I attended a bittersweet worship service on Sunday. My family and I didn't travel to New York for services as is the norm. Instead we visited a Lutheran church here in Pennsylvania. We were invited by my nephew's best friend, Xavier. (Isn't it wonderful when nine year olds feel comfortable enough to desire to worship together?)
We were told to arrive by eight thirty a.m. if we wanted to have a seat for the nine o'clock worship service. I was unsure of what to expect, but ready to worship and tickled pink that I wasn't traveling all the way to New York that day. Better yet, I was tickled at the fact that I was "off duty" that day.
The sanctuary was modern in style, a scaled-down version of mega-church architecture. No plush chairs, no stained glass and definitely no organ with pipes.
The worship service began just the way I like it. It was like a mini-concert. The musicians played in harmony, not competitively, and the worship leader had the gift of oratory, which combined with the anointing of the Holy Spirit was quite effective. In addition, the signing ministry was an act of praise all in itself. I assimilated these facts even as I worshipped, and as I continued to worship, I saw hands begin to raise, heads begin to nod and bodies begin to sway. I felt at home in the presence of God.
After the lengthy praise and worship session ended, the Pastor came up to the front of the church. His appearance was unassuming. The only reason I knew he was the pastor was the fact that his picture had been displayed on the overhead projectors when I'd entered the sanctuary earlier. He was dressed informally and sat on a tall stool. Just as I began to think, Hey, this is a really informal service, he apologized for the fact that there were no outlines for the morning message. And then said,
"I'd like to read something to you this morning."
He opened what looked like a diary and proceeded to read.
"Thursday, August 11, 2005:
“I need to be driven by the concept of Eternal life with God."
He then closed the diary and sat there silently for a moment.
I'll admit I was a little confused. I wondered what that excerpt had to do with the morning service. I looked to my right at my neighbor. She looked pensive, but not confused. I glanced surreptitiously over my left shoulder--the folk back there looked sad, but not confused either. Just as I was about to shrug my shoulders to say "It must be me,” the pastor resumed speaking.
"As you know, last Sunday, I preached about the purpose-driven life. Erin, one of our members, a young Christian, took it to heart. She broke up with her boyfriend earlier this week; the entry I just read to you was the last entry she made in her diary at work Thursday morning. She was shot and killed later that evening by her former boyfriend. She was twenty-four years old. She leaves behind a four-year old daughter and her parents. Her former boyfriend was also considered a Christian."
Although stunned by the announcement, because I hadn't even seen it coming, I was holding up okay--until the lights were dimmed and a single white candle was lit and placed on the stool vacated by the pastor. Before I could even appreciate the symbolism, the pianist began to sing a slightly revised version of "Candle in the Wind” by Elton John and it was sooo over for me.
At this point my copious tears caught the notice of the woman next to me, and she passed me tissues and patted me on the shoulder. Running through my mind were many thoughts--What a waste... It's so unfair... Just as she started making different choices--and alongside them a renewed urgency in my spirit to reach women and young women with the message of "choice."
As I cried, I identified with Erin and so many other women who have at some point in time made poor choices. Women who, like Tamar, became impatient waiting for what was promised, for what was rightly theirs; who decided to take matters into their own hands and play the harlot, so to speak, in order to obtain, sustain or retain a man.
As I cried, I guiltily, silently thanked God that I'm still here. But for His grace and mercy, the name on the pastor’s lips could have been Dee.
As I cried, I thought about the young teenage girls I see hanging outside my building, already putting up with and at times encouraging the disrespect of the young boys with whom they hang.
As I cried, I thought about the great commission to go tell--not to exhort people to come to me so that I can tell--but to get out of my comfort zone and actively seek out candidates to tell about the love they seek. The love they are in search of can only be found in Jesus the Christ. He is the only one who can make us complete. As the prime example of perfected love, our love relationship with Him primes and prepares us for a love relationship with others.
As I cried, I resolved to live up to my motto: “Reaffirming the bonds of sisterhood, one sister at a time!”
Sisters, we have the right of choice. A good or bad relationship begins with the choice made. Let’s give that right due consideration when it comes to who we choose to allow into our lives, our hearts, our minds, and our bodies.
And please, please, please don't let a gunshot or one last beating be part of your obituary. You don't need anyone to tell you that you're in an abusive relationship. You already know it, but maybe it's your pride that stops you from admitting it--because in all other areas of your life, you've got your act together and you're making the cheddar. Or maybe it's been your reality for so long that you're scared of change, because at least this way you know what to expect, and if you just do everything just right... Sister, that's called denial.
How do I know this? Because I've been there. No, I'm not a small woman and no one would think to lay his hands on me, but abuse doesn't always have to be physical. Carter G. Woodson said it best when he intimated that, if I can be convinced that I'm still a slave in my mind, then there's no need to physically enslave me, because I will continue to act like a slave.
I remained in a relationship for years with a man who said that he appreciated my intelligence, my wit, and my beauty. He said he trusted my opinion above everyone else's. However, before a thought was fully out of my mouth, it was challenged for supporting evidence. I began locing my hair and he had a coronary. I'd predict certain occurences in his job situation so that he'd be prepared and he'd "pooh pooh" what I said and do what he wanted, then tell me two months later that I was right.
I think the beginning of my wake-up call occurred one Thanksgiving when, in front of my family, he commented in an audible whisper on the brevity of the amount of food on my plate. Although my elder sister (my second mom) "didn't forget him and gave him good," as we say back home in Trinidad, I was mortified and thought to myself, When did I get here? Is this the message I want to send to my daughter?
I've said all of this to say, denial: don't get caught up in it.
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To be continued…