It wasn’t easy.

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Image via Variety.com

About a month ago, I gave my students the assignment of embodying a character from a work of literature and giving voice to said character in their own words. Basically, they were to choose a character’s monologue, and where that character stopped, my students were to continue.

My prized pupils, who are always keeping me on my toes (and pins and needles, and the occasional over-the-counter medication), asked for an example of the assignment in order to better understand what it was I required of them. After mulling over their rather annoying astute request, I obliged, sharing with them the results of my hours-long homework the following week.

The character that I chose to embody was Papa from William P. Young’s novel, The Shack. “Papa” is the pet name that the book’s protagonist, Mackenzie “Mac” Phillips, and his family have for God. So, essentially, I chose to play God, which didn’t surprise my ego in the least. Add to that the fact that Young made his version of God female and black, well, it’s like 1 + 1 = duh.

Mac’s story is one of lasting trauma, devastating heartbreak, and ultimate redemption. But for the sake of not spoiling his and his family’s story for you and – more aptly – for my own convenience, I suggest you read the book to learn more. Or, you can skip the book, like I did, and conveniently go straight to the movie. The following dialogue is from a scene featuring Papa and Mac wherein I lifted the inspiration for my self-/student-assigned homework.

Papa: I’m not who you think I am.

Mac: He said it himself: ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’

Papa: No, Mac, you misunderstand the mystery.

[Papa places her hand in Mac’s hand, revealing to him a hole-shaped scar in her wrist]

Papa: Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us both dearly. Love always leaves a mark. We were there together; I never left him, I never left you, I never left Missy.

Now, here’s me as Papa.

Every tear you cry, I cry. Every heartbreak you suffer, I suffer. I am not only all-knowing and all-powerful, I am also all-feeling. I feel everything you feel, to the same degree that you feel it. You were created in my image, therefore I am one with you. Not only will I never leave you, I cannot ever leave you. I will never forsake you because I cannot forsake myself. We are inseparable. We are one. We are in this thing, called ‘life,’ together.

You, however, may forget that you are one with me. There may be times in life when you feel you are all alone, when you feel that nobody understands what it is that you are going through. But it is in these times that you must remember that no matter how lonely you may feel, you are never alone. I am with you, always. I am your friend and your confidant when all of your friends have gone. I am your mama and your papa when you feel orphaned and without a home.

When the shadow of doubt creeps into your mind and heart, remember, I am here. When your back is against the wall and it looks like there’s no way out, remember, I am here. When you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of tears and fears, remember, I am here. I am your light in the darkness. I am your exit in the maze. I am your rescuer in troublesome times. I am that I am.

Wooh (!), that was heavy. However, I didn’t really feel the weight of these words until I rediscovered them yesterday as I was clearing my desk. Candidly, but not too candidly, this past week was an extremely rough one for me – teenaged students not included – and these words, my words, came right back to me right. on. time.

Alas, as with all things, the events and emotions of the past week, too, shall pass. And with this personal reminder of my Papa’s assurance that He is always with me, especially in my roughest times, I know that I, too, shall pass and ace my God-/self-assigned work.

Amen.

2014-2017 Copyright Stephanie Rochelle Redd. All Rights Reserved.

 

April showers.

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I am not, what you would call, a fan of the rain. In fact, I damn-near hate the rain. And getting caught in its slippery grasp, with or without a pina colada, is not a whole lot of fun to me.

Since moving to Maui a year and a half ago, I’ve had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at what makes the Valley Isle one of the most beloved vacation spots in the world. In addition to the sunshine and the Aloha spirit, the other (underlying) factor that draws so many to Maui’s shores is, indeed, the rain.

There would be no lush, green mountains without the rain. There would be no beautiful flora without the rain. There would be no rainforests or rainbows without the rain–literally. Ultimately, there would be no Maui – or Hawai’i, for that matter – without the rain. So, how can I, in good conscience, damn-near hate something that actually yields something else that I hold so dearly?

Good question. In fact, that question is so good that it begs another:

How can I damn-near hate (or actually hate) an experience (or an actual person) that has – some way, somehow – actually led me to loving the life that I lead right now?

Damn, now that’s a good question. And now, for a damn-good answer:

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Back in the day, though, I used to think that I could juggle my hatred for one thing (or person) with my love for something (or someone) else. But now I see I wasn’t juggling my feelings as much as I was joking and fooling myself into thinking that my hate could drive out hate. But as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so wisely surmised sometime ago, “only [my] love can do that”.

Consequently, in the midst of this universal time of cleaning and cleansing, I am not only ridding myself of things that no longer serve me, I am also loving away the (real and imagined) hateful experiences that I’ve encountered in my (distant and recent) past to make ample room for the lovely life that I am living today.

Therefore…

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2014-2017 Copyright Stephanie Rochelle Redd. All Rights Reserved.

Hiking Haleakalā: A Non-Hiker’s Tale

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October 1, 2013, is a day noted in United States history as the first day of the country’s third-longest government shutdown. This date is also noted in my personal history as the day that I first attempted to visit Haleakalā National Park on Maui, Hawai’i. Leading up to that day, I stopped listening to, watching and reading the news in an effort to safeguard myself against the massive amount of negativity that many news outlets report day in and day out. This strategy, though noble to me then, proved to be naïve later when, on that fateful day, I was being instructed by a park ranger to turn my ride right around and make the long trek back down the volcano. Yes, even U.S. national parks, like awe-inspiring Haleakalā, fell victim to the uninspiring government shutdown.

In March 2015, I tried, a second time, to visit “The House of the Sun.” Before making this attempt, however, I made sure to scan the news to check whether the House, Senate and other branches of the federal government were fully functioning. Thankfully, for my and the rest of the country’s benefit, they were. And so, with a governmental green light and a car full of newly-formed friends, I was able to actualize the goal I originally attempted almost two years earlier of visiting Haleakalā. After my delightful and rather short sojourn atop the volcano, I delighted in knowing that this Maui ‘must-do’ was done and could be successfully checked off my bucket list, never needing to be attempted and/or actualized by me again.

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Stephanie at Haleakala National Park, circa March 2015.

So, how did I end up hiking 17 miles down, through and up Haleakalā’s crater on March 12, 2017? The answer: Love, mixed in with a little nobleness and a lot of naiveté. Nonetheless, I had several allies to guide me through this inordinate ordeal in the form of: a full moon, a blanket of stars, a blazing sun, and a trio of experienced and comparatively cheery hikers, Kunta, Nick and Cissy. Our journey began at Hosmer’s Grove, located within the park, where my hiking party and I camped the night prior. With the sounding of our 1:30am alarms, we set out for Haleakala’s summit to begin our exploration of one of the world’s largest dormant volcanoes.

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Honestly, having never really hiked before, I had no general idea what to expect or what was expected of me. I didn’t even know how long the hike would be; granted, I actually didn’t want to know. “Ignorance is bliss,” right? The only thing that I was not ignorant of, going into this feat, was that I would be hungry. Fortunately for me, Nick’s and my great, hungry minds think alike. During our hike, he basically toted a college-sized refrigerator’s worth of snacks, like fresh broccoli and lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, blocks of cheese and quesadillas. That’s right, quesadillas.

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In addition to Nick’s bounty, there were other memorable moments on our hike, such as chatting about our lives’ twists and turns while navigating the twists and turns of Sliding Sands, watching the moon set only to watch the sun rise on a field of rare Silversword plants, and traversing a lava tube that makes Batman’s Batcave look like a joke.

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Despite the warm camaraderie and Haleakalā’s general splendor, there were definitely some tough paths to plow along the way. There were times when my ankles buckled and my legs felt like lead. And there were times when I seriously questioned my decision-making abilities and overall sanity for agreeing to do the hike in the first place.

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In retrospect, though, I’m glad I did it. Love, food and friendship can take you a long way–they took me 17 beautiful, challenging, scary, seemingly-impossible, glorious miles.

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Stephanie at Haleakala National Park, circa March 2017.

Copyright © 2014-2017 Stephanie Rochelle Redd. All rights reserved.

I go to the rock.

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“Where do I go when there’s nobody else to turn to?

Who do I talk to when nobody wants to listen?

Who do I lean on when there’s no foundation stable?”

  • “I Go To The Rock” by Dottie Rambo

 

“Who is your rock, and why do you feel that way about them?”

I posed this question to a little over four dozen 14- to 16-year-olds last week. Immediately, I saw their pubescent faces crinkle with agitation–a response that I’ve grown quite accustomed to receiving from 14- to 16-year-olds.

“What you do mean by ‘rock’?” they seemed to ask in unison.

“What I mean is,” I started slowly, “when things are topsy-turvy in your world, who do you turn to to help you straighten things out? Who lifts you up when you’re down? Who gives you the answers to your most burning questions?”

“Who is your rock?” one snarky inquiring mind wanted to know.

“God,” I said flatly. “God is my rock.”

A few days prior to asking the question of these adolescents, I stumbled upon Whitney Houston’s rendition of the Dottie Rambo classic, “I Go To the Rock,” and answered the question for myself. I clapped, stomped and sang myself silly. And then I clicked “replay” and did it all over again.

As I sat, soaked in my righteous reverie, I reminisced on a time when I would have assigned the position of “my rock” to a person–whether that person was a friend, a lover, a parent, a teacher or, even, me. I, like many 14- to 16-year-olds, can recall when I thought that I was my rock all by my damn self.

And at the age of 33, I do believe that my body is a temple in which God, the Solid Rock, dwells as me. But not as the feeble, fearful, ego-driven me; but the strong, loving, forgiving me.

The me who is connected to all through my All in All.

The me who is who she is because I Am That I Am.

The me who = HE.

Indeed, “when I need a shelter, when I need a friend, I go [inward] to the rock.” Amen.

Copyright © 2014-2017 Stephanie Rochelle Redd. All rights reserved.

Rock bottom is a good place to bounce back.

Image via ParkDrivePictures.com

On this day one year ago, I had $0.46 in my bank account.

I was riding the bus, crying silently but steadily behind my shades, staring out of an oversized window, hoping that none of the other passengers would notice the constant sweeping motions my hands made over my dampened cheeks.

It was early in the morning, still dark with specs of daylight peaking here and there. I was coming from work, although I had not been working. I had been sleeping–sleeping on a couch at work. I was homeless and sleepless (despite the relative comfort of my workplace’s couch), and I was desperate.

I was at rock bottom.

My dream of living on Maui appeared before me like a nightmare–like a cruel joke that had been planned, ever so deliberately, at my naïve expense. It seemed like everything that I depended on up until that point had gone up like a cloud of Maui-sugarcane-factory smoke.

No money, at least, not enough to withdraw from an ATM.
No place to live continuously.
No chutzpah to live courageously.

Yet, what I lacked in overall chutzpah I made up for in deep-down pride.

As my parents’ only child, the darling spoiled apple of their eye, I know I could’ve called them for help at any time during my monstrous ordeal. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they would’ve done whatever it took to free their princess from my monster’s grip.

But, you see, it was my monster–my monster to fight, my monster from which only I could truly set myself free.

So, I sat there on that bus and stared out of that window and cried. And then I cried some more. And then I cried some more. And finally, between my sniveling and sniffles, I began to fight.

As the title of one of Joyce Meyer’s bestselling books attests, the real battlefield of any fight is in the mind. And on that day, on that bus, staring out of that window, I made up in my mind that no devil in hell, no monster on Maui (or in my mind), not even a measly $0.46 in my bank account was going to keep me from living my dream.

One year later, as I live and breathe and write this post, I am sitting in my home of Maui, staring out over a balcony ledge at a bustling Wailuku city center at noonday with Haleakala peacefully poised beyond that, and, again, I am shedding silent and steady tears. But this time, I don’t care who sees me cry.

These are triumphant tears.
These are thankful tears.
These are kicking-monsters’-asses-and-taking-names tears.

While July 4th is a day that symbolizes freedom for some, January 4th is a day that will now and forevermore symbolize freedom for me.

Amen. Ashe. And so it is.

Copyright © 2014-2017 Stephanie Rochelle Redd. All rights reserved.

I’m watching When Harry Met Sally…

…drinking lemon ginger tea,
ordering Egyptian Licorice tea online,
eating homemade (not to be confused with Stephanie-made) chocolate chip cookies,
wearing headphones (with no sound) to keep my ears warm and reduce the sound of surrounding chatter and my neighbors’ fervent firework-fixation,
and caressing a Lapis Lazuli crystal and a rock engraved with the word “Believe,” which happens to be my word for 2017 (more on that in future posts).

Please don’t misunderstand, I am ‘ringing’ in the new year…in my own romantic, soothing, introverted way. Cheers to you (((raises tea cup))) and however you choose to meet and greet 2017. Hear, hear–here it comes…

 

2017
Image via ArmstrongEconomics.com