This blog features series contributions from artists, scholars, and activists. Check out the first installment of Notes From the People, Melissa’s Thanks. Enjoy the laughter, the beauty, the tears and the art of deep critical reflection.
This blog features series contributions from artists, scholars, and activists. Check out the first installment of Notes From the People, Melissa’s Thanks. Enjoy the laughter, the beauty, the tears and the art of deep critical reflection.
My friend Melissa has been doing a 30 days of Thanks journey in which she shares her reflections on her life. It is with her permission that I have created this blog post. Her writing is powerful. Be prepared to cry, laugh, be confused, get frustrated, and be caught up in deep hopefulness. And, she gives suggestions on where to direct your financial activism.
Welcome to MELISSA’S THANKS
Day 11: Support Groups
Happy Eleventh Day of Thanks Everyone!
I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving (Anti-Imperialist) celebration. Lilah and I had an amazing time, honoring the Lord and giving thanks for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon us.
I am so very grateful to the support groups in which I participate. They have saved me from the mental house, the jail house, and from committing homicide. (And that’s the real truth!)
Recently, I had a conversation with someone I know who attempted suicide. As I sat in the hospital talking to her after the attempt, she explained why she did it. I asked her why she felt as if she couldn’t reach out for help during the really low moments. Her response to me was that the woman in her mother’s generation and older were so strong and had managed to do everything (ie. be single parents, work, hold down their families) by themselves and she wanted to be strong like they were. She, also having a child with special needs, confessed that she saw how “strong and successful” I was at handling the pressure of raising my special needs daughter by myself and thought she had to follow suit.
I have to be honest and say that her words felt like someone was kicking me in the chest. I could have lost her because she had this false notion that our parent’s generation was “strong” and that I was “handling the pressures of parenthood by myself.” All I could do was shake my head, think oh my goodness, and quickly proceed to set the record straight for her. I had to explain to her that many of the women in her mother’s generation and older had some very unhealthy ways of dealing with, “numbing,” and handling their pressures. Most of those women were severely depressed, on drugs, alcoholics, gamblers, or addicted to something else. I also had to share with her that I, on more occasions than I could count, almost lost my mind because (1) Delilah’s 10-15 cluster seizures per day during her menstrual cycles had me worn out and lacking in days without sleep; (2) Delilah had done something as it related to her being autistic that could have caused both of us severe harm; or (3) I had to find the money to feed her and provide all her supplements on this new expensive ketogenic diet by myself. And it was only through the help of my support groups (and support system) that I had managed to still have my sanity.
A few years ago, my daughter met her bestie through a music program that she was attending. Her bestie’s mom and I, through our two daughters, developed this authentic, blessing of a relationship that will thrive forever. Her mother, in addition to being the most outstanding, awe-inspiring, home-schooling parent I have ever met in my life (who I know is the next Ashoka Fellow, Mama), co-founded with two other women the Bronx Parent’s Autism Support Circle. This support circle has changed and saved my life. I now know that I am not alone and that there are tons of others, like me, who are struggling and trying to conquer parenting a child with special needs. (Sometimes a good day is that no one got hurt or died and no one went to jail! Right?) The circle allows all the parents to freely talk about their issues, confidentially and without judgement. All of the parents share information and their resources so that all of us and our children are benefiting from the information. We have received some of the best workshops that have taught us helpful tools to manage many of the situations that we encounter with our special needs children. Additionally, the parents have also been taught to focus on our own well-being too. We do date nights and hang out together as well. Our last gathering was at a new restaurant that opened near the meet up location. We have really become a family unit of love and support and have, among ourselves, created many of the necessary supports, teams and programming that each of us needed for our children.
Last year in 2017, I started my own Year of Yes (Thanks Shonda Rhimes!), which included having to treat myself to something monthly, with my limited budget, (even if it was an ice cream or a walk in the park) and hanging out more with friends. The Mott-Haven Mommas “support group” was what I wanted and needed all wrapped in one. Once a month, the mothers in my neighbor get together at a local spot and fellowship. We eat, we discuss some of the important concerns that are plaguing our lives, we give some suggestions and helpful tips to the newest moms, if they need or want it, and form a comradery among ourselves. It was in this group that I got to discuss my crazy encounters with perimenopause, got the courage to continue battling with my daughter’s father for child support, created my new business idea “A Love Affair: The Ultimate Date Night Experience” and got reaffirmed by all of my sister-mommies. They are incredibly, amazing women!
Because Lilah’s food is so expensive and I’m working with a limited budget, God provided Lilah an angel that takes care of some of her food and supplements (so that I won’t have to sell myself or work myself to the bone more than I do now trying to get those funds.) I have my close friends to whom I can vent when life gets a tad hectic. I had respite programs which allowed me to get free time to run errands, take care of domestic work, and go on dates.
The young lady was astounded as I laid out all of the support that I receive, which makes my life a little easier and saner. I emphasized repeatedly that I have never ever done anything on this journey of life by myself. In addition to God being with me, he has always sent angels to join me along the way. If you find yourself completely overwhelmed and in need of help and support, please do not hesitate to reach out to someone who can help you or connect you with others who can help. Your life is so valuable and important. After all, “why are we all here? To help each other get through this thing we call life.”
Today, as I’m thankful again for sanity and sound mind. I too am grateful for the support systems and groups that I have in place that help to provide that sanity and sound mind. Please, please, please share information about the Bronx Parent’s Autism Support Circle (http://bxpasc.org/) with any family you know who has a loved one with special needs and on the Autism Spectrum. Not only will they have great love, support and a connection to resources, we need them to share their testimonials and resources so that all of our families can receive the blessing. The group meets at Latino Pastoral Action Center (LPAC) on 14 W 170th Street (Jerome Ave. is the cross street) in the Bronx every second (2nd) Tuesday of the month. We are on Meetup and Social Media as well. Consider giving a donation to this wonderful organization so that we can extend our programming and workshops to and for all the families we help.
Have a great day of thanks!
Day 12: Accountability
Happy Twelfth Day of Thanks Everyone!
For the past several years, I have always done my thirty day of thanks journey with God in secret. (It’s my thing that I do with God to be grateful for all that I have been blessed with and to financially bless organizations that are a blessing to others.) So, it was definitely surprising when God flipped the script on me and told me that this year I needed to share my thirty days of thanks with others. Do you know how nerve-wrecking it is to be vulnerable and expose all of your business to others, when I enjoy being a behind the scenes person for just about everything? (Most of you don’t know this but I’m really a very shy person at the core of things.) I do all of this prefacing because today, I will be sharing something that has left some real scar tissue on my heart and soul, although forgiveness has been established. I share it not for you to judge anyone but for you to understand my hurt, my anger, my frustration, and empathy for anyone who has had to endure the same experience. I also share it because I am grateful for accountability, because it has allowed me to continue supporting my daughter and get her to the place of physical health and wellness that she needs.
In October 2016, my daughter’s paternal grandmother came from Grenada to NY and asked to personally meet her, after not reaching out to know her in fourteen years. I took my daughter to her grandmother’s cousin’s house so that her family could meet Delilah for the first time. The exchange between her and Delilah was very pleasant. During the course of the night, as Lilah was in the kitchen eating, one of the cousin’s asked me how Delilah’s dad was doing. I told her that we don’t speak and that he doesn’t take care of Delilah. Her mouth stood wide open and she said “what?” When I repeated myself and she discovered that her cousin was among the men who are considered “deadbeat dads,” she told me to come into the living room to observe her conversation, without saying a word.
Within the next few minutes, I had discovered that my daughter’s father had been living in Florida for the last five years (when I thought he was in Grenada) with his wife and a five year old son that he was supporting. I stayed completely silent but my blood began to boil. Here I was struggling to take care of our special needs daughter and he was taking care of another family with no issue. (Smh!)When I had moved back to the states ten years earlier, I offered to do a paternity test to clarify any doubts in her father and his family’s mind about my daughter being his child. When he declined the test, I asked him if he was sure because I wasn’t going to revisit what I thought was a very disrespectful topic in the first place, in future years. He said he was sure because he knew me enough to know that I wouldn’t lie to him about the issue. Then came all the statements about how he wanted to be in our daughter’s life and promises of how he would support her when he got on his feet. I patiently waited but none of those statements or promises came to fruition. Finally, when our daughter was about 7 or 8 years old, her father resolved that he would not take care of her at all because I would not marry him to get his US citizenship papers and demanded that he now wanted and needed a paternity test (which he also wanted to use to advance his pursuit for those citizenship papers). I was so disgusted and done; I severed all communication with him for several years. Though his sister and I had always remained in contact and did play dates and exchanges with our children, I never asked about her brother’s whereabouts. (I’m grateful for aunts, like mine and her, which still do the right thing!)
Since I believe that no one should have to chase an adult to take care of their responsibilities, I left him alone and committed to doing the best I could to support my daughter as a single parent. It’s been very difficult but I have pressed through it. In earlier years, thinking that he was still living in Grenada, I did not pursue child support, because I only had a number and an email; I didn’t know exactly how to find him, location wise, or think that the US would enforce the case.
When I left his cousin’s house that night in October, I wrote my daughter’s father an email letting him know that I was aware of him living in the states for the past five years, outlined the expenses that it took to support my daughter and keep her healthy each month, and let him know that he needed to figure out how he would pay half of those expenses. If he didn’t, there would be a judge that would help him to figure it out.
He began his usual tirade of verbal abuse, and told me not to threaten him, mentioning his desire for the paternity test. When I gently reminded him that I was not threatening but speaking the truth to him and clarified that I now welcomed the paternity test for which he needed to pay, (since I would need it for the child support case too), he was shocked that I called his bluff. The lack of a paternity test would no longer be the crutch that he could use for not financially supporting our daughter.
My email caused a family scandal and he spent the next few days writing me all these nasty emails attacking my character, and claiming that since he was in school he couldn’t support Delilah. (He made sure that he let me know he wasn’t financially supporting any of his other children, including his wife’s son, so I shouldn’t expect that he would do it for Delilah.) He claimed that his family was going to pay for the paternity test and all the other things needed. (Interestingly enough, he called me a day later, with his father secretly on the call, to ask me to pay for the paternity test that he wanted since his father told him that he wasn’t going to pay the $500 for the test and his flight to NY.)
Since he thought I was joking and had done what he thought was a sufficient amount of verbal bullying and character defamation, he was completely taken by surprise when he received the petition order to appear in court. At receiving the court order, his mother also decided to step in to harass and bully me into not pursuing the child support case against her forty plus year old son. She wrote me an email, attacking my character and saying some choice words about my daughter, particularly not being a part of her. (Thank God that he reveals who people really are. Just a few weeks ago she was hugging my daughter and now had lots of choice things to say about her.) In her email, in addition to justifying her son’s lack of responsibility, she told me that I should leave her son alone so that when he “felt like” being part of our daughter’s life when she got older, he would do so, like her paternal grandfather had done. She was also using God in many of her references to persuade me. (You have to love religious folk! Most times they will tell you that God told them to tell you to do something to get you to do what they want you to do. It’s called prophe-lying and you should be aware of it, especially if your spirit is not in agreement with what is being said.)
As frustrated as I was with what I had read thus far of her email, I was still trying to be objective and understand her perspective. But, then she struck a nerve by putting in her email, “what kind of mother are you? That you would drag your poor child through the legal system.” (For those of you who have never seen my other side, which gets really angry, brace yourself.) At that moment, I was about to get on a plane to Grenada to whip this woman’s ass, real good, like I know how, South Bronx style!”(Excuse the language!) This woman, who struggled herself as a teenage single-parent, had the nerve to ask me what kind of mother I was.
She didn’t know that I was the kind of mother that lost countless days of sleep and work nursing my epileptic ridden, autistic baby girl back to health after every 2 hour cluster seizures had plagued her from 11:30 pm to the evening of the next day during every menstrual cycle, which was 14-21 days. I was the mother who spent months at a piano and singing scales, teaching my aphasic child how to sing words to develop speech. I was that mother who, with the little financial resources I had, was trying to keep us out of the homeless shelter system again while paying all the bills and for all of Lilah’s food and medicines that health insurance doesn’t cover. I was the mother who because I loved my daughter so much decided to sacrifice my dreams and put my career goals on hold to be the mother that she needed me to be. And this lady had the nerve to ask me what kind of mother I was. She did not know that she had barked up the wrong tree!
She not only made me angry but her comments wounded my soul. I never thought I’d ever experience another older woman (besides my mother) at this stage of my life attack my character in that way, especially since I do so much to build up and encourage women and young girls on a daily basis. It took me a week to calm down enough to address her sufficiently (in a professional manner), making sure she was smart enough to never send me another email like that a day in her life. (And yes, she got the message!) But, unfortunately, the woundedness of the entire situation did not end there; the court appearances were worst. My daughter, in open court, heard her father completely denying and rejecting her. She, along with the judge, bailiff and stenographer heard him defaming my character as well.
I found out the depth that some men are willing to go to avoid the responsibility of taking care of their children. After our first court case, he quit his job so that he would not have to pay child support. I found out that he had another child outside of his marriage that he was claiming to support but really didn’t. He was usin the fact that he had other children to support to minimize the amount of support that he could give to Delilah. He had several high paying jobs, which afforded him the comfort to address the responsibility of caring for ALL of his children over the years but chose not to do so. He went back to school to become a doctor as well. (I now understood why he had emailed me on so many occasions before to tell me that it was such a pity that I had to sacrifice my career to care for Lilah.) He hid money on his taxes and withdrew about ten thousand dollars in an IRA to avoid appearing to make sufficient money to pay child support. He researched and was happy to tell the judge that Florida state law only dictated that he would have to financially support our daughter for only two and one half years more, until she was 18 years old. (The judge quipped that New York State law dictated until the age of 24 if our daughter was in school and gently reminded him that since Delilah had specials needs, he would probably need to support her much longer.)
When the test results came back, proving that Delilah was 99.99% his child, he still was trying to deny the test. After the judge mentioned the confidence of the test after 95%, my daughter’s father was too embarrassed to keep denying the trustworthiness of the test. When the judge then asked him what he was willing to pay, he said that his wife would pay his child support bill. (A complete and utter shame it was to hear him!) He mentioned that he considered having to pay child support punitive and that he had come to the USA to create a better life for himself. He also told me and the judge flat out that we would see him in Grenada because he wasn’t going to pay anything. The judge, disgusted with him, began to tell him about a interjurisdictional law, which allowed the US to enforce child support in Grenada as well and that he would be paying. He went a short while thinking that he could avoid paying child support, but according to him, in Florida they took away his license and threatened to throw him jail if his arrears weren’t paid, immediately. (Nothing like good ole accountability!) Now, I receive regular financial support. At this point her dad is supposed to help pay 56% of her medical expenses, which he doesn’t pay. When I sent him the first round of receipts, he complained and said to not contact him anymore. So eventually, when I get some time, I’ll have to do another round of court petitions and appearances to collect the money for all of Delilah’s medical expenses. (What a hassle! But, I have to do what is necessary to ensure that Delilah has everything she needs.)
I never imagined in a million years that I would have to undergo such a degrading experience. (Believe me when I say that I haven’t even mentioned some of the worst parts of it.) Wounded and full of battle scars, yet again, Delilah and I survived this experience too. If I feel the way that I do, I can only imagine what she must feel being rejected openly by someone who should and is supposed to care about her. I also learned later that her father rejects her because he is ashamed of her autism. (It is his lost because my baby is absolutely, wonderfully made and there is nothing about her existence that is shameful!)
Although there is a level of accountability that guarantees a minimum level of financial support for Delilah now, I left this experience completely flabbergasted and still feeling like so much was lacking. Making a missing parent pay 17% of his/her income is nothing, when all of you know that most of us parents spend way more than that on our children in a given moment. (The majority of us parents pay more than that in babysitting fees.) In the court system, there was still no real accountability for reconciliation, guaranteeing that the missing in action parent would learn to bond and connect with his/her child. There was no mandate for them to have partial custody and really share the load of responsibility to care for the child(ren) in question. Delilah, like many other children, still grow up in a single-parent household and never know who their fathers (or mothers) are. (Not that I’d really wish that for her at this point!) Clearly, in some cases, its best to keep a child away from an abusive or negligent parent, but if a parent is clearly capable of being responsible for their children; why isn’t there a standard or mandate for the missing parent to have an equal share of responsibility? Why isn’t there a mandated parenting class or courses that these missing parent are required to attend that will empower them to see the importance of claiming their children and being active in their lives. The task of parenting goes way beyond just providing financial means.
Part of my life’s work in the this next phase will be to develop a parenting (fatherhood) initiative that encompasses just that, empowering absent parents to reconcile with their children as they learn key tools and skills, through dynamic courses and workshops, to equip them to be better, present parents. I believe to make better communities we have to address every aspect of the family. So today I highlight the organization, Strong Families Commission (https://www.thestrongfamiliescommission.com/), whose mission is to advocate for a greater father involvement in the lives of children and families. Please consider donating to this Philly based organization that is doing great work. On a personal note, if any of you who are reading this happens to be a missing in action parent to any of your children, no matter what age they are, don’t wait until it’s too late to make things right. (It is never too late to make things right with your soul!) You owe it to yourself and to your child(ren) to ask for forgiveness, attempt reconciliation, and start taking on the responsibility of parenthood (or if your child is an adult, perhaps a friend). If not, you will reap the unfortunate consequences of neglecting those parental duties.
I know today’s reflection was very long; I thank you for allowing me to bear my heart, for staying the course and for reading to the end. I apologize for the expletive as well. It was the only way to truly convey my sentiments at the time. I am grateful today for accountability and the owning of one’s responsibility.
Have a great day of Thanks!
Day 13: A Child’s Laughter
Happy Thirteenth Day of Thanks!
I give thanks for and celebrate the ability to see a child’s joy.
One of my favorite things in the entire world is to hear my daughter laugh. When she does it, It’s a sound that comes from so deep within her gut and radiates joy like I’ve never experienced before. Her laugh is so contagious and makes me smile and laugh, even if I don’t know what she is laughing about. Her eyes light up, you see all of her pearly whites, and this melodious sound springs forth as if she is being permanently tickled. It’s a sight to see and hear her.
I wasn’t even aware that I was experiencing such a gift because it was so naturally occurring and common place for me to witness it. Unfortunately, you and I take for granted several gifts in our lives until someone makes us aware of it.
Delilah and I were on the train headed to church one Sunday. After singing one of her favorite songs, we were reading one of her scripture lessons in her Veggie Tale’s bible and one of the characters said something funny. When I explained it to Delilah, she burst out laughing. Her laughing was so guttural, and joyous that several of the passengers sitting near us took notice and began to smile as well.
I guess one of the gentleman on the train had been observing our interaction for quite some time. After several train stops, he walked up to me and said “You are a really great mother!” I looked at him with a puzzled face and said “Thank you.” In my head, I’m thinking I don’t know this man at all, how would he know that I am a great mother. As if he was reading my mind, he began to explain. He said, “ma’am, I am in my sixties now and I have not seen a young child your daughter’s age smile and laugh like that in so many years. The light and joy coming from her eyes is so unexplainably free and happy and content. Kids today are so hard and so burdened; I haven’t heard or seen the beauty of their laughter in ages. When we were young, we had that all the time. But children today don’t have that like your daughter does. In order for her to have that light and joy and laughter, love can’t be missing. You have to be a great mom if she has joy like that.”
Talk about someone bringing to your attention how you take for granted a blessing that has been given to you! What he said made so much since. I had met so many children Lilah’s age and younger who had experienced so much dysfunction and abuse in their lives that they had contemplated or attempted suicide. Many of the young people I knew who were Lilah’s age told me that their parents didn’t hug or kiss them and they were rigid and hard with brokenness.
The man was right! My baby experiences love in every love language from this lady right here! Lilah gets kisses on the side of her chin that wake her up out of the bed in the morning (now in her teenage years, she complains “stop, leave her!”) and gets told that she is loved several times a day. She is showered with a million hugs at home daily and intentionally made aware of my love, support and encouragement for her. She not only gets the necessities, but she gets foot, hand and leg massages, manis and pedis, and held on those days where she is hurting and just needs to cry things out.
She can laugh and has joy because she is loved and experiences love each day!
Today as we give thanks for a child’s laughter and joy, I want to suggest that you continue to do the extra special things in a child’s life to show them just how much you love and care about them so that they can continue to have laughter and joy in their lives. As Lilah was growing up, we used to watch Smile of Child TV (Smile of A Child TV) , which is part of the TBN network. It shows great wholesome programming for children between the ages of 2-12 years old twenty-four hours a day and teaches both positive spiritual and social skills. Please give the gift of Smile of a Child TV to your little ones. Please consider donating to TBN network (TBN) as they continue expanding their programming for children and/or the nonprofit the Comedy Cures Foundation (Live. Love. Laugh.) which brings joy, hope, laughter and therapeutic entertainment to patients and caregivers worldwide. (https://www.smileofachildtv.org/ and http://comedycures.org/)
Have a great day of thanks!
Day 14: Health
Happy Fourteenth Day of Thanks Everyone!
A few months ago I was doing a group activity with several friends that involved us moving ourselves in a particular area of the room if we had a specific health ailment. While everyone had moved multiple times, I stayed flat footed in the same position during the entire activity. I had never had a surgery (not even giving birth), sciatica, back problems, arthritis, broken bones, diabetes, hypertension and several other conditions that were mentioned. (And I pray that I never have them!)
Everyone looked at me in amazement and commented on how lucky or blessed I was. For as long as I can remember, I have always been in the perfect bill of health. (My immune system is probably rock solid because I was always sick as a child, according to my mom.) However, towards the end of last year things began to change significantly. My feet started to swell up (imagine the elephantitis that pregnant women have. Yes, mine was that bad) and I could barely walk on them. I started taking my vitals and blood pressure. I was thinking to myself, neither my heart nor my kidneys are in bad shape so what is happening? I’d get these severe migraine headaches over my right eye that stayed all day for days (I’m still searching for that red pill!), this woozy feeling that I couldn’t shake for as long as I had the other symptoms and my metabolism was slowing down. I had gained almost 50 pounds and i wasn’t eating more than what I usually did (the belly bulge and love handles are a real thing ya’ll!) I could feel fatigue like a sac of bags on my shoulder; the cough, laugh, sneeze and pee syndrome was in full effect along with all of these menstrual irregularities.
Perimenopause and Menopause are real! And no joke!
I was talking to my aunt about all that I was experiencing and complaining that I was way too young for all this. She said, “we get menopause early in this family. Mine started with hot flashes at 35!” I felt duped! Now why didn’t someone think to tell me that, so that I could have prepared myself mentally and my body for the onslaught of these changes? Smh! The symptomology had gotten so bad that I went to the doctor to follow-up and check on things. And he said you look great, absolutely amazing, you just need to get rid of some of the weight.
The next day he had the nurse call me to see if I was okay because I should have been passed out somewhere unnconscious. My blood sugar (even having eaten) which has never been anything but normal was at 35 mg (normal values: 70-90mg). That was the woozy feeling that I kept getting. The fluctuation of my hormones had my body completely out of whack.
For the next few months, I was on a crusade to find out everything I needed to know about how to balance these hormones better. I researched like crazy, getting literature from different sources. I even talked to all of my older friends/peers/colleagues and asked them what they did to control their symptoms. I made a thorough plan based on all the research I had done to whip my body back into shape and minimize all of the symptoms I was undergoing. I exercised in the morning for at least 45 min; I walked a track across the street from house religiously. I started eating regimented like a diabetic (6 times a day), keeping a snack on me just in case my blood sugar decided to take a nose dive, fasting intermittently and ceasing to eat after 8pm. I also started taking several supplements which are hormone stabilizers. Within two menstrual cycle periods, I had lost more than 15 pounds, had no more migraines and saw no swelling of my feet. Since body fat feeds estrogen shifts, the weight loss had kept the shift at bay. I was sold!!!! I’ve been trying to maintain the plan. However, with the cold, rain and snow I haven’t been going out as much. I’ve been doing the walking with Leslie Lansone videos until I can make room for and buy elliptical.
I learned some valuable lessons about not taking my health for granted. What’s interesting is that If I hadn’t gone to the doctor, I would have never known or seen just how much God was keeping me “from dangers unseen.” I could have been in an early grave with blood sugar levels that low. Without that knowledge, I would have kept doing the normal “pushing through” that we all do as we go through the new stages of life (ie. Pre-menopause-post), and try to “balance” our lives in the best way we know how. I realize now more than ever that as my destiny is unfolding and my purpose is being made clear, I need to take care of myself even more. I’ve also been on a mini crusade to have heart to heart conversations with the younger women in my life about just how real menopause and the phase of life leading up to it is and sharing the tools that I’ve received with them to ease the stress of that phase of their lives when it comes.
Today, I am more than grateful to have my health and be alive with no hotflashes, migraines, swollen feet etc. (God is good! Now if I can just get the diligence to work on this belly!) Several years ago in my research, as I was dealing with my daughter’s hormonal crisis of estrogen dominance, I found some great books and informational resources from Dr. John R. Lee about every type of hormonal crisis and cancers. The information he shares in his books is invaluable. Please check out his website and his materials (Official Website of John R. Lee, M.D., Expert in Progesterone and HRT). They will be of great help and benefit to you (men and women!)
I’d also like to highlight two organizations. IFCO/Pastors for Peace ( IFCO/Pastors for Peace) facilitates and sponsors a scholarship program to send young black and brown youth to go to medical school, the Latin American School of Medicine, in Havana Cuba. These students scholarship stipulation is that they will come back to work in medically underserved communities throughout the US. By donating to this organization, you will help us to support some of these young doctors while they are in medical school as well as when they transition back to the US to work in our low resourced communities. Trust me when I tell you that these young folk are desperately in need of your financial support and are deserving of it. They are going to be our future doctors.
Obesity Action Coalition (Home Page – Obesity Action Coalition) is doing some great work to help those living with obesity. Through education and advocacy, they are helping those living with this disease work towards a healthier life. Please donate your time and resources if you can.
Have a happy day of thanks!
Day 15: Appreciation (Being Valued)
Happy Fifteenth Day of Thanks Everyone!
It is so exciting to be at the half way mark in our journey. (Yay!) I hope you are being blessed and inspired by each day’s theme and then being a blessing to others.
I give thanks for appreciation and being valued. It drives me to keep doing what I’m doing.
Several years ago, one of my mentors died unexpectedly. It was a tremendous blow to me and the organization that he oversaw for more than forty years. There was so much chaos in trying to figure out how to proceed because my mentor had the finesse to always make mountains move in getting things done and finding sources of money to support the many projects and the organization’s programming. The institution recruited an interim director until they could find someone permanent. Because the interim director created such a financial disaster of the organization in her time as overseer, the permanent director had excessive damage control to do when she came on board. All the while, the organization still needed someone to run the programming and no one was stepping up to do that. Since I was volunteering and doing some part-time work for the organization, I had first-hand insight on the internal turmoil taking place. I would pray for the organization’s security and for the help that they needed to come. (Why in the world did I do that?)
In one of my prayer sessions, God told me that I was to take over the scholarship program that they facilitated. I thought God was bugging out! Working for this nonprofit would mean that I would be making less than one-third of my previous earning, I’d be putting in 50-70 hour weeks to get this program into shape and maintain it, I’d be dealing with way more headache and having to eventually travel more than I could. The list of things that did not work in my favor and the sacrifices that needed to be made to do that job were way beyond any sane person’s capacity to agree with. What was God thinking? How would I support myself and my family on the salary they were offering me? (Of course, God was not concerned at all about my questions or my hurt feelings; I was expected to obey what I was told to do.)
The permanent director and I took over our positions and were overwhelmed with burden. No one knew that, because of the financial crisis we inherited from the interim director, we were working without receiving paychecks for several months and trying our best to keep the doors open and our mentor’s legacy alive. Not only were we plagued with the question of how do we get finances into the organization, we had to figure out how to walk into the shoes of a great legacy and transform it to be our own and relevant for the times? (Not at all an easy task!)
It has been an incredibly hard journey to complete that task. With a four-membered full-time female staff we try to move mountains every day. We have had to give from our own pockets on more occasions than I can count because we are in deficit. I spend most days trying to encourage one hundred and seventy five graduates of our program (many of whom are now making over two hundred thousand dollars per year without medical school debt) to give back to the organization and the program and trying really hard not to get discouraged when the majority of them don’t. I have seventy five amazing adult students (“my children”) who are in medical school who are always somehow needier than my 16 year old and seem to want all my time and attention too.
On so many occasions when I was ready to quit and get me a “better job” that “appreciated me” and where I wouldn’t be “overworked and underpaid,” I’d get these wonderful reminders of why I needed to do exactly what I was doing. My students would write me emails like this:
Wow, I literally cannot believe it! This is so surreal! I was honored for the opportunity to just be among the students that were invited to orientation but to actually be chosen..wow. There are no words that can describe this feeling, only emotions. I’m used to seeing stories like this on TV or hearing about them on the news not ever thinking that something of such great magnitude could happen to someone like me. I’m in a state of disbelief, my family is in awe and my community is still waiting to hear the verdict. Just by them seeing me accomplish this is just..wow. This is so much bigger than just me..wow. I really don’t know what to say. Thank you and the entire ELAM committee for this opportunity. You not only changed my life, you actually saved it.
This was from a first generation black male college student from the back woods of the South and counted out by academic professors He was told many times that he would never get to his dream. Just recently one of my prospective students burst in tears during her orientation exit interview. This was her email to explain the emotion she was feeling afterwards.
I realize that in many ways, this program is something I have been searching for. This realization was very overwhelming. I have never personally met so many Black and brown doctors, and I have never personally met so many doctors who were Black women. The ice-breaking activities during the retreat, and the in-depth discussions about the realities of the ELAM program made me feel like people who looked like me were truly supported. I have very rarely experienced this in an academic program. At the same time, seeing so many successful Black and brown doctors has helped me recognize my own potential. For me, becoming aware of my own potential is very scary. But most of the fear comes from 11th hour self doubt, even though my life experience and my academic career have prepared me for this amazing opportunity. This orientation/retreat process has helped me see what a successful medical career could look like for me. Regardless of the final decision of the selection committee and the ELAM program, I am extremely grateful to have met so many amazing people over the past 3 days.
Imagine that! The work that I do is appreciated and valued and being recognized by these young people, whose futures I get to change and be part of every day. I may not make the millions of bucks, and, yes, most days are extremely hard to press through as I try to shape the conscious minds of these young people and prepare them to be future doctors in our underserved and poor communities. But, it’s all well worth it to see the light in their eyes as they realize there is someone who loves them and is showing up for them to have wonderful, better and brighter futures.
Today as we celebrate giving Tuesday and being appreciated, open your pockets real wide and give my organization, IFCO/Pastors for Peace (www.ifconews.org) some of your green (money not vegetables!) to support the wonderful programming that we do for these young folk (future doctors). If you know someone who is interested in attending medical school, is between the ages of 18-25 years old and has the pre-med science curriculum under their academic belt, send them to the website to check out our medical school scholarship program to see if they are interested in a future career as a doctor serving underserved communities throughout the United States. And last but not least, if you have not let the people in your life (spouses, children, colleagues, employees, employers) know just how much you appreciate them when you know that without them you don’t have a penny and a prayer, (shame on you!) Get to calling, emailing, texting and whatever it is that you have to do to let them know that they are loved and appreciated. And then go out and do something for them because words without actions are dead!
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
More to COME!!!!
My friend Melissa has been doing a 30 days of Thanks journey in which she shares her reflections on her life. It is with her permission that I have created this blog post. Her writing is powerful. Be prepared to cry, laugh, be confused, get frustrated, and be caught up in deep hopefulness. And, she gives suggestions on where to direct your financial activism.
Welcome to MELLISSA’S THANKS:
Day 1: Thanks for the Breath of Life
Happy First Day of Thanks!
Today we give honor, tribute, and Thanks for the Breath of Life and the Air that we breathe.
Have you ever really thought about breathing or the air that we breathe and how important it is to us? Have you thought about what all has to happen for our lungs to undergo the processes of inspiration and expiration? (It’s okay if I am the only weird one by professional design.) Because breathing is such an involuntary act or process, meaning that we don’t have to tell or remind ourselves to do it, you and I have probably had more moments in our lives where we have undervalued just how amazingly precious this gift is.
But, for those of us who have or are dealing with respiratory ailments, who care for sick loved ones, or have dealt with death, we have had chance encounters with the air that we breathe and the process of breathing that humbles us greatly. My daughter has had catamenial seizures (hormone/menstrual-induced seizures) since she hit puberty at 7 ½ years old. The area of her brain specifically affected in her seizure state is called the temporoparietal operculum. This region of the brain is responsible for parts and functions of the body that include the larynx, vocal cords, facial muscles, salivation, and some of the muscles crucial for the respiration process. The seizures in this region usually also occur in one’s sleep. Many times when Lilah has a seizure, with each menstrual cycle, no matter the duration, part of her air supply is cut off. Over the past eight years, I’ve seen Lilah have close encounters with death because there was no possibility of her getting air into her lungs during a seizure.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how devastating those experiences were; they left me shook up for weeks at a time. However, each time Delilah reached the post-ictal stage of her seizure and I knew she was going to be okay; I thanked God for letting her breathe another moment in time. But, I also thought of the other children who didn’t make it through their seizure and prayed for their grieving families. (There were two children in Lilah’s school who died last year due to seizures in their sleep.) Often, I think of and pray for the children and adults who have chronic asthma, COPD, chronic bronchitis and heart disease which keep them consistently in and out of the hospital and begging for a chance to breathe their next breaths. Expanding my thought process and concern on a more global scale, I even think and pray for of all of the urban communities, like mine, who suffer through the worst air pollution and air quality that make it even more difficult for us to breathe and enjoy a healthy quality of life.
Every day, before I start my day, my regimen consist of taking five (5) real deep breaths, holding it in for a few seconds, and then letting the air out of my lungs slowly. You should try it, if you have never done so. It’s refreshing, revitalizing and healing. Afterwards, I thank God for another opportunity to breathe another breath and surrender myself to God’s plan for my day.
Sometimes, the environments and world in which we live can be such a tough place. The good thing is that we can all care a little more about the suffering of other people and do our part to make our environments better. So today, as we give thanks for breathing and the air that we breathe. Take time to do a simple act of give back. If you are a smoker, think of cutting down or quitting to not affect someone (ie. your children, family members, neighbors) who is passively breathing in the pollution. In my community of the South Bronx, there is a community green space, Maria Sola, on 134th Street & Lincoln Avenue Bronx NY 1044, that always needs volunteers to plant trees and daffodils, build ponds, and keep the grounds tidy. Come out and help! If you can’t help in our green space, find your local community garden and invest your time and donate there. If you are one of those put your money where your mouth is kind of people, like I am, you may go a little further and donate to a great organization like American Forests, at Home – American Forests who do amazing work to restore forests. No amount of money is too small. Their 2018 goal was to plant three million trees. Now that is what I call great a vision to provide folk with a great opportunity to breathe some clean, quality air.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Day 2: Thanks for Shelter
Happy Second Day of Thanks
A few years ago, I was living during one of the best and worst of times in my life. My daughter and I became homeless and had to live within the NYC shelter system. (Although I did not know or understand the purpose of why I had to be there at the time, in retrospect, it was absolutely necessary for my character, vocational development, and God’s purpose to be fulfilled.) It was the first time that I had seen poverty rear its ugly head and understood why and how cycles of poverty were perpetuated within generations of a family. Our shelter in Harlem had some of the most deplorable conditions of black mold, asbestos, lead-based paint and hazardous materials, which directly affected the health and well being of the clients and their children, especially the asthmatics. My first room there was mice infested because there were so many uncovered holes in the walls and floors. We barely got sleep the first week, because “Jimmy and his cousins” decided that they would use our SRO (single room occupancy) as a playroom when the lights went out. A significant portion of the room’s ceiling had fallen and was never replaced. They covered it with a false ceiling that would fall when there was flooding from the room above. In the summers, there was an overwhelmingly, exhausting heat because the old building had no air conditioners. In the winter, when the boiler broke, we had no water and some rooms, were extremely frozen because there were no working electrical radiators to provide heat.
One of the young girls living in the shelter kept getting bit by the cockroaches that infested her room, which was converted from a hallway closet and had no bathroom in it. Because she was allergic, her body had whelps all over it. When her dad, an undocumented immigrant, begged for a change of rooms, he was threatened with deportation from his case worker. The manager of our hotel was a working “junkie” and gang leader who was also the drug dealer and supplier for our shelter’s residents. There were a few drug raids, one which occurred during our second week in the shelter, which involved all but two apartments on the second floor section of the shelter where Lilah and I lived. I remember asking God to always keep Delilah from seeing and experiencing anything negative while we lived in that place. Thank God those prayers were answered! She missed every drug raid, every falling ceiling, every room reconstruction, and the clearing of our room from the mold. (My friend has a jar that she puts money in for her son’s future therapy. I’m sure that I’m going to need a trust fund for the experiences Lilah did have in that place!!! LOL!)
With these existing horrible conditions, can anyone explain how the Department of Homeless services allowed this shelter to pass inspection each time? How was it possible that this shelter, like many others pimping off someone’s poverty, made $2133 per month for each room to house a family in those conditions? Market rate value for many two and three bedroom apartments in the city didn’t even cost that kind of money during the time. So, why couldn’t families in shelters have access to real apartments and affordable housing if the city was willing to pay a slumlord for them to live in a dump? (Shaking My Head!!!!!)
Living in a shelter was where I learned, for the first time, that all the statistics about starving and impoverished children were actually true. And I was enraged!!!!! (I fight to the death for a child!) It was where my roots as a social activist/organizer came to a full circle and I became more involved with and deeply entrenched in the issues that affected the families living in that shelter. I would teach the families how to advocate for better living conditions in their spaces and write letters for the families whose head of households were illiterate. I’d cook and make sure there was food and formula for some of the mothers by connecting them with a pantry who could supplement food when their food stamps ran out. Many of the families, with neonates, would get turned off of welfare and have no formula for their children. I arranged a Thanksgiving dinner for the families in the shelter. I’d always bring back several copies of housing applications and resources for the families and the case workers to give to their clients. I connected with a local church to supply toys for all the children in the shelter during several Christmases, even after we moved out. I arranged a hair and make-up day for the mothers within the shelter during Mother’s Day weekend, which increased the morale of all the woman who participated, incredibly. The caseworkers (except one) and staff loved me because I was basically an addition to their team.
I learned that so many myths about people who lived in shelters were untrue. You are required to have a job while living in a shelter–no one free loads! The city/state forces you to get on welfare to live in the shelter system. Although I did not want to be on welfare, I had to get on welfare to live there. Can you believe that I received $15 per month of food stamps for my daughter and I to eat? If I didn’t have a job, could I have ever survived on that? Most people who know my daughter, knows she can eat that for snack!
As terrible as it was to live in that shelter and experience the horrific day to day of poverty, I had a clear understanding that my situation was different than most of the families there because that place was just a pit stop for me. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like for the shelter system to be a forever station for me. But, unfortunately, it is just that for many of the families who are there. The bright light of hope in my eyes still managed to have a flicker and stay lit, while it had completely left many of the eyes I encountered in that shelter daily. Let’s just say that the manager, the caseworker who hated me, and the assistant commissioner of the department of homeless services were tired of me and wanted me out of the shelter much sooner than later, when I got done wreaking havoc. I reported the shelter to HPD so many times; each time the agents came to inspect the apartments, they fined the landlord over $10,000 per room for the atrocities they found in each room and gave him a strict deadline of when all the repairs had to be complete. Of course, I taught all the residents how to do the same reporting. I was told by staff that the manager had a meeting with them and told them to find every possible way to get me an infraction and kicked out. But, when God has you covered, “No weapon formed against you will ever prosper!”
Delilah and I finally got our own place to live (our current domain) as an early Christmas present in December of that year (by accident). My caseworker got an anonymous call from an assistant administrator who worked at DHS one day, saying that she couldn’t reveal who she was but God had told her to call my caseworker to inform me that I had an interview the next day for my current apartment. She said that there was a plot by her boss to “punish me” for all I had done in the shelter that I was in. Although I got interviews for several apartments earlier (and woul have been accepted), they purposely didn’t call me to let me know. Thus, I couldn’t move out of the shelter and stayed much longer than I had to. This lady said she was told to warn us so that I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to live in my new apartment in a new building in a great location, which would be perfect for my family. The rest is history (almost!)
The lessons I have learned from the shelter were invaluable. Not only did I know that everyone, no matter who they are, should have access to a decent place to call home; I learned that with some real political will they could have access to a decent place to call home. If I didn’t learn anything else, I learned that I am a survivor who keeps my joy in all circumstances!!! (I survived my own hell on earth experience!) What killed and destroyed others, emotionally and mentally, gave me the strength and determination to keep pressing towards the mark. I also learned that no one can or should be defined by his or her situation. (People will try to keep you in your past if you let them!)
I love, appreciate, and treasure my apartment. Although it doesn’t always look like it and could definitely use some cleaning and much more organization (don’t even think about judging me!)– I am always looking for volunteers to do this work—It’s ours and a really decent place to call home. Delilah and I have peace of mind. After seven years, we have never had to share it with vermin and “jimmy and his cousin” have never laid foot in it. (Thank God for angels that secure the place!)
During my time in the shelter, I was working with a group called “The Poverty Initiative,” at Union Theological Seminary (Kairos Center) which works on global projects to eradicate poverty in the world. I became published with one of my poems being selected in a book created by the Poverty Initiative called “Out of the Depths: Poetry of Poverty, Courage and Resilience.” I sold a few copies of the book to donate the proceeds back to the Poverty Initiative. I still have a few copies if anyone wants to buy them. All proceeds will go to the Poverty Initiative which is housed by Kairos the Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice (https://kairoscenter.org/poverty-initiative/). I also worked with and became acquainted with a great organization called Picture the Homeless (http://picturethehomeless.org/) and began to advocate more for the homeless and children because I realized how they were truly the voiceless in our society.
Today as I give thanks for shelter, I ask that you remember that there are millions of people who you pass on the streets, in the trains and in subways who don’t have it and are longing for a hot meal, clean clothes, a nice bath, a bed to lay their heads and a hope for a better tomorrow. Help in the small ways you can! A smile, an encouraging word, and some change go a long way, but advocating to change policy with elected officials to clean up the shelter system and provide affordable housing for families that need it is the lasting change that we need to see.
Have a great day of Thanks!
Day 3: Divine Provision
Happy Third Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today I’m so grateful to God for Divine Provision
Have you ever had a moment where you remember where you were a few years ago and (for my church folk) you wonder how you got over? And you know that it is only by the grace of God that you made it. Whew! I’ve been there more than enough times to count.
While I was in medical school for six years, a relative ran my credit card up to more than $50,000 without me knowing it. A week before my graduation, I got a call from a debt collector, who was given my international phone number by the person who ran up the debt, telling me that I owed them over fifty-thousand dollars and they wanted their money. My initial reaction was total shock. Then rage began to set in because I was beyond pissed. I told the bill collector that I had no idea what he was talking about, how that tab was created and who incurred the debt because I had been living out of the country for several years. He began to explain to me that unless I was ready to bring up criminal charges on the person, I was going to be responsible for the debt. I was just finishing school and about to graduate in a week; I had no job or money to pay a cent of the debt so I kindly explained to the gentleman that I would handle the matter when I got home, and pay the company when I got a job.
Since I decided not to press criminal charges, I was responsible for paying that debt. If you have ever been in debt, you know about the endless, harassing calls debt collectors make to your home, your job, and your cell phone. Each time, I would tell them, I don’t have a job yet but when I get one you will be the first to know and you will start to receive your money. I finally got a job and, after extracting the money for my tithes and offering, rent, and food, the credit card company would get lump sums of money to tackle that $50,000 debt. I didn’t do any extra activities that required me to spend money; I made my lunch at home and maintained a strict budget to pay as much of the debt back on a monthly basis.
After several months of paying that large sum of money, I had a nice long conversation with God during my prayer time and mentioned all my grievances. I couldn’t get a place to live because my credit was shot. I spent so much money trying to pay back the debt that my daughter and I could not enjoy any leisurely time together. I let him know how unjust I thought it was that I was paying back someone else’s debt. I also gave him back God’s word. Every sentence I used started like this: “You said in your word…” and after I began to belt out every promise that gave me access to justice and divine intervention as God’s child, to have my name and the debt cleared.
A few days after my grievance prayer, I was in church and the pastor was asking for a special offering for the new building the church was about to build. As I was sitting there, the Holy Spirit (for those of you who are not believers and are interested to know more about the Holy Spirit, we can talk offline later) told me to give $500 for the offering. At first, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. I pouted to myself, “Lord, why would you be telling me to give that much in this offering, when you know I need that money to pay these debt collectors so they can stop harassing me!” because I sure didn’t have the courage to ask or say it out loud. I am a firm believer that “obedience is better than sacrifice” and that when God tells me to do something, no matter how outrageous it seems, I better do it. So, I chalked up the money for the offering. Little did I know that God was making a miracle with my faith to trust Him at what the Word of God says.
Two days later, in my Morning Prayer and Bible reading time, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me and lead me to the passage of scripture in Exodus 14:13. When I read the words, they leaped off the page and connected with the core of my soul. I just knew that there was a release with that scripture passage. I got ready and walked the twenty five minutes to my job. Ten minutes after I opened my office door, I got a call from the debt collecting agency. He said, “Good morning Ms. Barber, I am calling to see if you want to cancel your debt with us today.” I got so excited because that was the release that I felt in my spirit that same morning. I told the debt collector, “Yes, sir! God told me this morning that I wouldn’t see this Egyptian after today. I want to settle this debt today for $5000.” Of course, he thought I was insane and said that my settlement price was way too low. I told him to go talk to his boss, representing me as a Child of God, and tell him that my daddy said that I wasn’t going to see this debt after today. He put me on hold for 30 min and I begin to pray(those move mountains faith prayers). When he came back, he told me that his boss said he would settle for ten thousand plus dollars. I told him that he didn’t hear me well and to go back to his boss and tell him that my father, God in Heaven, told me that the debt was getting settled today and that we had to settle for $5000. When he went back this time for another 20 minutes, I was praying those bulls-eye, fire prayers. The debt collector came back and said, “I’m sorry ma’am but my boss said that he is willing to settle for $7,550 and no less because you are asking him to settle for less than 1% of your debt, which is unheard of. I have been working for this Jewish man for 26 years and he has never done that before.” I told the representative once more, “Go back to your Jewish boss and tell him that my father in heaven said that we must settle this matter today because according to Exodus 14:13, I wasn’t going to see this debt/problem/Egyptian after today.” The representative got very scared and asked me to please not send him back to his boss because he was sure that this last bother would also get him fired. I told him, “listen to me. You will not get fired. Do you know who my father, God, is? You are representing me, his daughter, and since he already told me in his word that we were settling this debt today, don’t worry! God will have you covered. Now go back to your boss and tell him that we are going to settle for $5000 today so that I will not have to see this Egyptian anymore.” He went back to his boss and I prayed. He came back 5 minutes later and said, “I have no idea what you did but this is unheard of! My boss said, “who is this lady? Give her what she wants already! I can’t take it. My chest is about to explode and I can’t take it anymore!” And we settled the debt for $5000 that very day. And I never had to deal with that debt collector ever again after that day. (Never mess with a praying woman!!!!!)
I thanked the gentleman profusely for being patient with me and told him that if he was ever in NY that I would take him to lunch or dinner. Since he was still completely bewildered and awe struck by all that just happened and my faith and trust in God, I told him that if he didn’t know Jesus the Christ, he should get to know Him. I told him about Jesus and salvation and said that he had just witnessed and experienced a perfect example of how my God defended his children. (I look back at that moment now and know that Mr. Gregory must have thought I was insane and had lots of nerve almost putting his job in jeopardy.) God heard my prayer and answered it.
So do you trust God at His words? How much do you trust him? Are you in need of a miracle? Are you willing to step out on faith to receive it? Has God told you to give something of yourself that seems incredibly outrageous to your normal mind? Then give it and watch God bless you in return. Obedience is always better than sacrifice.
That experience happened years ago and it made me a firmer believer in what God does for his children. Some disagree on paying tithes and giving an offering to the church, and it is your right to believe what you want. But, I do it, standing on the promises of Malachi 3:10 and have seen God tremendously bless me and my family with his divine provision, through people, over and over again when everything should show lack.
I have been visiting a church that I have seen do the work of Jesus Christ (feed the hungry, help the poor and widows, heal the sick and set the captives free) and where I believe is great ground to sow money into since they are doing the work of Jesus. I am highlighting the ministry of Pastor Ed Citronelli of World Healing International Church in Yonkers, NY. (http://whichurchny.com/)However, if you know of a church/mosque/synogogue that is doing the work of Jesus, I encourage you to sow into that ministry as well. If you are in need of a miracle, deliverance and you have tried everything else and it has failed. Try Jesus! Jesus works and is always the best remedy.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Day 4: Thanks for Unconditional Love
Happy Fourth Day of Thanks!
I can remember from the time I was about nine years old my aunt Phyllis, in her NYC drawl, saying to me “Melissa, never marry or settle for a man who doesn’t treat you like your uncle Freddie treats me!” I would always observe her and my uncle’s relationship and marriage so that I knew to what I was supposed to be comparing mine. And if I’m being totally honest, what she said and what I saw stuck to me and is so ingrained in my mind and heart that it’s as if she branded those words on my brain. I’m probably still single and afraid (more like terrified!) of commitment because of her words and the demonstration of their marriage. Once you know something you can’t un-know it. And I’m not (nor will I ever be) willing to settle for less than what I know is possible.
My uncle Freddie worshipped the ground my aunt walked on. He worked hard and brought his entire check home; he cooked, cleaned, and washed laundry. My aunt never had to lift a finger. As I was growing up, I would hear his words to her: “all you have to do is sit there and be your pretty self for me!” He took her on vacations. They talked and laughed together; made decisions together and functioned as one. They were the kind of couple you made fun of because they would even wear matching outfits from time to time. They were such an impenetrable unit and their love was so strong. My uncle loved her dirty draws (as we say). For more than thirty years, I thought my aunt had a fairytale husband and a fairytale marriage and to a certain extent she did. What I didn’t know, and found out from my uncle after her death, is that to have that kind of unconditional love, it cost her so much. But, she was willing to sacrifice everything for it.
My aunt was raised a devout Catholic and firmly believed in the no sex before marriage rule. (I’m so glad she did because, ultimately, her belief saved her life.) She worked in a hospital at the time and one of the elderly patients who loved my aunt and thought she was so cute told her since he couldn’t date her, he wanted to introduce her to his grandson, my uncle Freddie. She met my uncle about 10 years after her first husband died and they hit it off really well. They traditionally courted for several years until he finally popped the question and asked her to marry him.
After getting the necessary blood work done in preparation for the marriage licenses and the wedding ceremony, they discovered that my uncle had HIV. He told my aunt that they couldn’t go through with the marriage because he couldn’t live with the idea of her getting sick or infected because of him. With tears in his eyes, my uncle said to me, “Melissa, she loved me so much. You know what she said to me? ‘I don’t care what that test says. You are my husband; I love you and we’ll get through this together.’ She never left me. She never cheated on me. She really, really loved me.” And never telling a soul about my Uncle Freddie’s condition, she married him and for the next thirty five years of their lives, loved, honored, protected, nurtured and cherished him.
She never thought that her ability to care for him would be cut short but, my aunt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She prayed and willed herself better to love and take care of her husband; she survived a 28 hour Whipple surgery and lived through 8 years in remission after her first diagnosis. When her cancer came back the second time around, it came back with a vengeance. After a year and one half of treatment, the doctors said nothing could be done and sent her home to die. I put together a team of naturalist and we came up with a plan to keep the cancer at bay for as long as we could and we did for about 5 more months. My aunt, on her hospice bed at home, would ask for Freddie so that she could hold his hand in the stillness and warmth of the makeshift room environment and fall to sleep in his arms. They would talk, laugh and make promises to each other even then.
As she got closer to her death and the sequelas of the multiple strokes set in, I started to notice that things were not right with my uncle Freddie. I had spent so much time focusing on my aunt’s care that, although I noticed he didn’t look well, I chalked it up to the stress level of knowing that the love of his life was leaving him. When I started noticing other signs and symptoms, I asked both of them what was going on with him. He barked at me and told me to mind my “damn business.” She stayed quiet but I reminded her that I was a well trained physician who would wait for her to tell me the truth, even though I already knew what the deal was.
A week later as she was in the hospice bed at the hospital, she confessed to me “he has the cancer” and begged me to promise that I would care for my uncle Freddie for her when she was gone. I couldn’t say no to her. She was one of my best friends and took care of me as if I were her own daughter since I was a small child. She was also the matriarch of our family.
After arranging all the details of my aunts funeral and her estate, and the day after burying her, my focus had to completely shift to caring for my uncle Freddie. My uncle had wasted away to almost nothing and could barely sit through the repass of my aunt’s funeral because he was so weak. The day after her funeral, he finally confessed to me that he had AIDS and asked me to promise that I wouldn’t tell the rest of our family. He was still struggling deeply with the shame, stigma, and embarrassment of his condition. I encouraged him to tell his biological children and eventually he did. [He begged his daughter to keep it a secret but she didn’t and it caused havoc in my family for several weeks. My entire family wanted to know if he infected my aunt with the HIV virus and if that was the real reason she died. To some I even had to show her health records to prove that she was never infected.] My uncle said that his condition got as bad as it did because he couldn’t afford the medications any more. Although there were free programs for him to receive the medication, because he struggled with the stigma of HIV and didn’t want anyone to know his status, he never applied for the programs and set out to pay for the medicines himself.
Within the next 8 months, I became his only caregiver, his health and financial proxy, his round the clock nurse, social worker, pastor, and his confidant. It was the most chaotic time in my life because I had to balance every minute of time to make everything fit. I had my full time job, parenthood (Lilah is another full time job), caring for Uncle Freddie (another full time job) and was trying to grieve the loss of my aunt.
Uncle Freddie became really difficult to deal with and didn’t want anyone else to care for him but me, which was almost impossible. Most people would get distant because his wound smelled like rotting, putrid flesh and he would curse everyone out. I was the only one who had the patience to tolerate him, did the wound care effectively and made a promise to stay. All his tantrums and meanness was because he was so ashamed of the depth and smell of the wounds the Karposi sarcoma left on his entire legs and groin area.
When he could no longer stay home and I had to put him in the nursing home, I would dedicate my entire Saturdays to him and some weekdays that didn’t interfere with Lilah’s schedule, making sure he had everything he needed. On the Saturdays that I couldn’t come he wouldn’t eat and be so depressed, just to get me there. It was on our Saturday encounters that we prayed, read scripture, talked about his transition and my aunt. He would tell me stories of their entire love affair from beginning to end. By the time he was finished, we’d both be covered in tears.
My mind was blown by how much they loved each other and how much my aunt sacrificed to love him and stay with him. She was so courageous and defined for me a new level of unconditional love. I always wonder if I would or could have done what she did. She was willing to uphold the covenant of marriage and the vows that she made before she even spoke them, because they were already sealed in her heart. And even on her deathbed, like Jesus, she was leaving the person she loved into the hands of someone she knew would completely care for him the exact way she would if she were still alive. She embodied I Corinnthians 13:4-8: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends.
That is love! And she loved him.
I always think about how her gift of love came in such an unconventional package. If she had discarded the gift because of the packaging, she would have never experienced thirty five years of the best, awe striking, unconditional love that God had for her. Do you or have you or will you and I throw away a valuable gift that encloses love in it because the packaging is not what we expect it to be? I know so many people who do.
Today as we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of unconditional love, if you are married, celebrate your love for your spouse. Perhaps, you want to experience “A Love Affair: the Ultimate Date Night Experience” when my team and I have our next event. If you are not married, celebrate the unconditional love you have for your friends, relatives and children. For me, I have loved and am very grateful to have loved. But, my earthly unconditional love thus far has only been for my baby girl, Delilah Christina Barber. In the attachment of today’s email, I have enclosed the poem, Black Love Unconditional, which I wrote for my aunt and uncle, and read with Freddie’s permission at his funeral. In his death, he wanted everyone to know that he finally got over his fears of people knowing his status, just how much my aunt loved him and how grateful he was for all her love. Enjoy it and help me continue the celebration of their love.
Today, I am also highlighting these great organizations The Alliance for Positive Change (http://alliance.nyc/) and ACRIA(www.acria.org )that care for and provide education to patients with HIV and AIDS. Acria is one of the leading organizations, internationally, that has brought the first-ever activist, community-based approach to the study of new treatments for HIV. Please find it in your heart to volunteer your services to these NYC based organization and give financial donation to them. ACRIA also has a shop of artwork that is sold to raise money for the educational programs and research that they do.
Have a great day of thanks!
Day 5: Positive Identity
Happy Fifth Day of Thanks Everyone!
Aside note: Over the course of the next 25 days, you will see me share stories about my wonderful daughter, Delilah Christina. Not only am i a very proud parent and single mom, but it is through her and my experiences with her that I have been molded into a better person in so many way. She has taught me to gauge my parenting skills, how to listen and communicate more effectively, how to boldly advocate for the oppressed, how to have incredible resilience and strength, as well as how to love unconditionally. Today, she turns 16 years old! (Make sure that you all send her a birthday shout out in every language you know, to fulfill our annual tradition of receiving the happy birthday song in every language possible on her day. Birthdays are our absolute favorite time!!!!!
In my reflection today, I give thanks for Identity, particularly a strong, positive, affirming identity.
When I was in med school, I lived with some beautiful dark-skinned Nigerian women. During a group conversation, one of the young ladies, mentioned that she didn’t think she was beautiful because, unlike her mother and sisters, she wasn’t endowed with light-skinned features to pass for white or long straight hair. Hearing her and so many woman with her similar features down-grade their beauty based on the darker hue of their skin concerned me, because I was raising a beautiful dark-skinned child whose sense of self I didn’t want to be warped in that way. From that moment, I knew that I would be working overtime as a parent to make sure that my daughter, Delilah Christina, saw beauty in all that she was created to be. The take away mantra/life lesson for Delilah is: “You need to know and define for yourself who you are and whose you are so that no one (not even me!) will dare to do it for you.” Coupled with that ideology, I’ve always taught her that neither the labels of “Autism” or “Epilepsy” will create barriers to limit her from conquering the world or any other thing she sets out to do. (I’m sure it must sometimes “suck” to have a mom like me because there are never any excuses tolerated or acceptable!)
I’ve watched the evolution of my child, who is now 16 today. (OMG! I still can’t believe I have a sixteen year old). And in spite of this world and its non equal opportunity for women, Blacks, and the disabled, I am really amazed and awestruck at how intelligent, beautiful, independent, fierce, expressive and unique she is. She knows it too, but not in a vain or conceited way. So today, I thought I’d highlight being thankful for strong, positive identity, giving a shout out to Girl power, and take you through the evolution of Lilah’s expression of identity so that you can see just what I mean for yourself.
While Delilah was in sixth grade, I re-wrote her Black History Month curriculum, providing all of the literature for her teacher and the six girls in her class, with the intention of exploring themes to:
One of the books her class was to read that addressed Racial Identity & the diversity of African American colors and hair textures was “The Color of Us.” It was an awesome book that the 6 girls in the class absolutely loved. One of the activities was to reread the book and draw a portrait of themselves. That night I asked Lilah to draw a portrait of herself. Of course, it doesn’t help that I am a doctor, a social scientist, and black conscious, because I tend to scrutinize children a little more than the average folk. Although it was a fun exercise for her, I was evaluating mentally how she identifies herself in the context of what she really looks like and if she was aware of her surroundings and capturing everything in her environment when she drew the portrait. I was jumping for joy (and screaming in my head “That’s my baby!”) when I saw that she drew herself as a beautiful, big-lipped, big-nosed, hipped, dred-locked, happy, BLACK child who rocked her activist t-shirt (ENOUGH!) to stop the blockade against CUBA (see attachments). I told you all that my baby is fierce! In that moment, I knew that I could go ahead and pat myself on the back. She knew exactly who she was and showed up in that portrait as her authentic self. (Go ‘head, Lilah!) Don’t you wish all our young girls could be and feel like that all the time?
Let’s fast forward to thirteen years old when she came home and told me that she wanted her hair cut. I was devastated that my baby didn’t want the dredlocks that had been growing on her head for seven years anymore. She kept secretly cutting pieces of her dredlocks because she was too scared to tell me that she didn’t want them anymore. When she realized that I would wait a day or two to fix the bald spot she created (Yes, I’m that mom who makes you live with the consequences and wear your decision, no matter how crazy it looks!), she mustered the courage to say, “Mommy, cut hair!” I responded, “Finally! You don’t have to sneak to do anything! You can always tell me what’s on your mind and what you want!” I told her that we’d start small with a cute afro since we didn’t know what kind of head shape was lurking under all that hair. (I was way more vain about it than she was.)
We did two weeks of the afro, when she decided to tell me, “Mommy, cut more!” She wanted a clean-shaven head. In my mind, I thought she had lost her. But, she was determined to get the look she wanted, especially for her graduation coming a few days later. Lilah and I trusted one of our best friends, who is really family, to give her the cut. I never saw a bigger smile on her face as the day she got that first hair cut. It was a major moment of her expressing her creative idea of what beauty for her would look like. [This was before the blockbuster Black Panther movie too.] And she looked absolutely stunning! I’m not saying that because I’m biased and her mom. See for yourself! The cut suited her perfectly. She rocks her clean shave and usually doesn’t let me go passed an inch of growth.
At fifteen, Ms. Diva (another name for Delilah now) comes home and says, “mommy, want hair.” My response was “okay. We’ll grow it out.” It grew to an inch and she started flipping out in her teenage way saying, “Mommy, cut!” I respond, “Didn’t you just say that you wanted hair? Make up your mind!” She comes home two days later and says, “Mommy, want wig!” I said, “Oh! That’s what you meant!” Although that was a very “interesting” request, I was so proud of her because she had gone through all the trouble to notice and find out what a wig was and then learn the word to come home and ask me for one. Since I don’t have the first clue about wigs, I asked my cousin where to go and how I should shop for one. We went to a store and they wouldn’t let us try on more than two wigs, which would not work for Lilah’s curiosity. I ended up purchasing some cheap wigs online for her to explore. (Comical adventure! See pics) Some looked like a hot mess! There was one that she decided to work with and make it look like she wanted. This child used my most expensive shampoos, products and grease to turn this wig into her own master piece. I even had to get mannequins for the wig to sit on! I was floored when she was done; that wig’s ‘do was cute but in my head I was thinking, did you really have to use my good stuff?
Most of you who know Delilah know that she is also diva-licious with fashion too. Clothes and accessories have always been her thing. (I think she inherited that from my aunt Phyllis.) My auntie always told her to look cute, rocking some earrings, and nice clothes. And ninety percent of the time she does just that! If you only knew of some of the battles in the morning to get dressed because she didn’t want to wear something I had chosen or the countless times I had to run back to my apartment, as we were rushing to her school bus, just to get the pair of earrings she left in the house. (SMH!) I also think she got the clean shave from my aunt too, whose final hairstyle was exactly the same during her fight with pancreatic cancer.
These years of creative expression have been an adventure, but I am definitely a PROUD MOMMY!!!!!! From the moment I welcomed her into the world at 4:16 pm on November 17, 2002 and committed to cherish, love, and protect her, I’ve been trying my best to be the best mom she could ever possibly have. And today, I say that I am beyond grateful for my daughter (she is so lovable and amazing!) showing me how important it is to have her own voice and a strong, positive, affirming identity.
Today as we give thanks, take some time to reflect on who you are and evaluate if you are showing up in every situation as your authentic self. Additionally, make sure that you are doing everything you can to empower and mentor young girls. Affirm their intelligence and beauty every chance you get because this world is very cruel to them. On a larger scale, please consider giving financial support to one or all of these organizations: The Uniquely-Abled Girl Scout Troop, started by Ms. Irene Watson, empowers young girls with who are differently-abled to learn leadership, character development, and social skills through the Girl Scouts model. You can send a check or money order to Irene Watson with UMG1151 noted in the memo field and send it to 825 Gerard Avenue, Apartment 6C, Bronx, NY 10451. Irene has done wonders for Delilah’s and these young girl’s confidence and self esteem; Delilah will leave me for her Ms. ReRe in a hot second. Please do not forget this amazing woman and all the work she does for young girls with disabilities. (She is currently in the process of setting up a paypal for the troop so if this old fashion payment system deters you from giving, talk to me and I can arrange another payment system to get Ms. Watson your donation.) She will give you a tax deductible receipt. Gyrl Wonder (About), started by Tola Lawal, engages girls through their four pillars of Self Care, Self Image, Empowerment and Development. BLACK GIRLS ROCK! (Donate) started by Beverly Bond, is dedicated to enlightening girls through leadership (BLACKGIRLS LEAD Conference), education (SATURDAY ENRICHMENT Institute and GIRLS ROCK TECH) and positive identity development. (See: https://www.gyrlwonder.org/ and https://blackgirlsrock.com/)
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Next installment, days 6 – 10.
My friend Melissa has been doing a 30 days of Thanks journey in which she shares her reflections on her life. It is with her permission that I have created this blog post. Her writing is powerful. Be prepared to cry, laugh, be confused, get frustrated, and be caught up in deep hopefulness. Melissa wrote the following preface before beginning her sharing:
“If you are receiving this email, i have decided to include you in my journey for the next 30 days of giving thanks for anything and everything for which I am grateful.
During this time, I will be sharing reflections, short stories and anecdotes about my “interesting” life experiences associated to the theme of my thanks. I realize that some of my sharing will expose me at my core and make me considerably vulnerable to your thoughts, opinions, and attitudes. However, I am willing to do that. If my experiences bless you enough to deal with and confront yourselves and your issues and set you free from the bondage of suffering in silence, then we are right on track to doing some great things together.
My hope is to bless and inspire you to be thankful as well. But, ultimately my goal is for you and I to put that gratefulness into action. Each day, i’ll try to highlight great people and organizations that are doing the work to make our world a better place. Consider giving your time and/or financial contributions. No gift is too small or too large! Stretch yourself and don’t be selfish with your time, your love or your affection. Someone else needs you! Give what is in your heart knowing that the blessing is in your giving and will always come back to you (pressed down, shaken together and running over).
If you know someone who you think would benefit from the journey as well, please share these reflections with them too. I can’t wait to hear about and see what you have all done over the next 30 days an how you have grown!
What follows is Melissa’s thirty day journey. For ease I will post her emails in 5-day segments, without edits. The only thing I have omitted are photos.
First installment, days 1 – 5.
Rest in Peace….
Some people’s work inspire movements, some save lives, some remind us that we are essential and provide balm to our wounded spirit, and some make us strong and fierce, Womanist scholar Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon‘s life and work did all this and more!!! Rest In Peace!!!
Congratulations on your engagement! Now, let’s talk about divorce. I know, I know. This is a time for celebration and excitement, not pragmatic pessimism. Right now you want to plan the cake (vanilla buttercream, if I get a vote), not a hypothetical division of assets. I get it, I do. But give me three minutes…
No No No NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!
Delivering lectures and conducting seminars/workshops (see titles below) for the Anthropos Group and the Centre for Liberation Theology at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.
Workshop 1 and 2
‘Body Matters: Somatic Conversations on Christianity, Love, and Justice’
‘Love and Its Public Significance – Questions and Challenges for Theology’
‘Migration and Constructed Identities – A Theological Engagement’
The womanist concept of Regardless, appropriated from Alice Walker’s initial womanist definition, is important to thinking through notions of new community building in which oppression and exploitation are part of the history and identity of those involved in this process. In point three of her four-point definition of womanist, Walker (1967 p. 1) implicates Love (capitalized to point to its political, religious and commonplace deployment), the creative imagination, and Regardless (also capitalized and italicized) in an endless and audacious network. Regardless in Walker’s usage stands alone as a sentence on its own after a consecutive series of two and three word sentences explicating the object of womanist Love:
Regardless is an essential partner to Love of the creative, of creation, Love of family and community (folk) and Love of self: Regardless. This notion of Regardless allows for thinking through and about survival from difficult histories and memories in a manner that is not laden with victim-ology, but articulated journeys of survival filled with dignity that demands Love towards one’s self. To Love Regardless is to accept all the broken, torn, and bruised pieces of one’s self and one’s history and nonetheless choose Love. Regardless empowers bent and broken persons to engage in loving acts without question and without conditionality. Regardless allow spaces for those caught up in webs of oppression and exploitation to find the courage to give and accept Love. Critical reflexivity, ethics and spirituality are core to womanist thought and theologies, and work to address structures of oppression without leading to additional displacement of the oppressed. In this context, the notion of Regardless methodologically points to alternative modes and lenses for locating, analysing, and negotiating power and oppression.
The building of new communities in which each body (in its physical materiality, historical fleshiness, somatic legacies and future imaginings) is valuable and valued requires the coming together of bodies in conversation about bodies, the body of individuals, the body of histories, the body of communities, the Body of Christ, and engagement with Regardless.