Family, Relationships

For the Mother I Didn’t Choose

1 Comment 12 May 2013

There are some things I can depend upon. Of my most favorite is waking up on a special day to plenty of texts and missed phone calls from my family and friends. Today, my cell phone has been filled with beautiful messages wishing me a “Happy Mother’s Day!” I’m so thankful for them all. They help me put one foot in front of the other on this bittersweet day.

For me, Mother’s Day is a strange collection of joyful and painful memories. Of being beaten, cursed at and weekly ridiculed by my own mother, who quite frankly became a mother as a child and had only the example of her mother who raised her children similarly. Knowing what I know now, I bless my mother’s memory only through the daily act of continuing to speak the truth to myself: my mother hurt me but my mother also taught me how to survive. I have learned to forgive my mother because I have learned to appreciate all she did within a context of deep racism and a nation that didn’t give a damn about black mothers and their children. I forgive her recalling the dangers of young black children being deemed as “getting out of hand” by white folks during antebellum and Jim Crow days, I remember my beatings and assuage myself with this understanding of “I beat you so they won’t kill you” mentality. I forgive her knowing now that she really did need psychiatric care but the tremendous layers of challenges to her ever even getting diagnosed! Nowadays, the Black community is far more sophisticated about mental health care. My mother was mentally ill, socially oppressed, and handed down parenting skills which she had neither the time nor ability to overcome. And yet, she loved her children with all her capacity largely reflected in hard work and ensuring our material wellbeing. Hugs and kisses, I can count on one hand. Her going to work everyday of her life…bank on it. Her insisting we were “presentable” in public; straightening our hair, prohibiting us from wearing wrinkled clothing, ensuring we went to school and “learned sumphin’.” Some of you dear friends will have no idea of what it is like to live under these conditions and for this I am thankful.

The abuse I have tried to overcome in the parenting of my own children and even other mothers’ children so that they would have better examples of the love and wisdom teachings of a loving adult woman. I cannot express fully the joy I have when I read and hear such things as “Every moment is a blessing with you” from my son; “Happy mothers day auntie I love u bunches” from my niece/daughter of my best friend who died suddenly while I was in seminary; “We had two of the best examples ever! Ya’ll showed us the true meaning of love…I’ll be forever GRATEFUL” from my daughter speaking of not only my love but that of my late best friend.

The survival skills, I thank God for! My mother raised me to be a survivor and to thrive in whatever space I am placed. What many call my “courage” is simply the remnants of having grown up poor and abused. There’s not much you can do to me that scares me from asserting my rights and freedom. I don’t “speak truth to power,” I live in freedom having known what it’s like to be restrained. My oppressors have to figure out how to keep a soul such as myself down. I don’t fear poverty; I know how to be poor. I don’t fear shame; I have been despised. I don’t fear physical attacks because someone doesn’t like what I have to say; I took the last corrective beating of my life from my mama. In large part, because of my mother, I have become the social justice advocate I am today.

I prefer not to attend church on this day because there is no way to nuance all these and other truths of motherhood in a one to two hour plus worship experience. We live in such an age where those things we once took for granted are being reevaluated. Such is the case with Mother’s Day. We are questioning the normative definition of “mother” and “father”; we have become more sensitive to those – like my own daughter – who have lost a child either during or after birth; we are speaking of the gender dynamics of such celebrations keeping in mind the many single parents. Some clergy and laypersons do these services with much care and thoughtfulness; others with little less but certainly with kind regards; and then there are some whom you just want to walk out on. I pray for them all realizing my own reluctance to lead these services.

Finally, I think of the children, the very reason for this day. Children across our world who are forced to become adults far too soon because of wars, pandemic diseases, murders, slavery, rape and colonialism. I love you wherever you are and I pray that my life and work somehow chips away at the evil that holds you in bondage.

These are my reflections written while many of you were at church. God and the presence of the ancestors have been with me, here in this room, surrounded by books, a floor lamp and my laptop. Now, for the hours and days to come, Lillie Mae’s daughter turns again to truly trying to be a good soul.

For the Children of the World, May You Know Love,


For My Dad and Other Black Men in America

No Comments 19 June 2011

My father, the late Eddie Lee Lightsey died at the age of 67. Born in Doran, Georgia 1919, he was seventeen years older than my mom. Though he never completed even junior high, my father was brilliant. Each Sunday, he counted out six stacks of coins for our weekly lunch money. As he gave us the money he said, “Heyah nawh. You beddah keep up wid diz. You mess up, you not giddin no mo.” My best lessons in Finance 101 – Dr. EL Lightsey.

He grew up during Jim Crow era and suffered the humiliation of being called “boy”, “nigguh” and “stupid” by po-dunk Georgia and Florida white racists. A “traveling man,” his lodge ring was taken by a white police officer as my dad, having no car, was walking home after curfew on the wrong side of the bridge that separated the wealthy white residents of Palm Beach from their black workers who lived in West Palm Beach. Yes, there was such a thing as a curfew for Black adults. Dad never forgot that nor other indignities. Like reading the sign near his neighborhood in Georgia that said, “Read nigger read. If you can’t read, you better run like hell.” And, the “hanging tree.” An old tree near the police station in our southern Florida neighborhood that had been used as a tree to lynch black people. Whenever we passed by it, my dad, as if to warn and keep us safe would say, “Dat dere is where deyh use tah hang us. Right deyh on dat tree.” My best lessons in History 101 – Dr. EL Lightsey Continue Reading

Family, Relationships


No Comments 08 December 2009

Golf CourseI don’t know. Call me cynical but this increasing interest in the saga related to Tiger Woods’ alleged infidelity reminds me just why I feel the idea of a “soulmate” is nothing more than idealism.  Do I believe in love? Sure. Is it possible to be in relationship with someone whom you find as absolutely breathtaking and with whom you connect on many levels? Sure.  But this notion of a soulmate goes beyond that.  Usually when this term is used it is done so with the understanding that it is that one and only someone who is just right for you.  They are the fulfillment of all that you lack; your twin soul; the most compatible person possible for you. Your soulmate “completes” you. Come on!

It is this very naive notion that finding such a person is possible which leads to such disappointment in relationships.  No one need be placed with such a burden as to be expected to be for you what you are not for yourself.  In fact, if you are looking for a soulmate then you are NOT ready for a fulfilling relationship!  Learn to love yourself first then you will be ready to love and be loved by someone else. What does that mean?

Loving yourself starts first with the journey of being willing to know yourself.  Such a journey includes the bumpy roads of accepting yourself as God created you. Perhaps not such a genius nor such a model in the looks department but nonetheless accepting your imperfect self.

Loving yourself also means that though you accept your created self with all your imperfections you nonetheless are committed to working on improving those parts of yourself that you can improve (as once said, having the courage to change those things you can change).  If you are committed to self-improvement it is not necessary to depend on someone else to even out your “rough places.”

Loving yourself means the ability to live with you!  How about it?  Can you take care of your own self?  Pay your own bills? Keep up the maintenance on your own car or house/apartment? Cook your own food? Clean your own clothes? Even entertain your own self?  Can you stand to be alone by your own freakin’ self?!  How many of you can’t eat out at a restaurant by yourselves or attend a movie by yourselves?  And just why is that? Surely doing these things with someone else is fun – I get that – BUT…. If you cannot, simply cannot do these things alone then you need to ask yourself: What about being along with ME is so problematic?

Again, I do believe in love but I am not convinced that God has made only one person per every person living.  No, I am not advocating promiscuity.  But what I am saying is, like many in my generation, I have had to learn – through no infidelity on my part – that the best of relationships are susceptible to problems. Putting your stock in someone else hoping they will bring you happiness forever and a day is simply unrealistic. Human beings will err and lovers may break your heart.  Sorry but that’s just what happens sometimes. Therefore, the ability to love again after breaking up should be good news indeed.  God has given us the capacity to love and – if necessary – love again. (Though not at the same time:)

So yeah, if what is being reported is true, Tiger was wrong but he is not perfect nor is he Elin’s soulmate.  In fact, before it’s all over we may find that Elin may not be a saint herself.  The question for me is not whether they can love each other but whether they had learned to truly love themselves BEFORE marriage and can they learn to do so in the days of ahead, filled with public scrutiny.

So tell me the truth: Do you buy into the “soulmate” theory?

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