Brown Sugar Travels to “The Pearl of Africa,” UGANDA!

The day had finally come, and we’re traveling to Kampala, Uganda! Last night, I still had to unpack wash and repack from Atlanta, get Kelcie packed and dropped off, try to see Rowan (which didn’t happen-aggressive eye roll), and tie up any lose ends. Well, I started watching Handmaid’s Tale and got all the way caught up in that show!!!!! It was soooooo good!!!

I finally had everything in place or so I thought because I absolutely left some things behind, but I was packed! I had written bae 15 “Open these when…” letters because this would be the longest time we’ve had apart since dating, and had everything else in place. All 15 members of #TeamUganda were packed, prayed up, and headed to the airport. There were a couple of minor incidents, but nothing major. Our first flight was from Memphis to Minneapolis (3 hours). Next up were all of the international flights. You’re served breakfast, lunch, and dinner on international flights, and I really don’t even remember how many times we ate! The next flight was from Minneapolis to Amsterdam (8 hours) very nice airport, but we had to search high and low for a place to charge our phones! The next flight was from Amsterdam to Kigali, Rwanda (11 hours). I can’t even explain to you how I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown from the screaming… nah that’s not strong enough. Wailing… yes that’s more accurate! Wailing babies on this plane! We understood how that flight must have been long and tiring for them, not to mention how their ears must have hurt, but there was one little toddler… Think of Junior from the movie Problem Child. Lil baby was climbing over chairs, sticking his finger in other people’s plates. Running up and down the aisle poking people, and shrieked whenever he had to sit down. This is when I took the zzzquil. Probably more than I should have, but I’m sure yall understand… The final flight was from Kigali to Entebbe (about 45 minutes). I started watching Bad Grandma’s on this flight, and laughed out loud quite a few times! I have to see that whole movie soon. I walked around the plane a bit when I got too restless, and almost knocked myself senseless in the bathroom when we hit a little turbulence, but God is good! LOL Between resting, eating, and watching movies, we didn’t have a bad journey at all.

After going through customs, and picking up our luggage, our host Andrew met us at the airport and drove us the hour to Kampala. Add in the layovers, and that gives us a whopping total of 36 hours of travel time! Bruh…

On the drive to where we’re staying, Andrew explained to us why Africans wait so long to get married. He said that when a man and a woman go on several dates, the woman generally asks, “is this serious?” When the man finally makes up his mind, they enter what is called the visitation phase. This is when the man takes the woman to meet his parents and he meets her parents. BUT, the woman tells him to get her something nice, and the man is responsible for buying her dress, and gifts for her family. The male sibling always gets a nice gift. In the next phase her family begins to negotiate with his family on how much he will spend for the marriage ceremony, and the groom decides on who will attend with him. The larger, the better. Most African marriages stop here, some go on to have the final large ceremony. This is the one they fundraise for, and it’s usually a huge celebration!

I’m sure that most of you noticed the same things we noticed when Andrew was sharing this with us, and that’s the amount of money the groom spends. What I noticed was how valued family is in this process. That’s something many of us have lost along the way. Family…

We made it to our living quarters around 1am and we were all pleasantly surprised at how nice they were, yet aggressively exhausted. We all settled in and crashed in spite of the family of dogs barking all. night. long. outside.  Day 1 in Uganda will have to be amazing, and it starts at 7am….

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Brown Sugar Is Beyond Grateful!

gratitude “Healing begins where the wound was made.” -Alice Walker

Thank you. Thank you to the person in G. Alston restaurant in Cordova, TN who followed your heart today. That small gesture moved me today, and you did it anonymously. So, secret person who loved on my son and me today, let me share a story with you.

This season has absolutely been a challenging one. The kind of challenging that makes you realize you’re an adult. The most recent curve ball life has thrown me deals with my son. I worry often about him because of his lack of male role models. I think it’s so important for little black boys to be connected to someone who looks like them. “Women have been forced to choose time or money out of fathers who are too selfish to understand that kids need BOTH.” I stopped trying to figure out how to get his father to be consistently involved in his life years ago and started putting him in sports with firm and invested coaches. I want him to have an outlet. I want him to have everything he needs to prevent him from becoming the little angry black boy who’s a good kid, but made a bad decision that will cost him his life. Well, in spite of my efforts, he’s still angry. He has questions that requires answers from a man, and some days it deeply frustrates me.

Just this morning I sat in my bed in tears about this little magical boy of mine. He’s so smart, outspoken, energetic, curious, and competitive. I watched him drag himself down the hall to my room wrapped in his blanket (he’s totally not a morning person) and wondered how could someone not want to spend time with him? How could someone not want to walk around and explore all this world has to offer with him on their shoulders? All I wanted to do was sit in bed and think of a master plan, but realized all I needed was to trust the Master’s plan. So, he and I got up and headed to church. We called my daughter on the way to see how she’s enjoying Chicago, and walked into service.

I can’t begin to explain the peace that washed over me the second we got inside. Today, I got up and dressed up. I didn’t look like what I had been through. These past three weeks hit me back to back like Drake. Behind the car accident my kids and I were in a few weeks ago, and the financial strain I faced with being forced to pay for my son’s hospital bill on my own, I walked into church and surrendered.  Worship was what I needed. The atmosphere was what I needed. Being a friendly church was what I needed. During the alter call, I told God that I came with expectancy. I was laying my worries, things I didn’t understand, and situations I couldn’t control at His feet. I asked for guidance and patience as a mother, as a leader, as a woman. I was restored today. No matter what was thrown my way recently, I can say I’ve literally hung to Ephesians 6:12 for dear life. Despite the many tears this season brought, I remained grateful. Because I know He knows the plans He has for me, in the midst of some really tough situations, I chose to express an attitude of gratitude. Even when I had valid reasons to be angry, I knew that what mattered most was the two little people who watch me intently. I want them to be able to mimic my habits, not my tantrums. “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” ― Octavia E. Butler

After church, I decided my son and I would go to brunch. We sat in the church parking lot strongly disagreeing about McDonald’s. No matter what he said, we were not going to McDonald’s. Period. I remembered that G. Alston’s wasn’t far from me and I’d been wanting to try it. So, we went. The place is absolutely beautiful! My nine-year-old was less than enthused. There were no golden arches. No playground. No menus to color. Me on the other hand absolutely fell in love with the ambiance of the restaurant. My response to each room caused him to give the place a chance. Then Kita waited on us and reigned him right in! She was attentive and descriptive in describing the menu to him. After we placed our order, he relaxed. We played a few rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors. I let him order coffee (against my better judgement). We held conversations with the other patrons seated near us. But most importantly, we talked. His insight shocked me. After explaining a few things to clear up his innocent thinking, he actually laughed and said ahhhh! I was tickled at the fact that we were talking so intently, but overjoyed that he trusted me with his feelings.

Our food was absolutely delicious (definitely going back) and we had a ball. He asked for a to-go box, and when Kita came back with it, she told me, “your bill has been handled.” I was stunned. I told my son what she said and he was just as shocked. After Kita walked away, he recalled the message in Kids Life today that talked about being generous. “Momma, why would a complete stranger be so generous to us?”

I knew when I headed to the restaurant that I should probably take Rowan’s advice and go to McDonald’s, but I wanted him to experience that restaurant, so we ordered modestly. I had no idea that someone would be led to pay for our meals. You may have felt like it was small and insignificant, but let me tell you what you really did. You reinforced what it means to be generous to my son. You reminded me that gratitude is the tool that turns what’s been placed in my hands into more than what I need. You are the present reminder that God takes care of His people… when we least expect it. Thank you for your obedience to God’s call and your big heart for a couple of complete strangers. I pray that you receive the same generosity 100 fold!

 

Brown Sugar is a Single Mommy…

“Some days she has no idea how she’ll do it, but every single day it gets done.”

Screenshot_20171212-090007.png Being a single mom (SM) was not a goal I set out to achieve. I never envisioned my life this way, and yet, here I am. Being a single mom has become the norm in our society to the point where I believe we have become desensitized to it. There are so many memes and videos slithering around social media that bash the livelihoods of single mothers as if it’s a curse!

I’ll admit that one of my challenges in transitioning from marriage to single-momdom was the fact that I had two children, no wedding ring, and my last name was different than my kids. I know… I know… Who cares what people think, right? But it wasn’t me I was concerned about. It was the questions I knew my children would have to face knowing they wouldn’t have the answers. As time passed, I cared less, and equipped them more.

Being a SM for me kinda sounds like this:

I wake up every morning around 5:15am and humbly sit on the side of my bed like that little fox meme, then I get my day started. I shower, get dressed, check my calendar to see what’s due today, wake the kids, get breakfast ready, chat with them, fuss about them getting dressed without it turning into WWIII, pack their lunches, check their faces, and head out the door. Then it’s on to battle a 40 minute commute while reviewing vocabulary words and study guides, and life lessons about friends, drop offs, then I head to work to love on as many of the 500 kids in my building as I can. After work, it’s check homework, talk to my kids about their day, run them to their extracurricular activities (This is literally every night of the week except Friday), cook dinner (unless I drive past Sonic and I’m dog tired) cause they pack all the leftovers for lunch, bedtime routines, and once they’re in bed, I work on any unfinished tasks from work until I drift off to sleep.

That’s my weekday routine (cause I assure you that my weekends are literally the same), and I do all of this like most single moms, with very little help. The above doesn’t mention how I have to reroute and adjust when one of my kids is sick, or I have a parent-teacher conference at one of my kids schools, or I’m sick. Either way, single moms have ZERO DAYS OFF! Unfortunately, I don’t have help with the day-to-day needs of raising them. I don’t get to say, “Naw I can’t get them today,” or “I can’t get to his/her game/event this time,” or “Let me give it to you next payday,” or just simply not answer my phone on issues pertaining to my babies. I’ve tried telling MLGW to wait, and that still hasn’t worked, so I know I can’t do it with my children. Being a parent is not optional.

I remember my mom having the sex talk with me when I got my period (Which might I add is even more agonizing when you’ve experienced this life altering event LOL). It was so short and to the point. “You can get pregnant now, and don’t have no babies, cause once you have them, they yours.” I used to think she was so cynical, but in real-life, I can’t find the lie in what she taught me.

Being a mom is a hard job. I try not to complain, but let’s face it, I’m human. I absolutely love my children; I couldn’t imagine who I would be without them, but I’m doing a job designed for two people! So I get overwhelmed, and tired, and confused, and unsure, and stressed. These emotions are all associated with parenthood. I haven’t even scratched the surface of how it feels when things fall apart at work, or in dating, or just because. One of the hardest parts of being a SM is that EVERYTHING falls on you no matter what. All of the educational needs and concerns, financial needs, doctor’s visits, their emotional crisis, their correcting, fostering good habits, monitoring their sugar intake (because they will literally eat junk ALL day if you allow it), and everything in between.

There are days when it seems almost unbearable, so I get a good, healthy, private cry in my shower. It’s so symbolic of honoring, acknowledging, and releasing those emotions. Once I’ve done that, I’m ready to get back on the grind.

I allow my children to hear me thank God for them each day, and ask Him for wisdom to be the mother He’s called me to be. Without that prayer, I don’t think I would have made it to this point. That’s what I call grace…

I typed this blog to encourage all of the single mothers who are hurting, broken, discouraged, angry, struggling, and/or have simply lost hope. You’re not alone. It’s not just you. It’s not just your children. It’s not just your situation. Hear me when I say: Sis, you have been graced for this season, and NO one can do this job like you! You were handpicked, so, fix your crowns and werk mommas!

“As a mother, my job is to take care of the possible, and trust GOD with the impossible.”

 

Brown Sugar is a Career Woman…

When I say, “I’m an educator,” people generally respond with, “I don’t know how you deal with these bad kids!” Usually forgetting that they too were once a hardheaded teen… Or maybe that’s just my story.

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People who make assumptions about the work I do very rarely comprehend even half of the story. They somehow never know that educators:

  1. Usually stop everything when a kid comes up and says with authority, “I need to talk to you cuz I’m trying not to fight.”
  2. Rearrange their entire schedule because their willingness to transport a graduate back to school 2nd semester determines whether the kid continues pursuing a degree or drops out.
  3. Check their account when a kid doesn’t have the bare necessities for college.
  4. Build rapport with their students so solid that they can call kids by their ENTIRE name in the hall because it celebrates their uniqueness.
  5. Sit a kid down and ask, “what happened?” Then listen to them tell the story of how their 38 year old mom went to the doctor in April for an ache in her shoulder, and was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer. By the time it was detected, it was stage 4. This kid became his mother’s caregiver and a guardian for his three younger siblings his senior year of high school all while working a job after school, and maintaining his GPA in all honors classes. Days after his mother celebrated her 38th  birthday, she passed. Within six months of being diagnosed, she was gone. All he wanted was his mother to see him walk across the stage. So he becomes the kid you scream the loudest for during class day… The kid you hug the tightest on graduation day…
  6. Hold a pregnant student’s hand and rub her back while she’s in labor, care for her newborn child while she completes her End of Course tests, snaps her pics while she’s at work and prom, tell her how proud you are of her, and lay her body to rest… All within her senior year of high school.
  7. When a parent becomes irate and belligerent, these educators bury their own anger, to comfort the embarrassed child… showing the parent that you can’t believe the hype; we love kids here.
  8. Stand in front of your class to fuss about student’s making bad decisions, only to wake up to a message that one of your students was killed…. by one of your other students. Both of those students sat in that very class the day before.
  9. Help the valedictorian understand her worth and that she deserved to prep for Harvard and Yale interviews.
  10. Help clean dirt, grass, and blood off a student after an attempted rape attack on her way to school.
  11. Work a 15 hour day, and still come home just to put your children to bed so you can go back to working on your laptop.
  12. Purposely search for at least 5 kids a day to tell them:
    1. “I’m proud of you!
    2. “I see you trying. Just need to know I see you!”
    3. “You look cute!”
    4. “I heard how you killed on that math test!”
    5. “I love you!”

This list doesn’t even scrape the surface of the work educators do every day. I don’t just “deal” with bad kids. I teach kids. I listen to kids. I correct kids. I guide kids. I laugh with kids. I support kids. I go to bat for kids. I love kids.

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

 

Brown Sugar Relaxes

My work week leading up to Fall Break was like nails on a chalkboard. Not that annoying feeling that makes you want to stop your ears up and cringe, but more like that blank face, “why?” feeling.

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We experienced blow after character-attacking blow, so by Friday I embraced my break with open arms! I may have even shed a tear from the excitement.

The first quarter of the school year had been a demanding one. I’ve had a lot of late nights and early mornings that required lots of caffeine “for the juice,” and several erasers for the mistakes. I don’t even think I realized just how mentally, physically, and emotionally bankrupt I really was from it all. I remember waking up Tuesday morning leading up to Fall Break, and the moment my feet hit my plush carpet, the words, “I know I’m not just suppose to work and pay bills all my life” escaped my lips. Seriously, I wasn’t even aware that I said them until I plopped down on my yoga mat. I made a mental note to tune up my self-talk.

20170929_061014.jpg During yoga that morning, I always whisper to my heavenly Father, and I remember saying, “Daddy, I need rest.” Well, Abba keeps His promises ya’ll, because a church friend invited my daughter to go along with her daughter to an indoor water park for the week, and my son spent the week with his dad. Which left me all alone…. Yep, you guessed it: To rest! \0/

I had a few odds and ends to tie up the first couple of days of my break. Unfortunately, I’m still going to court dealing with unfinished business from my divorce (seriously peeps, REALLY pray and put some thought into who you’re deciding to spend the rest of your life with before exchanging those vows. At times, this divorce has felt like a chicken pox scar – impossible to get rid of). But eventually, my bag was packed, my room was booked, and my itinerary was set! I headed to Hot Springs, AR. The drive up was a regular dysfunctional concert. If there was a genre to choose, I chose it, and I knew ALL of the words to every song. #GoMe

Hot Springs has a Martin, TN feel to it, so I actually felt right at home. The hotel room faced east, and overlooked Lake Hamilton. That first morning, I literally woke up to the sunrise bursting into my room. I really wanted to see it too, but… rest won. So I caught the sun spreading it’s ostentatious beams throughout the sky around 8am. It was still just as beautiful and breathtaking though.

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After grabbing breakfast, I headed to the trails for some hiking. I don’t think I’d wrapped my mind around the fact that I was hiking until I reached the trails and saw these three “Paul Bunyan” looking dudes with their equipment, and hiking boots, and stuff. I looked at them, then I looked at my Nike warm up and sneakers, and said, “Meh.” I wasn’t here for them. #YOLO

The hike through the woods was honestly life-changing. I replaced roaring cars for a babbling brook, loud voices for chirping birds, too busy people consumed with their cell phones for the rustle of the wind dancing in the trees, pungent trash for fresh air. I don’t think I’ve ever been as at peace as I was in that forest.

After crossing streams, and hiking up hills, and doing the tango with a bed of boulders, I reached this landing. The cliff looked real “Circle of Life-ish” when they were doing Simba’s baby dedication on Pride Rock-ish. I stood their overlooking the trail I had just crushed and was in awe of God. As I sit in my bed typing this blog, I can still smell the rich scent of pine trees and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. In that moment, I found peace. I never knew peace could make you so hungry though… #ijsIMG_20171014_164645_720.jpg

I stayed there in that atmosphere a little while longer, then made the trek down the mountain. There were a few other memorable moments from my stay in Hot Springs, but the fact that I was able to unplug from everything, and find peace in the midst of what felt like a Hurricane Katrina type storm (work stuff, death a student, personal stuff, just life) surpasses my understanding. I’ve taken for granted how attainable peace can be, and how important it is to make self-care a non-negotiable.

Fast forward. I made it back to Memphis, and ironically, I crashed. I slept a few hours, and woke up feeling more rejuvenated than I’ve felt in months! Like MaDear used to say, “I slept for old and new!” My self-talk is back on track, and most importantly, I achieved what I set out in search for in Hot Springs; I feel rested. There’s wisdom in knowing how to listen to the sometimes subtle, and sometimes screaming cues your body gives you. Moving forward, I’m not operating from a place of “burnout” that causes me to shrink back when faced with a challenge. I’m ready to push through any growth barrier I come in contact with to reach my destiny.

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“We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don’t allow our bodies to heal, and we don’t allow our minds and hearts to heal.”  

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Brown Sugar Purges

“All emotions, even those that are suppressed and unexpressed, have physical effects. Unexpressed emotions tend to stay in the body like small ticking time bombs — they are like illnesses in incubation.” -Marilyn Van Derbur

After the wide emotional terrain the team and I covered yesterday, we met last night to debrief. We saw despair, darkness, trepidation. But we also saw hope, joy, and love. Several of us attempted to talk through those emotions, but although the words escaped our mouths, the emotional baggage held on tight. It wound around many of us like an anaconda preparing to feast on our remains. We couldn’t fight it. The emotional weight was so heavy that I couldn’t even blog, I believe we all slipped into a deep sleep that night.

Saturday morning, I wasn’t feeling so well. I was moving slowly and had an extremely light breakfast: a boiled egg, a spoonful of yogurt, three sips of coffee. I filled my water bottle with two cold bottles of water and dashed off for the bus. We were all beyond excited because today was the day we would see the Taj Mahal! Once we loaded the bus, I curled up in a corner with my back facing the window and opened my laptop. I sat there unsure of where to start with yesterday’s blog, so I paused and grabbed my phone. I started the devotional The Esther Challenge at the beginning of this mission trip. Today’s devotional talked about how Mordecai refused to bow to Haman and remained loyal and faithful to God regardless of the grave consequences. It went on to talk about how King Ahasuerus had forgotten how Mordecai was the one who helped spare his life from the men who were plotting to kill him.

I was so tickled after reading this devotion because what God was clearly telling me was to remain faithful to what He sent me to do, and part of that obedience was to not forget all of those who had helped me attend this mission trip fully funded and were reading my blogs daily.

So, I unloaded on my laptop. The commute to the Taj Mahal was 3.5 hours. I blogged for the first two. Ever so often, I’d lift my head to see our surroundings. When the village we were riding through caught my attention.20170701_152701

I’d seen these huts before in my history books, but in my mind they only existed centuries ago. Not today just 10.5 hours away. There were families out hanging laundry on a line, and children playing. My heart stung a bit, but I smiled and waved to the little boy standing on the side of the road. He was amazed at the big bus barreling by.

Once I finished my blog, I got up to go sit with a few others to jump in on whatever they were talking about. I needed adult conversations. This group of professional women had such insight on various topics. It was great to discuss college with one of our Axis students, careers, what our communities lacked, and ways to bring what was lacking to the communities since we can’t take the community to the resource.

The bus came to a sudden jerk (remember the traffic, right?) and I could tell we were close. The city of Arga looked a lot like Delhi. When we reached the entrance of the Taj Mahal, we all grabbed bottle water as we exited the bus. We were told that we would be surrounded by beggars, but not to make eye contact, and not to purchase anything.

We were given shoe covers for the Taj Mahal because you must either remove your shoes or cover them as a sign of respect, and our tickets for entry. Well, at that moment, the heat hit me with a quick right, left, uppercut combination and I bent over and placed my hands on my knees. Emilio asked if I was ok, and I told him I just needed a minute. We walked to catch a small shuttle to drive us closer to the entrance, and as soon as I sat down, I laid my head on the seat in front of me. I felt bad ya’ll. Stomach cramps, nausea, and I had sweat literally pouring from my body. Katie poured water on the back of my neck to help me cool off, and it seemed to help. We got off the bus, and I told Deirdre I was about to puke, and as if on cue, right there at the entrance of the Taj Mahal… Brown Sugar begins this violent projectile vomiting… Again, and again, and again.

I puked my way to the sidewalk, being mindful of the cow manure along the way, and squatted there for a sec. I was ready to crawl up and die in my embarrassment and that unnecessarily aggressive Indian heat when this eclipse happened, and the sun was blocked! I looked up to see Rohim standing over me with his cane and his best concerned father’s expression. He was holding a bottle of Indian lime soda, and told me to sip it. I didn’t want to, but at this rate I was willing to try anything. I sipped the lime soda and the stomach cramps immediately subsided! What tha??? So a few minutes later, I stood up and told the group, “Let’s mob.” They were all like, Are you sure??? We traveled 14 hours just to get to India, and 3.5 just to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We. Were. Going.

Once inside, we met our tour guide who was AH-MAY-ZING! I sat down to hear the rich history of the mausoleum and the love story behind it.  In 1631, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632. Shah Jahan’s grief after the death of Mumtaz Mahal illustrate the love story held as the inspiration for Taj Mahal. It was hot. I felt like crap. But this story was one that simply captivated me.

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Here we were about to head through this temple to arrive at the Taj Mahal. It was 46,239 degrees, and apparently a quarter of the Indian population decided to visit the Taj today. The inside of the first temple was beautifully constructed.

I was thankful for this protection from the sun, but the humidity was another story. As soon as we exited this temple, I was taken aback by the beauty of the Taj Mahal. The massive ivory white marble mausoleum sat snuggly amid a beautifully manicured garden.

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The Taj Mahal (Crown of the Palace) was being cleaned for the first time ever! As you can see in the above photograph that the other three pillars are much brighter than the one with the scaffolds. The workers used clay to clean the marble. The tour guide told me to come stand near him, give him my phone, and hold my hand up. When I realized he was talking to me, I remembered he wasn’t there for the pukefest, but I went anyway. I was pleasantly pleased with the result, Mane! HAHAHA

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A few others snapped pics while I sat along the edge of the garden and took in my surroundings. How did I become so fortune to be here at this very moment? It was time to move along. I had a couple of people to tell me to wait. Anita told me she would sit on a bench with me and we could catch up to the group later. I told them I would rest when we got closer. But when I saw a monkey ran across my path, I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating or not so I decided to rest then. While resting, I saw Rafiki was real…

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I glanced up, and knew I had to go see what I came for, so we put on our shoe covers, avoided Indians wanting to rudely take pictures with the “Americanos” and ascended the stairs of the Taj Mahal.

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Once we made it on the first level, the way the brightness and heat radiated off this building felt like the end of the road for me. It was blinding! Photos were prohibited inside, but our tour guide showed us where the guest house and tombs were, and which stones embedded in the walls illuminated with light. Just then traffic police apparently came through blowing their whistles and telling us to keep it moving. We maneuvered our way through until we reached the back of the mausoleum. As we exited the doors, I felt like we were on display. Indians are most attracted to white women with blond hair, and the darkest black people. It felt like paparazzi out there and we just wanted to hear the history and enjoy the architecture and design of this amazing structure.

We stopped for a restroom break, then headed to the exit. We waited there for our tour guide to catch a shuttle for us to take us outside where our bus was. Once on the bus, I changed out of my soaked Mane shirt into a dry fit long-sleeved shirt and curled up in Anna’s shawl. I fell asleep instantly. I woke up to Ananya giving us all pumpkin candy. i believe she said once the pumpkin has grown some, they put sugar cane in it and allow it to grow more. It becomes sweetened that way. I immediately drifted back to sleep again.

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When I woke up, we were at the hotel. I went through the security checkpoint, shuffled to my room, dragged myself into the shower, and collapsed in bed.

I can’t help but wonder what caused me to get sick this day. Some said I was overheated, or dehydrated, or it was simply the food. But sometimes, our bodies reject bad energy and the wrong emotions. I had not recovered from the emotional ailments from the day before, but in order to do the work I was destined to do here, I had to cleanse myself. I wasn’t sent to India just because it was a Damascus Road requirement, I was sent there for reasons that were being revealed in a manner that was similar to the peeling of an onion. This whole revelation reminded me of the promise of the Lord’s presence in Exodus 23:30, “Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.” If He gives it all to me at once, it’ll be too much and I wouldn’t be able to give my purpose the attention it deserves.

I couldn’t physically handle the it all yesterday – physically, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. Now that I’ve purged myself of how to see these people and their lives through my personal eyes, I’m excited about being awakened to the fact that I should look at them through the eyes of the cross.

“Tenacity is setting a goal so BIG that you can’t possibly achieve it… then growing into the person who CAN!”

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Brown Sugar Found Hope…

“Sometimes you just need an adventure to cleanse the bitter taste of life from your soul.” Brace yourself for this long post though….

Yesterday, we traveled to the slums to see the children! Traffic in India is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. We sat in it for TWO hours.

 

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Remember how I told y’all that lines don’t mean a thing, and they drive in the space? Here ya go! We drove through the city of Delhi, and words cannot describe the level of poverty I saw today.

The streets were severely flooded, homeless people were cooking on the sidewalks, the streets were littered with piles and piles and piles of trash, and we literally saw a dude run across the street with a monkey! Now you know that’s too much for us Memphis folk’! Seeing the resilience of the people here was absolutely enlightening. A lot of us found ourselves asking, “How do they live like this?” People walk through trash like it’s not even there. One man on a motorbike attempted to ride through what appeared to be at least 2-3 feet of water, and his bike stalled. He just hopped off into the knee deep flood waters, and proceeded to push his bike uphill. Again, how do they live this way?

After two long eventful hours of Delhi traffic, we finally reached the slums. We apprehensively climbed off the bus to head into the third largest slum area in Delhi that is populated with over two million people. Let that sink in. Looking at what was before us would’ve made many people say, “Nah… I’m good fam,” but we were there to bring hope to children. When you say yes to God, you will have say no to yourself.

Treading the terrains of the slums on the way to the school was scary, mysterious, and intimidating. We were clean tourists, and stuck out like sore thumbs. In the states, when we see people from India, they are generally docile and non-confrontational. Here, the men travel in packs. Their overall demeanor kinda reminds me of the Capulet Boys in the ’96 version of Romeo & Juliet. With each turn we made that led us deeper and deeper into the slums, I felt my countenance shift. I felt… lost. Not geographically, because I was surrounded by my team and the leaders of the school, but in my spirit, I felt lost. That’s the best word I can think of to describe it. It was as if we were being swallowed. The sky became darker. The homes of the residents were two and three levels high. There were woman hanging clothes on lines overhead. There were men doing construction work on small rooms, children were playing (we were headed to a school, but there were still several children who were not in school), horns were blaring, and motorbikes were whizzing through the alleys of the slums. All I knew was to move as I was told, quickly.

On the way into the slums, I didn’t see much. I walked with my head down to see where I was stepping. Before we entered the slum village, we overheard our leaders discuss how they would strategically place themselves around the sixteen of us, who would lead, who would bring up the back of the group, who would walk within the group. We were told to stay together, and walk fast. The only time I lifted my eyes was to check to be sure Samina was still close behind. There’s something symbolic about casting your eyes downward along your journey, but God revealed so much to us in this moment.

Psalm 121:1 says, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come?” God will shift your vision when you least expect it. We didn’t know where we were headed, and had no clue where the school was when suddenly we were being covered with petals of Marigolds falling from the sky. We all stopped suddenly and looked up to see children throwing petals from the top of the school and holding signs that read, “We love you!” and “One Child Matters gives up hope to grow!” That was when we noticed we were in the front of the school.

 

The entrance was lined with the most adorable children dressed in school uniforms and waiting to greet us with bright smiles and a rose. I can’t lie… Ya girl was in tears.

You’ve always heard that the eyes are the gates to the soul. I’ve seen so many children, and adults for that matter, in the states with beautiful smiles, but the saddest eyes. That wasn’t what I experienced here. These children radiated joy! Their eyes were filled with hope, and I instantly became overwhelmed. We were led into a room that had chairs lining the back wall for us. The children entered the room, each coming to adorn us with a perfumed scented lei that they had made out of crepe paper.

The little boy who brought mine couldn’t have been older than eight. He was too adorable! He kinda reminded me of my own son. He was very disciplined, but looked a little mischievous. Ya’ll know I have a heart for hard-headed kids! LOL Then the director explained that every teacher in the building attended the One Child Matters facility as a child. The children entered again and brought us the most beautiful beaded bracelets.

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UGH! Here I go tearing up again… My little boy came looking for me, but someone had already given me a bracelet.

The younger children sang a welcome song to us. It was so sweet and cute. The Americanized momma in me was happy to see all of these little girls wearing ponytails and hair bows. I stood there with my arms folded talking about “uh huh… that’s cute.”

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Next the tweens came in and did a dance for us! Those lil babies WERKED! The song they danced to translated into English as For One Night Only in Jesus’ Name. A few of us got up to dance with the girls and they loved it! I particularly enjoyed the pop ya collar and bankhead bounce parts… You had to have seen it to know that’s what it was… For real!

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Then we headed up to the separate rooms to do the lesson and crafts. They brought all 110 children in the school into the entryway so Anna could do the lesson. Pastor Roger had to translate for them, but what was so apparent to us was how attentive they all were. They were leaning in and their heads all went from Anna to Pastor Roger during the lesson. A great reflection of how we should be for the word of God, hungry!

While Anna went through the lesson, I was able to step out onto the balcony area, and take in where we had come from. Not a single child in that center looked like what they had been through to get there. These pictures show just outside of the center where we entered.

When we got to our room, we made Salvation Bead bracelets with the older children. The black bead represented sin, the red bead represented the blood Jesus shed, the white bead represented how we are washed clean when we accept Christ, the yellow bead represented the picture of heaven, and the green bead represented our physical and spiritual growth as Christians. We had fun doing that, and then we took pictures with them. I was tickled because we needed someone to translate the entire time, but the second I asked those tweens if they knew what a selfie was, EVERYBODY struck a pose! LOLOLOLOLOLOL That’s one word that crosses all language barriers I suppose.

 

We spent a little more time with the children, then it was time to leave. None of us wanted to leave. I know that we each left with a little more confidence than we came with. I didn’t walk with my head down this time. I noticed that this village was indeed a village. You could get food, clothing, a shave, everything! These people were surviving with so little. The maze on the way out became congested with motorbikes. So much so that our group got separated. Deidre told us how a few men tried to encircle them, and Pastor Roger shook his finger, said no, and the men went on their way. I thought about just how favored we were because we were in the presence of God’s favored. #message

We came out of the village and had a short walk to principal’s house. It wasn’t far. For about 5 minutes, we walked the life of the people here, and it was the picture of hell. It was so chaotic. Horns blaring, cows were strolling the streets alongside us. The smells were so pungent that I gagged a couple of times. The streets were crowded with people, cars, motorbikes, and litter. I couldn’t take it! The pollution was so thick I could barely breathe.

Just when I thought I was about to break, we made it to her home. We walked through this iron gate and turned into this narrow walkway. It was lined with the most beautiful backsplash, and as I ascended the stairs I could feel this spirit of peace just wash over me. It was like the noise seemed to melt away with each step. That’s symbolic of our walk with Christ. We went upstairs to hear her testimony, which was absolutely amazing, and had lunch (SO. GOOD.) She gave us this ice cream that had actual red velvet cake in it… babi!

After lunch, she escorted us to the roof of her home and we could overlook the slums. My heart broke for these people. You could see children playing, dancing, and flying kites on the roofs of each home. I was blown away by how these children found love, hope, and joy in the midst of one of the most impoverished areas I’ve ever seen. It was such a humbling moment that many of us stopped taking pictures and just looked into a life we could never even imagine. As if nature reflected our mood, a light rain started to fall from the sky. We were told to get inside quickly. We prayed for the family, said our goodbyes, and headed to load the bus. I was so emotionally drained that I dozed off on the bus.

When I woke up, we arrived at the mall. We had to walk through a security check, and stood in the middle of a 4 level mall. This is what we were used to. I came all this way just to end up inside H&M LOL. It was a hard pill to swallow to go from such a poor area (the picture on the left shows the size of one home on the top level) to a place where people were spending hundreds of dollars so quickly.

We were still so sensitive. Katie must have felt our energy because she told us to be sure to guard your hearts. Anna came behind her and said to always see the helpers and the hope in these situations.

Tiffany, Jessica, and I walked to MAC so I could get more Plumful lipstick. As soon as we entered the store, we were immediately surrounded. Literally. Three workers and a security guard not-so-discreetly encircled us. I asked Jessica and Tiffany aloud, “Are we being profiled?” Tiffany and Jessica both said “Yes.” Racism varies from continent to continent, but fact is evident; it does exist. I paid for my lipstick, and we walked out. We met with the rest of the group, and headed back to the hotel for dinner.

Memphis hasn’t seen poverty like this. We have our bad areas, but what resonated with me is the fact that the mindset of the people is so different here. They don’t operate as if someone owes them anything. They make the most out of what they have. This trip opened my eyes to a lot. I never realized how selfish I was and how little my problems truly were. I have so much to be grateful for, but I’ve taken it for granted because I’ve allowed it to become an expectation rather than a gift. I  couldn’t blog last night y’all. I was too tired. I have a responsibility though. “Responsibility is learning how to budget your time and talents. It’s knowing when to work an when to play. It’s knowing that work is good and should be done to the glory of God. It’s knowing that play is also good, and is to be used for refreshment and renewal, not escapism or idleness. There’s value in accepting challenges, taking risks, and doing hard things. Push yourself, and allow others to push you, too. Sometimes, the easy road is the right road, but sometimes it’s just easy. Know the difference.”

I’m not truly living unless my success helps others succeed. My success has to give others hope…

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Ezekiel 37 (NIV)

The Valley of Dry Bones

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commandedme, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

 

 

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