We’ve Come This Far By Faith

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

“If one minute’s freedom had been offered to me and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it.” –Elizabeth Freeman “Mum Bett,” a Massachusetts slave who sued for her freedom and helped end slavery in that state, 1800

Sobering words. You can feel this former slave’s yearning to experience freedom, even if only for 60 seconds before being killed. Through her words, you feel her disregard for death in exchange for one minute’s freedom to escape the life she had been enslaved.

Though I saw her quote earlier this week during my five-hour tour of the newly opened National African American Museum of History and Culture here in Washington, D.C., her palpable words have stayed with me. In the course of my tour of the intelligently designed crown/corona-shaped museum and its four levels and basement levels, dare I say that there are many words and images that have stayed with me.

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A project 100 years in the making, the National African American Museum of History and Culture, a Smithsonian property, was built on the last available space on the National Mall grounds. Its history memorializes in artifact, imagery, film, music, written and audio messages the good, bad and ugly of America’s history in its treatment of Blacks.

I joyfully made my way through and down the top levels whose exhibits fabulously celebrate some of African Americans’ crowning achievements from opening businesses and restaurants, to the music many of us sing and dance to, sports records set and the creation of popular Black-owned magazines and newspapers telling stories from perspectives that wouldn’t have been told otherwise. I felt proud.

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The infamous gold track shoes of four-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist and World Champion sprinter, Michael Johnson

The museum staff first recommended that visitors start at the basement level which contains exhibits of slavery (and Emmett Till’s casket), and then work our way up. This was purposely designed to lift us out of the earlier sorrow. But, as life would have it, there was a long line to the basement level so it was recommended that we start our tour at the top levels.

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By the time I reached the basement levels, I understood why the reverse order was preferred. Upon entering the basement level exhibits that embarked on Africans’ journey of slavery into the Americas and Europe, starting around year 1400, my jubilation sunk into anger and sorrow.

Beatings. Brutality. Men, women and children in shackles. Packed in large cargo ships with less than 2 feet of space between the next person. Forced to lie in their excrement. Some were healthy enough to survive the Transatlantic journey and some were not. Those that survived the journey, not all survived the overbearing field work. Rice crops, sugar trade, tobacco fields and other goods established the wealthy and many companies still operating in America today—built on the blood, sweat, brutality, tears and cries of despair from the millions upon millions of enslaved Africans.

In reading some of the slaves’ stories and viewing the clothes and shackles passed down to their family for me as a free person to see today, I asked, “God, where were you in their brutality? Where were you in their beatings, struggles and oppression? Children separated from their parents? Enslaved men and women who loved each other not allowed by law to marry. Treated as property, while the wicked were held in high esteem.  Lord, where were you??!”

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Slave shackles, property of 3rd U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson.

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In my anger, I came upon a display that brought a wellspring of joy within my spirit.

Encased in glass was Nat Turner’s open bible and Harriet Tubman’s book of gospel hymns. Both Turner and Tubman were instrumental in bravely leading other slaves to freedom. The description beneath Tubman’s hymnal reads:

“A fiercely religious woman, Tubman spoke of visions and dreams that helped provide a moral compass throughout her life. The wear and tear on this hymnal suggests that she must have loved it and used it quite frequently.”

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Harriet Tubman’s Hymnal

Wow. More than wow. Seeing Tubman’s hymnal and Turner’s bible stirred my spirit to recognize: Lord, You were with them! Just as You were faithfully with Moses as he led the Israelites out of Egypt after suffering 400 years of slavery, YOU were with those who led, bled and suffered! You are the same God then as you are today. For all Believers, You are with us today, in our struggles! You tell us to go in courage (Joshua 1:9) for you go with us! If we trust You and Your Word, You will bring us out and into freedom! Exodus! For those who trust, that means spiritual freedom in Christ Jesus. For some of you, it also means leaving the land of not enough (Egypt) to the land of more than enough (Canaan).

I could write more on my experience but truly this is a powerful takeaway for me. God is indeed with us in our struggles even when it doesn’t feel like it at times. God knows our struggles, suffering and sorrows, for He sent His only Son to be beaten, whipped, nailed to a wooden cross to die as an innocent to take on the wickedness of this world so mankind could be redeemed and reconciled in relationship with God. Christ died so that you and I could truly be free.

Presently, the Black community is still under siege. There is a present-day slavery of a different sort strategized by Satan that has kept many in perpetual slavery to poverty, addiction, incarceration and violence. It’s my prayer at least for the population God has entrusted me to serve and share His Truth, to help them recognize true freedom in Christ Jesus and unshackle them from the things that enslave and entangle  (Hebrews 12:1). “To proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” (Isaiah 61:1, NIV).

I, like many DC-area residents, get caught up in the busyness of Washington life. Sometimes we take for granted the national treasures easily accessible to us; treasures that thousands travel from far away to simply get a glimpse of; to somehow capture the experience permanently by photo, video or gift shop trinket.

But I promise you, I won’t take for granted what I saw and experienced. In ways I will never know personally, the struggles of my predecessors and more importantly, their legacy of faith and resiliency, has in part enabled me to be where I am today: free.  I think on words from the hymn, “We’ve Come this Far By Faith”:

Oh, We’ve come this far by faith

Leaning on the Lord

Trusting in His holy word

He’s never failed me yet

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Can’t turn around

We’ve come this far by faith

 

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

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An Appeal When Love Wanes and Anger Flames

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Terence Crutcher, 40, was shot and killed last Friday by Tulsa police officer, Betty Shelby. Crutcher’s SUV had stalled in the middle of the road and police arrived to address the situation. Crutcher, a large black man, threw his hands up as police approached (to show he was not a threat) but was still tasered, shot and later died at the hospital. Husband. Father. Brother. Unarmed black man. Another one, again.

I was angrier than I’ve felt in some time in learning this news story yesterday. Another unarmed black man shot and killed by a white police officer. The egregious incident, captured on a police dashboard camera, shows Crutcher with his hands up. Officer Shelby is under federal investigation.

Many are angry. We’re inflamed by the injustice of it all. We’re in disbelief that another black man has been taken away from his family like this. In their anger, many have lost their love for others, particularly a number of blacks toward whites. But this response further divides us and plays right into Satan’s ploy. As more Believers grow into the image of Christ, Satan is trying to derail the light of the Church. He seeks to cause division and dissension to where unity cannot be forged. We reject that in Jesus’ Mighty Name!

In recognizing the signs of the end of the age, Matthew 24:12 (NIV) warns us:

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.

This is happening now, among some Believers. 

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And Matthew 24:13 encourages us:

but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

My appeal to all who read this: 

As the crises increase in frequency and intensity, when justice seems elusive and our very lives seem to be under siege, we have an even greater opportunity to display Godly character.  We should be the hands and feet of Christ, serving one another in love; to not lose our love for one another, to not allow our love to grow cold toward others. God’s love demonstrated is exactly what the world desperately needs. Those who are children of God, we are called to manifest His love to others:

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:10, NIV)

As a dear sister in Christ reminded me:

Proverbs 4:23: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (NIV)

My appeal to you: In our thirst for justice to be rendered, let’s maintain our love for one another. Keep your hope, Godly character and faith. Don’t become disheartened and drift away from Him but rather, draw nearer and cleave to Him more. Others need to see His Light in us! If we lose our love toward others, then sadly, we’ve drifted away from our first love: Jesus Christ.

My appeal to you: Remember how the story ends: love/good wins over evil in the end. Satan knows this too. Though he is already defeated, he hopes to make you forget your victory already won.

Lord Jesus, we need You. Our hearts are grieved again by the injustice that has occurred here. Forgive us for our words, thoughts and actions that have not displayed Your Love. Though we are angered by this situation, let it not pull us out of Godly character. Renew a right spirit within us, dear Lord. Create in us a clean heart, for You are holy and require us to be as well. Lord, may we desire to stay close to You, so we can truly be Your hands and feet to others in this sinful and perishing world. So long as we keep You, Jesus, as our first love, our love for others will not grow cold. 

Jesus, please comfort the Crutcher Family in their loss, and all those affected. We pray for the police officer involved, that she would accept responsibility for her actions; that she would seek You to transform her heart and renew her mind so she may truly love and serve others in Your way.  We pray healing for Tulsa and all communities devastated by such actions. Thank you, Jesus. 

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

Toplines on Trauma

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

A couple weeks ago, I attended a Trauma Informed Care training presented by national expert Bonnie Martin, LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor). The training was hosted by National Community Church here in Washington, D.C. I was joined by one of my mentees who is pursuing her Master of Social Work. Since attending the training, it’s been my intent to share with you some of what we learned.

Though I’ve been told by others that I am a good listener, compassionate and provide wise counsel, it was recommended that I attend the training to better serve the at-risk youth population the Lord has placed a burden on my heart to mentor here in D.C. Unlike the young people I’m currently mentoring who seek guidance in navigating career choices, relationship matters and their life in Christ Jesus in a morally decaying world, it is highly likely the stories I’ll hear from the at-risk population will be gut-wrenching and horrific.

The training was tremendously helpful to someone like me who is not—I repeat NOT a mental health expert. She presented a lot of information, at which my mentee and I took copious notes. Though she is a Christian, Martin framed the information primarily from a scientific perspective to depict how trauma affects the brain and how the brain attempts to heal.

While I wouldn’t dare capture for you the entire training in this blog post, I can provide you some toplines. I hope this helps to enlighten and certainly not minimize the scale and impact trauma can have on someone physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. For those of you reading this who are mental health professionals and more versed in issues on trauma, please feel free to provide additional insight.

Toplines on Trauma

What is trauma and what does it look like?

  1. Trauma (as Martin defined it): too much stress at one time for the body to handle properly; a distressing experience.
  2. Trauma can be acute (ex: earthquake) followed by subsequent aftershocks. PTSD looks at how the body and brain are responding two months after trauma. Complex post-trauma could also be trauma that is chronic (ex: some children are born into trauma, such as those born to a heroin-addicted mother, child born into food insecure home or molestation. Chronic homelessness is ongoing trauma).
  3. The brain is being altered under traumatic stress and this needs to be taken into consideration.
  4. Neuroplasticity: how the brain seeks to heal after trauma or injury and establish new neuro connections to adjust to changes in new environment.
  5. Trauma can cause memory impairment. Memories can also change, become disjointed or not make sense.
  6. Negative behaviors of acting out: Some of the behaviors that traumatized people act out is what helped them survive (lying, stealing, etc.) to cope with stresses that never should have been. While we get this, they need to be restored from this. Sexual acting out may be sign of previous sexual trauma. This is done to manage stress response.
  7. Prefrontal cortex of the brain if compromised or damaged during trauma, creates hypervigilence. The person’s ability to perceive stress in a healthy way, is gone. All events are elevated to a high stress level (ex: studying for an exam and being chased by a shark receives same stress response).
  8. A person experiencing trauma may feel unworthy of love, acceptance and carry shame.
  9. They may crave sweet, fatty food combinations. They can gain weight and this compounds the shame feelings. Diet is critical. They need hydration and healthy food. Dehydration impairs mental function.
  10. People experiencing trauma are exhausted. Difficulty getting out of bed to run their race. Weary and faint-hearted.

How can you best help this person?

  1. Listen. If they choose to be silent instead of talk, sit with them in the silence. Don’t seek to fill the silence.
  2. By listening and not trying to “help,” you offer them a safe place to engage and build a healthy relationship. This also helps their brain establish new neuro connections.
  3. Focus on their strengths.
  4. Show up. Be present. Your presence matters.
  5. Stick to what you know. If they ask you a question and you don’t know, tell them, “I don’t know.” Do seek to connect them to the appropriate resources who can help.
  6. Ask questions to get to know them. Be interested in them. People are the assignment. We have as much to learn from them as they do from us.
  7. People who have experienced trauma tend to self-isolate. This can kill. They need community and connection.
  8. Embrace anger and grief. These are honest, raw and real emotions about pain and trauma. Bear witness to their pain. Don’t try to shut them down too soon.
  9. Understand that resiliency differs for everyone. Trauma differs for everyone and cannot be compared.
  10. Empower people. Never take their power away. “Do you want an apple or orange?” “Do you want to sit here or over there?”

 

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How can you stay healthy when serving/ministering to a person who has been traumatized?

  1. Don’t be a sponge/don’t absorb others’ trauma or you will not be good for yourself or others. Instead, mirror love and resiliency, laughter, play, redemption. Mirror everything you pray for them to have. The Holy Spirit working through you and your presence will be the influence.
  2. Make sure you bounce back. If you are not bouncing back, stop and get help.

Praise Jesus Christ, who is our Savior! He is a sure help in our times. You need not think that you can save this person. Only Jesus can. Jesus knows our pain and suffering. He knows that pain and despised the shame of that pain for the joy set before him as told in Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

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Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your Son Jesus, Our Savior, to bear it all for us on the Cross. In our pain, our grief, anger, a yearning to understand “why?”, He knows and sees our struggle. He hears our cries and utterances.  Because of His victory achieved on the Cross, the shame is not His or ours. Thank you Jesus for your amazing love that heals the broken places and makes all things new. We pray that those experiencing such pain would begin to lay their burdens down, so they may see the victory and joy you’ve already set before them. Refresh and renew their spirit, mind and body, Lord with your love, strength, peace and joy. In this joy, may they run their race with perseverance, seeing their victory already won. Please also strengthen those of us you’ve called to help those in pain. We thank you for inviting us to be co-workers with you in this work as they move toward healing and freedom, and prayerfully, may be equipped to help free somebody else. 

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.