Another Post About Freedom Needed on a Day Like Today

freedomm2Yesterday, another senseless mass shooting took place at a school in CT. When I last checked the news 28 people were confirmed dead, 20 of them were children. One of the news stories reported that the gunman walked into his mother’s classroom, who was a teacher at the school, shot and killed her and then turned the gun on her students. He then shot several adults, before committing suicide.

I’m not sure what were the circumstances that led up to this particular situation. I don’t know if the gunman had issues with his mother, if he was crazy, or if he was just having a really bad day. What I do know is that earlier this week, another gunman went on a shooting rampage in Portland. This past summer, a man shot and killed several worshippers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Weeks before that, another gunman walked into a movie theater in Colorado and killed 12 people, wounding dozens more.

These episodes only tell of mass shootings that have taken place in 2012 alone. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the shooting of Trayvon Martin last February, the shooting of a teenage boy in Milwaukee simply taking out the trash, killings at a in-home daycare in Brooklyn Park, MN where 3 people lost their lives, the mall shooting in Brookfield, WI, the football player who killed himself and his girl friend just two weeks ago, and the shooting of another teen in Florida who was killed for playing his music too loudly. All of these incidents have different circumstances surrounding them, different reasons why people were provoked to behave the way that they did. But they all bear one thing in common – guns!

To date, we have yet to have a serious conversation about gun control in this country. Even with all of these occurrences, where hundreds of people have lost their lives, thousands of more who did not make the news, we still fail to do something! Instead, we let politics, the media, the NRA control us. We hide behind the second amendment which tell us that as American citizens we have the right to bear arms. God forbid that someone should take away our rights! But what if our rights are not making us more free? What if the rights that we fight to protect and hold on to are actually making us slaves?

Shortly after I found about the shooting that took place this morning, I went to go get lunch at a nearby Chipotle. As I stood in line, and it was a long line, its Chipotle, I couldn’t help thinking, “What if someone comes in here and just starts shooting? I’d have nowhere to hide, nowhere to go. Today could be my last day.” I remember that when the shooting in Colorado took place earlier this summer, the same fear gripped me as I worked at a coffee shop near my home. I feared that someone could just come in and go crazy.

I know I am not the only one. On the homepage of my facebook wall, dozens of my friends talk about being afraid to go out because of what is going on. Is that freedom? To me, what’s going on is likened to slavery. We are prisoners in our own land! Some people think that the answer is more guns, but really, is that logical? If the guns are the problem in the first place, how can more of them bring about a healthy solution – one where people come out alive at the end?

I know that there are many complex issues that need to be considered in order to have a conversation about gun control. I know that guns themselves don’t kill people, people kill people. I know that taking guns away, or limiting their accessibility would not put the end to all violent crimes. I know that many of the people who commit these atrocities are probably struggling with some deep mental health problems. I know that there are societal, political and personal situations that drive people to respond in this way. I get all of that! But what I am saying, please try to understand, is that we can’t allow what we perceive as barriers to get in the way of doing what we need to do as a people, as a nation, to get this problem under control. We have to start talking! We have to come together and start thinking strategically about how to get to the bottom of this issue that keeps taking the lives of precious, innocent people. Otherwise, we can’t sit back and continue to be shocked when these things happen. There is a saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Likewise, doing nothing to solve a problem that persists, expecting it to solve itself on its own is also pretty insane.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. Galatians 3.13 – 15

Redefining Freedom in 21st Century America

We often count ourselves privileged, even blessed, to live in a nation where we have access to so many freedoms and rights. In comparison to other nations around the globe, we have the ability to pursue life, love, happiness and a host of other things that people in other countries wish they could enjoy. But what does it mean when our freedoms violate the wishes and the liberties of others? Is this freedom? Or is it slavery with a different face?

A few weeks ago, Clint Eastwood performed the Invisible Man skit at the RNC convention. Though some viewed the skit as strange, and maybe a little awkward, it was very clear that he purposed to attack President Obama’s otherness. Not his politics, not the way he governs the country, but his black skin. His African heritage. His otherness.

Like many others, I found myself put off by it. I felt like the skit was an effort to dehumanize and take value away from President Obama simply because he is different. And this is not okay. We can challenge his policies all day long, which I think is acceptable because we all come to this political animal with different lens – we are bound to disagree on a lot of things. But, we cannot write him or anybody else off because of the color of their skin. We cannot minimize someone’s humanity, their wishes, their needs, simply because they represent all that we are not. That is not exercising freedom at all; that is exercising hate.

To make matters even worse, there were some very disturbing occurrences of Obama chair lynchings in Virginia and Texas. The man who committed the offense in Texas even admitted that he had the nation’s African American president in mind when he did it. Though the freedom of speech protects the ones who did these awful things from legal consequences, is this not taking the notion of freedom too far? Where is the line? How can this be freedom when people of color (of which I am one) feel that their safety is compromised?

Further still, our endless pursuit of material things and wealth robs security and comfort from others around us. As we stock our closets, our garages, and our banks with more and more stuff, we limit other’s access to basic human necessities such as food and housing. Yet, our consumer driven economy gives us the freedom, and in fact, encourages us to consume more goods upon ourselves at any cost. And unfortunately the poor all too often pay that cost. Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that 46.2 million people were living in poverty in 2011, and that women and children are disproportionately affected by this. At the same time, the incomes of the top 1% continue to grow. Still, they have that audacity to ask for a tax-break while 46.2 million struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their children’s heads. Is this freedom? Or is this greed?

Freedom in the way that our nation envisions it, and in the way we live it out, is killing us. Like cancer, it is eating away at the core of our being, leaving more people marginalized and destitute in its path. We have to do something about it! And as people of faith, we have an obligation to do something about it including viewing freedom from a godly perspective. Just in looking through the Bible, it is clear that God calls us to use our freedom to set others free. Everything He gives us, is for the purpose of building others up, not tearing them down. He blesses us, so that we can be a blessing to others. He saves and rescues us, so that we can share the hope of salvation with others. Our words should give life, not take it. And what we have in our hands should be utilized to build the kingdom of God, instead of our own name.

I believe that we have a golden opportunity here. Right now, we are at a delicate moment in our nation’s history, and it will take the community of faith to navigate us through it successfully. But that means we have to use our freedoms, both God given and given by nature of our citizenship, for good. And we can! We do not have to buy in to what the culture around us is selling – we do not have to keep consuming, we do not have to say whatever we feel in the moment that we feel it, and we do not have to write others off simply because they do not look like us. No, rather, we can, with the help of God, live differently. We can, in fact, redefine what freedom looks like in our 21st century America.

What Does Freedom Mean to You In Light of Our Nation’s Independence?

Today, the U.S. celebrates the 238th anniversary of its independence. As many celebrate with great food, fellowship and fireworks, how many of will stop to reflect on the significance of this day? In our nation, independence signifies freedom from oppressive regimes and ideas in terms of religion, expression, and governance. Soldiers fought long and hard to guarantee the freedom of our nation’s families for generations. And to know that this is what we are appreciating on this day is a wonderful thing because it proves that deep in the veins of our nation’s existence runs a thread of justice and commitment to freedom.

Yet it is odd and incredibly ironic that a nation that has fought so hard for its own freedom, does not easily offer freedom to its own citizens or undocumented residents. In our nation, there are constituencies and communities that are so oppressed that they can barely recognize the principles of freedom that we fought so hard to attain. In our nation, we hold captive the poor, people of color, immigrants, women and a host of others. We put up barriers which deny many of these individuals, the ability to work, to earn a living, to provide for their family, to feel safe, and in the most extreme cases, even to live. Our laws are set up to ostracize those who do not fit into society’s notions of who belongs and who does not belong, thereby preventing a significant portion of our population from succeeding.

How do we get to the bottom of this? How do we eradicate these injustices so that freedom can really thrive in the way that we envision? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Remember: Remember your own history of oppression and suffering, no matter how big or how small it might be. How have you yourself been oppressed? Where have you or a member of your family been denied access to opportunities in employment, housing or education?  Where in the history of your particular ethnicity have members been marginalized, or forced to raise their families in squalid conditions? These questions are important because they help us to realize that none of us is too far removed from experiencing injustice. In remembering what we ourselves, our families and our communities have been through, we should be ever more careful to make sure that we do not perpetrate the same injustices.

2. Understand: Understand that somebody else’s freedom does not threaten your own. Someone else’s job, car, home, education or citizenship does not take from your own ability to obtain and maintain these things. The problem comes when we begin to define our own freedom by how much wealth or goods we can attain, and thereby start robbing others of theirs. But that is not freedom, nor is it good economics. It’s greed! True freedom serves others in love rather than taking from others.

3. Set others free: Freedom is not about what we can obtain, it’s about how we can use our own power to set others free. It is meant to be shared and expressed, so that others can realize the opportunities that we have known. We can begin to set people free in our thoughts. Instead of seeing others as objects, especially those who are not like us culturally or anatomically, we can begin to see them as people. Seeing others as people will help us to realize that they too are worthy of the same love, rights and access to opportunities that we want for ourselves. From our thoughts, we can refine the way that we talk and the way that we walk, so that both our speech and our actions are inviting others into a space of goodness, prosperity and justice for all.

We can especially do this as we act to reform and propose good public policies. So often in our public policy-making, we have made decisions that have favored–intentionally or unintentionally–the needs of white people over those of people of color. As a result, many communities have been cut off from economic opportunities and benefits that others have enjoyed in employment, education, housing, and so much more. But we can change this reality by making better and inviting these underrepresented communities to the decision-making table to voice the needs of their community for themselves.

If we are truly committed to freedom, we must act on these principles. In fact, if we don’t, we will soon discover that inequity negatively impacts everyone. As the income and wealth gap grows wider, those at the bottom tiers of the economic scale are deeply distressed. The economy won’t be able to sustain this imbalance of resources much longer; if the recent economic crisis is any proof, our prioritization of the wealthiest among us is destroying all of us. It’s killing genuine economic stimulation and growth, and leaves us blaming one another instead of creating solutions. Instead of continuing to feed this system, let us all work to create a new system where no one misses out and all, regardless of race, social class or background, are given the opportunity to thrive. That is what true freedom looks like.

Originally published July 2012

Eleven Years Later: Reflections on 9/11

I remember the day as if it were yesterday, okay maybe the day before yesterday. The summer months were drawing to a close, my first semester of school had just begun and for the first time in my life I was out on my own and it was nice. There was nothing inherently special or spectacular about this day to my knowledge, as it began for me just as any other Tuesday would with me fighting the alarm clock and wailing on the snooze button one too many times before finally deciding to get ready for class at the last possible moment.

Like every other Tuesday morning I found myself in my early morning music appreciation class, ironically this class made me appreciate music much less and the thrill of sleep much more. This class was followed by another that was to me even more horrendous than music appreciation: Women’s Chorus. This was a class that I learned to loathe in all of about two seconds of the first day. Our teacher or instructor, if you will, battled with a lot of emotional stress as she and her family continually fought the worsening condition of their father. The amount of stress and trauma that she endured over this particular weekend must have been enough to make her dismiss class almost an hour early, which I was absolutely excited about. Just so that we are on the same page, I want to clarify that I was excited about the early dismissal and not her state of mind.

I made up in my mind that I would go back to my room and go to sleep, but my plans were interrupted the moment I walked out of class. As I walked out, I passed a friend in the hallway that appeared to be trapped in a different universe. When I inquired about the expression on his face, he asked me if I had seen the news at all that morning or if I had listened to the radio at all and of course I had not since I had been in class all morning. After my response, he proceeded to explain to me the disaster that took New York City by storm after planes hit the two most prestigious towers that America or maybe even the world had ever know. As he recalled these events, I must admit that I had absolutely no clue of what the Twin Towers were neither the severity of what had just taken place.

Eventually, I left his company and went back to my dorm where I found dozens of students gathered in front of television sets in the hallways and in their rooms, all disturbed and anguished over what happened. It did not take too long before I got a better understanding of what was all taking place, as I listened to news report after news report retell the tragedy that brought America to her knees in a matter of moments. For the first time in America’s history terrorism became a reality and not just something that happened on foreign soil. This time we were the victims, this time we were the vulnerable ones, this time we were the weak ones!

The tragedy became what some would call a wakeup call as many began to reevaluate their lives and the things that were of most importance. All of a sudden people were going to church that were not going to church before and people were calling on God who had not so much as uttered his name in years outside of taking it in vain. But after the initial shock of it all, those few moments of devotion passed and it seemed like nothing really changed except for national security and our increased knowledge of terrorism, something that I am sure most people never thought of before. Church attendance dropped back to where it was, and the people who were maybe calling on the name of God gradually began to stop and forgot that he was there as they fell back into the routine of their normal lives.

What happened? Why did people back away from pursuing God? Did they wake up one day and feel that the initial threat was over and so believed that they no longer needed his protection much less his provision? I do not think that was the case because since then, the way that we have done things in this land has drastically changed. There is increased security in our airports, our hotels, our banks, our offices and everywhere else to protect the American people from the threat of anyone who seeks her downfall. People are more paranoid today than they were fifteen years ago, and not as a result of homicide but terrorism done at the hands of some radical fighting for a cause. This here shows that the elimination of fear or threat cannot be the thing keeping people from running after God but I then must continue to probe and ask what it is.

I must ask if God failed at some point-did he change or for any moment stop being true? Yet I confidently know that neither of these are true because God is as real and as true today as he was yesterday, last year, last century, and last millennium. Unlike the American economy, his character does not change every time the wind moves. He is not that temperamental two year-old who throws a fit every time he does not get his way. Of all things in this life, he is the only thing that you can count on. Well, you can also count on road construction, paying taxes and death, but you get my point.

I then must also ask if we as Christians have failed to do the gospel justice and represent Christ accurately. A lot of people would assert that this has a lot to do with it, but I am torn. Could we have stepped up our game, stopped compromising our walk, and thus led hundreds to the throne of Christ as a result of the trauma that lay before us? I think that we could have. But at the same time, we should have been doing these things beforehand so that people could see consistency over a span of time, instead of devotion in the heat of the moment. Otherwise what would have separated us from the people who started seeking God for the first time on account of this event, and us, who finally stopped being shady in regards to our relationship with Christ on account of this event. There would be no difference, because just like the person who backed away from Christ after the immediacy of terror subsided, we too, would step away.

I remember the Sunday after all of this happened there was a mass prayer meeting at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. There we prayed, fasted, sang, and called on God for the condition of our country. It was a beautiful sight to see, and God must have thought so too, as we stood there unified across denominational and racial boundaries, calling on the name of Christ together. God’s Spirit filled the stadium that day and it was absolutely wonderful. Yet, I believe that we need the Spirit of God in our country more today than we did on that fateful day of 9/11 as our country continues to die and waste away.

As I speak this, I am preaching to myself as well. I remember after 9/11 up until President Bush declared war on Iraq about eighteen months later, two seemingly unrelated events in my opinion, that I prayed for our country and its leadership intensely. I prayed that God would guide our President’s decisions, I prayed for our country’s peace and prosperity, and I prayed that the people in it would fall on their knees and recognize their great need for God. I do not know what happened to my fervency or my passion for this land over the years, perhaps I have gotten lost in my own needs and concerns. However in my heart I know that if God does not show up here soon we will amount to absolutely nothing.

I think that another piece of the equation is that the priorities of the people in our country, Christians included, have been deeply misplaced. We are so concerned about making our money, clothing ourselves, feeding ourselves, entertaining ourselves, and securing ourselves, that we do not have time to consider this Gospel that is anything but self-centered. This Gospel that Jesus preached is centered on laying down one’s life for the sake of another, and that message just does not easily fit into our consumer focused society. Even in my own life, I recognize how my priorities are not where they should be and that I am more focused on pleasing myself than meeting the needs of others who could really use a new jacket, sweater, or pair of shoes more than I.

Christ’s message, in my opinion, is neither popular inside or outside of the church. Inside of the Church, we barely have begun to grasp the real crux of this salvation message that Christ brings-that Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Salvation we preach, salvation we sing, salvation we proclaim at the top of our lungs, but few people are truly getting saved, and very few lives are truly being transformed. Many would blame it on the rise of postmodernism, which in my opinion is the easy way out. In saying that postmodernism is the reason why people are not coming to Christ, we do not have to take responsibility for our actions and thus place the blame on the changing times, which I am sorry, is a very poor excuse when we know that throughout the ages Christians have faced many more obstacles than we do now. Throughout the ages, people have endured things such as stoning, flogging, crucifixion, exile, excommunication, imprisonment, and yet even in those times, people were coming to Christ by the droves.

More accurately we must realize that in this message of salvation that we preach, we have forgotten about sacrifice, about death, about giving, about denial! We seem to think that just because Christ paid it all there is nothing more for us to do, but we must come to wholeheartedly understand that rejoicing in Christ’s resurrection also means sharing in his suffering, and that loving this life means hating the next, and that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that the things that we hold today we will not necessarily see tomorrow! These are the things that we have forgotten, these are the essentials that we have lost sight of, and because of that we pay a price. My only prayer is that it will not take another tragedy to wake us up to what is most important and that we will listen to God’s voice now before we pay for the consequences of disobedience later.

This story is an excerpt from my newly released book, Dancing on Hot Coals. Available on Amazon in paperback for $12.99 and Kindle for $2.99

My Prayer for Libya

After six months of conflict in Libya, rebel leaders have seized control of Tripoli. Although the fighting is far from over, residents of the country anticipate that Libya will soon be a new country, characterized by freedom in the absence of Gadhafi’s regime. At least this is the hope. 40 years of a harsh dictator has left the people craving for change, renewed leadership, and a prosperous society. The only question is how such will be achieved without persisting in the same direction.

I am cautiously optimistic. I know the potential that this country now has – economic and educational opportunities that were never enjoyed before, a stable government where people are respected and life is valued, and a civil society without the threat of oppression. But I also know history, and history shows that when given the chance, oppressed people often turn around and oppress other people. Rwanda’s history is a prime example of this tragedy. When the Hutu’s came to power after years of being oppressed by the Tutsi’s, they reacted by not only doing them the same, but by committing genocide. Now, Rwanda’s case is the extreme, however, it highlights the human tendency to seek revenge, to ostracize, and to use power as a means of exploiting the other.

This human tendency finds its roots outside of the Garden of Eden. Soon after the fall of humankind, we meet the first person in history to oppress another person. When Cain realized that his brother Abel’s sacrifice was more pleasing to God, he not only turned against him but he killed him, the ultimate expression of oppression. It is safe to say that Cain was motivated by jealously, in that he was jealous of Abel’s sacrifice. More importantly, however, Cain was motivated by fear and was afraid of what Abel’s close relationship with God could mean for him. His answer was to eliminate the competition, not realizing that God gives each and every one of us an opportunity to draw near to him.

I believe that fear is the number one driver of oppression around the world. Like Pharaoh in the biblical book Exodus, we fear being overpowered by people who appear to be mightier than us. We fear the unknown. We fear retribution. We fear God. Out of our fear, we seek to control the situations that we find ourselves in by any means necessary.

My prayer for Tripoli and the entire country of Libya is that their actions in the coming days, weeks and months will not be motivated by fear. I pray that instead, they would be motivated by genuine heartfelt love for their country and for its citizens and that this love would propel them into actions that will stimulate the growth and development of this nation that has a chance at a second start. I pray that individual tribes and people groups would not seek to control one another out of fear of what the other might do to them, but that instead, they would learn to live and work alongside each other. My prayer for Libya is the same as my prayer for the rest of the world, that we would put aside the fear that divides us and embrace the life that unites us at the cross of Christ.

Get your copy of the re-release of Dancing on Hot Coals today

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Tope and I

Our country has a mantra or anthem that we live by, or govern ourselves by which has been bothering me for quite some time – “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It sounds pleasant enough, fantastic really, especially since its purpose was to guarantee the alienable rights of every human being. Its premise is that everyone has been created equally and so everyone deserves the right to these things. It is just too bad that so often our own liberties and our own pursuit after happiness often denies the life, liberty and happiness of another. Allow me to explain:

Another right that we have in this country is that of free speech. We can say whatever we want to say, however we want to say it, to whoever we want to say it. It does not matter who you are or where you are from, our country guarantees you that right. This means that you can exercise your right to tell people that you love them, but it also means that you can do the same and tell people that you hate them, wish them dead, and even get on TV and do it. But doesn’t such hate-filled speech violate the rights of the person that you are targeting? How can they fell free or happy when you come at them with threatening words and accusations?

Or what about our right to carry guns? This is another right that we are guaranteed. It does not matter if you are crazy. It does not matter if you have had previous offenses. All that matters is that you have the freedom and the ability to protect t yourself from other crazies. But most guns are not used as objects of self-defense, they are used as weapons and means to hurt and kill others. Pick up a paper and you will know that this is true. In our pursuit of liberty here we lose a lot of lives.

Or what of our pursuit after happiness. This means that we can pursue after whatever makes us happy. For most people this boils down to family, faith, and wealth, which would make this a pretty worthy pursuit because all of these things are important. However, and here is the caveat, what if in our pursuit after wealth, we make other people unhappy and downright miserable. I am not talking about wealth that provides for your family, enables you to save and empowers you to bless others with, I am talking about the kind of wealth that we take out of the hands of those who are poor, sick and suffering. This happens through our tax code, it happens through our jobs, and it happens through our government. The burden of proof is in the unemployment rate in that the highest rate of people unemployed are blacks and Latinos, many of whom were already poor and struggling to begin with. But the jobs that they once had are needed by the company so that the CEO who bankrupted it can be happy and get their big fat bonus before they walk away. Yet it violates the life, liberty and happiness of the unemployed and their families.

It seems to me that the problem lies not in striving for life, liberty and happiness, but in our striving to the extent of ostracizing and oppressing others so that our own selfish motives might be realized. Yet if we take a careful look at Scripture, we will see that our own gain is not the purpose of our liberties. According to the Apostle Paul our liberty, our freedom sets us free to love and serve one another (Galatians 5). This concept of serving others is quite interesting, especially in our highly individualized culture where service seems to be the last thing on our agenda. However, it also means that the freedom that we so desperately seek is not freedom at all but actually bondage. The Apostle Paul calls it slavery in Romans. We are slaves to ourselves and thereby slaves to sin, and slaves to our lusts. And slaves don’t get to make their own choices, instead their choices are already made for them! Which is incredibly ironic to me since this seems to be the very thing that we are fighting so hard to escape. We don’t want the government to make decisions for us, much less any authority figure. Yet we fail to understand that every time we put ourselves before someone else that the decision has already been made.

I think that it is time that we evaluate not the existence but the application of our nation’s mantra here. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness must be defined in such a way as to encourage every citizen, both young and old, both native and foreign born, to pursue the welfare of others around them. We should be encouraged to make sure that people around us not only have a chance at life, but a life worth living where all of their physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs are met. We should pursue justice for those who are oppressed and relief for those who have been destroyed for one reason or another. We should seek the freedom of those who are slaves to drugs, crime, and poverty so that they have an opportunity to realize the happiness that we all seek.

I realize that this is novel but imagine what would take place if we really did this. Perhaps there would be less war and conflict. Perhaps crime, hunger, poverty, and the rate of those in prison would reduce. Perhaps the polarization of the political parties would minimize to healthy levels of disagreement and misunderstanding. If these things were to be realized we would really, I mean absolutely really come to embrace the life, the liberty and the happiness that we’ve been fighting so hard for.

The Train Station

In effort to say all of the things that I wish to say, that I cannot say on leaving and cleaving, I have crafted a short story. Though it is fictional, it is a representation of some themes present in my life and the new journey of life and love that I find myself on. Enjoy!

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As Maylee waited in the station, counting the minutes and hours that lay ahead, she carefully pondered all that she would be leaving behind. She recalled images of family and friends that unmasked a deep gray past full of pain and broken promises again and again. She remembered a crimson-stained history of concealed secrets that if let out had the potential of exposing individuals but because they were kept inside destroyed her family. Divorce and depression and unforgiveness kept her family ensnared but that was all they knew and all they were ever willing to know so as such they abided not understanding that they too could be free.

They cautioned her, ‘life would be no better where you’re headed’. Though she had never seen it, Maylee knew different. She read in story books of where peace existed, she overheard her neighbors once say that joy could really be attained. Rumors circulated in her town of wholeness and unity and freedom that could exist and that she wanted for herself. Though her family pleaded with her to stay, to reside in dysfunction and hopelessness, she packed her bags and left knowing that a better life awaited her on the other side of the tracks.

She packed all of her belongings and precious memories of childhood and youth. Though not many, she would cherish them and cling to them as one would to rare precious jewels. She carefully wrapped her fragile possessions, placing them in delicate cloths that would promise to last through her journey. When she was certain that everything was in its proper place, she slowly closed her suitcase but as she did scarfs of bitterness caught her eye.

Frightened, she frantically threw open her suitcase and noticed that along with bitterness lay royal garments of anger, hatred, and resentment too! These she did not want, they she would leave behind. Carefully, Maylee removed them from her things and placed them to the side. That’s when pain caught her eye; at first Maylee thought to remove that too, but she realized that she would need it. Not so that it would continue to pierce and destroy her as did the other things but to serve as a reminder of where she did not want to be.

She gathered her suitcase, walking out of her room, and then out of her house for the last time. No one was present to bid her farewell so there were no goodbyes. Although it made her sad that no one had come around, she had to keep moving forward. She walked down the dusty and broken cobblestone road for two miles until she reached her destination, found a seat and sat, waiting for her train to come.

Minutes passed by. Minutes turned into hours, hours turned into days, days into weeks, weeks into months. People came by consistently, jeering and accusing her of being insane but still she sat knowing that one day her train would come. They told her it had been over 20 years since a train pulled into that station but still she was determined to sit. She was determined to sit, she was determined to pray, and she was determined to receive everything that was promised to her.

Finally after months of waiting, Maylee’s train pulled into the station. “Ma’am are you sure this is the train you want”? “Yes, sir”, Maylee responded. “Can you pay the fare”? “Yes, sir” Maylee replied.

Standing for the first time in months, Maylee grabbed her suitcase and walked slowly to the doors. After going up one step, she placed her suitcase down, exhaled and turned around to behold the world that she was leaving one last time. Was this what she truly wanted, was this what she truly deserved? Doubts began to overflood her mind until before long Maylee was drowning in a sea of them. She began to recall all of the things that her family said, and maybe they were right; maybe family and peace and joy liked she longed for didn’t truly exist and were only fit as fairytales for children’s books.

At the moment when Maylee seemed she would be overtaken, she remembered where she was and who she was. At the moment she considered forsaking her destiny, she remembered that she, herself was living proof that it was real. The train was there, wasn’t it? Though people told her that it would not come it was here and she was standing on it!

She did not know what the future held if she stayed on that train but she was for certain what it would mean if she got off. Though unpredictable, the future that lay ahead of her looked much more promising. She would have to work and she would have to roll up her sleeves and fight, but she was beginning to understand that success and happiness did not come easy- only failure and misery did!

“Ma’am, are you ready to leave, the train needs to pull out”? “Yes, sir”, Maylee responded for the last time. She ascended the remaining three stairs, paid her fare and took her seat. And as the train pulled off, Maylee knew that she was finally free.