Monthly Archives: August 2020

Sleepless In Mentor – Introducing Justin Bloyd

What are you called to do today? Will you accept the call? Or will you refuse?

There are a million excuses to turn away from the voice within.

  • It makes no logical sense.
  • It will be too hard, maybe even impossible.
  • Who am I to think that I might be able to do that!
  • It’s not the right time.
  • What if I fail?
  • What will my friends and family think?
  • It would change my life.

Conversely, the list of reasons to embrace the desires of your soul is much shorter yet far more compelling.

  • It is my fate.
  • It is my destiny.
  • It is what I am meant to do.

Sleepless in Mentor is the story of one man that was brave enough to take the call. Meet Justin Bloyd.

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It was March 2020, and the United States was shutting down in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Like so many others, Justin Bloyd of RB Sigma was at home, out of work, bored, and binge-watching Netflix. Justin hoped that the virus would quickly pass and that life would resume as normal.

As fate would have it, Justin’s life was about to change in ways he had never imagined.  Justin began receiving calls from people he had worked with within the health care industry. All shared the same concern. Their regular suppliers could not provide enough PPE’s to keep their staff safe. Could Justin help locate supplies? Yes, of course, Justin replied, having no idea how that singular yes would lead to the formation of a medical supply company that employs over 70 people, manufactures masks, and purchases and distributes PPE’s worldwide.

Justin is a consultant that teaches the proven business principles of Lean and Six Sigma to manufacturing companies, health care organizations, and even teachers and students in the Ohio Public Schools. Both systems promote service excellence, efficiency, effective communication, safety, risk management, and much more. The learning process is hands-on and requires all participants to participate in data collection and analysis and implement new approaches based on the findings.

Justin had solid relationships with both the State of Ohio and several healthcare organizations before the pandemic. Additionally, they were aware that Justin had worked with many companies, from small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, to market new products. Justin’s understanding of supply chain sourcing was a critical factor in creating successful results for the companies he represented. Both the State of Ohio and the healthcare organizations within were betting on Justin’s past success to help them through their current crisis.

Initially, Justin was asked only to help locate products.  Shortly after that, however, it became clear that someone would also need to warehouse and distribute the supplies. Justin believed the task would be much more challenging to pull off but agreed to take on the role in light of the urgency of the situation. Purchase orders from the State of Ohio and other organizations began to pour in, giving Justin the working capital he needed to get his new business started.

Justin admits that the endeavor was incredibly stressful. Once people became aware of Justin’s new venture, the phone never quit ringing. Others were in desperate need of supplies as well. Justin was committed to helping everyone he could.

There was much to be done quickly. Justin worked around the clock, only stopping to rest on the floor under his desk briefly from time to time. Justin needed more sleep but was often too tired to drive home. The solution was to park his camper behind the building that is now RB Sigma’s home office.

Justin was able to locate and procure over three million PPE’s from China. That was the easy part. Merchandise was transported by truck or train from all corners of the nation to an airport in the Northeast. The timing of the receipt of goods was critical. Customs required that all the items be present within seven days of the arrival of the aircraft. Additionally, the Chinese government required a landing permit that was difficult to obtain. Once, in China, there was only a short window of time to load inventory and depart.

If one could go from point A to point B without hiccups, importing goods from China would be easy. But, the current political climate between the United States and China is tense. As a result, the government of China changes policies daily. Justin recalls that there were roadblocks and setbacks every step of the way. Occasionally Justin thought the task was too hard and felt like giving up. But, he had committed, and he would see it through.

Procuring PPE was just one of Justin’s tasks during the early part of the operation. He needed to locate a building, work with twenty contractors to gut and retrofit it for mask manufacturing, purchase mask-making equipment made in Michigan, find a warehouse to store merchandise and supplies, and hire 38 employees. Additionally, Justin met nearly daily with his attorney to set up his business and work with a web design firm to completely rework his website.

Almost one month after Justin agreed to help, the second-largest cargo plane in the world filled with PPE’s landed in Cleveland. Since then, RB Sigma has grown significantly. RB Sigma has over 70 employees, maintains an online and walk-in store, manufactures various masks, and supplies PPE’s to over 290 med centers and prison systems across the United States. They have also shipped health kits to employees returning to work in over thirty countries.

Justin ended reliance upon products made in China as quickly as possible. Justin has since purchased or manufactured all the PPE’s needed from companies within the United States, except for gloves. Gloves are currently only manufactured in China and South Korea.

Justin credits his team for making the venture successful. Justin hired people he could trust with proven track records within manufacturing, warehousing, management, marketing, and more. Team members include family members, a few long-time friends, and many business associates he has worked with throughout his career.

Justin is both motivated and inspired by family. He honors his grandfather, Robert Bloyd, by using his initials as depicted on the family cattle brand as the company logo. Justin’s grandfather served in WWII. Robert Bloyd’s job was to bring ammunition to the troops on the frontline in Iwo Jima and the Guadalcanal. Justin likens his role now to that of his grandfather’s. Though it is a different kind of war, Justin believes he is doing his part by bringing PPE’s to front line workers.

There are many words I could use to describe Justin Bloyd. Humble, generous, kind, a hard worker, a man of vision, a family man, a good friend, driven, and committed, are just a few. Justin’s word for himself, though, is lucky. Because of that, Justin believes it is essential to share his good fortune with others in need. Justin donated the workforce and transportation needed to deliver over 70,000 PPE’s to the Minneapolis Police and Fire Departments after their buildings were burned down by rioters reacting to the death of George Floyd. Additionally, he donated 400,000 masks to ensure every poll worker’s safety in the state of Ohio.

Justin Bloyd is an American hero. He was called to action during an unprecedented time in our history. He accepted the call and, as a result, delivered more than was asked or expected. No doubt, Justin’s contributions have saved countless people from contracting or dying from Covid-19.  Most people will never meet or know the man behind their mask, but if they did, I believe that, like me, they would not be able to find the words to express the depth of their gratitude. Thank you, Justin.

****

What are you called to do today?

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the project, A Time To Heal, is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Forsaken – Introducing Dody

Death & Dying During COVID

Hold my hand, she said, her eyes pleading with mine. Please, she repeated, hold my hand when I go. I do not want to die alone.

Nearly ten years ago, I kept my promise and held my mother’s hand tightly as she passed from this world into the next. Five hours later, I did the same for my father. Witnesses were present. A hospice nurse and a few friends and family showered my folks with love and compassion during their last hours. They were not alone.

Afterward, more friends and family arrived. They brought food, embraced me, and helped me to get to the next step. There was a funeral, and more people came. Ken, a childhood neighbor, led the service, weaving in humorous and heartfelt tales about my parents. There was a lot of laughter, some tears, and immeasurable love in the room. I was not alone.

Alone.

The word echoes in my mind as I write. I pause and feel its gravity. When my parents died, they and I were surrounded, enfolded, and lifted in love. And still, I felt alone.

Imagine the countless number of people who died alone in hospitals and long term care facilities this year due to safety precautions related to COVID-19. While healthcare workers have done their best to fill the gap, it is not the same. How many people were denied the ability to keep their promise to hold their beloveds’ hands as they left this world?

Consider the unbearable grief of the forsaken. They waited from a distance as their loved ones passed. And, afterward, they were unable to gather to support one another or attend funerals or memorials. Those left behind have suffered in isolation. They are, indeed, alone.

Dody, a hospice bereavement counselor, volunteered to share her thoughts and experience related to death, dying, and serving those left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dody first speaks about the five steps of grief, as defined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each stage of grief must be experienced for closure to occur. The steps are not static and can be experienced multiple times before acceptance occurs.

Dody points out that during the COVID-19, pandemic grief has been further complicated as both the dying and survivor experience feelings of abandonment. In Florida, where Dody resides, visitation to patients in hospitals and nursing homes has been severely restricted or disallowed since March.

Funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life are the first step toward healing. Dody explains these events are severely delayed or not happening. There are several reasons. Government restrictions currently disallow funeral homes from conducting services, and crematoriums have a large backlog. Additionally, family and friends’ are often unable to gather due to travel restrictions and quarantine protocols.

As a result, the survivor’s grief is greater than anything Dody has seen in all her years as a bereavement counselor. Never have the bereaved felt so isolated.

Dody believes her role as a bereavement counselor is to be a supportive presence for her clients. She helps the bereaved accept the reality of loss with tools designed to assess clients’ most urgent needs. Each client is encouraged to keep a journal. Additionally, Dody listens. Most of Dody’s counseling sessions are currently held online via Zoom.

Dody feels that it is an essential part of the healing process to maintain a bond with the deceased. She encourages anyone who has lost a loved one to continue to celebrate holiday traditions, make a dish or meal that your loved one enjoyed preparing, or anything else that might sustain the bond.

Dody’s beloved father died three years ago this month. Among Dody’s most cherished memories of her father is that he was always singing and dancing. Music is healing for Dody. Dancing in the Sky, by Dani and Lizzy, is a song that brings her comfort and keeps her father alive in her heart.

Thank you, Dody, for participating in A Time to Heal!

For your work with hospice, I applaud you. It cannot be easy, and I suspect there are days that the emotional burden becomes unbearable. Yet, you continue. The gift you give to those in your care is immeasurable. In this blog post, you have given voice to those grieving in isolation. I hope and pray that in some small way, they feel heard and lifted.

Follow the link to Listen to Dancing In Heaven By Dani and Lizzie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UR4T0av0o40

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 3, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Love One Another – Introducing Father Robert

Follow Father Robert on Facebook, and you will find a man that desperately wants the world to be a kinder, gentler, and more just place. His desire to lift others and let all people know that God loves them is evidenced by his posts on Facebook. Here are two examples.  

  • “We all make errors in our theology; you and me both. So my recommendation is to err on the side of love. Why? Because … God is not doctrine. God is not denomination. God is not war. God is not law. God is not hate. God is not hell… God is Love.” (Brian Zahnd) 
  • “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!” St. Catherine of Siena 

Father Robert is an Apostolic Catholic priest and a passionate supporter of the LGBTQ-IA community. He first became aware of the mistreatment of the gay community in 1969 during the Stonewall riots. He would not think much about it again until the late 70’s when he worked as a high school social worker. A distraught young man entered his office, closed the door, and began to cry.  

Father Robert asked, “What is your problem?”  

The student responded, “I am gay.”  

Father Robert was confused and asked again, “No, really, what is your problem?”  

And the student replied, “I just told you, I am gay.”  

Father Robert told the student, “That’s not a problem! It’s ok.” 

Afterward, Father Robert contemplated what the student shared with him. He thought to himself, we are not going to do this. We are not going to treat people this way. This is not what Jesus had envisioned or taught. 

Father Robert felt called to action and created support groups to listen and encourage this student and others like him.   

In the late ’80s, during the AIDS epidemic, Father Robert became further involved with the gay community. Nursing homes and care facilities would not accept residents with AIDS or HIV. The disease was new, and very little was known about how it was contracted or treated. Fear and lack of knowledge prevented many from receiving the care they needed.   

The director of Muskegon Community Mental Health asked Father Robert if he would open a foster care home for some of the men with HIV/AIDS. He did, and as soon as the doors were open, three men arrived. Shortly after, the house was filled to capacity and remained that way for about two years. There was little that could be done medically for the men that resided at the foster home. Instead, love, compassion, comfort, and support were given in abundance as each man traveled to the end of his life. For most, the final journey lasted only one to five months. 

Compassionate care at the end of life is not too much to ask. Is it? Homosexuality, AIDS/HIV were controversial enough in the 80’s that only two foster care homes for men with AIDS/HIV existed in the state of Michigan. People were outraged that Father Robert’s foster care home existed. The media frequently dropped in for impromptu and uninvited interviews exposing the location of the house. The garage was firebombed, cars parked outside the house were damaged, and rocks were thrown through the windows. To keep the residents safe, Father Robert moved the residents to a different place. 

Father Robert continued holding support groups for the LGBT community after the foster care home closed. But, in 2014, Father Robert read about the suicide of a transgender woman named Leelah Alcorn, and his commitment once again deepened. He was utterly devastated. He thought, this poor child. My God, now we have people killing themselves because they are not allowed to be who they are. Jesus would not want this.  

Leelah was born male, but from the age of four felt that she was a female. She longed to find a way to transition to the body that matched how she felt. However, this would never happen. Leelah’s family held conservative Christian beliefs, and being gay or transgender was not seen as acceptable. Leelah was sent to conversion therapy in an attempt to help her overcome her gender identity.  

 Leelah grew more depressed after conversion therapy. Her hopelessness led her to write a suicide note on her Tumblr account and schedule it to post a few hours after her death. She walked several miles from her parents’ home and then walked in front of a semi traveling on I-71.  

Since Leelah’s death, conversion therapy has been severely scrutinized. Many believe that the treatment does not work and only leaves the participant with feelings of more profound shame, lack of self-worth, and causes depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Conversion therapy has since been banned in many states and communities.  

Father Robert was determined to open a center where everyone would be welcome and feel safe. It took him over a year to find a location that he could rent. He viewed eleven available properties in Muskegon and Muskegon Heights to be told that they were no longer available when the landlord found out what Father Robert intended to do with the property.   

Finally, Father Robert found the perfect space in Muskegon Heights. The center offered various support groups for the LGBTQ-IA community and their families and anti-bullying and suicide prevention courses, AA and NA. The center experienced some success, but the location was an issue for many people. Muskegon Heights is a mostly black community, and many white people feared going there. And, many of the black participants feared being seen entering the building.  

Father Robert was back to the drawing board. He found a new location in North Muskegon, and all was going well. However, once the community learned what was being done in the building, the landlord ended the three-year lease at 11 months, stating, we don’t have those problems. 

Another location was found in Muskegon. It was opened with a broader concept and included a used clothing store where people could get used clothes for free. The center hosted Halloween and Christmas parties for the community. Everything was going great until the churches got involved. Once again, Father Robert found his dream of offering a safe place for the LGBTQ-IA community and other at-risk persons smashed. 

Father Robert has not given up. He has moved to a rural community north of Muskegon and will start a community center in Shelby. His plans are on hold right now over social distancing concerns and his own recovery from COVID-19. Father Robert was diagnosed with the illness on June 1st. While he has recovered, he continues to have fatigue, breathing problems, and internal damage that will never heal.  

Father Robert shared many thoughts about the LGBTQ-IA community, organized religion, Christianity, COVID-19. 

Father Robert believes the following related specifically to LGBTQ-IA. 

  • That biology creates the body and that God creates the soul. He advises you to always follow your soul.  
  • Transgender persons have a more challenging time being accepted and understood than any other LGBTQ-IA community member.  
  • There are consequences when a person is expected to hide, keep secret, or deny a part of themselves, such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and suicides. 

Father Robert shares the following related to Christianity. 

  • Christianity is not an easy thing to do. Love people that hate you. That’s not easy. Turn the other cheek. That’s not easy. Forgive people. That’s not easy either.  
  • If we could ever get to a point when people who consider themselves Christian to actually become Christlike, we would not be dealing with all these issues. The problems would be resolved. Poverty, hatred, and so much more! It would all be gone. People have missed the boat.  
  • If you are a member of the LGBTQ=IA community and the church you attend will not let you to take communion, marry you, or support you to adopt children, find another church.  
  • Tolerance is not love. Acceptance is love. 
  • But it is written in John 15:12 This I command you, that you love one another. 

Father Robert’s concerns about COVID-19

  • Wear A Mask. It could save a life.  

Thank you, Father Robert, for sharing your passion and deep care for the LGBTQ-IA community. Your commitment to choose love and compassion over fear and judgment is evident in all you do. I will end this post with the final thought you shared. If there were only one verse in the Bible, this would be a good one to live by. 

John 15:12, “This I command you, that you love one another. 

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Free To Be Me – Introducing JT

JT arrives at school early to plan for the day that lies ahead. Soon his classroom will fill with the chatter, laughter, and mischief accompanying any group of 3rd graders. In the quiet before the storm, JT takes a moment to ponder and reflect. JT loves teaching, his students, the camaraderie he shares with his fellow teachers, and being a part of the community. JT’s heart is full! He is at home.

But for most of JT’s career, he has known that one rumor or complaint could lead to his prompt dismissal.  That is, until the summer of 2020. On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Supreme Court released JT and all members of the LGBTQ+ community from a prison of silence, fear, and secrecy.

JT always knew he was different. But how? He wasn’t sure, but he began suppressing “it” when he was a very young boy. During 5th grade, JT began to understand what “it” was when he noticed boys in a new way. He was shaken and a bit confused. Though he could not wholly define “it,” he knew that it was not acceptable.  He vowed to himself to work hard to quash the feelings as they surfaced.

JT, fueled by denial, successfully avoided his sexuality for most of his life. When JT was in high school, and unwanted thoughts would enter his mind, he would tell himself, “that can’t be me; I am an athlete.” JT was not just an athlete but accomplished enough to be offered scholarships to several well-known colleges. JT turned down all of the offers and entered Spring Arbor University, a private evangelical Christian college. Looking back, he understands that he did so to avoid his sexuality.

 Ironically, it was when JT was in college that he had his first experience with another man. Both were surprised and confused by the experience and made many excuses to explain away the incident.

Soon after college, JT met and married his wife of five years. JT states that he did feel love for her and that he thought marrying his wife was the right thing to do. JT believes that marriage’s commitment is not to be taken lightly, and he put all of his efforts into making it successful. But the couple faced many challenges.

JT and his wife desperately wanted a baby but could not conceive. After years of trying, they agreed to adopt. During the adoption process, it became clear that they had grown apart and that the marriage was not viable. The couple divorced, and JT was awarded full custody of his beloved daughter Natalie.

Though his marriage was over, JT had a new lease on life. JT was a dad! His love for Natalie made him take a long hard look in the mirror. Who was he, and what did he have to offer his child. JT realized that if he wanted Natalie to live in a world where she could express her truth, it was time to embrace his own.  JT, at 29, finally fully accepted his sexuality. He had hidden, denied, and suppressed who he was all of his life, and he was tired. JT could no longer keep up the façade.

JT began to live his life as an openly gay man in his community. He knew that in doing so that there would be a risk that he could lose his job should an angry parent complain. None-the-less, JT determined that there was no turning back and continued to teach in the same manner he had in the past: Professionally and with no discussion of his sexuality.

JT’s commitment to live his truth was tested in the fall of 2019. One of his students came to him and shared that there was a rumor going around about JT being gay. JT kept a calm demeanor and told the student that rumors are what they are and that it was his job not to spread them. JT was shaken. He could lose his career and the ability to provide for his daughter.

JT quickly made an appointment to speak to the principal of the school. During the meeting, JT shared that a rumor was going around that he was gay, that it was true, and that he feared losing his job. The principal was kind. She reminded him that she was the one that had asked him to apply at the school. She had suspected that he was gay when she hired him but that she had hired him based on his merit and the difference he makes in the classroom. She further explained that she had not hired a gay or straight man. She had hired a male third-grade teacher with a stellar work record and had no plans to get rid of him.

JT was relieved to have the principal’s support but knew that it was not a guarantee that his job would always be secure. JT’s concerns were short-lived when the Supreme Court unexpectedly decided that Title VII provided employment protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

When JT recalled the day the Supreme Court’s made its ruling, he was overcome with emotion. Tears sprang from his eyes, and he was unable to speak. After a moment, JT collected himself, swept away his tears, and triumphantly declared: “I am finally free to be me. As a teacher, I am always on the frontline. Everywhere I go, someone recognizes me. There are no words to describe the sense of relief that I feel. Now even if a person disagrees with my lifestyle, they cannot do anything about it. I am safe.”

JT is just one voice within the LGBTQ+ community. Over nine million people living in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Imagine the collective sigh of relief that nine million people experienced on June 15, 2020. Consider the gravity of this monumental decision. In a single day, nine million people let go of their fear of discrimination in the workplace.  And, nine million people, like JT, realized that they too were free to be themselves.

Thank you, JT, for sharing your story. You make a difference! Your love and light shine brightly in the classroom, as a father, a friend, and in your family. And, now, for me and those that have read this post.

I am grateful.

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Authors Note:

Despite the Supreme Court Ruling related to employment discrimination, it is still legal in 25 states for landlords to refuse to rent to members of the LBGTQ+ community. Additionally, in 35 states, a banker can legally deny a loan based upon the applicant’s sexual orientation.


A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit was on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, during September and October 2020.  http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2021© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

One Voice – Introducing Christina

Part 1                                                    

Christina and I met in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on one of the hottest days in July. There was no relief from breeze or shade and our brows quickly populated with beads of sweat. Looking back, it seems appropriate that the weather was extreme when I met this extraordinary woman.   

Who is Christina? That is not an easy question to answer. The best reply I can give succinctly is that she is a complex, brilliant, beautiful black woman with a heart to teach and express her one voice through music, dance, and words. She uses her gifts to speak to people about faith, family, racism, oppression, PKD (polycystic kidney disease), and much more. She is witty, wise, and courageous. 

Christina’s beloved mother and grandmother molded her into the woman she is today. Faith, integrity, and being proud of who she is as a strong black woman are virtues her elders demonstrated and expected in return. Christina and her family lived in a modest home in Grand Rapids, where black and white people lived as neighbors. 

On Sundays, the family went to a Baptist Church where Christina went to Sunday school and sang in the choir. Christina’s faith began early, and it has given her the strength and courage to overcome many difficult challenges. Hymns from her youth continue to bring her comfort and joy. 

Church was the only place where Christina was in the company of all black people. Though she was active in the church, she often struggled to fit in. Her light-skin too light to be black and too black to be white. 

Christina attended Grand Rapids Public School. She had a group of good friends throughout elementary school, but none of them were black. Faith was the shared bond between friends. After 6th grade, the friends attended different middle schools and lost contact.  

Christina attended City High School in Grand Rapids. The school attracts mostly white high achieving students interested in receiving an international baccalaureate degree. While at City High, Christina struggled to find her identity. She could not understand why she did not have black friends. The other black students were cordial but not close. Christina admits that she often felt uncomfortable with other black kids. 

In the end, Christina determined that she was not at ease with her blackness. She asked herself often, Am I black enough? Or, how can I be black enough? To be high achieving, smart, and articulate is considered a white thing. Additionally, her interests were not the same as the other black students. While they were hanging out, dating, and participating in typical teenage activities, Christina was reading, writing, and volunteering at church. 

The puzzle pieces of Christina’s identity began to fit together when she attended Grand Valley State University. In addition to attending classes, Christina joined the choir. The choir was natural a choice as she had been singing all of her life. Less likely, was dance. At the insistence of her best friend, she hesitantly joined a Tap Dance class. She fell in love. 

Dance helped Christina define herself in many ways. Movement unlocked hidden emotions and allowed her to express them non-verbally. Dance made her realize that she could do more than sing, read, and write. It also broke down the barriers of color. She began to look past color and see people more broadly. She gained an understanding that what truly binds us together in relationship to one another are our shared or common interests. 

Christina graduated from Grand Valley State University and began teaching 2nd grade at Muskegon Public Schools. After two years of commuting from Grand Rapids, Christina moved to Muskegon. While she loved teaching the kids and meeting other black professionals, something was not right. The shift in the environment felt extreme. She felt isolated and missed her friends, her mom, and Grandmother. She would not realize the depth of her unhappiness until she moved back to Grand Rapids 4 years later.  

While in Muskegon, the puzzle of Christina’s identity unfolded more deeply. She describes the experience as a wakeup call. Having been raised in a professional middle-class black family, she never wanted for anything. Issues that many black people face became more transparent. Christina’s heart broke when she realized the extent of poverty, child abuse, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that permeates the black community. 

Christina is currently an Associate Professor of English at Grand Rapids Community College. She teaches remedial reading and African American Literature. 

Part 2

Christina and I spoke frankly about racism and the current social climate in the United States. The following speaks to Christina’s experience of discrimination and oppression, her desire for change, her hope for the future, and more.

Experience

Christina’s first experience of racism was when she was in 3rd or 4th grade. She was in line at a fair when a white man standing in front of her dropped a pen. Christina picked it up and tried to give it back to him, but the man refused to take it. He said I’m not touching that, put it back on the ground. She did as he asked, and then he picked up his pen. She asked her mother later why the man refused to take the pen from her. Her mom did not sugar coat the incident. She simply stated to her daughter that she couldn’t prove it, but it was likely because his skin color was different than hers.  

Later, Christina had a wonderful experience as a student-teacher for East Grand Rapids Public Schools. The love and appreciation she experienced from students and staff led her to apply to become a full-time teacher. Though Christina received glowing recommendations, one of her school advisors from East Grand Rapids Public Schools suggested that she not get her hopes up. The advisor shared that though Christina was an excellent teacher, the school system would not likely hire a black teacher. 

Christina felt hurt by the experience. The hurt grew deeper and deeper until she became angry. Her anger was not toward a person but with an unjust system. 

Recently a white co-worker said she thought Christina received her job at Grand Rapids Community College because she was black. Though, now she recognizes that Christina is a great teacher. Christina was stunned by her co-worker’s statement and thought, this isn’t something that happens to other people. This is happening to me.

Christina does not feel she led a sheltered life, but she did not experience racism often. Christina, who questioned most of her life if she were black enough, suddenly realized that she was black enough. The experience was eye-opening and made Christina infinitely more aware of the issues that black people face daily. 

Desire and Hope for Change

Today, Christina struggles to reconcile the horrible things that people say and the actions taken against African Americans. Social media has given everyone a voice, and it is impossible to deny the reality of racism. Daily news feeds contain hurtful and ignorant comments that range from innate cultural bias to blatant hatred. The stream of constant and insufferable dialog makes it difficult for Christina to remain hopeful for change.

Still, Christina is unwilling to accept that this is just how it is. She has become a fierce advocate for justice. She is creating awareness of racism and oppression through her blog, tap dance, and educating people like me. Christina is unafraid and stands up for the rights of others. She states, though, that all voices must be heard to create real change.  

Christina has had little hope for change. However, since the murder of George Floyd, she has felt a shift of consciousness. The black community has grown more unified, and many white people have become allies. She also thinks that the movement is not a fad and that it is not going away. There is a glimmer of hope. But, Christina, a realist, knows it will happen slowly. 

The following links are to songs that Christina chose for tap dance recitals that acknowledge the existence of oppression.

Glory, By Common and John Legend from the Motion Picture, Selma https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUZOKvYcx_o

A Change Is Gonna Come, By Aretha Franklin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6YCxXQ6Scw

Christina wrote the following blog, Black Ink. It speaks to the excessive number of black lives that are lost unnecessarily. I encourage you to read it and feel the depth of her words and the gravity of the world in which we live. https://tickledpink1.weebly.com/blog/archives/05-2020

In Her Own Words

I asked Christina if she felt she had to work harder than a white person to prove herself. Her response is as follows:

I think that I have to work 100 times harder to prove myself, especially as a professional. I struggle with being labeled “the angry black woman.” While I know that speaking up for injustice is the right thing to do, too often, when black women speak their minds, they get this label. We are constantly evaluating our speech, our behavior, our attire, etc. I don’t feel like I can have off days – I have to be on all the time.

And lastly, I wondered how Christina reconciles or carries her burdens? Here is her response.

When I think about the things that I do to live with the unrest, I have to say that I struggle. A lot! I am continually reminding myself that there is only so much that I can do as one individual. I think about the impact that I make as an educator and in my spheres of influence. I think about the hard conversations that I have with friends. I do all of this to remind myself that all hope is not lost and that change will come – slowly – but it will come. I also dance. There are so many times that I tell myself, “just let it all out on the dance floor.” I think one of the most significant ways that I reconcile everything is through my faith. I remind myself that God is in control.

And More

Christina’s battle is not only related to racism and oppression. She also fights a physical war with her own body. Christina has Polycystic Kidney Disease. This plays a huge role in who she as a person. It helped her in her journey of advocacy. She is involved with the PKD Foundation and became a staunch advocate for kidney health – specifically in the black community. The experience of having kidney disease completely changed Christina as a person. It softened her and helped her think about what other invisible illnesses or circumstances people may be going through. She became more compassionate and a spokesperson for self-care. Having a condition with no cure changes your perspective immensely. 

Thank you, Christina, for participating in A Time To Heal. I value you and your contribution. When I began this project, I hoped that it would open eyes, provoke thought, and heal hearts. However, my expectation changed significantly within the first few weeks. Almost immediately, people I love began to question whether I should speak about race, racism, and oppression. I was heartbroken.

I could have quit. I could have changed the focus. But, I made a commitment, and I still believe that the only way to bridge the divide that exists in our country is to open peaceful conversations with people unlike ourselves. Christina, you gave me the courage to continue. I asked you, “What if the only heart changed by this project is my own?” Your response was, “Well, then it was all worth it.”

Christina, your one wise voice has changed my heart. I am forever grateful.


For more information on PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease), go to https://pkdcure.org/

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more. 

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, purchase Gail’s photography at Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artsplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Christina once asked herself, Am I Black Enough? Later in life, the answer became self-evident. Christina has experienced racism in many forms. She is an educator, and passionately speaks of the inequalities that exist in our country today. Christina uses her one voice to seek justice. She expresses her concerns, her anger, and her wisdom by blogging and through dance.

Witness – Introducing Jill

COVID-19! Just say or see the word, and an avalanche of thoughts, images, and emotions come to mind. It has changed the way we do and think about almost everything. Yet, most of us have not experienced the virus first hand. It makes it difficult to understand why such drastic measures have been taken to prevent its spread. More than 6,000,000 people in the United States have had coronavirus. Fewer than half have fully recovered, and 192,000 people have died. Despite the numbers, some question whether it is a hoax, a liberal plot, or a media event.

Jill is a survivor of COVID-19 and has witnessed the reality of the virus both personally and professionally. Jill is the Executive Director of Pioneer Resources, Inc., in Muskegon, Michigan. The organization provides a multitude of services, including low-cost housing to Seniors and people with disabilities.

On March 22, 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a shelter in place order for the State of Michigan. Chaos erupted. Panic buying at grocery stores left shelves empty as people prepared for the unknown. Non-essential employees were furloughed or began to work from home. Students shifted quickly to online learning. And, organizations like Pioneer Resources were trying to determine how to move forward safely.

Jill and the management team at Pioneer Resources quickly learned and responded as new information regarding COVID-19 became available. Protecting staff and residents became their highest priority. PPE’s were in short supply and difficult to obtain. Jill worked quickly to locate new sources that could meet supply needs. Luke Aurner, Regional Healthcare Coalition Coordinator of the Muskegon Health Department, and a few other organizations around the state that Jill is in membership with coordinated and provided the necessary PPE so that the staff of Pioneer Resources could continue to provide services and remain safe.

Despite their best efforts, beginning in early April, the housing units were hit hard with the virus. Both residents and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Symptoms ran the gamut from mild to severe. One resident was in the hospital in rehab for over two months, and unfortunately, the virus even took lives.

During the early stages of the pandemic, the protocol was to separate those that displayed symptoms from the general population. Sadly, by the time an individual’s symptoms appeared, the virus had already spread to others.

During the same time, a resident attempted to get tested due to a high fever but was denied testing and sent home. Under a recent order of The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, anyone living in a congregate setting was to be prioritized for testing. However, the order escaped the notice of the testing center. Policies were changing quickly, and it was difficult for healthcare providers to keep up with the onslaught of new information. A shortage of COVID-19 test kits in Muskegon County compounded the issue and made it impossible to provide tests to everyone that wanted or needed one.

The following day the resident’s fever had worsened. There was no question that the resident needed to be tested and treated for his illness. However, Jill feared that the testing site would turn the resident away for a second time. Jill contacted one of the hospital directors to voice her concerns and provide him with the information related to the new policy. Jill’s advocacy opened the door to testing not only for the Pioneer Resources resident but for all others living in a congregate setting that utilized the testing site.

On April 11, 2020, dressed in full PPE except for goggles, Jill accompanied the resident to the hospital to ensure that testing was completed. He was tested and, as suspected, he was positive for COVID-19. On April 17, 2020, pale, coughing, and barely audible, Jill read the scripture from her devotional live on Facebook as she had done so many other mornings. After reading the verse, she briefly shared that she had tested positive for the virus. Then, despite her weakened state, she turned her focus back to God and completed reading her devotional.

Jill’s faith sustains her, and she feels guided by God’s presence in every moment. She thinks that there is a reason for all things that happen to us—in her case, even getting COVID-19.

Jill describes COVID as a nasty, nasty virus and that she would not wish it upon her worst enemy. It felt unending and was worse than pneumonia or bronchitis. Jill’s fever lasted ten days, and she describes the chills that accompanied it as tooth chattering. Her cough was painful, and her constant companion. Jill did not require hospitalization but monitored her oxygen and used an inhaler to decrease coughing and increase breathing. After two weeks, she experienced a depression that left her crying and wondering if it would ever end. At three weeks, Jill was able to leave the house but still suffered from a cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Months later, the symptoms persist.

Jill worked from home throughout her illness. She felt as the leader of an agency in crisis, she felt as though it was the right thing to do. Working helped her to focus on matters outside her own suffering.

Jill’s husband also contracted the illness. Jill often feels guilty for unwittingly bringing the virus home. He suffered as much as she did with the added strain of having difficulty getting clearance to return to work. But as Jill looks back, she believes she would have done everything the same way. Serving God and her community is who Jill is, not what she does. Turning away is not an option.

Some of the benefits she has seen as a result of the pandemic include people gardening, families experiencing quality time together, and learning that we can work effectively remotely. Jill notes that we are learning to connect in new and old ways. In Jill’s case, friends and neighbors did what they could to help her and her husband during their illness. Daily, people brought groceries, meals, and cards.

As an agency, she feels that the pandemic forced them to update and create better systems. Improvements include everything from enhanced digital records to a concrete and realistic emergency protocol that will benefit all those that work for and utilize services provided by Pioneer Resources. Lastly, it made her increasingly aware and grateful for a fantastic management team.

Jill does not believe that herd immunity is the answer. Jill worries about the children and grandparents. She encourages everyone to be cautious and stay safe until we can begin immunization. What that looks like for individuals and families might be different. It might be staying home and not wearing a mask. Or, it could be being out in public while wearing a mask. She admits, masks are not comfortable, but that we will adjust. She compares it to seatbelts and other safety devices. We don’t like the change, but we adjust.

Jill, it is with sincere thanks that I close this post. Your passion for serving those in need is nothing less than inspirational. Even if you never spoke of God or Jesus, your faith is transparent in the way you conduct your life. Your willingness to share your COVID-19 journey places a real person behind the illness. Hopefully, people will go forward with greater awareness, compassion, and empathy for others.

More information about Pioneer Resources

Pioneer Resources provides a blend of services to seniors and people with disabilities based upon need. Services include housing that ranges from independent living to 24-hour care, job training, and placement, a camp that serves both day and overnight guests, and an ABA program for children diagnosed with autism. They also provide senior activities and teach general living skills.

Pioneer Resources has served Muskegon County for over 65 years. Last year 3500 people received assistance and over one million miles of transportation given. Most of the funding used to provide services comes from Medicaid. However, they offer far more than medical services to the community. Like so many helping organizations, they have lost much funding this year. Please consider a donation today.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/pioneer-resources?pc=fb_co_campmgmt_w&rcid=r01-158522512145-00c99b7c2e0e45ba&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=p_lico%2Bshare-sheet&fbclid=IwAR3ZgiBv7YkFYvb6RLhdC-UODHPRcJxQPxW1tonpKue2ZGSItid9k8fVUaM

__________________________________________

A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Purchase Gail’s photography a Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Happy Together – Introducing Meg & Kris

Marriage!

The word conjures a multitude of images and emotions. Some, based upon reality, yet many are deeply rooted in the happily ever after genre of literature, television, and movies. The first picture that pops into my mind is the wedding cake topper. You know the one, the one with the handsome white groom and the beautiful white bride.  Whether this is your vision or not, what happens when reality and fantasy do not match?

Meet, Meg and Kris.

Meg and Kris have been happily married for nine years. They have a lovely home, great jobs, two exceptionally bright kids, two cats, and a dog. They are a beautiful family! Yet, many have found their union disturbing.

Meg was repeatedly warned by well-meaning friends and family not to marry Kris. Even the church stated that they would not “waste” a priest on their wedding. Why such opposition? Kris was from a different culture and might become abusive, he was Mormon, and he was too brown. Kris is Indian.

Kris, too, was questioned about his choice of bride. The Indian side of the family wondered why he was not marrying an Indian girl. And, his mother was upset because he chose a non-Mormon.

Meg and Kris experience discrimination fairly often. To some, the level of bias in certain situations may seem minor. But, minor or major, it all adds up. It is, at times, tedious for the couple. Strangers ask Meg where her kids are from and tell her they look exotic. Car door locks click as they walk through their mostly-white neighborhood where they have lived for years, and often people change seats at theatres and events when they notice that the man sitting behind them is brown.

Though Kris has experienced the pain of racism personally, he shares his own cultural bias. Kris grew up with an Indian Father and White Cuban mother. Kris’s father worked internationally, and they traveled extensively throughout the world. They lived in India for 11 years, Indonesia for 5, and Korea for 2. Kris attended English speaking schools when he lived in India. The teachers were strict and used corporal punishment to manage the classroom. Kris learned quickly that he and his sister were spared from the indignity because their mother was white. Kris admits that being bi-racial made him feel like he was better than the kids that were 100% Indian.

Imagine Kris’s surprise when at 34, he took a DNA test that revealed that he was 100% Indian. His parents had kept his adoption secret since birth. The discovery has turned his world upside down and left him, asking himself tough questions about who he is versus who he thinks he is.

I asked Kris and Meg some tough questions about racism, concerns, healing, and how healing would occur.

Racism. What is it about, and why can’t we get over it?

Kris believes that people fear that sharing power means losing power. But there is no loss in extending equal rights to all.

Can we fix it, if so, how?

Both Kris and Meg are hopeful.

Kris believes that social media will help increase awareness and aid in resolving issues, even though it is used by others to promote opposing views and agendas. He states that a book can be burned, and it will be gone. But, what is put on the internet cannot be erased. Many people have joined to fight for what we believe in. Hopefully, we can keep up the momentum. We cannot allow it to be covered up again.

Meg believes that children should be introduced to diversity at a very early age. She feels it is essential to focus not only on our differences but also our similarities. Meg reflects upon her own childhood and the values her parents instilled upon her. Meg’s mother was a child of the ’60s and was significantly impacted by the civil rights movement. When she purchased dolls for her children, she made sure that there was also a black doll for each white doll. Additionally, her mother delighted in introducing other cultures to them. Meg’s mom worked in a water testing lab where the scientist and chemists came from all over the world. The children were able to learn about them through visits, the sharing of stories, and food. They frequently festivals that celebrated different ethnicities. There was never a stigma attached to persons from another culture. In fact, quite the opposite. There was a sense of fascination, wonder, and appreciation for the differences.

Both of her parents encouraged her to respect all persons, no matter their status in life. Her father believed that when it comes down to it, we are really all the same.

Concerns?

Kris is not looking forward to the day he has to have a discussion with his son about how the world will see him differently based on the color of his skin.

Meg fears her children will be treated differently or bullied in school.

Final Thoughts

Meg and Kris entered into a marriage, knowing that not everyone was in favor of the union. But, they knew the depth of their love and that they were willing to do the work to live and love one day at a time for the rest of their lives. They knew their journey would be filled with love, joy, friendship, adventure, and passion. They also knew that they would face many challenges and that one of those would be related to the difference in their skin color. They did not care. They did it anyway.

Many thanks to Meg and Kris for participating in A Time To Heal. May the rest of your days be filled with happiness and joy.

___________________________________________

A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Whole World – Introducing Pastor Sarah

A little over a year ago, my partner and I stumbled upon a wedding that was about to begin on the shore of Lake Michigan at Little Sable Point Lighthouse. The wedding coordinator was making sure everything and everyone was in place. The pre-wedding music was fun, and many of the wedding guests and beachgoers ran joyfully through the sand. The atmosphere was magical! With a wink and nod to one another, my partner and I chose to stay for the service.

It was one of the best weddings I have ever attended. I was moved to the point of tears several times during the ceremony. The officiant was a middle-aged woman dressed in a white robe. She was as radiant as the bride, and it was clear that the joining of the young man and woman as husband and wife brought her great joy.

As the pastor began to speak, she pointed to the Lighthouse and reminded us of Matthew 5:14-16
“You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your Light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

She then told the couple that each of them is a Light and that their union would create a brighter Light, and with the support of family, even more brilliant. And, lastly, with the help of the church, they would become no less than a beacon of Light. Pastor Sarah followed up by singing This Little Light of Mine.

At that moment, I knew that the pastor was an extraordinary person and that I needed to find out where she served. My search led me to Trinity Lutheran Church in New Era. The unexpected joy of a spontaneous trip to the beach, and the decision to crash a wedding have changed my life significantly. It ended a 15-year hiatus from church, healed a tremendous amount of church hurt, and led to a great friendship with the woman I now know as Pastor Sarah.

Pastor Sarah was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1961, during immense social upheaval. Her father, a Lutheran Pastor, was active in the Civil Rights Movement. Her family commonly discussed issues related to race, equality, and human rights around the dinner table. Sarah began attending marches, peaceful protests, and rallies with her father by the time she was five years old.

In the spring of 1967, Pastor Sarah, at the age of 6, had an experience that she feels solidified her commitment to work toward equality and to end racism. She was leaving school, and the safety guard shouted in agitation, “They are coming, they are coming.” She asked: “Who is coming.” The boy replied: “The niggers are coming, the niggers.” Sarah knew this was not a word that should be used and sensed that there was big trouble to come.

Trouble did come. The decision to bus black students to achieve racial balance within communities was met with resistance and anger. Unrest continued, and by mid-summer, the issues of civil rights had become so heated that riots occurred. And, at school that fall, young Sarah watched as black students were beaten and bullied. Sarah was outspoken and fought hard to make a stand against the abuse and discrimination of her classmates. For this, she was often ostracized by her peers and had few friends. Eventually, many of Sarah’s classmates did support her efforts, but it took several years.

Sarah’s interest in ending racism continued. In high school, she sought out classes taught by the one and only black teacher. She learned much from him and her black classmates. As time passed, it became clear that one day she would go to the seminary and then serve as a pastor with a focus on social justice.

Pastor Sarah continued to immerse herself in black culture after high school. She moved to Oakland, California, where she lived in a black community for several years. It was during her time in Oakland that Pastor Sarah states that she gained a very brief glimpse at what it feels like to be a minority or “the other.” She admits that there is still no way for a white woman to know what it is to be black in America.

Pastor Sarah received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, where she studied English, Political Science, and Religion. While there, she sought out black mentors and advisors to help her understand issues of race more deeply. Additionally, Pastor Sarah received her Master of Theology Degree from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Upon receiving her Master’s degree, Pastor Sarah fully believed she would work in an urban community. That expectation was not met. As it turns out, Reverend Sarah Samuelson served in small farm communities in West Michigan until finding her permanent home at Trinity Lutheran Church of New Era. Regardless of city or country, Pastor Sarah remains a passionate voice for equality. Her sermons are filled with compassion, understanding, and encouragement to put aside personal bias, judgment, and prejudice, and to love one another as Jesus demonstrated.

I asked Pastor Sarah about her role as a pastor, racism, and healing. Here is a bit of what she said.

Role As A Pastor
Pastor Sarah feels she is to love her parishioners right where they are, no matter what they believe. Then, to gently guide them to live more Christlike.

On Racism
Loss is the fear that fuels racism. Power can be lost. But the loss of special status, and our history, and the way we define ourselves may be more significant. Pastor Sarah shares two stories to clarify her thoughts. First, as a child, her mother often told her that they were proud Swedes and special to be a Swede. In second grade, the teacher asked that each student stand and share their nationality with the others. Sarah could barely wait for her turn and shook with anticipation. She knew that upon sharing, the others would see that she was incredibly special due to her heritage. When it was her turn, she shouted, “I am a Swede.” No one reacted. Sarah was confused. Did they not know she was special? Or, could her mother have lied to her? At that moment, she lost her story, her history, her special status.

Second, Pastor Sarah points to the cemetery next to the church. The cemetery is a part of the story and identity of Trinity Lutheran. Twenty-two families started this church. Those buried in the cemetery are often mentioned as the saints on the hill from which we came. It is a unique and marvelous story. But it is not the end of the story. The congregation has grown beyond the original 22 families, and everyone is welcome to attend. The story is the beginning, but it is not the end.
Today she knows that we all long to feel special, but that God loves us all the same.

On Healing
Where are we going, Pastor Sarah asks? We are going to the same place where we will all be together. We can look backward or forward. Looking forward, we need to get over our issues of race. How? By imitating the Kingdom of God here on Earth.

Pastor Sarah, you are a Light. I have heard you quote not only the Bible but also bits of poetry here and there. I will end this post with wise words from Leonard Cohen. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the Light gets in.” Thank you for lovingly helping us find and heal our cracks.

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon beginning September 1, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

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The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

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2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

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