Rejected in the Beloved: Toya Poplar
Rejected in the Beloved
Growing up in a small town where everyone knew everybody had its advantages, especially as a pastor’s child, but it also had its fair share of disadvantages. For example, as a child, anything mischievous my brother did would surely find its way back to my father. One of the advantages was that once my father died everyone showed compassion towards us. The outpour of kindness certainly helped during the grief process, but a few years after my dad’s death one of my relatives committed a crime and it seemed as if the members of our community decided to shame my family. In hindsight, I’ve realized that when people are hurting they find cruel and creative ways of administering their own forms of justice. Our family went from having a “good name” to my relative’s name being synonymous with a character from a horror film.
The Charleston Church shooting broke my heart for obvious reasons. Once upon a time before social media existed local news was just that, local. Long before mobile phones and the internet if a community was in crisis the nightly news, radio station and the local newspaper were the main means of disseminating information. And because the original source of news was practically the same the details were fairly similar. Now with the power of one click, “news” (whether good or bad) can become so widespread that there is hardly any where you can go in which people aren’t discussing what happened. Not only do people discuss it, they freely share their opinions and in doing so, rarely consider how the impact of their comments might effect the immediate family of those involved.
In the days following my childhood tragedy I was socially ostracized. I not only grieved the loss of my loved one, I mourned for the immediate family, church members and community effected by my loved one’s actions. In addition, I missed my friends (who chose to avoid me during that time.) Quite honestly I hadn’t recovered from the loss of my dad. One vivid playground remark I remember overhearing said was, “If someone in her family could do something that crazy, she’s probably crazy too.” The comments that I currently read online from adults sound very similar to the the jeers that I heard from children on my elementary school playground.
I don’t think I would have survived the pain of that season if social media existed back then. Just when things were starting to seem normal a substitute teacher read a newspaper article about the tragedy to our class, complete with names and inappropriate details. It re-ignited the drama. Someone then started a rumor that my relative was really my father. Even my closest friends who grew up with me and knew who my father was shunned me. Each day the depression became increasingly overwhelming. The technology that exists today would have made every environment feel like that classroom desk felt as the teacher read the article or the isolated playground.
My loved one went to prison and the shame of what happened left our family in bondage. Supernaturally God gave me the grace to forgive. I made a choice to forgive my loved one. I made a choice to forgive the teacher. I made a choice to forgive my classmates for spreading awful rumors and I made a choice to forgive my friends for knowing the truth but entertaining a lie. I can’t imagine what it’s like to google the name of a loved one and see all the tweets, commentaries, quotes, cruel jokes, images and blog posts that come up. Recovery would seem virtually impossible.
I was impressed with the people of Charleston and their ability to offer forgiveness in the midst of intense pain. The crime itself went beyond racial motivation. It was outright demonic. True children of God should understand that their battle is never black vs white but always good vs evil. I believe the people of Emanuel AME church made a deliberate choice to be remembered for the meaning of their name. “God with us.” Not by the shooter’s shame. As believers, we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. I think it’s important to be reminded that Satan is our enemy. No matter what we face, as ministers of reconciliation, it should be our determination to not be like the people who hurt us.
I once met Craig Scott (Brother of Rachel Joy Scott who was mocked for her faith and killed in the 1999 Columbine Massacre, pictured below)). He said something that changed my life forever. “If someone had of been consistently kind to the two people that killed my sister Rachel, maybe she’d still be alive.”
I wrote about this childhood experience a year ago and kept quiet about it until now. I feel like I’ve seen an increase of Cyber Bullying taking place online in the last few weeks. The bible tells us that where sin abounds grace abounds much more. If ever there were a time in which our society needs to see glimpses of grace the time is now. When you are sharing things online please do so with deep conviction. Be mindful of what you share. It is my prayer that my story reminds you that people need God’s love the most when human reasoning deduces that they deserve it the least.
“I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
Rachel Joy Scott
“When there is no wood, the fire goes out; when there is no one to spread gossip, arguing stops.” Proverbs 26:20 The Voice
“We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood alone. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12 The Voice