Wednesday, November 1, 2017

I'm a Survivor

I was driving down the road one day and had the radio on. I typically listen to a local country station, one that played both new hits and older hits as well. I was surprised to hear a song that I had not heard in a very long time, but a song that I love dearly.

Reba McEntire’s, “I’m a Survivor”.

For those who have not heard this song, I highly recommend that you take a moment to listen to it.
The song describes a woman’s struggle throughout her life and despite the struggles she had since childbirth and raising children, she describes herself as a survivor.

Whenever I think of this song, I think of my mother. The woman in the song and my mother led two different narratives, two different lives, but I can say without a doubt, that my mother is a survivor.

My mother was the youngest of five children, one of whom did not survive childbirth. She was a rebellious teenager, but had compassion for the world. She struggled with her own form of depression, which almost claimed her life through suicide. But through Divine intervention, she survived her suicide and depression. She married an abusive man and helped raise his children before having her first child (my sister). A few years after their divorce, my mother discovered that her daughter was being sexually abused by her ex-husband, which haunted her for many years. My mother lost her second child through miscarriage and was forced to give up her third child because of her father’s racist attitudes. She then bore her fourth and last child (me) who was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum and needed additional support and attention throughout childhood.

During all this, she worked several hard-working jobs, many at the same time. She finished college with high honors, and would eventually become the first person in her family to earn her Masters in Special Education. She worked years working with the mentally differently-abled and those with cerebral palsy. She counseled distraught families and teenagers and cared for the elderly in a care home. She then taught children on the Autism Spectrum and was perceived as a saint at Forest Pines Elementary in Raleigh, North Carolina.

She was stubborn, but had a heart full of love. She cared for the opposed, especially the young, who needed a voice in this world. She wanted nothing but the best for all her children and the children who were not her own. When she re-joined the church, she became a leader in our local congregation of Wake Forest Christian, especially in her efforts of outreach and children’s ministry.

Along with her emotional baggage’s, she also damaged her back that lasted the rest of her life and suffered from lupus for many years. Near the end of her life, she suffered from Gastro-cancer, which would take her life.

The world truly lost a Saint on November 3rd, 2011.  

Despite my mother’s death….My mother is still a survivor.

Often, the word survivor implies a person who has overcome death or an event that threatens life.
I don’t agree with this implicit definition.

For me, a survivor is someone who has overcome one, if not more, obstacles in life, and has not relinquished their humanity.

The song describes a woman’s struggle to work two jobs, raise kids, and deal with a recent divorce. The author of the song knows about the obstacles of life. But despite these obstacles, the author says the woman has “gentle hands and the heart of a fighter”.

Too often, it seems like a better choice to go through life’s obstacles with bitterness, instead of gentleness. Now, I can’t judge anyone’s bitterness. I have not lived their life and I have not faced their struggles.

But I would like to ask: Is it hard to carry that burden of bitterness? It almost seems like bitterness becomes just another obstacle to overcome in life while trying to overcome all the other obstacles we face.

However, being bitter is very different from having anger during your struggles.

Anger is a necessary emotion. It is the emotion in the body that informs us that something is wrong and needs some form of correction. This includes the need for resolution, expression of hurt or grief, and even justice seeking.

While anger is necessary, it is not without caution. Anger can lead us to causing harm toward other people and even ourselves. But it is not the emotion of anger that causes harm, but the choices we make in the midst of our anger.

My mother was not without anger. She had every right to be angry. Her first husband abused her daughter. She lost both her second and third child through death and separation. She lost her oldest sister and father to death. She suffered from lupus. These are only a few out of many reasons for my mother’s anger.

And I don’t blame my mother for being angry.

But I don’t believe that my mother was a bitter woman. My mother, while stubborn and stern at times, was also gentle and kind as well. She knew how to fight, but was not embittered from her struggles. Even during the last months of my mother’s life, as she laid in the hospital bed with a lot of pain, she made sure everyone else was being taken care of, even the nurses who were there to take care of her.

My mother is a survivor.

And because of my mother, I am a survivor as well.

My mother’s life, my mother’s struggles and how she overcame her struggles not only gave me the support to overcome my own struggles, but taught me how to overcome future struggles as well.

That is what survivors do. They teach us how to survive, with love and compassion and not with bitterness.

So I invite you to take a moment to recognize the survivors who are in your life. And how they are teaching you to be a survivor as well.

And once you recognize your survivors, take a moment to thank them. Not only for their survival, but for teaching you how to survive as well.

And perhaps, once we recognize and express gratitude, we can begin to teach those who are struggling in their own obstacles.

This is my hope for you and for me as well.

May you walk with your truth, your story, and your Ruah always.