Shift

The text made my shoulders droop. Queasiness snaked through my stomach. Her distress fell on me like a bowling ball and I sharply exhaled from the sudden weight of it all. I staggered into the office stairwell, my vision blurred as tears filmed my eyes.  My heavy sigh sounded hollow in the empty stairwell as I tried to deal with the heaviness sitting on me.

“Lord, what’s going on with my family?”



My 16-year-old cousin Lianna has always been such a quiet soul. She’s never really shared much about herself to our family, only allowing another 16-year-old cousin, Tia, into her world. She is a proud Mommy’s girl, never seeming to leave her mother’s side and tagging along happily on tedious and often unnecessary shopping trips and errands. 

We know that she is reserved. We know that she loves music. We know that she loves her family.

But we wondered. 

About her sagging jeans. 

About her triple X size hoodies and T-shirts. 

About her utter horror at having to wear make-up.

About how she had to be forced to wear dresses. 

About her distaste for wearing her shoulder length hair in curls and waves and desire to wear it in cornrows. 


We wondered.


 And we found out when she told her mother that she was interested in women. 


Her mother weeped from the lowest part of herself, her heart broken. Once I heard what happened, I immediately began praying for my aunt and her reaction/thoughts about this ordeal. I  asked God to watch over my cousin, to free her from that spirit and to restore her heart, mind, and soul.


But while pondering and praying about them, I had to insert a spiritual addendum for Tia.  


Tia is a natural beauty and charmer. Her honey colored eyes and smooth chipmunk cheeks have given her many a high school admirer, a fact that she unapologetically enjoys. She was born to delight, easily eliciting smiles and laughs from anyone she encounters. 


Life hasn’t been so delightful for her lately.

Tia’s relationship with her mother has been typical, both rocky and smooth. But their 18 year age difference has put them on a level that fosters deep affection but washes away important boundaries.


 Recently, her mother did something out of the ordinary:


She viciously cursed at her and her 8-year-old sister. 


While physically disciplining the younger girl, her mother turned on Tia, who had intervened. Her mother spat at Tia to 

“mind her f****** business. Who the f*** is she?”

She then announced that she doesn’t give a f*** what the two girls eat for dinner because she wasn’t cooking s***.


The anger and the language and the viciousness with which it was used shocked the two daughters. They spent that night crying from hurt and fear. Tia had decided that she had enough and wanted to leave home to live with a relative. 


Tia’s text about the events collided with Lianna’s already spinning tornado and absolutely knocked the wind out of me. I tried to soothe and mend as I could, asking God for guidance, for direction and for words to say. 


Soon, I ran out of words. 


And strength. 


It’s funny; sometimes you don’t think anyone else sees the strain you feel. 


I asked my life coach to add them to her prayer list, which she did. But she also was concerned about me and told me something I forgot (which I often do):

“You need to shift all this off you and onto God. Cast it on the One who is really equipped to carry it.

Though we are to bear one another’s burdens, we certainly aren’t built to bear them forever or for long.


Shifting it off to Someone with stronger shoulders…




For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust.
-Psalm 103:14
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Private

Growing up, I would watch the adults in my family collect around a crowded dining room table, a bright cozy  kitchen, or sizzling barbecue grill to talk.


 Talk about everything


Children. 


Jobs. 


Spouses. 


Money. 


Coworkers. 


Church folk. 


Relatives.


World events. 


Sex. 


Fears. 


Dreams. 


No topic was ever missed or skipped over. Whenever it became aware that I was in earshot, I was quickly shooed out the room. But the rich laughter and vociferous declarations were too full to be contained and always flowed into the other rooms. 

As I grew older, my sister and I were invited to share in this familial tradition. My sister shined at it. She, of the phone calls to her boyfriends so deafening the whole house would tremble and rippling opinionated spirit, gladly shared her all. I would listen as she would go on about her feelings towards her friends and other matters while my mother would absorb it and then reflect her own thoughts. 

The exchange was common and, in the minds of all in the household,  the way it should be done. 

But…

Where my relatives open doors, I shut them. I chalk lines. I draw curtains. Boundary is my middle name and I spell it P-R-I-V-A-T-E. 

 In this regard, I was viewed as irregular. In my family, everything is to be shared,  and refusal to do so is greeted with confusion, dismay, and disbelief.

 Family members, in particular, my mother, were bothered by my unwillingness to bare my soul. I remember one incident in particular where my mother was visually disturbed that I opted out of a girls’ sharing session. 

She learned to live with it but I think she thought that it was a phase from which I would outgrow.
During a recent conversation, she turned the knob on a door that is locked to her for the time being: my love life. When I didn’t divulge after minutes of pounding, she said in an exasperated voice,

“But you’re 25!

I was and am far from a recluse. I do share and bare and reveal. But it is within limits and there are few around me who have seen my heart in its entirety. The heaviest and most precious portions always go to those who know how to handle them.
I love and cling to my family and admire their openness. But I’ve seen these offered portions pricked and chopped to pieces.

Such a dilemma. Is it wrong to hide parts of your heart from your family?

Feelings

I think adults underestimate how much children can perceive. 


When I was little, I adored my aunts and uncles, both biological and those who married in.They were like spinoffs of Mommy and Daddy, kinda the same as my parents but more fun. 


There were a few, however, that I always felt uneasy around. It was something intangible that I could never name. The uneasiness and discomfort zoomed in whenever I was around them and it zoomed away whenever they left. In my little mind, I would scold myself for feeling that way. I never voiced any of this to my parents because I felt they wouldn’t believe me. I was just a little girl  and it was just a feeling. 


But it wasn’t. 


 I was 7 when my aunt Hadassah married my uncle Mac. My aunt is saucy and statuesque with deep brown skin. She has the ability to draw people to her without much effort. He’s a burly bearded sand colored man, a former chain smoker. I remember being scared for him every time he laughed because he would always cough violently afterwards. Their common ground must have been their skill at spinning life into joy. Both were consummate jokesters, provoking laughs from any and everyone. 


But after they married,the disquiet in me began. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my new uncle. But the air around him seemed…less than peaceful, less than healthy. 


Then skeletons tumbled out of the closet. Abuse. Infidelity. Possible mental instability. When I was 10, I wrote in my diary that he hit her. When I was older, I found out that that was the least of it. In one instance, he placed a pillow over her head to try to suffocate her. When I was 19, they separated due to another woman. He’s now married to his former mistress. 


I was 8 when my aunt Spiral married my uncle Nick. I saw then that he was colorless. He walks and speaks with a disturbingly passive gait. Attempts to inject humor or life into his conversation were never successfully executed. They didn’t fit him. My aunt was especially beautiful with clear caramel skin and a black waterfall of hair that cascaded from her scalp. 


She was gorgeous and exacting.


No one was allowed to wear shoes in the house. When my sister and I would visit them, we were not allowed to drink anything until we finished our dinner. Then we could have a beverage. We  even were not to wear underwear when we slept. I remember doing that reluctantly and looking towards the bedroom door where my uncle had retreated. 


When they married, their wedding was joyless. The smiles, the interactions were tightly performed with no real ease, genuineness, or delight. She gave birth to their only daughter 2 years later. I was 10 and I remember thinking how would she behave as a mother.  


Fast forward to present day where their family is one thrown punch, one lit match, one needle shot away from breaking news. My uncle and aunt have both emotionally left the marriage. They instead race to see who can/will die first. Their daughter, my cousin, seeks solace in deviant behavior that will eventually consume and possibly kill her too. 


All I was was a child with a feeling. I wonder if the adults in my life had those feelings, too.