Dysfunctional families love to have their black sheep ~ the scapegoat ~ someone who is sacrificed to the wolf to protect the flock from its own internal shizza. Oprah was on last week, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I had the television on so I wouldn’t miss the latest news about the debt crisis.
My head spun around, however, when Oprah said: “There’s no such thing as a black sheep in a family.” She went on to explain that a black sheep is in reality the person who is the most sensitive ~ the person who reflects back the myriad aspects of a family’s dysfunction ~ the pictures they don’t want to see. It disrupts their denial like a rock tossed into a narcissist’s reflecting pond.
My head just about exploded because my family loves to anoint black sheep. My “father” had quite a reputation for his ability to breed sheep of championship quality. The sheep in the painting by my Aunt Mildred (above) are his sheep which were boarded at my grandfather’s farm.
A week ago today I had a mind-blowing conversation with a cousin. I had called her to express condolences for the death of her sister ~ my only relative who lived here in Washington State. I discovered during the phone call that her sister had told some whoppers to the folks back home to justify her self-righteous decision to kick me to the curb.
She was full of righteous indignation and positive she knew my character and motivations intimately ~ better than the experts and people who see me on a weekly basis ~ despite the fact that we weren’t close as kids and have rarely seen each other since we both got married in May, 1969. The crux of her venomous attack was that she doesn’t want to accept the fact that I am disabled. It was abundantly clear that my posts after my mother threw me under the bus hit a nerve. She inadvertently shared information about my mother’s financial position that revealed more family whoppers. I’m always astonished when millionaire martyrs cry “poor me.”
The Miracle of Synchronicity
Although this vicious attack hurt like hell, it didn’t derail me like previous verbal abuse because I had just finished reading Rosa Parks’ Quiet Strength about how her faith sustained her during the Montgomery bus boycott. Ironically, I read the book cover-to-cover during a bus ride to Mike and Kathy’s bar-b-que.
I chose Quiet Strength from my massive TBR pile because it was small. I didn’t start to comprehend the synchronicity until I looked up and noticed the bus driver was Black. I had bought the book years ago because my friend Ricci’s grandson was born in Detroit about the same time Rosa Parks’ passed. I didn’t realize Mrs. Parks had worked for one of the few people in Congress who still has integrity: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). I had the privilege of meeting him when I went on my own first protest to Washington, D.C. on a bus full of Black people from Chicago’s Rainbow Coalition. We were protesting President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Sometimes a book seems to glow ~ like a guardian angel is guiding me ~ because I need at that precise moment to read what the author has to say. When I selected Mrs. Parks’ book, I had no clue I would soon need her Quiet Strength.
I am always troubled whenever I see injustice.
We are all God’s children.
– Rosa Parks, Quiet Strength
Lessons from Quiet Strength by Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks wasn’t the only Black person who was sick and tired of racial discrimination. The NAACP had been looking for a long time for a test case to take to the U.S. Supreme Court. They chose Mrs. Parks’ arrest because she was above reproach. Why? The rich and powerful will dig up dirt on anyone who challenges them to divert attention away from the injustices they have committed.
She refused to give up her seat because she was tired of being humiliated over something she couldn’t control: the color of her skin. Yet, we all know we need to pick our battles carefully. I suck at this, and my timing and choice of allies frequently sabotages my ability to be effective. In Quiet Strength Mrs. Parks gives great advice:
I had to find my way through a maze of choices and options. But I refused to go along with the unfair rules. . .I have never allowed myself to be treated as a second-class citizen. You must respect yourself. . .
Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it. The more we gave in, the worse they treated us. . .
Love, not fear must be our guide. . .
No one can effectively fight for justice alone.
– Rosa Parks, Quiet Strength
Quiet Strength Yields Resilience
When someone rips us to shreds unjustly, it can be very difficult to respond with love. Why? We’ve just been told we are unworthy ~ in that person’s opinion ~ of unconditional love ~ God’s love. In this tumultuous sea, it can take us awhile to drop our anchor of faith in God and in ourselves.
My relationship with my cousin was irretrievably broken last Monday. And, it was clear that the support I thought I’d had all my life from her older sister was a myth ~ a fantasy I conjured up based on a sixty year old photo because I was so desperate for protection from the neglect and abuse that everyone witnessed but nobody stopped.
I needed a new anchor. I needed to know if I had support from anyone in my huge gang of relatives.
When Rosa Parks was arrested, she recalled in Quiet Strength that the other Black folks on the bus scattered. Nobody called her husband to let him know what happened. I know this horrendous feeling of abandonment well. I’m sure many of you do too. Yet, I reminded myself that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assembled a posse of 50,000 people who ultimately joined in the bus boycott.
I don’t know where I found the courage, but I called my godmother. She acknowledged ~ like a good Enlightened Witness ~ that my family of origin is hugely dysfunctional. Then, I called another cousin who is just months older than I am. We haven’t spoken since my “father’s” memorial service six years ago. But, he was there for me. He gave me the unconditional love and validation that I needed from someone who is related to me by blood. I will never forget his sensitivity, compassion, and generosity.
Once again, I was reminded of a Biblical passage (John 1:11-13) that the judge’s cleaning lady pointed out to me in 1992. She suggested I try to form a spiritual family to replace my dysfunctional family of origin. I share it with you today in the hope that it will comfort you as it always does me. We are all God’s children:
Jesus came to that which was His own, but His own people did not accept Him.
Only a few welcomed and received Him.
All who trusted and believed in Him were given the right to become
children of God ~
children born not of natural descent, nor of human passion or plan,
but reborn from the will of God.