Scars and Souvenirs

“Here’s to the twilight
here’s to the memories
these are my souvenirs
my mental pictures of everything
Here’s to the late nights
here’s to the firelight
these are my souvenirs
my souvenirs.

“I close my eyes and go back in time
I can see you’re smiling, you’re so alive
we were so young, we had no fear
we were so young, we had no idea
that life was just happening
life was just happening…

“We were so young, we had no fear
We were so young, we had no idea
That nothing lasts forever
That nothing lasts forever

“Nothing lasts, nothing lasts
You and me together
Were always now or never…”     ~  Jon Foreman, Switchfoot, “Souvenirs”

I cannot count the times I’ve heard it asked, “If you could go back in time to your best day as a child/teenager/young adult, would you?”

I have heard people say on many occasions that they would love to relive being eight, or twelve, or seventeen. They recount these lovely stories or tragic tales of a lost loved one that they wish they’d had more time with, or recount the perfect day.

“If only I could have that day/moment/season/year back.”

I think to myself, is there any measure of time I genuinely wish I could retrieve? And the answer is, inevitably, a resounding no.

My childhood essentially sucked. For every one of the wonderful, awe-inspiring and magical moments that were sprinkled throughout my youth (and I must add…there were MANY), there were whole landscapes of crud and mold and yuck that consumed my everyday, inhabited with slimy, creeping, crawling critters of the two-legged variety, far more often than the four, six, or eight-legged ones.

The memories of positive and negative experiences share the same space in my mind.  They are all very valuable to me…now.  It’s kind of like comparing scars and souvenirs.

By virtue of the length of their definitions, scars seem to carry a more significant weight, but souvenirs imply a greater sense of value. A souvenir is something that serves as a reminder; a thing that would cause to one to recall or bring to mind, usually referring to something good or worthy of recollection. While scars do the same thing – serve as a reminder – they evoke a more negative response. Scars tend to be the things we would rather forget.

A scar is indicative of something lost, removed, worn or injured.  It implies violence, aggression and, often times, some form of violation against that which has been scarred. Scars serve as a reminder of pain…until they don’t.

“Nothing lasts forever…” Even the worst days of your life eventually end.

Too often, we spend too much time with the scars.  We pick at them prematurely and cause them to aggravate us. We do that…to ourselves. We expose ourselves to the people and things that inflicted the injury before there has been ample time for healing. We let people and things that have no business interacting with those wounded places poke, prod and pick at the wounds that have not completely scarred over, creating unnecessary irritation and infection, adding time and additional pain and suffering to the recovery process.

But, when the wounds heal and the scars don’t hurt anymore…

It means that the injury has has time to be infused with strength…more strength than it had to begin with. It means that the sensitivity has lessened, so much so that we no longer feel the need to be overly protective of exposing the once-injured place. It means that we have learned how to be proactively preventative to avoid experiencing another injury like that one.  We can now, not only relate to others with similar injuries, we can help others avoid being injured in a similar way.

…Not only are we better for that injury, others around us now benefit from the experience of it.

I think about Joseph.  His childhood dreams nearly cost him his life, several times.  For a season, they cost him his freedom. He found himself in one precarious situation after another. But, when you look at it from the end of the adventure of his life, had he not paid the cost, he may have never seen his dreams fulfilled. “We were so young…we had no idea that life was just happening…”

Joseph told his brothers that what they meant for evil, God meant to do good.  God’s good prevailed, not in spite of the evil, but because of it.

In the end, even the experiences that nearly killed us; the ones we thought we would never get through; the pain we thought we could never endure became something for which we could be grateful.  And in that, our scars became souvenirs.

“Can you hear me?
Can you hear me?
…I wouldn’t trade it for anything…my souvenirs.”

EGR: Extra Grace Required

I think I’m a pretty cool person.  I am smart and kind.  I am comical, but I’m not very funny, even though I laugh a lot with my friends. I’m actually quite literal…I don’t get sarcasm quickly, so smart remarks and deadpan jokes get lost on me. I don’t consider myself a classic beauty, but I am not an ugly woman, by any means. I am a faithful friend…loyal to a fault. It takes an awful lot for me to decide I’ve had enough of someone. I have been very busy these last few years, but when I am being a homebody, I love to cook.  I am an excellent cook; mac and cheese, roast beef and potatoes, turkey tacos, spaghetti, sour cream pound cake, pistachio delight, chocolate chip cookies…and my favorite cake to make is vanilla wafer cake.  And, I cook with love in every bite.

You might say I am the total package.

But what kind of package would I be if I weren’t at least vaguely acquainted with my flaws?

(Aha…betcha didn’t see THAT coming?)

There is tremendous liberty in knowing one’s own boundaries and limitations.  It is of utmost importance if you expect to witness your own greatest success. It is vital to know, not only what you are capable of, but what tendencies you possess that could trip you up or slow you down if you don’t keep them in check.

For example, I hate to disappoint people when I know they are counting on me.  As a consequence, I tend to try too hard.  I try to know what I’m supposed to know and probably everybody else is supposed to know.  I suppose it’s  in an effort to be indispensable.

And, I chase squirrels.

I cannot recall any conversation I’ve ever had, any assignment I’ve ever completed (any blog I’ve ever posted) that did not take longer than it should have for all the detours I’ve taken.

These are only some of my own frailties that I am aware of.  I have more that I know about. There are scads that about which I have no clue, I’m sure. But the nice thing about knowing what your flaws are is, it doesn’t bother you so much when people are bothered by you.  You can understand, even appreciate their irritation, frustration and angst that you produce.  You can even empathize with the emotion you provoke.

It makes it easier to apologize, too.  Which makes it easier for others to forgive you, even if you cannot completely provide for them a remedy.

But, the BEST THING about knowing the best and the worst things about myself is that I am comforted by the fact that I am JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

**JUST FOR CLARITY* Everyone is UNIQUE with a particular set of gifts and talents whose sole purpose is to build up the body of Christ, to glorify God. WITH THAT BEING SAID…**

I am just like everybody else in that I am blessed with assets and liabilities built into my personality.  Knowing that makes it easier when other people exhibit areas where extra grace is required.

The fact is this: Everybody has occasion to get an everybody else’s nerves.  This is the great flaw in humans being.  It is not at all that difficult for us to annoy each other.  We enjoy our individuality …sometimes too much.

That is what makes it so difficult when folks don’t do things the way they think it should be done.  somewhere in our selfish hearts, we complain and turn up our noses, thinking, “That isn’t the way I would have done it.”


And while you were pulling a ‘Frank Sinatra,’ doing it, “Your way,” you’re keeping someone else from discovering a gift that would make them a greater contribution to the common purpose of building up the Body for God’s glory.

But, you got the job done.

Okay, so…maybe NEXT time, before you decide that if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself, how about you give someone the space to find their place; to recognize an ounce of their potential and see, first hand, what a little extra grace given can do to remove a spot or wrinkle in the fabric of the Body?

Let’s never forget to give a little extra grace, to see others reach their potential.  We will never know when a little extra grace will be required for us.

It’s Only Well Water…

You’ve heard it said that you never miss your water until the well runs dry.

People say that all the time.  Usually, that phrase is associated with the loss of a good relationship.  And that is true.  Some people don’t seem to appreciate what they HAD until they see how much someone ELSE is enjoying it AFTER they’ve thrown it away.

But what about gifts and talents?  Everyone is given abilities and skills that just seem to come naturally to them.  They are given to us with specific design and purpose for God’s glory.  They also require honing through consistency, diligence and obedience to God’s instruction.


When God calls us to do a thing, sometimes He graciously gives us the big picture.  Then, He instructs us to start on a particular spot.  From that particular position, we can only see our spot…the big picture is no longer anything but a vague recollection. So we begin a good work.

Somewhere in the tedium of the honing process, many of us get distracted by the monotony of the never changing scenery. We begin to complain.  I mean, what does this have to do with accomplishing the big picture?

We work…but we become impatient.  We don’t work as well as we used to with the others on assignment in our little corner of the world. They begin to get irritated with us and we begin to  resent them for it. We get salty.  And then we fester.  And that festering becomes acidic. We begin a subconscious sabotage of the work you had once begun in earnest.  Then, one of two things happen: the others, still working in earnest, ask us to leave that work or we decide that “it’s time to move on,” without being asked.

We figure that there is better work out there…somewhere else.  There is still this sense of purpose in our hearts, but it’s been convoluted.  It’s been tainted and tampered with by our desire to do the will of God “our way.”

Some might say that looks like a prodigal child.  Perhaps…but, if it’s  prodigal behavior, then it’s a prodigal who has not yet “come to himself.”  The problem with that is the pigpen is visible, the way out is not. This is a very critical time of decision making. This is where a heart either becomes opened or hardened.

But, what happens when the heart gets hardened?  We make really faulty decisions.  That’s when we decide to walk away from ministry or try to branch out on our own, apart from the expressed will of God to accomplish that thing that we only have a faint recollection of the “Big Picture.”

That’s when we think God is taking too long and take matters into our own hands, like Sarah using her handmaid to produce a child.. Or, we think our plan is better, like Absalom trying to steal an entire kingdom one person at a time.  Or we just like doing things the way they’ve always done and the new way is just too foreign, like Moses when God told him to speak to a rock. Or, the servant with the one talent who hid it for the ‘greater good.’

Each one of those examples were disastrous. And each negative result could have been avoided.

“But it’s only well water.  Surely there is something better to work with.  Surely God has other resources for me to utilize! I’m sure He would reward me for doing it another way, as long as the job gets done.”

So, off you go to do it ‘another way.’  In the meantime, God has given someone else the assignment that you were meant to fulfill.  And they are FLOURISHING.  And you are getting DRY, searching for another source of water.

My pastor, Dan Willis, has said something very often over the almost 20 years that I’ve known him: “God will NEVER allow His Kingdom or the work of the Kingdom to suffer for your lack of obedience.  And the person He uses to fill in the void you left will take that position higher than anyone could have imagined.”

God honors diligence. God honors consistency. God honors WILLING OBEDIENCE. Don’t be discouraged because things don’t move at a pace that pleases YOU. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ…”

God has a plan for your life, your gifts, your abilities, that will exceed even YOUR imagination. Stay at that well, my friend, and take pleasure in your assignment.  God may use you and that little well to water nations.

Meanwhile, Down In Pleasantville…

I love the Body of Christ!  I love the children of God in all of their many forms, fashions and facets!  I love the quiet worshipers and silent prayers. I love the loud, boisterous and demonstrative saints. I love the serious, thinking, diligent servants. I love the inconsistent, inattentive, forgetful children, who haven’t quite yet figured out where they fit in, so they hop from ministry to ministry.  I love the artisans: the painters and actors; the dancers and singers, whether they serve in secular venues or serve the church proper. I love how we are all so different and yet it is the same Love of God that saves us all and enables us to love each other and the dying world we were sent to serve.

Yet, there are whole groups of Christians who seem to have no identity of their own.  They are going through the motions of their faith, doing as they were instructed, not living up to the call of God on their lives and living in quiet desperation.  These are the sleepwalkers in the body.

You have some in almost every church.  They received salvation and want to do what pleases God, but they don’t really know what it is.  Oh, they know to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. They just don’t know what that looks like for their individual life. So, they walk out their faith like the next person…after all, it’s working for them.  But, what is working for one is not suitable for another, it just lulls you into a false sense of righteousness and basically sings you to sleep.

The problem with that is we will all be judged on whether or not we have fulfilled the call on our own lives as individuals.  We will not be rewarded for how well we fulfilled their assignment…God’s going to check us on what we did with what HE assigned us to do. For some of us, that will be a pretty scary prospect. What do you do, when you have lived your entire life for Jesus, but you felt personally unfulfilled and never took the opportunity to do the things that God placed on YOUR heart to do? Do you keep living life according to the status quo?  Maybe…if you want to get to heaven and, instead of hearing, “Well Done, good and faithful servant,”  you just end up hearing, “Well…?”

Some churches are comprised almost entirely of this kind of Christian. It’s pretty sad, really.  People going through the motions of ministry..sleepwalking for Jesus.  Greeting you at the door.  Reading the scripture. Singing the hymns. Raising the offering.  All, sound asleep. And when someone who is walking in the liberty of their assignment walks into a church like that, it takes a move of God AND Congress to keep you awake!

Makes me think of the movie, Pleasantville.  This modern-day brother and sister get sucked into the rerun marathon of a television show that was filmed in black and white, based in the 1950’s. They have to blend in and hide out until they can figure out how to get back home.  Problem is, the sister is a wild child and refuses to play along and she throws a monkey-wrench into the storyline by letting the boyfriend of one of the main characters take her to “make out point.”  That’s where the story goes totally lop-sided.  This wild child turns this boy out (we are allowed to draw our own conclusions about the fine details), and when she is finished, the boy is in color while the rest of the scenes and people remain in black and white.  You can see the snowball effect of that.  Now, some people go about doing things that deviate from the script and find themselves in color, too!  But for some reason, the modern-day siblings don’t come into color, until they become and behave like their authentic selves instead of following the storyline.

You can imagine the resistance that takes place in the movie from the people who want things to stay the same.  They want the world that is familiar.  They like the routine; they;re used to it. Why would anyone not want their lives to remain “pleasant’?

I am saddened by people, groups, churches, denominations that get stuck in a script.  They do what they know and what they are told, without finding out exactly who God meant for them to be. It’s a scary thing to question why we can only sing hymns. Or to feel the strong urge to waive your hands and say, “HALLELUJAH,” at the top of your lungs, knowing that if you do you will be frowned upon or asked to leave.  Or to want to express your worship by painting some abstract art, knowing that everyone around you will reject your worship, but feeling in your SOUL that God is pleading for you to show Him how much you love Him through the gifts that He’s given you.

WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS, THERE IS LIBERTY.  Isn’t it amazing how many people miss that scripture? Wouldn’t that be the best criteria to determine where you want to worship, when given the opportunity? Shouldn’t this be the standard to which everyone in the body of Christ strive to measure up?  Am I in a place where I am free to be the person God designed me to be?  Are there others around me who are, in the spirit of their authentic selves, encouraging me to discover who God is calling me to be?

There is a FEAR OF LIBERTY that has permeated the church.  So many people equate liberty with rebellion.  It does not necessarily follow that, if you give the people the freedom to be themselves, they will all be drawn away by lust, or become inconsistent, or leave the church high and dry so that the work of the Lord cannot move forward. ON THE CONTRARY…each person that serves the Kingdom in the spirit of liberty in Christ is more passionate about the services they perform in the church and more joyful about their relationship with God and with His people, which makes them a more convincing witness.  If the joy of the Lord is your strength, and walking in liberty brings you joy, then it stands to reason that those who walk in that liberty are stronger Christians whose light shines brighter and draws more attention from the world, “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven,” on a much greater level.

What is God calling you to do?  What demonstration of your love for Him have you suppressed for fear of another’s response? Have you been given some talent that other people say should not be expressed, because it is too secular?

What are you going to do…hide your light under a bushel so that you don’t attract any attention? Or are you going to walk in the Liberty of the Holy Spirit and express your gifts and talents like a drink offering, poured out before the Lord?

Maya Angelou recently passed away.  She was not the least bit diminished in her mental or spiritual health.  To her very last, she was tweeting and speaking to people and giving of herself.  Her son posted on her Facebook page that the family was, “…extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension.” I am convinced that this is a direct result of her living her life in living color, full of the Liberty of the Spirit of the Lord.  This woman poured everything out…she was finally light enough to ascend from her last earthly Glory into the fullness of the Glory of the Lord, to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant: Enter now into the joy of the Lord.”

Isn’t that what we all want to hear? Then I recommend you run the risk of feeling foolish and dance, sing, act, paint, speak, pray, love, dream and do ALL that God has placed in your heart to do. Be faithful over those few things…those gifts and talents He has trusted you with. Cause them to grow and multiply.

Meanwhile, down in Pleasantville…another one has come into full and living color. How about you?

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War of the Words, Pt. 2

Our actions add value to the words we speak.

God’s word carries the kind of weight that is does because God will ALWAYS produce an action that corresponds or agrees with His word. Worlds are framed by His simple declaration of, “Let there be…”

What gives weight to God’s word? His willingness to honor it above all else.

If God says a thing, it must be so.  It doesn’t matter if every circumstance surrounding the matter contradicts God’s word. Those circumstances must and will realign themselves to make full proof of the weight of God’s word.

It almost makes sense that so many people have such a hard time taking the Bible as the infallible, inspired  Word of God. They look at the Bible and thing, “This can’t possibly be true.  Nothing like THAT could ever happen in MY life!”

And then, there are people like ME.

It’s usually the ones who have nothing left to lose that take the chance to see that God’s word is REAL.  It’s the person who has looked like a fool their whole lives that is not afraid to take God at His impossible, unbelievable word.  And it’s that person that sees the victory of God’s word being manifest to its fullest potential.

The promise is this: His word will not return void.  It will always accomplish what pleases the Father. That promise has only one contingency; we must know the word and live it and speak it IN FAITH.

THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WILL OF GOD.  It is the language God speaks. In order to have God’s best possible outcome for our lives, we have to know His will, do His will and declare His will.  And it is the Father’s “good pleasure” to bring His will to pass, no matter how much circumstances contradict it.

Jesus came to do all that He did, so that we could have whatever God’s will is for us.  But even He could not have done that if someone had not been willing to do the will of God. It is because there were generations of people, determined to do the will of God, before the NAME could even be spoken in the earth, that gave the name of Jesus the power that it possesses.

I think it’s very telling when people will pray for things, “in Jesus’ name,” that just don’t line up with the will of God. A lot of those prayers include phrases like: “Give me,” or, “let me,” or, “fix this, or that, or them…” You get the point.  I am equally guilty of this quite often, myself. And we think that the prayer must come to pass because we have asked these things in “the name.”

“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” ~ James 4:3

Sound familiar?  What I have come to discover is that the one thing that trumps the Name of God is the Word of God. Any time we use the name of God in a way that does not line up with the Word of God; we have missed the will of God, making the name ineffective. In Psalm 138:2, David honors God for magnifying His word above His name.  In essence, David honors God for KEEPING HIS WORD.  That demands that you be a direct reflection of your Father by KEEPING YOUR WORD.  And that’s not talking just about telling the truth. Don’t waste time and energy saying things you don’t mean. Don’t say things just because it’s in your ‘nature’ to say it.  Check your old habits against the word of God. If it agrees with God’s word SAY IT. If it supports what God’s word says DO IT.

Nobody said it would be easy. And, for a while, it’s going to feel a little awkward. We live in a world that is totally contrary to God’s word in every imaginable aspect. That is the very reason it is such a challenge to take the Bible for absolute truth.  BUT IT CAN BE DONE.  It just takes practice…day by day, moment by moment practice.

And THAT is the thing that takes you from being waist deep in water to walking through a living aquarium on dry ground.  When you take God at his Word, and live like His word is true, and speak His word back to Him, He is OBLIGATED to bring it to pass.  It is upon His authority that His word MUST come to pass. And when we pray “the word,” in “the name” after living and speaking “the word” in “the name,” it makes us victorious in the war of our words and  that results in the life changing miracles that others can only read about.

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The Going Rate…

I flatter myself in believing that I am a brilliant mind. I know a little bit about turning a phrase or two. There’s a line in the movie, “Blazing Saddles,” where Slim Pickens was talking to Harvey Korman. Pickens told Korman, “You use your mouth prettier than a two dollar whore.”

YES, I know…rude, crude and socially unacceptable.  But it is a great line from a great movie classic. Any time I feel sheepish about being complimented on my oratory shills or my writing ability, that’s the line that comes to mind.  Partly because of how much I love that movie; partly because I appreciate a really cool, back-handed compliment.

Words have been my lifelong friends. It’s because of my affinity and adoration of them that they come to me and ingratiate themselves to me.  I love words…they love me back. And as much as I want to keep an humble perspective on the product of that relationship, I take great pride in what comes of it.

So, when someone reads my work, or listens to me speak and responds by saying something like, “Yeah…that was alright. But, maybe you could be more honest.  I don’t think you’re being REAL enough.”

I might say, “Oh, okay. Well, thanks for your input.” But what I REALLY want to say is, “Are you freaking KIDDING ME??? That was some of my BEST WORK!!! Those words and I had a delightful exchange and I was honored to share them with you.  Guess I won’t be doing THAT again!” I then have to decide what is true: the criticism or the work borne of a beloved relationship.

The relationship I have with words is an internal one.  When I share the fruit of that relationship with you, it is considered, ‘Intellectual Property.’ Very much like the conceptualization of a painting or a sculpture or a musical composition.  There ‘appears’ to be no actual value to it until it is shared and produces a favorable response. This transaction is usually concluded by someone being willing to attach a monetary value to the product.

There are other internal relationships upon which, if we are not careful, we will let external forces place a dollar value. There is a significant worth to the characteristics of our personality; the things that determine how we love. What about our adoration and affection? Think about the loyalty and empathy that forge our friendships? How about our wit and sense of humor? Consider what we determine to be honorable and ethical.

The God who made us made those things into us, just like the makers of a luxury car built in those leather bucket seats and that ferocious, high quality sound system. There are details in that vehicle that mean nothing to the common driver.  They are designed to excite the car aficionado. To God, those traits and characteristics that were built into you were meant to add to your ‘face value.’

What happens when you let someone who is not an aficionado of, “YOU” tell you what your worth is? What does it look like when you expose yourself to people who place their general expectations on you and then determine that you don’t fit the bill. Yet you insist that they are right and adjust yourself tot fit their expectations of what you are designed to be.  You have just let God’s highest desire and most priceless treasure go at the equivalent price of a bargain bin DVD.

Can you imagine what that does to the heart of God?  He – the King and Creator of all thins INTERNAL and ETERNAL; the CREATOR of the UNIVERSE inside you.  He valued you enough to desire to dwell in you, and share the space with all of your intellectual property.  And yet, there you set…determined to be undersold.

I have heard it said, and I am just now coming to understand the immense value of this statement: Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated. The way that you are designed is meant to excite the people who truly know your worth. When you allow the gift of “you” to be reduced to the worth of something that is common and disposable, that means you have accepted that you are who THEY say you are.

This is not to imply your perfection; only to infer that you are EXACTLY who God made you and that the only one that is capable telling you what needs to be perfected or corrected is THE CREATOR.  He alone knows the purpose for your design. He alone would be the one to send people along your path to sharpen your corners or smooth out the rough spots.  And when God sends someone to do the correction, He will send some kind of cues to your inner man to confirm that the work being done is from Him. That’s just the kind of God He is.

Friends, NEVER forget who you are.  It’s not just who God is making you into; not just who you are becoming that’s important.  YOU are a priceless treasure JUST AS YOU ARE.  Refuse to be undersold by those who do not understand your worth. Don’t be caught selling yourself for the going rate.

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I gotta tell ya…this was one for the books.

This past couple of weeks, I addressed people representing my “family” in court.  That’s all I really want to say about that right now.  I also stood alongside my church family as my pastor and his family mourned the passing of his oldest brother. Top that all off with suspicion, jealousy and intrigue from a very nearly different direction, another week of being counselor to some real characters. There was a lot of sadness, frustration and a smidgen of drama.  I could surely live without another couple of weeks like this for a VERY long time.

But, with everything that anyone can encounter in life, there was a lesson to be learned, or, at the very least, reinforced.  This is a lesson for which I am always grateful and glad to come back to.

This one is for me…Image

and you, Phil…Image

You too, Cousin Michael (I see you)…Image

There will always be people who misunderstand you when you are taking the time and full consideration to be yourself. ESPECIALLY, when you have made a concerted effort to figure out, to the best of your ability, who you are.

Society does not make provision for individuality.  It matters not your association.  Once you’ve been introduced to a particular faction and express any degree of familiarity with that community, it can be assumed that you ‘belong’ there. You should find yourself quite content to be labeled as, “one of them.”

So, what happens if you discover, much to the dismay of one community, a degree of familiarity with another community? Or a FEW other communities?

To whom do you belong? What if one community doesn’t care for members of one of the others? Should your fidelity be in question?  Does that make you a traitor? Should you be forced to choose?  What if the community into which you were born is not the community in which you are comfortable?  Do you stay there and just learn to conform and endure? Or do you wander off into the unknown to discover another?

I know.  I am throwing a lot of questions at you…sorry. But this is the kind of stuff I’ve been dealing with.

One truly minor incident brought me back to my senses and to my grounding place.

I was being confronted by someone who assumed I was trying to take something that belonged to them; further assuming that I wanted something that they had: farther assuming that this thing belonged to them in the first place. They had set out to undermine my credibility as a way of discouraging others from associating with me. It was all pretty ridiculous, I assure you. But, it reminded me of something that kind of put the period on the end of the sentence…

“If you can keep your head, when all about you are losing their’s and blaming it on you…”

That’s all it really took.  That right there: The poem, “If,” by Rudyard Kipling.

One of the things my mother did incredibly right, was encourage me to memorize that poem for the prize of a piece of pie (you could talk me into almost anything for the right dessert, but that’s another story).  And I did.  It has been my saving grace more times than I care to count.

That poem helps me remember I am who God made me.  Queen. Priest. PECULIAR. Prize. Beloved. Precious Pearl.  All of my many facets that make me attractive and appealing to the sane and the strange, the demonic and the divine…they were fashioned and formed into me by the Master Craftsman.

Love me or hate me.  Understand me or don’t. It is not wise to assume that your perception of me is going to change my design.  You can no more un-make me, nor I you, than I can un-make a lemon and turn it into an apple.

Let’s stop trying to make everyone we know fit into the mold we’ve imagined for them.  Intimately knowing one facet of a person does not give you access to all of their form and dimension. It’s important for us to give one another permission to be whoever we are and trust God to get the glory out of all of it.  It’s when we spend more time defining the side of them that we DO see that we miss out on the opportunities to be amazed at the beauty and wonder of the sides of them that they want to reveal.

And shame on ALL of us, for making that the rule rather than the exception.

I am grateful to have so many aspects to my personality. I am glad that, even at 44 years ‘more,’ I still have so much left to discover about myself.

This is why I love the simplicity of a good James Taylor song.  The one that fits the bill today says simply, “Be as you are.  As you see, as I am, I am.”

In all my dusty glory, cracked pot that I am…I’m gonna do me and be okay with that.  I suggest you do the same.

The Trouble With Jonah

Ok, so…you may have noticed that I did not make any effort to mention Mother’s Day in any way recently.  That’s because I have an unnatural aversion to the holiday.  Unlike with Father’s Day where I could pull together familial references to create an image of what might have been, I don’t have to wonder with my women folk.  While I can count the positive matriarchal references in my family on one hand, I have LOTS of negative ones.  The killing part is they are some of my most immediate kin.  There are visions I can scarce escape of indentured and unappreciated servitude, prophetic words of encouragement coupled with justified reasons why I will never see those prophecies come to pass, tools and tricks of their power wielded equally against those most loved and loathed.  I have been victorious over such influence, by the Gracious hand of God. But the second Sunday in May is the one day where their presence still overwhelms me. I’m always so grateful to be on the other side of it.

This particular holiday was further complicated by an intrusive call by one of those women.  There was a message left on my pastor’s phone.  It made sense, as there is no other way for her to contact me (good fences make good neighbors)…I still didn’t appreciate it.  The timing, however, was questionable at best. Wanting nothing more than to find out why it was so imperative that I be contacted, I returned the call as soon as possible. While ascertaining that there was absolutely NO real purpose for communication, the call lasted all of about 45 seconds.  I spent the better part of the afternoon seething.  That is, until I got home from church where I had waiting for me a pot of home-made chili that was accompanied by an extra large chocolate ice cream float.(Did I tell you how FANTASTIC my sons are?)  I went to bed as soon as I was able.

Spending an entire day under the influence of 150 proof rage leaves one with a MASSIVE hangover! I woke up Monday desperate to go back to bed, knowing that it was not an option.

This is why I LOVE working at a ministry like PASS network for life!  I got compassion and friendship from women that get God and get me.  I got unsolicited words of kindness and kinship from men in that same frame of mind.  It was better than aspirin or any other hangover remedy. Somewhere in the middle of my 12 hour day, I realize…I’m okay. I actually had a FUN day at work that ended with a few answered prayers and everything.

Still, it wasn’t until Tuesday that I got my resolution; the consolation and challenge that gave me rest that I will take with me from this Mother’s Day into every holiday or challenging ‘relative’ encounter from this day forward.

The nice thing about looking for God everywhere is you’re not surprised when He shows up…you’re just tickled.

God showed up on Tuesday in the form of a volunteer-in-training by the name of Mary.  Sweetest young lady you ever want to meet! And it wasn’t anything she said that day.  It was her presence that reminded me of a conversation we were having a week before.

We were manning the phones at the front desk, talking about something… (What I love about people with whom I enjoy chatting…we talk in random and varied trains of thought.  Nobody gets offended if the other goes off and jumps a track.  If we get back to the original conversation, it’s cool.  If we don’t, that’s cool, too!) and for some reason, we got on the subject of a bible study she had just been a part of.

Mary sits back in her chair and announces in this matter-of-fact voice, “You know, the trouble with Jonah is that Jonah thought the story of Jonah was all about Jonah.”

I fell out laughing.

That was something that had never occurred to me!  The thing that infuriated Jonah about the prophetic assignment he had been given is that He KNEW God’s intention was to correct and forgive the people of Nineveh. Jonah wanted Nineveh to FRY.  And when they didn’t, he got so hacked off (Pastor Andrew J. Willis, I borrowed your phrase) at God that he threw one temper tantrum after another. God still didn’t let Him off the hook. He even gave Jonah shade, so he wouldn’t stroke out while he was acting like a new fool. Even THEN the point was not about Jonah!  To the very last chapter of HIS book, He was merely a force, NOT A FACTOR!!!

So, that is how I shall perceive the women in my immediate family (along with a few other people), from this point on.  They were merely a force, a catalyst if you will, to push me to a place where God would get the glory and enable me to make a difference in the lives of many others. And I will not become like Jonah and demand some sense of justice or vengeance for self-satisfaction.  They are God’s children, just like me.  My fences are secure…they cannot cross them without my permission.  IT’S NOT ABOUT ME, ANYWAY! Whatever God does to them or for them is His business.  I’m gonna bless Him by blessing them (from a safe distance) and move on with my life.

What Do You Know About That?

I’ve heard it said that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I think that we do this to ourselves (and to others) all the time. How many people do you know that honestly believe they have the answer to your questions, and when you hear their ‘solution’ it sounds more appropriate for their situation than it does yours? How many times have YOU been the one to offer a solution to someone else that ends up being more suitable for YOU?  This is usually the bi-product of not really understanding who we are or what we’re here for.

It’s a question of Product Purpose.

Apostle Garland Scott, Pastor of Embassy Fellowship in Jacksonville, Florida, once said,”A product cannot go into production until its purpose has been determined.”

There is a purpose for every person in existence, whether they know it or not.

So much of what we do wrong in this world is rooted in our lack of knowledge of who we are, where we come from and what we are here for.  Can you imagine that a drug dealer would settle for that life if he had been told from an early age that he was destined for the Stock Exchange or a six-figure income managing some huge corporation? What would happen if a young woman knew that she would discover a cure for cancer?  How quickly would she shut down some guy whispering in her ear, trying to get her to do something that would derail that purpose?

Worse yet, think about the many people who have a six inch stack of diplomas and certifications that still live these unfulfilled lives of quiet desperation because none of their education and training was in anything they were personally passionate about.  Think of all that wasted time preparing for something wholly unrelated to your purpose!

All of the intellect and education obtainable is made null and void if you don’t know who you are, what you’re capable of and what your own basic limitations are. You are a hammer in a room full of screws!

I have a really hard time dealing with it when I ‘screw’ up, especially if it ends up hurting someone.  Situations like that have the potential to keep me up nights.  I have a hard time with failure…it makes me a bit of an over-achiever. But, it also makes me very introspective. I want to know what it is about me that made me do what I did.  WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS I THINKING? I said it before; I’m kinda like Viviane Walker in ‘The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.’ “I take a problem and chew on it ‘til all the flavor is gone. Then I stick it in my hair.”

This ‘gift’ of introspection has turned to my advantage after all these years.  I know myself pretty well. That makes it hard for someone to talk me out of what I believe and it makes it easy for me to acknowledge when I have stepped out of bounds. It also serves to let me know I am capable of so much more than I realize, because of how I’ve been designed.

One of the most important aspects of learning about myself is learning about the One who made me.  It’s very easy to learn about yourself when you have a working relationship with your Creator.  It is having the Instruction Manual (Bible) and the Manufacturer at your constant disposal to ensure the product fulfills its purpose.  Listen to God when He tells you who you are and what you were designed to do and be.  It’s all in the Instruction Manual.  Anyone who tells you anything else must be dismissed as ignorant and uninformed.

Take the time to study your own behavior; learn your patterns.  Be willing to listen to your critics and pick your own behavior apart. Then, go to the Instruction Manual and measure EVERY critique (even the ones that you think are right) by the Specifications found in the manual.  It will help to determine if someone is speaking based on real knowledge of who you are, or if they are just ‘hammering’ away at you.

If you know who you are and what you are here for, no one will ever be able to take that from you. You will always be exactly where you are supposed to be doing exactly what God designed you to be doing.  In that you will find peace, purpose and the assurance of hearing God say, “Well done.”

I’m Cool With That…

Some days I am amazed at myself! No hubris intended. I look at my life and wonder to myself, “Exactly…how did I get here?  Really?”

I guess I’m what you’d call a religious mutt.  I have real old-school Missionary Baptists on one side of my family tree, Episcopal Bishops on the other, my mother took us to a moderate Baptist church around the corner from where we lived until we started going to the Pentecostal church where my paternal grandmother played the organ.  I work for a pregnancy crisis center where I have attended worship services for many denominational, non-denominational and interdenominational churches and was comfortable engaging at most of them.  Yet, I find it quite interesting how many of these people have the hardest time dealing with those who worship differently than they do. Each group has some of the same basic tenants, but get caught up with little ‘isms’ that they fear would prevent our entrance into heaven.  The same separation that has been created in the Body of Christ with all of that religion was once quite prevalent in me. Top that with all of the behaviors (or misbehaviors) that I picked up from the many fruits and nuts in my family tree and you can see why I have often felt like a spiritual schizophrenic.

At this point in my life, I am not a religious person.  I have a real relationship with an almighty, all powerful, all knowing God.  I call Him my Father and He calls me His child.  We relate very well.  He calls me friend and shares with me the secrets of His heart and I share with Him the secrets of mine.  He calls me the heir to His Kingdom and all of His fortune.  As such, He shares with me ins and outs of his business and I seek His wisdom and share my ideas about what I can do to expand His Kingdom and strengthen His dynasty. It is in that capacity that He has shared with me the insights that allow me to be what I’d like to call Kingdom Inclusive.

I have judged and been judged people only to discover that God can use ALL of us to do work in His Kingdom despite whatever hang-ups we carry about another person’s relationship with Him. We must be able to keep a pure heart. Titus 1:15 says, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” Heaven is not mine to secure your seat. Neither is Hell for that matter.

The innocent notion that God wants everyone to be in relationship with Him and will take us all as we are gets so lost in our TRYING to be clean instead of allowing God to clean us.  I’m not trying to be as holy as the next dude. I’m trying to please my FATHER! Everything else is a moot point.

Romans 14:1-7 makes a few very pertinent points to that end.  We don’t have permission to condemn those whose faith allows them to do things that would cause us to stumble.  Nor are we to judge ourselves or others for what we cannot do. Whether it’s eating meat or drinking wine or a style of dress or a topic of conversation: if it is not for you, it is not for YOU.  Holding everyone accountable to the things which glorify God in you is NOT YOUR JOB.  Since we profess the same indwelling Holy Spirit and we cannot see what He does in another man’s heart, we can only trust the same Holy Spirit to keep them the way we desire to be kept.  The ending of that passage in Romans says it all. “ We don’t live for ourselves alone. And we don’t die all by ourselves.  If we live, we live to honor the Lord. If we die, we die to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

I have learned to be cool with the next cat who reads the same Bible I do and is just living his life unto Christ…whatever that looks like.  If we need to agree to disagree, that’s cool too.

In the telling of Paul’s journey to stand trial before Ceasar, it was written that, some came in on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land (Acts 27:44). The point is, they all made it home alive.

We’re all just trying to get home to see Jesus…and since He’s the only way home, does it really matter how we ride?

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