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Nelson Mandela: When a Giant Falls

11 Dec

The earth rumbles and groans
The winds whistle in despair
The seas stand still
The inhibitors weep
Yet, the Gods above look down and smile

When a Giant falls
A recording of the record is read out loud
Who was this Giant?
What great things did he do?
Why does the earth rumble and groan so?

He was what Martin L. King Jr. was to America
….Mahatma Gandhi was to India
….Yitzhak Rabin was to Israel
….Benazir Bhutto was to Pakistan
….Steven Biko was to South Africa

He was a:
Revolutionary
Activist
Humanitarian
Visionary
Political Prisoner
South Africans simply call him, “the Father of the Nation”

Why then,
Why do the Gods look down and smile when a Giant falls?

Because they know it is not the end
For every time a Giant falls,
That same day, somewhere,
One is being born

By: SRF ©

Leaving flowers at the Embassy of South Africa (WDC)

Leaving flowers at the Embassy of South Africa (WDC)

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Returning to Haiti: “Behind Mountains, there are Mountains”

16 Oct

haiti2013
Visiting Haiti is always a very moving and humbling experience. While poverty and uncertainty is all around, its people continue to share valuable lessons –lessons only a wise man dream of giving and a rich man dream of hearing.

Faithful, are these people; strong, are these people.  While many would sink into a bottomless hole of bitterness and despair, being born into such poverty, suffering, daily hunger and disease, Haitians continue to weather every storm. They continue to endure.  They’ve seen worst. Even before the 2010 earthquake, there was the fight for their independence some 200 years ago.

Best described by one photograhper, “no, Haiti is not a rich place, by material standards, but indeed it is rich – in its strong faith, its diverse creativity and its powerful culture.”   Because of this, it’s worth visiting at least in one lifetime.

 My second trip to Haiti almost didn’t happen. Job and personal travel obligations almost pushed this trip into 2014. But the phone calls and emails of the kids I work with at the orphanage drove me to make a way. I landed in Haiti the week before America’s Columbus Day. From Washington D.C., I flew to JFK (NY), from JFK, I flew to Haiti. It was a packed flight with many Haitians on board. We were all excited and happy to be returning!

Once the plane landed, in a spirit of thanksgiving, the Haitians immediately held their hands to the heavens and started singing, “Bondye a, di ou mèsi pou kenbe nou, pou l ap gade sou us.you yo, wa nou yo ak nou yo, se pou rekonesan. di ou mèsi, di ou mèsi, di ou mèsi pou kenbe nou. Nou yo san danje yon fwa ankò.”

I was prepared, this time. This is what happened on my last trip. Unlike then, I knew a lot more Haitian Creole, so I joined in, “God, thank you for keeping us, for watching over us. You are our king and we are so grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping us. We are safe once again.”

It was an uplifting spiritual. And it set the tone for my entire 5-day stay in Haiti.

My ride from the airport revealed improvement. Light poles were up…and working. Electrical lines were wired throughout the city. I saw no tents or “tent city” as I did last year. (Many Haitians lived in tents after the 2010 earthquake, sometimes planted in 3-to-4 feet of mud and stench.) Modest two-room homes were being built out of wood and cement. As we snaked around a farmer’s market, I saw bright bananas, plantains, red peppers and potatoes.

I also saw children, many children being let-out from school. It was a beautiful, colorful sight of green/white, blue/white, orange/white uniforms dodging, sometimes skipping, across the fields, books in hand, headed home. I became very overwhelmed and anxious to see my children at the orphanage!

When I reached the orphanage, I was greeted by children that remembered me. I was greeted by smiles and kisses; hugs and tears. I was given class artwork, homemade candy and handmade jewelry. I too, had gifts: paint, paint brushes, colored pencils, socks, handkerchiefs, lip-gloss, powder, hair grease, deodorant, ribbons, candy and bubble gun. They were very appreciative, as always.

It was a great feeling to see them again – happy and healthy.  What was surprising was they were not the clingy, whining kids I remembered. They were independent and confident. They smiled, laughed and talked more. They held their heads up high. In short, they were healing – all had lost their parent(s) during the 2010 earthquake – and moving on. I was very proud of them and the Haitians that continue to take care of them daily. Love was all throughout the place.

This trip led me to think about a conversation I had with a Haitian American once. “Many would be mad at God if they had to live the life of a Haitian,” I said.

He quickly responded, “We don’t feel abandon by God. We use faith as the antidote for our misery. If I lose my feet, I have my hands; if I lose my legs, I have my arms. It’s called, ‘Dèyè mòn gen mòn’. (Behind mountains, there are mountains) We know the road will never be easy for us, yet, we climb on, believing our faith will carry us throughout this journey.”

©2013

Keeping the Jar Full

17 Dec

Kids, our future, our hope

My neighbor’s 5 yrs old son, Mason, was waiting for me when I walked outside to work this morning. “You so high,” he goes. I know he means tall…he has the right idea.
 
At least twice a week, Mason greets me when I go outside, heading to work. I open my front door, he goes straight to the tootsie roll jar, grabs a handful and flops down on my sofa…tennis shoes and all. I can’t stand tootsie rolls, but I know he’ll be by, so I keep the jar full.
 
In the aftermath of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School (CT), and all the SHEroes that put their lives on the line, I’m reminded, we need to “keep the jar full” for other folks’ kids.
 
-SRF
 
 “The world is more malleable than you think, it’s just waiting for YOU to hammer it into shape.” -BONO
 

Pray for Wisdom and Courage

10 Dec

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I remember a dynamic church service I heard many, many years ago that I’ve never forgotten. The title of the service, “Wisdom and Courage.” Don’t pray for things, pray for Wisdom and Courage. Wisdom – to discern, to make the right decisions, the very best decisions for your life. Courage – to trust God, to have the strength and the willpower to stick to those decisions.

The pastor said, we should delve into the Bible, asking God to open our eyes to HIS truth and HIS way. The Lord promises us that HIS Word never returns void. And if we memorize and meditate on scripture, HE will bring the truth to our minds at the appropriate time. God promises wisdom to ALL his children who ask.

“Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” -I Kings 3:9

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you…” 1 Chronicles 28:20

How simple, how powerful is that? To lay aside our laundry list of “things” – cars, homes, life mates, vacations, jewelry, jobs, statues, etc. and ask God for Wisdom and Courage. For if we do not have Wisdom, how can we manage, how can we keep things? If we do not have courage, how can we assign the appropriate position, place for things in our lives?

In this season of giving and receiving, we are mesmerized by things – shiny, bright things – that sometimes hinder and confuse our walk with God. These “things” can also be places, people, situations that serve absolutely no purpose in our lives. Some of us are spinning our wheels, wasting precious time trying to prove points, fit in, show strength at the cost of our spiritual growth.

When God reveals truth to us, how can we go against it, deny it? How can we reject God’s Truth for man’s truth?  How many times has God revealed something to us – not in black/white, but color – and we looked away, turned a deaf ear? How many times has God kept us awake at night, spoke to us in our dreams, caused us to lose our appetite, numbed us to the words of others and we still deny his truth because we are more afraid of man’s actions, life’s situations than God’s word? We put our trust in things instead of God.

When Jesus told Peter to come to Him on the water, He did not ask the impossible. Peter walked on the water. Yes, Peter was afraid because he was focused on the waves instead of Jesus.He looked at the water instead of the Man who made the water.”  As Peter began to sink, he looked back to Jesus and reached for the hand that controlled all circumstances! Immediately Jesus reached out to him!

We should not be afraid to step forward when God has prepared us to move forward – when he is there to hold our hand.

As this year comes to an end, and the new year quickly approaches, let us reach for the hand that controls all circumstances! Let us be wise, let us be courageous in our walk with God!

-SRF

“Seventy Times Seven”

27 Oct

My brothers and sisters (including me, sitting in the blue dress) at my dad’s funeral (minus 3 who declined to be in the photo)

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother (father) or sister (mother) who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

A portion of my father’s obituary reads….

“On Thursday August 2, 2012 of Clinton, MD. Loving husband…..Survived by 17 children, 5 sisters, 30 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren.”

It had been a day I knew was fast approaching – my father’s funeral. The last time I saw him, I knew it wouldn’t be long. He did too. I remember asking him, “how are you doing?” His response, “just waiting on the Lord.”

 As I silently read my name in his obituary, I paused. That’s my name – Shawn Foster, I thought. My father is dead. A part of me – whether good or bad – is gone, forever. Unlike the grieving that many children do at a parent’s funeral, that grieving of extreme sorrow and loss, my grieving was different. I felt a great deal of sadness for my father. I wondered did he die in peace. I also wondered did he make it into heaven.

I  sat back in my pew, closed my eyes and thought back to the first time I met him.

The fall of 1991. My half sister – both of us sharing the same birth year, one month a part– and him showed up at my college for a football game. The second time, was the spring of 1993. At my college graduation. Both times, were very awkward. He walked up to me, arms open wide and said, “I’m your daddy, baby.” I halted and just stared, then reluctantly walked into his embrace. I was afraid, happy and confused at the same time. I didn’t know how to respond. Maybe something sweet – “Hi daddy, thanks for coming” or something harsh – “who are you, why now, where the h*ll have you been?”

When I was growing up, my mother never really talked about my father. I remember being young and occasionally asking about him. She would quickly respond, “Paul…Paul is your father.” Paul is my stepfather, the only father I’ve known and loved. 

As I became a teen, my mother made me aware of my “biological” father – she put strong emphasis on the word “biological.” She told me where he lived and where he worked – alongside my aunt in Washington, DC. My mother never told me anything negative about my father – never. She would always tell me, you will find out who your father is, in time.  She also made it clear, all these years, my father knew where I was and how to get in contact with me.

When I moved to Washington, DC after college, I decided to stay with him and his then, third wife, until I could find stable employment. During this time, I not only came to know some of my many other brothers and sisters, I also came to know my father – the good, the bad and the real, real ugly.  

My father was a very confident man. Stern in his convictions. He walked with his head up and he looked you right in your eyes when talking to you. He was comfortable in any environment and he knew how to adjust and work any situation to his advantage. He studied people. Being a veteran, he was very knowledgeable, especially about current and world affairs. He was also very opinionated and often direct. He was sometimes comical too. Once on his voicemail greeting, “This is….. if this is one of my children calling about $$, there is no need to leave a message because I don’t have any.”  

I have all these characteristics of my father. While they have helped me be a very independent woman, and further my career and personal life, they have also caused problems, confusion, pain and misunderstandings.

The biggest character flaw my father had was his obsession with women. The man LOVED women. When I was staying with him, even though on his third marriage, in his 60s, he was still, very much, a “lady’s man.” In fact, when he came to my college graduation, I learned the woman that accompanied him was not his wife. While staying with my father,  it wasn’t nothing to see him out in the streets with other women. I wondered, what in the world is he saying to these women. Yet, it didn’t really bother me – so I thought – until one day there was a very close encounter and I vividly remembered the words of my mom.

While staying with him and his then third wife, I remember coming home and finding him, pants down, with another woman, bent over a stool in the den. I was shocked and embarrassed. As I stood at the bottom of the stairs, mouth wide open, he calmly got up, pulled up his pants, angrily pushed me into a wall and asked, what the f**k are you doing home? Not being able to breath, I was terrified. Crying, I said, it’s a holiday. I don’t work today. Shortly after that, he told me I had to go. He gave me $200 and I was out within two months. At his funeral, I found out, a similar incident happened to another sister that stayed with him. He quickly put her out too.

I left my father’s house that winter disillusioned and suffering from extreme depression. The crazy thing or not-so-crazy thing, I was 100% functional. I was functioning at my best. I did my best work, won numerous awards from work,  even enrolled at GWU. I credit God and Earth, Wind & Fire, for this strength. It was not at all me. At my lowest, I was still on the top. God has always had his hands on me. 

It would be 10 years later when I reached out to my father again. As I grew older and went through my own personal experiences, my heart soften and the weights gradually lifted. I started working on forgiving him, and stopped trying to understand and rationalized his ways.

I actually felt sorry for him and constantly worried about him.  Even though I didn’t want to see him, I would always call him, track him down. My father traveled a lot…as I stated, he was a “lady’s man” which kept him on the road. At one time, I had about 10 different phone numbers for him. I would call my aunts, his aunts, lovers, anybody to find him. In the process of trying to find him, I would locate a sister here or a brother there. It was crazy. Once I would find my father, he would ask, “what’s wrong, what do you want?” I would laugh through pain and respond, “I’m still getting in your way.” This is what we did – on and off – the last years of his life.

Last year (2011), I went to my father’s family reunion, for the first time, in South Carolina. My father’s sister, my aunt, had invited me stay. There, I was able to meet other family members. I was sadden to hear that my father had been very sick. He normally would be in attendance but he was in the hospital.

When I returned home, I went to see my father for the first time since he kicked me out his house. As I walked into his hospital room, I knew he was on his last lap of life. His heart was giving out. He looked tired, worn out. Although 76, he looked like a 90 year old man. He was very frail and didn’t look like the strong, powerful man that once jacked me up. Do you know who I am? I asked. He looked at me, touched my face, my forehead and said, “This issssss,”I finished it, “Shawn dad, I’m Shawn, one of your daughters.”  

Earlier this year (2012), I went to see him again. I asked him how was he doing, he stared at me and said, “just waiting on the Lord.” I stayed at his bedside for about two hours. We didn’t say much of anything. It was quite. I thought about a lot… the first time we met, the time I stayed with him – everything. It was a bitter/sweet moment. Through it all, I wanted his final days to be peaceful and comfortable.  I looked at him, laying there and said, “I don’t hold anything against you, dad. I forgave you a long time ago. I love you.” I had never told my father, I loved him – never. He looked at me, tears rolled down his frail face. I couldn’t stand to see him cry. I kissed his forehead and left.This was the last time I saw my father alive.

During the funeral, in the “two minute reflection,” several former neighbors and coworkers stood up and spoke very favorably about my father. It was refreshing to hear such wonderful things about a man that caused so much pain to his kids. A stepfather is a blessing from God, yet you still want to know where you come from and you want to be accepted.  All of my brothers and sisters were at my father’s funeral. All 17 of us. Our ages ranged from 33 to 58. I was the first child to step to the podium. It was an awkward moment. Trying to break the ice, jokingly I stated, “all these kids in here, somebody should be able to say something – good or bad.”  We all laughed.

I started my reflection by stating, “He wasn’t the World’s Greatest Dad, yet and still, he was the dad God gave me.”

SRF

Disclaimer: I do not have any unresolved issues with men due to my father’s behavior. I love men (no, not like my dad) and most importantly, I love myself.

My Trip to Haiti: “Just One”

10 Sep

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When I decided to switch my summer vacation plans from Brazil to Haiti, my friends wanted to know what was wrong with me. They could not understand, “why in the world” would I want to go to Haiti. In the past, every summer we “treated” ourselves with trips to nice places that harbored exotic foods, massive shopping malls, beautiful beaches and wonderful people. Every summer, we told ourselves, “We deserve it.”  

This year, I decided I wanted to do something different. I wanted to be exposed to something different.  I had heard of American citizens “making a difference” on their vacations by volunteering, helping others on other shores. This is what I wanted to do. Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I had been in contact with a group involved with mission work in Haiti. I always told them I would come and visit – never really meaning it – until now.   

It was something inside of me saying, the time is right. I was excited and eager! So I prepared for my trip, while my friends tried to talk me out of it. One friend told me to go to the Department of State’s website, travel section. Haiti was listed number 12, with a travel warning, “Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel.” The warning further stated:

U.S. citizens have been victims of violent crime, including murder and kidnapping, predominately in the Port-au-Prince area. No one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age. In recent months, travelers arriving in Port-au-Prince on flights from the United States were attacked and robbed shortly after departing the airport. At least two U.S. citizens were shot and killed in such incidents. –U.S. Dept. of State

My friends’ figured, if I didn’t get kidnapped; it was a good chance I would surely get sick with cholera. Numerous Haitians continue to die of cholera – an intestinal infection caused by bacteria transmitted through contaminated water or food.

In spite of all my friends’ concerns – I never told my parents until I returned – there was still something burning, something saying, don’t be afraid. My mind was made-up. So, I reached out to my contacts in Haiti and made my travel arrangements.

My airplane ride from Washington, DC to Miami was filled with a lot of excited, happy vacationers going to Aruba, Florida Keys, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. This is when I started getting nervous, questioning my trip. “What are you doing? Are you crazy? You are going over there, alone, for what? You are a woman.” To calm my nerves, I kept telling myself, “The same God that watches over me in America, is the exact, same God that will watch over me in Haiti.”  

I remember one man on the plane asking me where I was going. Reluctantly, I whispered, “Haiti,” expecting him to say something negative.  The man looked at me, bright-eyed and said, “Haiti?! That’s great! I was just there in April! You will have an experience like no other!” As he was getting off the plane, he touched me on my shoulder and said, “Just one, that’s all it takes!” I was uplifted by his enthusiasm and encouragement. Finally, someone had a good word. Thank you God for that Angel! That assurance!

When I transferred flights and finally touched-down in Haiti (1 ½ hour flight from Miami) my driver was waiting for me with a sign, bearing my name at the Haiti Airport. Haitian Creole and French are the two main languages in Haiti. Except for bonjour (hello, goodbye), Oui (yes), Non (no), Merci (thank you), Je ne comprends pas (I don’t understand) and Au secours! (HELP!), my French was limited. Although some Haitians knew English, most did not. I relied heavily on my driver who knew English very well. He was a pretty cool cat too – dressed in all white, including dress shoes and a cap tilted to the side. Like a father, he looked after me my entire trip.

My first three nights, I stayed at the Le Plaza Hotel, Port-au-Prince. Surrounded by numerous flower gardens, winding outside staircases, brightly colored hallways, miniature statues – it was simply beautiful. I was very comfortable.  The food was delicious.  (Yes, I had tap water in Haiti.) Several United Nation officials stayed at this hotel. It was nothing more than a four-star hotel. Inside the hotel compound I felt very safe. There were armed guards and 20 feet –barbed wired – gates guarding the entry.

You have to understand, Port-au-Prince – the capital of Haiti suffers from widespread, chronic poverty. Across Haiti, poverty has bred a growth in crime and desperation. The police are scarce and many are corrupted. Many “well do” hotels, schools, homes, banks, etc. have personal security. Almost every establishment that is worth something is gated and/or well-guarded.

You would think with all this security at the hotel, I would feel very trapped and secluded, but I didn’t. The compound was very spacious. I even went to the pool several times. On occasions, I did venture outside the gates in the morning and high noon. There was a strict curfew for Americans to be off the streets by sun fall.

When I did venture out, I saw things I didn’t believe. I couldn’t even hold up my camera to take pictures. Many, many Haitians still were living in tents – green zones, red zones – on the streets, in the streets begging. It was scary, unimaginable and a horrible sight to see. If not begging, wanting you to buy something – jewelry, paintings, water, flags, shoes, hats, etc.  Everything was cheap – a hat for $3, bracelet for $2, a painting for $5. Items that should have been well-over these prices, sold for nearly nothing. Everything I purchased, I paid $10 for it. I’m told many will not pay over $5 for anything sold on the streets of Haiti. The saying, “we throw pennies to the poor and dollars to the rich.”  On the other side of the country/island, the Dominican Republic, we would never question the price of a $12 bracelet sold on the street. (Do you know the history of the Dominican Republic – you so love – and Haiti?)

My last days in Haiti were spent at the safe house with the children. The place in Port-au-Prince was called Delmas. The house was beautiful and not at all what I expected. The children ran out to greet me with big, bright smiles and many, many kisses. I was overwhelmed with a lot of emotions. The purpose of my trip was all around me. They were so sweet and respectful. I knew – from my own eyes – they were well taken care of.

The house opened Sept. 2011 to several kids, 4-17 years old, who initially lived in the middle of a field under makeshift tarps, held up by sticks as the 2010 earthquake had left their families either deceased or too impoverished to care for them.  The primary caretaker of the house is Jeacide, a 37-yr-old Haitian. To these children, he is their father, friend, confidant, teacher, mentor – just a gift from God. A cook and her child also live at the house. These two have provided so much for the kids.

Because of Hurricane Isaac, the electricity was out the time I spent there.  We spent a lot of time singing, dancing, reading books and playing outside. I washed hair, cooked and told stories of America. Not understanding a lot of my English, the children were so very excited that I was there. They were also amazed at my height.  My real joy was rocking the young ones to sleep. Although the kids had their own bedrooms – girls, one room; boys, the other – every morning, I woke up to feet in my face, elbows in my thighs and armpits across my forehead. It was a joy to feel wanted.

I found it very uplifting and inspiring to see how happy these kids are in the midst of profound poverty, uncertainty and instability. Please know, there are beautiful places in Haiti, safe places in Haiti, but for Port-au-Prince, some areas are just heartbreaking. Where do these kids get their smiles, their laughter, in the midst of this, I wondered? Don’t they know what’s going on around them? I just became so overwhelmed with emotions. I found myself constantly talking to God, asking him to watch over them. Allow them to grow up big and strong, not realizing, God was ALREADY providing. He was already there with them. The beautiful home they stay in, the clean clothes they wear, the food they eat – God was there. God is there. They knew it too… by the chants they sung at night; the prayers they recited in the mornings. God was showing me, through them, in the midst of confusion, uncertainty… there is peace, there is hope, there is faith, there IS stability. What a lesson for anyone! I am so thankful and blessed to be a witness of God’s awesomeness, his enduring power in Haiti!  

Promising the kids I would return next year, I left Haiti – I hope – just a little better than I found it. I remember what the airplane passenger told me on my way over, “just one.”

-SRF