Thursday, December 03, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Another story from the road of life

Tonight, Dorothy (Dot) Counts Scoggins told her story at The Well at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church. She recounted her experience of being the first African American girl to integrate one of the high schools here in Charlotte in 1957. Her stint at Harding High School lasted only four days - before her parents decided to withdraw her from the abuse, scorn, spitting, insults, and other forms of abuse she faced. She said that at the end of those terrible four days, she vowed that she would spend the rest of her life working so that no other student would have to go through what she was forced to endure.

The sad truth is that, by many measures, the public schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system are as segregated in 2015 as they were in 1957. Some argue that for most poor students and many students of color, the segregation that begins in the preschool years, the segregation that continues all the way through high school, perpetuates levels of poverty, underperformance, and hopelessness that affect many generations of families and communities.

Dot challenged us to join our neighbors and friends in service to our children, even if we don't have children of our own in the system. She challenged us to not get tired, to not give up, to keep working, as she has done, to mentor and tutor and walk alongside teachers, parents, and students on this exhausting journey towards an educational system that meets the needs of all of its children.

Following her story, we thanked her for her courage as a teenager and for her continued courage as a retired woman who continues to work on behalf of children that are not her own, but that belong to our entire community.

We asked questions.
We offered answers.
We listened to each other.
We challenged each other.
We shook our heads.

And then I prayed.
More accurately, I read a prayer that I had written earlier today.

Just before noon today, Lori Raible, the courageous, strong, beautiful, hopeful woman who invited me to be involved at The Well, asked (via email) if someone on the planning team would be willing to pray at the end of tonight's gathering. I immediately volunteered. She immediately accepted my willingness. Soon thereafter, as I pondered the topic for the evening, Being Tired of Being Tired, I began to pray right there at my kitchen counter. Suddenly, and for the first time ever, I felt the urge to write the prayer down. To type it up. My fingers flew across the keyboard as both the words and my tears flowed.

Because we were nearing the end of our allotted time, when I stood up to pray after Dot's story and our group's discussion, I had to leave out a few lines of the prayer I had written. Here it is in its entirety -

Lord Jesus Christ, Sweet Holy Spirit, God Almighty,
You who are strength in our weakness, 
You who are joy in our sorrow, 
You who are peace in the midst of our violence, 
we are tired tonight. 
We are tired of segregated and unequal schools for our beloved children.
We are tired of prejudice.
We are tired of poverty and homelessness.
We are tired of the shootings. 
Tired of the brutality.
We are tired of blame and scapegoating.
We are tired of fear-mongering and hate-mongering.
We are tired of loneliness, sorrow, pain, despair, and death.
We are tired of marching and protesting and pleading for fairness and justice.
We are tired of shrugging our shoulders and shaking our heads about all of this.
We are tired of having to fight the same battles over and over and over.
We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

But we know that you are our strength when we are tired.
We know that you are our healer when we are sick.
We know that you are with us in the valley of the shadow of death, 
in fire, in flood, and even at the end of our lives 
because you promised that you would be with us always.
We know that your joy is our strength.
We know that you are living water to quench our thirsty and tired souls
We know that you are light in the darkness,
that you are our peace,
that you are our righteousness,
that you are our provider.
We know that you came to bring us life, abundant life, 
even in the face of death, danger, violence, and sorrow.
Thank you, Lord, for always keeping your promises. 
Thank you for always being with us - even in the worst of times.

Tonight, Lord, we ask you for peace that passes all understanding, 
for courage to speak up and stand up against all that displeases you,
all that destroys what you have created,
and all that breaks the hearts and crushes the spirits 
of the beautiful, broken, hurting, needy people
that you came to love, serve, heal, and save. 

We ask that you give us the right words to say, fervent prayers to pray, and effective actions to complete that will reveal to the world the kingdom that you said is near us, among us and within us. 
We ask that you will help us become people of courage, love, and peace in a world characterized by fear, hatred and violence.
We ask that you transform us by the stories we have heard and the challenges we have been given this evening.

We ask that you take us from this place energized, strengthened and encouraged in new ways 
to serve our communities and each other in ways that honor you 
and help to heal the world around us.
Lord, please fill us anew with boundless hope, unspeakable joy, and deep love.
Please fill us from the well, the bottomless well of all that you are.

We ask that you empower us now with the words of the prayer you gave us when you taught us to pray, saying, "Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." 

Tonight I am thankful for the community of people that gather at The Well.
Our world, our nation, our city - we are thirsty.
We need living water.
I am thankful for this group of people seeking to both receive and share the water of life.
I am thankful for the stories we tell and the stories we hear.
I am thankful for people like Dot and Lori and Joanne and Sandra and Mary and Anthony and Toni and Doriel and Erin and Kate and so many others who are walking this difficult road, who are tired of fighting the same battles over and over, but whose hope has not yet been lost.
I am thankful for their courage and their willingness to speak difficult truths to people who don't want to hear those truths.
I am thankful for the example they set for me to keep speaking difficult truths in settings where some prefer for me to sit in silence.
I am thankful for every opportunity to listen and learn - and also for every chance to speak and pray.

I am thankful for the God who has drawn us together and sends us out into this hurting world.

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