Posts in Category: Spirituality

Introducing Shauna – Champion for Justice

Safe.

What is the first thought or image that comes to mind when you think about the word safe?

Mine immediately travels back in time to a summer day in 1964. I was four years old, surrounded by many people I did not know, and I could not find my mother. The view in front and behind me was a sea of legs, below a vast assortment of unfamiliar shoes, and when I looked up, the faces of people I did not know.  Panic overwhelmed me, my body shook, and I sobbed uncontrollably. The crowd moved away a bit, and a large woman picked me up and held me in her arms. She told me everything would be ok and that we would find my mommy. I was not comforted and just screamed louder.

Of course, my mother was not far away and came immediately to rescue me. My mother was a practical woman and not prone to indulge or to tolerate theatrics. She wordlessly took me from the woman and put me down. Then she held my hand, and we walked together amongst the crowd for the longest time. I felt safe.

I was a lucky kid. I had two parents; one worked outside the home and the other inside. We had plenty to eat and needed nothing my folks could not provide. I walked freely from one friend’s house to another without concern for my wellbeing. Safety was seldom, if ever, a concern.

Maybe your childhood was similar. If so, imagine living in a home where there is not enough to eat, violence, or neglect due to drug or alcohol addiction, or because the parent(s) are at work trying to make enough money to survive. What if every time you stepped outside of your home, you had to be on the lookout for something terrible that might happen? Or that every day you had to pass by a place where someone committed a crime: A beating, a robbery, or even the murder of a friend? How would you feel; Scared, numb, hopeless, traumatized?

Take a moment to pause and think about the kids and families living under these conditions every day. Does it disturb you; If so, enough to do something about it?

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Safe is defined as to be protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.

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Part 1 – Pathfinders

Shauna Hunter has dedicated her life to doing “something about it.” She serves as the Executive Director of Pathfinders. Pathfinders is a violence prevention program provided for children and teens from Muskegon and Muskegon Heights. The organization is located within Temple United Methodist Church and primarily serves the African American community.

Recently Shauna and I had the opportunity to meet and talk about Pathfinders and how she sees the world as an African American woman. As I spoke to Shauna, it became apparent that she is a woman that walks her talk. She is a passionate advocate for those she represents. Her faith sustains her and gives her hope for healing and a brighter future for the community.

Shauna shared that the late ’90s were a particularly tumultuous time in parts of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights. Gun violence and drug trafficking increased significantly, and many young lives were lost to death or prison. Concerned community leaders held public meetings and learned that kids living within the troubled neighborhoods longed for a place where they could feel safe. As a result, Pathfinders was established.

As the organization grew, it became aware that the community’s problems and challenges extended beyond gun violence and drug abuse. Many live in poverty with only one parent or absent parents. Others experience violence in their homes and within their neighborhood. Some experience hunger daily. The kids are quite literally traumatized. For these kids, Pathfinders has become their extended family. The mission statement for Pathfinders is to Engage, Empower, and Motivate. They do so through a variety of programs, both in-house and through community outreach. The following are among the programs. Pathfinders offers.

  • Urban Storytelling – To improve literacy within the community, Pathfinders began Urban Storytelling. Books chosen have kids featured/illustrated that look like the kids listening. As a result, the participants can relate more to the characters, accept, remember, and embellish the story, and be prone to read something else on their own in the future.
  • Meals to reduce food scarcity issues – Meals are served in-house during the week and delivered on the weekends in connection with Hand To Hand / Temple United Methodist Church.
  • Counseling/Mental Health Services – Your Heart Matters is a non-verbal aid that allows kids to express their feelings. Each participant receives color-coded hearts that coincide with an emotion, such as, Sad, Depressed, or Urgent Need. Based upon the card, the staff can either assist the child or provide a referral for counseling at Healthwest. Additionally, the Summer Youth Counseling program is available through Hackley Community Care!
  • Life Skills – Cooking, Financial Literacy, and Mindfulness/Meditation are just a few Life Skills taught at Pathfinders.
  • Physical Activity – Basketball, Ping Pong, Indoor Soccer, Dodge Ball, Flag Football, Floor Hockey, and Pool are available to Pathfinders participants.
  • Games
  • Tutoring
  • Personal Hygiene Pantry (in connection with Temple United Methodist Church) – Hygiene items are costly and not affordable for folks living in poverty. The pantry provides a way for poor students to attend school with confidence.
  • Boots On The Ground – Local police departments and folks living in the neighborhood gather to get to know one another. Together they learn how to react to one another when they meet on the street. The ultimate goal is to reduce racial profiling and unnecessary violence between police officers and persons of interest.
  • A-MACK Program – Aniya Mack was a victim of domestic abuse and was subsequently murdered by her ex-boyfriend. The A-MACK program established in Aniya’s memory focuses on domestic violence awareness and prevention.
  • I Am The Village is a Pathfinders campaign that focuses on bringing the community together for one purpose, holding the community responsible for educating, empowering, and rehabilitating itself.

Services Provided to homes during Pandemic.

  • Delivered books, puzzles, and introduced online games and activities to keep kids engaged. And additional groceries such as microwave meals that the kids could prepare for themselves.

At Pathfinders, all are welcome. The intention is that every person that enters is safe. One of Shauna’s goals is to expose the participants to diversity, open discussions, and bond through their shared history despite their differences. Shauna and Pathfinders welcome LGBTQ+ teens. She explains that the coming out process for Black LGBT-Q+ teens can be incredibly difficult and, in some cases, dangerous. Mild harassment, bullying, and even death can occur, especially among transgender teens. Shauna wants her kids to know that they are all someone important and that they are not reduced to limits but that the sky is the limit.

Literacy is an issue and often cited as the key to resolving other problems within the community. Shauna points out that it is difficult for kids to learn in school because they are too distracted, just trying to survive circumstances most people never experience. Shauna and Pathfinders are working diligently to help resolve the challenges that serve as roadblocks to learning, literacy, and success.

Funding for Pathfinders is provided through grants from the United Way, Community Foundations, and Alcoa. However, it is not enough to cover all the expenses the organization incurs. Can you help? Follow the link provided to learn more about or make a donation to Pathfinders. https://www.pathfindersofmuskegon.org/.

Part 2 – Candid Conversation with Shauna

The year 2020 brought race, racism, White privilege, and police brutality within the United States to our attention in unprecedented ways. The video of the murder of George Floyd served to open the eyes and hearts of many. A lot of people began to examine and acknowledge their cultural bias and White privilege sincerely. Many purchased books on racism, churches formed study groups, and conversations of awareness and healing began. More people tuned into Podcasts related to the subject than ever before. And, White people joined in Black Lives Matter protests that occurred around the nation.

I am among the group of White people described above. Thus, when Shauna graciously agreed to speak with me, I was thrilled and honored. Shauna spoke candidly about what it is like to be Black in the United States.

Shauna shared many experiences that disturbed me, but the words that echo in my mind the most are that being Black in America is exhausting. How can the color of one’s skin cause exhaustion? As Shauna and I spoke, the answer quickly became clear. I don’t wake up thinking I am White or even become concerned by my Whiteness. I don’t worry about what clothes I wear to the store, or if my purse is too big, or if I might be stopped by the police when I drive my car. I have never been followed in a store or accused of shoplifting. No one has ever wondered if my baggy clothes are a cover for all the goods I plan to steal. Nor have I have ever been treated like a criminal solely based on the color of my skin. But Black and Brown people wake up every day, knowing that they will face these challenges and more.

Another thing Shauna told me was that she chose a non-ethnic name for her daughter intentionally. She did not want to limit her daughter’s chance of receiving a job interview or college admission based upon her name. Though a non-ethnic name would not guarantee her daughter would obtain a job or college entrance, it would likely keep the application from being discarded prematurely.

We also spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement. Shauna believes that God loves everyone and quotes Jesus’s command given in 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love one another.” She explains that all lives matter, but until all lives are treated the same, we must remind others that Black Lives Matter.

I asked Shauna if racism in the United States could be fixed. She believes that it can, but that there is no overnight solution. In the past, White people have denied that racism exists. However, seeing it is believing. Images like those caught on video of the George Floyd murder make racism and police brutality real.

Frequent conversations regarding cultural bias and racism will be necessary to undo messages from the past. Shauna says that the “old ways” are not that long ago. Many Black people living in this country today have great grandparents that were slaves. The civil rights movement, the right to vote, desegregation, and the abolition of Jim Crow laws have only occurred in the past 70 years.  

In Shauna’s case, her grandparents were born in the United States but did not have birth certificates. They fled the South after crosses were burned in their yard. Her grandparents could have shared bitterness, anger, and hate with Shauna. Instead, they taught her that despite the cruel treatment they had endured, that there are good people in the world.

In her lifetime, Shauna has witnessed countless government programs intended to resolve issues of racism, poverty, education, and more fail over and over. She feels that the people in power are not asking the right questions or listening to those that the programs are meant to serve.  In other words, someone or entity is making decisions about what is best for a community that they do not belong to or fully understand.  

At this point, Shauna reminded me of the story in the Bible of Nehemiah. Jerusalem was in shambles after an invasion by the Babylonians. Warriors destroyed the temple and most of the city, burned the gates of the wall surrounding Jerusalem, and left other stone wall sections in piles of rubble. When Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the King, learned of his ancestral home’s state, his heart was burdened. The King noticed Nehemiah’s despair, and upon learning what was troubling him, granted him safe passage and supplies to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was wise and understood that the wall was not the only thing that was in disrepair. The people living in Jerusalem were also broken. They had witnessed their once vibrant community destroyed. Loved ones were killed during the invasion or sold into slavery, while others escaped and lived in exile for many years.

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah surveyed the damage and petitioned the residents and religious leaders to reconstruct the wall. As a result, the people of Jerusalem worked together tirelessly to complete the 2-mile long wall repair in 52 days. During the nearly two month project, the community residents healed wounds from the past and became friends and neighbors.

Shauna believes, like Nehemiah, that community involvement is the key to healing and resolving issues. She states that we must meet as neighbors, get to know one another, and together, do the work that will make things better.

Shauna is the Executive Director of Pathfinders, but the job she is called to do is to be a Light. If you ever meet Shauna, you will immediately know that she does her job very well. Guided by her deep faith, Shauna spends her days planting the seeds of love, hope, and peace in the hearts of the people living within the community. She believes that with God’s help, the seeds she and others like her plant will take root in fertile ground, grow strong, and reach their greatest potential.

Thank you, Shauna, for what you do at Pathfinders, in the community, and in the world. You are indeed a bright and shining Light.

Suggested Video

Race and Racism – White Privilege and Privilege Explained By Justin Wilford

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GyXEMg03EI

Something Happened In Our Town By Donald Moses and Marianne Celano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whR_JIzknpo

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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. 

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.

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.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

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/

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. 

A Time To Heal

A Time To Heal is a project that utilizes photography and words that share the journey of vastly different people. The views of the people that have participated may or may not be the same as mine or yours. Still, A Time To Heal intends to encourage constructive conversations related to difficult topics, such as the Covid-19 Pandemic, Racism, the LGBTQIA community, and more.

I am a child of the ’60s. I watched my parent’s reactions as the world as they knew it unraveled. My mother wept uncontrollably when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was only three, but the image of her sitting on the steps leading to our upstairs, face in her hands, and body shaking, is still vivid today. The civil rights movement was disturbing to my parents. Not because they were opposed, but because they did not understand why folks had to fight so hard to have the same rights as others. To them, people were people.

My father cursed at the television nightly. The topics varied but were most often related to draft dodgers, Vietnam War Protesters, Rock & Roll, Hippies, and the feminist movement. Later in life, my father admitted that he was wrong about Vietnam, draft dodgers, and parts of the feminist movement.

We learned as a nation that all things were possible when the first man walked upon the moon, yet feared a nuclear war with the Soviet Union to the point of encouraging citizens to build their bomb shelters in their homes. At school, children practiced duck and cover drills and given dog tags. The student name, address, and the letter P, C, or J. Religious affiliation, Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish was listed to ensure the proper burial of victims of a nuclear strike.

So what does the social revolution in the 1960s have to do with an artistic endeavor and exhibit in 2020? Absolutely everything. Peace, love, and unity filled the airwaves in the late 1960s. Pop songs such as All You Need Is Love, What The World Needs Now (is Love Sweet Love), and Get Together touched my heart. The lyrics, combined with my deep faith in God, led me to believe that love can heal all wounds. 

The United States is once again at a point of extreme unrest. We are more divided today than ever, and a social revolution has begun. When people feel unheard, marginalized, oppressed, or unsafe for long, revolution is inevitable. A Time To Heal will introduce viewers and readers to people they might never meet in their community. I hope that by getting to know one another, we can begin healing conversations that will peacefully close the chasm that divides us, and that one day we can honestly say, We The People, and genuinely mean it.

A Time to Heal, the exhibit, will be held at City Center Arts in Muskegon in late August and through September. I will post blogs chronicling the lives of participants and post the links on Facebook.


 

Interested in participating? Message me.

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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Grace & Gratitude

Yesterday I was mad. Not just a little heated up, but over the top angry. And, the fact that I could not put my anger in its right place made me furious. Didn’t my anger know I had important things to do! 2020 is the year of Gratitude, and I have articles to write, plans to make, people to meet, photos to capture, and stories to gather. And didn’t my anger know that I am a woman of peace and love? My mission, no matter how lofty it seems, is to make this world a better place by uniting people with different ideas and belief systems.

The irony is that I was upset with an organization that has different ideas and belief system than my own.  Yes, please, let me have that anger with a large helping of humility. That stopped me dead in my tracks. I glanced in the mirror and did not like what I saw. I want to say that I took the high road, let go of my anger, and continued my journey to spread peace and love to all the nations. But I felt I justified in my rage. I was right, and they were wrong. I recounted all the years of feeling discounted, rejected, and judged by this group. No, despite the image in the mirror, I held onto my anger. After all, I earned the right to feel this way.

I spent my entire day wondering how I, an angry woman, could move forward with The Gratitude Project. How could I launch a project to encourage the building of bridges between communities when, in this circumstance, I was refusing to place the first plank or hammer the first nail?  Late in the evening, I found the answer. In an attempt to do something positive, I began to look at photographs that I had taken in the fall. Perhaps I could edit  a few images. The first picture I saw brought tears to my eyes and I felt a knowing in my heart. I was humbled for the second time of the day.

The photo was of a Maple Tree. I have always thought if love were a tree, it would be a Maple. They are big, tall, strong, and have branches that extend slightly upturned like arms to hold children just right when they climb upon them. The light honey-brown wood is stunning and often used in home construction. If that is not enough, they even feed us with their sugary sap. 

The Maple tree reminded me that we are all one. As I studied the image, I noticed first, the trunk, then branches, smaller branches, and finally the leaves. Each had a unique shape, color, and texture. The tree was magnificently complex and beautiful. My mind shifted and I began to think of the trunk of the tree as God, the branches as nations of people, breaking off into smaller and smaller groups, and finally, the leaves as individuals. Again, I thought, we are all one.

How is it then that my anger could possibly be justified? By withholding my love, forgiveness, and compassion from any group, I, in turn, withhold it from myself. I have been building and maintaining this wall of anger for over thirty years. Sadly, I only recently realized that it is not impacting the group that caused me pain. Instead, it has hurt the people I love the most and me. For that, I am truly sorry. 

So, to answer the question, how will I, an angry woman, go forward with The Gratitude Project? I will deconstruct the wall. It will take time. It will take practice. And, it will take an abundance of Grace and Gratitude.

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Authors Note: Would you or your organization (e.g., community group, retreat) like to participate in The Gratitude Project?  Please feel free to contact me at Gail@Lakehousecc.com.

Song of the Post: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) By BYU Noteworthy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA

Instagram – The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo – https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

The Gratitude Project – https://lakehousecc.com/

Instagram – Lakehouse Photo & Living At The Lakehouse – https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

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

2019© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Favorite Photo – The Gratitude Project

The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo was born from my journey with loss, grief, depression, and rebirth. When the cloud of despair lifted, I experienced the world around me with new eyes, ears, and a changed heart. The ordinary in everyday life became extraordinary. Problems became opportunities, and I began to imagine the possibilities. Gratitude became my constant companion.

I began to wonder. Does gratitude have a distinct look? I know how it feels, but is the appearance of gratitude universal? This question led me to ask my friends to sit in silence and ponder gratitude while I photographed them. I hoped to capture an emotion, not a picture-perfect portrait. Several of my friends volunteered, and the project was born.

My favorite gratitude photo is the first one that I took of another person. Neither of us knew exactly how we should start. We were in a hotel room in Denver, Colorado, and we were both a bit weary from a day spent on our feet in our booth at a dental show. My friend decided to sit quietly in a chair and silently pray. As she began, the energy in the room became palpable, and I immediately understood the gravity of my request. I was asking another person to bear their soul, to become vulnerable in a way that is not comfortable, and to share that moment with the world.

After a bit of time passed, my friend began to shift in her chair and then opened her eyes. Her face, illuminated only by the lamp on the bedside table, appeared as though it had been kissed by angels. Silvery tears fell down her cheeks, and her eyes glistened with gratitude born from grief. The intensity of this moment took my breath away, and I nearly forgot to release the shutter to begin capturing images. The inside beauty of my friend was present on the outside, and it was stunning beyond words.  That moment was then and has remained, among the most intimate of my entire life.

The photos taken in Denver are as real and raw as it gets. While I saw the images as beautiful, my friend did not. The image I chose was too harsh for her, and she did not recognize the woman depicted. And so, I have honored my friend’s wishes. The photo will not be used in The Gratitude Project. I will, however, use the experience as I proceed. My friend taught me that my request for a person to sit in gratitude is not small. I will move forward with honor and reverence for every person that participates in The Gratitude Project.

Thank you, friend, for the gift you gave me. I am grateful.

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Authors Note: Would you or your organization (e.g., community group, retreat) like to participate in The Gratitude Project?  Please feel free to contact me at Gail@Lakehousecc.com.

Song of the Post: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) By BYU Noteworthy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA

Instagram – The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo – https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

The Gratitude Project – https://lakehousecc.com/

Instagram – Lakehouse Photo & Living At The Lakehouse – https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

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

2019© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Nature Knows – Moms, Kids, & Grief

Saying Goodbye to Hans

The Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse have had a tough year. The matriarch of the lake, Lydia, was injured early in the season. She was no longer able to defend her territory, be a suitable mate for Bud, or to care for her unhatched colts. In a strange twist, Crystal, Lydia’s colt from the previous summer stepped in as a replacement mother and mate to Bud. Lydia’s fate is currently unknown. She may be living on the fringe of the lake with the other unmated birds, or she may have died. Either way, her departure from the Lakehouse has been a devastating loss.

Crystal cared for the eggs as though they were her own, taking turns with Bud to keep them safe and warm. She has been a good and doting mother to this year’s colts, Hans and Solo. But as any mother knows, it only takes a moment for a child to step into danger. Hans did just that on Wednesday, May 29.

I could hear the horn of the passing car clearly from inside the Lakehouse. This happens from time to time. The cranes are, after all, birds and have very little sense about the dangers of the roadway. Most often, the cranes come away uninjured and unfazed by their close calls with passing vehicles. But in this instance, I felt quite certain that one or more of the birds were injured or killed. Bud & Crystal’s distress calls clearly communicated that a colt was seriously injured or dead. I searched for Hans along the roadside but found nothing. Perhaps I was wrong.

As the day passed, I watched the cranes closely. I saw Bud and Solo together in the bog, but not Crystal. I worried that Crystal, as a new mom, might have been unsettled enough by the event to abandon her new family. Or, maybe Hans was not gone and for some odd reason, Crystal was spending time alone with him. That, however, would be highly unusual. There is safety in numbers, and crane families stay together.

Around 8 pm, I heard Crystal knocking on the basement door. She normally does this to let me know that there is no bird seed on the ground. However, there was plenty, and there was no need for her to knock. She met me at the door and just stood there looking up at me intensely. I don’t know for sure what she wanted or what she was trying to tell me, but I believe she was sharing her loss. I said from my heart in my out loud voice, “I love you, Crystal, I know that Hans is likely gone, I am so very very sorry, I will miss him too. And, Crystal, I am so very proud of you. You did your best. You are a great mom.” She held my eyes with hers for some time. Tears fell as I focused on sending love from my heart to hers.

Thursday morning arrived, and no cranes came to the yard. I could still see Bud and Solo in the bog, but not Crystal. The afternoon passed, and then, the evening came. I could no longer accept Crystal’s absence. I had to find her. Perhaps I could see her more easily from the kayak. It did not take long to locate them. While I was saddened to see that Hans was indeed missing, I was relieved to see Bud, Crystal, & Solo together.

I was disheartened, but at peace. The remaining family was safe and together as a unit. For this, I was grateful. I paddled around the lake for a bit longer feeling my feelings, talking to God, and taking in the sights, and sounds of the lake.  As the sun began to set, I recorded and posted a video on Facebook sharing the sad news of Hans passing.

On my return to the dock, I noticed the cranes settling on their nest for the night. I called out to them, “Come back to the yard tomorrow, ok!” At that moment, I saw something that was not right. It was a patch of orange where it should not have been. My heart sank, and tears began to fall. Hans lifeless body lay below Crystal’s feet. She must have carried him from the roadway back to the nest. The mystery of her absence from the others was now solved. Crystal looked down at Hans and then at me with an expression that was not unfamiliar. It was, in fact, an expression I hoped never to see again as long as I lived.

Grief has its own timeline. It comes and goes without warning. Sometimes it lasts for minutes but often lingers for days or even months. Grief feels like a lonely Godless place. No one, absolutely no one can feel your pain. No one can bare it for you. And, God, where is God when every cell of your being aches for someone or something that is no longer here? With just one glance from a distraught bird, vivid images from my mother’s final days played out in my mind’s eye, and I plunged into the depths of grief. Grief makes no apologies. It is an opportunist that shamelessly marches in, sets up camp, and stays until the heart heals enough to send it packing.

Three days before my mother passed, she was standing in our kitchen getting ready to take her night time meds. Instead of opening one section of her pill minder, the entire lid came off and one week’s worth of pills scattered across the floor. She quickly got down on hands and knees and began picking them up. As suddenly as she started, she stopped and stood up. She was confused. She looked up at me and like small child opened her upturned fists to show me what she held. She said, “I don’t know what to do.” At that moment, my mother realized that the cancer in her brain was winning. Her eyes pleaded in the same way as Crystal’s. Both were saying, Help me, can you fix this, won’t you please fix this. I took the pills from my mother’s hands and then held her in my arms and rocked her gently as she wept. I said It’s ok, it’s my turn to take care of you now. When she stopped crying, I put her to bed.

What is a person to do when pleading eyes ask the impossible? What is a person to do when there is nothing to be done? I could not fix my mother’s failing brain or make the cancer go away. I could not bring Hans back to life. I could not give my mother or Crystal what they wanted. In that helpless, hopeless place, all one can do is show up. To bear witness to the other’s suffering and in some small way, help to carry the burden. I sat quietly in the kayak and held Crystal’s gaze until she looked away.

Grief is a Godless place, but it is often where we find the Divine. It is frequently in our darkest moments that we call on God to lead us out of suffering and into the light. It is the journey back from the despair experienced during grief that strengthens our relationship with God and heals our hearts. As for me, I am shaken, and my heart is badly bruised. But, I know that the grief will pass and that the sorrow will be replaced with gratitude.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Harold and Lynnie Howarth, Lydia, and Hans.

My connection to nature is a direct gift from my parents. It is where I connect most often with them and is where I see God. Without my mother and father’s demonstration of love and reverence for nature, I would likely have never befriended a nesting pair of sandhill cranes. I am grateful beyond words for my folks. They were good people. I am grateful beyond words for the odd connection I have with these splendid birds.

Song of the Post: How Can I Help You Say Goodbye By Patty Loveless https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4F_cXGQN9k

If you enjoyed this post, please consider viewing my photography at https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

2019© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Kicking Stones

I am kicking stones.

I am kicking stones from the bridge into the shallow sandy creek below.

I lean upon the rusty old iron rail, and I am kicking stones!

I watch them as they fall and wait for the splash, the sploosh, the plip, the plop, the rapid stutter of multiple small stones kicked all at once. I wonder what will become of the dusty old rocks now washed clean by the flowing water. Will they stay lodged in the bedrock, or continue their journey toward the river or perhaps, even the sea? Over the years, have I kicked enough stones into this creek to have forever changed its path? Or does it take just one?

What about the creek of my life? Have I kicked enough stones into its current to change the course of a life? Have my words, thoughts and actions had an impact on others? Have they been kind, compassionate, and caring, or have they been biting, ugly and cruel? Have I been reckless with the hearts of others, or have I tended them like a sacred garden? Have I helped or have I hurt? I suppose a bit of both.

And where have I resided in the creek of life? High and dry on the creek bank only to bear witness, or fully immersed in the raging waters of the spring. Did I seek the comfort of the slow-moving shallow water, or did I venture deeper into the rapids only to cling to boulders for safety? Was I ever courageous enough to wade in without hesitation, let go, and let the current lead me to my destiny?

I wonder, what is the sum of my life? Have I created a splash, a sploosh, a plip, a plop, a stutter or a ka-thump? Will I, in the end, arrive at my final destination washed clean of this life as a finely polished stone, or weather-beaten and broken? I cannot know the answer. What I do know is that the tally has not yet been totaled. Though there is little I can do to make amends for the misdeeds of my past, I can go forth today, tomorrow, and all of my tomorrows with love, kindness, and compassion. I will throw caution to the wind, and step boldly into the creek, let go, and allow my destiny to unfold.

Song of the Post: Stones In The Road By Mary Chapin Carpenter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ekTCh5JiA0

If you enjoyed this post, please consider viewing my photography at https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Originally Published Kicking Stones 08/24/2013

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