If We Love Each Other…

I read something this morning that nearly brought me to tears–a comment written in response to a blog post about God’s love for us. The post, written nearly two years ago, had few comments, but one comment in particular caught my attention. It was written by a man who for several years dealt with a series of really bad circumstances and came to the conclusion–after a lifetime of belief–that God does not love him. The saddest thing, however, is that the comment sat beneath the blog post with no response for a full year before another “random person” stumbled upon the post and read the comment.

A full year.

Even after the “random person’s” response, neither the author of the post nor the Christian organization that hosts the site responded. In nearly two years.

If it hurt me, imagine how much it affected the man who so bravely and desperately cried out. He needed an answer. He needed a virtual hug and assurance of God’s intimate concern and love for him.

He got crickets.

The thing that keeps me sane and walking upright in this world is knowing that God absolutely loves me, but I first experienced God’s love through others.

It is God’s love for and in us that allows us to love sincerely and deeply; it is His love that permeates our being and generates love action. It’s nearly impossible to experience or “possess” Divine Love and not be transformed.

Loving God and understanding His love for humanity results in reaching out to hurting people, living out His presence in our lives, and showing the world who He is–through acts of love.

Without human manifestation of God’s love, His love is simply theory.

Walking in Amazing Grace…

This is what grace does […]. Grace gives us the faith to be utterly assured of what we cannot see […]. It connects us to the invisible One in an eternal love relationship that fills us with joy we have never known before and gives us rest of heart that we would have thought impossible. And that grace is still rescuing us…  –Paul David Tripp (emphasis mine)

“Amazing Grace” is a powerful hymn. Whether I’m singing along with a congregation, singing alone, or simply reading the words, the lyrics always move me to tears.

When I watched and listened to my beautiful colleague, Julie Moore Foster, and her equally beautiful daughter soulfully sing “Amazing Grace” this morning, I was stunned into meditative silence.

Even before I reached the end, which presented a short montage of Julie’s oldest daughter’s life, I knew their singing of this song was not “just singing” but a powerful story of God’s work in the soul–His amazing grace.

They lost Témar at the beginning of 2015, a loss they walk with every day.  I “knew” Témar briefly; she was enrolled in my British Literature class her last semester of college, the semester I lost my sister. Two years later, I bonded with Hannah, the daughter featured alongside Julie in the video below, over our mutual loss of sisters.  A question in my Shakespeare course led to an intense discussion of disappointment, loss, and coping with the “most difficult” challenges of life–a moving experience that I might have the courage to share another day.

I know what it is to be saved by God’s grace, not just from sin and the ravages of this world, but rescued from the deep, murky pit of grief and despair that can suffocate and rob a life of meaning and joy. But when my mother, Julie, any mother–indeed any parent–can stand upright and sane in this messed up space where parents have to bury their children, I see clear evidence of God’s grace walking and talking among us.

Notes on the song/video: “Amazing Grace” arranged by Kelvin Wooten, Wayne Bucknor, and Julie Moore Foster. Direction and videography by William Jenkins. Audio production by WoodaWorx Productions, Inc. The song is part of Julie Moore Foster’s first album, Soul Songs. To find out more see: Soul Songs Project.

Let Us Be Grateful…

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.  –Marcel Proust

Early yesterday morning, I realized that I’d been “unfriended” by an acquaintance on Facebook. It made me feel “some kind of way.” Normally, I couldn’t care less because Facebook is Facebook. People come and people go. I don’t even spend a lot of time on it. But the person is someone I communicate with regularly, so this came as a surprise (and yes, she’s still on FB).  I prayed about it–asking God to free me from the icky feelings that were creeping in–and moved on.

Less than an hour later, when I’d moved on to other matters, I was overcome by an overwhelming appreciation for the wonderful people God has placed in my life–people who have held me together when I was clearly falling apart, people who have provided joy and laughter and deep friendship, people who know me and get me and expect nothing more from me than who I am, people who make much over me and shower me with love and good things, expecting nothing in return, people who make my “soul blossom.”

It was clearly a lesson in “gratitude”–and when it comes to the people in my life, I am more than grateful.

Recently, I received the beautiful card [above] in the mail from Amy, @outofbroken, whom I met via Instagram. I initially encountered her when my Brittany tagged me in one of outofbroken’s “giveaway” posts. [I ended up winning Redefined, a beautiful journal from Well-Watered Women]. Amy’s posts are inspiring, and one evening we had a spirited conversation in which we shared our spiritual struggles and committed to praying for each other.

Some time later, the card came filled with encouragement, blessings, and uplift. Her message ended with one of my favorite phrases–one of my mantras, really–God is faithful.

And He is…and I’m grateful for the people He has placed in my life–for a moment or for a lifetime.

His Joy…My Strength

Joy is the atmosphere of heaven. It is the air God the Father Himself breathes in every day of eternity. And because joy is heaven’s delivered gift to me while I walk on planet earth, it is my delight and strength to experience the blessedness that God on His throne enjoys.   –Carol Burton McLeod, Joy for All Seasons

Guest Post: “The Moral Moment” by Dr. Blue

As much as I would love to use today’s blog post to write about fun and lighthearted things as we enter the weekend, my heart has been heavy all week. We began classes for the semester a few days ago, but just before my first class, I ran across a photo snapped on the first day of class a couple of years ago–a sidewalk chalk protest: Mike Brown should be on his way to class too.

“Mike Brown should be on his way to class too.”

As I tried desperately to block out Charlottesville, Virginia and a failure of leadership to provide a moral response, I felt the chilling reality that this could have been Brown’s senior year in college deep in my soul. I voted Tuesday with no hope. It was just part of the process, my right as an American citizen, my duty as an African American. All week, I listened to children who are afraid and talked to students who are now very watchful and careful about their surroundings in a southern city where sightings of the confederate flag is not uncommon.

The question that came up time and time again, “What do we do?” What can we do?

Today’s post (which begins below) was written by Dedrick Blue, D.Min, Dean of Religion and Theology at Oakwood University. In response to the events of the last week, Blue calls us to reach inside and decide what we will do. The question is not “what can we do?” The question, he points out, is “what will I do?” We must answer that question for ourselves and make the decision to act.

***      ***      ***

Each of us will come to a moment in our lives when moral decency will beg for response. These are times of great moral and spiritual crises that test our metal and our faith. These defining moments shape history and shape our personal history. We have come to that moment.

As our nation grieves over the tragic events in Charlottesville, VA which left three dead and 19 injured at the hands of violent-sanctioned white supremacy, we are obliged to pause and reflect upon the meaning of the moment.

While some may argue over whether a Confederate statue should survive, be clear that was not the issue. The issue is whether people–black, brown, yellow, red, Jew, Muslim–should survive. The statue is just a symbol of the genocide perpetrated by white supremacy upon people of color and those not conforming to white Protestant, Anglo-Saxon phenotype.  Those white supremacists are unequivocal in their assertion that the inanimate statue has a greater right to American soil than breathing persons of color. They assert that the history of white supremacy and genocide is the true history of America. In this, they are both right and wrong. Rebellion and genocide are part of our history, but they are not to be our trajectory or our destiny. And certainly, genocide is not to be memorialized as something noble.

Our great Republic has never been perfect. And yet, this nation with Her hands and conscience soiled by chattel slavery, chose to repudiate Her past and march forward toward a more perfect union. This of course was not without costs. Our nation lost nearly a million of its citizens in a Civil War. The backlash from Reconstruction gave birth to Jim Crow and “strange fruit on southern trees.” Churches were bombed, buses were burned, leaders were assassinated, children were incarcerated and voters were intimidated in this march toward a more perfect union. Like Abel, the blood of those sacrifices cry out for justice from America’s soil, and plead that those sacrifices be not in vain.

Now we have come to this moment in our nation’s history, when the President of these United States has chosen to ignore the sacrifices of our bloody, glorious past. My first reaction is to say that he seeks to resurrect the demons of racism and white supremacy. However, truth be told, that ghoulish specter has never ceased to stalk our heels, and continues to lurk in our bedrooms and boardrooms. That poltergeist shoots down unarmed boys in the street, snatches healthcare from senior citizens, sits in legislative councils, and rewards robber barons with tax cuts. And now in this moment, we see our President acting as a medium to call up and invite that demon to sit at his welcome table.

Let us be clear. This is a pivotal moment in American history. It is a moment when this nation will either rise once more and strive toward her credo that “all men are created equal” or will slither back into the quagmire of its racist history.

But this is not just a pivotal moment for America. It is a pivotal moment for each citizen of America. For what is America if it is not each of us? America is not just a government; it is a people bound together by constitution and geography, but even more importantly, bound together by ideal. This moment now tests not only the government but also that ideal. We as a nation and as a people are challenged in this moral moment to vociferously repudiate the demons of white supremacy. We must not be silent now. We cannot run for cover or place our proverbial head in the proverbial sand and pretend that if we ignore it, it does not exist.

Neither can we retreat into apocalyptic passivism which takes the position that all these things are just signs of the end and Jesus will fix it all when He returns. If we choose to be silent now then, we do so at the peril of our souls. For our streets are stained with blood, our children cower in fear, and evil parades with torches of terror in our parks. Real people are dying.

To call upon our God to act, but refuse to act when God calls is spiritual schizophrenia at best and downright hypocrisy at worst. The God we serve is not only moved by injustice but moves against injustice. The examples are replete in Scripture. I need not repeat the stories of God’s intervention for the slaves of Egypt; His denunciations of oppression in the Book of Micah; or His admonition in the Torah to embrace the widow, the orphan and the stranger.

God acts!

We also learn from Scripture that in the time of moral and spiritual crisis, God not only moves into action but He also moves people into action. Moses had to agree to go to the most powerful ruler in the world and demand release of the Hebrew captives. In another era, God called upon a woman named Esther to reveal to the king a wicked plot to destroy the Jews perpetrated by the racist Haman.

God moves against injustice, but He uses people as His agents. And each of person has to come to that moral moment when he/she has to decide that the call and the cause are greater than the comfort of willful ignorance.

Every generation must face its moral moment. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced the moral moment on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Rosa Parks faced the moral moment on the back of a bus. Heather Heyer faced the moral moment on a back street in Charlottesville.

This now is our moral moment. We must choose to hear the call and choose a response. The call comes to each of us in a different way. I dare not be so bold as to declare how God speaks and how He speaks to you. But I will be so bold as to say that God does speak and He always looks for a response.

One of America’s greatest statesmen, Dr. Martin Luther King, declared:

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right. 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Moral decency demands a response!

–Dr. Dedrick Blue, Dean of Religion and Theology, Oakwood University

Photo from Pixabay

Sunny Inspiration: Look Up!

My neighbor’s sunflowers came in beautifully and I made a few trips to capture them in their various stages. I managed to capture dozens of pics–one is featured in Finding Love Notes, Naturally, posted a couple of weeks ago.

I decided to work with a couple of the photos yesterday–one featuring a sunflower with its “face” turned upward and the other a “downcast” flower leaning away from another that is still full of life. The photos were on my mind and I wanted to combine them with words that speak their language.

The blooms are visual reminders that when the “stuff” of life is coming at us full force, all we have to do is stand firm, “face the Sun,” and rest in the embrace of the One who is always near.

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” Sunflower PhotoArt by Me!

Sometimes, it’s necessary to face our problems “head on,” stare them down, and conquer them. At other times–when things are out of our control and bigger than we could ever imagine–we have to turn away from our struggles and focus our attention on the One who handles the insurmountable and scary situations for us. Otherwise, the worry and stress can affect our health.

“God Is Near the Broken-Hearted,” Sunflowers PhotoArt by Me!

We feel alone in such situations–it seems no one understands, can provide the comfort we need or help us manage our problems. It is imperative to know that we are not alone, that God is near, cradling us in His protective arms, and carrying us through the difficulties.

When we train our focus heavenward, our problems are placed in proper perspective, and we learn to trust the “Lover of our souls” to manage all our concerns so we can go on living and loving without distress.

I prefer to see sunflowers with a sunny disposition, but the sunflower in the second photo communicated so profoundly and beautifully the message of Psalm 34:18 that I had to capture it–even with the photo-bombing bee. The bee might seem a distraction, an annoyance even, but without bees there would be no flowers.

Wishing you a week filled with sunshine and good things…

Mama Is a Saint!

snapseed

I woke up this morning thinking about my mom and the absolutely beautiful woman she is. Today is her 80th birthday and I am deeply grateful that God continues to gift us with her life.

I hear it over and over and over again.  “Your mom is a saint.”  She’s not simply a good, good person.  She’s a saint.  I’ve learned to accept that perhaps she is, and unlike many women, I wish I were more like my mother.

My mom carried 10 children in her womb, delivered us naturally, and took care of all of us.  As far as I’m concerned, this alone should be enough to qualify her for sainthood.

I lived in the house with us.  And it was a wonderful, noisy house with loads of love and fun, but it also had its fair share of the typical sibling rivalries, squabbles, and kids who always needed something or had a question that just had to be answered.  In my mind, I’m thinking my kid times 10.  No way!

Can you imagine this type of person who has enough love and patience for 10 individual personalities trying to find their way in the world?  Can you imagine worrying and fretting over not one or two or even five but 10 children? Parenting is scary, scary business, and I shutter to think of the challenges ahead for my one kid.  I can’t imagine having to walk with 10 heartbeats floating around in this world.

Mom with my sister Karlette (RIP) and nephew Eric

Mom with my sister Karlette (RIP) and nephew Eric

I distinctly remember my mom taking all of us kids on the bus to Canal Street in New Orleans [Canal Street was the shopping center of New Orleans then].  There might have been only eight or nine of us then, but we’re all pretty close in age. How did she do that?  With nothing less than amazing organizational skills and child management skills.

This explains why our house was impeccable at any time of the day–even with 10 kids.  Unexpected guests might have been met with an apology for her “messy” house, but they probably looked around confused.  My mom’s house was [and is] always clean.  There was no scrambling to clear the clutter when uninvited guests arrived. I don’t even know how she managed that with all of us running all over the house?

And just like our home, we were always clean and dressed and fed well with home-cooked meals every day.  This is no overstatement.  My mom cooked every. single. day. for twelve people. My mom’s version of fast food? Burgers and fries she made herself that were way better than anything we could have purchased at a restaurant.

Mom let us grow and gave us wings.  No matter how many times we came to her with a problem or situation, my mom never directed our actions.  She may have made a comment or two about the situation, but she never told us what to do or tried to manipulate us into doing what she considered the “right” thing.  If we made the wrong decision, she let us fall and learn from our mistakes.  She was still mom, loving us without judgment and allowing us to become.

My mom sacrificed for us in ways that continue to impact our lives. I once asked her what was her dream career. She answered that at one point she wanted to be a nurse. That would have been the perfect career for her. She has a calm and comforting nature that others are drawn to and that would have been so beneficial in nursing. She chose, instead, to nurture the 10 of us into productive members of society.

I know, nowadays, we celebrate mothers who juggle family, careers, community obligations and still find time for themselves, but there was an incredible amount of security for us in knowing that mom was [still is] always there and would always find a way for the things we wanted/needed.

Besides qualifying for sainthood because she put up with us crazy kids, mom is a saint because she put up with my dad.  My dad is a wonderful person, but he and my mom are almost complete opposites.  He is always ready for a party while she prefers the quiet of home.  He spends a lot of time on Facebook baiting his friends and watching CNN and the other news channels while she sits quietly reading.  He loves long debates. She’s not having it.  She says “her piece” and nothing more.  She’s not having the back and forth for too long.  My dad goes on and on and on.

Mom and Dad in the early years.

Mom and Dad in the early years.

I think God chose my mom for us because only a person with her character and spirit could love us all to health and wholeness.  With her quiet spirit, she’s not easily unsettled, so people’s issues (read: craziness) don’t faze her.  She has a heart of gold and always sees the good in people.  She welcomes all and listens without judgment.  She is the embodiment of forgiveness.  She forgave our “wrongdoings” without making us feel rejected or small, and taught us how to forgive.  If we went to her with some “offense” committed against us, she’d basically tell us to shake the dust off our feet and move on.  That bit of her is so ingrained in me that I can’t hold a grudge if I wanted to.

My mom has a fierce, uncompromising faith that is simply inspiring. It is this faith that got her through the most difficult moments of her life and that prays her children through almost unbearable circumstances.

Of course, she’s not perfect–she is human after all–but I’ve not encountered anyone in my life whom I want to emulate more.

Happy Birthday, Mama, with all my love…