3 Things My Stepfather Taught Me About Men

I was never close with my biological father. He and my mother divorced by the time I was 6 years old. A year later, a new man was in the picture. I was not happy about this and I made it pretty clear to Mama and her “new friend.” He received a lot of cold shoulder and 7-year-old side eye. Over time though, Mama’s new friend became my friend; one of my best friends actually. He eventually won me over with his authenticity and sensitivity which was something I did not see much in my family. He listened to my problems intently and answered all my questions honestly.

My mother never married Willie but he became the father in my life. I have fond memories of walks in the neighborhood and summer days at work with him. The conversations we had during those times helped create a bond between us that was stronger than genetics. It is that bond that I celebrate every Father’s Day.

My heart aches that I cannot be with my step-Father this Father’s Day, particularly during this health crisis. Since I cannot be there, it forces me to seek other ways to celebrate him. I will call him, of course. I will also call my biological father. Though that relationship is minimal, I can honor my step-Father by showing the grace he showed to others with the respect and kindness of a phone call. I will also reflect on the lessons my step-Father taught me.

I learned a lot on our walks and during our conversations. He taught me about working hard and staying true to myself. He was the lone voice that told me I could be whatever I wanted to be; not what others were telling me I should be. He also taught me about men. We had discussions about boys when I was a teenager and the kind of man he wanted me to have. However, I learned the most about men by the life experiences he shared and watching his relationship with my mother.

So, on this Father’s Day, I will celebrate my wonderful step-Daddy by sharing three great lessons I learned from his life that allow me to understand men a bit better and helps me to see them through the Christ’s blood stained lens of God.

1. Men Love Hard

I was always fascinated by my stepfather’s heart. It boggled my mind how he had any heart left after giving so much of it away. His arm bore a piece of his heart in a tattoo with the initials of his first love. There were pieces of his heart in graves. Then there was the piece my Mother had. Not much could compare to what he endured with my mother. Their relationship was very tumultuous.. Both contributed to their problems but he took the grunt of things. Somehow, he kept coming back. He was there for rough times. If he was away, phone calls were guaranteed.Whatever she needed, regardless of the state of their relationship, he did his best to meet it. And when we lost my mother, he was lost. I know that men’s heart can be broken because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen what happens to them when someone cracks their soul. I saw it when she was alive and after she died. I’ve looked in the face of a heart being mended. That vision has taught me that, just like women, the hearts of men should be handled with care.

2. Men Battle Depression

My stepfather was an alcoholic. There were years when he would recover and then something would happen. I remember seeing him when he would take his first sip. Even when he was sober, I could tell he was battling to keep his desire to live. There were times when he walked around with this overwhelming cloud of utter despair. His sisters would talk to him. Friends would reach out. I begged him to just pick himself up. As I got older, I realized that he needed more than a pick me up. He was in a hole of which he had to be dug out. Alcohol was never the problem. It was a symptom of the depression he was living in. Today, my step-Father still battles…but he is battling. He’s still fighting. His fight has taught me that men experience deep sadness and darkness. Sometimes they need help to see the sun.

3. Men Take Pride in Providing…the good ones do

I loved when I could go to work with my step-Father. He worked hard and he liked his work. The slight smile on his face when he received his pay was sweet. That same smile would come across his face when he took me to the Waffle House or gave money to my mother to pay a bill. It was a very slight upturn at the corner of his mouth but his eyes were always shining at those moments. My step-Father enjoyed seeing me happy. Providing was a means by which he showed his deep love. People say a lot of things they don’t mean. My stepfather taught me that men don’t put their money where their mouth is. They put their money where their heart is. 

Happy Father’s Day!

The Line Between a Black and White Student

One of my favorite scenes from the show, Scandal, is when the audience first learns who Olivia’s father is. He scolds her for her behavior that has gotten her into a scandal of her own. Then he reminds her of one of the lessons he drilled into her as a child. “How many times have I told you…you have to be what?” After her father yells for her to answer, Olivia finally responds. “Twice as good”

Most young, Black, children have heard their parents say this line. “You have to be twice as good, to get half of what they have.” I heard it from my mother and grandfather. I never doubted the validity of the statement, but the reality of its truth is only now resonating.

As someone who works with children, I see the full spectrum of academic achievement. Lately, while working with clients with less than perfect grades or difficulties focusing, I realized that their plight is very different from my cousin who shared the same issues. It is important to note, at the time of this writing, none of my clients are of color. I look at what I saw growing up with other kids and see the challenges that lie ahead for Black children with average grades.

This month many children return to school and to different expectations.

However, while working with clients with the same grades, I see the advantages they have. They will not have to face the added responsibility of breaking a stereotype. They will not have to worry about getting past an interviewer’s preconceived notions about their race. They will not have to think about how ethnic their name sounds or reads on an application. If my client and my cousin seek the same opening, with the same average grades, chances are my client gets in, while my cousin slips through the cracks.

Click here for a great video explaining how this works.

Success does not come easy for most people, no matter the race. The unfortunate reality is that the playing field is not level. It starts from day one, on the field of education. On this playing field, average is not the best for anyone and it is the absolute worst for Black children. I get it now. To level the playing field as a Black student, we must be excellent in all that we do. While excellence can be a goal for other races, it must be a standard for Black people. It is our excellence that will break stereotypes, get us past preconceived notions and make people see beyond our name.

I absolutely encourage pursuing excellence. It just ticks me off that it takes excellence for a black person to get what the average white person has.

Rent Trouble and Rest

Yesterday, I woke up in a worship mood. Today, Sunday, was not the case. Today, I woke up asking God why I’m struggling so much when I’m doing what he told me to do.
I have not paid the rent for February. Now, March rent is due and I’m still $250 short of what I need for February. As of right now, I need about $1500 in 4 days. And all God keeps saying is,

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” Isaiah 30:15 NIV

In the last several months, I have lost my car and my mother’s house. It has been extremely difficult, but in a strange way, it has also been amazing. My relationship with God has grown in a huge way. I’m learning about him being my loving father and my living water. He has really wanted me to believe him as my stability. Every day, I’ve tried to remind myself who he is to me and for me. But, in times like this, it is hard not to think I’m crazy.

I want a freaking job. But, God keeps telling me to work what he’s put in front of me. That’s fine. The problem is what he’s put in front of me is not paying the bills. His response is, “I know it’s not. I am.”

Today, I had to catch the bus to church. I had to be there early to serve our high school ministry. On the first bus, I requested the stop and the bus just kept going. I walked up to the driver and he did not apologize. He just motioned where he would stop for me to get off. Now, I’m a little perturbed.

As I walk to the stop where I have to catch the second bus, I see a homeless man picking up scooters. I hoped I could just walk by but he spotted me coming down the sidewalk and stretched his arms wide. It actually made me smile. I got closer and looked into his eyes. He reminded me of my stepfather. I engaged in a sweet conversation with him about God and his love. I usually don’t give money in these situations but my heart was moved. Then, he sang a worship song by Matt Redman to me. As I’m listening, I look to my left and see the bus I’m trying to catch. “Oh, that’s my bus,” I said to the man. I tried to catch it but it was too late. The homeless man even ran in the middle of the street to try to stop the bus. This only irritated the driver and she left anyway. I thanked the man for trying. As I walked away, the man said, “You didn’t waste time.”

I caught another bus, to another transfer, to another bus. While sitting in my seat, I couldn’t help but think how this situation was exactly what I was talking to God about when I woke up this morning. Here I am. I was talking with a homeless man about God, listening to his worship and end up missing my bus. I tried to remind myself that I could be homeless. But when I think of my current rent situation, dern it! I’m pretty close.

I do trust that God will come through. He always does. My prayer is that I don’t have to answer for him. I have no idea what to say to the landlord if he calls. How do I keep calm if I come back from work one day this week and there’s a 3 day eviction notice on my door. I’ve had to deal with this on a few occasions. I’m trying to do it God’s way but this is freaking hard.

How do I rest in this mess??!!

Feeling like you lost it all…

How many times have I dropped to the floor in exhaustion? Will I have to fight battles for the rest of my life? When will my season of blessings come?

I have asked God many questions during times of trials. There have been moments where I begged God to just let me give up. But, he didn’t. He always sent something or someone to remind me that he is not through with me. He reminds me that he will do what he said he would do.

“…For he is faithful that promised.” Hebrews 10:23 KJV

Twice in my life, I have lost nearly everything. I have hated God. I have totally distrusted God. I have wanted so desperately to walk away from God. Yet, like a blinded lover, I could never just walk away. Something in me just could not let go. When I lost everything, I still had this love that compelled me to believe in Him…just one more time.

The greatest lesson in losing everything is knowing that you didn’t. If you are still breathing, you still have your life. It may not be the life you wanted or the life you saw for yourself, but it is life. Everyday of life is another chance, another opportunity to find what you have lost or to start again. And if you think you can’t…
“Find a way.”

Exposed on the Expo Line

Boy, am I learning, or more accurately, being reminded an important spiritual lesson. First of all, I must fight laziness. I woke up Sunday morning and wasted 10 minutes pondering whether or not I would catch the bus I planned in order to get to service. I knew it was important for my spirit just to be in the church if only for praise and worship. But I rationalized, over and over, why I didn’t need to go. Those 10 minutes cost me and I ended up not being able to catch the original bus anyway.

Then, I continued to procrastinate catching two other available buses with the excuse that I wouldn’t get there in time so why bother. While sitting there, I chose to watch a short about high rents and eviction. Very unwise!!! I’m in the middle of learning how to trust God fully and how real faith works. This is being exercised now in my own rent situation. Watching only 11 minutes was enough to tickle the doubt I battle every day. I fed my fear instead of my faith. 
Thankfully, I have been really nourishing my spirit with God’s word. So though I definitely started an unnecessary fight with my flesh, my spirit is winning. 

Every decision you make is important. They affect your spirit and emotional well being in ways you may not be aware of. Even the little decisions can have great impact on outcomes. They cause a chain reaction that lead to life changing results.

I will be begging for God’s mercy and forgiveness for wasting those 10 minutes.

Passing Me By

I hate catching the bus to church. I admit, getting up early on Sunday, to get on a bus more than three hours before I have to be there…well, it sucks. Adding to the dreadful experience is the second bus I transfer to, in order to get to my church. There’s always some type of incident.

Yesterday, there was a film production downtown causing all the buses to detour. I thought my stop would avoid the confusion but I was very mistaken. I panicked when the driver yelled, “Last stop,” and I had no idea where we were. I got off the bus and began walking down some street but was stopped by security. “This street is closed. They’re filming.”

I turned around and began to panic. I had to calm myself down as the tears formed in my eyes. I was scheduled to teach at our youth church for the first time. I could not be late today. I kept walking a few blocks and saw a bus stop with my route number. Now, I felt stupid for getting crazy. I realized the real reason I got upset. What really bothered me was the fact that filming was delaying my arrival.

Acting is what I want to do. A set location is where I want to be. It is such a fight not to be discouraged when I see billboards for new shows or when I pass studios. All I think about are the acting jobs that exist that I do not have.

I stood at the bus stop for a few minutes. Suddenly, I looked down the street and saw the bus I was waiting on, turn the opposite direction. WHAT!!!!?? Here I am waiting, where the sign says. I’m standing where I’m supposed to be! And the freaking bus is passing me by!

Talk about a metaphor.

The bus stopped about a block away. The man waiting with me, took off running. I hesitated.

I realize, while writing this, I tend to do that often. For some reason, sometimes, my first reaction when faced with the slightest detour, is to give up. In that moment, I was willing to accept being late to my first teaching opportunity. There are times I am willing to accept defeat because it is easier. Running towards my opportunity seemed pointless, or more accurately, too hard.

I watched the man running for a few seconds. The bus had not moved. I felt stupid waiting at the stop when my bus was clearly in reach. All I had to do was run one block. If only I would do a little work that I did not expect, I could get to my destination. If I could just get over my pride in appearance and just be OK with looking a little silly, I would be able to complete my assignment.

I took off running. I got to the intersection and stopped. The pedestrian light was blinking. I watched the man get on the bus. Now, I had to decide if I was willing to take a risk. If I stood at the corner and waited for the next light, I would surely miss the bus. Again, for a brief moment, I thought about giving up. There were cars at the light. The drivers would be pissed if I walked in the crosswalk and their light turned green. But, I felt it. They were not going to hit me. My Father was not going to let them hit me. I ran through the crosswalk.

I made it to the bus.

“Thank you for waiting,” I said.
“No problem,” the driver replied with a smile.

She waited for me. The bus had been waiting the whole time.
I did not miss my bus. I have not missed my destiny.

Looking In at the Bus Stop

Today, I had an unexpected babysitting job with one of my favorite kids. This required two buses. My first bus was on time but just a little traffic threw it off schedule. As the bus approached my transfer stop, I watched the bus I needed to get on next, drive by. I got off at the stop, took out my tablet and searched for alternate routes. Thankfully, another bus was scheduled in 15 minutes. I would be cutting it close but would still get to my client in a timely manner.

Bus stop at Plasencia Elementary

The weather was gorgeous. I sat at the bus stop and noticed the school directly across the street. A large mural of children and parents, lined the entrance gate. However, you could not see faces. There were only silhouettes. The line of bustling families went all the way down the block. I looked at each form. Some were tall. Some were short. There were clearly girls, boys, men and women. Different shapes of human profiles were playing. Different sizes of human profiles held hands or balloons. With all their differences, there were two very clear elements they shared.
They were all human and they were all going to be educated.

…”Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance but the LORD looks at the heart.”
I Samuel 16:7 NIV

The viewer does not need to see faces or colors. The viewer does not need to know what clothes are worn. All one needs to see is humans. See what God sees when he looks at every single one of us.

Riding the bus is teaching me how to do just that.

Surprises on the Metro

I was happy to be scheduled to work an hour later than usual. Since my car was repossessed (read about that here), I have had to catch three buses and a train, at 4:30am to get to my part time job. It has not been easy. The two buses and a train, today, was a welcomed change.

I was surprised when I got off the train to my next bus. The silence caught me off guard. I thought there would be many more people with the time being closer to rush hour than my normal commute. I looked around. Only a few people sat on a bench waiting for the next train. They were staring at nothing as most people do on the subway. I found myself needing to take a moment to appreciate it.

After my short shift, I went to my usual bus stop. A co-worker was there. She and I have just begun to develop a re pore. I was a bit put off by her when we met a few months ago. I thought she was a bit aloof. As time passed, I admitted my envy. She is better at my job. She is faster and more productive. This was a hard pill to swallow. Once I realized that the problem was me, I knew it was going to take God’s hand to help me get over myself. I talked to him about it. He didn’t waste any time. (I wish he handled other things this quickly.) The very next morning, he orchestrated a simple situation that allowed us to have a conversation. I also had the opportunity to verbally acknowledge her work ethic on multiple occasions. This has truly made a difference in how I relate to her before, during and after work.

The bus (and train) ride home were uneventful, but still an experience. While at the stop with my co-worker, I saw two female police officers. This is not something you see every day. I appreciated the girl power moment. While waiting for the train, I helped a tourist family with directions. It felt weird to be able to assist. I was glad I knew what I was talking about. I was also reminded of how long I’ve been in L.A. As my train was arriving, I wished them well. The parents shook my hand. Then, out of nowhere, the father spoke for my heavenly Father. My spirit leaped at the Shepherd’s voice. He spoke healing over my illness. I couldn’t understand everything he said due to the roar of the train but I knew my Father was there. He wanted me to feel his presence.

I needed that.

My New Year

It’s been a little over two months since the car repossession. I have told a few more people out of necessity. I am an official public transportation commuter. I was going to try shared riding but just can’t get past the idea of it basically being a ‘hitchhiking app.’ I have structured my days around the bus schedule. My body’s time clock has changed. The wee hour morning wake up calls have made it difficult for me to stay up past midnight. Going to church has become opening my laptop to watch our service on Facebook live. Though, I’ve worked something out with a fellow church member who teaches children’s church with me. She was one of the people I had to tell out of necessity. It has been a major adjustment, but I’m still here.

My birthday was a couple weeks ago. It started out pretty discouraging because I missed the bus to get to morning yoga. I was in tears. It was another reminder of my struggles. I was feeling left behind, not just by the bus but in life. Then a man at the bus stop got my attention with a loud,
I politely greeted him in return but wanted that to be the end of it. That was not the plan.
“How you doing,” he asked loudly?
He wasn’t going to leave me alone. “Not so good, actually. I missed the bus.”
“Well, that’s not as bad as the day I’m having. I just lost my wallet. All of my ID and everything is gone.”

It was clear he wanted a listening ear. I definitely did not feel like giving one but since I wasn’t going anywhere, I figured I’d walk over. What could have been a very uncomfortable conversation turned into a session of encouragement for both of us. I listened to his deep love for his mother. I remembered my own loss as he revealed through tears that he still mourns her death 44 years later. He was only 18 when he lost her. I thought about my stepfather as he talked about his alcoholism. This man shared his life story with me.

As I listened, I realized how easy I slipped into ungratefulness over missing the bus. I realized how this would have spiraled into anxiety and depression on my birthday. I was so convicted in my spirit. Then, this man said he thought God did not care about him anymore. Immediately, I interrupted.

“What? No! No! God’s love does not change because of something you did. No way! The same way your mother loved you no matter what and with open arms; that’s the same way God, your Heavenly Father loves you. His arms are open, waiting for you. Just open yours.”

He did. I gave him a hug. At that moment, another bus was coming. I told this man one more thing, just for him and got on the bus. I sat down and recalled what I told him about his Heavenly Father. I remembered that love applies to me as well.

My birthday turned out to be lovely day. I spent some time with a friend. I had afternoon tea with a cast mate. It was beautiful. I am grateful.

This year, I think, is going to be full of lovely surprises. I’m looking forward to it.

My Trip to ‘Clybourne Park’

Scene from “Clybourne Park”

My acting career got off to a great start this year. I booked a play in February! Performing in the Tony award winning play, Clybourne Park, was an honor and a treat. I worked with a seasoned cast and wonderful crew. Most importantly I gained experience that I will apply in future roles.
And thank you to Shari Barrett at Broadway World for the great review.

“Ruthenna Porterfield, whose facial expressions express her disdain to a tee without having to utter a word.”

Check out the full review by clicking here.

Cast of Theatre Palisades production of Clybourne Park