My dear husband has this habit (we’ll call it “quirky”) of picking out the most obscure movies to watch in the evenings. He scrolls through Netflix, finding enigmatic westerns or war flicks (generally starring one or two A-list actors supported by a cast of actors I’ve never seen or heard of), and since neither of these genres are remotely interesting to me, I tend to come in and out of the room while doing laundry (because, let’s face it, this house is the black hole of never-ending laundry), cleaning the kitchen, or, on nights when both of those options are just over my capacity for functioning at that hour, curling up on the couch next to him with a book, so that we are actually spending time together in the same general vicinity (funny how our definition of “hanging out” changes over the years, isn’t it?). Last night was no exception to this rule, and laundry made my preferred function list (Ok, not preferred….but necessary. The pile was getting embarrassing). This time, however, his choice caught my attention, and before I knew it, I had become wrapped up enough in the story to set the laundry down, run and get a notepad, and return to the couch to sit on top of the clean clothes pile while watching and writing (Apparently, I have now picked up the sit-on-the-laundry-instead-of-folding-it habit from my family, which is unfortunate, because it gives me fits when they do it….and I yell at them for this. Luckily, the kids were in bed and didn’t witness my lapse.). And, yes, I was taking notes during a movie. Don’t judge me. I already had to ignore the raised eyebrows and snickers from the other end of the couch.
The movie Gregg picked was Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson story, and it was based on his autobiography, which has the same title. I don’t know if you are aware of who Dr. Benjamin Carson is – I wasn’t until last night. I am now fascinated with his story, especially his earlier history.
He was born in 1951, one of two brothers, and raised by a single mother from age eight years old. His is a story of early struggle, redemption and triumph over any circumstance to burst through the other side a shining star. And while this is impressive, the theme that caught me was actually the backstory and fortitude of his mother.
Her scenes were my favorite, and I was in some degree of tears throughout most of them. She was a hard-working African-American woman, fighting to give her boys every opportunity for success in a time when her race hindered her as much as her lack of education. She had only attended school until the third grade, and had been raised in foster care until she married her husband at the age of 13. She was unable to read and had no special skills, yet had to find a way to feed and clothe her sons after her divorce (He had another family and children on the side. How’s that for a devastating blow?). In one heart-wrenching scene, she walks to a Psychiatric Hospital and stops an exiting nurse with this cry for help:
“I’ve got a darkness inside me I can’t control.”
My tears flowed freely at that declaration. They continued streaming down my face as she sat across from the kind doctor who met with her and poured out her story; a mother, terrified for her children’s future, doing the best she could while knowing deep inside it wasn’t nearly enough. Plagued by self-doubt and regret, she rocked and wrung her hands, while stating, “I’m so dumb. I can’t do much – just clean houses and babysit. I’m not worth enough. I’m nothing. And I’m terrified my boys will end up the same as me, in a place like this.”
I sat there and cried, because her statement was so heart-wrenching, and so loudly echoed the doubts and dark places, not only of my mind, but of the minds of so many of my friends and sisters out there.
And because when I watched her, the incompetent woman she described was not who I saw at all.
I saw a warrior, a fierce lioness who refused to give up. I saw a woman who, while not very educated, was extremely intelligent and resourceful. I saw a woman who personified some huge lessons we all could use in life. She was fierce, to say the least….and knew how and when to roar.
Lesson 1: Comparison truly is the stealer of all joy
When her sons would pop off about what everyone else was doing, her response was, “Don’t you worry about everyone else. The world is full of everybody else’s.” She refused to bow to the expectations of the social and political climate of the times, and she refused to allow her sons to settle into comfortable or careless routines. She had goals and plans, and she stuck to them, dragging her reluctant boys along with her. Her every action, every step was aimed at the achievement of her goals and the vision she had for her sons…not the movements or fortunes of her neighbor.
Lesson 2: Emulate the habits of those who have achieved success
Mid-way through the film, she began a new job, cleaning the house of a college professor. She was amazed by the number of books in his home. They were piled everywhere in his study, reaching to the ceiling in walls completely covered by bookshelves and covering the television set. When she asked him if he had read all of the books, his reply was, “Most of them.” From that day forward, her boys had books in their hands. She went home, turned off the TV, and set strict rules about what and how much they were to watch (and this in the days before the endless blogs and lists and studies about whether too much TV is good for or harms our children). She encouraged (ok, forced, initially) a love of learning and study patterns that changed their lives forever.
Lesson 3: Know when to ask for help
When her depression got to be too much, when she could no longer control the darkness, she went out and got help. The right help. She put aside her pride, shared her story and accepted the necessary treatment; going so far as to check into an inpatient facility for two weeks so she could get herself pulled together. And when she came home, she came home – recharged, reset and ready to hit the ground running again.
Lesson 4: Have faith
She raised her boys in the church, as believers, and taught them to pray. She opened their eyes to the fact that God is out there and miracles do exist, telling them, “You just gotta see beyond what you can see.” She stuck to that, no matter what, and never lost sight of God’s hand in her life….even on the dark days.
Lesson 5: Be an encourager
She was a genius coach and cheerleader, who used emboldened statements as she spurred her sons on to new heights of achievement. Never once did she express her doubts or concerns to them, choosing instead to fortify their spirits and energize their minds, while guarding their hearts from the lowering comments or mindsets of others. She pushed them, with love and discipline, to become the men her heart dreamed of and that her God had created.
They would go on to become successful, educated men – one an engineer, the other a doctor.
Ben, her baby, proceeded to gain notoriety as a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon; performing the first ever successful separation of craniopagus twins (Siamese twins joined at the head) in 1985, and later becoming the Head of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Today, he is a bestselling author, speaker, political commentator and outspoken Christian with a beautiful wife and three sons of his own.
Quite a legacy from a humble and unschooled mama, don’t you think?
I admire her. Her story touched my heart and humbled my spirit, while inspiring the woman and mother in me.
I’m going to post the list of these lessons in plain sight, and remind myself of them daily. They are clear and simple and profoundly truth-filled. They are possible. They are proven.
Who’s with me?
Solidarity, sisters. Go ahead and roar.