A Cherished Compliment—Weird, But Wonderful!

Living the Dream at Busboys and Poets 10.20.13   The other day, I was doing my thing—Prison Ministry. I’m in jail two Fridays a month, conducting Bible study, which means for me, a myriad of things. So I made it through the pat-down, the Sally Port, and the steel door to the classroom, bolted, with me inside. I sat there preparing in prayer, and awaiting those, whom I affectionately call my girls.  On this particular day, I could see that the ages of the ladies ranged from early twenties to at least mid-sixties. It’s also important to note that I had spied some new faces. The ladies rushed in with a buoyant buzz about them—like they had been conversing amongst themselves and the subject had been left suspended in the air. Mind you, I ascertained this observation in delighted hindsight. As they scurried in, passed out Bibles and claimed their seats, one young woman announced to the others, “Yeah, I told you. She’s just like us!” Her statement caused her to stand and swish her arms in a swag move.  Shocked, my gaze fixed on her like a statue’s. My mouth reflexed an opened smile. My innards mused joyful. Some in the room nodded their affirmation.  In real-time, I began to realize that her statement was a continuation of a prior conversation to which I had not been privy. That’s also when the hindsight began to wash clear. Okay, lemme go deep.

You see, they had all read my novella, The Prison Plumb Line. My novella and my novels are included in the detention center’s library. Some major reading had been going on, and a behind-the-bars debate had ensued. Folklore—if I may be so humbly bold as to use such a word in reference to something that I composed—a bit of folklore was crowning. Okay, I’ll take it down a notch—a rumor had arisen. Rumor had it that the author of The Prison Plumb Line (me), had indeed served prison time, had pulled herself together, and post-incarceration, she had penned and published her story!

Usually, whether or not I’m conducting a Bible study or a writing workshop behind bars, for men or women, as they parade in, it’s customary for me to say, “We’re on holy ground.” It sets the tone before we proceed (even if what we discuss is edgy) and it sets things straight because God is holy, and the written word can serve up blessings and empowerment—if you learn to work it right. That’s my thought, anyway. But on this day, I held back my declaration. I decided, instead, to take in the debate that was being lobbed back-and-forth across the table. Some said that in the novella, I was the main character, Evie. She journeys her way through her jail sentence, her struggle to survive, and through the internal enlightenment that eventually guides her to miracles. Others in the room declared that I was the Church Lady character—one of the vessels, God uses to push the process.

Well, after a while (and before a fight broke out), I clarified, but also, I affirmed. “Wait,” I said, throwing up both hands, using them to cosign, “I am just like you! Because though I have not lived through your particular experience of incarceration, many times, such fate has lingered near.” I went on to explain how at times, I have been unlovable, misunderstood, mistreated/abused, weak and uncertain in my flesh, and in turmoil. I have been both, unfairly and fairly accused and criticized. I have been mean, mad, frustrated, and way too often, I have been powerless. Also, sadly, my mind and heart have been imprisoned. I have been on the ground floor needing to push the button pointing to the not-giving-up mode. However, through it all, whether or not I realized it, I have always been loved. “It’s the same truth for you,” I said. “Today, I am grateful.” I continued my assertion to them, “I’m here, and my love for you inspired me to write this book.” Their looks on me fell nourishing.  I continued, “I know you love me because you read the pages of my heart, and saw me as being a part of you.” I think that’s the biggest compliment a writer can receive.

As a mere volunteer trying hard to live God’s Word in John 13:34-35 (it talks about loving one another), I pray to become purposeful at it. For two or three hours, we pass back-and-forth, the Word of God, enlighten, impact, and uplift as best we know how. In the midst, I might also shoot the Holy Ghost breeze, up-in-there, or share pivotals of my personal testimony—accrued back-in-the-day. I might share a mainstream film, a documentary or colorful prose—all thought-provoking—to hone in on a God-inspired point. Next week, I’m bringing them Get On Up, the James Brown story. You figure out why.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day, Lovers!

But remember—lasting love can shine through in many ways!!!!!!!

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Turning Dreams Tangible

So on Thursday, I asked my ESL Students [English as a Second Language], adult learners (evening classes), a question—after the class watched the first half of the film, Julie & Julia. The question was, “What is it that you like to do? I mean, what is that thing that you’d like to do, and getting paid for it (in any amount, large or small) would only be a bonus?

 Well, first, the answer-attempts came slow then emerged, hesitant.  That’s because first, in one’s head, answers had to be translated out of one’s native language into English. Then the students had to cast down their primal-dream focus, which is to survive a new culture, a new life, and a new language. Apparently, when one has all of that to do there’s little time left for entertaining the career dream or the being-called-to-a-passion dream, and there’s no time to coordinate the corresponding what ifs.

 But in class, I encourage conversation; and so some answers began to cautiously deliver:

“Art”

“Photography”

“Conceptualizing buildings/Engineering” (working the translation was a trial, but worth it)

“Creating themed party favors” (trial, number two)

 While the answers sweetened the air, most of the students still managed to dodge. But I said, “No worries,” because I promised to assault them with the question on next Thursday. They smiled and said they’d show up because they’re polite. They’ll actually show up because of commitment.

But here’s one gentleman’s answer: He said, “I like to take care of my family.” Then he sat back, satisfied and he smiled. His expression said, “I gotcha!”

 I smiled and buzzed, “Annnnnnnt. Wrong answer.”  He laughed. He understood.

 After class, he came up to me and said, “I’ve been in this country a while now, really. But when we first got here, I had to feed my family; provide shelter, protect them – as I have to do now.” He said it with a polite smile supported by a pause and a negative headshake. “There was no time to …” His look finalized. I understood. But next week, I will still present the weighty question again.

 Sadly, that question is a hard one for many, universally. Often, we don’t feel we have the right to such frivolous happiness like feeding a heartfelt passion, a calling or a gift—at least not in the broad daylight where others can see and/or hear.

 Personal Observation: Sometimes maturity sets in and we factually assume (that means out loud in front of witnesses) our right to be happy and fulfilled. I mean, as a day-job perk. And then we may even begin to embark on the tangible journey to make it so using faith, diligence and new direction. However, sometimes, when that light bulb finally shines, we’ve already let decades slither by. Then we tend to get caught up burning a few more prime-time WATTS being pissed off about it. I’m just sayin’.

 So while you’ve got some wattage still left in you (i.e., life), can you answer the question? What is it that you’d like to do (whether or not money is an object to behold)? I mean, really—no pie-in-the-sky, please. Put some real personal, tangible thought into it. Lemmeknow.

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