My dad dropped an important truth on me a couple of weeks ago: he had met and shaken hands with Rosa Parks back in the 80’s when she visited Denver.
Being a lover of all things Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr., and racial equality, I couldn’t help but bathe in the shock that my dad had actually had this experience. Part of being an adult, I think, is realizing, recognizing, and valuing the fact that our parents were once – and still are – humans all their own. Yes, they had lives before the little ones came along.
As we sat squished together in the car to find Christmas lights scattered across Denver, at the very place he had met Rosa, I asked, “how in the world have you never told me this before…?”
Just a week after learning that my dad escorted a group of distracted, unknowing high school kids to meet “the mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” I found myself amidst sparkling sunshine, old pavement, and historic buildings in Montgomery, Alabama. My feet had landed in a place where much of the movement had started and catalyzed; I was on the soil of history.
Montgomery, before anything else, is historic. The monuments, buildings, people, parks, and places are laden with history. Amazingly, this is a place that was “the cradle of the Confederacy” and also the site of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, the origins of the Montgomery Improvement Association and freedom rides, the hot-bed for Martin Luther King’s speeches on non-violence, and the destination of the Selma-Montgomery march.
The capital of Alabama, Montgomery has around 200,000 something people, but it also has my best friend, Rachel. Brilliant, determined, patient, and fiercely loyal, this girl and I have been having adventures since 2007. She’s that person you can call to talk about nothing in particular, or to explore some of life’s most pressing questions. We’ve been known to have 2,3, or 4 hour Skype sessions. Hello. She’s the kind of friend that you share your ice cream with, because let’s be real, you can’t do that with everyone. We’ve been friends long enough that she has managed to put up with all my craziness – and loves me not in spite of it, but because of it. She doesn’t expect me to be anything but myself. That’s real, authentic friendship.
So, why not visit “The Capital of Dreams” and see her work in the Alabama Archives, all of the beautiful oak trees, and of course, these pinnacle places and stories of some of the most important parts of our country’s history? Working remotely, though quite challenging at times, also has amazing perks. Travel is one of them. I can literally work from anywhere.
So, I came. From cheering on the Crimson Tide for the national championship to exploring Selma on my birthday to watching far-too-long episodes of The Bachelor, these two weeks in Alabama were precious to me. There really wasn’t a dull moment. And, honestly, it reminded me that our feeling and ever-seeking desire for “home” is less about place – more about people.
One afternoon, as I stood beneath a large painting of Rosa Parks at the appropriately named Rosa Parks Library & Museum, I was overcome with emotion. A large quotation above the painting with a multitude of colors read,
I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. – Rosa Parks
How desperately I want to live a life without fear, I thought.
I moved to my left, stumbling (literally – I am kind of a klutz) into a sculpture of Dr. Martin Luther King, to signify a defining moment at 309 Jackson Street at Dexter Avenue Church’s Parsonage, where he was staying while preaching and working in Montgomery.
The sculpture captured King in his kitchen. His forehead was crumpled. His fingers lifted high, with an expression of release, surrender, and honesty. It was 1956 and he was 27 (weird to think that I am too!) and had been helping to lead the bus boycotts for the African American community – in efforts to debunk the societal norm of white supremacy. He was leading a community onward to equality.
But, the fight wasn’t easy. He sat in his kitchen with a small cup of brown coffee, late into the night, because someone had called and said simply, “get out…or we will blow your brains out.”
The moment captured – with his hands held open – was the moment he began to pray. He wrote about this in his book, Stride Toward Freedom.
I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
All of this didn’t hit me until later in the week.
As I always do, wherever I am, I went on a walk.
On this day, the walk led around the curves of tall red-bricked warehouses and rusty white columns of Grecian-inspired architecture. I was listening to a podcast – Rachel introduced me to these gems of knowledge – and I was watching my feet glide over cracked pavement when I looked up. Before me was the small, simple parsonage of Dr. Martin Luther King – the place that he had this beautiful experience of prayer. A bit weepy, I put my sunglasses on. I thanked God, because I think He knew I needed to see this – in person.
But as it is with God, that wasn’t the end of this story.
Just days before I was set to come back to Colorado, I headed to pick up Rachel from work. I had walked in and out of historic Old Alabama Town, thinking about what it really means to own what we believe.
How do we transform from awareness to action; from truth to love?
I decided to turn on yet another podcast – this one from Colorado Community Church.
Speaking about the power of Jesus as a discipler – demystifying the often-accepted idea that we have to do the work – Pastor Robert proclaimed that it is JESUS that even discipled a man like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was GOD, through the divine nature of the Holy Spirit, speaking to him in his kitchen.
It was the third time in a week that this particular story had come up – first at the museum, then at the parsonage, and finally in a sweet, unexpected moment walking through green-lined urban parks.
When something like this comes up one, two, and three times, I know there is something I need to learn. Something I need to reconsider.
We are celebrating Dr. King this coming Monday and as we do, I know that I’ll be thinking about the power of the truth he stood for. The gospel meant so much to him that it informed and transformed an entire movement of people.
I’m scared to acknowledge what I believe to be true sometimes. This could be about my faith – but also about issues in politics, identity, and what it means to be a woman. Frankly, I’m usually too concerned with what other people will think about what I believe.
I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I don’t think it’s what God wants us to do – and moreover, it keeps up from recognizing and seeing the truth that is there for the taking.
Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.