I walked into my son’s “office” and was greeted with music I found to be gruff, angry-sounding and altogether unpleasant. The curse word tipped me over the edge, and with the original intention of my visit totally escaping me, I immediately asked my son why he listens to “this garbage.”
“It’s not garbage,” he quickly (and justifiably) retorted. I stuck to my argument, held firm to my view, and walked away certain I should somehow redirect his taste in music.
I wasn’t even out of the room before it hit me — I had done it again — put a wedge between me and this child of mine with whom I want nothing more than to connect. It’s the fear, and I can’t stand it. It triggers reactions that are rash and masks what are the best of intentions with just plain ugly.
It took some time, but after more thought, I was able to take the ugly off and apologize to my son about my initial reaction. He was immediately grateful to hear me take back my explosive assertion that his music is “garbage” and for the opportunity to share with me why he liked the particular artist he was listening to. I was surprised to learn of the research he had done on this rapper and quite humbled to come to understand the struggles and suffering within his childhood that defines much of his music.
As a child, this artist lived in a house that doubled as a meth lab. He witnessed more violence and abuse in his young years than most experience binge watching Breaking Bad. By all accounts, no one would have blamed him if he chose to continue the cycle and live a life like that of his parents and only example. He chose differently, however, and fought against the negative influences that surrounded him. It’s a success story that forces one to marvel at the grace that brought him to where he is today, a multi-million-dollar name that inspires countless fans with his overarching message of “peace, love, and positivity.”
While it’s true that his melodies are peppered with words I was never allowed to say, when taking the time to digest the message that his lyrics pronounce, I’m left only to appreciate the truths my son is absorbing. In the end, I need to step back and prioritize what exactly I want to protect my son from and the decisions I want to encourage him to make. At this point in his life, as a freshman in high school, my list would include:
* avoidance of alcohol and drugs
“I don’t sip the syrup, I’ve got friends to lean on.”
“He knew deep down in his heart it wasn’t right.”
*the courage to go against the cultural tides of negativity, the influence of serving yourself and your own needs above those of others and a true appreciation for the value of standing up for what is right and good in a culture that gets messier and more confusing by the day
“All this prejudice has got to go.”
“Peace on earth what I try to be. I just want to spread the message of equality.”
“Message is peace, love and positivity.”
*an appreciation for the value of hard work and the importance of believing in yourself
“And this young man persevered in spite of what people told him he was, wasn’t and would never be.”
This is not an easy world to grow up in. There is a lot of garbage our children have to sift through. The opioid crisis feels like the modern-day plague, discriminating against no one and leaving a path of destruction that is mind-numbing. Social media is robbing our kids of the peace we used to find in boredom, filling their heads with messages in numbers that are nearly impossible to filter. The utter devastation from gun violence is impossible to digest and leaves every one of us feeling vulnerable and searching for answers. Our government is corrupt, divided, and seemingly void of respect for the very people it is supposed to serve.
The list goes on and on and, as my son reminded me just the other day, “I’d say swear words are low on the list of evils in this world, Mom.” It saddens me to no end how much truth that statement holds.
My hope in all of this is that my son won’t miss the miracle that is this man’s story. When good triumphs over evil, like it did in the heart and mind of this artist he respects, God is involved. Perhaps He wasn’t given a formal invitation into his life, but one way or another, God stepped in.
In a 2014 interview in the Village Voice, this rapper was asked, “How do you cope? Are you religious or spiritual?” He answered, “I have a strong relationship with God, but I’m not religious. I think it was just God and common sense.” This from a man who had every right to question where exactly God was in his life when he witnessed his mother being abused and his father buying crack from his brothers, and endured a turbulent childhood of violence and hate. His testament of God’s presence in all of it is, quite certainly, a stronger proclamation of God’s love than a profession from one who lived a life of love, acceptance and privilege.
It’s the age-old struggle of the heart, for both the faithful and the self-proclaimed atheist. Why does God allow bad things to happen? My son once asked me to explain why God allowed the world to flood, confused about the many tragedies written about in the Old Testament. The same questions applies today with both natural disasters and human-made terrors.
Perhaps the best explanation I’ve heard to make sense of it all was found in a conversation I once had with my mother-in-law. In trying to comprehend this very question, she brought up the truth that each one of us has free will. God doesn’t, and won’t, force Himself on any one of us. We, as individuals, and as a culture, have asked God to leave: to leave our schools, our government, our relationships and marriages, our decisions, our lives. And, loving us enough to honor our free will, I’d submit God is taking His place on the sidelines where we’ve asked Him to be. That is not to say He’s not here, for nothing could be farther from the truth. His presence is all around us but we need to recognize it, stop treating our lives like a game, and invite Him back onto the team.
In the end, I need to remember that the faith I have is forty-three years made. It’s been tested and tried and affirmed and deepened several times over in the past four decades. As much as I wish this understanding I now have, this faith I am so grateful for, was something I could wrap in a box and hand my children, I realize it doesn’t work that way. At fourteen years of age, I can’t expect my son to be where I’m at. I need to let him walk his own journey, and if this unlikely idol helps him do that, well, I guess it’s time to turn up the tunes.
Copyright 2018 Nicole Johnson