she said, “when something is worth fighting for, we have to thank/bless God for isolation.  Next she said, “Sometimes God will show up as a wrestler in your life because He has to fight you for you because you wont release yourself to Him.” Finally, she said “Since the teacher has provided you with everything you need to pass the test, the discretion of the teacher is that he can test you at any time, expecting that you are only done with the test when you give the teacher back what he gave you. Hearing these sentences separately, may not mean or sound like much but in the context of my life, they are so significant.

Last May or June, hearing about and witnessing all of the stress in my life, my mama invited me to a sisterhood retreat in California. I had absolutely no money to go (There is barely enough to pay for all the necessities in my life let alone for a retreat!) but knew that I needed the new perspective, rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation that would come with this retreat.  Since my peace of mind has become one of my most valuable possessions and worth fighting for, I set my heart on getting to this retreat.  Essentially, I was trying to figure out how to rob peter to pay paul and get the money (without having to dance on a pole, which I am too heavy to work anymore, or sell body parts! LOL!). When I exhausted all my possibilities, I told my mama that I wanted to go but had financial limitations that made this trip nearly impossible. She told me that if I could pay the cost of my flight to LA, my organization would sponsor the cost of the retreat.  I can’t even explain how I got the money for that flight and childcare (But God!) in the nick of time.

 I had no idea about the “gift” of isolation that awaited me there or the test that my character would undergo (to bring me forth as gold) nor the sweet surrender that I would do after being wrestled all day and night for days.  The beginning portion of this retreat experience was one big mirror screaming, “This is your life! It is completely out of balance and out of control!” The second portion of the retreat gently took my hand, with motherly and sisterly love, and led me to the work saying, “here is the work you need to do and the decisions you need to make to love yourself and find the medicine in the poison of your life.” Once I did the work and became intentional about making some absolutely necessary decisions, the all day/all night wrestling in my heart and mind with The Divine Spirit (and myself) until I received a release subsided.

The final stage of the retreat released the new blessing—new life tools, new purpose, new identity, new perspective, new strength, and new sisterhood. There was a surrender in my heart that I knew was timely (not just a chronos but a kairos timely moment).  I also knew that I had ended an era of cycles.  I knew that the giants in that phase of my life had been conquered and had fallen and that I would see them no more. [Often, we wonder why we go in circles and we see the same pattern of cycles in ourselves, several members of our family and even in generations. It’s because when the test is presented, we don’t pass. The Divine teacher can/will never let us move to the next level if we haven’t passed and mastered the level we are on.] This test I passed, with flying colors.

The new me gave myself permission and the strength to choose me. I was now a beautiful butterfly who was ready to spread my wings and show the world my beauty. And I, too, was worth fighting for. 

 Today, as we give thanks for retreats, isolation, quiet time, and peace of mind, I’d like to highlight the organization This Is My Brave (https://thisismybrave.org/).  Their mission is to end mental health stigma by empowering people to tell their stories of living with mental illness through creative work like storytelling, poetry or music. Please donate your resources to this organization or grab tickets to a live show of storytelling when they come to your town as they travel throughout the country. 

Love Ya, 

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 6, 2019

I always look for the corners in silent places to drop my load and cry my eyes out as I tune my ears and eyes to hear the whispers of divine guidance giving me an action plan to make my next move.

Day 6: Muses

Happy Sixth Day of Thanks Everyone!

Today we give thanks for muses and the creativity they inspire to be undone and find wholeness in secret and sacred spaces of stillness. 

Many of you know that I love the gift of song and its ability to speak to the core of one’s soul.  What you may not know is that one of my all time favorite R&B (Neo Soul) artists is India.Arie. During the twenty years of her career, she has managed to write down my thoughts, feelings, and emotions as if she was living my life. Then, she had the nerve to expose all my vulnerabilities by singing the pages of my life, while strumming on her guitar. (She is just so fly!) 

As I cried my eyes out, after having my heart crushed, she reminded me that I was a BEAUTIFUL FLOWER and that I too was WORTHY.  She affirmed that I AM LIGHT and allowed me to pass that knowledge to all my friends and mini-diva mentees.  I don’t know how she knew what I was looking for in a relationship but those joints—BROWN SKIN and STEADY LOVE–hit the spot.  She tko’d me with “HE HEALS ME” as I reminisced about a past lover/friend and my secret place. 

But, my soul was truly undone at hearing these words: 

You are where I go to hide/when the wind starts to blow/when the lightning starts to strike/ when the thunder starts to roll/when this life becomes a fight/You are where I put my gloves down/ when I‘m running out of time/you are where I go to slow down… Where I go to be moved/where I go to be still…

As a single mother who holds down everything—the special needs child, the jobs, the bills,—and every day has to fight (most time for crumbs), while getting knocked down at almost every turn, in all moments, I’m running to and thirsting for an oasis in the dry dessert of my life.  I always look for the corners in silent places to drop my load and cry my eyes out as I tune my ears and eyes to hear the whispers of divine guidance giving me an action plan to make my next move.  

I wonder, how does she know how to tell my story? How does she know what it’s like to live in my truth? 

‘Cause some days I just want to run into loving arms that will share my load and help to carry some of my burden. I’ve mastered the balancing act of compartmentalizing each issue in the crevices of my brain while my heart is bleeding to beat. And I fight, with my boxing gloves never in pause, to stay alive.  But, sometimes I wish I could rest and there was no war to fight or no challenge to be conquered.  Often times, I just want to be reminded that things are gonna be alright and perhaps have that cool sip of water before I die.

Your love makes me new/In your presence I heal…No walls, no war/No cause, no weapons formed/No law, what for?/You are where I go to hide/You are where I go to heal/You are where I go to feel/to remember what is real…

Feeling wounded and like I’ve been left without a covering, I sit in that silent place repeatedly and pray a cloak of reminders over myself…that I’m loved, that I’m beautiful, that I’m worthy, that I’m allowed to feel and be real in all my dysfunctional truth.  In that silent place, I remind myself to love and choose me first (since I’ve never been taught how to do that).   There, no picking at my flaws and quirks is allowed.  Rejected are the critiques of what I’m lacking to fit into a societal standard.  No examining of anything else, I surrender. There, it’s just me—all of me–standing in my true candor.  My safe and secret place…

You are my sacred space.God is.

Today, as we give thanks for muses, think about what or maybe even who is your sacred space.  Where does your creative ability blossom at its maximum capacity? Today, I’m highlighting two organizations, Upbeat NYC (www.upbeatnyc.org) and The Lynx Project (https://www.lynxproject.org); Upbeat provides free music lessons to learn just about every instrument to over two hundred children in the South Bronx.  Please donate your money, volunteer time, instruments, sheet music and materials, and any of your skill sets to helping this organization to thrive.   The Lynx Project does the wonderful work of bringing to life the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of their autistic participants by putting them to song and giving them a voice.  It is such an amazing program! Please check out their organization, catch an event when it comes to a town near you and donate to them so they can continue their beautiful work. 

Love Ya, 

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Dancing life

The story of the (still unfolding) life of an African-American woman living in the predominantly white worlds of ballet, modern dance, and Broadway, while facing challenges, heartbreaks, and triumphs as she attempts to shatter the stereotypically classical mold and celebrate her evolution into an unapologetic body, (Francesca Harper).

Dormeshia!

THE FRANCESCA HARPER PROJECT

Day 5, 2019

I knew that we couldn’t be friends again, though. I did not want to be friends; I just wanted to do my duty to support him because I cared for him as a human being, but not as a friend any more. I wanted him to be happy, but away from me.

Strong, Resilient Women Happy Fifth Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today, we give thanks and say prayers for the many women world-wide who are strong and resilient in the face of oppression and who have learned and are learning the power of their voice and making courageous decisions to change their situations. We also give thanks for the sisterhood that so readily embraces, loves and supports them in their everyday lives.  Please enjoy this reflection of thanks  by Dilara Demir. 

Author: Dilara Demir

I am thankful for the strong women I have encountered, who gave me a sense of resilience, humility to cry out loud in difficult times and ask for help, and persistence for life. Thank God that they appear in my life much more than before and show me a sisterhood that I would have never imagined. 

Despite being written for a different history and context, Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” moves me because I am a woman from the so-called Third world. I grew up as a tom boy, probably because I grew up in a sexually suppressed, conservative context in which men dominated and thrived much easier than women. I think I was scared of being a woman, when I first realized I had boobs. I was sexually/physically abused when I was three, eight, sixteen and twenty one years old… and emotionally and verbally abused countless times. Despite enormous mistrust against men, my best friends have always been male throughout my primary, secondary, high school and university education. I was contributing to their toxic masculinity at times by being obedient and not resisting against their aggressive behavior toward me or other women around them. I was very young and did not know better.  Although I had many “strong” women around me including my mom, my grandmothers, my aunts, they were not strong against resisting men and patriarchy; they were just resilient. In other words, they took emotional, psychological and economic burdens from their husbands, sons or any other men in their lives but still survived and grew themselves and their children despite it all. My role models were not taking a stance against abuse. 

When I was at the university, I became aware of different ideas and ideologies that made me question every part of my femininity. Why did I have the utmost tolerance for male friends, while having very little for female friends? Why did I act tough? Why did I care about football and cars and video games to make conversation with my male friends? Why did I reproduce the oppression? I lost track of my identity and my mental health declined.  This was a blessing in disguise because I started reflecting on every bit and piece of myself, my own thinking process, and the actions stemming from these processes. 

All these questions became more obvious, when my closest friend, whom I called brother genuinely, did not ALLOW ME to study abroad because he suddenly needed to stay in the country due to his mom being diagnosed with breast cancer. We took his mother into the hospital together. I tried to support him economically by buying food for him in the university, without offending his male ego. I was always there at the end of the phone or in person talking for hours to soothe him during the last year of my university education. We had the same dream of getting a full scholarship to study in the UK for our master’s degrees. We both applied, we both got the scholarship and we got into our dream schools. He decided not to accept his scholarship, despite his mom’s refusal to be the reason for him not to follow his dreams. He had an elder brother who was an addict and his father left them when he was seven and only returned when he started to earn a living. Since we came from low income families, we were both working part time and studying at the same time. So, we understood the hardships. The moment I told him that I still wanted to follow my dream and understood his decision to stay in Turkey to support his mom, he got furious and did not talk to me for months. He questioned my friendship and told me that I was not his sister anymore. I tried to explain to him that I would still be at the other end of the phone and physically visit the country every other month if not every month. He refused to talk to me. He made fun of me, saying that Skype or writing emails wouldn’t suffice for our friendship because it wouldn’t be the same as spending many hours a day together. We had nothing sensual; we never developed a romantic relationship; we were just very good friends for 6 years, spending everyday together. So, I kept saying that we didn’t need to touch each other to be close friends. He refused again. He made me feel so guilty and my sense of identity was shaken to its core. I started blaming myself for desiring to follow my education, which I would never have a chance to do again if I didn’t do it with the fellowship at that moment. He pushed my limits so much, I had to question our relationship and all my relationships with people this possessive, who treated me like an object to satisfy their emotional need of being there for them all the time. This triggered so much thinking and self-reflection on my own understanding of friendship and intimacy as well as the structural problem of his constant aggression against me in our relationship. 

I realized whenever we had a disagreement, he became verbally abusive and made demeaning comments toward me which attacked my self-esteem so I would do what he wanted me to do. These were very small microaggressions and bullying mechanisms that became a pattern and very abusive, killing my self-esteem slowly and steadily. For example, I wanted to go out with a couple of friends from another class without him once. The entire day he made fun of me saying that I was trying to be popular and accused me of being superficial for no reason. Then he added that he was my best friend, not them. When I questioned his authority of knowledge, he shouted at me in front of people so we could not get into intellectual debates, although we both studied social sciences. We should either agree or not agree. I just did not want to deal with his passive or open aggression. So, eventually, I found it easier not to deal with his arguments and just accept them. I also always found an excuse for him. I reasoned that he did that because his father left him at a young age and he had dependency issues or that he did not mean to hurt me. So many excuses in his name… 

Then, I realized something even more disturbing. I had a very similar relationship with my dad. I had to agree with his opinions, otherwise he started shouting, claiming that I was not his daughter any more or broke things.  This was the story of my childhood and youth, dealing with men who knew what they wanted or thought, while questioning everything I said, and making demeaning, devaluing comments. Apparently, I made a subconscious decision to not create conflict with men in this pattern. But, I was no longer happy with my decision any more.

After I realized that I had nothing to blame myself for. I wanted to live my own life, while being a supportive friend. My own father who has been aggressive to me wanted to talk to me, when he saw how devastated I was at having to choose between losing this friend or following my education abroad. Ironically, he made me realize that my scholarship was a once in a life time opportunity and no man in my life was worth sacrificing it. YES, my own father included himself into the dynamic and said follow what you want, not me, not him, no other men!!! My father told me that if he was a real friend, he would understand and support me even if he felt like he had to refuse this opportunity. He also added that my own brother couldn’t request this from me and he was right. I followed my dreams and started my MA in London on a full scholarship, without my friend being around, and I have never regretted this decision.

My boundaries between individuality and communality are very blurred for cultural and social reasons. It made me aware that sometimes I have had to cut people off, especially aggressive men from my life. At times, I have had to cut off my own dad. I couldn’t lose myself for someone who did not care for my well-being or my dreams. I did not talk to this friend until almost five years later when I heard his mom died of metastasis. I went to the funeral, supported him, hugged him, stayed with him until very late.  I along with another of his childhood friends were the last people to stay with him that day. I felt like I did my final duty. I knew that we couldn’t be friends again, though. I did not want to be friends; I just wanted to do my duty to support him because I cared for him as a human being, but not as a friend any more. I wanted him to be happy, but away from me. I had to let go of him because that relationship tired me so much. He made me realize that I had to let go of people, even if they were good people in their hearts. 

After that big change in my life, I met the love of my life. He is a very different kind of man; he’s not aggressive or too demanding and never dominating. We have built our relationship on mutual trust, not manipulation or passive aggression. It still remains that way to date. He has moments of conditioned toxic masculinity and we talk about it openly. However, it never gets to a point in which I go into the same pattern of obedience/aggression. I have changed a lot. I’m much more aware of my power and my voice. I am a strong woman who can cut off any man who is not making my life easier, respecting me or caring for/being compassionate toward me. 

You might wonder what this story has to do with sisterhood. Sisterhood is the reason I also feel that I am not dealing with this type of male behavior anymore. I have met many strong women, some of which are in this thread, some of which are refugee women who are leaving their husbands, despite the difficulties they are encountering as migrants in a different country, some of which are PhD students or graduates whom I have met during my graduate school years. These strong women showed me that being a woman is not just about shopping together, gossiping together or attacking each other. We are much more compassionate to each other, more caring, more understanding, less judgmental and much more practically supportive. I realized that we are much stronger when we have space for sisterhood and we build deeper connections regardless of our romantic relationships with men or women and regardless of our sexual orientation. 

As some of you know, I worked in a woman-only refugee community center in Athens, Greece and their resilience changed my outlook for life. In the name of sisterhood, if you think of contributing to my sisters over there, please consider sending donations through paypal. Their paypal account is melissa.mwnetwork@gmail.com I assure you it will be spent for sisterhood and women empowerment. 

If you dont have much money, then you can just follow them on facebook and see their wonderful events and actions and share them (Melissa Network).
Melissa NetworkMelissa Network, Athens, Greece. 8K likes. Melissa is a network for migrant women in Greece, promoting empowerme…

Note: Recently, one of my sisters, Heba, a refugee woman from Afghanistan, living in Greece was killed by her husband in front of their 4 year old son, Mohammed. I could not stop crying for several days when I learnt this news. But, I also wanted to be more active on that front, wherever I go, since it is important to ask courageously “what can I do now?” for us (women) and our loved ones around us, as Melissa wrote so beautifully in the Day 1:Courage email. I would be very grateful if you would let me know if there are any organizations on the East coast we can support that resist against femicides by husbands, boyfriends and police here in the US.

Because I am a migrant, for a long time, I learnt how to appreciate beauty in other cultures that make me feel at home. So I wanted to end with a famous poem by Maya Angelou, I am sure many of you know this poem: 

 Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Love Ya, Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Melissa Barber

Day 4, 2019

If you could even believe it, since the walls to our apartments are so thin, in the latter years of our friendship, he began to stand outside my apartment door in the morning just to hear my prayers and be part of my devotion time.

Day 4: Companionship

Author: Melissa Barber

Happy Fourth Day of Thanks Everyone!

Today I give thanks for Companionship and the great memories of a friendship. 

One of my all time favorite buddies, Mr. David Harris, just recently passed away in September and I miss him like crazy. He was one of the best neighbors and bffs that I could ever truly have!  Not only were we really good friends but he eventually looked out for me and Lilah and considered us as his own daughters.  He was trustworthy and dependable enough to be trusted with all my postal packages, help me put together the perfect outfit and shoes for a work presentation or special occasion, remind me that he’d be waiting up to make sure I got home from a date (and peek his head out of his apartment door when I got home to make sure I knew he was serious!), and give me another perspective to an issue or concern I had.  He would constantly worry and nag me about being too great of a person to be single.(My replies were always, “then tell the men that!”) One day when I was in a bind and didn’t have a babysitter, he agreed to put Lilah on her morning bus for me. He was so nervous and didn’t want to mess up or miss the bus that he had Lilah outside for a whole hour and 30 minutes waiting for the bus to come. (To this day, I chuckle at that because I know Lilah in her mind was like “why in the world does this man have me outside this early?”)

He was the perfect Mikey. (I’m dating myself. Do you all remember that commercial, “Give it to Mikey, Mikey will eat it!”) I could always count on him to be my test taster! Every Thanksgiving and Christmas he had his own feast for days from my kitchen. Interestingly enough, he always knew when to knock on or pass by my apartment door when food was being made.  His famous phrase became, “Ms. Barber, it’s smelling mighty fine in there” with his backwoods Virginia drawl which would always automatically get him a plate of food and great conversation. He absolutely loved when I made my famous sancocho. Sometimes, he and Lilah would gang up on me about wanting to eat dinner at the same time. (Talk about spoiled folk! SMH!) He was that friend who cracked jokes on me for years after seeing me in pain and not being able to move for a week, after doing a crossfit class. I somehow got voted and coaxed into being his screenplay script reader. Mr. Harris worked in the movie industry in his hay days, studied videography, and had several unfinished scripts that still needed to be finished.  (When, I told him that I wasn’t going to read another new script until he finished the old ones, he said that I was just like Ms. Clara because she said the same thing to him.) He would share stories of how his father’s girlfriend, Aunt Queenie, a strict, no-nonsense, disciplinarian kept his behind in check and sore when he was growing up. It was hilarious to see him fly straight when I threatened to evoke the name of Aunt Queenie and start acting like her.  (LOL!)

As I look back on the eight years we spent being neighbors, I knew on our first encounter that he was going to find a way to be around.  (He was a little curious–more like noisy– asking so many questions when I first joined our floor.)  He and his daughter-in-law were nice and helped me to mastermind a strategy to get my huge couch into my apartment when Delilah and I moved in. He even volunteered to take all of my boxes in the basement to the recycling bins. I can’t remember or pinpoint the specific moment when I knew that I’d never get rid of him (or his friendship) but I’m so grateful that our friendship grew so organically and remained consistent until his death.  (I so miss my friend!)

I think our friendship started from my genuine concern to check on him and ask about his emotional and psychological well-being, after noticing devastation in his face one morning.  Something told me to ask him if he was alright and if I could pray for him.  As I was praying the Holy Spirit began to reveal some things for which I needed to pray. Not only did I pray for him, I begin to pray for his wife, Ms. Clara, too. Eventually, I discovered that his devastation was from the realization that he was losing Ms. Clara, his life-long partner and best friend, to dementia and that she was “a shell of who she was,” no longer remembering or going to remember the forty plus years of their life’s worth of memories.  Additionally, because the task of caring for Ms. Clara became too great for Mr. Harris, Ms. Clara’s daughter took her upstate to live.  Mr. Harris was here by himself and lonely and had to re-learn some of the basic necessities of survival like cooking.  

Often, he would come over to ask me how to make certain meals to try his hand at cooking or to do damage control if he put too much of a spice or seasoning into the food.  Sometimes, he’d ask medical advice for Ms. Clara.  Other times, he would come over because he just needed to talk and have a listening ear to hear. We became sounding boards for each other.  Even in his late seventies, he was still trying to cope with seeing his mom being violently abused by her boyfriends and killed and not being able to help her, then losing his dad to heart disease before he turned ten or eleven years old, and being orphaned until Aunt Queenie chose to raise him.  During this season of his life, he was very reflective and began to examine his life, think about many of his regrets and wish that he could have done so many things over or differently than he had done them the first time. His grandchildren were his pride and joy because it allowed him to feel like he was pouring into the next generation of his family and getting it right this time.  I was honored that he shared his favorite granddaughter, Chloe, with me. We all had some awesome play dates together. He said that I was a positive person and role model that he wanted to influence her life.  He also became another constant, positive male role model and grandfather type in Lilah’s life.  He never missed a special occasion or birthday (or birthday cake!) in our lives. He always showed up for us. 

I never told Mr. Harris but about a year before he got sick, I had a vivid dream that I was reading the obituary at his funeral. So I started preparing myself for what was coming.  Since we started doing annual bucket lists on my birthday (finishing the movie scripts was one of the items repeatedly on the lists), I made sure that he wrote down and signed his last bucket list and attempted to do the things on the list. Some of his biggest hopes were to travel Europe again, be more influential in all of his grandchildren’s lives, kick the habit of smoking, and have a closer relationship with God.  He significantly reduced his smoking habit; he finally finished one of the movie scripts; his relationship with God grew deeper.

At first, Mr. Harris was very skeptical about Christians, especially pastors for whom he coined the phrase “Holy Roller, Jack-legged Preachers” from his experience growing up in the south. (He told me some very interesting, yet disappointing, stories about his experiences and encounters with the church.)  However, several years into our friendship, he said that he couldn’t believe that I was really a Christian who meant business about my faith and tried to really walk it out every day. I found it funny that Mr. Harris said I was that conscious voice of reason in his head that always stopped him from doing the wrong thing. (And he was always ready to do the wrong thing!) I got him to share more and stop being selfish.  I checked his pride very often and made him examine some of the roots of his behavior so that he could transform to become a better person. (Though, no matter what, that stubbornness would not go away!) If you could even believe it, since the walls to our apartments are so thin, in the latter years of our friendship, he began to stand outside my apartment door in the morning just to hear my prayers and be part of my devotion time.  (I told him that he should stop doing that because people were going to think he was weird and a stalker and invited him to physically be part of my routine).  Frequently, he would join me for Morning Prayer, ask me to send him scriptures by text on which he could meditate throughout the day and ask for me to explain certain scriptures to him. I was elated as he did the work of processing his anger towards God. Mr. Harris finally realized that none of his sins or feelings of unworthiness could stop God from loving him and finally accepted Christ as His Savior. (It warms my heart to know he is among my great cloud of witnesses now!)As he started to age, kick his addiction, and get sick, Mr. Harris started to become a curmudgeon. (Whew!) A grumpy old man! He would pretend he didn’t want anybody to come see him in the hospital, but when I asked “oh, so you don’t want me to come?” He whined, “when are you coming to see me?” (Men!)

When he found his dog (Hot Sauce) who also became his new friend and companion, it became harder for him not to be sensitive and much softer around the edges.  Between me and Hot Sauce, we made sure we took care of Mr. Harris and surrounded him with love, support and the best companionship.  As he got sicker, I still made him some of his favorite meals and was sometimes the only one who could get him to eat, even when he didn’t have an appetite. He started to fall very often, became severely dehydrated and eventually had a really bad seizure that got him admitted to the ICU.  It broke my heart one day when I found him on the floor in the bathroom of his apartment and he said he had been there for hours calling for me to come help him.  (Luckily, he always left his apartment open so when I heard him calling my name I was able to get to him quickly.) My healthy, athletic, vibrant friend was so frail and almost emaciated. I picked him up, got him to the bed, cleaned him up, made him some breakfast, fed him and waited for his son to come relieve me. 

One Sunday, after church, right before a major work trip, God told me to go to the hospital to say my good-byes. (My heart was sad that I would no longer have my sounding board, taste tester, or my bff to help me pick out my outfits, nag me about being single, and celebrate the special moments with me.)When we got there, he was sleep and I didn’t want to wake him. Lilah and I prayed for him. Lilah said that she saw his angel and began to draw a picture of the angel she saw.  (As I saw Lilah’s picture of the angel, I knew that Mr. Harris was at the end of his journey on earth.) When he woke up and saw us, he said, “you came.”  I replied, “you know I would! I’m surprised you know who I am?” He said, slightly chuckling “who is you? Ms. Barber. Of course, I know who you are. I’m sorry that I’m so sleepy.” I told him not to worry about being sleepy and that we had just come to pray for him and let him know just how much he was loved. He closed his eyes to go back to sleep.

Mr. Harris died several days later, the morning I left for my trip. His family didn’t do much to invite his friends from the building into the celebration of his life, which hurt my heart, because I would have always showed up for Mr. Harris.  But, I’m happy to say that my bff knew just how much he was loved and cherished and got his flowers (from me and Lilah) every day of the eight years that he lived life in the earth, knowing us. And my life was made a little richer, more colorful and always interesting with him around. I miss you, David! It’s not the same without you. 

As we give thanks for companionship, let all the companions in your life know just how much you love and appreciate them. Today, we highlight an organization, Friend to Friend America (https://friendtofriendamerica.org/) which recruits and matches volunteers to visit (one-to-one) with elderly and disabled persons living in assisted living, nursing, retirement, and adult family homes for the purpose of forming friendships. Please consider volunteering your time with this organization or for the price of a cup of coffee ($5) donate to help their cause to give seniors and uniquely-abled persons the opportunity to have friends.Love ya,Have A Great Day of Thanks

Day 3, 2019

I laughed. A free exceptional medical education. As an American I thought that nothing good is free. But, I indulged her, did my research and to my surprise it did exist. I called IFCO’s office and spoke with a lovely woman (Dr. Barber) and she broke down what I needed to apply. I had exactly one week to fulfill the very specific requirements for the application process.

Day 3: Perseverance

Author: Ms. Karis Bamba and Melissa Barber

Happy Third Day of Thanks Everyone!I hope you all had a wonderful time of Thanksgiving with friends and family yesterday. Today, we give thanks for perseverance (and relentlessness!) because it’s what leads us down the path to success.  Enjoy as Ms. Karis Bamba shares her story of perseverance.

Let me start out by saying that God is always on time. As I reflect on my experience with you all, I have come to realize how ever present and merciful he has been to me throughout my journey. Anytime I felt stuck or defeated, I know that it was Him speaking to me through my loved ones; He was the one I turned to when every thought of giving up on myself arose. 

 Ever since I can remember, if anyone ever asked me what I wanted to be, I never hesitated to say, “A Doctor!”At 10, my mother gave me a white lab coat and fisher price doctor bag. I gave everyone in my house a thorough physical that day along with their shots. The doctor was always in the house. Fast forward to college, I worked hard, but my grades weren’t reflecting that. I spoke to an advisor and she asked me what my goals for the future were.  I gave my usual answer, to which she replied, “You’re never going to be a doctor with these grades, have you thought of something else?” For some reason, I was surprisingly unfazed by this statement. I thought to myself no one but God can or will tell me what my capabilities are. So, I kept strong and determined to keep up my grades. I received my bachelor’s degree but I did not get the scores I needed to attend medical school right away.  I did not feel defeated, but determined to do what I needed to be ready. So, I took time to study for my MCAT. When I took it for the first time, I was confident but my score was not competitive enough for medical school.

For the first time, I felt defeated. As time progressed, my dream of becoming a doctor seemed like a fantasy that was unobtainable.  I tried to redirect my focus to my job as an EM.  It was fulfilling at first but I felt like there was more I could do. I don’t know if it was speaking to physicians, working in the hospital environment, or the overwhelming pressure from my family. They’d all ask, “So when are you going medical school?” To be quite frank, I wanted to know too. What was I doing? Why was I working so hard for someone else’s dream? 

 One day my mom came to me with an idea. She asked, “Why don’t you apply to medical school in Cuba?  It’s free and they offer one of the best medical educations in the world.” I laughed. A free exceptional medical education. As an American I thought that nothing good is free. But, I indulged her, did my research and to my surprise it did exist. I called IFCO’s office and spoke with a lovely woman (Dr. Barber) and she broke down what I needed to apply. I had exactly one week to fulfill the very specific requirements for the application process. I assembled my village of family and friends to help me complete the list of requirements. I had people looking over papers, doing necessary translations, getting the documents on the list. On the day of the deadline, I asked my coworker to take me over to IfCO’s office in the ambulance and I proudly dropped off my application. That weekend I fasted and prayed for an interview invite, and once again God was right on time. 

 I was interviewed by 3 people. Though I was a little nervous, I was confident that this medical school was where I belonged and I would be able to exemplify that to the committee with my personality and intellect. I also had God on my side, guiding me through my anxiety. The interview went well enough that I was invited to an orientation/interview part 2 where I interacted with other candidates under conditions that compare to Cuba. Though I believed I proved myself, I was not selected for admission. When I received the news, I was crushed. I was most certain this was God’s plan for me. He got me through the application process and the interview but not this. However, during that experience I met some amazing and inspiring people and a mentor. So, I internalized my lesson, and moved forward. 

I did not give up there; I decided to apply for a master’s degree program. I was accepted to Rutgers in August 2016 to earn a Master’s degree in Biomedical Science. I was excited to get started, show myself and medical schools that I am able to excel in challenging courses. I knew it would be a little challenging but I greatly underestimated it. This program was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I remember every time I walked out of an exam I would call my mother crying, “This is it! I’m going back to my job! I don’t think being a doctor is for me. If I can’t do this, how can I do medical school?” 

My mother would always ask me, “Did you do your best?” to which I would reply in between sobs, “Yes.”

“So let God do the rest. You did your part, let Him do His.” Letting go and Letting God seemed hard but I have come to realize that if I trust him, love him and believe that he died for my salvation, I could let God work on me. 

 Although I was on the right track to earning my masters degree, I still needed to sort out my MCAT. I decided to retake my MCAT while I was still in graduate school. That did not go well. I did worse than the first time. My heart dropped because this time I submitted an application in good faith that I would do well.  Instead, I was rejected from the 30 medical and Osteopathic schools to which I applied. I finished grad school and went back to work more confused than ever. 

I made a pack that I would only take my MCAT one more time. I would give it my all and no matter what I would be in medical school next year. I became relentless in my goal and it paid off.  I successfully improved my score so I decided to apply to medical schools again.  This time I received 3 acceptances and I WILL BE GOING TO MEDICAL SCHOOL  NEXT YEAR. I know that God did this for me.  He gave me the strength to keep going; He gave me direction to know my path and steered me to the outlook that was right for me. This time two years ago I had no acceptances and nothing to show for my hard work. This year I have options and they all lead to success!  The nonprofit organization I would like to highlight is the namesake of my testimony of thanks, Persevere (perseverenow.org). This organization’s mission is to give recently incarcerated individuals who served their time an opportunity to learn skills for the workforce. They offer: classes in computer coding, job placement, support for entrepreneurship, while also teaching life skills. I like this program because it acknowledges the barriers that the criminal justice system and society create for individuals who made mistakes but want to be more than what society labels them. Despite their struggles, they persevere and push towards a better tomorrow. I feel like this mirrors how I feel about my life don’t judge me by my past but for what I aspire to do in the future and my potential. This organization does just that. I will be donating to this program, and I encourage y’all to check it out as well. Thanks for your ‘reading ear’ and enjoy your holiday!

Day 2, 2019

Today, I am giving thanks for the blessing of reuniting/seeing my family members who I haven’t physically seen in about four or five years. With technology, we have been able to converse by phone and see each other with a webcam, but, we haven’t been in each other’s physical presence for a long minute.

Day 2: (Family) ReunionHappy Second Day of Thanks Everyone! 

Author: Melissa Barber

I hope you all are enjoying your Thanksgiving (Aka Anti-Imperialist Day Celebration) with family and friends. I didn’t cook for my house since I am in Orlando, Florida this year so make sure that all of you are saving me and Lilah some leftovers so that we can have something to eat when we get home (please!). 

Today, I am giving thanks for the blessing of reuniting/seeing my family members who I haven’t physically seen in about four or five years.  With technology, we have been able to converse by phone and see each other with a webcam, but, we haven’t been in each other’s physical presence for a long minute. 

My sister moved her family from New York to Florida about eight years ago in search of heat for her arthritic joints, new job opportunities, and a better life for her and her children. In those years, my nephew got married, started military service, made me four (yes, I said 4!) beautiful grandnieces and nephews, and just recently got divorced. My sister changed careers and moved to Texas for a short stint (which she hated) and just recently moved back to Florida. My niece, a co-Ms. Diva with Delilah, has grown into a beautiful young lady who is about to finish high school, has her heart set on being a forensic psychologist and has a small business/side hustle in manicures and pedicures. 

While I wasn’t mad at my sister for making her move to Florida (the NYCHA projects on Story Ave in the Bronx started taking a turn for the worse!), my daughter and I have missed them terribly.  My daughter and niece are literally born two or three weeks apart so they have been raised almost like sisters; basically, they are and have been best buddies forever.  [Lilah asks for her “NeeNee” all the time.] Since my sister was a teenage mom and we all pitched in to help her raise my nephew, I had a huge role in my nephew’s life as well. The great thing about being an intercessor (prayer warrior) for your family is that no matter where they are in distance, you know exactly what is happening with them. God’s eye will never fail and will reveal everything you need to know.

In the latter years of our lives, I guess with wisdom and a little bit of life experience, my sister and my relationship has grown deeper and wider. We’ve learned the grind of taking care of an entire family as single parents. We know what it is like when you are hard pressed for money and bills are due.  We have learned what it’s like to want to protect and shield our children from the outside world, but still feel the pain of seeing them get hurt anyway. We’ve been burned a time or two by men and have still kept pressing. Despite all odds against us, we both got educational degrees with some honors under our belt.  Perseverance, resilience, and fight have been our second names throughout our life’s stories. I also forgot to mention that we are both one of those holy rollers who will buck up if we need too and don’t tolerate much foolishness! So, through shared experiences, we have learned to get along really well and are a constant in each other lives (even though we didn’t start out that way), no matter how far away in distance we are.

When my daughter said that she wanted to see NeeNee and auntie for her birthday present, I went for broke to oblige. (My spirit was also telling me that I needed to get to Florida to set some things in order.) I decided that it was time to head south for Thanksgiving to lay my eyes on my sister and her clan. There were some grand nieces and nephews that I still have never laid hugs and kisses on—and they are real cute!–and that so needed to change. I also felt in my spirit that there was some serious mending and consoling, naturally and spiritually, that needed to be done in my family. (Before I got here, the Holy Spirit revealed some things to do for one of my grandnephews and I needed to make sure that it was accomplished.)

By Grace Richards

Lilah and I made it to Orlando, Florida yesterday afternoon and were so happy to strip down to sandals and t-shirts. I’m all about getting more naked in the heat because I love hot weather! (Now if God could just turn NY into the tropics that would definitely be a prayer answered.) We went food shopping with my sister and niece for the last ingredients to get for Thanksgiving dinner.  My sister’s children are some rare breeds; they are so finicky about food! (They are black children with roots from the south and talking ‘bout they don’t like foods like yams and stuffing.  My sister and I just look at them side-eyed and say “more for us!’) We also had to make a run to the Dollar Tree because my sister’s Christmas tree needed a hope and a prayer. It was so bare and the grandchildren were begging to see it decorated so I made sure that they were obliged.  My sister and I also wanted to make sure they had some crafts to do while they were with us. (I’m so excited to see them!) 

My nephew came over for a little bit and we joked and laughed like old times. My nephew had a black eye because a day or two earlier he had intervened to protect a homeless man who was being terrorized and beaten almost to unconsciousness by a group of young people on the street just for laughs. (There are people who do such evil to homeless folks for no reason!) We are all grateful that my nephew is alive. (I was told that the homeless man was taken to the hospital.) My nephew told jokes about his children mocking him and his children’s ghetto fabulous friends.

We had a great time.

I spent all night getting the side dishes ready.  My poor sister works a 3 or 4 am beat at her job and was so tired that she fell to sleep on the couch.  I decided to prepare as much of the Thanksgiving meal as possible, while I was getting Lilah’s food done, so that she could continue resting.  I prepared the collard greens, the macaroni and cheese, and the yams and all of Lilah’s food before my feet started to let me know that we were going to fight if I stood any longer.

 The apartment nostalgically smelled like a home (just the way I love it!) and I had my niece keep an eye on the food while I came to type this day of our journey of thanks. 

I so missed my family and catching up on all the happenings that I didn’t know had occurred.  As dysfunctional as my family may be at times (don’t trip because even if you are in the business of fascading yours, I know it’s still dysfunctional in its own way), I am so grateful for the times that we spend with each other laughing and loving, real deep and real wide.

Today, I’ve decided not to highlight an organization.  I want you to just spend this day loving and laughing with the people who are your family.  (Family is not just biological, it’s who you choose to do life with.) I’m sure that you are going to have a ghetto fabulous time laughing until you almost pee on yourself like we do it in my family. If you don’t shoot me an email and I’ll prepare a feast for you to sit with my family to make sure you laugh like we do. 

Love Ya, 

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 1, 2019

But then the rational, put-on-your-big-girl- panties voice showed up and asked the real question of her. “What are you going to do?”

Courage

Author: Melissa Barber

Happy First Day of Thanks Everyone!

Today we give thanks for Courage and its path to a mental, physical and emotional liberation.   

Sometimes it is the hardest thing to find the courage to leave a bad situation to which we have gotten so accustomed.  Recently, I was checking in on a relative to see how she was doing.  She quickly replied that she was so overwhelmed and trying to stay level-headed.  When I inquired more, she began to explain her plight.  She told me that her boyfriend’s mother had recently physically and verbally attacked her in front of her one year old son; this same lady wanted her to get her things and get out of the apartment she had given them; although my relative had demanded that this woman no longer see her grandson, her boyfriend was sneaking behind her back to take the child to see the grandmother anyway.  My relative even forwarded me the media post where this woman was repeatedly verbally assaulting her on display for the world to read.  On top of all of the physical, mental and verbal abuse she was suffering, her uncontrolled rheumatoid arthritis was progressively worsening such that she lost much of the strength and function in her hands and wrists.

My first reaction was to roll up on the boyfriend’s mother and give her a taste of her own medicine. (I’m always trying to stay saved but people be testing a sister’s nerves.  She put her hands on my younger family member in the presence of a little baby!)  My relative was understandably angry, hurt and disappointed that this older lady, who should have been mature, loving, and supportive, was completely behaving the opposite. 

After hearing all the mess, in my calm voice I tried to comfort my relative and assure her that the abuse she had suffered was not okay and totally wrong.  But then the rational, put-on-your-big-girl- panties voice showed up and asked the real question of her.  “What are you going to do?” She talked about how she wanted to leave but was facing so many obstacles. She explained how she wanted to go in a corner and cry but couldn’t because her baby son was with her 24 hours a day and she had no break.  My reply was, “go in the corner and cry your eyes out for as long as you need to, to get it all out. But, when you are done crying, you need to think about and act on what your next move is going to be.”  I also let her know that she was not helpless or a victim unless she wanted to be. I told her, “Nobody can make you stay where you don’t want to be and nobody can make you do what you do not want to do! There are always options.  The unknown is very scary but you have to believe that there is always something better than where you are right now. ” My relative was still making all the excuses in the world to stay, worrying about how her decision to leave would affect everybody else.  I knew that there was not much I could do for her but be loving, supportive, and encourage her to love herself more than the abuse. I knew that when enough was really enough, she would find the same courage to leave like I did.

I was living in a very emotionally, psychologically and verbally abusive domestic situation for a long time too. I had convinced myself that there were no other options and made so many excuses to stay and just tolerate the verbal and psychological abuse. But, one day that abusive situation turned physically violent and I knew that I was done.  (I could barely tolerate the verbal, psychological and emotional abuse; physical abuse was and is always my last straw!) I called the police and reported the incident and took the necessary measures to protect myself and my daughter.

I had applied for so many apartments but none of them had come through.  I was even going to rent a room and that fell through at the last minute. The only option I had at the time was a homeless shelter.  The idea of taking my daughter to a shelter was freaking me out because of all the stories of violence of which I heard.  But, I knew that I would never allow myself or my daughter to be physically abused by anyone—so we were definitely not staying where we were–and I also wasn’t going to have my daughter living in the street.  I cried in “my corner” for what seemed like hours as I prayed.  I prayed so much throughout that night, I didn’t even sleep. Although I was terrified of not knowing what would happen next, the following day I filed a restraining order and started all of the legal proceedings to implement it. While everything was happening, I begged God to give us favor and to give me courage to face everything that would come with the experience.  

I told myself that I would make one last ditch attempt to get a place but if it didn’t work out, the next day, when my daughter came home from school, we would go to Path to incorporate into a shelter. I fleeced God and asked to receive three specific signs before midnight to make sure that this was in His will for us. (The last sign came at 11:59pm that night!)  I told God that after what I had just been through, I couldn’t stomach another degrading experience and would appreciate having a kind worker when I got to Path. I even asked God to shield Lilah from every harmful occurrence that could happen while we were in the shelter. (God did it!) 

 Going to Path was a very cold experience. There were so many people there that we waited at least 5 or 6 hours to be seen.  Most of the workers in Path didn’t even look me in the eye; they treated me like another number.   I remember asking one of the male workers, with silent tears running down my face, if he could look at me while he asked me questions. The final person who interviewed me was so kind; it was such a shock until I was reminded of my prayer the night before.  That same night, while others were being turned away, Lilah and I got placement into a family shelter in Harlem and spent the next seven months there until we were able to get a place of our own.

The shelter system was no joke! It was an absolute mess.  (You have to go to day 2 in the book of last year’s journey to learn about that experience.) But, in that level of crazy, I had found peace of mind and the courage to leave any and everything that did not serve me. I found the courage to love me more than the abuse. I found the courage to set boundaries that I would no longer EVER let anyone cross. I found courage to stop making excuses for other people’s horrific and dysfunctional behavior. I found courage to advocate for myself and others who were in my same situation.  Most importantly, I found the courage to trust God and the words of promise that I was never forgotten or forsaken. I know now more than ever, I am never helpless. There are always options. I am never a victim, unless I choose to be.  In the midst of all the fear of the unknown, I chose to fight for courage, my voice and my identity.  

Today as we give thanks for courage, I highlight the organization Safe Horizons (Moving Victims from Crisis to Confidence – Safe Horizon), which has been helping people flee abusive situations and crime for over 40 years.  Please donate so that you can help “victims of violence to move from crisis to confidence.” If you know someone in an abusive situation that wants and needs out, their 24-hour crisis hotline, 1-800-621-4673, can be accessed to get them to safety immediately. 


Moving Victims from Crisis to Confidence – Safe HorizonSafe Horizon is the Nation’s Leading Victim Assistance Organization. Moving victims of violence from crisis to c…

Love Ya, 

Have a great Day of Thanks

The Work of Joy

With the current state of our world, it is easy to lose sight of personal and community health and well-being. While acknowledging the problematics of the holiday season (a list too numerous), I hope we all find places/spaces to engage in the life saving practice of collective Joy. The below article was published more than 2 years ago in the Harvard Gazette , offers a scientific perspective on the role of joy to human health and wellbeing-being.

“Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier, said Waldinger, and the loners often died earlier. “Loneliness kills,” he said. “It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

According to the study, those who lived longer and enjoyed sound health avoided smoking and alcohol in excess. Researchers also found that those with strong social support experienced less mental deterioration as they aged.