Thursday, November 23, 2017 = Thanksgiving. You know what that means. Football, Food, and Shopping were the menu for most people. Me? I was just glad to make it to the day.
I didn’t know what it would be like having the first family holiday without my father. Would I write about my feelings I dreaded to experience? Would I cry and sluggishly get dressed? Would I opt out of attending Thanksgiving dinner altogether? All three options were fair game.
I was used to monitoring his plate and cleaning his face. Massaging his neck as his head sunk into deep slumber. Holding his hand so his spirit knew I was there. Making sure he was positioned in the car just right so the seat belt would go over him properly. He wasn’t there, but I was making it. It was then, at the dinner table when I looked over at the chair where he would normally sit, that I said to myself – “Thanks for letting us have him.”
He was truly a gift, and the gift wasn’t taken away. He continues to live every time I think about him.
I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, Sweethearts. A special prayer went to heaven for those who are missing loved ones too. I got your back.
It began with a tutoring appointment with a former student who is determined not to let anything stop her from graduating, including her English paper. I challenged her and she made me laugh. She stepped outside of her essay-writing comfort zone and I helped her see her thoughts on paper. She left the session equipped and excited to keep going. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes and made me proud to be an educator.
Next, I had lunch with sweet friend from high school. She and I were in band together and I always thought her hair color and freckles were cool. She had a quiet strength that I admired and we became friends quickly. Now that we’re grown, we had grown-folk conversation and it was lovely. We vented, we cried, we laughed. I was proud to be a friend… and her freckles and hair color still rock.
Then, it was time for my cousin’s baby shower which, might I add, was a night time swag affair. Live music, baby shower games, good food and laughs made this shower worth the cold rainy drive. I’m well acquainted with both parents, so it was great to anticipate my new cousin’s arrival. As I helped clean up, the running theme was clear. I was proud to be family.
Afrer all three settings, the word that stuck out was TOGETHER. My former student’s essay challenge wasn’t so mountainous after we met for tutoring. My friend and I didn’t feel alone in our life lessons after lunch. My family’s shower was better because everyone could share the experience. On that day, life was better together.
Sweethearts, I pray that if you’re feeling lonely and life’s bumps are giving you bruises, that you remember that you are not alone. Lonely and alone are not the same. You can feel lonely in a crowded room. I’ve been there, and wisdom has taught me that you have someone who wants to be better together with you. Be careful, but let her or him in your heart’s circle and watch the healing begin. We were not designed to do life alone. Your problems may not go away quicker, but you’ll be stronger together as the storm passes by.
Forever is a long time to grow. Are you willing to do it?
I mean it. Are you willing to a make a pact with God that you will grow as long as you live here on Earth? After all, we are the seeds of Adam and Eve and quite frankly, there’s still some growing to do. If plants can do it, why can’t we? Why can’t we do what seeds do – germinate and multiply?
It seems hard to think about, but we are designed to break free from the shell of innocence and yield a life with more seeds to plant. With our words, deeds, and talents, we were created to expand and produce a harvest for others to courageously do the same.
So, when I say “Forever is a long time to grow,” I intend to invoke conviction of every intrapersonal and interpersonal interaction you will have for the rest of your life. I want you to think about the seeds your fruit is producing for others to ingest. I want you to think about forever.
In class on November 15th, we discussed correctional facilities and prison reform. I posed the following question to my students: Are correctional facilities designed to “correct” behavior or character? Most of them said “both,” but some said neither. What do you think?
As we go about our holiday season, I think of those who are unable to have food, family, and fun – at the same time. Needless to say, there are individuals who have committed crimes unthinkable, yet there are some who have not. Are their lives being changed while on the inside of confinement? Are our lives being enhanced while we are captive to our vices? The truth is if we were caught in our everyday violations of malice, greed, and pride, we would be incarcerated right along side of our brothers and sisters.
So, I pose these questions to you… What are you chained to? What mental or emotional prison are you in? Is your “facility” correcting or enabling the behavior that got you there?
Backing up and starting from the beginning are two different things.
When we want to get something over with, we tend to start over from the beginning to create a clean slate. On the contrary, rewinding means that we go backward toward the direction of a starting point – which can be difficult to locate at times. Looking back, the weeds of bitterness or sorrow may have grown around the sidewalk edges. Cracks of time have gotten wider between some relationships and behind you, it looks like a lonely journey of self-discovery.
How often do we skip the steps of searching backward because it looks scary?
Most say that going backward will stagnate your forward movement. I agree, to an extent; however, the likelihood of repeating the same mistake is inevitable if you don’t travel back to find the glitch. Imagine you are lost while driving on a two-lane road at night. The trees create a dark canopy that causes you to change your mind about continuing forward. You are tempted to stop, but you’re too afraid to turn around. Only two things can happen at this point… A) you can go forward, or B) you can rewind. Both directions have risks, so it’s just a matter of which one you’re going to take.
Discovering why you are a compulsive liar, why you lash out at the people who love you most, why you’re an alcoholic, why you’re a hoarder, or why you’re repulsed by your spouse will not host the sweetest back steps, but it can help move you forward… for good. When I listen to music or watch a movie, sometimes I’m afraid that I’ll miss the part I need to see or hear again. So, I rewind instead of skipping the seconds. It wouldn’t be so bad if we did the same thing in our lives. Starting over is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t mean rewinding is a bad one. It may get ugly as those cobwebs are cleared out to reveal the part you need. THAT’S OK.You’ll be able to “wind” again if you start the process now.
Don’t be afraid to rewind. Don’t be afraid to find the glitch. Don’t be afraid to press play… again.
His goodness is not contingent upon my feelings, reactions, or justifications. He is good. Period. And His mercy endureth forever (Psalm 136:1) – which means whatever I’m going through, whenever I’m going through, wherever I’m going through it, He is still good. He transcends time and situation. There is nothing too far where God’s mercy can’t reach; He’s already tHEre. There is nothing too hard for Him where His goodness will not reign.
I have a list of things that went wrong in the last 7 days, but I also have a list of what went right. They combat each other, and then they balance each other out.
How can you laugh when your license plate was stolen off of your car in broad daylight? You get grateful that your car wasn’t missing too.
How do you not be upset that you have to work on your day off? You become grateful for employment.
How do you breathe when someone leaves your life? You begin to thank God for the time you had, knowing that s/he could have been born on the other side of the world and you would have missed out on her/his awesomeness.
I’ve grown in this area, this No Matter What territory. Life’s challenges continue to improve my agility. I’d like to think that I came straight from heaven with it, but it was forged in me through my parents and mentors that served as night lights along the way.
CAUTION: This No Matter What mentality is not for the faint of heart. It comes with distractions sprinkled like glitter on a carpeted floor, luring your focus away from your purpose as you attempt to walk forward. It has splashes of anger as you recall the sacrifices you made while fighting your demons… alone. It requires you to acknowledge the bad stuff, square up, and say that all things work together for the good of those that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)… and believeit. It means crying tears of courage that leak from your broken heart.
No Matter What takes practice. Expect bruises. Check for sores. They’ll be there, but keep walking, keep praying, and keep fasting from the feast of your fears.
Believe, no matter what.
Give, no matter what.
Go,no matter what.
Love, no matter what.
And while you’re standing there braving the winds or bent over wounded from the blows, remember that Jesus is Immanuel. He is with you… all the time…
I started this trip a bit frustrated with some people that call themselves family. I had been holding in a tumultuous flow of words for a month. Unfortunately, people think that if you aren’t belligerent with colorful words spewing out of your mouth, that you aren’t capable of being such.
I am happy to inform you that this is a lie.
That quiet worker or positive colleague can be a verbal assassin with plenty of artillery to annihilate your heart, but s/he chooses to smile instead. This was me for a month. The term familyalmost seemed like a dirty word that left a foul taste in my mouth when I thought of certain people. My circle got smaller and some of it was involuntary. So, needless to say, I was a bit sour.
Then, my sorority sister lent her ear for what was a tsunami of “Why’s,” “That’s just stupid’s,” and “I just don’t get it’s.” My mother and aunt tag-teamed to ensure I caught my twilight bus. A sisterfriend checked for my travel safety. Another sisterfriend of 16 years transported me to bookstores to inquire about book signing opportunities before heading to the airport. One sorority sister extended herself with hospitality that could rival any 4-star hotel and another sorority sister hosted me with patience as I coordinated visits with DMV friends I had not seen in 10+ years. My big brother is always one call away when I’m in town and my mother always seals my travel with prayer.
God brought all of these things back to my remembrance and I am sitting on this plane marveled at how flimsy we view the f-word and how quickly we throw it away.
It doesn’t matter how many genetic or blended relatives you have,
God will give you the family to fill the need.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs indicates that we have a need for connectedness, love, and belonging. I believe that wholeheartedly. After all, God created the ultimate adoption plan through His Son, so we were not designed to “do life” alone. Even a mean senior citizen has a plant, pet, or something they can care for!
You may have a sister you can’t stand or an uncle you don’t like, but for every ounce of foolishness and discord, there is someone spiritually-related for you to do life together.
I am so grateful for my family. I pray that God shines a spotlight on yours so you can see them when life gets dim, too. Don’t think that familyjust encompasses a group with the same last name. It just requires a circle of people connected by the same heartstrings.
I’ve only felt it twice in my life. A soul baptism. It supersedes any experience you could try to achieve within an order of services. My first one was at Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, Alabama a few years ago. The second occurred two weeks ago at Niagara Falls, New York. Absolute. Exhilarating. Freedom. That’s the best way to encapsulate what I felt. Let me tell you how I fell into this cleansing experience.
Niagara Falls is a tourist attraction for a reason. Since 1846, visitors and dignitaries have marveled at this horseshoe bend of water shared by Canada and the United States. If you’ve never seen it in person, put it on your to-do list. You can hear it before you see it and there are various ways to enjoy its power. I chose to experience it via boat with members of my traveling group and a plethora of tourists from all over the world. The result was an amazing memory.
I boarded the Maid of the Mist as a wounded warrior with dented armor, but optimism and excitement were in my pocket screaming to get out.
I was finally at the Falls and wide awake to enjoy whatever the Maid had to offer. My wishful replays of pictures and cinematic interpretations were at last coming to an end. I was ready… so I thought.
Our blue ponchos couldn’t have protected us from the magnitude of glory we are about to experience. Cell phones and selfie sticks sprung in the air to capture as much as the human eye could record. My priorities? 1) Don’t get wet, and 2) Snag a quick video to share with my parents when I returned home. That was it. I despise drenched jeans and soggy shoes, so I convinced myself not to go to the helm of the ship.
Insert more chatter. More selfies. More live feeds via social media.
The helm of the Maid beckoned like a siren and I answered her call. I saw an open door of opportunity amid the sea of royal blue plastic and I walked through it to seize the space. I captured every visual I could with my cell phone. The plethora of birds perched on the rocks resembled a white furry blanket in the distance. The Falls roared as if to warn us of his majesty as the Maid bobbed to the soundtrack of her 170-year-old dance on the river’s dance floor. She wasn’t afraid and he didn’t hold back. As we approached the pillows of fog ahead, she swayed her hips and dipped in front of the Falls with sweet watery seduction. Deeper we sailed until the view of the cliffs were no more. All you could see was Greatness. Heavenly Greatness.
The spray of misty Niagaria air landed on every inch of my face like wet kisses. I put my phone away and tilted my head upward to inhale the moment… this resuscitating baptism. More than I ever imagined. The Falls enveloped his bride and covered us with showers of his blessings. It was impossible not to be awestruck and relish in their union. I was injected with divinity like a medicinal I.V. and I accepted all of its release. For the second time, I was overwhelmed by the sheer majesty of God’s Handiwork and it felt like the Falls were within my chest. My respiratory issues were no more. My body didn’t ache. Headache… gone.
No physical restriction existed between my Creator and me. I was a soul.
This must be what Heaven feels like, I said in my heart.
I was alive and I could feel it after being dead since February. The water washed my being more than my shoes. It circulated throughout the dark places I had closed to everyone else. Every corner, every door, every room was opened and I let Him in. One of the tourists had a wardrobe malfunction with her poncho as the residual winds billowed around us. We laughed and her Asian cheeks were beautiful. Then I heard it…
“No matter where we are in the world, Majesty will always yield respect.”
There were no translators to help us communicate, but laughter, respect, and pure joy needed no liaison. We were one in that space in time. No sugar added and no preservatives necessary. I helped her with her covering and her friend joined in the fun. We weren’t strangers anymore, but neighbors.
The Maid turned her skirt to the right and the Falls sang softly to her as we sailed away. God’s words rang in my core as I walked to the lower level alone. It was a bit of a thuggish tone actually… Majesty will always yield respect. Wow. That’s how unphased He is of our troubles. He hears our cry, but is not bothered and will be respected for the El Elyon He is. That’s the Power in which we are to trust. The overtaking, overwhelming, and engulfing Power that can silence any critic, touch any heart, and command the attention of many…all at the same time. Just like He did on the ship.
I fell at the Falls. Madly in love with all of His splendor. Head over heels for His immaculate care for me and all of my bruises. My El Roi. I’ll happily oblige Him to baptize me anytime He wants to. So should you.