Intangible Gifts

“… and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.”  (Matthew 2:9-11)

At Christmastime, we remember God’s greatest gift to mankind – his Son. The wise men celebrated the birth of Jesus by giving him gifts fit for a king. And so began the tradition of gift giving as we know it today. Even with our poor, recession-like economy, this Christmas will witness the giving and receiving of many gifts. I’ve been guilty of giving gifts to my children – even when I knew that they were not mature enough to handle them – in the hopes that they would somehow rise to the occasion. Sometimes, blessedly, they do. But sometimes, I’m disappointed for my efforts. They ask, they get – without putting any real work or effort into earning these privileges. They don’t have a real appreciation for all I had to do to give them these things. And so I’ve learned to withhold gifts until they are mature enough to handle the responsibility. I just want to know they can handle it.

Then, the thought occurred to me: How many of US are ready to receive the gifts that God has for us? How many of us could truly be appreciative if he gave us all we asked for right now? Could we handle it? Would you recognize it when you saw it? Would you appreciate all that went into preparing that blessing? We ask and we wait – impatiently, most of us – for God to do his thing (and our bidding). But what if we’re not waiting on him – what if he is waiting on us to be able to fully appreciate what he has done? What if he is waiting to know we can be trusted to not abuse our gifts? Like our children, we may not yet be ready to handle our blessings responsibly. Of course, we don’t want to wait – waiting can be so discouraging. As we wait, we tend to lose hope and give up altogether. But waiting can also be a good thing – the person you are now is not the person that you will become. Hopefully, along the way, you will come to be mature enough to handle your blessings when they do materialize. The person that you will become is worth the wait.

Just like we understand how to give good gifts to our children, God does, too! (Matthew 7:11) I’m proud of the moments, as a parent, when I am able to look at my children and think, “Wow – they get it now!” More than giving the gift, I love having faith in their ability to handle the gift responsibly and appropriately. It’s one of my greatest joys as a mother; it validates and justifies the means that went into preparing them to receive the gift. God, too, reserves the right to give his best gifts when he knows we’ll be able to appreciate them. But sometimes, the best gift is intangible; it’s in the journey we make and the lessons we learn along the way.

Be blessed,


A Woman’s Worth

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Proverbs 31:10

“I know you have a little life in you; I know you have a lot of strength left.”  Maxwell, “A Woman’s Work”

I had a co-worker ask me once, “Are you a woman of excellence?” I didn’t know what that meant but I was pretty sure I could be included in that category. I was a good mother and a good wife. I tried as hard as I could to be a good example to others. Eventually, I came to use the woman revered in the 31st chapter of Proverbs as my measuring rod. I asked myself, did I do all the things that she did? I went through the check list and asked myself: Do gooder? Check! Hard worker? Check! Take care of home so that my husband did not have to worry? Check, check, check! I could answer “Yes!” to all of those questions. Woman of excellence? Two thumbs pointing back at me, BINGO! I visualized the title and a picture of myself in the dictionary! I did try so very hard to live up to that title, even before I knew what it meant.

So fast forward 20 years and now I am no longer the good wife (my ex-husband had a different opinion on how good a job I was doing with that, LOL) but, I maintain that I am still a woman of excellence. My mom was a woman of excellence before me and I drew on her strength. She set the example and now I strive to be the good example for my own daughter to follow. In an age where women are known to be capable of doing pretty much anything – sometimes for money, sometimes for fame and sometimes (shamefully) for free – I try to hold on to my integrity. To be the exception, rather than the norm. It’s not easy, not by a long shot. I fight to go against the grain because I want to raise up young women after me who will do the same – to be known as someone’s (or maybe just their own) woman of excellence.

When we were small my mother was mother to a blended family. My father’s first family resulted in 5 children (3 girls and 2 boys); while my mother brought her own two boys into the mix. Add us three (me, my sister and brother) and we had a real Brady Bunch. I grew up watching my mom love us all, even her non-biological children, with the same love. She loved us all, chastened us all, fed us all and we loved her, each of us, desperately. She is a woman bred in the country, not highly educated but you wouldn’t find a lady with more class. She never made a difference between us and them. And when my elder siblings own mother passed, she was a comfort to them. My sister was devastated at her loss and had said to herself, “Daddy’s gone and now Madear is gone – I’m an orphan!” And she wept. Until she saw my mother. Her face lit up and she grabbed us all up and hugged us and kissed us, realizing she was not alone. She still had a mother. She was not an orphan.

So I strive to be that woman, to leave that kind of legacy, to love and nurture children that are not mine as I do my own. Because of the example that was set before me, I am a strong woman among strong women. And I accept no less from the women I mentor. “You are a strong woman because you come from a line of strong women.” I let them know it is in their blood. It’s in the blood of every woman. We are all sisters. But being a woman of excellence is more than blood ties, it is a choice that we can make. We can choose to raise our children well and to be good examples. We can choose to live our lives purposely and consciously, always keeping in mind that others are following in our footsteps.

One day, right before my son’s senior year in high school, I said to my mom: “Madear, my kids are about to graduate high school. I made it! I did what I set out to do. I’ve raised my children. There was a time when I didn’t think I would make it and now it’s done! Can you believe it?” She looked at me and said “Did you ever doubt it? You came from me!” She knew what she put in me. She knew she had shown me what it was to be strong. She knew I could make it even when I questioned that myself. My circumstances revealed just how strong I could be for my children’s sake.

At this time of year, we remember Mary, the mother of Jesus – the epitome of a woman of noble character, despite the fact the she chose to bear a child out of wedlock. We know the story: an angel appeared and told her she had been selected for a great honor – to bear the Savior of the world. Hers was not an easy decision to make. Not only was there a stigma attached to unwed mothers but she rightfully could have been stoned for her actions. Joseph could have refused to marry her and left her alone in her shame. She accepted the will of God for her life, even though it meant that she would be shunned and ridiculed by others. We know, from the biblical accounts, many details of the birth of Jesus – how the wise men sought him, how there was no room at the inn so she gave birth to him in a manger. We know how Herod pursued the child to kill him to keep him from fulfilling his destiny. Not much is mentioned about his childhood other than a side trip to the temple at age twelve when he got separated from his earthly parents. When Mary scolded him for causing her to worry, he replied, “Didn’t you know I would be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49, paraphrase)

See, I think his response tells us a lot about the challenges she faced raising such a young man – headstrong, eager to get to the task at hand. But he was not ready. It wasn’t his time yet. He needed to be prepared. Mary had to find a way to chasten him, to teach him – he, who was born the son of the Almighty God. She had to raise her son in a harsh world. She taught him humanity, the good and the bad of it and what it was like to have and to not have. She taught him compassion. Because of her position in life, he likely had to learn some hard truths. I cannot help but see her influence in his teachings. I cannot help but see his love and concern for his own mother in how he responded to the needs of others. She bore many indignities to bring her son into this world and then, she watched him die. Jesus loved her so that he gave her a son, his disciple, to replace him. Mary was a woman of her time but she was no namby-pamby woman who was just an incubator for the great birth. She was more than a vessel – she was his first teacher. She was not just a woman with an insipid, Mona Lisa smile. Jesus loved her as a son would love his mother and they had a real relationship. God chose her for her qualities, for her excellent character, to take an active role in raising his son. But it began with her choice to be a woman of excellence.

Be blessed,


It’s in You!

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

When my children were small I wanted to put them in a private Christian school. It was a status symbol – most of my Christian friends put their kids in private schools. It was our way of turning our noses up at the public school system, which was in no way good enough for our precious children! It also served a practical purpose – I wanted my children to grow up knowing about God. So I set about finding this dream school, one that would keep my children safe, give them a quality education and most importantly, teach them about God. After visiting several schools with disastrous results, I quickly became discouraged – one school wanted permission to beat them, another wanted to hold them back a year! I was frustrated and finally complained to God one day while I was driving, “I wanted them to go to school and learn about You!” I threw my hands up, asking for help, “What am I supposed to do?” The Voice came back at me, answering me, quick as a wink – “You teach them.” I felt the quiet in the car all around me as I realized He had spoken to me. In the stillness I pondered that unforeseen scenario. Teach them myself? That had not even occurred to me.

I obeyed that voice and so began my journey to become a teacher. My own father had been a minister and I grew up in church. As a young lady I was a Sunday school teacher and later participated in various ministries, as I became the wife of a minister. What I didn’t realize then was that all of those things went into preparing me for my future role. As it turned out, I had a natural affinity for teaching. I taught my kids at every opportunity, never missing a chance to teach a lesson “…when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19) Sometimes, we sat around the dining room table for hours, talking until it was dark as my children begged, “Mama, tell us another God Story!” How they loved those stories. So I grew from being a Sunday school teacher and went on to become a Bible study leader and occasional guest speaker. As I taught my children, I found that I had everything I needed living inside me. All of that grew from that brief conversation I had with God. He used my predicament to reveal in me a talent, a gift that I didn’t even know I had. It had yet to be revealed. But it was in me, help was in me, all along.

The point I want to make is that the Holy Ghost (or some like to say intuition) is your teacher. He will reveal things to you – you just need to listen to that inner voice. That Counselor is in you – therefore, you are already equipped to do a lot of things you may think you are unable to do. Sometimes you are the answer to your own problem! He has empowered you. That means you are not as helpless as you think. I personally believe in my own power to change my life. I’m not one to lie down and let things happen. I am willing take my own life in my hands and make it better but even still, I need help. I need guidance. And I get it. I ask for it early and often! A friend once said to me, “You have such wisdom about you – where does that come from?” I could only answer, “From God.”

When I was going through my divorce, my mother was afraid for me. The newspapers were filled with reports of women who were found dead at the hands of their ex-husband or lover. My mother, even though she never knew my ex to be violent like that, believed him to be a jealous man. She thought my leaving him might trigger an episode of ”I’ll kill you before I let you leave me!” rage. At the time, I laughed at her fear. But emotions were running high – it had the potential to end badly. Still, things somehow worked out okay. Afterwards, my mom wondered how I ended things without violence. My explanation? I just knew. Can’t tell you how – there was just something in me, guiding me, telling me how to extricate myself. I trusted that voice and it made my path smooth. Not less painful, mind you. It was still painful. And the divorce was far from amicable – too many hard feelings. But it didn’t end in bloodshed and I count that as a major achievement.

I wanted to buy a house and so I did. Simple, right? Then my friends said to me, “How did you manage that?” Well, I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be able to do it. My sister commented, “I don’t know anyone who gets a divorce and is better off!” While not grand, my present house is in a better neighborhood and bigger than my last home that I shared with my ex. I realized then that this, too, was nothing short of miraculous. Again, how did it happen? I can only say His presence was there with me every step of the way, guiding me. God wouldn’t let me fail. He’s good like that when I just trust him. I prayed and put it in his hands and watched things fall into place. That was easier said than done – it’s hard to let go of the control and leave it to him to work it out. I was a realtor and loan officer at the time but I had very little experience. Not to mention that, at the time, I should not have been able to afford said house! But God gave me wisdom that I shouldn’t have had and put all the right people in my path. The end result was I closed on my house so quickly that it left many people with their mouths gaping open!

Most recently, a friend of mine was feeling frustrated because she wasn’t getting the help and support that she felt was needed to make her venture successful. She had been there for her family and friends and hoped for the same support from them. She was understandably discouraged. I told my friend a truth I’ve learned; we often try to take people along for the ride who just aren’t meant to come. It’s nobody’s fault – it just is. You both may be in different stages in your lives. Frustration kicks in when they don’t share your vision or enthusiasm. We try to pull these people along when sometimes we’re meant to make the journey alone. They may even hamper our progress with their negative attitudes and resistance. So don’t be afraid to leave them behind and go alone. You can trust God to provide you with the very help you need to get the job, any job, done. Just know that if he has given you a task to complete, he has also given you the tools needed to take on the challenge. All the help you need is right here. It’s in you. You have the power.

Be blessed,


Childlike Faith

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:1-4, NIV)

This weekend I went to see New Moon (the sequel to Twilight) and I loved it! For those of you who are unfamiliar with the franchise (or have been living under a rock!), these movies are based on the books of the same name. It’s the love story of Edward (a sparkly vampire) and Bella (your average human) and the obstacles they encounter. He loves her but he also wants to drink her blood. She loves him and she actually wants to be bitten so she can be like him. Edward’s a good vampire, or at least he tries to be, not only for Bella’s sake but because he doesn’t want to be a monster. So, what does this have to do with faith, you ask? Well, I guess I could get all noble and say I really admire how Edward aspires to overcome what he has become. He actually goes against his natural predatory instincts to be a better man. The urge to be better, to overcome our natural tendencies, to triumph in spite of our circumstances, to just be more is something many of us can identify with. Edward tries to redeem himself for his past sins with good works. The message being that there is redemption in love, even for a monster. I could say all that.

But the truth of the matter is, I am and have always been a paranormal junkie! Even as a young girl, I fell in love with science fiction (Dune), fantasy/adventure (The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings) and romance novels. I love all kinds of fiction. I love Disney cartoons (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid). I’m a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed and lots of other supernatural themed TV series, books and movies. Witches, warlocks, vampires and werewolves – bring ’em on! Star Trek – time travel – ‘nuff said! And, although I don’t generally like horror movies, for a short time I even enjoyed the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Hey, don’t judge me – I thought Freddie Kruger was pretty funny! By themselves, these things seem to indicate tastes that are rather random. But I have found a common theme running throughout – I like escaping to a world where anything is possible.

At the heart of it all, I want to believe in magical things. I want to see them. Not surprisingly, I love to find God and parallels to the Bible in these stories. These stories are not at odds with my faith, although this was not always the case. For a time, I struggled with being drawn to these stories because they didn’t fit with what a “Christian” should read, or so I thought. I even weighed in on the Harry Potter debate and pronounced it evil because of the subject matter, without even reading it. Then I heard a Christian radio show that discussed how evil the Harry Potter books were but that The Lord of the Rings was really different because it was somehow Christian themed. I thought that was a silly argument since they were both pretty much the same genre. But this debate piqued my curiosity, provoking me to read the Harry Potter books. I loved them and pronounced them good to read and not evil. I found the last book to be especially Christian themed, complete with a resurrection scene! Now, I’ve made my peace with the seeming contradictions, choosing to view them as two sides of the same coin. In fact, I think it’s because of my faith that I find these stories so fascinating.

As a believer, childlike faith– a core belief that he is able to do anything and that all things are possible, is essential. Children don’t struggle with this concept – they completely get it. When my son was small, he loved Buzz Lightyear from Disney’s Toy Story. He kept showing me pictures because he wanted it for Christmas and he wanted me to know where to find it. He begged, “Just look at it Momma!” After he showed it to me, he said, “Right, Momma? God can do anything, right?” I said, “Yes, baby. He can do anything.” He said, “Right, Momma – he can even make my toys come to life!” I hesitated at that one. I didn’t want to mislead him. I tried to come up with a suitable, non-committal answer. “Yes, he could – but I don’t think he’s going to.” He persisted, “Yeah – but he could, right?” Again, I struggled. I didn’t want to give him false hope. Then the light bulb came on. “Yes, he could!” I was more certain now. “He could. Once he even made a donkey talk!” I told him the story of how God used the donkey to warn Balaam that he was in danger (Numbers 22). After that, we were both satisfied – me, because I had a sure answer for his question and him, because his belief was affirmed – God is able.

We can all cultivate more childlike faith in our lives but that doesn’t mean you’re simple or naive. It means you tend to look and believe that good things can and will happen. As a friend of mine once said, “When you look for good things to happen, they tend to happen.” What is faith but the ability to believe that God loves us and he wants good things for our lives? God said to Jeremiah (and thereby, to us):

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

Some versions replace the last line with, “plans to give you an expected end.” I like that translation even better because I believe and trust God to give me the ending that I hope for and expect. I have faced trials and disappointments armed with the knowledge that no matter how bad things seem, he ultimately has good plans for me. And that gives me hope for right now.

Be blessed,