Queen Sugar is King

I used to be ashamed to admit that I really enjoy watching tv. Besides reading a book, watching television [or netflix] , is often my may of winding down. As a writer and overall creative, I am fueled by visual art in television. I was/am a faithful viewer of family shows – well shows centered around families – such as Brothers & Sisters , Parenthood , Grey’s Anatomy [they are like family, right?] the Cosby Show and most recently This is Us. I am particularly drawn to shows that depict the braiding that holds families together , and the loose strings that often cause them to fall apart.

Last night was the season finale of a show I fell in love with last season … QUEEN SUGAR.

This incredible show tells the story of Charley, Nova, and Ralph Angel Bordelon after the passing of their father. His passing is the opening of Pandora’s box , if you will. Lies and truth collide to find their places in the Bordelon Family and what comes to light is nothing short of captivating. The cinematography is intentional and breathtaking , setting a standard for television that is beyond what I’ve scene in a long time. The dialogue , characters and music seem to mesh together invisibly to create an experience that takes the viewer into emotional depths that are often unexpected.

Appearing on Oprah’s OWN Network and produced by Ava Duvernay , this show has an elegance and strength to it that outshines many other shows . It’s not just tv. This art is speaking to the issues, struggles, illusions and realities that are happening in our country and have happened between many black & White families for many years prior to now. Will it make you feel good? Oh, indeed! But, there is nothing “light” about this masterpiece. It isn’t boxed cake. It’s the rich chocolate cake your grandmother makes from scratch with eggs, real butter, sugar and frosting she made herself. The kind that leaves the house smelling like chocolate long after the oven has been turned off. This show is rich.

Is it a black show? Well, I guess the argument could be made that since the cast is primarily black, perhaps it is. But, this show is not just for black people. This show is for everyone. We all need to behold such beauty with our eyes and allow this art and this textured characters to bring us to tears and lift us to laughter.

Queen Sugar Just might be the best kept secret. But, this is no secret. When it comes to Good tv, Queen Sugar is KING.

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Toni taught me ….

Last year on November 14th, I jumped in my car after work and headed to a casino concert hall just outside of Cleveland. I was nervous about enjoying the concert as a loner. My husband stayed behind with the kids and I stretched my budget and bought the last front row ticket to see TONI BRAXTON live in concert. Not only was it a bucket list item, it was a boost of adrenaline and inspiration as I headed back to reality. You see, at that time I was feeling a bag of mixed emotions. For 5 months I’d been in a groove. I’d been enjoying my job and my life immensely. I’d felt like “I’m in the right place at the right time doing the right thing”. That’s an amazing feeling. But, some changes were coming. Changes that would could possibly alter my job, my livelihood and my overall life. Being in that room that night as Toni’s rich, layered voice filled the room, I reflected on many things. My dreams. My faith. My fears. My creativity. It was very much a spiritual experience in the sense that I was very aware of the value of what I was experiencing.

1. Our voice has the power to reach, touch and lift people. Every corner of that room was filled with texture and depth that night. No one could escape the sound and echo of Toni’s voice. It was everywhere. It was impossible not to feel something. Some people danced. Some people sang along. Some people laughed with friends around them . I often found myself sitting with my eyes closed , allowing the melody and tone to carry me deeper into the music. But, everyone heard it and felt it.

2. Mediocrity is not humility. Once in the car after the concert, I stopped to pray and thank God for the blessing of being able to go. Sure, I needed the break from my kiddos as most moms do. But, it was more than that. I needed to see a woman, a vocalist, a mom – actively loving out her passion & purpose on stage. I needed to be reminded that living confidently in God’s gifting is not a sin. In fact, as I was driving – this thought dropped in my heart like a pin needle . “Being mediocre doesn’t mean you’re humble. Pretending not to be gifted or talented or dumbing down for the comfort of others is not humility. It’s offensive to the Ultimate Creator who intentionally made you , and gave you good gifts, to undermine or make less of what He’s given you. Accept your purpose. Live out your purpose. Be unapologetically thankful for and confident in your gifts.

3. Time will pass. Things will change. Soak in the lessons of today. They will carry you through tomorrow. My life did indeed change. A year later, I find myself in a place of uncertainty. I don’t feel as if I’m in the right place at the right time – but, I am doing the right thing. Taking care of my parents. It’s a blessing and a burden – that’s the real. I’ve lost a lot . My husband and kids have given up a lot to be in this place . We’ve passed up dreams and opportunities and lives with less. Some days it’s ok. Sometimes it’s better than ok. And some days it’s just downright hard. Today it is hard. But, I have this not so distant memory to carry me through today. A reminder to use my voice – do something nice for myself as soon as I can – believe in what God gave me – and fill up the world , right where I am , with purpose, inspiration, faith and love.

Thanks, Toni.

Autumn in Columbus

For the last 3 months we’d been looking forward to a weekend a way in Charleston, South Carolina.  Since we’ve been taking care of my parents for the last few months, a friend gave us the gift of a weekend away at her home in James Island.  Originally we (my husband and I) planned a romantic getaway for just the two of us, but, later decided we’d take the “big kids” (how we refer to our middle schooler and 8 year old) with us.  Caregiving is both rewarding and heavy.  It affects all involved – even children – who may not carry the financial and physical weight, but certainly experience the emotional waves in the midst.  We thought they could use a getaway as well.

Unfortunately, after not one, but two unexpected car repairs this week ; an unexpected change in childcare for our toddler, and an overall gut feeling that we needed to stay close to home, we made the devastating choice not to go.

We made the best of things by hopping in the car early Friday morning and heading to Columbus, Ohio for the day.

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It was pretty fun listening to the kids try to guess where we were headed.  They had it all wrong. 🙂

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Once we pulled up to COSI there wasn’t much hoorah or excitement.  There’s a great deal of construction happening in the front of the building .  “Are we going to a warehouse?” our daughter asked.  Hesitance quickly turned into excitement as we got closer and the kids were able to see COSI on the side of the building.

We opted for the $30 unlimited passes which allowed us to choose from shows at the planetarium, big screen and rides on the motion simulator.  We all agreed that our favorite exhibit was the OCEAN exhibit – centered around a huge statue of POSEIDON , with streams of water all around.  We also thoroughly enjoyed the ROCKY MOUNTAIN EXPRESS documentary shown on the big screen.  We were surprised by how fascinating it was to see how railroads were built in the sides of mountains and through perilous terrain.

We were pretty hungry by the time we left around 3:30. We headed to Easton Town Center – just about 10 minutes from downtown Columbus.

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We piled our bowls full of italian goodness at PIADA, then ventured over to West Elm.

The boys ventured to over to the Apple Store to drool over the new iphones while my daughter made her Christmas wishlist at the American Girls Store. Of course we also stopped by the LEGO store, Banana Republic , Jeni’s ice cream , Restoration Hardware and most importantly , Barnes and Noble.

It really was a day well spent.  Columbus offers so much to do for all ages.  If we’d stayed over we would’ve met friends at a pumpkin patch, and gone to the zoo as well.  I have a feeling we’ll be visiting Columbus again in the next few months to catch the DINOSAUR exhibit at COSI and catch the presentation of HARRY POTTER live with the Columbus Symphony at the Ohio Theatre in January.

Although I’m a Michigan fan at heart, the Buckeyes hometown gets two thumbs from us for family fun.

 

Required Reading for Humans

It was round about page 5, I knew this book was going to wreck me.  I knew I wasn’t going to have goosebumps from sentimental reflections after completing this book.  Rather, I’d be changed in a way that would unravel some of my perceptions and water the roots of others.

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Brene’ Brown teaches us through the avenues of research, interviews, and heart belief that we should live out these principles :

1. People are Hard to Hate Close up. Move in.
2. Speak truth to BS. Be Civil.
3. Hold Hands. With Strangers.
4. Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart. 

I don’t carry much weight, but, I’d like to see if we can possibly have this recited every morning in homes across America.  Seriously! If we all walked out our homes armed with truth and clothed in compassion, things would look a whole lot different than they do right now.

Reading this book caused me to evaluate situations I’ve encountered over the last few years of my life.  Disagreements.  Relationships. Political views.  Burdens. I evaluated everything I was carrying in my “luggage”.  I had to admit that there were things I need to let go of – things I needed to unlearn – and things I needed to continue to hold dear and speak about whenever the occasion called for me to do so.

This book also made me reflect on a few other books that I’ve read or am currently reading.  It just feels like we all need to take a step back, hunker down in our favorite chairs, open a window, and read.  We’re not doing so well at having meaningful conversations on social media when it comes to hard topics.  But, maybe – just maybe – if we were all reading the same things, we could come together afterwards and draw from one another’s experiences and perspectives with a desire to understand rather than be understood.

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Might I propose that these gems should be required reading for every human? Wouldn’t the wonder of Meg and Charles Wallace combined with the knowledge of our varying  personalities, the statistics of research and the power of vulnerability create a spectacular revival of human compassion? It would be GRAND, I tell you!

Perhaps, this is a rather audacious hope and thought.  Perhaps, required reading would threaten one of our greatest blessings – freedom.  And – perhaps , the change that is happening in my own heart because of these books and because of my relationship with God – is enough to spark a personal revival .  And perhaps , that’s enough.  If each of us as humans , committed to filling our hearts and minds with books that compel us to apologize, forgive, listen , and wonder …. perhaps , the world could change.  From books to hearts – may it be so. May it be so.

 

THE MOTHERS – a book review

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I have a tendency to buy books based on their covers.  I allow the cover art to draw me in even if the inside flap synopsis does little to intrigue me.  Naturally, there have been times I have been smitten by a cover only to succumb to boredom as I they to get into the story.

THE MOTHERS not only drew me in with it’s radiant cover of a hidden image made with brilliant colors; its story line captivated from the beginning.

As the plot weaves in and out of the black church experience, grief, young love, and friendship, it is easy to find yourself unable to put this book down.

I could smell the salt from the ocean.

I could picture the mother’s praying at Upper Room Church.

I could feel the varied emotions from each character.

The writing indulged in dialogue and description that at times almost made me feel uncomfortable for how true to life it was. Fascinating writing.

Even after putting the book down and trying to move on to another novel, the characters are still lingering.  Two of the characters actually made me so upset that I considered not finishing the book.  But, I had to.

There’s way too much use of the “F” word .  It’s frequency was absolutely unnecessary for the telling of the story.  And, I hated the ending.

Other than that, this book was near perfect.

4.50 stars our of 5 in my book!  Definitely a must read for the summer!

Strong Coffee & White Whales

Early this morning I brewed a pot of the strongest coffee we have, poured it in a thermos, and headed in to the city to pick up our oldest from a youth overnighter.  I really don’t mind driving from the outskirts into the city, but I hate driving in the rain.  It was pouring this morning! Thankfully, the rain was no match for my strong coffee & my Justin Bieber playlist. (Yes…I’m a belieber).

By the time I picked up our son my coffee had kicked in . I was ready to explore the city a bit.  My “we stayed up until after midnight” tweenager didn’t share my enthusiasm for exploring, but perked up a bit when we walked up to this place.

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Instantly, I felt as if I were on the streets of Notting Hill.  This beautifully painted corner bookstore is both pleasing to the eye and easy to find.  Although the congested side streets leave little room for parking, we found a safe and inexpensive lot just up the street.

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Immediately, my son found a row of books he’d been wanting to read.  He quickly made  his decision, then sat down in this adorable reading nook.

Of course, I took a little longer to decide which books to buy.

Now that I’m self employed, my budget for books is a bit tighter than it was just 2 months ago.  But, thankfully, I’d already set aside money for our summer books back in January.  Today was a perfect day to dip into it.

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I shopped around for a bit longer. From religion to philosophy ; race issues to the latest fiction, I was very impressed with the variety of books offered for sale.   The store is easy to get around in.  Very clean, bright and filled with both new arrivals and used books.  My son, as if reading my mind said, “I have a feeling this might be one of my new favorite places to visit.” I agreed emphatically.

Upon checking out, the sweet young lady at the counter placed in my bag both a bookmark and a directory of local independent bookstores.  That was the icing on the cake.  I love to see small businesses joining forces to keep our communities and neighborhoods thriving both financially and culturally.

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White Whale Bookstore
Pittsburgh, PA 

Definitely FOUR STARS in my book. 

The Monday Reset

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For many who work in churches or even serve in their communities over the weekend, Monday’s can be a mixed bag.  Sometimes the excitement of the weekend’s services and activities serve as a bit of adrenaline for people in ministry, ; especially creatives.  Often, we like to jump right in and start planning and collaborating in preparation for what’s coming up next.  But, just as often, Monday’s can seem like the continuation of a productive and meaningful, but very long weekend.  Here are a few suggestions I’ve made part of my Monday routine in order to recuperate and refresh for the week ahead.

  • Morning Pages    – Morning Pages have become especially helpful for me.  I take the 1st 30 minutes of Monday morning (and often other weekday mornings as well), to first brain dump . This might sound crazy to some of you, but I do a brain dump even before I pray.  I spend 5-10 minutes writing down all the things that are on my mind.  Sometimes, my thoughts are all over the place.  Sometimes, my brain dump ends up looking like a to do list.  Other times, my brain dump actually is a prayer in written form.  The goal is to clear space in your mind and release the thoughts and worries that you may have carried into Monday from the weekend.  After the brain dump, I spend the remaining time writing.  I take the first thought or prompt that comes into my mind, and I write uninterrupted for 20 minutes.  This is done to stir my creative juices and spark inspiration.  I find it much easier to jump into my creative tasks for the week ( songwriting, writing, arranging, service planning, family activities, etc) when I’ve spent time in the morning creating space for my brain to ponder, imagine, and express.
  • Reflect, Repent, Receive One of the things that naturally comes from my morning pages is an awareness of the state of my heart and mind.  It is easy to enter into conversation with the Lord when I’ve taken the time to acknowledge my struggles, worries, needs, and victories. Find some music or a psalm that keeps your heart tender towards God and use that as a way to enter into His presence.  When we are accustomed to leading, teaching and serving, we often do so out of habit rather than heart.  It’s imperative that we keep our relationship with God open and healthy, so we can minister to others from that place.
  • Check In with a Mentor  – I can’t encourage this enough.  It is so important that we seek out wise, godly counsel.  Find someone you can speak honestly with who will not only correct you, but help you to take steps toward your goals and growth.  A good mentor desires that you grow and experience even more than they have.  Seek out someone who can not only speak to your now, but your future.
  • Lastly , Make Room For Rest  – When I was working full time, I didn’t schedule after work activities on Mondays.  Meals were simple and took little prep.  Housework was minimal.  And I’d leave work on Monday’s an hour earlier than other days, and added that hour to a day later in the week.  I purposely carved out time on Monday evenings to catch up on a show on Netflix, read or go to bed early.  This made for both a gentle but productive entry into my workweek after a weekend of ministry.

 

Monday doesn’t have to be a day of dread and exhaustion.  What works for me might not work for you.  Make it personal.  Find a way to extract things that can wait from your Monday schedule.  Care for yourself so you’re caring for others from a full cup.