Tired

Your black friends are tired. Move on their behalf. Make space for their voices. They are tired of yelling to be heard. Make room to listen.

Listen to the stories of being in the backseat of Pop’s car in 2018 and hearing about how one day, walking down the road, Grandma Peaches was verbally assaulted by a white man because he simply didn’t like that she was walking down the street while he was driving by.

Listen to how they used to work the fields with M’dear as sharecroppersknowing full well that share cropping was the white man’s acquiescence to the abolition of slavery.

Listen to a dark-skinned mother tell her first-born that there was a time she didn’t think her light-skinned friend would like her; because racism is so engrained in our society that it seeped into the psyche of the melanin-rich skin tones, and pitted light against dark within the history of the oppressed.

Listen to the stories of the father who was once a, “high yella,” kid who had to remember not to ride his bike on the other side of the viaduct for fear of rocks being thrown.

Listen to the stories of the brother who just wanted to be able to drive without a fleet of police officers searching his car for what we all know wasn’t there.

Listen to the stories of the brother who always loved the stage and simply wanted elf ears that matched his skin-tone so he could play his part authentically, and not look absurd.

Listen to the woman who holds two degrees, is the head of two departments and isn’t just, “the little colored girl who sings.”

Your black friends are tired. Move on their behalf. There are allies and advocates and there are partners in moving forward, but trauma is exhausting, and it seeps into the very make up of who a person is.

The years are long, and hope can often seem fleeting because the battle for equality continues and this messy war wages on…and your black friends are tired.

But through the exhaustion we continue to battle for these inalienable rights; we raise our voices, we speak, and we learn. We raise our arms and we leadand we will not stop, but when the burden gets heavy and when the fight gets long, be the Aaron and Hur on either side holding up our arms, because your black friends are tired.

Your black friends have stories. Be a part of the narrative. Don’t ignore the battle they are waging. Come close, bring a stool, get side-by-side and hold up their arms.

“When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” Exodus 17:12 (NIV)

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I am not the water you drink to quench your thirst. I am not a sports drink made for replenishing your spent energy. I’m not here to revitalize you when life has made you tired.

 

I am not the coffee you’re late to your morning meeting in order to acquire. I’m not your afternoon caffeine boost when the days are long.

 

I am not the drink you pour at the end of the day because you deserve it. I am not here to help you relax and forget your stress.

 

I am not here to be needed.

 

I am…what you choose to sit down with on your favorite day. I am carefully chosen, ‘cause I’m exactly what you want to make your life just that much better.

 

I am what makes you close your eyes and smile.

 

I am what you keep next to you when you sink into the coziest of chairs.

 

I am the treat you’ve waited all week for.

 

I am not what you need.

 

I’m what you want.

 

10+

Ten plus years of hanging out with teens snuck up on me. One minute I’m leading a small group of high schoolers on the patio of a church member’s home in Stuart, FL and the next minute, my Timehop is reminding me that exactly 10 years ago…on the very same weekend… I was leading a small group of middle schoolers on the front lawn of a church member’s home in Fort Lauderdale.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far: 

  1. Cleaning up another human’s regurgitated food doesn’t necessarily get easier, but the more you do it, the more times you can say, “I’ve done this before, I can do it again.”
  2. Teenagers will break your heart in a good way. When they trust you, they’ll let you peek into the craziness that is their world. Often, what you’ll find is insecurity, fear, and confusion. It’ll make you want to sit there in that world with them…just so they aren’t alone.
  3. They might get married before you (and you just might get to be a part of the bridal party single as all get out–but so stinkin’ happy and proud).
  4. Love big, but don’t pretend that love will keep you in the same place forever. We bloom where we’re planted, and that means putting down roots that grow from love…but it doesn’t mean God won’t plant you elsewhere one dayjust don’t love conservatively because of it. Love big!
  5. Teenagers are messy and they might break your heart in a bad way—we’re just here to show them that they are loved regardless. We can’t fix them, we can’t choose Jesus for them, and we certainly can’t stop them from: complaining about how tired they are at an event you spent countless hours planning…and you definitely can’t constantly police them…so they might draw inappropriate words/images with the paint they are supposed to be using to paint someone’s house in order to show that person the love of Jesus…Kids are messy and we love them anyway.
  6. Getting old and irrelevant is the worst, but it doesn’t discredit your role. Yes, I’m a millennial talking about getting old, but when you hang out with teenagers…there’s no avoiding it. I don’t understand meme culture and I do not understand Snapchat but I love kids and that love is timeless.
  7. I’m learning to care about people more than politics. Sometimes I have opinions on hot-button issues, sometimes I don’t. I reserve the right for either. Regardless, Jesus’ love for humanity led Him to sacrifice His life on a cross…I refuse to let my opinions overrule love. My convictions are harder to love through, but if Jesus can be perfect and yet still love perfectly, I can bother with learning how to muddle through somehow.
  8. Ministry is difficult, but being single in ministry is a special subcategory of difficult. How much time is too much at work? What about Netflix? What about self-care? Friends? Dating? When someone finds the perfect ratio, let ya girl know.
  9. Ministry shouldn’t be done alone. Up until 5 years ago, I didn’t know that local ministers could truly be friends and not secret competitors underneath the surface. I was astonished to discover that local ministers can be a family of believers that, “get” what each other are going through, pray them through it, and encourage each other in their various styles of ministry. Quelle surprise!
  10. Jesus saved Mary Magdalene, she followed Him, and when He revealed to her that He was alive she went and told others that He was alive and she had seen Him. So yes, this born and raised Southern Baptist girl preaches. As far as I’m concerned, Jesus is alive, I’ve seen Him and I’m gonna tell people about it. Don’t @ me.

Here’s to more years and more learning…because teenagers are awesome!

One More Jar

Today at a conference a woman gave a spoken word centered on the story of the widow and the oil.

 

It was about how it took desperation and faith for her to go to the prophet Elisha and tell him of her woes, then it took faith and courage for her to go around asking for jars from all her friends and neighbors.  It took a next level faith for her to walk back into her home, now filled with empty jars, pick up her one small jar and begin to pour.

 

The spoken word ended with the woman posing the question, “don’t we think that after seeing God provide and pour out blessing after blessing, the woman wished that she had put out just one more jar?”

 

The spoken word then lead into the song, Set a Fire, and I was particularly moved when the singer sang the words, “Set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain that I can’t control, I want more, pour it out.”

 

Pour it out.

 

It occurred to me in those moments, that sometimes it’s not a matter of finding and borrowing jars from others in order for God to pour into us and bless us.

 

I think sometimes, we, in this day and age, need to search the recesses of our souls for the jars that are dry and dusty in the corners of our own hearts and beg, “Please Lord, fill this one too.”  We have to identify what “jars” in our lives need to be miraculously filled with oil that brings so much richness to life.

 

Back then, oil was used for cooking, anointing kings, and lighting lamps.  Jesus used it as a symbol of fullness, of needs being met.

 

If we trust that He will provide every need, we need to gather our jars and set them before Him.  We need to borrow the jars of our neighbors and add them to our collection.

 

“Lord, this jar is labeled, ‘loneliness,’ but I set it before you and ask that you fill it up so that I can label it with what You give me.  Lord, I’ve borrowed this jug labeled joy, please fill it to the brim.  God, this jar says, ‘rest,’ please pour out your blessings.  Oh Lord, here is a jar from the back of the pantry labeled hope, please, replenish it.”

 

Jars are made to be emptied, but they are also made to be filled.  Sometimes heartbreak will evaporate a jar so quickly we don’t even realize we are running on empty.  It’s in those moments that we need to set out another jar for Him to fill.

 

As the widow was reaching for every jar she could possibly find, I imagine that there were some jars in her cupboard she didn’t want to use.  Perhaps the unsightly ones that only family used, the ones not meant for guests or company to see…perhaps the ones her two boys made as young children with rough unfinished edges…or perhaps the jug that had been passed down for generations from her husband’s side of the family and every time she saw it she was reminded of her loss and the devastation her family had suffered.  But the prophet had told her,  she needed more than just a few jars and so out it went.

 

We have jars like that too.  The ones that are unsightly and not meant for public, the ones that trigger hurts and heartaches.  But if God is going to work a miracle in our lives, wouldn’t we want to put out just one more jar?

Therapy and Repetition

Fun fact: my mother was a music therapy major in school, but the profession of working solely with special needs students was too much for her, so she became a music teacher instead.

I think working with a majority of special needs children overwhelmed her because her heart was so big she wanted healing for anyone that struggled.

She always told me that music was special. There was something about it.

Music was what she used to teach me not to be afraid of the dark…music was what she used to teach me scripture…that taught me not to be afraid.

Over and over, lesson by lesson, note by note.

I believe there is therapy in the repetition in music. Much like physical therapy for an injury or counseling for mental health…there is healing in the repetition. It’s an exercise, an opportunity to work out whatever it is that needs to be worked out.

When a song repeats, it’s a reminder of the message that’s being conveyed. It’s a chance to internalize what’s being communicated. The therapy comes through the working out of the message.

At my home church the Sunday after mommy passed, we sang, “Death was Arrested.” I had never heard it before but I believe that song was God’s gift to me because He knew I had stuff to work out. Through that song, He gave me the gift of repetition because every. single. time. I visited my home church, that song was in the worship set. Every time. There’s therapy in the repetition in music.

Through that repetition God showed me that when we are absent from the body we will be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) …and so because of Christ, when my mother’s life here on earth was arrested—stopped—ended—her life truly began. I learned that through the therapy that’s in the repetition in music.

Sometimes, it’s not just repeating the song, it’s repeating the words within a song. From the first word to the last, there’s an exercise. We have an opportunity to take the words to heart and apply them.

I used to be so offended when my friends would complain that gospel music was, “too repetitive.” Gospel music comes from an African American heritage and the repetition was a part of the richness of that history. Slaves would sing songs working out in the fields, songs of freedom and fortitude that would encourage them to live one more day despite the present circumstances. And it was through the repetition of the words, the verses, the songs, that they committed God’s Word to memory, sent messages to each other about escape routes, and found the will to live.

In Exodus, when the Israelites were escaping years of slavery by the hands of the Egyptians, they found themselves up against the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army hot on their heels. With seemingly no way out, the Israelites cried out to God in fear and Moses said to them, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still (Exodus 14:14).” They were completely surrounded by impossible circumstances, and they were told to just be still and let God fight for them.

That’s the message God’s been teaching me in my music therapy. There’s a song called, “Surrounded (Fight my Battles),” and it repeats the same words over and over…through that, I have learned that in the times when the circumstances around me see insurmountable and I am completely incapable, the Lord will fight for me—I need only to be still. My fight is the battle to be still, to stop trying to fix things, save myself, spin my wheels, and find a way out. My fight is the battle to be still and trust that the Lord will indeed fight for me.

There is therapy in the repetition in music.

Confidence in Freedom

There is a child who wakes up in the morning, bleary-eyed from a good night’s rest. He sits up in bed and scratches his forearm where the sleeve of his too small pajama shirt left a slight indentation on his skin. He pops out of bed knowing that he’s usually the first of his siblings to wake up, and if he’s fast enough, he’ll get first pick of the cereal options. After a quick pit stop in the bathroom he, sprints down the hallway and then down the stairs. The TV is muted, flashing images of recent news reports. Mom sits at the table and greets him with the usual, “Good morning bud,” as he reaches for the chocolaty goodness he’s been thinking about all morning…all seven minutes of it.

“Hey babe…” he stops, knowing from her tone that all was not right in his little world. “Yes, mom?” he squeaked.

“So I’m looking at your planner here, and according to a note left by your teacher, you seem to have missed turning in a homework assignment.”

“Uhhhh…”

“Now remember when you were playing video games with your brother and I asked you last night if there was any homework you needed to do…you told me there wasn’t.”

“Ok, but mom listen,” he said as he finally turned his attention from the box of cereal that now called to him.

“No, no. It’s time for you to listen. As a matter of fact, come sit down. I’ve fixed you some buttered toast for breakfast.”

“I hate toast!”

“I know…but you know what I hate? I hate when my children lie to me and fail to do the things they are supposed to do, so you can come have a seat next to me and eat while we discuss the consequences your father and I have arranged for you…”

His shoulders drooped and he slumped toward his mother and sat heavily in the seat next to her. His stomach rumbled loudly as he picked up the toast that wouldn’t taste nearly as good as the bowl of chocolate he’d been dreaming of. His mom raised her eyebrows at the sound of his hunger rolling around his belly. “Traitor,” he thought to himself as he sighed and took a bite.

Another child, wakes up in the morning. Stiff from the cold that seems to live in his bones. He hoped that the others that usually congregated in the vicinity would start a fire that evening. His stomach rumbled within him, as it had done last night. He eyed the satchel that lay in the corner of the alleyway across from him. He knew the woman who owned the satchel probably had something edible in there.

He’d left home a few years ago. Escaping the overbearing and judgmental environment of his family home. Here, only God was his judge and he lived according to his own compass. He’d picked a couple pockets yesterday and gotten enough to have some McDonalds. But if he could find something in that satchel, he wouldn’t have to work as hard today…

In Romans 8:20-21 we read: For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Many people view choosing to follow Jesus as subscribing to a long list of rules and regulations, or signing up to be judged as not good enough for all eternity. In truth, following Christ is subscribing to following two rules: Loving your neighbor as yourself and Loving God with all your heart mind and strength. It’s signing up to be liberated from judgement for your actions and instead being judged based on the actions of Christ who died for all mankind. It’s signing up to live in the freedom and glory of the children of God.

When you think of children who grow up in the confines of a loving family that guides, directs and corrects a child in order to give a child the best possible version of life…versus a child who grows up in an environment based on changing whims of society…which child lives in true freedom? Boundaries and rules are not put in place to enslave us, but to free us from the consequences of living outside of them. May we not see the boundaries our Father has given us as prison bars, but a doorway to living a life free of the baggage of consequences. May we rest in the confidence that we are children in the confines of a loving family that guides, directs, and corrects us because of the great love our Father has for us.

Well Guarded

The act of loving someone is, in essence, giving them access to the most easily wounded and slowest healing parts of you.

The scariest part is knowing someone can hurt you, but hoping that they choose not to. Ultimately, you’ve no control over their actions.

Guarding your heart from people is nearly impossible and requires…being less…so as not to get hurt. Less open, less vulnerable. Less hurt.

But Jesus didn’t lead with less, He led with love. A love so big and so vulnerable it forced Him to face ultimate rejection.

So I think guarding your heart is more about being clearheaded and knowing that hurt is possible, but being resilient instead of closed off.

A heart that can withstand pain and yet continue to love regardless. That is the heart of Christ. So should our hearts be.

A well guarded heart is not a closed heart, but one that is aware of the dangers of loving others, readies itself, and loves big anyway.

Dying Moments

A woman, standing in her home in the dark, dressed in a nightgown. A man enters her home in the dark of night and raises a revolver to her chest. He shoots. The cylinder releases six bullets and each sinks into her torso. Her body hits the floor and warmth leaves her body like the blood that pools beneath her. Each wound is a hole that shatters the image of what was once whole. Now it’s true. She is broken. She isn’t enough; and the darkness that’s creeping and taking over is validation. Right before she is overcome and air leaves her lungs for the last time, she thinks she imagines the smallest light. She hasn’t the strength enough to open her eyes or attempt to move. She hasn’t enough fight left in her; she wasn’t enough to begin with. Hasn’t enough. Isn’t enough. Never enough. But the light grows and it nears her. It joins her, bleeding, on the floor and she can feel its warmth. She feels the light overpowering the darkness. She feels the heat as it enters each wound. Each hole is filled with light, with warmth. She hears the words that answer her frustrated and scrambled thoughts. “I am…I am…I AM. I am ENOUGH.” That’s when she is whole again. That’s when healing comes.

 

 

Standing on a platform after fighting and wrestling with the person you loved most. Your partner–now gone. You tried to grab hold, but they maneuvered and slipped through your grasp. You’re left standing, scarred and bruised from the struggle, alone on the platform, and anyone that walks by might see. They might see the why’s. Because on that platform, the light hits you just right and it’s so unforgiving. It highlights the why’s in ways you didn’t think possible…and now everyone can see that you weren’t good enough. It’s visible that what you have to offer is a sad, pathetic, excuse for worthiness…so of course you weren’t chosen. Of course you were left standing there. Breathing heavily, first in fear, now in defiance, your stance moves from one of vulnerability and offense, to an angry and bitter defense. “Yes, I’m broken! Yes, I’m imperfect, what, you’re not?!” The words are a rage filled cry that come from a depth you’d never acknowledged you had. As your thoughts quiet, and the adrenaline dissipates, you realize your ragged breaths are not the only ones present. There is a slow and steady breathing beside you. How long it’s been there, you have no idea. Deep and calm, just hearing it brings your pulse rate to a slower rhythm…and reason comes to you. He too, has visible scars, though healed over time. The more you look at His scars, the less yours ache. His stance is neither offensive nor defensive, just confident. You feel the desire to adjust your own. Your breathing slows to match His pace. His confidence becomes your own. His presence and the look on His face imply that whatever happens next, you are not alone on the platform.

Naked Lady, Atlanta Airport

At the Atlanta airport yesterday I was sitting at a burger joint finishing up my meal when I heard a commotion and curiously looked up from my plate. To my surprise, there was a completely stark naked woman strolling down Delta’s B Concourse. She was screaming as she walked. Walked, not ran.

Call it instinct, but I was ready to hit the floor because in this day and age you never know what a commotion in an airport might mean for your safety. I expected to hear a thud or a thump signifying that airport security had intervened and were in the process of detaining her. I heard nothing but her continuous rant as she strolled on past our point of visibility.

Somewhere in graduate school I learned that laughter is one of people’s go-to responses when they are uncomfortable. It’s why you see television captions read, “nervous chuckle” when there’s a depiction of someone in an uncomfortable situation. So, it’s no surprise that as the scene transpired, my lunch bunch all turned to each other wide-eyed and open mouthed…and laughed.

We laughed at the incredulity of the situation. We laughed at the lack of urgency with which airport personnel seemed to be escorting this woman.

As we gathered our things and exited the restaurant, we cringed as we watched people’s reactions throughout the concourse. It became clear to us that this woman was allowed to walk a pretty far distance judging by the faces of people around us, snippets of conversation, and people huddling around phones in little pockets as we walked.

By the time we were seated at our gate, we laughed in disbelief that apparently, this woman walked the entire concourse. My main question was, “How in the world did they allow her to get so far???”

I attended Orange Conference 2017 (#OC17) this week with a team from my church; we were on our way home when this little incident took place. One of the main things I think we as people wonder in situations like this is, “Why?”

The way we figure out why in our society today is the internet. We soon discovered that the proper terminology to search online was, “Naked Lady Atlanta Airport.”

Sure enough, people had begun posting what they witnessed.

The video that came up showed this woman as she was disrobing in the middle of the walkway, her clothes and purse strewn around her. The video had about 3 seconds of R rated material before you saw a woman and man rush to bend down and pick up articles of clothing and attempt to hand them back to her. They both stood shoulder to shoulder, cocked their heads to the side and seemed to try and engage the woman as she continued to rant.

The conference theme this year was, “For Our Neighbors,” a plea for ministry leaders to approach not just ministry within the church being neighbor-minded, but to approach the rest of their lives with that mindset as well.

When the video ended, I realized that of course, I had not gained any more information about, “Why” this woman was causing a scene. I did however get a real life picture of what brokenness looks like. Then I got a real life picture of what being, for your neighbor truly meant. For that woman and that man it meant engaging in someone else’s mess and simply seeing if there is anything that can be done. It meant standing shoulder to shoulder in that endeavor, because you can’t do ministry alone. Standing shoulder to shoulder because when you do that, you also help shield that person’s mess from exploitation.

When that woman (prayerfully) regains her faculties, she’s going to be grateful for the people that stood shoulder to shoulder and blocked her mess from being broadcast, at least from that one camera phone.

As a student ministry leader I was convicted by two strangers in an airport who leaned in to a woman’s very public struggle. There was probably not a lot they could offer to the situation, but they offered what they could and in that 30 second video clip, it was enough.

Being neighbor-minded isn’t glamorous but it’s what Jesus called us to do. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got work to do in that area.

BGTF

A cold panic washed over her as she turned into the complex. She’d had such a great day leading up to this moment. She took her new car for its first drive along the beach. Windows down, radio blaring. It was surreal, a girl like her, enjoying a Saturday afternoon rather than wondering aimlessly around town, sitting in restaurant booth after booth until closing time, then finding a safe place to catch some sleep before the cycle began again in the morning.

When driving down the road, she almost couldn’t believe how different her life was now. The Taylors had graciously taken her in and welcomed her into their family. She was still struggling to get along with the two Taylor siblings, but at times she could tell they were trying.

Last month they had moved into a new house. She didn’t even know they made houses that big, but now she had her own bedroom and shared a bathroom with Lynn. Robbie had his own, but that was probably for the best. 

Two weeks ago, the Taylors had come home with a new sedan. As they all gathered around to, “ooh and ah,” at the new car smell. Mr. Taylor caught her eye overhead, winked, tossed her the keys and said, “Wanna take old Gracie for a spin?”

He always named their cars.

“Me?!” She’d answered incredulously. 

“Happy Birthday!!!” Was Mrs. Taylor’s giddy interjection.

Robbie clapped her on the back in affirmation while Lynn smiled shyly from her mother’s side. 

“Give Old Gracie a whirl and let us know how she rides!”

In a daze, she sat behind the wheel and slowly backed out of the long driveway and waved as she waited for the private gate to open.

It was there that she now sat. The daze of this morning now gone. In the excitement, she’d left her phone in the house. Ever since the move she had always driven with one of the Taylors who had a gate opener. Now, completely on the outside with no way to get in. Her stomach twisted into knots as she stared at the wrought iron gate with the Taylors happily inside of it. Fear and anxiety settled in like an unwelcome companion. She couldn’t bring herself to call the house from the gate intercom. She wondered if it were all just a mean trick to play on the poor little orphan girl. She pictured them laughing at her expense, tucked away in comfort. Comfort she dared to think she could actually have. As she looked at the gate, for the first time, she noticed a design in the iron. It gave her a semblance of hope. It was a long shot, but she certainly had nothing to lose.

She rolled down the window and entered the numbers 32484 into the keypad. She heard a squeak and then felt a rush of relief as the gate slowly opened. She floored it through the entryway and watched as the gate closed behind her in the rear-view mirror. As the iron clanked back together she saw the design take shape as it reformed the scripted word, Faith, once more.

Ephesians 2:8New International Version (NIV)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

When I was doing my devos last week I came across this verse. It’s one of my favorites, which is weird, because I struggle to understand it. I don’t usually like or enjoy things that don’t make sense to me. Like math. But it was almost like BECAUSE I struggled to understand it, was one of the reasons I liked it so much.

Then, all of a sudden, it finally made sense to me… For it is by grace…by as in the vehicle through which we travel…plane, train, or automobile, it is by grace that we travel…THROUGH faith, the gateway…that leads to our salvation.

Grace is the vehicle, faith is the gateway. It reminds me to be grateful for His grace and my salvation…and to extend grace to others, if that’s what I’m riding in!