Archive for the ‘Maya Angelou’ Tag

Just Like a Mother

Maya Angelou  Dr. Maya Angelou, writer, poet, teacher, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in the US), tells the story about how she became the first African-American streetcar conductor at the age of sixteen in San Francisco.

She told her mother that she wanted that job for the summer, and when her mother asked why, Angelou said that she admired the uniform the female streetcar conductors wore (a woman after my own heart!).  Her mother encouraged her to apply, and when she was turned down because she was black, her mother told her to show up every day and sit in the office until someone would speak to her and give her an interview.  Although it took two full weeks, her persistence paid off, and Angelou was finally given the job.

Her shift would begin early in the morning, long before sunrise.  Though many would agree that such a position would be unsafe for a sixteen-year-old girl, especially in the dark hours of morning in downtown San Francisco, her mother allowed her to do it because she wanted the job.

However, Angelou shares that her mother would drive her down to the wharf in the wee hours of the morning, a loaded pistol on the front seat, to drop her off at her streetcar.  She then would follow the streetcar, in the car with her pistol, as Angelou would traverse the streets of San Francisco.  At daybreak, her mother would wave and go home.Maya Angelou streetcar conductor

I love this story for a number of reasons, but I’m particularly struck by her mother’s willingness to allow her to do what she wanted to do, yet at the same time, she protectively stayed close by.  I think this story can give us an image of how the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy seeing us use our individual talents and express our distinct personalities, giving us complete freedom, but always staying close by.

Far too often, we go through this life thinking we are on our own, or maybe we believe that whatever we do for fun or for work is outside the realm of the spiritual.  I see this story as another reminder that “in him [Christ] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  We are unique creations, each given specific gifts and desires that, when used properly, bring great joy to others, ourselves, and our God.

We need to see the Father, Son, and Spirit as accompanying us in our day-to-day activities (with or without a pistol on the front seat!), loving, watching, and participating with great pleasure as we fulfill our place in the world.

~by Nan Kuhlman

photos courtesy of OWN

Death and Butterflies

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes
it has gone through to achieve that beauty.  ~Maya Angelou

My mother-in-law, Joan Kuhlman, passed away a few weeks ago from Alzheimer’s disease.  A beautiful butterfly wreath adorned her door at the nursing home during her last day of life, most likely to make the staff aware that a resident was dying.  The motif of butterflies reappeared in the lovely floral casket spray, without our special request.  Because this symbol of rebirth kept coming up, the beauty of butterflies and their vision of hope made me reflect on death as a change of life rather than an end of life.

Death is a journey into the unknown, and although reports of those who have died and were brought back to life seem encouraging, it truly is the “final frontier.”  There is one, however, who took our mortality with him into death and then came through it, holding tightly to our hands:

                        Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?  It was sin that made death so frightening

and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power.  But now in a

single victorious stroke of Life, all three– sin, guilt, death– are gone, the gift of

our Master Jesus Christ.  Thank God! (I Cor. 15:55, The Message)

When Christ entered death as the Son of God in the flesh, he took our humanity with him.  Through death, he purged our collective human nature of its sin and gave us all eternal life.  Many enjoy the knowledge and experience of this gift now; others will hopefully enjoy it in the future.

The life cycle of the butterfly is a useful illustration for us to consider.  Although no analogy is perfect, the idea is probably pretty accurate that our human life now is like that of a caterpillar, growing yet limited.  The idea of death as a cocoon reminds me of Christ’s three days in the tomb, and the emergence of a butterfly reveals the promise of resurrection to a life of glory.  Maya Angelou’s quote sums up what we often think about death, that we don’t want to admit or acknowledge until it lands in our laps that it is indeed a natural part of our life cycle process.  This part of our life cycle has its mysteries and its gruesomeness, much like the process of birth into life.  Without this change, this time spent in a cocoon, there would be no butterflies.

Throughout her extended illness, the only thing our family wished was for Joan to be healed of this disease and for her to be restored to her normal personality.  It was something we hoped and prayed for, yet in some respects, we were wishing for her to stay a “caterpillar.”  We are certain, beyond any doubt, that Jesus Christ was with Joan in her cocoon, and just as certain that he will be in ours, too. For her, Alzheimer’s disease was an extended cocoon through which Joan, in her full glory, would emerge, more whole, well, and beautiful than we ever knew.

~by Nan Kuhlman

“When You Know Better…”

  I have been an avid watcher of Oprah’s Lifeclass, and I have enjoyed the lessons she’s shared from 25 years of interviewing people.  One episode particularly piqued my interest, which was called “When you know better, you do better.”  This quote came from Oprah’s mentor Maya Angelou, who said this to Oprah when she was recounting all the mistakes she made when she was younger.

I think this quote rings true for all of us because I think we understand that many of the mistakes we make are the result of not understanding the true consequences of our actions at the time.   Once we learn better, we do better, if for no other reason than we don’t want the same negative consequence again.

It was obvious, though, that this truism fell short as Oprah revealed the story of  a former prostitute who still felt as if she was “all used up,” despite having broken her addiction to drugs and working the streets.   Oprah tried to assure her that she was not “all used up,” but the former prostitute seemed unconvinced that she could ever be made fully whole from her previous life.

What this illustrates, I think, is that our human wisdom is good, but not good enough.  This woman needed assurance from her Heavenly Father that, despite her sin, she was treasured, valued, and loved beyond measure.  Our human wisdom points out the obvious, that after getting hit with a brick on the head, we learn not to walk under the ladder.  But what we’re missing is that even after we know better, we still need the healing that only the Triune God can give us, namely, the assurance that in spite of our screw-ups, we are still beloved children.

You see, after a person has changed his or her life and no longer participates in self-destructive and demeaning behavior, other people haven’t forgotten and are sometimes quick to remind them.  The beautiful thing is that our Triune God doesn’t condemn us, doesn’t keep an accounting of our rights and wrongs.   When the Pharisees were going to stone a woman who had made a big mistake, Jesus showed the Father’s heart toward us when we sin:

                “‘…Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery.  Moses, in the law, gives order to stone such persons.  What do you say?’

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt… (then) he straightened up and said, ‘The sinless one among you, go first:  Throw the stone…’

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest.  The woman was left alone.  Jesus stood up and spoke to her.  ‘Woman, where are they?  Does no one condemn you?’

‘No one, Master.”

‘Neither do I,’ said Jesus.  ‘Go on your way.  From now on, don’t sin.'” (John 8:3-11, The Message).

When Jesus said, “From now on, don’t sin,” he was not asking the woman to quit adultery because it was on the list of rules the Israelites (and the rest of us) were supposed to keep.  He was concerned that her behavior was keeping her from achieving her best and fullest potential, and her shame was keeping her from accepting love and healing from the Triune God.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not condemn us but seek to restore and heal us.  Maya Angelou’s advice is good, but it only treats part of the problem.  The deepest part is our need to be healed of our shame for making the mistake in the first place, and only the love of the Triune God can fix that.  Maybe we should add a caveat to Oprah’s life lesson:

“When you know better, you do better.  And when you know God’s love better, your heart is healed and restored.”

~by Nan Kuhlman

~photos courtesy of

%d bloggers like this: