Unearthing the Value of my Heritage – and other secrets of an Indian Giver

Sometimes my heritage is confusing to me.

My mother’s father was Norwegian. His wife (my grandmother) was German.
My other grandmother was Irish – down to her peachy skin and Celtic name.
To hear her tell it, her husband (my grandfather) was of Scottish/Irish origin too.
To hear him tell it, his grandmother was a full-blooded Native American from the Cherokee nation – and, despite his gray-blue eyes, he loved flaunting their almond shape, along with his high cheekbones and the well-tanned skin beneath his handsomely tall frame.
Of the four grandparents, I spent the majority of my time with him.
He was retired, so we’d go on summer walks through town together, as I held his large hand and looked a mile upward to speak with him.
We’d work in the garden and yard together, with him entrusting me to operate his first riding mower as I entered into my double digits.
He’d accompany my dad to many of my ballgames, where I was sometimes a teeny bit jealous when my older cousins’ friends would run up and hug him and call him Granddad. (Okay, so I still had to learn to share.)
I felt I had a right to be possessive of him. After all, I was the one who trimmed his ear hairs. (Though my eyes were assuredly better than those of my grandmother – who’d transitioned to a large print bible – some days, I believe he asked me to do this deed simply because he thought it was safer for a kid to be wielding a sharp instrument over him in lieu of testing his wife’s Irish temperament.)

But I digress…

My father and uncle were both intrigued by their Native American heritage and, for years, searched out related artifacts.
My dad turned me into a junior archaeological librarian, as I’d assist him in organizing and tagging his finds by appropriate periods. I can recall also getting to go on “archaeological digs,” walking sandbars during the cold winter months, most often needing to be carried by my father, as my small frame would sink into the soft mud as if I were being swallowed up by quicksand. Many years later, my father and uncle were killed in a boating accident in January, out in those same waters where the three of us explored our heritage together. As much as it hurt to lose them, I couldn’t have imagined a more appropriate place for them to have been together when their spirits crossed over into eternity.

Nancy Ward print by deceased artist Ben Hampton

Hiskyteehee (Five Killer) print by deceased artist Ben Hampton

One of the gifts my father left me was a Ben Hampton print of Nancy Ward.
Awhile back, as my youngest son was lying on our couch, his head hanging upside down, he peered up at the print and inquired, “Mama, is that you?”
I was amused when I asked him if he thought it looked like me. He sat up and somberly nodded, still waiting for my answer. He was a little disappointed to hear that it wasn’t, but then he became intrigued with Nancy Ward’s story and decided to embrace that part of his heritage too. He now has a print of Five Killer in his hangout space (in which I can more easily see myself, having a “don’t tick me off” scar in the exact same spot; mine, admittedly, came from my neighbor’s cat, Herbie George, who decided to engage in a surprise attack when I thought we were in the midst of a peace treaty. I wish I was wearing his claw around my neck as a symbol, where I could then refer to him as “Cat with Nine Claws” to make him sound more intimidating. I mean, Five Killer started off as LittleFellow. Sometimes, you do what you have to do…)

I didn’t think anymore about my son’s remark of my resemblance to Nancy Ward until a few weeks ago at work. There, I have a framed poster in my office from an Eastern & Western Cherokee Council Reunion, which my dad attended (with my uncle and Ben Hampton, as I recall) & which has a montage of Mr. Hampton’s Cherokee Heritage prints. Our new secretary walked into my office, took one look at the poster and asked, “Is that you in that picture?” Nancy Ward? Are you serious? Don’t I wish? I did have a proud moment of sharing the who’s & why’s of that poster, though. And, admittedly, I do enjoy having some obvious features from that particular part of my heritage, just as I do from the many other parts of my heritage.

What I don’t enjoy are the negative connotations that people place on that heritage, just as I don’t enjoy other negative connotations that sometimes surround me. Just as my heritage may create some confusion for me, so do people who make unjust slurs against others in the name of being offended, with no regard for what offense the accuser has created. The term “Indian giver” is one such example, being bestowed upon Native Americans because of a misunderstanding in communication and trade customs; yet not bestowed upon those who came in with no regard for such customs and forced natives from their own territories under purposefully perilous conditions, providing them little means for success in prosperity or survival. (Here’s where you might need to reference the Trail of Tears.)

That savage sort of thing still happens in modern social circles – at least in the spiritual, if not the physical realm.

Invaders show up in our own private sanctuaries of peacefulness, determined to drive us out (or basically, just drive us crazy). The offenses of which we get accused only exist as excuses to control our soul’s treasure. Any gifts of grace and peace offerings we produce get scoffed at, with newly fabricated accusations made. Invaders work overtime to convince others that we want them to bestow something of greater value to us in return (basically, because scoffers over-value whatever power they believe they wield). Once our weaknesses have been explored and exposed, these conquerors – convinced they have used up anything in us that was of importance to them – push us aside, out to the margins, treating us as if we never had any heritage here at all. Soon, we feel as though our peace has become some antiquated artifact that must be dug up in pieces and put back together if it is to be discovered again.

  • We see it happen in homes.
  • We experience it in the workplace.
  • It crops up in churches as easily as in middle schools.
  • When focused on themselves, people seem to have a tendency to want to de-value and drive others out for their own selfish purposes – to steal another’s heritage of belonging.

Whenever that happens to me, I take time to remind myself of my most important heritage – the one in which I am a daughter of a heavenly King. In Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). In Christ, there is no east or west (United Methodist Hymnal, No. 548); thus we are not sent on a journey of separation from others. In fact, our God reconciles, telling us He “will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). I’m also pretty sure there are no gossipy trouble-makers in that land of peace because we’re told that, “only in the place of hypocrites will there be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51). (I can’t think of any better example of how teeth gnashing must look than to watch a gossiper in action, chewing up a gut-full  of someone else’s troubles.)

No one said we had to wait for the new creation, though, to experience life’s best heritage. When Jesus walked among us in the flesh, He said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). We are expected to live in peace and harmony with this land and the beings with which we have been entrusted in the here and now. Native Americans have long understood the spirituality and sacredness of all of creation. The gifts that they gave, such as roots that seemed worthless to the white man, held great meaning and often the power of healing or sustenance. Likewise, the gifts we give of ourselves, in which we know the value and meaning, may be received by others as meaningless, with that same sort of haughtiness and open disdain.

This shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the gifts of your heritage, though – the ones that are given to you because you ARE expected to graciously share them with others. I want to encourage you not to be driven out – but to go. Go be an Indian Giver. Offer goodness when others don’t have the capacity to understand the value. Offer peace in the midst of strife. As for the scoffers…II Peter 3:3 tells us to expect them. But then we’re told: “But in keeping with His promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (II Peter 3:13). In my mind, that new creation will look much like Native American spirituality, full of nurturing relationships between all people, land, and all living things. We are called to be part of that new creation in the here and now.

LORD, of all the characteristics that others may see,

let them most clearly heed the heritage of You in me.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Need to R.I.P. Together before Death Knocks on our Door

This is surely the toughest post I’ve written to date (as it’s often easier to disclose pieces of me while remaining within the fictional realm). I couldn’t on this occasion. My heart just wouldn’t let me.

Most of you don’t know me well enough to realize that I pretty much raised myself as a latchkey kid, while my widower father worked many miles away as a teacher and a coach (meaning I saw him leaving as I awoke in the morning and rarely was still awake when he came in after a lengthy day of work). Single parents do the best they can with the resources they have. Their best provision under those circumstances can’t equip their children with the social skills they need to function in healthy relationships out in the world, though. At least, not for me or many others I know.

Despite the values I thought I had, I was pregnant at the age of 17. Looking back, I don’t think it was an issue of morality. I think it was the need to be fulfilled through a close relationship – it was a desperate plea for love.

Despite the involved young man’s lack of desire to be a father at 18 (and his suggestion for me to reconsider being a mother), in the end, he surprised me. He showed up in another town (where I was hiding out at an older sister’s house) and offered to live with me. My older sister, in her best intentions, insisted we should get married. My morals agreed to that price because my experience didn’t understand the higher price of victim-multiplication.

Now, this young man hadn’t had it any better off than I had in the relational realm. If put to measurement, his life experience was surely greater (on many counts). He’d been the oldest of six children. (I’d been the youngest of four, by far “the baby.” My sisters had already left home when our mom died.) This young man had been tasked with the responsibility of caring for five younger siblings every night while his mother worked second shift into the night (and then imbued in her social life thereafter). “Caring for” his siblings included cooking dinner, assuring clean-up, homework, baths, bed, and any other demands, including figuring out how to scrounge up food for dinner on many occasions. There was no father close by to visit, with only an abusive father figure who had died. My point is, this guy might’ve been better at cooking and even surviving than me, but neither of us were equipped for a healthy relationship, particularly not a marriage.

It was no time after getting married (about 3 months, to be exact) before I was back at my dad’s, baby in tow. Within the year, my newlywed husband was back in town with no place to live; within two years, there were two babies in tow. Not long after that, while in school, I lost a third infant. (Yes, young people are extremely fertile; and, no, birth control isn’t always effective.) A little more time passed, and my father was killed in an accident. (To be brutally honest, I probably wasn’t helping his health conditions much anyway.) My young husband and I were left to figure out how to finish raising ourselves and our own children.

I don’t intend to go into the details of our 18 years of marriage; but I will tell you that we didn’t do such a great job on that part about raising one another. The marriage ended (for real this time – unlike all those other times) after my husband was involved in multiple affairs (likely many more than I ever learned about), battled addiction issues, and finally placed a bullet through his heart as I stumbled over myself falling out his back door (because I thought he had pulled the undisclosed weapon to use it on me). His concluding action demonstrated what he’d been feeling for likely his entire life – his heart was bursting in pain – and neither of us had the ability to relationally heal it. We weren’t equipped. Perhaps he thought taking control of this heart-breaking issue by his own hands was kinder than allowing others to rip it to pieces for him. I’ll never truly know the answer on this side of heaven.

Interestingly, we weren’t arguing at the time of his death (not even for the couple of months prior). Things had actually been more peaceful between us. He’d been to my house for a birthday dinner; and he’d even openly had another girlfriend, though we weren’t yet divorced (yes, that had stung too; but I knew it was time to move on). Just as I’d told him that morning, I continued to hope and pray that he was on the road to recovery,  for his sake and for the sake of our sons.

His life coming to such an early and abrupt end was very tragic – and still is – more than my own heart could ever stand to express, though I trust in a merciful God who loves us even when we can’t find reason to love ourselves.

Today, the wound of that sadness was re-opened when I learned from a friend that the woman who had a hand in putting a demise to our family (or at least putting the final nail in the coffin), with a blatant affair of shared addictions, had also passed due to years of abuse to her body. My mind traveled back to those many years ago when I honestly would’ve wished her dead – back to when I felt so much hurt from her actions with my husband that I had to pray daily – no hourly… make that by the minute – that God could somehow give me enough compassion for her to take those thoughts away. Amazingly, that day finally did come – after months and months of prayer – when I was able to see this woman as a wounded child, also hungry for relationship, also desperately searching to meet her need for someone’s love. In that instant, I was able to let go of my hatred and pain, to forgive her transgressions (as mine have been forgiven), and even years later, to continue to pray for her health and wholeness – to pray that she had found peace and joy in her life.

According to my friend, this woman’s Facebook read, “R.I.P [with her name]”. In my mind, I want to imagine – to hope – she was able to enter into a healthy relationship, to find her peace, that my prayer had been answered long before this day of her demise came.

And I pray the same for anyone reading this today. I offer up that prayer for us all in the most difficult of circumstances, the most challenging situations, when our hearts are breaking, when we feel the pain and the demise of life – that we can find not only our peace, but we can recognize and embrace the joy of a life that’s been given to us by a loving Father, one for each of us to share…

in healthy, whole relationships with one another.

I believe I took this at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City (Jerusalem)

I believe I took this at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City (Jerusalem)

How to turn your teacher into a cry-baby

I haven’t been able to visit the blogging community too often lately – mostly because I’ve been traveling across five states for the past few months, gathering the final data for 5 years of longitudinal research (otherwise lovingly, or sometimes not, referred to as my dissertation project). By the time I reached my final graduate from whom I would gather this data, I was feeling a great mix of emotions – – elation (that no more data would need to be collected), trepidation (that all this data still had to be analyzed), exhaustion (from gathering months of data across 5 states), and depression (that I may never see many of these folks again with whom I’d gotten to catch up – or at least it may be a very long time until our paths crossed again).

I wasn’t actually expecting to cry though.
But that’s exactly what I did.

After gathering my last set of data, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of this particular graduate’s patients were completed for the day, so we’d have some fun catch-up time. Now this is a delightful, beautiful young lady; but the most special characteristic of E is her enthusiastic honesty. She’s never afraid to share her thoughts or even tell on herself, and this day was no exception. Because she’s such a warm person, she enjoys connecting with people. That’s exactly what she set out to do, too – connect with me on my level, telling me about her first whitewater rafting adventure (because she knows that’s something I love to do). By the time she had finished her story, also explaining how someone could’ve videotaped her to demonstrate all the things one should NOT do on a river, she had me holding my sides and tearing up in our shared laughter.

But those aren’t the tears I meant.

Sharing a celebratory moment together on graduation day.

Sharing a celebratory stage moment together on
E’s graduation day.

As I stood to go, telling E how very proud I was of all she was accomplishing in her career and all the wonderful life experiences I knew she had ahead, she stopped me from leaving with these words (as well as I can recall them): “I don’t want you to leave without me saying this to you. You need to hear it from me because it’s important for people to know how others feel about them. People need to feel special, and I want you to know what an impact you’ve made on my life – and I don’t just mean in my career. I mean, I appreciate everything you taught me about my profession, but that’s not the most important thing I learned from you. You’ve made an impact on me way beyond that. I think you’re an incredibly strong person in your faith and the way you deal with hardships in life. I’ve watched how you’ve handled things you couldn’t control and didn’t give in, and I look up to you for that. Thank you for letting us see you for who you really are. That’s the kind of person I want to be.”

I was floored.
I never saw it coming.
I’m a hugger, but it’s hard to make me cry. (I even have a twice-broken nose to prove it.)
I cried. (Must’ve been fatigue setting in.)

E was right. Everyone needs a good dose of encouragement, and I wish I could say that I’ve always had the opportunity to tell others exactly how I felt about them (well, the good stuff, anyway). Even if I’ve gotten it right sometimes; sadly, I know I’ve missed many other opportunities. This lovely, young lady didn’t miss hers this time around, and she made me feel something I can’t even quite describe. (Sad testimony for a blogger, I know.)

E taught a good lesson of her own that I hope sticks with me for life. She’s the kind of person I want to be, and I thank her for that. Because of her, my new goal is to set out to make many others do exactly what I did.

Yep, I hope I can make you all cry – –  like babies.

How to Keep Your Friends by “Dumping” Them

What’s in the bag?”

“Little of this…little of that. All in all, some pretty useless stuff.”

“Now you’ve piqued my interest. What’ve you trapped in that silk prison on your arm?”

“ I used to carry items that I thought were important to my appearance there – a tube of lipstick, a compact for smoothing imperfections, a brush to freshen up, a credit card for purchasing any whims I fancied. Eventually, I came to grasp that accumulations were just weighing me down. That’s when I cleared all that stuff out to make room. Now this bag serves a much greater purpose.”

<Long, Uncomfortable Pause>

“I’m still waiting for an answer to my original question. What on earth are you carrying around in that pretty little bag swinging from your arm?”

“Don’t let its outer appearance fool you. Its contents aren’t all that impressive, truth be told.”

<Shorter, Terser Pause>

“Very well. If you absolutely must know…. It’s full of today’s mind clutter.”

“Pardon? Did you just say…?”

“Yes, I did, as a matter of fact.”

“Why in heaven’s name would you empty out your beautiful purse, only to fill it with…mind clutter?!”

“I’d rather contain it there for a time as have it swimming in my head, distracting my brain all day. At day’s end, I simply open it and dump this mess out, then begin fresh tomorrow.”

“Interesting concept. What happens if you mistake essential information and accidentally discard it too?”

“Have you been staying up early again?”

“Staying up early?! That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. No, you’re the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard – someone carrying a purse full of mind clutter.

Wait! What are you doing? Are you placing this memory of me in there?! How dare you!! Take it out this instant!”

***

“Trust me. By the time I dump this tonight, my mind will be emptied of all insults it tried to heap onto you in retaliation. Better this way. We can be friends again – come tomorrow.”

As I ended this post, I was reminded of this beautiful gift I received from a physician visiting the states from India, after spending the day working with him on imaging simulator demonstrations.

As I ended this post, I was reminded of this beautiful gift I received from a physician visiting the states from India, after spending the day working with him on imaging simulator demonstrations. Isn’t it marvelous?

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I took the opportunity to provide this little moral life lesson through 2 fun writing prompts heaped upon me this week.

inmonsterbadge1The first was from BeKindRewrite’s Inspiration Monday prompts (in which I worked to use them all – because it’s more interesting to see how the story turns out that way). Stephanie likes to “tease” and say there are no rules, but since such a thought gives me a migraine, here are the rules-oriented prompts:

  • Silk Prison
  • Waiting for an Answer
  • Mind Clutter
  • What’s in the Bag
  • Staying up Early

Other non-rules “highly suggest” limiting between 200-500 words.

From there, I looked for the opportunity to incorporate this week’s Trifecta prompt, which slid right there in the midst of my ridiculous bag. So before I accidentally dump it as useless information, here’s the uncluttered word and definition that had to be used:

GRASP (verb) – 3rd definition

3 : to lay hold of with the mind : comprehend

– See more at: http://www.trifectawritingchallenge.com/#sthash.OVZymUQ4.dpuf

By the way, Trifecta requires between 33-333 words. (My count came in at 333, which just so happens to land between 200 and 500 – how fortuitous!). By the way, this week’s entries are being community judged at Trifecta. So come one, come all! Come read, come vote, come enter!

The Measure of Grace

Human beings spend inordinate amounts of time taking measurements, whether it involves measuring up to someone else’s standards or measuring one’s value or worth based on societal standards. It seems we do not feel self assured without basing our claims on others’ interpretations of such measurements. Unfortunately, these measures are most often biased to include personalized or societal expectations of how one should perform within the contexts of certain roles.

Above is a poem (measuring me through someone else’s eyes), handed to me one day at church by my sweet, inspirational young friend, Gracie – with whom I share a love of poetry. By the measure of societal standards, Gracie doesn’t always ‘fit.’ She’s very tall for her age & a bit awkward in her prepubescent gait. Her family struggles financially, so her clothes, even when clean, are often well-worn. Sometimes she struggles in school – particularly in English & Reading (so she tells me). Top it off with her giant, gentle spirit, and you can probably imagine that Gracie gets bullied sometimes. Yet, she’s always Grace-filled.

Below is Gracie’s poem, typed out, in case you’re having trouble reading the original above. I left all spellings and grammar in their original form, without editing for corrections. (And trust me, I had to ask my teacher personality to have some grace on me, so I wouldn’t fall short and succumb to that expected published standard.)

Your eyes sparkles like glitter.

You shine like the sun.

You glow in the night.

You faith is strong but your love is stronger.

Your hope and kindness is wonderful.

Your a great person.

Your sweet like candy.

Your smart like a genius.

Your a beautiful person.

Your a giving person to everyone you meet.

My first thought, when receiving Gracie’s poetic gift, was, ‘Wow, how I only wish I could measure up to be an inkling of her creative portrayal of me!’ Oh sure, by someone else’s standards (someone who might have had a more critical eye for mechanical detail), some corrections for spelling, punctuation and errors could have easily been the mark of measurement. But look at what would have been missed! ‘That person’ would’ve missed Gracie’s expression of her feelings, her grace-filled affection, and her ability to metaphorically compose them to flow forth through her elementary school pencil. I couldn’t help but praise her talent and encourage her to continue practicing her gift of poetry.

Perhaps because we were sitting there in church when she handed me that poem, I was more in tune with spiritual writings when this Matthew verse came to mind:

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…

and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

I believe the impact of this truth comes through the lens we’re using when we’re measuring someone else – the one that’s being reflected through our own heart’s standard.

In my reflection, it dawned on me that, despite the measures others will try to apply to her, by her own standard of measurement, my friend, Gracie, is going to do just fine in life! And you know what? I believe I have proof! Last week, she excitedly informed me that a poem she had written to her school teacher had not only been accepted to be published, it had won first place in a poetry contest. Gracie was judged by a standard of measure that determined she will be receiving a $500 savings bond towards college tuition!

So what about you? Have you ever considered your own standards of measure?

Your value?

Others’ worth?

If so, and you find these are falling as short as our economy, it may simply be time to reflect upon the placement of your interest – and to allow yourself and others to be judged by the marks of Grace.

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