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Bold and Whole

Natalie observed the face of her grandmother, Rebecca, in the mirror as she dressed to attend church services at her spiritual center. Her mother, Elizabeth, stood in the bedroom door quietly watching them both. Rebecca scrunched up her face in obvious disapproval at the very colorful African inspired pantsuit that she had chosen to wear to her center’s annual Juneteenth celebration.

“Your grandfather would never let you set foot out of the house in that costume! I don’t approve of women wearing pants to church, but then, I don’t call that weird place that you go to a church!” Rebecca expressed in angry distaste to her granddaughter.

“This costume as you call it is paying homage to the end of slavery in this country and acknowledgement of our African heritage. We come from a proud people who established some of the first known civilizations on this planet. And by the way, we worship God at our center just as you do at your church,” Natalie said quietly, but forcefully, to her grandmother.

“I think her outfit is quite lovely,” Elizabeth said from her position at the door.

“You would think that! Your father never let you wear such jezebel colors, but this one here just ignores the rules your father setup for the family! She’s always been rebellious and disrespectful of the family ways!” Rebecca said sharply to her daughter as she rose from her seat on Natalie’s bed and exited the room in disgust at her daughter and granddaughter.

Natalie watched her grandmother leave with a resigned sigh of relief. This had been an ongoing weekly litany since the day that she had allowed her parents and grandmother to move into her home with her.
She had been at odds with her family almost her entire life. The restrictive rules that her grandfather had demanded that his family live by had been like shackles cutting off the flow of life.

“Mamma is lost without Daddy,” Elizabeth said to her daughter. “Daddy made the rules and we all lived by them. He was a pastor for almost his entire adult life and his family had to be beyond reproach.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Natalie agreed as she concentrated on doing the African fabric head wrap that matched her outfit.

Her mother had lived under the restrictive rules of her father and then her husband, who had been chosen by her father for her. She, Natalie, was the third of five children of her parents and had been labeled the problem child. From the age of 13 on, she had been called stubborn, ornery and disobedient because she had balked at the rules that made little sense to her. The family religion didn’t allow girls to participate in sports. She had ignored that and despite some whippings and other punishments she had become a star track athlete in high school.

Her success as a track star had garnered her a college scholarship and entrance to an elite college. Her father had forbidden her to accept the scholarship and again she had disobeyed him, accepted the scholarship and moved away from home to attend college. The family was outraged and she was banished from the family until she learned to live by their rules. She had worked her way through college and now possessed a doctorate in psychology and social work.

She had been accepted back into the family when she had reconnected with Prentice Latham whom she had known since childhood. Prentice had spent eight years in the army and had returned home to settle down. Her grandfather had officiated at their wedding and the family felt that she would now settle into the ways of the family and the church. After her marriage, she began to build her career and reputation as a psychologist working at a very prestigious medical center in town. This caused another problem with her family, her husband, and his family who felt that she should concentrate on being a wife and having a family. Prentice had difficulty adjusting to civilian life and quit job after job for a plethora of nonsensical reasons. Her salary provided almost all of their living expenses. It became her fault that Prentice couldn’t hold a job. Then it was her fault that Prentice started to drink excessively because she didn’t respect him as a husband. Whatever the problem in the marriage, it became her fault. The marriage was five years of purgatory until one night when Prentice attacked her and sent her to the hospital with severe injuries to her body. Of course, that action by Prentice was her fault, too. It was the end of the marriage. Despite entreaties by both families for her to work it out with him, she had divorced him.

At her work, she became an advocate for battered women and children, where she met her best friend, Rev. Sheila Mason, who introduced her to the philosophy of spiritual enlightenment. She attended Sheila’s center and began to take classes in their philosophy. She felt as if she was suddenly living in the sunlight of understanding having come out from under the depressing dark cloud of ignorance. Now five years later she was a prayer attendant at the center and it had given her psychology practice an understanding that drew people to her.

Her grandfather passed during this time, never accepting her choice of a new religious philosophy. Her father had been stricken with a stroke necessitating her to move her parents and grandmother into her home. She didn’t demand that they accept her choice in religious practice and their attendance at her ‘weird church’ as a condition of living with her. They were free to practice God as they chose and she didn’t feel the necessity to justify her choice to them.

Satisfied that her outfit was reflective of not only the Juneteenth celebration, but also of her own personal celebration of freedom, she winked at her reflection in the mirror, picked up her purse and left her bedroom to attend the church service and the celebration afterwards.

“May I go to church with you today?”, the voice of her mother, Elizabeth, inquired from the kitchen

“You want to go to my church?” Natalie asked in surprise.

“Yes, I do. You’re always so happy to go to church. You laugh with joy when you’re called upon to do work at your church. You are never angry at us when we criticize your life. You’re always so peaceful. I want to hear what you hear that makes you so free. I want to be free like you,” Elizabeth said to her.

“Then come along with me. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised,” Natalie invited her.

She smiled as they exited the kitchen headed to the garage. Her mother was wearing the pretty bright blue dress that she had given her for Mother’s Day that both her father and grandmother had disapproved of so vehemently. There was a shining spot of hope in her heart that her mother would indeed find her freedom and discover her bold wholeness.

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