Monday, February 29, 2016

Whose Your Source?

Every Friday, my daughter lays down on my bed and hugs me so tight it's like she is hanging on for dear life. If I move she doesn't let go, she just keeps hugging me.

At any age, I welcome hugs from my children, but at 12 soon to be 13 it seems more precious because this is the time when you are becoming more self-aware. At 12, I surely was not hugging my mother in this manner.

In this hug, it feels as if I'm her source, I'm her everything, I make her happy. The visual that comes to mind is of the koala bear hugging it's mama and once grown, a eucalyptus tree.

"Though often called the koala "bear," this cuddly animal is not a bear at all; it is a marsupial or pouched mammal. After giving birth, a female koala carries her baby in her pouch for about six months. When the infant emerges, it rides on its mother's back or clings to her belly, accompanying her everywhere until it is about a year old. Koalas live in eastern Australia, where the eucalyptus trees they love are most plentiful. In fact, they rarely leave these trees, and their sharp claws and opposable digits easily keep them aloft." [Source: National Geographic]

The Tree that I hold on to whether 12 or 52 is Jesus. Her tight hug reminded me that no matter what. I should cling to Jesus in that way because He's my source and is life-giving to me.

Thanks, Little One for those weekly, koala bear hugs.

5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.
7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit. Jeremiah 17:5-8 [NLT]

Who do you hold on to?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Four Letter Words

Recently I was on a work phone call where most of the participants were disgusted and frustrated with a particular facet of their function. This led one participant to let loose a string of four letter expletives which were jarring to the other participants. To say that he was pissed was an understatement; we could all empathize, but the remainder did not choose to express ourselves in this manner. Some of us were just angry.
As I listened, the anger without the expletives sounded just as bad as the guy spewing invective. They were both jarring.

I get so hung up on people using four letter words that I sometimes forget we can be just as offensive with our speech even when we don't curse.

When Peter denied Jesus the third time, he cursed vehemently in his denial. I don't know what words he used but the scripture says, "Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly." Matthew 26:74-75 [KJV]

Once Peter recognized what he had done - his denial and the way he denied Christ, he went out and wept bitterly.

Hurtful, offensive and coarse language makes us weep bitterly. As Christians, let's make every effort to elevate our speech; let's not throw around expletives carelessly. Let's be mindful that our words have an impact and that as Christians we are expected to act differently. God has this expectation of us and believe it or not, the world does also. Even in anger, let's try to be mindful of what we say before it is expressed. As Christians, we have an old nature and a new nature. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can tame our tongues.

Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips. Psalms 141:3 [NLT]

Do you struggle with four letter words? What are you doing to change?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Notes from My Daughter - Amens

Occasional notes from my 22-year-old daughter. I never know what to expect when she writes but it's usually a pleasant surprise. Read on!

Lately, I started becoming more aware of how I "end" my prayers with God. I came to a realization that I struggle not with idea of grace itself, but with continued grace. With the fact that God is omnipresent and aware of all things that have, are, and will occur over the course of my life and if He is indeed omnipresent, how do I a finite human being with a limited understanding of time and presence actually communicate with Him? What's the point of consciously communicating with someone who knows your conscious and subconscious simply because they exist in all space and time?

Belief is a powerful thing because it's absolute for the human; there is no alternative from your vantage point. What you believe is what is, therefore what is creates a pattern for the things you habitually do.

I started noticing my beliefs in my "Amen's" and took the time out to really analyze them. For example:
"Amen: please don't say anything back, I don't know how to be accountable. I just wanted to vent to you. Cool? Bye."

"Amen: This is all I have to say and obviously since I said it, I tried, so I'm done. I fulfilled my role and am still an active partner in this relationship. Take it or leave it" kind of ultimatum.

Or even the ever so lovely
"Amen: I have nothing to say to you tonight so, I love you and goodnight." This one seems pleasant on the surface but has ended a conversation that never really began by acknowledging an intention of not hurting God's feelings, but also not desiring to pay the cost of vulnerability and openness. It's a pause, initiated on my behalf, which shows the conditions of my beliefs. 
In all of these amens I was both trying to get away from, and trying to appease God in some way.

Talking to God continuously is not a burden nor is it a lack of completion. Waiting on an answer from Him continuously is not a burden. Reveling in his presence repetitively is not a burden. God is not a burden. Delighting in God means not really wanting it to end. Not for the distractions of this world, your former life or anything.

It took some time and prayer but eventually God brought me to the understanding that continuity and completion are one in the same for Him. While Jesus said, "It is finished", God the Father was also introducing a new beginning by means of the Holy Spirit. Our triune God partakes in a continual work that consistently removes the burden we feel due to sin. It is not in God's heart to burden his children or to see them quit. .

" The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."- 2 Peter 3:9
By continuing to be with us, God is completing the work he started in us. But if we lose patience and give up in the midst of the process we are believing it is better to be incomplete and within our own understanding than it is to be challenged by God's continuing and creative work in our lives. 

I recommitted my life to God about 6 years ago now and I used to take pleasure in every new lesson, but once they stopped seeming new and I couldn't actually understand what the heck God was doing at all, drifting seem like a good option. I spat out one quick prayer when this started happening which was "God don't let me go," but I also found it difficult to change my present beliefs, trust God, and act in impulsive obedience like I did in my former years. That prayer was kind of like my last breath before I anticipated the guaranteed drowning into a boring "Christian" life. I was turning into a mundane Christian who only endured (but did not enjoy) Christian culture because of my proclamation, and that there was no alternative to this traditional mindset. My prayers were dismissive and doubtful but overtime the Holy Spirit showed me that God is with you when you lack faith, but he also challenges you to grow the little faith you do presently have. God is with you when you don't understand. God is with you when you don't have know how to structure your own life in a way that promotes continuity.

The Lord's prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 highlights the components of prayer and provides a template for when you don't know what to say, which also served as a reminder of all that is constantly true about God in the human life. Originally it does not include the term amen at all. So for a while, I stopped practicing saying "Amen" and just took time out to listen and respond to God instead. I took the time to continue in what He already promised to bring to completion. It changed the dynamic of how I viewed God, what my fears/beliefs were, and how I understood the purpose of relationship.

Analyze how you treat God, even in the small things so that you are motivated to continue the work He is completing in you. Call on God about your own habits. Practice being present so that you may continue in His purpose without entertaining the idea of giving up.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Water in the Desert

Carolyn and I volunteering
Yesterday for the 2nd year in a row, I volunteered at the LA Marathon. Last year I gave out water at Mile 15 and had a sign that said, "Smile, It Makes You Run Faster!"  That sign generated all sorts of comments. This year, my friend and I were in the Finish Area, handing out Gatorade. Our job was to make the Gatorade, pour into cups and then set up the table - 3 rows high. Our shift was from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm.

Being at the finish line allows you to see all the runners as they walk to meet their families. I saw "Superman" running in his drawers, a ton of Elvises, men and women running in tutus, husbands and wives running together, folks overwhelmed with emotion upon completion, folks in pain and requiring medical attention, and some of the fittest and finest specimens of humans.

To me being a volunteer is not a big deal. I do it because I like it and it's my way of offering support. Apparently this support is a huge deal to a runner. I heard so many thank you's I actually felt special. These were not your run of the mill or perfunctory thank yous, these were heartfelt. It was almost as if the volunteers made a tangible difference in the runner's outcome.

"Thank you, sweetheart."
"Thanks for being here."
"Thanks for all you do."
"You didn't have to be here but we are so glad you're here. Thank you."

All through the day, we heard  this over and over again. It was like we were water in the desert to these runners and it's not because we were handing out liquids  - some runners outright rejected the Gatorade; if they didn't have Gatorade ever again, they would be happy.  It was because we were there for them. Last year I got a hug from a runner who was so amazed that so many people were out there cheering her on. A hug!

This experience reinforces a valuable lesson - no matter how insignificant it seems to you, your support of others is valuable. Whenever you can, cheer on the people in your life - support your children with their life dreams; support your spouse with that crazy venture he/she may have; support your co-worker who chose to confide in you. If for whatever reason, you're not close to anyone - the next time there's a marathon or a road race in your area, go out there and cheer those runners on. It will make a world of difference to them and you will feel good also.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 [KJV]

Have you ever volunteered at a sporting event?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On Being Who You Are

I try to be mature and Christ-like in my interactions when dealing with people but it has always bothered me when people try to placate themselves and make a statement like I don't see color when I see you.

I walk away ferklempt because my skin color is part of who I am, but it is not the totality of me. It just happens to be the wrapping to this beautiful present that is me. When I get a gift, I don't say or think it doesn't matter the wrapping it's what's inside that's important. While that may be true as it relates to the gift, there are some gifts that are as elaborate and worthwhile as the gift itself. The wrapping is just as important as the gift, and you can't get to the gift before you deal with the wrapping.

My skin color is a part of me. I am Black and I don't have a problem with that, however in America, this is a country that has had a problem with my skin color. History shows it and present times display the bias that still exists. Every time I hear Black Lives Matter and the response is  All Lives Matter or White Lives Matter all I want to say is Black Live Matter Also - that's it.  When everyone regardless of race is treated equally we won't need to say, Black Lives Matter. The reality is BLM came about because of how Black people are treated in their interactions with the police. There is nothing that indicates that Black Men are more prone to lead a life of crime or are more dangerous than any other group of men - i.e. they're not born with a criminal gene or a savage gene, but that is the script that is replayed over and over in America.

I'm not trying to go into a societal discourse in this post, but there is a weight to being Black in America and if one isn't careful they could go crazy (BTW there are studies that support this). I take comfort in the fact that God made me and He knew exactly what he was doing when He made me. He looked at me and said, "this is good." This blessing from the Highest is what gives me confidence in my daily interactions. Regardless of what you think, I am worthy and will carry myself as such. I will not believe the script that plays out in this world but will believe what the Word tells me.

Black or white, you are worthy. If you're Black, I know it gets tiresome dealing with racism that is inherent in our culture; attempting to rationalize someone's negative behavior that has no basis in your reality; checking to ensure that you're not crazy; being called a derogatory racial slur because someone is angry....sometimes it's all too much. But we are not meant to carry this weight alone, so don't. Talk to trusted persons in your life, and pray for the wisdom to know how to act and deal with this in your life. After you've prayed, use the Bible as your guide for your actions and then have the courage to act. This is not a quick solution but a life long process.

I am dark but beautiful, O women of Jerusalem—
dark as the tents of Kedar, dark as the curtains of Solomon’s tents. Song of Solomon 1:5 [NLT]
There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[a] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 [NLT]
Black is beautiful.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Firm Foundation

There's a new TV show called "It's Not You, It's Men" where two famous men bring their insight to common topics; I would deduce from the title that the show is geared to women.  I'm not sure, I haven't watched the show but I do find the title of the show catchy and depending on my mood could relate to the sentiment in the title.

In any event, I read this recent recap where the topic was marriage.  I've provided the link because I think the 7 tips shared are spot on.

Marriage is a lifelong relationship; it's a relationship.  The other day when a tennis player who was part of the winning Men's Doubles Finals at the Australian Open thanked his wife during his speech, he said, "We've had good times and bad times, but thank you for being there." Sometimes in the bad times, we forget what we have; we forget to laugh and to just enjoy each other's company. Our vision becomes clouded by our immediate circumstances.

Writer Herman Wouk was asked what was the "secret" to his marriage of 60 plus years.  He said, "It was love that got us through. We put our heads together and figured out what we needed to do." This quote illustrates what we all know: love is an action; love is a choice.  When married, you've made the choice to love the one you're with.

In marriage, don't let tricky times or bad times shift your foundation; they shouldn't if your foundation is firm. And there's nothing wrong with acknowledging tough times but the beauty is you're not going through life alone. Tough times don't last, but tough people do.  I'm full of cliches today but cliches exist because they're true.  Regardless of what you're going through in life, and in your relationships, hang in there and make sure you have a firm foundation.
Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. Matthew 7:25 [NLT]

Is your marriage on a firm foundation? If it's not what do you need to get it there?