Get Back Up … Again

“For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again …”
(Proverbs 24:16)

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” Confucius

There’s a well known story in the Bible – the miraculous healing of the woman with the issue of blood. For twelve years she’d been bleeding and had spent all of her money going to doctors, trying to find the cure for her illness. The Bible does not tell us for certain what her life was like, but she very well may have been an outcast because of her condition. I imagine being sick for so long would have taken its toll on her relationships and social life, as well as on her pocketbook. Even though her condition worsened, she persisted in looking for a cure. One day, she heard about Jesus and decided that she would try, yet again, to be healed. She knew that it would be impossible to gain an audience with him because of the crowd, so she thought to herself: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” And so she did. And so she was. (Mark 5:25-34) It occurred to me today – why didn’t she just give up?

When I was in the throes of divorce, my main concern was – how will I take care of my children? So I came up with a plan to work, work, work. I knew it would be a challenge but I was determined to make it. So I embarked upon this great plan – to become a realtor, then a loan officer and even a tax preparer. Oh, it was a GREAT plan! One calculated to take care of my family and also remove the stain of divorce. By my success, I would be justified. I put a lot of faith in that plan. It had to work. I had to believe it would work. I had to have something for me and my kids to look forward to. It was my silver lining and it would make all well.

It wasn’t long before I became overwhelmed by all I had set out to do. I had obtained my real estate license, was working as a loan processor for a mortgage company and taking classes at night to become a tax preparer. I would come home at the end of a long day, grab the kids and dinner, drop them off at my sister’s house and then go to class. That was on top of using my hour long lunch to drive home every day and pick my kids up from school to ensure they got home safely. Finally, one day it all came crashing down, brought on by – of all things – my son not doing his chores. After yelling at him and completely going off the deep end, I realized I’d overreacted. I collapsed in the chair and (to my shame) began to cry in front of the kids. Who was I kidding? This was not going to work. No way could I possibly do all that I had set out to do. Realizing I needed a break from the hectic pace I set for myself, I allowed myself this breakdown. I told the kids to take off their coats, knowing that I was in no shape to take on the world that day.

After watching me wallow for a few minutes, my daughter calmly said to me, “Mama, get up.” “No.” I said. “Just forget it – we’re not going anywhere!” It was just too hard. I was having a real pity party. She said, “Get up and put your coat on. We have to go. If you don’t get up now, you’ll never get up.” That made me pause. It sounded like something I could have said. And, it was a very real possibility. Then my son added, “Yeah, Mama. It’s just like Pastor Singleton was preaching on Sunday. ‘When there’s much at stake, it’s whatever it takes’. And, Mama – there’s a lot at stake so you gotta do whatever it takes.” My tears dried up as I considered that. For my children’s sake, I got up, washed my face, put on my coat and we walked out the door. I have amazing kids.

If I had to do it all over again, I would still not want to go through that. But I cannot deny that the divorce was actually a good thing for my personal growth. Had I not gotten divorced, I would have never known I had that resilience in me; that ability to get back up again, no matter how many times I was faced with certain defeat. Because of my children, giving up was not an option. I looked back at my life and saw the pattern: I got up after every disappointment, brushed the dust off my backside and moved on. Sometimes able to conquer that very challenge and other times, moving on to something better. My counselor asked me once, “Where does that come from?” I could only answer, “From God”.

It is God who has given us the will to persevere, to survive, to strive, to not give up. I searched for a phrase in my mind that would cover all of these traits and infuse them with meaning and it came to me: the indomitable human spirit. It’s in all of us. It’s that part of us that keeps getting up, keeps trying because we know that to give up is to perish altogether. And we all have a different trigger. Anything, any event or any person can trigger that instinct for survival. For me, it was my kids. I found that while I wouldn’t fight for myself, for them, I would wrestle an angry bear! I don’t know what motivated the woman with the issue of blood but whatever it was, it was powerful enough that she would not give up without a fight.

I try to retain my optimism and belief that good things will eventually come my way. So, while I am given to dark periods of depression as the next person, it cannot last for long. I get back up because I can’t give up. I get up because failure is not an option. I get up because I have no choice. I get up because I am determined to live and declare the works of the Lord. (Psalm 118:17) And I get up with the knowledge that every time I do so, I rise stronger.

Be blessed,


The Winds of Change

“…all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” 
Job 14:14

“It’s been a long time coming but I know my change’s gonna come.” 
Sam Cooke

Most folks who know me and speak to me on a regular basis will soon find that I am a proponent of change. Even before Obama ran for president, my platform was change! Because I have lived through it, I can say that ultimately, CHANGE IS GOOD. It’s scary, but good. I’ve seen its devastating effects but I’ve also watched as new life sprang from the ashes. I listened in on a seminar once as they listed the most stressful events and rated them. Right at the top was death, moving, divorce and childbirth. Now, at least two of these events are good things – moving into a new home and the arrival of a new baby. I didn’t understand then that good things could still be stressful. Death and Divorce, I understood. Both involve letting go of a loved one that you will never see (or, see the same) again. I looked for the common thread throughout all of these events and the one word that came to mind was, change.

Like most people, I used to dread change. Let me stay in my comfy little world, just as it is – freeze this moment in time. I’m happy. I don’t ever want to leave. When Job lost everything (children, property, wealth) and went through his trials he said, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me.” (3:25) Job was known to be a devout servant of God but he feared his children were – not so much. He constantly sacrificed on behalf of his children, just in case they did something to offend God and bring judgment on their heads. Job’s offerings were like an insurance policy – he was storing up good works against the day of calamity. The mentality behind his worship may have been like ours today – we pray, “Lord, don’t let trouble come my way. Don’t let me see tragedy! Don’t let calamity even look this way.” What we are actually saying is, “Lord, please don’t let anything change.”

There’s a book called “The Lion Never Sleeps” by Mike Taliaferro. In it, the author makes the argument that we Christians do a grave disservice to each other in teaching (and praying) that hard times will not come to us simply because we are Christian. We think nothing bad is supposed to happen if we are doing all the right things. Following this line of thought, we should never see death or strife or any money related worries, all because we are Christian. The author teaches that while we are praying so hard against it, we are often blindsided when trouble comes because we are ill prepared. It is because we prayed a futile prayer. There is no defense against “life” happening. Trouble comes for us all, sooner or later. Better to spend time fortifying yourself so that you are able to withstand the storm.

When the winds of change sweep through our lives, we often cower in fear: What will I do now? What will happen to me? I gave in to these feelings of despair when I found myself unemployed for the better part of a year. By the time the summer rolled around, I was in full panic mode – looking for a job every single day. I prayed and cried to God, trying hard not to imagine my worst fear come true – unable to pay my bills, me and my kids wind up on the streets or worse yet, forced to return to my ex-husband and admit defeat. That was my very worst fear. So I threw myself into my job hunt with a vengeance thinking, surely something would surface soon. It did. A good job, too. And afterwards, I realized I wasted a perfectly good summer agonizing when I could have been enjoying my time with my kids.

About a year after starting my job, my car broke down, completely. I was already cash strapped, or so I thought. I couldn’t afford to buy a new car. Terror, again, gripped my heart. I was due for a raise but still, I didn’t see how I could make it. When I confessed these fears to my sister, she said, “Loria – how many cars have you paid off?” A little confused by the question, I answered, “Two?” She said, “Well, what makes you think that God won’t help you pay off this car?” Ohhhh. When she put it like that, it took the emphasis off me and put the pressure on God to perform. And it made me feel better. Now, I didn’t immediately go out and buy a car – what I did was sat down and looked at my income versus my expenses and made a budget. I found that I could afford the car, even without my raise. Not to mention, it used less gas. Crisis averted.

After fending off impending doom several times, I realized – my worst fears never actually came to pass. Not once. So I began to see that I couldn’t let myself become paralyzed with fear every time “life” happened. I wasn’t gonna last long if I kept that up. I stopped thinking defeatist thoughts, “It’s so hard!” I ask God now, “Lord, what am I gonna do?” And he gives me the answer. Then, I come up with a plan of action and set about rescuing myself. I know now that God sometimes uses change to shake us out of our comfort zone and to move us on to something better. I’ve learned to weather the storms like trees by bending and becoming more flexible. Being unyielding only gets you torn up by your roots! My mother used to say, “It’s a po’ wind that don’t never change.” I take that to mean change is inevitable. And eventually that wind will turn in my direction, for my good. So I wait for my change to come.

Be blessed,



“Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry:”  (Psalm 106:44)

nev⋅er⋅the⋅less [nev-er-th uh-les] adverb: nonetheless; notwithstanding; however; in spite of that:

The bondwoman and the freewoman: Hagar and Sarah. As the story goes – God promised Abraham a son of his own. Sarah, being an old woman, reasoned that she could not give birth at such an advanced age and so gave her handmaiden, Hagar, to be a surrogate. Being a servant, Hagar really didn’t have any say in the matter, so she laid with Abraham and gave him a son – Ishmael. But afterwards, God revealed to Abraham that Ishmael was not his plan – Abraham was still destined to have a son with Sarah. It came to pass that, 14 years later, Sarah did deliver a son when she was about 90 years old and Abraham was about 100! By then, Ishmael and Hagar had fallen out of favor with Sarah so she pressured Abraham to send them away. Sarah wanted no competition for her son, Isaac, who stood to inherit everything from his father. God had also promised that Isaac would become a great nation. Abraham was dismayed because he was forced to choose until God assured him that Ishmael would be blessed, too.

So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael on their way. At some point, she gave up – out of food and water, the journey and her desperate circumstances became too much for her. They were stranded in the desert; they had no place to go and no help in sight. Hagar hid her son in shelter so that she would not have to watch him die. Then the angel of the LORD heard the cries of her son and came to Hagar, comforting her. He told her that her son was destined to become a great nation, too. Hagar looked up and saw a well – water! She and her son were saved. They lived in the desert and Ishmael became an archer. God blessed him and he eventually became the father of 12 princes, well on his way to becoming a great nation. (Genesis 21) I guess my favorite part of the story is when Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury Abraham. I picture them standing together. It suggests to me that they must have made peace with their origins.

For me, this story illustrates how God can take our convoluted messes and bring good out of it, even restoring justice and balance. My late pastor used to say “If it’s crooked, God can straighten it out.” My own life has taken many twists and turns but I’ve watched God create order out of the chaos, just like he did in the beginning. Even our own well-meaning mistakes can work out for our good. Everything that we go through can be used to mold us into the people we need to become. Nothing is wasted. It may not be HIS plan but he works through the tangled mess and uses it anyway to get us where we need to be. Too often, the end he creates for me is much better than the one I envisioned.

God has surrounded me with quite a cast of characters and I draw on them frequently for anecdotes because, frankly, they give me really good material to work with. I love some of the things they say – they minister to me. As one friend said, “You can learn something from everybody – either they teach you how to do it or how NOT to do it!” So I listen, I observe and I glean lessons from my friends, as well as other folks I come into contact with. One such friend shared with me the story of how she lamented over the state of her life. How did she get to this point? Divorced and out of work. No prospects because she had no degree. The kids were probably acting out, too. You name it, she probably complained about it as she literally cried into her bowl of cereal. She was fully miserable about it until a voice reached her into the gloom and depression, saying: “I am the God of nevertheless.”

That was a defining moment in her life. God spoke to her and the message was clear – despite all that she’d done and went through, he could make it right. It was like a promise. Her future was not determined by her past mistakes. Despite the twists and turns that were not part of His plan, he was still able to make something wonderful come of it. It meant she could have a fresh start. She took those words to heart. I can tell you now that my friend is on her way to a better life since she heard that voice. She’s in college, working toward her degree in education. She wants to be a teacher. And she’s employed now. She turned her life around.

I’ve lived the past few years of my life in a constant state of “nevertheless”. Time and again, God has taken my trials and intertwined them with his will in such a way that they have become my success stories. He’s given me hope that I can rise above my present circumstances, whatever they may be. January is the month when we all look for a new start, New Year, new resolutions. We want to improve our life and overcome our failings. But sometimes it can be difficult to go forward and not think of all the times we’ve failed to successfully quit smoking, drinking, overeating, cussing or whatever we feel our shortcomings are. This year, we can resolve to move forward realizing that God can make our past failures of no consequence. It doesn’t matter what came before. He is the God of Nevertheless.

Be blessed,


Be Encouraged

“… but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.” 1 Samuel 30:6

We’ve all had our own personal tsunami or Hurricane Katrina tear through our lives, wreaking havoc and destruction. Our own tragedies may seem relatively insignificant but for us, it seems our world has come to an end. David once faced such a dilemma. He led his men into battle one day and left his camp defenseless. With the men occupied elsewhere, an enemy came and destroyed the camp, taking all the women and children. When David and his men returned, they saw their nightmare – living quarters in ruins and their families gone – and turned on David. They wanted to stone him for bringing this trouble upon them. David’s situation was doubly dire – not only had he lost everything but his entire support system (his friends and people he thought he could count on) had crumbled. With no one to turn to, he looked to God and was encouraged.

Just eight days after the first earthquake (7.0), Haiti has suffered a second earthquake (6.1). Normally, I tend to tune out the news – it’s not that I am uncaring; I just can’t bear to see and hear about all the suffering in the world. The evil that men do to each other – it breaks my heart. But Haiti – this has gripped me. It’s like watching the World Trade Center horror happen on a nationwide level. It just makes my heart clutch; the unimaginable things that they face daily. But in the midst of it all, there have been some heartwarming stories that speak of the ability of the human spirit to endure – to just get through. When I hear stories like these, I am encouraged – not only for Haiti but for all of us. I think to myself – there really is good in the world. The stories continue to trickle in and offer a glimmer of hope – they help me to see the light, shining in the darkness:

69 year old Ena Zizi had been at a church meeting at the residence of Haiti’s Roman Catholic archbishop when the Jan. 12 quake struck, trapping her in debris. On Tuesday, she was rescued by a Mexican disaster team. Zizi said after the quake, she spoke back and forth with a vicar who also was trapped. But he fell silent after a few days, and she spent the rest of the time praying and waiting. “I talked only to my boss, God,” she said. “I didn’t need any more humans.”

And again, later in the same article:

Elsewhere in the capital, two women were pulled from a destroyed university building. And near midnight Tuesday, a smiling and singing 26-year-old Lozama Hotteline was carried to safety from a collapsed store in the Petionville neighborhood by the French aid group Rescuers Without Borders.*

And there’s the story of television crews from two rival stations that put down their cameras, forfeiting their chance to be the first to report the scene, so that they could dig a baby out of the rubble. The baby was found next to the parents, who died. The reporters said the baby didn’t cry – just looked at them with a sense of wonder. I imagined that look, in my mind – maybe the same look my son had on his face when he was born – wide eyed and taking it all in. And I smile.

Then there’s the pediatrician whose home was still standing and so he turned it into a triage center. The Villa Creole, invoking comparisons to the movie, Hotel Rwanda, has now become a hospital. Images pour in: Ena Zizi (she looks like my grandmother!), a sweet old lady and full of wisdom; a boy trying to fly a makeshift kite (it looks like it was made it from a Styrofoam plate!); the woman who delivered her baby in the makeshift hospital. The pictures speak to me of our resiliency, our ability to rebound and how life continues despite our present circumstances. One hundred twenty-one people rescued – a drop in the bucket compared to the two hundred thousand estimated dead. But for the would-be rescuers, even one life delivered from the wreckage is precious. The Mexican rescue team cried and rejoiced when they pulled Ena from the rubble.

We’ve read stories of the heroes who dug through the debris and didn’t give up. Because of their efforts, people still emerge from the rubble, alive and hopeful. Each survivor helps us to hope for another. Every nation that has come to their rescue and responded to this disaster, mobilizing so quickly, has become a hero. China, which had their own earthquake recently, immediately sent a plane full of emergency supplies. The French team, which rescued the smiling Lozama; Brazilian peacekeepers from the UN and U.S. Troops. It’s like a roll call of the world nations. They did not turn a blind eye and deaf ear to suffering. The world has responded and shown us its best.

True, there are some who are not at their best – folks who are using this opportunity to unleash their darker side, looting and shooting and robbing. And then there are those who are using this as a forum to air their grievances with President Obama. Some have even suggested that somehow Haiti deserved what has happened, that they are cursed. But I accept that sometimes things happen, events occur and it’s nobody’s fault. It just is. It’s life. Ultimately, it’s not what happens to us that defines us but what we do with it that shapes us and molds us and reveals our true character. Today, I am encouraged by the individual people who have shown the world their best – heroes who are born out of adversity. Let us continue to pray for the survivors.

Be blessed,


*Paul Haven and Michelle Faul, Associated Press Writers –

Together We Mourn

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  (Romans 12:15)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

My daughter had a teacher in first grade, Miss Schultz. A sweet young lady, right out of school and into her first teaching gig. She loved my daughter and was so impressed with how smart she was – she allowed her liberties that were distracting to the rest of the class. Finally, things came to a head at the parent-teacher conference and I found out that my daughter had been taking advantage of the teacher BUT the teacher also was guilty. She condoned it, in a way because she did not report it to me. But she gave her TWO check marks on her report card. When I asked her why, she said she “didn’t want to rat her out” and that “she’s so spirited that I just didn’t want to break her spirit!” Corn-y, I thought! What a flower child! I appreciated how smitten she was with my daughter but she needed discipline – which she got as soon as I got home. Anyhow, my daughter went to school the next day and told the teacher, “You got me in trouble!” To which Miss Schultz replied, “All of that for only two check marks?” and sided with my daughter. They were quite a team, those two.

The next year, my daughter went on to second grade and the gifted class, where she really belonged – which explained some of why she was so restless in class the previous year. She still saw Miss Schultz every day and soon found that her former teacher was newly married. My daughter was so happy for her in the way that young girls are –the idea of marriage, well – it was so romantic. And Miss Schultz remained her favorite teacher. One weekend we returned from a long holiday break; the kids went back to school (and I, to work) as usual. I called home to check on the kids during the day, as was my custom. My (then) husband answered the phone and said “Your daughter came home from school today, crying her eyes out.” Why? “Miss Schultz died.” What? What happened? He explained there had been a car crash and she and her new husband were both killed. My daughter was beside herself with grief. Her father handed her the phone so that she could talk to me and I could calm her down. But when she got on the phone, all I could do was cry, too. The unfairness of it – she was too young, newly married, a great teacher –it was senseless.

We went to her wake, as did many of her students, to honor her life. We saw pictures there of her and her new husband and their many adventures. She had packed quite a bit of living into her short life and for that, I was truly thankful. It illustrated the point that none of us have any assurance of how long we will be here; we must make the most of what we have while we are here. As we traveled through the viewing line, we met her parents at the end to offer comfort. They comforted us, instead. Let me tell you, I am not the sort to wail at funerals but this just floored me. It hurt. It was just so sad. You see – I am the one who can usually find the bright side of a situation. Just give me time and I’ll find that silver lining. But not in this. I could not make sense of it.

A few years back, a sister at my church sent her oldest son off to war. And we prayed for his safe return. And so he did (return safely, that is) but not so for his younger brother who was killed quite suddenly in a car accident while traveling home after dropping his girlfriend off. The older brother would have made some sense because he was at war but the younger brother? No one could see that coming. And so I called the mother to offer my condolences. When she answered the phone, I could hear folks, well meaning folks, laughing in the background. They had come to cheer her and to get her mind off of her grief. Maybe that was my intention, too. But when she got on the phone with me and began to cry, words failed me. All I could do was cry, too. Somehow, I knew it was the right thing to do – mother to mother. I felt her pain. I shared her pain. I cried while she cried. And in the end, it was the only thing that made sense.

Haiti is in mourning and I cannot find it in me to do more than mourn with them. At times like these, I cannot offer complacencies or platitudes. You cry, I cry – that’s pretty much how it works. One day, this day will be a distant memory. Maybe better days are coming for this poor country. But I don’t have it in me right now to figure out the why’s of it or even offer encouragement. Not today. Today we mourn. Because Haiti is us – or could be but for the grace of God. Tragedy comes for us all, eventually, in one form or another – it is one of the great equalizers, crossing the boundaries of race and class. It has no regard for nations, religions or wealth. It makes peasants of us all. But it unites us all. And this, too, makes sense.

Be blessed,


Simple Blessings

Recently, a dear friend of mine sent me an email at Christmas with this message: “I hope you find peace this holiday season.” WOW. I said to myself, “How incredibly sweet – such a nice thing to say!” And I received her words gladly. I can’t begin to express how much that phrase has blessed me since then. It was like a benediction was spoken over my life. I felt it wash over me, warming me. I was floored by her sincere, heartfelt wish for me and I wanted it to be true. Oh, to have PEACE. After all the preparations and staying on my feet so long until they ached. After all the hustle and bustle, the cooking and shopping until you drop. Peace was ambitious and more than I looked for. I was just hoping to get through the holiday and for it to be over soon. But her words turned out to be somewhat prophetic as I had the most peaceful Christmas I can remember. From the time I awakened until I laid my head to rest again, I had peace. It was simply wonderful.

My friend’s email reminded me of something I used to do automatically but have since fallen out of the habit of doing: blessing others. We say “God bless you!” automatically, every time someone sneezes. It’s considered impolite to let the sneeze just hang there without a response; rude, even. I learned in high school that this practice originated from the belief that when you sneeze, a part of your soul escapes. Imparting a blessing was intended to somehow counteract that unfortunate event. Nowadays, we hardly take the opportunity to bless someone unless they have done something extraordinarily nice. But it’s so powerful! With your words, you have the means to affect someone’s day in a positive way. One day, I read a scripture that inspired me to do it:

“Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house.’ If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you.” (Luke 10:5-6)

I decided then to make a conscious effort to bless others, reasoning that the blessing could return to me and I would be none the worse for wear. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I blessed the bank teller as a way of thanking her for services rendered. I blessed the hospital janitor to thank her for cleaning my mother’s room. I blessed the cashier as a way of wishing her a good day after paying for my purchases. It was an experiment of sorts, I guess, to bless anyone I came into contact with. The results were a bit of a surprise. I expected most people to rebuff or reject my efforts. I expected sarcastic responses. I expected that I might even be ignored. I wondered if it would offend some folks. We’ve all heard reports in the news about people taking offense over prayer and the mention of God, even to the point of filing lawsuits against the offenders. Employers have instructed their workers to offer “Happy Holidays” greetings, instead of “Merry Christmas!” to avoid offense. So, while I felt led to do it, I was a bit apprehensive about how it would be received. But I went for it – “God bless you!” I said and then braced myself for their reaction.

The bank teller responded with a surprised smile of delight, “Oh! Thank you! God bless you, too!” Thereafter, anytime I came to the drive thru window, the tellers looked for my “God bless you!” as my thank you. After a time, they even offered their own in return. And you know – it felt as good to give as to receive! The hospital janitor responded, “Oh! Thank you! God bless you, too!” She later came back and told me, “You didn’t know how much I needed to hear that.” As it turned out, a loved one had just died. It was just what she needed to hear – she felt like I really meant it. And she was right. Along the way, something that started out with no real end goal in mind began to take on a life of its own. It changed me. It started out as something I felt pressed to do and morphed into something I wanted to do. It blessed me, too.

I found that people really need to be blessed. They want it. It’s an unexpected, happy surprise, especially when it comes on the heels of some tough times or a really bad day. It’s like a sudden ray of sunshine. A “God bless you” can make someone’s day and lift their spirits. I didn’t even have to go out of my way. I just made the effort with people I encountered daily. It soon became so much a part of me that I even included it on my voice mail message. One day, I accidentally erased it and had to re-record it. My daughter called and got my voicemail instead of me. When she finally spoke to me she said, “Mom, you forgot to say God bless you!” It had become so ingrained that when she didn’t hear it, she missed it. It made her feel good, even via recorded message.

During the holidays, it’s easy to remember “peace on earth, good will towards all men”. Usually, this translates into actions; meals for the homeless, donated clothing, money or gifts. But this is one gift you can give all year long – simply to have a kind word for your fellow man. And this doesn’t cost you anything. The end result of my experiment was that I found people all around me who were starving for a kind word. My friend reminded me of how much good you can do with the words you speak. You can speak something wonderful into someone’s life. You will be remembered for your kindness. But the life you truly bless will be your own.

Be blessed,


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,