Motherhood, Cultural Celebrations, and Treasures in Darkness

One of the many facets of my life includes motherhood. Yes, I am the mom to a beautiful 13 year old daughter that has a parent who deals with serious mental illness. I also happen to be an African American mom raising a biracial child in 2017. As you can imagine, with all of these qualities there is never a dull moment when it comes to parenting! But I wouldn’t trade any of it. There is a richness to my life because of my daughter, and while we certainly have our moments, I am ever so grateful that the Lord blessed us with her. She has been a joy to raise!

When my daughter was little, I used to sing to her the song “You Are My Sunshine”. I meant every word of that song! Through the many challenges that we’ve faced as a family, and especially during the difficult times of my husband’s illness and absence, our daughter has been a bright spot in my life that has kept me going, and given me purpose and drive when at times I might rather have just given up. Because of her, I was able to keep going…to work, to school, etc. Making her life rich, in the midst of our difficulties, gave me focus.

One of the many things my daughter absolutely loves to do is dance. When she was really little, she took dance for several years. But with my husband’s illness and all the challenges and uncertainties that brought, it was very difficult for us to be able to continue giving her those opportunities. But during the season when my husband was gone, an opportunity presented itself to us that I just could not pass up…and I know it was God’s way of meeting us where we were at. I always marvel at the way God leads our steps, even in the midst of great trials, and meets us in the dark with treasures from His heart.

In early 2014, I took a teaching job at a performing arts academy that “just happened” to offer African dance and drumming as classes. From an early age, Jasmyne had a knack for rhythm, and I just KNEW that she would love learning how to play African drums, and then to dance on top of that? I had to sign her up. It worked out, because she could take the classes while I was teaching lessons, and even on my meager budget, I could make it work.

Kuumba Festival 2017

Kuumba Festival 2017

It “just so happened” that her dance and drum teachers were affiliated with an organization called African American Appalachian Arts (AAAA). Its purpose is to promote “positive social and community development by utilizing creative methods of education through cultural artistic programming and development.” One of the ways they fulfill this is through an annual festival that is unique to our area of Tennessee, called the Kuumba Festival. It is a 4 day festival that celebrates African and African-American culture through art, music, dance, food, and community engagement. It has been around for almost 30 years. The centerpiece of the festival is the Kuumba Watoto Drum and Dance Ensemble, made up of children from age 5 up to 18. They attend a camp for 3 weeks, learning authentic West African dance, drumming, culture, heritage, and history, self-discipline, and pride. During the festival, they present what they learned to the community.

Well…I could not pass up this amazing opportunity, so I signed my daughter right up, and she did not protest! It has been one of the highlights of our summers for the past 4 years. Not only that, but there have been other opportunities through the dance ensemble for Jasmyne to participate…even dancing for Ben Vereen, who played “Chicken George” in the 1970’s miniseries “Roots”!

Ben Vereen aka "Chicken George", Alex Haley Heritage Square May 2015.

Ben Vereen aka "Chicken George", Alex Haley Heritage Square May 2015.

Speaking of Chicken George…Part of the festival takes place in the vicinity of Alex Haley Heritage Square, under the watchful eye of a large bronze statue of Alex Haley, who, through his book and TV series “Roots”, brought an awareness of what our ancestors endured when they were forcibly brought here as slaves. That book means so much to me…I read it when I wasn’t too much older than my daughter is now, and I was captivated by the story, the history, and the grief of not knowing…Alex Haley filled in the gaps for so many African Americans whose history was stolen. His family’s story was ALL of our stories. I love attending Kuumba Festival every year because it gives me a sense of connection to something that was lost…and I’m so grateful to the visionary behind Kuumba who knew there was a need for this. Sadly, the founder of the Festival and AAAA passed away earlier this month, so this year’s festival was particularly special for the community.

But it is also special for us, for so many reasons. Having this outlet for my daughter was a gift the Lord gave us during a time of walking through some deep valleys. Her involvement with the Kuumba Festival has fulfilled not only her love of dancing, but it engages us in such a beautiful part of our rich cultural heritage and history. That is important to me as an African American woman, and I want it to be important to my child.  

It was hard on all of us when my husband was gone. He missed many years of my daughter’s life that he will never get back. My daughter didn’t have her Daddy to see her dance. But our Heavenly Father took care of us. He led our steps, and guided us to the right people who have brought so much enrichment to our lives.

Daddy's first Kuumba Festival 2016

Daddy's first Kuumba Festival 2016

And guess what!! God saw fit to bring her Daddy home, and now…he watches her dance.  Wow!! God is good!

By Way of Introduction

Hello and welcome to the inaugural post of Mining for Diamonds! I’ve already shared a little bit about myself  on the About and Home pages, but I wanted to take this opportunity to formally introduce myself, and share a little bit more about my hopes for this blog...

I feel in many ways like my life did not begin until I started playing violin. I started when I was 10 years old, in the 5th grade. I went on to major in music in college, and earned a Bachelor of Music in Violin performance. I recently completed a Master of Music in Violin Performance (MM).You can read more about my musical journey, as well as my adventures as a 40-something graduate student, here. I often say that I didn't choose the violin, but rather it chose me. It has most certainly been a driving force in my destiny on this planet.

                                           After a concert at a girl's school in Kenya.

                                           After a concert at a girl's school in Kenya.

In the ‘90s, during and after college, I got serious about my faith in Jesus. Through a series of events, I served several years as a “musical missionary” with an organization that used music as a tool for sharing the Gospel around the world. I could combine the violin with my faith and my global heart! These were some of the richest years of my life, as I got to go to places like: India, China, Rwanda, Vietnam, Colombia, Armenia, Egypt…to name a few. It was such a blessing to see how powerful music could be!  Lives were changed, without a lot of preaching. This group was multi-cultural, interdenominational, and extremely versatile. Being a music group allowed us to go to places where traditional preachers could not. I’ve played violin in places like a leper colony in India, a Chinese orphanage, and a Thai prison; I’ve met the Archbishop of Canterbury, and shared my testimony in a Communist country. I’ve been to the Gaza Strip, and played for survivors of the Rwandan genocide. My years with this group were life changing. Not only for the many souls we encountered along the way as they heard the Gospel message through music, but for me personally. It was in this group that I made lifelong friends...and I met my husband. More on him in a moment...

Working in the pit orchestra for a production of "Miss Saigon"

Working in the pit orchestra for a production of "Miss Saigon"

Music is a huge part of my life…it’s my livelihood. Although it has not made me rich, it has made me happy. I love all kinds of music, not just classical, not just “Christian”, and not just "Western". I find music to be deeply spiritual and a way to connect the souls of humanity to the heart of God. The violin is one way for me to communicate my faith, as well as earn a living. Click here for periodic postings of my playing and other things musical.

I love the nations and anything multicultural, global, international, etc. I am at home just about anywhere, with just about anyone. In total, I’ve been to 34 countries in my lifetime, and hope to visit many more in the future. I believe we all have something to learn from one another, regardless of where we’re from. One thing about music that I find to be so awesome is that it is truly a universal language, and I feel honored to be able to “speak” a language that is understood around the world.

                            Little Drummer Girl...

                            Little Drummer Girl...

I am the mother of one. She is a ‘tween, and the sunshine in my life. My daughter is outgoing, full of personality and spunk, and is a budding performer. She loves to dance and sing, plays the djembe, and dabbles a little in violin. Her hair is her trademark, as she is the product of two parents with a LOT of hair. She surely got a double portion…and with that, an extremely tender scalp. So we have had quite a few hair adventures in our house. You may hear about that sometime.

I am married…and here comes a huge “but”. Unfortunately, my husband is not with us, and has not been for a few years now. Our story does not follow the narrative of so many marriages that have “issues”. He didn’t leave me for another woman, he is not an addict, or an alcoholic; he’s never been abusive in any way. He did not “do” anything wrong per se, and the fact that ours is an interracial marriage is not a factor in his absence.

My husband was diagnosed with Bipolar I at the age of 16. Bipolar disorder is a serious, complicated mental illness. I knew that when I married him, but neither of us could foresee the trajectory that his mental health would take in his life, and the effect that it would have on our marriage. It is because of the complications of this illness that I find myself in the situation I’m in today.

I will share more of our story during the course of this blog, because I believe that mental illness is something that should be spoken about more candidly. People are hurting, and mental illness in one form or another affects millions of people in this country, as well as those of us who love them. It is highly misunderstood and those affected are often marginalized and stigmatized. Usually we only hear about mental illness in the context of a Hollywood star doing something outrageous or committing suicide…or when a horrific act of violence is committed by a deranged gunman or a mom with severe postpartum depression hurts her children. Those are scary images and do not tell true whole story of the vasts majority of those who suffer from mental illness in its many forms.

One thing I promise to do is maintain and honor my husband’s dignity, and his privacy. Even though there is something of a question mark that remains over him and our marriage, the main point I want to get across in this blog is this: in the midst of it all, God is faithful. He has walked me through some deep valleys in my marriage, and I am confident that He will walk my little family all the way through to His glorious Light. My husband’s story is not over, and neither, I believe, is our marriage.

The heart of “mining for diamonds” comes from that hope the I hold on to, that there are indeed treasures in the darkness.

More will be forth coming, but hopefully this will give you a little foretaste of what to expect. Balanced among the more "serious" aspects of my life are the little joys: my daughter's vibrant personality, coffee,  documentaries and foreign films (mostly on Netflix), Scrapbooking (though not in a long time), getting to know my natural hair texture, hanging out on the Internet, and dreaming of fulfilling God's purpose for my life.

I don’t want this to be a “mental illness” blog, or a “mommy” blog, or a “marriage” blog. What I DO desire is this: to offer hope to others who are in difficult situations. I know I am not alone in the challenges I face in loving a person with a serious mental illness, or raising a child alone, or navigating this thing called “faith” in the midst of it all. It’s tough, but “with God, nothing shall be impossible.”

Stay tuned for more!