The first time I heard about the history of slaves in my hometown, we’d lived in South Carolina for two months.
Accompanying my son on his first field trip at his new school, we squeezed together on a small bench among a group of fourth graders gliding on a pontoon boat. Slowly churning through the mouth of green waters looking for alligators sunning themselves along muddy banks of tall grasses, I fanned myself with a take-out menu from the bottom of my purse while we listened to a guide spew facts. What I learned still haunts me.
Men and women shipped unwillingly from their homes in Africa, once worked as slaves in those same waters we toured. Without modern equipment, they cleared vast acreages of forested wetlands with their bare hands for a large scale cultivation of rice. They were forced into unbearable conditions for the profit of wealthy plantation owners. Many lost their lives to poisonous snake bites and the appetites of steely eyed alligators.
Something felt off as I sat comfortably taking in the sights that others gave their lives at such great cost. I’d read history books, I knew the facts, but this was different. My flesh was mingling with the sacredness of history.
Today, I walk down dusty roads, through well-manicured streets, stand at the end of long stretches of stilted plank over water, a slight breeze pushes hair away from my face and I stand motionless, leaning into a hand rail. And breathe.
I can’t help but think that the beautiful riches I take for granted in my hometown are living monuments to the brutal sacrifices of many before me.
I received a profound response to my earlier post this week after I made some vulnerable admissions, things I’d only said out loud to my H. An email from a friend I’ve known for at least twenty years. She said, “I feel like I know you for the first time. Doesn’t that sound crazy? I have known you for so many years but this was letting me into your life in a way that hasn’t been there before.”
Sometimes we think we’re an open book, but we’ve only revealed the introduction and first chapter. Until you allow someone into your suffering and the deep waters of sacrifice, the work of redemption reads like idealism.
Our stories of overcoming adversity and hardship, they are monuments of hope to those around us. Not random circumstances clumped together but an intentional message we carry in our DNA. When we share them, we extend permission for others to say, “Yes, me too.”
Suddenly, a history tale turns into a lesson in compassion, a beacon of hope that breathes beyond our years. And a simple morning walk becomes a sacred pilgrimage of thankfulness.
“And deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome some day, as he will, by God’s grace, by helping the seed of the kingdom grow in ourselves and in each other until finally in all of us it becomes a tree where the birds of the air can come and make their nests in our branches. That is all that matters really.” Frederick Buechner
Beautiful reflections, Shelly. I so love learning more about your story, and about how God has grown you into the amazing woman you are. You’re a gift–I hope you know that.
Little bits at a time. I think when you live your own life, its hard to identify the parts that need to be shared, ya know? Sometimes we take for granted those things that would be a gift to someone else. I’m trying to listen well, and then step out in trust. Thank you Kris, your encouragement is truly one of my every day gifts.
It’s two sides of a coin, isn’t it – sharing from our sufferings and also sharing from our joys and wonder. Because sometimes it takes vulnerability to share from the joys too… and do it in a way that makes someone else see some hope that they will find that joy too, or inspire someone to see something in a new way or to look for the wondrous in the ordinary. I love how God reveals His redemption in light and dark… and always comes back to hope. – Pam, http://wordglow.wordpress.com
You bring up a good point Pam (as usual). I think sometimes sharing our joys can sound like boasting but they need to be shared just as much as the hard stuff. It all matters. Lovely to see you here, I’ve missed you in this place.
I’ve been here most days… just silent I guess… 🙂 Thanks, Shelly. Yes, I have a hard time at times because i don’t want to sound boasting…In those instances, I really want to write in a way that encourages others to think, “He can do that for me too!” – to see themselves in it and not just think it is all about me…
So encouraging and beautiful. I am so thankful for your trusting us, in this holy space, with your words and story, Shelly. (This has been on my heart lately, too.)
This is the place where I can be more myself than almost anywhere Jennifer. The body here has become my soul home. When I meet people in real life that have become friends here, its as if we’ve known each other for years. So sharing my words here has truly become a treasured gift. Thanks for being here Jennifer, glad to know there is a sacred echo for you too.
Thanks for continuing to trust yourself to write your story. As another Southern girl hailing from TN, I was horrified the first time I learned the truth of slavery and the pain of the prejudices held by friends and family against others. It is a story that we have to face and we have to tell our story as it relates to those beliefs. I love Frederick Buechner and the quote you’ve chosen to use here.
Sherrey, those words “trust yourself” hold a lot of meaning there for me. Thank you. Don’t you love Buechner? He is so rich and deep and profound.
Your writing and your voice seem richer daily as you excavate and dig into the soil that is your home, your life, your story. Your heart open wide in the telling is a beautiful thing. As are you friend. As are you.
Thank you Elizabeth, I love knowing you hear the change. I’ve been thinking about you all week, just haven’t been too good about telling you that. Lunch soon?
I agree with Elizabeth. You may not be gardening as much as you once did, but you planted a seed months and months ago that is bearing fruit. To see you finding your place in the story right where you are is such a beautiful thing. This post awakened some heart-wrenching memories of being in places where time has erased the brutality of history. In those places, I was bringing hope, loving others and in some small way, redemption was happening. God was using a little life like mine to do share hope in a world so very scarred with sin and brutally that I cannot really conceive. I look at the world, broken and beautiful, and I am drawing deep to step into the story of hope…if I don’t I will not fulfill my destiny.
Hope is like the the rope on the life raft, pulling us through the currents toward land. I’m glad you are embracing it, even when you can’t see where you are going.
Thankful you are a seer on my behalf. Your encouragement buoys me.
And yours mine. Holding a little tighter to the rope today. Thank you..from my heart.
Your moving story reminded me of a couple of experiences buried deep that I needed to remember. I have visited places at both Goree Island (off the coast of Senegal) and Zanzibar, horrible, haunting places where Africans were held in concrete boxes and holes, in inhumane conditions, before being sold and shipped to America. I think I have not let myself deal with the emotion of being there, of standing in those very places where such brutality happened. Your post reminds me I need to write vignettes for my memoir about those places and my presence there. God bless you for your sensitivity and for sharing your lessons.
Amen Shelly. Thank you for the glimpse into your story. It knew that there was so much there . . . and to speak it brings healing to you and enrichment to others. Thank you for your courage!
Thanks Janie, appreciate your comment. My prayer is that my sharing will be an open the door for healing in those who are ready to receive it.
The sacredness of history – When He is in it – it is sacred – the suffering, the redemption. We need to pass down the old stories and tell the new ones – otherwise our stories are meaningless:) Buechner’s quote is awesome, too! Beautiful, rich post! It blessed me!
THIS is someone I want to sit next to on a trans-Atlantic flight and talk from take off to landing. Not that you’d feel the same way! 😉 But I’m saying I like you. A lot. I like the up close and personal, nekked Shelly 🙂
Oh my goodness, you couldn’t have given me a better compliment. Thank you so much!
There is something really powerful and connecting when we honor and listen to each other’s stories, even those from centuries before. Beautifully written, Shelly.
There are stories that have never been told, buried with their bodies and that makes me sad Jean, it does.
Makes me sad too. Just the way you wrote this Shelly sounds like God is sending you an invitation to share more of those stories. Your comment lingered with me. Perhaps that is one reason we write – to share those stories so often forgotten. To speak for those whose voices are gone and buried. To remember and honor. See you got me thinking this morning.
So right, Shelly. There is something deep that happens between human hearts, when one is open and vulnerable enough to bare their story, post-chapter 1, with another soul. It really is only then that the other feels safe enough to say, “Me too.” A bond is then forged between those two forever.
My interest was instantly piqued when you wrote of the history of slaves in your own town there in Carolina. I have always been interested in learning more about this shameful time in American history. If you want a REALLY good read, I highly recommend “The Book of Negroes” by Lawrence Hill, a Canadian author. Excellent! I have a cherished copy and I’ve read it at least 5 times over.
Thank you for this beautiful writing today. And the gorgeous photos!
Oh, my Aunt Marjorie, also from Canada keeps telling me I need to read that. She loved it too Jillie. Great connecting with you through email today. And I do love you. A lot.
Thanks for that, Shelly. I have a story in Dena’s book that is a secret. I’ve told, like two people the God side of the tale. My dad is buying the book (because of my stupid great review), and I’m petrified. But it is a story of redemption, sort of, and I don’t have many of those. So, please pray.
Oh, which chapter Megan? I haven’t cracked my copy open yet. I’m looking forward to reading it.