In All Things Give Thanks!

LIfe is a beautiful struggleThis Thanksgiving week has offered me lots of time to sit and reflect about the wonderful things unfolding in my life. From a genuine and sincere place, I can thank God for how He has orchestrated my life in the most interesting way. I’ve not always felt this—no, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’ve often been angry with God about the things He’s allowed to happen in my life. My first post on this blog spoke of me emerging from a dark season and just hanging in there. Yes, things were challenging in that moment, but the disappointment I was feeling wasn’t as bad as it seemed. And the life hiccup that proceeded that post certainly didn’t equate to God’s absence or lack of protection. I was overreacting. When I look back on my attitude and behaviors, I sadly realize that I’ve been unnecessarily bitter about so many things for too long. Instead of seeing the good, I’ve seen the bad. Rather than seeing the blessing, I’ve focused on the momentary pain. In place of “thank you”, my mouth has uttered the words “why me,” “I don’t deserve this,” and “God must hate me”. I have been a really negative person, but I’m so thankful I am no longer!
What happened? I’m not sure. Maybe I got older … maybe I learned how to be a bit more patient … maybe I feel better about myself in general … I really don’t know. It may simply be that I’ve learned how to give thanks in all things. I’ve come to appreciate the work of God’s hand behind the scenes in my life. While I’ve often been willing to settle for mediocre, I now understand that God only wants the best for me, so He’s taken me through some things to strip me of those hindrances in my life. He thinks I deserve better even if I’m too foolish to realize it!
This past year has been a challenge, but I’m thankful for every aspect of it. I couldn’t understand what God was doing as He was breaking me, but it was for my good (and I don’t mean that in a cliché way, I truly understand and appreciate this truth)! If I knew the magnitude of the blessing that was in store for me, maybe I wouldn’t have been so angered, frustrated, disappointed, and hurt by the difficulty of the season! I’d like to believe I would’ve responded differently and done a better job of speaking life to me and my challenges. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I just believe if I had known where things would end up, I wouldn’t have fought God so hard. But I’m human, so maybe I still would have failed. Regardless, today I appreciate my struggles and how they forced me to grow to this place where I find myself today.
So … in all things, I choose to give thanks. The good, the bad, the challenging, and the confusing. The delays, the denials, the blessings, and the victories. All of these things are working together for my good and my response is “thank you”.
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Journey to 101: Pay Off My Car!

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Another work week in the books and while a cold may have had me down for a bit, life is on the up and up! The new job is going great, an article I wrote was published in The Christian Recorder last week, and I paid off my car! I PAID OFF MY CAR! I know one day I’ll have to buy another car and I may inherit another car payment, but I hope to enjoy many months of not having this monthly expense.

In the meantime, I won’t be wasteful, I’ll repurpose this money in a way that aligns with the Dave Ramsey philosophy. He has a very common sense approach to money management that sometimes feels overwhelming, but is generally manageable. It’s helping me slowly reach some big goals, so I’m willing to tough it out.

Until tomorrow…gotta have a Thanksgiving post. 😉

I Dare You…

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My church is embarking on an “I Dare You” campaign this month. We are challenging ourselves and others to be bold enough to trust God with the important things in our lives. For some, the important thing is personal finances and for others, it’s dealing with a wayward child or a terrifying health condition. As I pondered on the thing I’m trusting God for during this challenge, I couldn’t settle on just one—the truth is, I have to dare to trust God with everything in this moment of my life. I started 2017 feeling extremely hopeful and while my attitude remains the same, there are so many things that need to fall in place in my life! If I were left to figure it all out myself, my human frailties would quickly emerge and incredible doubt would cloud my mind. So daring to trust God in everything seems like the better option for my sanity and my forward movement in this moment. That’s really hard for me to do. Letting go of my desire to be in control of my life in both the present and the future is not consistent with my character. Gladly following Him as He leads me through unknown territory en route to my destiny feels a bit overwhelming to me. But, I’m going to dare to trust God because I know He can do the amazing and the impossible.

I invite each of you to trust God with something important in your life for the remainder of this year. I know I am trusting God for some big things, stuff that only He can allow to unfold. Things that feel uncertain and cause me to question my ability to succeed, but things that I know are possible for God.

Until next time,  I double dog dare you to trust God with your life!

The Awesome Privilege to Serve….

giftThere are so many things on my mind to write about these days. I consider this a huge blessing given the writer’s block I’ve experienced over the past few months. Ironically it now seems that I don’t have enough time to cover all of the thoughts in my head! I look forward to the day when I’m able to dedicate more time to this area of my life.

I have the awesome privilege of leading the campus ministry at my church. And while I’ve not been able to dedicate as much time as I’d like to sharing with students at local colleges and universities, God has shown favor on my church and sent so many students our way this year. I owe many thanks to the awesome ambassadors that God has planted in my midst who invite people to come and fellowship with us every Sunday!

The basis of our work is to support students socially, financially, and spiritually to help them finish their undergraduate education. Yesterday we invited a young lady from DC, Yasmine Arrington, in to share with our students her story of overcoming challenges and finishing strong. It was an awesome experience. As is with functions, there were some hiccups along the way, but we had a great turnout and the students were so engaged throughout our time together. It made my heart smile…

There are many days when I feel like this work of campus ministry is more than I can handle. The stress of my job and pursuing my personal dreams can be suffocating at times. The burden of another person needing me for something, whether it be a ride to church or a quick pep talk can seem like too much. But then days like yesterday happen! I see the zeal of the next generation and my strength is renewed. So, I press on and I serve the Lord with gladness. I think of new and different ways to empower and encourage the students. I think of ways to let God’s light shine through me so that they might want to have a relationship with Him…this ministry is not about beating students over the head with the Bible. It’s about living out those two important commandments, love God first, then love those He places around you. That’s what we do…we love and encourage the students and pray that those who are not saved will make a decision for Christ because they’ve seen His light in us. We also pray that those who are facing great struggles will be encouraged and find the strength to continue placing one foot in front of the other. We seek to see our students finish strong!

So, this morning, I’m thankful for every blessing and every struggle that has defined my life because all of these things have prepared me for this awesome privilege to serve!

Make it a great day…

And You Say You Are a Christian…

Disclosure: My blood has been boiling since yesterday afternoon.

Love-unconditionallyFor several months, I’ve been a member of a local writing group. It’s composed of Christians of varying ages and gender. While there are a few Black Americans in the group, lately I’m the one who attends most regularly. Yesterday, an older white gentleman shared a devotion entitled Loving Black Folks. As soon as the devotion was circulated among the group members, the other members shared with me that they had some real concerns about the devotion and told the gentleman that he needed to make some revisions and bring it back to the group before it would be accepted for publication. Then they proceeded to ask me to provide my honest feedback on the devotion because the other black ladies in the group had been non-responsive to their request. So, with an open mind and heart, I read the devotion and tried my best to give it a fair shot. But, can I tell you that I was cussing mad when I finished reading the document! I didn’t cuss, but I certainly shared with the group exactly how I felt. One of the ladies stood up and clapped. I’m not sure that was necessary, but I appreciated it!

You see, my anger with the devotion began with the title…don’t call me folks! Personally, I find the term “folks” to be degrading when referring to a group of people! I wouldn’t say, let me go love those “crackers”, so don’t call me “folks”. My other issue with the title is that as Christians we should focus on loving ALL people, there was absolutely no need to single out a specific group (unless, of course, that’s a group you silently have a problem with). In John 13, Jesus says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We are to love all people regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, income level, ability level, and family structure, among other things. We are to love those who are different from us, we are to love those who have not come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, we are to love those who have done wrong to us, we are to love those who engage in sinful behavior…we are to love all because while all of us are different, we are all valuable in the eyes of God! So, as nicely as I could (it took real effort) I told the gentleman, “This title makes it seem like it’s work for you to love black folks. For the record, I want you to know that I don’t need anyone to feel burdened to love me. I’m alright being loved by those who accept me as I am. Please don’t feel obligated to love people of color!”

But my frustration did not stop with the title, the devotion was five paragraphs and two sentences. Of all the words he wrote, five paragraphs discussed his personal experiences of Black people serving him and his family and two sentences contained a reference to the love Jesus has for all of us! I was blown! I mean, this guy didn’t find anything strange about what he had written, so I proceeded to tell him that his devotion talked nothing about loving people, it talked about his personal experiences with Black people. And honestly, I found nothing loving about the experiences he described. I don’t think it occurred to him that most Blacks who worked in the houses of Whites did not do this because it brought them joy or was the fulfillment of a life goal! NO…they did it because they needed to feed their families and they wanted their children and grandchildren to have an opportunity to pursue the dreams that were left deferred in their own lives! I was personally offended because some of my relatives served Whites but could’ve done so much more if segregation weren’t the law in their day! I was offended because the church where he attends and where the writing group meets is one of the most diverse congregations I’ve visited in my life…the pastoral leadership is diverse, the musicians and singers are diverse, the greeters are diverse…this place is the epitome of what I think a worship environment should look like! And yet, there was THIS experience with a guy who clearly just doesn’t get it! I went and checked out his blog and Facebook page after the meeting (because that’s where people share their real views) and there he made a statement about how individuals in same-sex relationships need to take their problem to God and deal with it by themselves because it’s not his burden. While I respect his views, I swear we are called to love those who live a life that we find offensive. For me the offense doesn’t really matter because I’m certain my Bible tells us that the person without sin should cast the first stone, and the last time I checked all of us have engaged in some type of sinful behavior, so how about we love on each other and help one another strive to honor God completely with our lives!

So, my blood is still boiling because in my book it doesn’t matter how many mission trips one takes or how many souls one leads to Christ or how many sermons one preaches if one forgets that commandment that tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves! If you don’t love ALL people regardless of their stuff, then shame on you and ask yourself the question…am I really a Christian.

Until next time…show love!

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.                1 Corinthians 13:13

Hugs for everyone…WHAT?!?!?!

It’s been a great Sunday, church was awesome, the Ravens won, the Eagles won, I met up with my cousin for an early dinner…it was a great day! Honestly, it was an amazing weekend. Last night, I spent some time in DC at Mastro’s Steakhouse celebrating the recent marriage of another cousin and her husband. While I’m not big on steak, I’d definitely suggest one consider visiting Mastro’s if you’re in the area…the food was amazing, the medium rare steak included!

The highlight of the evening was sharing with friends many of whom I’ve not seen in months. It was so good to see so many people, and I, the person who isn’t too fond of hugging people, greeted and said farewell to everyone with a HUG! That’s amazing for me! I’m the one who has never been a fan of giving my elderly relatives hugs and can easily leave my parents’ house with a quick wave. But with this new commitment to living from my heart, I decided to let my guard down a bit and share hugs with everyone. Truthfully, it took a lot for me to show up to the party yesterday. Deep down in my heart, I really wanted to go, but I was struggling to get myself to get up and out of the door. Life is like that more often than I’d like for it to be (not because I’m depressed, I’m just mentally exhausted), but I found the courage to get up and go be with my friends. I’m so glad I did, and more than that, I’m really happy that I decided to embrace so many people with a hug. Turns out, it wasn’t so bad…in fact, I think it kinda opened me up to engaging in authentic conversations the entire evening. Through those conversations, I learned that more people read what I write on here than I thought. How about that…

So, maybe in the weeks ahead, I’ll remain open to the simple act of opening my arms up to give and receive hugs. What a challenge for me that will be!

Make it a great week…

Journeying to 101. A Personal Manifesto.

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Two weeks ago,  I had the opportunity to lead a discussion with some colleagues on the work of Simon SinekIn short, Simon Sinek argues that everyone has a why that motivates them daily. He defines our why as the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires us to do what we do. Our why reflects our core values and personal convictions. If you have a few minutes, check out his TED talk, I think it’s pretty good.

It turns out that identifying my why made it onto my 101 list! Seems like that’s all I write about on here these days (I have to save my other writing for that big project I’m working on). On the list this item looks like, “Identify my core/guiding values and display these in my home,” but that’s simply an extended phrase for identifying my why.

After thinking a bit about my values, I came up with the above manifesto. Because I’m driven to challenge myself, I tried to flex my teeny-tiny creativity muscles to come up with something appealing to the eye. I gotta have something nice to display in my space. So, what guides me?

  1. My Faith. At the end of the day, that’s really all I’ve got. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no stranger to throwing a temper tantrum with God. We roll like that, but He’s been so faithful to me. Some folks casually say the God has always been by their side, but I can truly say that God has seen me through some things. Many times, I’ve fought Him the entire way, but I’m clear that my faith wins. So before anything else, my faith is at the top of my list of my guiding values.
  2. An Acceptance that I Am Enough. Hands down, believing this has been the greatest struggle of my life. But, with lots of therapy and hard work (and I’m talking real hard work), I am now at a place where I know that who I am is enough! I am lovable and I am just who God wants me to be, flaws and all! Recognizing this truth has been the key to me giving myself permission to explore those things that bring me joy, deciding what’s most important in this moment, letting go of things that have held me back, and being open to making crazy changes in my life!
  3. My Dreams. At 17 years old, I decided I would be a biology major. I liked science, I liked lab experiments, I liked dissecting things, and I thought I wanted to be a doctor. Within a few years, I no longer believed I was smart enough to go to medical school, and had to figure out something else to do. So, public health was it, and public health is good, I can talk about infectious disease epidemiology for days, but that’s not where my heart lies. There’s a side to me that I’ve never honored –  a creative side, an inspirational side, a deeply loving and compassionate side. I’ve always needed to do the “right” thing that aligned with the image I thought I needed to portray for others, but now my 36-year-old self knows that I need to follow my dreams! I deserve to follow my heart and chase my dreams! I may crash and burn, but I also may find great success. And, I think I’d rather live this life knowing that I sought after my dream and gave it a fair try. If I fail…well, at least I gave my dream a chance to live! That’s what matters most, right!

In writing this manifesto, I feel a bit selfish because it really revolves around honoring me, it doesn’t make much mention of family or friends, but that’s what I need in this moment. I’ve spent lots of time doing things that have pleased others…now it’s time for me to follow my heart and LIVE!

Until next time…consider your own guiding values!