It was a sweltering summer day, but the thought of those handmade Kool-Aid grape popsicles in a cup were worth the task of visiting the sick and shut-in. “Why is she blind, and how can she make such good popsicles if she can’t see, Nana?” I asked with my purple stained hands grasped in her wrinkled yet smooth ones.
I seldom got an answer from Nana, just the proverbial “Hush, child! We have other homes to visit and people to see.” Some days, begrudgingly, I’d go along with being hushed. Other days, I would berate her until she gave me answers to my never-ending questions.
Nana, my great Aunt, helped raise me from birth to her long life of 100 years old, and every day after school we walked to visit the women in the neighborhood. Looking back, I never realized that she was already in her eighties by the time she assumed the task of nurturing someone as curious as myself.
Manners having always ranked highly on my family value list: Don’t do or say anything to offend others in their homes or behind their backs. Always say, Thank you, Please, You’re Welcome, Ma’am and Sir to anyone older than you.
Whenever I return to the South, I often forget these manners until a student twenty years my junior asks me, “Ma’am?” I think, oh boy, did I really hear that? Does that mean I’m old and not cool anymore? No! It means they have manners. It’s a Southern Thing. Little did I know that the very foundation upon which I was taught would garner painful disdain from those who did not understand my background.
I was once invited by a coworker to a family-style, pre-wedding party in San Diego, California. It was a last-minute invite, a time for close friends and family to gather before the big day. But what would I bring? Another quality my Nana instilled in me was that you never show up to party empty-handed!
I decided to bring flowers for my friend’s mother and grandmothers. Orchids symbolize love, beauty, luxury and strength. Without ever having met them, it was common sense to me that they possessed each of these virtues. I was so meticulously raised that I even selected different shades of pink according to age and rank in the family. They seemed to love my flowers. The other invitees, however, did not.
When I walked into the party, everyone was jovial and no work was involved, truly a festive spirit in that place. “What’s that you got there?” piped one of our faithful friends. They are beautiful and so elegant. Who are you trying to impress?”
Wait. Impress? I simply stopped by the florist. Isn’t that normal to honor the women who helped raise a person?
Whispers echoed through the home about my intentions. I felt so hurt and betrayed. How could my friends, who’d spent so much time with me, working in close quarters in ministry, still not see my heart? Did they actually think I was trying to prove some invisible point?
I was fatigued and decided my best recourse was to accept the lap of the great grandmother at the party and allow her to pet my head. I slowly began to calm down and she whispered,
“Baby, some things you just have to overlook like the blind.”
Wow. She must have been there with the popsicles and my Nana and the grape stains that dried in the sun on my hands much like they did to Jesus! She understood me in a way that my friends didn’t. I felt God’s affirmation and love through her wise voice.
My friends invited me back to more parties but they never knew how deeply they injured me. Would I have to bring a manual on southern hospitality so they could understand me? I declined the invitations. This experience reminds me of Jesus. Many didn’t know who He was at Cana until the wine was served. Could it be that he wasn’t ready to be the center of inevitable scrutiny either?
I forgave my friends. We all evolve differently. It doesn’t make me better and them less. It just makes life clear:
Don’t go to a party where you’re just tolerated, not celebrated.
When invited to a party, bring your authentic self, and if not well received, genuinely love them and gracefully leave. And take your life experiences with you.
Natasha Stevens is passionate about humanitarian efforts ranging from empowering girls and women through education, writing, counseling, and speaking engagements, to hands on mission’s work in various places, including the eradication of forced child labor and early marriage through human trafficking. She loves a hearty laugh in summer gardens as much as a healthy bowl of oats in winter. She enjoys interacting with people from all walks of life, giving back where needed, and ministering the love and grace of Jesus without a title.