Does this ever happen to you: You’re confidently traveling down some path–maybe one you’ve envisioned or planned for days or years–and you suddenly discover that the destination is not what you expected? I get that wake-up call almost every Sunday. All I know, for sure, is that I’m going to write a blog post; but I rarely know the topic when I sit at the computer. Most times, I write hundreds of words before Spirit directs me to go in a completely different direction. It’s as if the movement of my fingers on the keyboard stimulate my muses.

Today was going to be different. I’ve known my topic since mid-week, when I received a powerful message from my friend Melvin in Germany. I could hardly wait to share it. Then yesterday, everything changed: I read a story in N’Digo, Chicago’s “magapaper for the urbane,” by award-winning author, journalist, attorney and University of Illinois Associate Professor Christopher Benson. It began:

Just about two years ago, my mother died.

Just about two weeks ago, she called to let me know that she was going jogging.

Huh? How’d she do that?

Benson quickly explained in his story that his mother had a back-from-death experience two years ago, after a serious fall. He reflected on how precious each additional moment is now, and how much his mother impacted his many successful professional careers. Benson traced those successes back to his mother’s response to what he, at age nine, considered to be an impossible class assignment. He had to write an essay on why his dad should be named “Father of the Year.”

“I didn’t have a father. He wasn’t there,” Benson wrote. “I had never known him.” What was he going to do?

His mother’s response reshaped Benson’s self-image and his view of life. She challenged him to write about his mother–the greatest father any child could ever have:

“She also wanted me to know deep down inside that, yes, I was different. But my difference was not something to be ashamed of. My difference was not something to be shunned. Indeed, my difference was something to be proud of, to celebrate in ways that would cause others to celebrate with me.

“In my difference, there was value. There was something I could use to help other people come to understand things they never really had considered before. I was different. Yes. But I was just as good, just as talented, just as worthy as anybody else.”

In the process of meeting his mother’s challenge, Benson and his teachers made a life-altering discovery: This child had a gift; he was a talented writer. From that point on, he decided, the circumstances of his birth would not define or limit him.

Conventional wisdom says that we do not choose our families, just our friends. Spiritual wisdom, which is not rooted in or bound by the limitations of earthly thought, espouses something different and more evolutionary:

  • Spiritually, we existed before the mortal body was created and will continue to exist after it decomposes.
  • We chose to be here at this time and in this place.
  • We had a purpose for coming–a purpose that is revealed to us when we ask, Spirit to Spirit; a purpose that will be supported, Spirit to Spirit.
  • Each actor on our stage, even those we choose (and who agree) to be our parents, are perfect for our purpose-filled script of this physical experience. If someone is missing from the script, it’s because we intentionally didn’t include him or her. A father or a mother, siblings, spouses, children would have been perfect for another story, but not for this one.
  • Even murder mysteries and horror stories have some entertainment value.

Everyone’s experience with their mothers doesn’t end up in a glowing tribute on the pages of a newspaper, like Benson’s. Every character who gives birth is not a nurturer. Some provide horrific stories of abandonment, neglect, abuse, torture, unloving and unsupportive behavior. And, while every stepmother isn’t a wicked witch, some are.

The childhood of recently retired Chicago broadcasting legend Merri Dee comes to mind. Merri was a toddler when her mother left this life. Her father then married a woman who was a storybook-cruel stepmother. Within a few years, he became ill and was unable to reign in this woman who was terrorizing his baby girl. Soon, he also left his body behind, leaving Merri in her care.

Merri recalls the stepmother severely punishing her for minor infractions. She stripped Merri of the family name, forbade contact with her siblings and other relatives, and forced her to fend for herself at the age of 14. Merri was not the least bit intimidated. No matter how much the woman beat her, Merri said that she refused to cry.

Her stepmother’s fury over her fearlessness, stubbornness and strength translated into even more cruelty. One day, the woman hung Merri out of their apartment window, head-first, until a neighbor spotted her and threatened to call police.

Years later, the plot for Merri’s life story revealed that her childhood was a dress rehearsal for the most critical act of her life: After working, continuing her education, marrying, giving birth to a daughter, and divorcing, Merri landed a job in sales for a multinational corporation. At the urging of a friend, she enrolled in broadcasting school, and became one of the great voices on Chicago radio. Because she had good looks to go with that voice, she soon became a local television talk show host.

One night, Merri and her talk show guest were kidnapped after the show, blindfolded, taken into the woods, shot in the head and abandoned. Her guest died; Merri didn’t. Mustering every ounce of strength in her body, just as she had as a child, she crawled through the thicket to a highway and summoned help.

Merri’s broadcasting career continued for three more decades, until she decided to pursue other interests last fall. Throughout that career, she raised more than $31 million for children’s causes through a variety of organizations, including the McCormick Tribune Foundation and the United Negro College Fund. She has raised even more spirits with her wise and gentle counseling and role modeling. Though she’s not nearly old enough to be my mother, she often watches over me and so many others, as if she was our Mom. (Thanks for sharing her, Toya.)

Once, while watching her bravely overcome yet another hurdle, and knowing that she didn’t have the benefit of a nurturing childhood as so many of us did, I asked her, “Where does all that strength and all that wisdom come from, given the upbringing you had?”

“From within,” she said, flashing that trademark Merri Dee smile.

Her lesson: Our source of self-worth or truth, financial supply or encouragement is not outside of us; the Invisible Spirit that is God is within. Everything we need is within.

If we could only remember that when stuff is hitting the fan and we have to respond quickly and instinctively. That’s the challenge, especially when we’re distracted–no, mesmerized–by all the drama on the world’s stage. If we look at our childhoods and adulthoods from that vantage point, the props and the actors seem real. We are more apt to react and judge people and their behavior as “good” or “bad.” When we judge them as “bad,” we close our eyes to the benefits that we asked them to deliver to us. That certainly includes our mothers and those who have played the mother role in our lives.

Is it implausible that we are Invisible Spirit, and we asked a soul wearing a specific body if she would be the vessel through which we, too, could experience physical life on planet Earth?

Is it implausible that the circumstances and challenges that surrounded our birth, adolescence and adulthood followed the script we wrote to help us practice, practice, practice bringing Light into the darkness, and respond in a more Christlike way to those who hide their Light under a bushel, a barrel or a big head?

Are you open to the possibility that there’s a greater plan for your life than your brain is aware of? Can you even imagine that you helped to create that plan–or does it make more sense that you are not here by choice, but by biology?

In the balcony of the Home-Church, there are no right or wrong answers. This is safe space. No one’s telling you what to think, what to say or what to believe. Here, we share our thoughts and exchange ideas. I certainly hope you’ll share yours.

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