MJB

I was about 7 or 8 when I got the 411, hon.

I remember playing the tape over and over, learning every lyric and singing at the top of my lungs. 

Tonight, I got to see Ms. Blige perform live.

And I swiftly reverted to that off-key singing little girl. 

The soundtrack to my childhood and preadolescence was provided by Mary J. Blige.

So to experience her vocal presence and beauty in person was nothing short of amazing.

Best.

Concert.

Ever.

Unlabeled

I was daydreaming on my way home from work when a woman caught my eye.

She was hard to miss.

A heavyset woman with red hair.

Bubblegum pink straps sank into her shoulders.

Her tank top hugged her torso.

The bottom of her shirt was folded up, causing piles of flesh to peek through; it looked like she’d dressed in a hurry.

She sat down next to a woman she knew, a blonde with skintight jeans covering a pair of crossed legs.

The blonde woman wore an incomplete ponytail. She had on a thin T-shirt that was cut in pieces and knotted in the center of her back, exposing a black bra.

As they chatted, I watched, hypnotized by their clothing and their complete comfort with it.

My mind struggled to make a connection.

What is going on with them?

I needed to label the situation and the people in it. 

And then the word flashed across my mind.

Prostitutes.

I sank back in my seat, satisfied.

But as soon as I did, Jesus immediately sat me back up.

How dare you assume?

You have no grounds to judge.

And even if they are, that is not their label.

They are Mine and they are loved.

I pondered my chastisement all the way home.

So many lessons from this little chunk of life.

The biggest one?

Leave people unlabeled.

Role

 I didn’t know that I was stepping into a role.

I stood in my aunt’s bathroom, smiling at myself.

My lips were covered in cocoa glass.

My eyelids shimmered with desert clay.

My lashes plumped from threads to ropes.

I was 13 and in preteen girl heaven.

My aunt, a make-up fiend, had bins full of cosmetics…

…that I helped myself to…

…every morning.

Since my aunt left early for work, my morning duty was to get her daughter, 4-year-old Cheyenne, ready for preschool.

I’d help her brush her teeth, pick out her overalls and put a few ponytails in her hair.

But once Cheyenne was ready, I’d turn on the television and sneak into the bathroom.

I thought I was slick.

Surely Blue’s Clues was more than enough to keep a little girl occupied and still.

But as I watched myself in the mirror, Cheyenne was peeking…and watching me.

As she grew older, she went from watching me to asking me.

“Can I wear your shirt?”

“Can I go with you there?”

“When are you coming back?”

And now at age 19, from asking me to seeking from me.

“What do you think about that? I know you’ve done that.”

“That really encourages me because you went there.”

“I don’t know what God wants. What should I do?”

I didn’t know that I was stepping into a position.

Rose was always the cute little girl on the pew, 3rd from the back.

A couple of years younger than me, Rose’s sparkling chatter during the sermon was always a happy distraction.

Now at 22, her vivaciousness was still there.

One Sunday afternoon, as we lingered in the church parking lot, Rose looked to the left.

A woman had just passed by, walking cuddle close with a man.

When Rose turned back to me, her expression was sad and familiar. 

“Has a guy ever told you that you were different?”

The question came from a spot I knew well, my hometown and my present address.

Our conversation became an ocean, deepening with each sentence.

Every sore she exposed, I found myself trying to soothe.

The hour grew late so I left her with a few final words.

She sent me an email days later, marveling about our conversation and saying that she  had always looked up to me.

 Look up to me?

Really?

I didn’t know that I had an audience.

I didn’t know that I was locked in a pose.

I didn’t know that my role as me, in good weather or in bad light, would be used as an example or cited as a source.

 I’ll strive to play my role the best way I can.

————————————————————

“Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

-1 Timothy 4:12

Bleeding Gums

There are times when a vocalist tries too hard.

She stretches the word “tree” for 14 minutes.

He breaks a sentence into a million and one runs.

A choir drags a chorus until the words are unintelligible.

Whenever I encounter these moments,

Be it in the middle of an A and B selection or a jazz concert,

I think of one thing:

Bleeding Gums Murphy

This is one of the highlights from my childhood, watching Bleeding Gums’ uncontested rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”:

Wisdom Well

I think I was around 19.

I was 19 when I started digging my well.

That year, I used a number of shovels to carve out the dirt. But one shovel I remember in particular was large, looming, and expensive.

I had received my first credit card that year and I felt chic…important…adult.

So like any chic important adult, I used the card to buy an assortment of goods, services, and products,only one of which I remember to this day.

The price I paid for being chic came up to a mid four figures, a fortune for a broke college student.

In the many days after that, I exchanged that shovel for others, making sure my well would be deep enough to hold all that I needed.

 Cassidy has just begun to dig her well.

She had just completed her freshman year at her dream college. But due to a sudden family financial crisis, returning for her sophomore year looked unlikely.

The abrupt change in circumstances threw the 18-year-old into a frantic tailspin.

“What am I going to do now?”

I collected a few buckets from my own well to share with her. After a while, she calmed down ,and the following day seemed to be better.

“So, I didn’t cry today,” she informed me as she smiled. “That’s a good start.”

A good start for a deep well.