What About Your Friends?

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17

“Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Corinthians 15:33

Recently, we went to see The Karate Kid in its latest incarnation, featuring Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett). His character, Dre, had a friendship with a cute little Chinese girl, a violinist. Her father took her music career very seriously, even hiring a private tutor. One day, Dre persuaded her to play hooky from school, when she should have been preparing for an audition with a prestigious school of the arts. While they were traipsing through the city, she got a call from her father – the audition had been moved up. They wanted to see her in an hour and her father was coming to pick her up at school. Busted. After the audition, the father made her tell Dre that she couldn’t see him anymore because he wasn’t a good friend (or influence) for her. At the time, skipping school seemed harmless but it almost caused her to miss out on an opportunity to improve her circumstances. Dre realized that he did not inspire her to do something good. Later, he apologized to her father, promising to be the best friend that she could ever have.

At one time, my own definition of friendship was simple – pretty much anyone who wanted to hang around me, regardless of how mean or negative they could be, counted as a friend. I was guilty of letting people latch on to me because of my need for acceptance. Soon, I found myself surrounded by negative people. They were friendly enough, at times; the kind of people who were quick to pick up the tab for a meal or offer to do a favor. But on many occasions they showed their true character; sometimes, they were merely guilty of not being supportive enough or being negative about my accomplishments. But I continued on in these friendships because of loyalty and because I hoped the relationships were salvageable, despite their character flaws.

The good news is, one day I realized things needed to change. I thought to myself: I gotta start hanging out with a better quality of people. I resolved that I would choose my friends more wisely, instead of just letting friendships happen. No more letting people just latch on to me. I didn’t push my existing friends away or try to change them. I changed me. My focus changed. As I reached for higher things in life, I found that bad relationships fell away. Of the friendships that have remained throughout the years, it was because they chose to rise higher and to evolve with me. Some have even inspired me to climb higher, which is what good friendships should do. The negative influences that were part of my life have long since gone and God has replaced them with friends who are like minded. We encourage each other to be better people. We inspire each other to service – be it to our families or society. My friends support me and make me feel good about myself, my life and my accomplishments, as I do for them. My friends make me feel like I can do anything! I thank God for them. I know now that I don’t need to fear letting go of poisonous relationships because God is able to give me better friendships that are real.

My son just completed his freshman year in college. I allowed that there would be a period of adjustment and, very likely, quite a bit of goofing off. Still, I hoped for the best. Sigh. While he did ok, I felt a little disappointed because I’d hoped for GREATNESS. I’ve always taught my kids that your life can sometimes be a direct reflection of the type of people who surround you. Hang around with people who party and expect to receive that type of reward. Conversely, surrounding yourself with people who are more goal-oriented and focused on the future will reap a different kind of reward. You’ll start to think like they do, emulate them. Reaching for excellence will become the norm, instead of the exception. I’ve encouraged my children to have friends who can influence them in a positive way but also, to be that person who impacts others positively. You are an example, regardless to whether or not you want to be – good or bad is entirely up to you.

Just the other day, my son mentioned that one of his friends got a car. Then he went on to say of his friend, “She is one of the few people I respect.” I thought, “Wow.” He told me how she declared at the beginning of the year that she intended to buy the car of her dreams. For the entire school year, he watched this friend work a “little job”, which was pretty far away. When necessary, she got up early and took the bus, sometimes having to walk to her dorm in the evenings – all the while, saving up for her dream car. She had money but “lived like she didn’t.” She skipped the party scene and ended the school year with a 3.0+ GPA. But the most obvious reward for her efforts was when my son watched her drive up to school in her new car. He knew she’d worked hard for it. He knew the sacrifices she’d made. He admired her drive and determination to reach her goal. And, he realized that he could have done the same thing. She inspired him to want to be better. By her example, she’d proved, more effectively than any lecture I could give, that setting goals and hard work does eventually pay off. She was a good friend and influence on my son. I thank God for her.

To be a good example, you don’t have to be perfect but you should be reaching for something more. As we grow and mature and become better people, we must motivate others around us to become better people. “Strengthen the brethren,” so to speak. It’s our responsibility, not only to cultivate good friends, but to be good friends – to be a good influence and set the positive example. It’s a smart person who sees the poor example but decides to do the opposite. It’s a wise person who sees the positive example and follows that course. Better, by far, is the person who realizes they have the ability and responsibility to influence others and chooses to be the positive example. So I don’t want to be a blind leader of the blind, causing others to fall into a ditch. I aspire to encourage folks to do more, be more, reach for more. And, I’m looking for others who will do the same.

Be blessed,


Open Our Eyes

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:16-17)

Elisha, the successor to Elijah the prophet, was used by God to warn the king of Israel of an ambush set up by his enemy, Syria. When the trap failed to spring, the king of Syria asked his men, “Ok, which one of you is the spy?” His men assured him that they were not spies but that there was a prophet in Israel who was ruining his plans. So the king of Syria dispatched a group to deal with Elisha. When Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, saw the host coming against them, he was worried and asked Elisha, “What shall we do?” But Elisha was not concerned. He knew what his servant did not know. While Gehazi was a servant of the man of God and had witnessed many miracles, he, himself, was not a man of God. Because of Elisha’s special relationship with God, he saw what his servant did not see. So Elisha prayed that God would open the eyes of Gehazi, so that he, too, could see the help that was available.

It occurred to me recently, that only in our relationship to God can we have the supernatural vision of Elisha. With it, we can see the possible instead of the impossible; we can see the big picture; we can look beyond the evil that men do and see the true source of evil behind their actions; we can see good and miracles in the little blessings in this world. We can we see past our human flaws. This type of sight becomes available to us, only as we draw closer to Him. Elisha and Gehazi are examples of how we view ourselves and our world with God and without God. Elisha saw with more than his natural eyesight because of his relationship with God. Gehazi could not see because of his lack of relationship (as evidenced by his actions later, but that’s another story).

My son and I went to see the movie, Avatar, in 3D. Although he had to pretty much drag me, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The scenery was beautiful, the special effects were seamless – you couldn’t tell where reality ended and the illusion began. A few times, I caught myself reaching out to swat at something that appeared in my peripheral vision only to realize it was an image on screen in 3D. It was pretty cool. But more than the special effects, the Na’vi had a saying that reverberated within me. When Neytiri finally saw the human form of her lover, Jake Sully, which was much smaller and more helpless than his Avatar form, she said to him: “I see you.” It meant she saw more than his actual body, whether human man or disguised as one of the Na’vi – she saw all the things that made him Jake Sully; mind, spirit and soul. And she loved him – he was not merely his body.

That scene stayed with me because it illustrated a point; seldom do we see our true selves. We look at our exterior and see our lack. We look internally and see our flaws. If only we could see ourselves clearly and love ourselves for who we are, who God has called us to be and not just see a collection of flawed body parts. Women, particularly, have been conditioned to always want the opposite of what they’ve actually been given. Advertisers make millions selling us what we are deficient in. This fantasy woman can only be achieved through plastic surgery, tons of makeup and extensive airbrushing – yet, we reach for her continually. But what if you are meant to be tiny and that is your beauty? And you are meant to be large and that, too, is beautiful? Short hair, long hair – dark skinned, light – skinny or not – all are beautiful. One is not lovelier or better than the other. More or less of anything will not make you more. Men don’t seem to suffer as much regarding their perceived flaws as women do. But the media is chipping away at their self esteem, too.

For a time, my divorce caused me to feel rejected and I constantly looked for the reason. I needed it to make sense. Maybe I wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, feminine enough, or submissive enough. My self esteem had suffered a crushing blow. My internal message became clear after a while – I was not enough. But, thankfully, I had friends and family who helped me to believe in myself again. They repeatedly told me, drilling in the message until I was able to see myself clearly again – “You are beautiful. You are smart. You are enough.”

Even when not encumbered by my physical flaws, my vision was still a bit cloudy because I began to look at my internal flaws. I wanted to be perfect, like NOW. To never make another mistake again, put my foot in my mouth, hurt someone inadvertently or lash out in anger would be bliss. I wanted to be perfect and holy and live a life that was pleasing to God – to be an Über Christian! I visualized myself in a superhero costume, red cape flowing with a huge C on the front. Yeah! But frequently, I fell short and was left feeling deflated. Sigh. I voiced my frustration to a friend one day and she told me, “You won’t be perfect until you see Him.” In other words, I’m not supposed to be perfect now. Whew. That’s why I needed a Savior. I get that now. I’m so glad that when God sees me, he sees someone worth dying for, someone worth saving, despite my imperfections.

When we look past ourselves, we can see Him. Sure, as we draw closer we will also see where we need to change or improve BUT we will also see our worth and our value and our real beauty through His eyes. I know now, that who I am, is enough. I’m proud of what I have worked to achieve and who I have become. Once, I had a vision, or a thought, maybe it was a waking dream. In it, the words came to me saying that God would heal my eyes and I would have 20/20 vision. Wow, I thought then – no more glasses! But now I get it. The meaning is clear. No more spiritual blindness. I’m beginning to see me clearly – through His eyes. Father, open our eyes that we all may see …

Be blessed,


Conversations with God

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” (Matthew 6:8-9) aka, The Lord’s Prayer

“So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42)

The dishes, again. They had become a bone of contention in my household. Finally, I came up with a solution that I felt would resolve our problem. It did – no more dishes in the sink. Cool. But the resolution hit a snag when my daughter rebelled. No matter how I tried to get her to cooperate, she continued to find loopholes and excuses. I found myself frustrated and yelling. After a few days of this, I said to myself: you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. So, I went and talked to her, discussing what was really going on – which was not so much the dishes as it was an adult child trying to assert herself. (I’d witnessed my son going through the same thing the previous year.) I fell back then on what has ever been my saving grace – prayer. The next day when I got home from work, I was greeted with the smell of a clean house, a living room where everything was in its place AND … no dishes in the sink. That kid. Man, she’s a handful sometimes but she’s also such a blessing.

Once again, my prayer had been answered. I am convinced, more than ever, that God is at work in our lives, always. Even when you don’t know it – especially, when you don’t know it. When my life is turned upside down and nothing seems to make sense, that’s my cue and my clue, to pray. When I am at the end of everything – my patience, my time, my energy, my luck – I turn to God and he helps me. Once while driving home after a long day at work, all I could think of was the responsibilities waiting for me when I got there. I had to get dinner on the table for my kids and prepare a separate dinner for my mother-in-law, a diabetic; then, help with homework and attend to all of their needs. After washing the dinner dishes and straightening the house I would finally get off my feet, which would be throbbing by that time. All while my (then) husband slept, preparing for his night shift at work. As I sat in my driveway, overwhelmed and exhausted, just thinking of all I had to do, I prayed for strength. Finally, I gathered myself together and walked into … a clean house, dinner prepared, children and mother-in-law already fed by a husband who was fully awake. God knew my need, even before I prayed in my driveway. He had already set a plan in motion even before I was fully aware that I needed help.

How important is prayer then, or talking to God? The Bible gives us some insight, as it mentions that Jesus, himself, prayed. So it is important – it’s how we stay connected or plugged into the source of our strength and power. It’s how we abide in him. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28) So we know it’s something we should do. For some, prayer can be quite the ritual: formal, kneeling and petitioning God for favor – sometimes involving rising before dawn and spending hours talking to God. Some disciplined folks find comfort in this type of prayer. But for others like me, who are not so disciplined, this type of prayer can be daunting. Must I perform this ritualistic type of prayer for it to be considered true prayer? How should we pray?

Again, we look to Jesus to provide the model. He gave us an excellent place to start and answered this very question – how should we pray? “The Lord’s Prayer” was his response, and has been taught to many of us as children. I used to recite it with my own kids when they were small. But, there came a time when I no longer knelt beside their beds and helped them to say their prayers. As they got older, I knew they would need to know God, develop a relationship and seek him for themselves – to learn how to talk to him. They would need to move beyond the ritual and move into a more relational version of prayer – daughter to Father, Father to son. That leads me to the second example that Jesus provided; an informal, more relaxed version of prayer.

While Jesus was away, Lazarus, whom he loved, died. Jesus knew this but still waited a few more days before going to see his dear friend. He was setting up the miracle. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, his friend had been entombed for four days. Martha and Mary cried: “If you’d only been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” Seeing their grief, Jesus, too, wept. He assured them that if they believed, their brother could be resurrected because Jesus is the resurrection! Then he prayed aloud for their benefit, so that we would have evidence of his prayer and his connection with God. But he had already talked to God. It may have been a simple prayer, just at that moment and quick. No time for flowery phrases. Or he could have prayed during his journey to Bethany, conversationally but we have no record of it. It may have been a private prayer, within himself. He knew God heard him and knew he would soon be answered. So Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead man came from his tomb, still wrapped in his burial cloths.

I, myself, am a fan of the latter model. I talk to God continually, just as a normal course of conversation. Like He is real and present – because He is. I used to think of myself as not being much for prayer because I didn’t observe the rituals until a friend pointed out to me: Talking to God is prayer. It’s that simple. Ever since I embraced that simple concept, I’ve found that I spend a lot of my day talking to God, telling him my hopes and dreams and aspirations, giving him my fears and concerns. So now, I encourage others to talk to him and have a conversation, rather than to be intimidated by rituals that may make him seem very far away or unreachable. Why? Well, one of the things Jesus accomplished with his sacrifice was to make God more accessible to us all. Simply put, God wants to talk to you! No barriers, no third party involved – just you and him, one on one. So when people get mad and vent to me about God, I shrug and say “Tell him.” Feel like ranting or shaking your fist at the heavens? He already knows, so you may as well tell him. Go ahead and talk to him. He would love to answer you.

Be blessed,


Carpe Diem

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…” Ephesians 5:15-16

“Carpe Diem!” Latin, meaning: “Seize the day!”

“Watch and Pray …” Matthew 26:41, Mark 14:38 and Luke 21:36

While working as a clerk for a major utility company, it was bought to my attention that the customer service position was the job that everyone wanted. We all desired that job because of the great pay and the overtime hours. It was the one place in the company where anyone could aspire to do well. It was considered a major promotion. But more than the money, this job held a lure for me that I treasured above all, something I never seemed to have enough of – time. That is, time to pursue my interests.

As a working mother of two small children, I missed having time to myself to do anything. The CSRs seemed to have time to pursue other interests like knitting, needlepoint and various puzzles while they talked on the phone. My children took up most of my spare time. To have my own time to do things was a dream. I prayed and said, “Lord, if you give me that job, I’ll use the time to study my bible.” And it was no idle bargain that I struck. What I wanted most, what I desired more than anything, was more time to read my bible. I loved to read. I saw Christians on my job carting their bibles along daily. As a new Christian, I felt a little deprived, like I was missing out. Any job that would allow me to do what I yearned to do was ok in my book.

Soon, an opportunity came along for me to apply for this position. I got the promotion and sure enough, I used my time between calls to read and study my bible, diligently and earnestly. I thought I was doing a good job at keeping my hidden passion under wraps. Then one day a coworker was compelled to ask, “Why are you studying your bible? Are you trying to become a pastor or preacher? Minister? Sunday school teacher?” I shook my head in reply and was momentarily speechless – I’d never thought of what I would do with this knowledge. I wasn’t studying to gain any particular title. I really didn’t have an ambition to be anything bigger than what I was, a wife and mother. But her question made me think. So I answered, “I’m studying because I want to be ready for whatever He has for me. I don’t know what that is – but I want to be ready.”

I was preparing and laying the groundwork with my potential future in mind. When the right opportunity presented itself, I wanted to be able to walk right into it. I wanted to be fully prepared and not have to stop and think, “Yikes! I’m not ready!” I wanted to have knowledge of the bible to draw upon and have attained some level of spiritual maturity so I could do justice to whatever I was called to do. I didn’t know it but God was preparing me, even then. God used that humble beginning to open up many opportunities for me to minister in various capacities. And I was “ready” for every one of them.

I still follow that pattern, to this day. I don’t know what the future may bring but I try to make wise choices and live life so that I can be ready to walk into that opportunity when it becomes available. I’m determined that I don’t want any opportunity to pass me by. I’m constantly laying the foundation for my future endeavors. Even while unemployed, I employed my mind constantly with books on how I could improve myself spiritually, mentally, physically and relationally. I employed myself by constantly working on projects at my church. As I prayed for work, I prepared for a better future, a better me – determined that I would leave that phase in my life better than when I entered.

I remember my high school principal once told a story: A man was on board a sinking ship. He sent the lifeboat on ahead saying, “God will rescue me.” Another boat came along to rescue him and was met with the same reply. Finally, as the ship was going down completely, a helicopter came along and attempted to save him. “No – I’m waiting on God to save me!” The man died and went to heaven, where he asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” And God answered, “I came THREE times!” God used people to save that man but he was so busy looking for heavenly intervention that he missed his chance to be saved. I think I used to pray like that, in hopes of something manifesting supernaturally. I have since come to the realization that prayer can sometimes open the door but we still need to walk through it.

So when I have a desire now, I pray and watch for the opportunity to materialize. Watch in the biblical sense, means more than see. It’s more active. It means to have an attitude of watchfulness; to be on the alert AND to be in a state of readiness. I take it to mean that you should look for an opportunity but also, be prepared to take full advantage of it. I saw a quote one day that summed it up, nicely: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”(Seneca) I’ve been accused of being lucky or “blessed” and to some extent, that’s true. But it is also due to living in a state of preparation, with the expectation that something good, something big could happen at any time.

I’ve also come to realize the importance of setting goals. There’s just something about stating, in writing or speaking aloud, your goal and how you plan to accomplish it. In recent years, I came across a list that was made before my life changed. It included some possible alternatives to earning an income, such as becoming a realtor and a loan officer – it even included my desire to become a tax preparer! I looked over my list and realized I’d accomplished everything; I was astonished. How? It’s not like I carried my wish list around and checked off things as I did them. The theory and the success behind making lists is that it causes your brain to zero in on opportunities as they become available. Simply put, it makes your brain more watchful and alert.

As I’ve added that to my life, I’ve realized many goals that could have remained only a dream. And I’m looking forward to many more. Even now, I’m preparing and being prepared for the next phase of my life. Some habits that I’ve carried with me for a while, I don’t want to carry into my new life. So I’m working on me – again. I’m determined to change, for the better. And, no, I have no idea what challenges the future will bring. But I will be ready.

Be blessed,


God Smiles

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.” (Matthew 26:6)

There are times in life when you need to be lifted up – to be encouraged and you may not even know it. But God knows. Sometimes, he sends people or events your way that are like a ray of pure sunshine breaking through on a cloudy day. Someone may do or say something uncommonly nice. Something completely inexplicable will happen that makes you smile. God sends these moments for no other reason than to brighten your day. When I see that brightest ray of sunshine, I call it a “God smile.” I mentally picture the sun shining down on me, kissing my upraised face, warming my body and spirit. I’m grateful for these moments when God shows his love in an almost tangible way and it fortifies me. It’s God’s way of saying, “I just want you to know – this is how precious you are to me!”

When the woman anointed Jesus with the costly oil, she didn’t know the significance of her actions. She just wanted to show her love and appreciation for Jesus. She felt like he was more precious than the most expensive perfumed oil – which was nothing compared to his worth. She only meant to show him how much he meant to her. What she didn’t know was that her actions would be recorded and that she would be forever remembered as the woman who prepared Jesus for his burial. God used her to bless Jesus in a tangible way. It was similar to when the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism. That was a very public act, placing God’s seal of approval on Jesus’ ministry as a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” But this anointing was a private declaration, a private moment between The Father and The Son, meant to fortify him for the ordeal which lay ahead. It conveyed the message, privately, “I know what you’re about to go through and I just want to bless you.” It was a special gift and may even have been a bit of a surprise. I like to think that was a God smile moment.

“I think it piss God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.” Shug Avery in The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.

One day, I went on a field trip with my daughter’s class to the pumpkin patch. I drove my own car and had to catch up with the group. They were headed into the chicken coop, right off to the side of a large paddock where the horses were kept. As I made my way over, a horse on the other side of the enclosure saw me and made a beeline for me. As he drew closer to me, and I, to the chicken coop, I realized that I would not be able to avoid meeting this huge creature. I love horses, in theory, but in reality, their head is like the length of my torso with a mouth large enough to take a chunk out of my arm. So, while I was drawn to the fantasy, I was put off by his size. He (I’m assuming) seemed gentle enough and hung his head over the fence, as if to say, pet me. I thought, “Wow – cool.” and wondered if God ordered him to greet me. Maybe that seems a bit fanciful but I have to admit, it did occur to me. Still, I took one look at the big head blocking my path and knew I didn’t have the nerve to approach him. I looked him in the eye and told him: “I need you to go back to the other side. I don’t want to play today.” He looked up as if to say “Really?” Go, I said and pointed; he seemed to shrug and walked back to the other side. It was a funny encounter and, like I said, it made me wonder. Would God do that just because he knew it would please me?

When my son was younger, he was a Pokémon fanatic. He loved the series and the trading cards. So when the movie came out, I had to take my kids to see it. As we’re sitting in the theater watching the opening scenes, I saw all kinds of creatures in various colors. Some were funny looking, some were beautiful, but all were interesting. I thought to myself, “Why so many?” And then I answered myself, “To appeal to the children – just to make them smile.” It occurred to me then – that’s what God had in mind when he created our world. It’s why we have plant life in so many forms, edible, inedible; above ground and underwater. He made various animals – some weird and some majestic – and gave us an insatiable curiosity to (hopefully) appreciate them. Some of his creations serve a real purpose and some serve no other purpose than just to make us say “Oh! Wow!” It’s the same reaction I hope to get from my own children when I do something nice for them.

His efforts didn’t stop at creation. He continues to create opportunities to show us how much he cares. I love it when he does something “just because,” making me stop and acknowledge His effort to please me. I realize at that moment, he just showed me he loves me. Or, gave me roses. Maybe even, blew me a kiss. And it makes me feel treasured. There is a sweet story about a little girl who was walking home through a thunderstorm. But she wasn’t afraid. Every time the lightening would flash, she would stop and smile because she thought God was taking her picture! That story makes me recall my own moments when I appreciate something He has done. That’s when I smile at God and He smiles right back at me.

Be blessed,