30 June 2008


717 miles, 3 states, ~10 hours on the road and about 100 pictures later, I am safely back home after traveling to Winston-Salem, NC to visit (and surprise) my former pastor and his wife who were installed in their new church this past weekend. What a nice congregation they seem to have and I pray for them as they continue their ministry for the Lord.

The pastor's sermon this weekend was entitled "Issue" and he broke down the acronym to mean "Irritating, Suffocating Situations Unsettling Everybody". His text of scripture was Luke 8:40-48 - the passage dealing with the woman with the issue of blood. Boy, can I relate to this story! Without going into graphic details, for almost 10 years, I went through a similar situation due to endometriosis and fibroid complications. I wasted a lot of time, energy, money dealing with doctors and insurance companies who didn't want to address/solve the problem because "you are still young", "you might want to have children one day", and my personal favorite: "how would you feel if we went ahead with this surgery and then you met the man of your dreams and he wanted to have children - then what would you do?" Ok, Shemar ain't knocking down my door - and if he is truly the "man of my dreams", he would accept me as I am...even if that meant having to deal with my inability to have children. It took me ten years to convince them, but on June 23, 2004, I FINALLY had a hysterectomy that stopped my "issue of blood." Amen! Hallelujah!

But I still have other "i.s.s.u.e.(s)" - we all do. We all have things that we allow to cloud our lives, stop our ministry, hinder our fellowships. The woman in the Bible had suffered for 12 years under a cloud of contempt, whispering, gossiping by the "saints" of the day, and generally just feeling like an outcast. But when her chance for salvation, redemption, and a change came, she reached out and grabbed it. Now, she was content to let her change be between her and Christ and just the two of them alone. (How often have you felt that same way?) But in his sermon, the pastor brought out these three points: when you come in contact with Jesus - when you touch Him - (1) you will know it; (2) He will know it; and (3) everyone else should know it as well. You cannot come in contact with Him without being changed. After being healed, this nameless woman tried to slip away, but Jesus called her out, put her on blast, so to speak - "who touched me?", He said. And she eventually had to stand up and give her testimony about what He did for her - and I'm personally glad that she did, because 2,000 years later, her testimony encouraged and sustained me as I went through my similar trial and test.

I've talked about the value of testimony before. I encourage you again - share what God has done for you in your life with others. You never know how your testimony will bless someone. Yes, you may still have "i.s.s.u.e.(s)" going on in your life - you probably will until Jesus returns - don't let that hinder you from being a witness to the goodness of God.

And by the way, just as you want people to be patient with you and your "i.s.s.u.e.(s)", be patient with others who have them also. Not always the easiest thing to do, I know, but if you look at others the same way you want them to look at you...you will be amazed to discover that we are all just sinners saved by grace, doing the best we can to make it.

Be blessed.

27 June 2008

Don't love me that much....

Today's text: John 15:13: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

This text has always been a mystery to me because I just don't get it. I cannot think of a single person that I would lay down my life for. (Sorry Mom and Kevin...not happening) I have friends who say they would do it for their children or parents - I have one friend who would probably do it for her dog. Not me! Call me selfish if you wish, but there ain't no one on this earth that I think I would willingly step in front of a bullet for. My life is more precious to me than any of my earthly relationships. In fact, even in relationships, I have been pretty up-front about this: "Don't love me so much that you feel you cannot live without me 'cause, while I'll be sad (momentarily) if you leave, I will survive after you're gone."

On this morning's prayer call, we were told of a situation that happened on yesterday where a man stabbed a woman in the neck, killing her. This directly impacted one of the women in our prayer group because she was closely acquainted with the victim and apparently, was present during the incident. I am not sure if this was a love affair gone south, but it reminds me of an incident in my life that I feel compelled to share.

I was 26 when I was dating a (much) younger man. I knew shortly after we started dating that he had an extremely jealous nature and that this would eventually cause problems for us because most of my friends are male. There was one childhood friend in particular that made my boyfriend see red. I knew this, but felt that since I kept assuring my boyfriend (let's call him "Mr. A") that there was nothing going on between me and this person (let's call him "Mr. B"), it would all work out. Foolish girl. One night, I was sick, not feeling well. Mr. A called and I told him I wasn't well. He said he'd see me in the morning. Shortly after that, Mr. B called, found out I was sick and offered to bring me soup or something. He came over and we sat down and started playing a game of Scrabble when all of a sudden, my front door opened and there was Mr. A. [Sidebar: If you ain't married to him, don't give ANY MAN a key to your house!] He was livid! Called me everything but God's Favorite Child and without warning, pulled a gun on me and my friend and calmly said, "I will kill you both and be ok with it" (or something like that - after 17 years, my memory is a little fuzzy) Ok, I don't know if my life flashed before my eyes at that moment or not (like they say it does), but I do know that I began to call on the Lord for deliverance. Obviously, he did not pull the trigger. In fact, I remember him just kind of smirking before he turned around and walked out the door. It was truly God's providence that Mr. A did not pull the trigger and end my young life at age 26. When we talked later (and of course we talked...you do stupid stuff when you are young and foolish and think you are in love), he said he did it because he loved me and if he couldn't have me, he didn't want me to be with anyone else. Or something equally ridiculous. Mr. B and I filed a complaint against him (which we later dropped for a variety of reasons), Mr. A and I stopped dating, and I thank God that my life was spared.

Ok, this is a weird transistion of thought, but this whole "love me or else" makes me think: when Christ volunteered to be a sacrifice for me on Calvary, what was going through His head and heart? I mean, He died so that ALL men (and women) would be saved KNOWING there would be some of us who would reject this gift. He knew that some of us would be like, "yeah, you died, so what? I still don't want your love, your friendship, your sacrifice and salvation. I'm having too much fun doing my own thing, my own way..." See, that is why I am not God, because I would have had to hurt somebody! I'm up here dying on a cross, pierced in my side, thorny crown on my head, bleeding, thirsty, unable to connect with my Heavenly Father - for YOU and you are REJECTING ME! Oh, heck naw! But that's just me - that's not God. And aren't you glad that He is the One who willingly chose to give His life for you? I know I am.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Thank God He considers me His friend. I need to live up to the responsibility of that friendship. I challenge you to do the same.

Have a great weekend everyone. Be blessed.

26 June 2008

A place for all my stuff

On Sunday, the world lost a comedic genius with the death of George Carlin. Now, whether you liked him, loved him or hated him, his comedy routines were guaranteed to make you think, ponder and just be amazed. He had a phenomenal love of the English language and would consistently examine it (and the world in which it was used) in ways that would boggle the mind. Every obituary or tribute that I have read this week about his life makes mention of his most famous routine ("the seven words you cannot say on TV"), but that is the not the routine that made me fall in love with George Carlin. In 1986, George Carlin appeared on Comic Relief and did a routine about "stuff". At the tender age of 22, I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen and just watching the clip again (Thanks, YouTube) made me laugh all over again. [If you have never seen it - and aren't offended by a few curse words (and this routine is pretty clean in comparison to some of his routines), you can check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac]

In this routine, George addresses the fact that we have "stuff" in our lives and as we move - from house to vacation to visiting friends and family - we take our "stuff" with us. As we move from place to place, the amount of "stuff" we take gets exponentially smaller and smaller based on where we are going and how long we plan to stay there...

Hmm...the amount of "stuff" we take gets smaller and smaller based on where we are going...

It is the belief of Christians everywhere that all you will be allowed to take with you to heaven is your character. Not your house, or fancy car, or prestigious education. Not the money you have accumulated in the bank, not your stock portfolio, not the bonds hidden under the mattress. Not your friendships or family members. Not even all the photo albums of all those vacations you took. None of that "stuff" will go to heaven with you. And guess what? In time, even your memory of those things will be wiped away...Only your character will follow you. I am not saying that you should not enjoy your house or car or job or status while you are here - we are admonished to "occupy until He comes" [Luke 19:13], but we shouldn't be so attached to these things that we would forfeit our soul salvation for them. Enjoy them - God would not have blessed you with these material things if He did not want you to enjoy them - BUT, make sure that you don't lose focus as to what is truly important in the scheme of things.

Be blessed.

24 June 2008

Count your blessings...

There's a song from my childhood: "Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings and you'll see what God has done..." I forget the rest, but how often do we focus on the "bad things" going on in our lives and fail to recognize all the good things that we are blessed with on a day-to-day basis. This hit home with me on yesterday as I rode to work and saw a man sleeping on the ground, under a tree, on the side of the road. It is not like I haven't seen it before, but for some reason, on yesterday, it struck a nerve. So, here's my "short list" of blessings that I am grateful for and that I pray I don't take for granted. These are listed in no particular order:

A job - especially in this economy
Family that loves and supports me
Friends who are there
Friends who are like family
Family who are more than friends
The ability to laugh
The capability to cry
Smiles on faces
Protection on the road
Riding the Xpress Bus instead of driving or MARTA
Great bosses
Shoes (and lots of them)
A home that is safe, warm and cozy
Older people who love, nourish and support me and my endeavors
Food in the refrigerator...and freezer...and pantry
Ministry - to me - to others
The Bible - and the promises found within its pages
The ability to reason
Waking up each morning
Going to sleep at night
My nice comfy bed in which to go to sleep
Having a schedule with things to do on it

The list could go on and on and on...but I have to close this and move on to other things. When you get overwhelmed with all the things you see as "going wrong" in your life - take a moment, stop, and reflect on all the things that are "going right" in your life. I bet it will make a difference in your day.

Be blessed.

20 June 2008

Photographic memories...

I love photography. Capturing images (memories) on ... ok, I'm about to date myself ... slides, film, and now digital media, has always fascinated me. I was a kid who truly enjoyed when people pulled out the old projectors and had slide shows of their vacation pictures. How cool to have captured tangible evidence of the great big world out there - and your visit to it. My paternal grandparents had a reel-to-reel projector and the slide caddy/carousel - and going to visit them was always an adventure as we watched "home movies" or had slide shows. I even liked the click-click sound as the carousel advanced or the whirr of the projector as the film advanced from one full reel to the empty reel. I always wanted to (and guess I am still "young" enough) to take a film developing class. I am fascinated by the mystery of a darkroom - with its chemicals and fluids and images developing on paper. [With all the advances in digital imagery, are those types of classes still out there?] My friends are tired of me saying, "Let's take a picture - I have my camera." (currently a Canon PowerShot) They are equally tired of me getting upset with them when they go on vacation / out with friends / celebrate a milestone and come back with NO photographic evidence of the event. C'mon people! Memories only last in the human mind for so long. But photographs last forever.

Which isn't always a good thing, I know. I am in the process of trying to scan thousands and thousands (ok, it just seems like thousands) of pictures that I have that were taken in the days before .jpgs and .gifs became part of the English language. Decades of memories: mine, my parents, my brother's. All nicely tucked away in albums, I have come across a treasure trove of memories from my childhood, school days through college, work environments - and I want to get these photos up off the page (remember photo albums with glued pages? removing photos from those albums is delicate work!) and onto CD or some other more durable photo storage media. Some pictures bring back instant memories (did I really wear my hair like THAT and think it was cute?); some taunt me with my forgetfulness (ok, who is THAT? and where did I know him/her from - I didn't know that a quick notation on the back of the photo was a good thing); some produce laughter, some make a tear well up in the eye, some just make me smile. BUT, without the photograph - I wouldn't remember half the stuff these pictures remind me of.

Aren't you glad that God has a photographic memory? That He KNOWS who you are, where you been, where you going? And His memory of you is perfect. Only good memories (that is, if you have confessed the bad stuff and asked for forgiveness along the way), not tainted with the hurts and disappointments and sorrows that sometimes can be dredged up by looking at old photographs. There is a quote that I have received a few times via the Internet: If God had a refrigerator (or a wallet), your picture would be on (or in) it. What a great thought! That I would be worthy to make it into God's wallet - or on his refrigerator. Even as His "favorite child", that makes me smile.

Take those pictures!

Save those memories!

Reflect on the good times shared with family, friends and loved ones!

Be blessed.

18 June 2008

Hoop Dreams

Congratulations to the Boston Celtics - NBA Champions!

Having said that, I have a confession to make: I ain't a big basketball fan and probably watched less than 30 minutes of playing time all season (OK, let's be honest - in the last 5 years!) If it weren't for my brother - who is forever calling me and asking me to TiVo a game for him - it'd probably be less than that. BUT the hype behind the Celtics for the last few months - and especially since the matchup for the finals was ... final - man, you could not help but get involved, pick a side, know what was going on.

"A classic rivalry revisited" "Who is king of the court: Kobe or Kevin?" I mean, the hype was everywhere and it went on and on and on. I played into the hype during my recent visit to my father's house in Houston. He is a DIE HARD Lakers fan, so of course, I had to play the role of the Celtics fan (which wasn't that hard since that was my paternal grandfather's team). When my father and I went out to Father's Day brunch on Sunday, as we drove away from the restaurant, he yelled "Go Lakers!" and I countered (just as loudly) "Go Celtics!" to the amusement of the other patrons waiting for their cars to be returned by the valet.

But here's my question: after all the hype...now what? No matter who you rooted for as a fan, Kobe ain't coming to your house to apologize for the Lakers not pulling it out in the final seconds of game 6; Kevin Garnett is not going to let you wear the championship ring because you yelled and screamed his name until you were hoarse...and years from now, some little kid will be watching a retrospect on basketball and wonder, "only 40 points a game and they thought THAT was something? Ha!"

Here's my point: we sometimes get caught up in things that really aren't that important in the scheme of things. The playoffs and finals were interesting - made for great watercooler conversations - kept me entertained to see my friends updating their Facebook status with current stats and shout outs to the players; but five years from now [unless you are one of those people who really does remember every stat for every player in every game...], will this really even matter? Will you remember how many points Kobe scored or how many assists Kevin made or anything else specific about each game? Probably not.

There's a saying, "Only what you do for Christ will last." Now, I know that does not mean that we are not to find enjoyment in things - sports serve a purpose: good exercise, team building skills, comraderie, etc. And there are other hobbies that people embrace that are also time consuming. [Have you ever spent weeks trying to organize 30GB of digital photos? ARGH!] But, in the scheme of things, what will be remembered is not how you played the game, but how you lived your life: were you kind to people? did you nourish and nurture the dreams of a young person? did you put yourself out for someone who never returned the favor? did you show Christ to someone who was lost? Those are the things that will matter - today and always.

Be blessed.

17 June 2008

Patience is...

...highly over-rated, if you ask me. Yes, it is supposed to be a virtue and all that, but I tend to be a "I want it and I want it now" type of person. An earlier blog talks about how I asked God for patience with my mouth and He opened up avenues of patience I wasn't even aware of...[see, June 10,2008: Be careful what you ask for]. This morning, during our devotional prayer call, the pastor made a comment that resounded with me. He was talking about waiting on and listening for God's direction in our lives - how we can be given a ministry, a charge, a call to do something and we get all caught up in the doing of it, that we fail to continue to listen for God's leading. He used the illustration of being in line at a bank - with the customer from ... the hot place ... in front of you. Instead of them having one single simple transaction, they have a problem, they have questions, they have issues - and they are holding YOU up. And here's the statement the pastor made: IT MAY BE YOUR TURN, BUT IT IS NOT YOUR TIME.

Have you ever felt that way? All your single friends around you are getting married and inviting you to be in the wedding and you haven't had a date that progressed past movie and dinner in you don't know how long - it may be your turn, but it's not your time.

Or...you have worked hard on your job - gone above and beyond the call of duty and there is a promotion coming open in the department. You know it's yours, you deserve it, you are more than qualified and maybe you have been doing the work of the position already, only to have the child of the boss swoop in and take that promotion from right underneath your nose - it may be your turn, but it's not your time.

There are many situations in our lives that may seem unfair, unjust or just don't make any sense at all...in OUR eyes. However, in the Master plan for your life (and I'm preaching to myself as well), God knows what He is doing. We just need to stop and listen and trust. And I don't know about you, but for me as a "single, independent, I got this" kind of sista, it ain't always so easy to "let go and let God" or to "wait patiently on the Lord" or just submit. But I'm learning...as I pray are you.

Be blessed.

16 June 2008

I dream of a place...

The question was recently posed to me: If you could have anything in the world completely to yourself for one day — any object or place — what would you choose? My immediate response to the question was Buschart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, which I have had the opportunity to visit twice in my life. Talk about a true display of God's creative power, tamed and cultivated by humans of course, but oh my goodness! I have visited twice with my godsister, Linda Anderson, and the first time we went, we were rushing and almost missed the best part of the garden - the fountain in the Sunken Garden! As we stood there and watched the waterwork display, surrounded by flowers beyond belief - blue skies, fluffy clouds on the horizon - we both remarked of how beautiful it was, but how it could not compare with the original Garden of Eden which was not marred by sin. If I could have it to myself for one day, I'd enjoy it, but about midday, I'd invite all my friends in so we could all commune together and enjoy the sunset.

Other people responding to this question answered things like: the Federal Reserve Bank (and she promised a "real" stimulus package for all her friends - I need to make sure I keep in touch with her!); Disney World with no screaming kids, no long lines and unlimited access to Minnie, Mickey and Donald; the Alamo (or other historic sites) - and I am sure that you are thinking of a place yourself as you read this. [Sidebar: there is a comments link at the end of this blog - send me your choice of place, I would be interested in hearing where/what you'd choose]

I thought further and discovered that, in my lifetime, I have been blessed to visit some awesome sights: Mt. Fuji in Japan (but I must admit, I was just a child and more interested in the rides at the amusement park located there than in the majesty of the mountain); sunsets in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Mt. Rainier State Park in Seattle, WA - what a beautiful mountain!; the butterfly house at Callaway Gardens, not too far from my home in Atlanta, GA...the list could go on and on and on.

But, I dream of a place that I will NEVER LEAVE (if I live my life in accordance to the Word of God)...a place with streets of gold, mansions for everyone, beautiful flowers, clear crystal streams...a place of eternal, unending beauty - and I'd like to think there will be a rainbow (or two) in the sky just for me. I'm talking about heaven. And you know, we talk about all the "extra" stuff, but the true attraction of heaven (for me) is the knowledge that I will be able to spend time with my Lord, my Saviour and just say, "thank you" for all that He has done for me. I have often said, I don't care if I don't have a mansion - if God says to me, "no mansion for you, I want you to live in this little hut by the far far gate", I'll be "Yes, Lord, whatever you say." Because the beauty, the drawing point of heaven is not the material things. It's not necessarily the promise of the ability to fly and visit all the unseen worlds (meet me on the former planet Pluto for Sabbath dinner!). It's not necessarily the promise that there will be no more tears, no more separation from loved ones, no more hurts, heartaches and pain - all that is good, don't get me wrong, but the true draw of heaven for me is Jesus. And truly, no matter how wonderful, how beautiful, how magnificent or attractive it may appear here, there is no place on earth that can compare to that.

Be blessed.

13 June 2008

Father's Day...again.

A few years ago, I did a program at my church around Father's Day when I made the startling statement, "I HATE FATHER'S DAY." You could have heard a pin drop in the sanctuary. I then went on to tell my story about my very tempestuous relationship with my biological father - and how, throughout the course of my life, that relationship impacted my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I spoke about hating to walk the aisles of the stationary story looking for a card that wasn't so impersonal that any stranger could have been given the card and yet, didn't lie about the reality of my relationship with my father. I confessed that I was often jealous of my friends who did (or appeared to have) the typical "father-daughter, daddy's girl" relationship. And I remember asking the question: how do I reconcile the idea of a loving, caring, long-suffering Father with my reality of a torn, broken and scarred relationship with my biological father?

Before my parents divorced (over 30 years ago), I was the typical "daddy's girl". If you saw one, you saw the other. My father and I are very much alike in temperment, attitudes, work ethic, and for a long time, we even looked alike. [As I grow older, I look more and more like my mother - which ain't a bad thing - it's just the way I developed]. After my parents divorced, things changed. Throughout my life, I have consistently maintained that I am more like the paternal side of my family than the maternal side - and yet, my lifelong relationship with my father has been fraught with ups and downs, heartaches and disappointments. After my parents' divorce, I did not see my father for almost a decade - military duty had him stationed all over the world and it just didn't happen. When I was 15, I visited my father and stepmother at their home and let me tell you, it was not the happy "Little House on the Prairie" reunion. Throughout high school and even my college years, subsequent visits were not much better. I am not placing blame squarely at the feet of my father and/or stepmother - I had a part to play as well - but suffice it to say, our relationship did not improve for a LOOOOOOONG time. It took illness for me and a surgery for my dad where he literally got his throat cut for things to change - for us to have a conversation where we were both able to clear the air about things.

It's still not the "perfect" relationship. But it is getting better.

For the last four years, I have spent every Fathers Day weekend with my father and stepmother at their Texas home. We go out to brunch, we walk the beach, I lay out in the pool and Jacuzzi, we make numerous runs to my dad's favorite store [Wal-Mart], he grills me salmon on his grill, we get up at an obscene hour of the morning to do a 5 mile walk around the neighborhood and I take lots and lots of pictures. And it is better than it was. And I thank both my Heavenly and biological fathers for the change. Baby steps...baby steps.

So, did I ever answer the question about my Heavenly Father? Of course, I did. It took time, growth, various life experiences (and several sessions of therapy!) but He sent men into my life who showed me His love for me as a Father.

My grandfather, Edward J. Smith, was the best example of a father's love shown to me. He didn't pull any punches when he thought I was wrong - but he consistently showed me unconditional love. Our conversations every Sunday morning still resonate within me. Whenever I had a question of faith, he was my spiritual touchstone. January marked seven years since his death and I still miss him every day.

My uncle, James, was another "father figure" who loved me unconditionally. His wry sense of humor would brighten my Sabbath mornings as I headed to church in the "land yacht" that he gave me when I was without a car. Throughout my college matriculation, every month or so, I'd get a check from him in some weird, obscure, "let me clear out the balance in this account" amount that was always JUST what I needed to get me through. His love of the music of Mahalia Jackson and the Blendwrights made me appreciate that "ole time music" throughout my teenage and young adult years.

All of my mother's brothers stood in the gap for me and my brother after my parents divorced. Do you know what it is like having seven "daddies" when you are growing up? It can be a blessing and a curse. But these men taught me how to drive a car, how to be a woman that men would respect, how to defend myself - both physically and mentally, how to perserve no matter what obstacles might be placed in my path. And they each taught me how to flirt - so I totally blame them for that! Thanks, Hector, William, Clifton, Milton, Richard, Al and James.

There are other male role models that have impacted my life, but once I start calling names, I am sure to leave someone out, so this is a blanket "thank you" and "Happy Father's Day" to all my "play daddies", "campus dads and uncles", pastors, elders and friends who have shown God's love for me and to me during the course of my life. Thank you for allowing God to use you to show me His love for me. Your reward is in Heaven.

As Sunday rolls around and you honor your biological father(s), I pray that you, and they, will be blessed. I pray that your relationships will be strengthened and nourished, and for my male friends: I pray that, if you are a father, you will do everything within in your power to let your children see the example of your Heavenly Father in all that you say and do as you interact with them. Your example of a father can point them to God - or turn them against Him. Your example makes a bigger impact than you will ever realize this side of heaven. Just something to think about...

Be blessed.

11 June 2008

Torn between two lovers...

There is a picture that I wanted to attach to this blog that has come into (and out of my life) twice now. It depicts a little boy sitting between two little girls. His attention is focused on the little girl to his left - he's leaning into her, handing her a flower, and you can see (and hear) her giggle as she accepts the flower. To his right, sits another little girl - with a big frown on her face as she watches this exchange. Without words, the photographer has caught the essence of a love triangle in a way that the onlooker immediately knows what is going on. It is an amazing picture...and like I said, it has come into my life twice.

The first time was back in 1991, shortly after my car accident (that's the subject of another blog) when my cousin and I were both involved with the same young man. Yeah, looking back on the situation, not a good move. There is no real defense, but when you are young, you do stupid things. And everyone involved was not very honest - about their feelings, the situation, etc. etc. Anyway, I came across a poster sized print of this picture and gave it as a gift to the young man involved, since it was the perfect expression of what was going on at the time. He told me recently that he still has it (and won't even share it with me by taking a digital image of it!) and plans to hang it in his home office. WHATEVER. The second time I saw the print was recently - in an email - which I cannot find to save my life. And while it has been a while since I have been entangled in a real life triangle when it comes to my love life, I recognize that daily, I am involved in a "love triangle" when it comes to my soul.

Matthew 6:24 tells us, "No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." ...and yet, we - ok, I - try to do that every day. Well, maybe I shouldn't say that I "try" to serve two masters every day, but my actions seem to show that there is a daily struggle between serving God and doing the bidding of the enemy. There are days when serving the Lord is "easy as pie" - and Praise God for those days of victory - BUT, the enemy knows me well and knows where to attack - let Denzel or Shemar walk into my presence, I am sure it would be "on like popcorn". (Sorry, I digress). Sometimes the temptations are blatant - in your face - you know if you do it, you are going against everything you say you believe, desire to do, witness about. Other attacks are subtle and when you fall, you look at yourself and go, "Ok, how did THAT happen (again and again)".

My godsister and I have a saying that we say to each other all the time: "If the only sin that would keep me out of heaven was eating okra...my salvation would be guaranteed." Meaning, I HATE OKRA! Hate it. Ain't trying to eat it - not even fried, although I can tolerate it that way if I HAVE to eat it (and guess what, I'm grown - I never HAVE to eat it! AMEN!) So, suffice it to say, if the enemy came to me with a big ole plate of slimy, disgusting, slide down your throat okra, I could walk - shoot, I'd run away from the temptation. So, he doesn't approach me that way. He comes at me through the lusts of my heart (i.e., Denzel and Shemar), or the desires of my heart (but Lord, I really did need another ten pairs of shoes and I'll return my tithe next week) or through family conflicts and dissensions (by removing my focus from God and focusing on the distractions, he gets me that way too). And just like that - I am "serving" the enemy and not my Lord and Savior.

But there is hope. There is salvation. There is an answer. Donnie McClurkin sings a very simple song that has become the anthem of Christians worldwide: "We fall down, but we get up. For a saint is just a sinner who fell down...and got up." We don't have to wallow in the guilt of succumbing (yet again) to the temptations of the enemy. Get up. Dust off. Pray for (and accept) God's forgiveness (yet another blog subject). Purpose in your heart to do better through the strength God will give and has given you. When the enemy tries to bring to your remembrance all the things you have done in the past that were not pleasing in God's sight - rebuke it, ignore it, and claim the victory in Jesus that you are no longer that person. You might fall again. We all have a sin that trips us up over and over again. Some of us may have more than one. That is ok because we serve a God who has the power to help us overcome it or them.

You have to make a choice. You cannot be happy when you are torn between two diametrically opposite forces. If you are going to serve the Lord, do it with your whole heart, mind, soul. The peace of mind in doing so is amazing - and the rewards are out of this world (literally). If you are going to serve the enemy, do that wholeheartedly as well. If heaven is NOT your goal, then make the most of this life, live it up, because this is the only life you will have. Just something to think about.

Be blessed.
POSTNOTE: June 17, 2008: While visiting my father and stepmother in Houston, TX, I discovered that they had a version of the picture mounted on the wall in my stepmother's office. I took a picture of their picture and added it to this blog entry. God is good to His favorite child!

10 June 2008

Be careful what you ask for...

How many of you know that God has a funny sense of humor? Have you learned that sometimes, you may ask for something - figured out all the angles on how He will answer your prayer - only to be shocked out of your seat as to how your prayer is answered? That has happened to me more times than I want to admit.

I am a pretty outspoken person, in case you haven't figured that out by now. When I was younger, I didn't have much of a "filter" when it came to saying how I felt about any situation. (Some of you may be saying, "and so, does she think that has changed?") And as a result, I spent more time than I wanted saying, "I'm sorry." "I didn't mean that QUITE the way it came out." And can I tell you? I HATE having to go back and apologize...for ANYTHING! I'd rather eat slimy okra than have to say, "I'm sorry." So, a few years ago, I determined that my one, sole, solitary resolution (I only can focus on one "problem area" at a time) was: TO PRACTICE THE ART OF PATIENCE. Simple, direct, easy, right? (See title above)

In my mind, my practicing the art of patience would consist of, you know, not being so "harsh" on people; recognizing that maybe, just maybe, I didn't always have to have the last word and maybe, occasionally someone else might have a better idea. Practicing the art of patience would involve taking a breath before speaking in order to clear my thoughts and make sure that what I was about to say was what I really wanted to say. Being patient would be easy. (See title above - and check out that first sentence again too while you are at it.)

God knew that for me to TRULY learn patience, to TRULY learn how to lean on Him and trust in Him, He had to move in a different way. See, the amazing thing about God: He KNOWS us...individually...and He KNOWS what we need. So, I started having some health issues. Started having to go to one specialist after another specialist after another. Started having to endure test after test after test. With no answers - or should I say, conflicting answers. For over a year, doctors could not determine what was causing the symptoms of numbness and tingling in my extremities - and believe me, I learned patience. I learned that sometimes, all you can do is "wait, I say, on the Lord." For someone who prides herself on being "independent", it was sometimes a hard lesson to learn. It was hard to abdicate "control" and wait for God to move and wait for God to answer. But I learned it.

And, even when I thought I learned the lesson, God taught me again. Five years ago, I started to lock my hair. I thought the hairstyle was cute, thought it would be complimentary to my face, thought it would be easy. HA! Again, I learned patience. Not only with unruly, wanna stand up and wave to everyone when I wanted them to lay down flat, locs - but with the unsolicitied comments of well-meaning friends, family members and yes, even total strangers. I had to learn not to slap the hands of people who said, "Oh, just let me touch it." as their grubby little hands were already headed for or (horror of horrors) already in my hair! (Sidebar: OK, I HATE FOR PEOPLE TO PLAY IN MY HAIR! Must be flashbacks from being tender-headed as a child, but the whole idea of someone just running their fingers through my hair - EWWW!) I learned (and continue to learn) patience with my friend who, everytime he sees me, lectures me on the history behind locs and who threatens to cut my hair in order that my soul will be saved for God's Kingdom. Oh, yeah: God taught me patience. And continues to teach me. And mold me. And make me fit for His Kingdom.

I am a little more careful with my resolutions. I am not sure that I want to say that I try to "second guess" how God is going to interpret a prayer, but I do know that when I say the words, "Thy Will be done", I am always interested to see how God is going to work things out and manifest Himself in a situation. Because I have learned, He truly does have a funny sense of humor...

Be blessed.

06 June 2008

On being Adventist...

I have a confession to make. I am a third generation Seventh-day Adventist ("SDA") Christian, but I haven't always enjoyed or liked being one. My maternal grandfather was a minister, my paternal grandfather might as well have been one. Both of my grandmothers were very involved in ministry and the expectations of "the saints" for me as part of their lineage was always great. It seemed like, as a child, I was always in the spotlight: "We need special music, let's get her to do it." "This week's children's story will be brought to us by..." Whenever my brother and I would visit my grandparents, whether in Connecticut or Florida or wherever else my grandparents were living, I was pushed up front. Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing: it helped develop my character and gave me confidence, at a young age, that I could do any and everything I set my mind to do - or that I was asked to do. BUT, being "different" ["Why do you go to church on Saturday?" "Why don't you eat pork?" "Why don't you watch cartoons on Saturday morning?" "Why aren't your ears pierced?"] from my friends always made me uncomfortable. I didn't have the words or knowledge of what it all meant to explain it to my friends who were not Adventist.

As a young adult, I rebelled. Yeah, I was still going to church, still doing the welcome and children's story and singing in the choir - but I was also going to the clubs three or four nights out of the week (ah, to be that young again with THAT much energy!), putting clip-on earrings and pinching my earlobes to death!, and doing everything I thought I was big enough and bad enough to do. And while my spirit would be pricked sometimes, I didn't want anyone to tell me that I couldn't do what I wanted to do. After all, I was grown. I remember a New Years Eve weekend celebration where the plan for me and some of my friends was to "party all night" from Thursday night until Sunday night. Somehow, some way, we ended up at my best friend's parents' house for dinner and worship on Friday evening - you know, the start of the Sabbath - and the plan was to appease her parents by staying for worship, but we were hitting the club as soon as we left the house. Her father, a minister (of course!), prayed the LONGEST PRAYER I HAVE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE! and called each of us by name and prayed for our souls and our salvation and ... well, you get the picture. Kinda killed the mood for going out for most of the group and I remember thinking, "Great, just great. Just what I needed...a guilt trip about doing what I wanted to do." Half of us bailed on going out and the other half went anyway. I will not admit to which group I belonged, but you can probably guess.

Anyway, for a long time in my 20s and 30s, I "resented" what I felt were the restrictions of being an Adventist. Without going into great detail here (I have future blogs to write, after all), I finally realized that being Adventist is not about "the rules" - the "dos" and the "don'ts" that had been beaten into my head as a child and teenager. As an adult, I have realized that the MOST IMPORTANT thing is my relationship with Christ. The framework of that relationship just happens to be the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist church - meaning, how I worship Him, how I live my life (well, most of the time - God is STILL working with me - Praise Him!) is based on Biblical principles taught by the SDA Church. That makes it a lot easier to explain why I "don't" do certain things. It is not a matter of what I am not "allowed" to do - it is a matter of, because of my relationship with Christ, what I CHOOSE not to do. Could I pierce my ears? Sure, I could. There are places in every mall that would be happy to take my money and do it for me. Could I eat a pork chop? Every day, three times a day if I wished. God is a God of free will - He wants me to make choices and decisions...that's why He gave me a brain, thoughts, feelings.

As I grow older, I have come to realize that, even within the Adventist Church, we all are just striving to serve the best we can. You have saints and devils sitting right next to each other every Sabbath (and depending on what's going on, I can be one or the other). But God loves us each...knows us each individually...died on Calvary's cross for each one of us individually. And that is a wonderful thing. Thank God for parents and grandparents who introduced me to Him at an early age - for giving me that foundation. But thank God that now I know Him for myself and I know He loves ME...personally...intimately...completely...warts, flaws and all.

As the Sabbath approaches, I pray that you find peace. I praise God for the time He built into the week where I can come aside, put down all my burdens and just rest in Him. I invite you to do the same, whether you are Adventist or not. Find some time to just commune with Him and experience the joy of that. No matter the challenges of the week past (or in your life as a whole), trust in Him.

Be blessed.

05 June 2008

Fill 'er up!

How insane are the gas prices in this country today? I cringe every time I go to the pump to fill up - and it doesn't matter if you are filling up at QuikTrip, Shell or Sam's Club - the prices are still ridiculous! [and I hear that internationally, it ain't no better!] When my mom retired last year, she "treated" herself by purchasing a new car. God blessed her (and indirectly, me and my brother) with an Infiniti I35, fully loaded - the car is SWEEEEET! But it also is a gas guzzler that demands a higher grade of gas than we were used to putting into the Honda that we drove before. So, where before it would take $20 to fill the tank - this new car laughs (out loud and long) at the mere thought of $20. Literally, $20 puts 5 gallons of gas in an 18(?) gallon tank car. I don't know how many gallons our tank is because we have made it our practice not to let the gauge drop below half a tank. I cringe every time I pull up to a pump and see that the person before me spent $50 or $75 or even $100 to put gas in their car. AND YET, you rarely drive by a gas station that doesn't have cars at the pumps, filling up - or at least putting enough gas in the tank to get to the next destination.

Last night, as I attended mid-week prayer service, our local elder made the analogy that mid-week prayer service was like a pit stop at the gas station as we "drive" down life's road. In today's world, it is difficult to go from Sabbath to Sabbath (or Sunday to Sunday) without taking some time out to "pull over and refuel" by studying God's Word - and it truly is better in the company of the saints who are like-minded in study, prayer and testimony. It is so easy to make excuses about why this communion during the middle of the week is not important: "I'm tired, I had a long day at work" or "Shoot, do you know how much gas I will use driving to church?" or any other myriad of excuses. I know, I've made them. There have been times that I have been "forced" to go to prayer meeting and was resentful during the whole drive to the church - only to be blessed beyond belief by a testimony or the lesson study or the smile on someone's face who greeted me at the church. [Sidebar: A special shout out to Sherry and Racquelle (I sure hope I am spelling this name correctly) who blessed me last night with their enthusiastic greetings of welcome as I came into the church. You will never know the good it did my soul. Thank you for letting God use you to minister to my soul in that small, tangible way.]

Ok, where was I? Oh yeah...I invite you to take the time to stop and refuel with the Lord. Whether you find yourself in a church building at a meeting, or just at home in private study - don't go seven days without meeting with Him. He has blessings for you untold that are there just for the taking. And believe me, we all need blessings. And not only do we need to receive blessings - we need to be blessings to those we come in contact with. As Sherry and Racquelle blessed me with their greetings, and my prayer partner, Bridget, blessed me and my mother with her prayer for us - you can bless someone with a kind word, or a smile, or a hug. You never know what someone is going through and how that simple kindness can give them what they need to make it to the next step. Just something to think about.

Be blessed.

04 June 2008

Why (not) me?

Why is it that whenever we are going through something, the first thing we holla is "Lawd, have mercy - why me?" I would like to suggest that we need to change our paradigm - maybe we should question, "Why not me? What is it that God is trying to develop in my character that will be made manifest once I get through this?" Well, that is what I am pondering this morning as I sit at my desk...at work...but not working.

The worldwide church of which I am a member recently spent three months studying the subject of crucibles - what they are and how we, as Christians, should do to get through them. I will admit that I didn't study my lessons as I should have and now, with 20/20 hindsight, I am kicking myself in the butt, because God was trying to teach me something in preparation for the storm in which I currently find myself. (But you best believe, I will be pulling out my quarterly and going back to study - ain't it grand that we serve a God who gives us "second chances" for a myriad of things? AMEN!) I currently find myself in the midst of a crucible experience and I am sort of wondering..."why me? what did I do to deserve this?" And of course, there are the "friends" and "well wishers" who say, "Girl, you know I got your back. Who we need to get?" All that is well and good, but it is also distracting.

This morning, during our prayer call, as I asked for special prayer for me and my co-worker (who is also going through this experience with me), the pastor made an interesting statement that I had not considered: "Maybe you are going through a "Job" experience. Maybe God was bragging on you and turned to the enemy and said, 'Have you considered my servant, Kristina? There is no one on earth like her, she is blameless and upright, a woman who fears God and shuns evil.'" (paraphase of Job 1:8) [Ok, those of you who know me well can stop laughing now!] It could happen. God looks at our hearts when considering our characters, and He knows that, despite actions that may seem contrary, my heart is bent towards Him. I truly, desperately want to be like my favorite Bible character, David, and be called a "woman after God's own heart." He knows that and loves me accordingly.

Years ago, when my grandfather was dying from cancer, I attended a prayer meeting service where I poured out my heart before the congregation about how I was feeling and requesting prayers for his healing. As we prayed, I left the sanctuary and went into the bathroom to cry. A friend of mine, Vonda, followed me into the bathroom and I will never forget what she told me: "Kristina, I don't know why I am saying this to you, but God has given you this trial because YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN GO THROUGH IT." In essence, the trial of losing my grandfather was specific to me. The crucible that I am currently going through is specifically designed for me. There is a lesson I am to learn, there is some flaw in my character that needs to be changed, eradicated, removed. And it is all done for MY BENEFIT because God loves me and wants to save me.

So, the shift has happened and the question has become: "Why not me? Why should I be spared from this trial?" I shouldn't because it is within the will of God and He wants only the best for me. (Jeremiah 29:11). I end with this quote that I received in an email recently. I was going to revise it so as not to offend, but realized that it is perfectly stated as is: Live your life in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan shudders and says, "Oh shit! She's awake!"

Be blessed.

02 June 2008

Six degrees of separation

There is a theory that everyone is connected to everyone else in the world by only six degrees of separation. Meaning, there are only six people standing between you and anyone else in the world - the problem is getting to know those six people at the right time. I was only two degrees away from Shemar Moore a few years ago. He was filming in Atlanta and one of the guys I would eventually work with in the future was on set as his body double. Now, if I'd only known Wesley while he was working as Shemar's body double, we could have met, he would have fallen madly in love with me (because, of course, who wouldn't?) and all of you would be jealous whenever you saw the pictures of how happy we were together in our Los Angeles/New York/Atlanta homes. (Hey! Sometimes a fantasy life is all a sista has...)

And this theory plays itself out in other aspects of my life as well. I attended a small college in Huntsville, AL for my freshman year of college over 25 years ago. Recently, some alumni created a social networking page just for the college's alumni, supporters, students and staff. One of the features available is the "connections" feature and when you view someone's profie in order to "connect" with someone, you are told how many degrees you are "separated" from this person. And depending on how you already have set up your connections, you can be directly connected or separated by various degrees. I love closing the connections though, so that I have "direct connections" with most people. I have reconnected with old friends - and made some new ones through this process.

But think about...only six people (or less) separates you from anyone in the world. I work with someone who is very involved in one of the Democratic candidates' campaigns - so, according to this theory, I am either two or three (or four if the Republican nominee wins) degrees away from the next President of the United States. How exciting is that - in theory. I just found out that one of my cousins, by virtue of an organization that she is involved with, has been invited to the inaugural festivities next year, so she's even closer than me...good thing I like her, otherwise, I might have to take her out so I can go in her stead. (Just kidding, Caron!)

Aren't you glad that there are NO degrees of separation between us and our Heavenly Father? We are always directly connected to Him - even when we feel far far away from His will and/or His presence in our life - He is right there. I am so glad about that. It is a wonderful promise that we can each hang onto as we face each day.

Be blessed.