Why Your “Mother” May Not Know Best!

In Tangled, the 21st century version of the age-old fairy tale about Rapunzel–a princess stolen from her parents and locked away in a tower by an evil witch for the first 18 years of her life–the significance of her captivity is that she is less bound by the high tower and concrete walls than by her own mind.

Why?

Because the witch in this story does not wear a black robe, a tall pointy hat nor have a long crooked nose with a nasty knot on the end. She has beautiful wavy hair, enchanting eyes and sings to Rapunzel in a sweet soothing voice “mother knows best!”

Rapunzel’s witch is her “mother”! Or at least, the only mother she’s ever known. And, of course, with the terrifying picture that she paints of the horrors that await Rapunzel outside the safety of her tower, she has convinced her “daughter” that it is best to keep her magic locked inside. Thus far, Rapunzel has been content to stay put despite the breath that catches in her throat as she peers out of her window imagining the freedom that eludes her.

But one day, everything changes!

The tower is breached by a stranger while “mother” is away and she steps out for the first time. It proves to be the most memorable day of Rapunzel’s life: she meets the man she will eventually marry and discovers a world beyond her four walls that is not so scary after all.

Have you ever felt like you were held captive by something–trapped in an ivory tower by an overbearing “mother” who may or may not have your best interest at heart? How often do we make choices about what to do or not do, because of some imposed standard or set of circumstances rather than our own desires? Perhaps it’s not practical to venture beyond the four walls because of dangers and evils—real or imagined! Yet, how much of our maturity and growth as individuals are impeded by the inability to venture out?

As creatives, we are often discouraged from venturing. If we stick to the traditional paths, we are assured safety, stability, and a 401k! Creative work is less predictable and far less understood by those who may appreciate beauty, but not value it. Like Rapunzel, we’re faced with the choice of peering out of the window and imagining the freedom to explore our creative selves while keeping to the confining tower of “serious work.” We’re discouraged from stepping onto the delicate grass of creative spaces to explore fully, openly and with reckless abandon. What would that even look like? Perhaps it would mean submitting creative works for publication rather than stuffing them under the mattress! Perhaps it would mean writing our stories rather than just thinking about them! What about volunteering to play or sing for church rather than just in the shower! Or attending conferences and networking with others who do similar work? For some of us, it’s as simple as acknowledging that we are creatives—writers, singers, artists—naming it and claiming it is the first step in the process of becoming!

Because your gifts are part of who you are, they are what make you special! You can’t really suppress them, they will manifest themselves in everything you do, in different ways, and those around you will notice. They will call on you to do things that they see you are gifted at. You will be the “go to” person for those jobs that you are naturally inclined to do. Even if you don’t know what your gift is, pay attention to what you tend to do without thinking and that is probably it!

The reality is creative work is hard. When you have to make a living, it is easier to pay the bills with a nursing degree than a degree in art history. But here’s where the lies of the evil witch are exposed. Your creative gifts are being used where you are. Even while you’re locked in the tower of your circumstances, toiling away your days under the tyranny of the mother—whoever she is—your gifts are benefitting someone!

So, if your gifts are already being used where you are and benefitting those around you whom you find oppressive or overbearing, why not step out? Why not put your bare feet on the lush green grass just outside of that tall tower that you think is so safe and see how it feels? Why not take a step towards your dream and see if you can do more with your gifts than just appease the selfish needs of the mother? It may be time to put those gifts to use for other purposes. It may be time for you to decide the uses of those gifts rather than have the uses dictated to you.

If it’s any comfort to you, the tower will always be there. You can always go back if you find that your attempts at achieving the dream are not worth the pain. In the movie, when the witch finds Rapunzel, she convinces her that her boyfriend has betrayed her and coaxes the “lost” princess back to “safety”.

But, even if the world is a harsh and hurtful place, can you be comfortable in an isolated tower once you’ve experienced the freedom of wide open spaces? Rapunzel had been forever changed. It was clear she could never again be appeased by a simple song–mother didn’t know best! Rapunzel had seen and heard for herself what the world was like, and the tower–even with its promise of peace– was no substitute for life.

Life begins when you open your eyes and recognize who you are. If you are a circle among squares you will forever be unhappy trying to make yourself a square. Your circleness (is that a word?) will come through no matter how you try to conform, so step out of the confining tower–even if it means stepping out of what’s “best” for you.

What is best for you is doing what comes naturally to you. Find a way to make your life’s work and your natural abilities work together. The world needs your gifts! They should not be locked away in a tower where no one can get to them, no matter what your “mother” says!

Happy Monday!

SignatureMed

Cover photo: special thanks to Julian Santa Ana on Unsplash

Hidden Figures–The World is Watching!

It was just a year ago when the brilliance of three African American women–Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson burst onto the scene as the movie Hidden Figures introduced us to the black women who had been the brains behind the 1960s space program that sent John Glenn into orbit and brought him safely back again.

HiddenFigures

Most of us would have never known they existed had it not been for the work of Margot Shetterly and her book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and The Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.  Those ladies never sought after fame. They merely did their work in the shadows, focused on doing it right and doing it well.

Their story became an inspiration because of its connection to history, yet they never set out to make history.  In fact, Katherine, Mary and Dorothy weren’t the only ones who were a part of that history.  Shetterly says the biggest difference between the “real” story of the hidden figures and the story that is portrayed in the movie is that there were many people who did similar work at NASA; “you [just] can’t make a movie with 300 characters.”

So, I wonder what other stories were never told. Even those who move behind the scenes have unique experiences.  Perhaps their stories can inspire us too. After all, few will ever attain the level of mathematical genius that Katherine Johnson possessed, but there were many smart and capable people with whom she worked.  Likewise, only a select few were chosen to be actors in the movie, yet many more worked behind the scenes to make those actors shine.

Take Marc Casey, for example. You might say that Marc Casey was a hidden figure behind Hidden Figures.  A fair-skinned, curly-haired guy, he bears a striking resemblance to Taraji P. Henson’s Empire co-star Terrence Howard, but it’s not likely that you’ll ever see Casey’s face on the big screen. He prefers to be behind, rather than in front of a camera lens, which is why he studied film production at Savannah College of Art and design (SCAD). Casey became the second assistant “B” cameraman on Hidden Figures which began filming in Atlanta in the spring of 2016 and he says it was “the most exciting job” he has ever had. “I was really proud to represent the [black] community and my NASA family.”

Yet his job is not what most would consider glamorous.  He worked in the shadows–preparing the camera for on set filming, managing onset film inventory, changing batteries, lenses, slating scenes with the clapper, managing the camera’s paperwork and marking the actors’ positions for scenes.  It takes a whole team of people working diligently to create a perfect scene, but it can also take one person to destroy an entire day’s worth of work.  Casey says a film loader, for example, is “the lowest paying position in the camera department,” but that person could expose the film to light and ruin five hours’ worth of work, so that person is also one of the most important people on the team.

For Casey, getting the Hidden Figures job was a big deal and once he got that gig he thought his career was on an upward trajectory. He had started as a photojournalist at WSAV in Savannah, GA.  Soon after, he landed a job as production assistant on Mylie Cyrus’ movie The Last Song and his friendship with veteran photographer Lee Blasingame paved the way for several other jobs that led to this one.  It seemed like God had arranged everything perfectly! He had been careful to walk a straight path, following the rules, being dependable, likable, hard-working…he was certain, now, that doors would swing wide open for him! After all, this movie was receiving high acclaim, an Oscar buzz even!

To be affiliated with a movie like Hidden Figures was certainly a high point for Marc Casey, but it proved, instead, to be a turning point.

Casey says after production on the movie wrapped “the bottom dropped out” from under him and his winning streak came to an end.  “2016 was the hardest year in the film industry. After Hidden Figures my well went dry. The phone calls for jobs disappeared. I was looking for other opportunities, even considered leaving the film industry. I had to work, kids do not feed themselves.”

For a time, Casey’s circumstances were similar to his movie counterparts: in the movie, Katherine’s supervisor repeatedly obscured key information that she needed to do her job; Mary was refused entrance into an all-white school which was the only one that offered the courses she needed to earn her degree, and Dorothy was escorted out of the library where she was searching for a book about the emerging technology.

Troubled

But, James 1:5 says “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all” and Casey says an important lesson that he learned from his low point was that “sometimes the knowledge you obtain is the only weapon you have.” Although some of the specific scenarios in Hidden Figures were fiction, their message was not. Katherine out-smarted her colleague’s treachery, Mary used the power of rhetoric to sway a court order in her favor and Dorothy cunningly defied injustice and “self-checked” a FORTRAN book from the “whites only” public library so that she could understand what was coming.

Casey didn’t know what was coming, but he knew that his best chance for survival was to make himself more marketable; thus, he added to his skillset by becoming an underwater camera technician. He knew that the movie industry would not always call for a second assistant camera guy, but that there would be fewer calls to make if they needed someone with a more specialized knowledge. Fast forward to 2017 and thanks to Hydroflex, a leader in professional underwater cinematography equipment, Casey has worked on about ten productions as an underwater camera technician so far.  The company has a list of people whom they consider to be certified once they attend the Hydroflex and Society of Camera Operators (SOC) bi-yearly training. “I have experience with the equipment and I have become the ‘go to’ guy for underwater camera work in Atlanta,” says Casey who attended the training event in 2012. Casey is on the short list because of the amount of time and experience required and “since Atlanta has become the ‘Hollywood of the south’” Casey is in a good place.

image2

The work that Casey does now is not the work that he thought he would be doing, but it is work that he enjoys. “Diving and being in the water is what I love” he says.  In spite of the road blocks and low points, Casey held on to his faith and never lost sight of his purpose.  Casey’s story is unique because of the opportunities that he’s had to be so close to fame and yet so far from the limelight. By standing behind the camera he is always in a position just beyond the public eye. However, although his story plays out in the shadows, it is a story that has seen the light of day.

image9

Many of us strive for success, encounter obstacles then have to re-group, perhaps we even veer off course and wonder what is it that God is doing in our lives? Yet, often, what God is doing is working out a path we could have never imagined for ourselves. Casey’s story reveals the secret of a hidden figure. It’s about doing your work with no expectations. Like the other hidden figures who didn’t set out to make history, Casey wasn’t looking for fame.  His goal was just to do his best: “integrity is the only thing you have,” he says; thus, he did his work like every other hidden figure–as if the world was watching and in the end, it paid off!

image6

SmallSignature

Daily Post: Calling

Monday Mayhem: What Are You Missing?

Have you ever asked yourself why?

Why am I here…?

In this town…

At this job…

At this point in my life…

Or, ever wondered when…?

When will I move forward?

Be more, do more, see more?

When will things change?

I have.

Then one day–consumed by papers, deadlines, schedules and plans,  the clock is frowning down on me as I lean into the computer screen and try to decipher my own thinking about this afternoon’s class, I hear a knock on my door.

“Come in!” I yell without looking up and a timid girl slips in without a sound.

I glance up, “Yes?” I notice she has a strange look on her face so I stop what I’m doing and wait.

“Ms.–” there’s a distinct lilt in her voice. It’s musical even though her face is drawn and sad. “I haven’t heard from my family since yesterday and I just don’t know what to do.” She swings herself into the chair next to my desk the way I swing my tote bag down at the end of a long day, exhausted.

Whatever was planned for class that day will have to wait. I turn to face her, wondering what I should say. News reports of historic Category 5 hurricanes hitting defenseless Caribbean islands is all we’ve been hearing about lately. None of the news is good. All of the predictions are “devastating losses” of life and property. The fact that this girl has not heard from her family is a sign that, as expected, the storms have hit her home and knocked out power. There is no way to know if they are dead or alive. And here she is thousands of miles away trying to “do school” and go on, be positive and pray, but it has become more than she can bear.  So she’s come here—to her English teacher’s office—a few minutes before class—and let the floodgates open.

I whisper a prayer to myself, but I realize I don’t need to say much. It is better for me to listen and be a sympathetic ear, to tell her it’s okay to cry and that I, indeed, understand how she feels. I, too, have family in the islands. This is a scary time. I also tell her not to feel guilty for being here “safe and sound” while they are down there in harm’s way. As a mother, I tell her, it would give me great comfort to know that at least one of my children is not in the midst of this storm and I’m sure her mother feels the same way.

Then she asks me to pray for her, and because we’re here, at a Christian school, it’s actually okay for us to do that! So we do, and I ask God to open our eyes the way he did Elisha’s servant when the enemies were surrounding them and it seemed their defeat was certain, so that we could see his army that surrounded the enemy, outnumbering them!  In that moment we needed to be reminded and encouraged that He who is for us is greater than all that is against us.

She thanked me and left.

And wouldn’t you know it? After class she told me she received a call from home! There was some damage to her house, but her family was safe. I later heard from my family members as well. So, our story had a happy ending!  But that’s actually not the end of the story…

I began by saying that I often ask myself “why am I here?” And I sometimes even sink into a pit of despair as I think about where I would like to be, but then I have experiences like this and I feel like Elisha’s servant looking out over the hills of Dothan–first feeling overwhelmed and defeated by the enemy of doubt and low self-esteem–and then dumbstruck by the reality that I am, after all, not left alone to face that enemy when he opens my eyes and allows me to see the vast host of God’s army standing behind them with chariots of fire. (2 Kings 6:17)

So, a few weeks later, I’m having another paper-filled, lesson-plan, meeting and worry-whirlwind kind of morning when there’s another knock on my door.

“Come in!”

It’s the sweet Caribbean girl again! “Oh, I’m glad you’re here” she says. “I’ll be right back,” and a few minutes later she reappears carrying these…

flowers_small

“I just wanted to thank you for praying with me,” she says, and this time it was my turn to let the floodgates open.

I was the teacher, but that day my student taught me a lesson.   So often my time and attention is spent looking elsewhere, but is my purpose right in front of me?  How often am I distracted by what’s not while I continually ignore what is? Like Elisha’s servant, my eyes needed opening and the gorgeous blooms gave me an appropriate jolt.

Why am I here?

For moments like this.

What about you?

Happy Monday!

SignatureMed

Daily Post: #enlighten