A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. ~ Matthew 7:18-20
I ruminated on Youngin’s words and actions for perhaps a month after her departure. I thought about the two sit-down conversations I had initiated to clarify expectations and understandings for both of us during her four weeks in my home. After our second sit-down, I couldn’t stop thinking how much she is like her grandmother, who is the hateful aunt from my youth. Fortunately for me, I remember my lessons well. I learned how to deal with my aunt by marriage as a child. I remember how she claimed to be such a good friend of my mother’s (their husbands were brothers). I remember how my mother saw her as a friend and sister. Yet when I saw that “aunt” for the first time in a decade months after my mother died, all she did was desecrate my mother’s memory, her beauty and her marriage. Before I completely lost my cool, I reminded her that my mother loved her like a sister and had never spoke an ill word against her – even when she spoke ill to me. As I got up to leave, I said, “I’m not going to sit here and listen to you disrespect my mother whom I just buried.” I may have made reference to her own abusive marriage and how she was projecting her flaws onto my mother. In fact, I’m sure I did. She called me out my name and it was pretty much about to go down from there. Lucky for her, her sister stepped in and kicked me out.
My grief over losing my mother had weakened and overwhelmed me to the point that I had foolishly accepted an invitation from Big Cuz to move to Arizona to be close to her family for emotional support. Big Cuz had come to Milwaukee, where I lived at the time, in an effort to provide moral support. She couldn’t handle the cold and couldn’t manage life without her super large extended family in close proximity. Her effort for me made me want to make an effort for her. So I packed up and moved across the country ill-prepared. With the intention of depending on people who had only ever been destructive towards me.
In hindsight, I see the aunt’s attack as a targeted attack. I was already doing well in life… for my roots. I was twenty-one with no children, was working on my bachelor’s degree and supporting myself as an assistant restaurant manager. That wasn’t supposed to be my life. I was the no-good, too-black, too-ugly, too-skinny, too-stupid, can’t-talk-right niece that would never amount to anything. Nothing like her perfect, light skinned, beautiful, well-formed, super smart daughter, Big Cuz, who had dropped out of high school and had two kids by this time, no steady employment and was only focused on men, drinking and the next party.
Without any spiritual understanding at the time, this aunt provided my first spiritual lesson on the power of our words. As a teen I would reference her as a person who only spoke evil into me, yet every word she spoke against me manifested in her daughter’s life. That’s probably the main reason I have compassion for my cousin. Big Cuz has lived her mother’s words, self-hatred, and repression all her life and perhaps remain unaware of how profoundly she’s been impacted by her mother’s bitterness. This is also why I do my best not to speak ill of anyone. I have no desire for my words to ricochet off of them and enter the generations that birth from me. The one thing I have been the most purposeful about has been breaking the chains of bondage, or generational curses, attached to my bloodline and life. There are things that occur in families that people assume are natural or just the way things are. I’ve looked at thought patterns, actions and behaviors within my family networks and sourced them to symptoms, root causes and conditioning.
Everything begins with the way we think. Yet it is not practical to attack other people’s thoughts. However, we can confront and attack our own way of thinking. In that way we can prune our own lives at the root. Our thinking projects our reality and from that we perceive what is possible for us in our lives. We can cultivate fantastic lives just by cultivating our thoughts.
We can hold our thoughts up to a greater truth. For me today, that Truth is the Word of God. In my youth, that truth was what I thought of myself – or who I knew myself to be.
The way I began changing my life was by holding the painful destructive things up to who I know I am and who I saw myself becoming. If someone’s words about me did not align with what I knew to be true about me, I rejected it. When I began to study the Bible in my thirties, I dove deeper and began pulling up things festering under the surface of self. The things I pulled up where held up to the light and sat next to the things the Word of God said about me. Everything I pulled from the darkness inside me burned up in the light. There was no substance to it. No truth. The footholds began to fall away from my life.
On the surface, the interactions I had with Youngin’ may appear to be small and inconsequential, however, the test is always in the spirit.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. ~ Ephesians 6:12-13
What I know to be true of myself and where I was in the moment Youngin’ arrived on my doorstep, was a downward spiral of deepening apathy. I was over everything. Nothing held any interest for me. I was tired of living alone and tired of being alone. Completely exhausted and discouraged with my solitary existence. Yet I was channeling all my remaining energy into changing my whole life so I could be better positioned to receive a partner and a family. Life transformation is a slow moving wheel. My accumulated disappointments fermented into depression. I had stopped nurturing my job. I no longer enjoyed my home in New York City. Traveling, the longest most constant love of my life, had become a boring chore. How did that happen? Everything that had been a source of passion and excitement in my life had dried up. My thinking began to change. I can’t pinpoint any particular thought moment, but going to church was no longer a priority. Listening to sermons I missed no longer interested me. I stopped checking on the people who stopped checking on me. I stopped caring about things I had no control over or was not impacted by. I didn’t want to want anything. Life had become a big blah and I felt like a wisp floating on the wind waiting to land in my final resting spot. Can’t I be done now, Father? I’m so over all of this.
Then a 22 year old relative catapulted into my life and sparked all the dormant instincts and urges I had come to believe would disappear from the earth with no one benefiting from them. The most prominent was my need to love. Instantly, even as I protested the no-warning drop-in, I thanked God for finally sending me someone to love. I had been telling Him for years that I would welcome whomever He sent to my door. The table He provided for me would be their table. That prayer began in 2013 when I bought my apartment and purchased the largest dining table I could fit in the space with very comfortable seating. At the time, my prayer was for a husband and Bible study group to share the space with. A few years later, a disrespectful young relative showed up. I was ready to embrace her flaws and all. I was willing to wrestle with her and nurture her into the light.
Until I noticed how she was actually inching me further away from the bit of light I was clinging to. Oddly, one of her regular complaints about me was that I kept challenging her. An interesting word choice since she was the adversary in my home opposing my life. Perhaps what she really wanted to know was, “Why was I resisting her?”
During our first sit-down conversation to discuss expectations and understanding, I decided I had to be vocal about the love I have for myself, my God and the work He has performed in my life. I had to actively protect my blessings and declare them off limits for encroachment. From the seat of my truth, I could see how Youngin’ was running from wisdom and the Word when she avoided me and attacked my character. It was clear she was not interested in building or having a relationship with me. She vehemently and viciously took advantage of, then rejected, me, my love, my hospitality and my lifestyle.
This realization did not hurt. The act of dealing with Youngin’ shocked me into revival. But when confronted with her departure, my shoulders gently shrugged upwards and eased down again. I let go – mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Trying to hold on to her while she was holding on to everything I’ve already let go of, would’ve kept all that baggage in my life. I’ve come too far to turn back now. I will not risk my true life for someone who doesn’t know enough to recognize love when she’s sitting in the midst of it.
Youngin’, like her grandmother, was one of the best and most effective haters in my life. The lessons they provided on the nature of people and the spirit in the world are not things that can be fully appreciated via Bible text. They are best received as on-the-job-training. For being such excellent trainers throughout my spiritual journey, I remain grateful to them both.