Friday, July 3, 2020

Introduction: A 14-Day Journey to Hearing From God

It was Sunday, July 1, 2018. I had been struggling in my writing session for hours in my living room, so I knew I had to leave the house. Whenever I hit a wall like that, it's usually because I've gotten annoyed with my surroundings.

Every now and then when I'm writing, it feels like the walls of my home are caving in on me. Sitting at my dining room table, which is one of the best writing spots in my house, begins to feel like punishment, and every sound, from the humming of the refrigerator to the ticking of the clocks, all of a sudden drives me up a wall.

When that happens, Starbucks is my refuge.

I go there, take in the new scenery and the less annoying sounds, and eventually I'm able to enter into a headspace that allows me to write again. On that particular day, I was determined to meet the personal writing quota that I'd set for myself, and I wasn't leaving until it was done.

When I got into my good writing groove, I opened my Bible to search out scriptures to include in my writing. I flipped and flipped and was getting pretty excited because the Lord was showing me exactly where to go to grab what I needed. I was looking to make one more point before my writing session would be over for the day, and I eventually landed in the book of John, chapter 15, where my eyes went directly to a scripture that I've read a kazillion times. In the latter part of verse 15, Jesus says, "...for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you."



It was like the words jumped off of the page and began to speak. The Lord spoke to my heart and said, "There are so many who don't know that I am speaking to them. There are so many who want to hear my voice, but they need to know that they CAN hear my voice. There are so many who don't know if it's my voice they're hearing or if it's that of a stranger. I've just said, clearly, that what I hear from the Father, I make known to them (those who are mine)."

He told me to go on Facebook and ask if there was anyone who wanted to hear God's voice. He told me to ask if there was anyone who wanted to hear His voice more clearly. The post was already written in my head before I could even close my Bible! He told me to invite those who were interested to a 14-Day Class/Workshop/Whatever We Want To Call This Thing of learning to hear His voice.



I didn't know how He was going to structure it. I didn't know how it was gonna be done. All I knew was that if I did what He said to do, He'd show me how to get it done.

And He did!

For 14 days, the Lord gave me specific scriptures, messages, videos, and studies to share with the participants. We had an amazing time, and those who gave themselves completely over to the Lord in those 14 days proclaimed that they were closer to Him at the end of the journey than they were when we started!

And here we are again! 

When the Facebook memory popped up in my feed this year (I love FB memories), I felt led to ask, again, if there was anyone who wanted to hear God more clearly.

There was a resounding response! 

And if you know me, you know there's nothing I love more than allowing God to use me to help others know Him better. I'm honored to be on this journey with you.

Starting Tuesday, 07/07/20, I'm going to challenge you to push past your feelings and MAKE TIME in your schedule to hear from the God who created you, who loves you like crazy, and who WANTS you to hear Him because He DESIRES to speak to you.

I'm telling you now that you're not always going to feel like setting the time aside to meet with God. There are going to be so many things vying for your attention because the enemy doesn't want you closer to God.

You will need to push past those feelings. Our feelings get us in trouble, so ignore them! Shut them down!

You will need to push past those distractions--social media, answering e-mails, the television, family requests that aren't life or death and don't need your immediate attention... Do what you need to do to get to God! He DESIRES to speak to you!

For the journey, you will need:

A Bible  - You need a bible that is easy for you to understand. I suggest the NLT or the AMP version. I'm going to ask that you not use your cell phone as your Bible because you WILL BE distracted. I don't care how strong you are or how determined you are in these 14 days, your phone will distract you when it's time to read and study. You'll actually need to write things in your Bible, so having actual pages is a plus. And there really is just something about "talking back to" the Word while you're reading it, writing on those pages and responding to the Lord as He talks to you.

A Journal - This doesn't have to be fancy. You don't need to go and purchase a $10 journal. You can get a spiral notebook. You can use a composition notebook. Shoot...you can get some loose leaf paper and staple it together, but you need a "notebook" of some kind that will be used specifically for this 14-day journey.

A Pen and/or Highlighter - You will be writing in your Bible. You will be writing in your journal. You can highlight where you feel is necessary, if you feel it's necessary, because you may want to remember certain scriptures to revisit later. You may feel the need to highlight in your journal too, if there's something you want to revisit there.

Internet Access - You will access your daily assignments here on my blog. There may be videos to watch that are linked to YouTube or Facebook or some other site online. You may need to visit an online Bible to look at a verse in another version.

Join the Private Facebook Group - Everyone who is on the 14-day journey will receive encouragement and daily reminders about assignments through the Facebook group. And can I just say... THERE IS POWER IN ACCOUNTABILITY! I don't know how people live their lives without it.

Something about being on the journey with others will push you when you don't feel like pushing through. Deciding to partner with someone to help you on days when it's tough is a blessing. Let the Facebook group be that for you.

In the event that there is a glitch in the blog system or I need to reroute us for the day (the Holy Spirit will have His way), I can make an announcement to the group. If ever He wants to say anything LIVE, the capability is there. This is also a good tool because should you have any questions, you can ask me (or others in the group), directly.

**You will get a personal invite to the group.**


I'm excited about this journey with you.
I will be stretching with you.
I will be making time with you.

I want to hear God's voice more clearly for myself, but more importantly, for the 14-day journey, I want to hear His voice FOR YOU! I want to guide you by His leading. It's my prayer that you will hear Him more clearly than you ever have, and that you won't stop communing with Him after the 14th day. I pray your conversations never cease!

Let's get ready to dive in! I'm SO ready to hear all He has to say!

-Iantha

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Love the Hell Out of Hate


Everything begins with a seed, be it a natural/physical seed like that of fruit or vegetables, or a spiritual/mental seed of doubt. Or hope. Or defeat. Or determination. 

Human life itself begins with a seed. And seeds eventually grow. When they’re watered and nurtured, they inevitably spring up to produce after their own kind.  




You won’t plant an apple seed and get an orange. An apple seed will eventually produce an apple tree, and that tree will bear apples.

Planting a bell pepper seed won’t get you a cucumber. A bell pepper is what you’ll get. 

You can’t expect to reach a goal that requires your determination if all you’ve ever planted are seeds of doubt. Seeds of doubt grow and produce inaction. A seed of determination will eventually arrive at a met goal or an accomplished dream.

And have you ever seen a human produce anything other than a human? A human seed produces a human being.

This is nature. Her laws are natural/physical and spiritual/mental. She is as she’s always been, and she shall forever remain. When a seed is planted, it will eventually produce.

So let there be no surprise that we’re seeing the fruit of deep-rooted seeds of hate in our nation today. Hate was long ago planted in the hearts of men (species), and we are certainly seeing the product of it. (Matthew 15:17-20) We’re experiencing the fruit from that tree—seeds that have been planted and replanted and replanted in the hearts of men (species) who produced more men (species) who produced more men (species). And on it goes.


We’ve always known the tree was there. We’ve always seen its fruit, but we knew we shouldn’t take of it. We knew its fruit wouldn’t nourish us.

Or maybe, for some, it took for us to eat of the fruit and become poisoned by its juices to learn that we should stay away. We had to learn the hard way that that fruit wasn’t our fruit to eat...that the fruit from the seed of hate wasn't what was best for our diets.

And aren't we tired of the fruit from the seed of hate, whether we've eaten it ourselves or simply watched what eating it has done to others? Isn't it high time that we choose to remove that fruit from our diets, and encourage others to do the same for our overall health? Do you, like me, want to see a move toward healthier living?

Let's plant seeds of love. 

Let's grow a different tree. Let's very intentionally nurture its fruit so it can produce more of its kind that will plant and replant and replant love in the hearts of men (species) for generations to come.

When given the opportunity to repay evil for evil, let's choose to love instead. Let's overcome evil with good, being careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone (Romans 12:17-20). Let's not be overcome by hate and evil.

Love with your words. Love with your deeds. Love with what you post. Let even your body language speak love, as it has the power to heap burning coals on hate's head (Proverbs 25:21-22). 

Be intentional about loving your neighbor. Initiate conversations that are wrapped in peace and that focus on goodness. Intentionally plant seeds that yield good fruit.



We've watched the seed of hate poison our nation. The fruit is harvesting in abundance. But we can plant seeds of love, and just as nature has promised, the seeds will produce fruit after its own kind. Love gives life; it's the only thing that overcomes hate. And we want that harvest. We want it in just as much bounty as the fruit of today's hate.

And we can have it.

Plant love.
Water love.
Nurture love.
Harvest love.
Repeat.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Snoop Dogg: Bible of Love - The Review

I Just Know Good Music

Artist: Snoop Dogg
Album Title: Bible of Love
Tracks: 32 (Yes, 32!)



On Repeat: New Wave (feat. Mali Music); You (feat. Tye Tribbett); Come As You Are (feat. Mary Mary & Marvin Sapp)
Skip: Chizzle

I wasn't expecting what I heard, but what I heard was unexpectedly refreshing. Bible of Love is just some straight up good music.


And I can hear the believers now, "How dare he, one who spits cuss words and lives a life that reflects anything but Christ!"

Why do we (Christians) do this?

Maybe others think like I think upon hearing that a secular artist has their hand in on gospel music. It's a shocker at first. And it's just as much a shocker when gospel artists have their hands in on secular music. We don't expect the worlds to collide, and because of this, I would normally not even bat an eye upon hearing that a secular artist is singing God's praises. It would seem like a publicity stunt or a desire for the artist to just make music because making music is what they do. I'd think it wouldn't mean anything to them because gospel music is so much more than just making music. Gospel music is all about sharing the message of Jesus Christ and His saving power, and it comes from a place of personal experience. Gospel music is made with hopes of causing others to know Jesus, and with hopes of encouraging those who are already in Christ to grow in their walk and be edified. You have to know Jesus and His word, personally, to really speak a message about Him. And Snoop obviously knows this too because his voice is heard on only a very small percentage of this project. And this isn't to say that Snoop doesn’t know (of) Jesus (none of us know that), but this is to say that he does know exactly what he's doing.


You see, Snoop is an artist with a history of making hits, so he knows good music, and he knows what it takes to make music that gives people what they want. Snoop knows a thing or two about what works and what doesn't, so he had sense enough to go and get the gospel music greats for this project, and they’re the ones doing the singing. He was responsible for pulling everyone together, but he, for the most part, is not delivering the message on this album. In fact, the majority of the artists featured on this album wrote the songs they're singing on the album, for the album.

After listening to Bible of Love in its entirety and enjoying it as much as I did, I had to "check myself before I wrecked myself". I seriously had to talk to the Lord about the question that was in my mind BEFORE I listened. I had to deal with why my heart was so unwilling to receive a message about Christ because of how it was packaged. #message

I kept thinking, "How does someone who doesn't even profess to be a Christian even make a gospel album?"


Well, why not?

What's wrong with pulling people together who know and love God, getting them in a room with others who may not know and love God, and allowing them to work together on music that is understood by both parties to be music that professes the name of Jesus? Why can't those people get together to make music with the sole purpose of uplifiting and encouraging those who listen? 
What else are believers here for if we can't even do projects that reflect Jesus Christ with those who may not believe, especially when all parties know it's a project that reflects, boasts in and uplifts Jesus Christ? How else are unbelievers supposed to learn of Him?


It would be a totally different story if a host of Christians got together and were featured on music that was clearly secular and had nothing to do with Christ because a Christian's job is to be the influence, not to be influenced.


Snoop used his God-given gifts with music and production and he used his platform and his reach to pull others together. Can you imagine how many people will listen to the message of Jesus Christ simply because they know and love Snoop and respect him as an artist?

Can you imagine the people who may be hanging on to a lifestyle that they hate who may hear Bible of Love and decide to finally make a change? Can you imagine how many other scenarios there are out there of people who may hear the message of Jesus Christ and His saving power from an artist like Snoop who wouldn't dare even try to hear it from Marvin Sapp or Kirk Franklin?

There are so many RIGHTS here. I'm struggling to find even one WRONG.

And the music is on point! When I heard Marvin Sapp and Mary Mary on the same track, killin' on vocals, and when Kim Burrell came out on a couple songs being the Kim Burrell that she is, I was home! Snoop included an old, CLASSIC Clark Sisters track (Pure Gold), and I about lost it! John P. Kee, Rance Allen, Fred...all the greats--the pillars of gospel music! My first listen through, the last thing I was thinking about was whose album it was. I was too focused on the message. And isn't that the point? 

The production is stellar, and certainly, with Snoop being the one to spearhead it, it  should be.

I know nothing of Snoop's life. Even when I was in the world, I wasn't a fan, so he wasn't on my radar. Apart from his hits that played over and over on the radio back in my day, I know nothing of him. I don't see him on social media, and I don't know any of his latest work on screen or in the studio. All I know is "You" featuring my favorite gospel artist, Tye Tribbett, caught my ear on Spotify and I knew then that I had to hear all of Bible of Love. I know my Tye, and when I saw that he'd written the song he's featured on (I knew it), I knew there had to be more to this album than what "I thought".

Every track boasts of Jesus. Every track speaks His truth. The album is really good! For those of us who love God and enjoy good music, this project is one for us. And if we're “too spiritual” to be able to look past who pulled the people together to sing the songs, then we aren't really interested in the message. I'm thankful that Bible of Love gave me a heart check and helped me to see beyond the surface.

We should rejoice that Snoop had sense enough to even honor God with his gifts, even if it is for but this time. We should rejoice that the Lord (because the enemy surely didn't do it) laid it on his heart to do this project and he obeyed. We can learn a lesson from him in this because I know there are things the Lord has told all of us to do, at some point or another, that we just haven't (I was supposed to finish writing this blog and post it last week). We can rejoice that he wasn't afraid to go to those who aren't "like him" to do something that would glorify God. We can learn to go to others who have skill sets that could help us to build God's kingdom and stop casting them away because they aren't Christians. How will they know who a Christian is or what it means to walk in Christ if you're not there to show them?

I haven't paid $16.99 for music in a loooong time, but I gladly paid for this after hearing only about 5 or 6 tracks on Spotify. It's just good and I can't wait to introduce a few tracks to my Praise Movement dancers!  Don't let "foolishness" keep you from experiencing what's happening in Bible of Love.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Swoope: Sonshine - The Review

I Just Know Good Music

Artist: Swoope

Album Title: Sonshine
Tracks: 11 (see track breakdown)


On Repeat: Never Left, Shining Down, You Got Me
Skip: ---

I can't say that I like every track on every album in my collection of music. I can honestly only say it about a few, and last week, Swoope's Sonshine was added to that few. Sonshine is one of those albums that gives me the freedom to press play and just let it go. I find myself jammin', literally, track after track after track. I've already become one with the project in a couple of my Sunday afternoon meal prep sessions, and it's already taken over my early morning "get ready for work" time. It's a feel good project with thought-provoking lyrics and masterful production with beats and arrangements that are among some of the best I've heard. I was blown away when I discovered that the album was written and produced almost completely by the artist himself. I even found myself saying, "Man, if I ever decide to write some music that I think everybody should hear, I'm callin' Swoope to produce it. Hands down!" And the best part? The best part is the message of the cross and Jesus Christ being the light that shines in darkness. This part--the reason for Swoope even writing and producing this work, I'm sure--is packaged beautifully inside the stellar production of EVERY track. The message is hard to miss, and it just don't get no better than that!

How I Found This Project
Even though this is Swoope's 4th album, I'd never even heard of the brother before Sonshine. In one of my routine music searches (at least once a week for Praise Movement School of Dance, Inc.), I opened up the iTunes store and did a general search in "New Music", and there it was. I gave the snippets a listen and was instantly hooked. I then took a full listen to a couple tracks on YouTube, and that was a wrap. The quality of the lyrics...the overall sound... Man! Those two songs let me know what I should expect throughout the album, and my expectations were definitely met. I was not disappointed when I purchased the album right after my YouTube listen.

Swoope has a tongue like the pen of a ready writer (Psalm 45:1). Straight B A R S! Sheesh! The whole project is pure genius!


Track Breakdown

Track 1: Shine

Takeaway Lyrics: "Ain't no way to stop the wave, the devil is a liar / Ain't no pain that I can't take when the Son is shining"

This short track (2:26) opens with a personal voice message from Swoope's dad reminding him to "just shine" in whatever he does. The takeaway lyrics sum up the overall message of "Shine". Swoope tells listeners that he doesn't look like what he's been through (obstacles, failures, the tough navigation in the music industry) because when he became victorious in the Son and overcame it all, what he went through was nothing in comparison to what he'd gained--the blessing of having the Son continually shining on and in him. And you have to hear the choir singing on this song with the tambourines in tow! Umph, umph, umph! The voices of hope and triumph!


Track 2: Hall of Fame
Takeaway Lyrics: "Eatin' mics like I'm at the last supper / Order Passover, I've been passed over / Said I wouldn't pop like a flat soda / So they said, 'Forget your God, Christian rap's over' / Y'all choosin' sides / I'm designin' the entrée / Oh, you tryin' to get Big Boi? I'm tryin' to be Andre` / Beyond great, all glory to God name"

The beat is dirty and it's all up in ya ear! It's raw. It's tough. And the video Swoope has for "Hall of Fame" is the perfect depiction for the thoughts that formed in my mind when I first heard the beat. I didn't see a boxing ring in my mind like the one on the video, but I certainly sensed battle and hard work and sweat and grit. In this song, Swoope tells listeners how hard he's worked to get "here" and that he belongs in the rap game. He's put in time for this and his God-given, unmistakable gifts and talents are what got him "here" and will keep him "here"--all so God's name can be glorified.


Track 3: Never Left (feat. Natalie Lauren)

Again, Swoope is reminding listeners that "here" is where he belongs, and although it may seem like he wouldn't come back (to the music scene) after being gone for a time, he's back now like he never left.

But can we just talk about how smooth this track is?  Man! It's easy like Sunday morning and Natalie Lauren's feature is juuuuust right. The piano leads in and then the beat drops pushing the piano to the background. And although you're bobbin' ya head to the beat, you're swayin' at the same time because that piano melody "never left". It's hangin' back, takin' the edge off, keepin' it hip-hop, but still chill. And in my mind I see a group of friends, some on the couch and some on the floor, hangin' out and vibin' to music and this is what they're listening to. They're talking about life and having "moments" and this is the feel good music that's in the background. There's a smile on everyone's face, and laughter is filling their space. I'm smilin' now as it's providing the perfect background motivation for this writing session.

Then, right at 1:56, and on until 2:06, the sweetest 10 seconds of the song, Swoope blessed all of New Orleans (I'm a native) with a beat that has our signature bounce flavor. At first listen, I was like, "Aaaaaaaaayyyyyyeeeee!!" Rewound it a couple times (no shame) just to hear it again. And there's another beat change at 2:52 that the true hip-hop community gon' preshate!


Track 4: Flex
Takeaway Lyrics: "I ain't gotta flex, I ain't gotta flex / Really gettin' wins but I ain't gott flex / When you know you got it, and you know who God is, you ain't gotta flex"

Obviously, from all that's being said on this track, Swoope is a little turned off by those who feel the need to flex (flaunt). He feels like it's unnecessary. Boasting. Parading. Showin' off. Why? When God is our source and who we depend on, HE makes all things possible, and that means HE gets the glory. There's no need to flex...no need to rattle off at the lips about how much money we have, the "things" we've acquired or what we own. Swoope's Message: "Anything I got was given by his purchase (on the cross), I ain't earn it," so I dare not boast about the things His purchase allows me to purchase.


Track 5: Old Me
Takeaway Lyrics: "Been movin' 88 keys a week since I was 15 / Sunday morning special, ebony, and ivories / You can find me with the bands while the choir sings"

Yooooo! The production for this track is SICK! It is a metaphorical masterpiece--lyrics AND music!

The song opens with a funky piano that has that old school, early Harlem Renaissance jazz appeal. It's paired with a real chill hip-hop beat. There's the crackling of an old record player spinning a record, and there's even a jazzy, old school rat tat on a snare drum. And then, if that groove ain't enough for ya, there's the lacing of an old school church choir in the background, perfectly situated between bars. It's all there! It all sets the stage for the message in "Old Me". Everything is thoughtfully set for that "old" flavor so listeners will understand that Swoope is still in touch with who he was, the "choir boy from the hood". He wants listeners to know that who he was has made him who he is; the two are one in the same. He couldn't do what he does now without all of the experience his life of old afforded him.


Track 6: TSNK (Feat. Kareem Manuel)
Takeaway Lyrics: "Can we stop hashtaggin' caskets please."

Trayvon Martin
Michael Brown
Eric Garner
Tamir Rice 
Philando Castile 
Walter Scott
Alton Sterling
Stephon Clark

Swoope mentions only a couple of these black males' names (and Sandra Bland) in the song, but it's clear that they and others, whose names never made it to the news (or this list), are the ones who this song pays homage to. The lyrics are honestly hard for me, a black woman, to listen to, but they're masterful and they hit the heart of what it's meant to black families and the black culture as a whole to lose as many lives as we have to the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve us.

The track opens with a real account (recorded) of police officers gunning a black man down. That account is followed by a rhythmic heartbeat that sets the thread for the beat that will carry the rest the song. Every word Swoope says on this track while that heartbeat backs him up makes me think of every black man who no longer has a heartbeat because it was stopped by a bullet from a blue hand. 


And the gunshot right at the end of the first verse when he says, "Don't shoot!" after that hardcore drive of lyrics in the chorus and the first verse... Man. My heart.


The song ends with an abrupt stop of that heartbeat. Just like that. It beat the whole song long and then, almost without warning, it's gone. Paints too real a picture. 


Track 7: Way Up
Takeaway Lyrics: "We wasn't supposed to make it but we still alive / When they tried to take it can't steal the light / And we finna go live another life / 'Cause when He come back down it's goin' way up, up, up"

The message here is the joy of eternal life. Life doesn't end at death for those who are in Christ Jesus. We go "waaaaay up, up, up" to live eternally with Him.


Track 8: Black Boy

The instrumentation in this song is probably the most intentional of the whole album. The piano in this song is on assignment, hear me? And my red pen gives it an A+!  We hear the piano in the beginning, and it sets the tone for the serious conversation that Swoope, the father figure in the song, is having with his son. He talks life with him and covers quite a few subjects, just the way that all black men have to do with their black sons. He reminds his son that the world is his because his Father (God) gave it to him and gave him the keys to help him unlock doors that no man will be able to close. And just like in "Never Left",  the piano is pushed to the background and the smooth, very gentle hip-hop beat is in the foreground because the son is still a boy. This part of the song has his youthful flavor, but the elegance of the piano keeps the talk focused and gives it the tone of seriousness that it needs.

As the song progresses, the piano is more sophisticated and its melody more advanced. To put it plainly, the keys are straight KILLIN' at this point in the song! I had to play the song back a few times to listen to the lyrics in this section because I was too busy gawking at how the keys were movin'. BEAUTIFUL! Swoope begins to speak to the black man; the boy's all grown up now. Swoope acknowledges that the young man has had life throw him a few curve balls, but he reminds him that he's still a child of the King and the world is still his. He reminds him that God doesn't change and he encourages him to continue to look to God.


Track 9: You Got Me (feat. Taelor Gray)
Takeaway Lyrics: You hear me every time I call on ya/ No matter how big or small bet it all on You/ I know I be trippin' but I fall on ya/ I bet it all on ya/ I know ya, I know ya, I know ya got me / I know ya got me

The Message: God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). That's His promise. Swoope reminds listeners that we don't even deserve for God to "catch me when I fall", but He still does. There's no problem too big or too small for Him. He's got us!

The old school choir that we heard in "Shine" and  "Old Me" is back to open this song. They say, "You hear me eeeeev'ry tii-ime I praaaay." I'm tellin' ya! It's the perfect opener and we hear them in the background throughout the song too.

This song is a full production!


Track 10: Shining Down
Takeaway Lyrics: "Rain falls, pain comes / I'll be alright if Your light is shining / Rain falls, pain comes / I'll be alright with Your light inside of me"

When I heard this song for the first time and that choir came in at 3:51, I 'bout lost my natural mind!   And they sAngin'! And when they sAngin', I'm sAngin' to the top of my lungs, EVERY time. Ha!

Every choir we hear on the album before now has that old school, antiquated sound (except "Shine"). This choir is all up in the microphones. They're clear, crisp, and bright--shining like the sun, and shining for the Son. They belt out those lyrics and tell us that we're alright because He's shining on us and in us. There's nothing left to say after the choir modulates one time and closes the song on a high note.


Track 11: All the Time
Takeaway Lyrics: "God is gooood, all the time"

Any questions?




Next Up: I've got a few things to say about Snoop Dogg's Bible of Love.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Are You Withering?

My pastor said something in his sermon today that took me back to what the Lord had been stirring in my heart all week. Lately, my heart has been breaking for people who were once on fire for the Lord but aren't even lukewarm now. They're beyond having one foot in and one foot out of their walk with God. Their spiritual thermostat is set to COLD. They don't hunger for the things of God like they used to. They don't study God's word anymore. They don't fellowship with believers. They rarely (or never) attend church. And it shows up in every area of their lives. It's evident in everything they say and do that they haven't "been with" the Lord. Some even try to mask it, but there's no cover up for a heart that is distant from God.

When Pastor made reference to a very familiar passage of scripture, I could hear the words for this blog being written in my spirit. The tears began to fall, and I couldn't help but pray, at that very moment, for those who I know have lost their hunger for the things of God and have turned COLD.

Pastor referenced John 15:4-6a.  It reads, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you , unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered..."




Then he asked, "Have you ever seen a branch broken off from its tree?

He continued, "When it's broken off from its tree, the leaves (the fruit) will stay green for a little while, but it won't be long before they're brown and withering because they've been cut off from their source. The branch needs to be connected to the tree, its life-giving source, in order for its leaves to thrive."

Just hearing the explanation made my heart break all over again because I've seen it time after time. Someone stops walking closely with the Lord, and for a little while, they still talk the talk of a Christian. They still walk the walk of a Christian. They can still carry on conversation that says they know Christ, but it's never long before their "leaves start to wither" because they're not getting what they need from the life-giving source.

When they're disconnected from the source, they're easily angered. They're negative. They're unproductive and unmotivated. They even slip back into the talk and the behavior from their lives before Christ. Eventually, they begin to struggle within themselves. They want to still look like Christ, but they're not feeding themselves the things they need to continue to look like Him. There's a constant battle within them where their minds are telling them what they know they need to do to stay connected to the vine, but their actions doesn't follow through. And before they know it, they've gotten comfortable. The battle within them loses steam. They lose the desire to fight anymore. The hunger to do the things of God isn't as loud anymore, so they begin to fall into the cycle of life that pushes them further and further away from God. And they begin to live there.

There's no way they'll be able to survive in Christ without being connected to Him. They won't bear fruit that reflects Him if they're not feeding from His vine.

Because this has been so heavy on my heart all week, the Lord led me to different passages of scripture so I could pray.  This scripture stood out and replayed in my spirit more than anything else did throughout the week. 

"Those who are far from you will perish..." Psalm 73:27 a

Psalm 73 is a cry out from someone whose focus was on others instead of being on the Lord. This someone saw that the wicked were advancing with wealth and that they had no worries or cares, and he envied that. For a minute, he wanted to stop serving the Lord because in his service to the Lord, he wasn't getting what the wicked were getting. He thought his service to the Lord must have surely been in vain because there was nothing to show for it. But then, when he "entered the sanctuary of God", he got a closer look at the fate of the wicked. They had wealth and possessions, and they had big fun, but those were momentary pleasures. The writer of this psalm realized that the wicked were on slippery ground and that their "big fun" wouldn't last. If they weren't serving the Lord, they didn't have anything and WOULD NOT have anything.

Psalm 73:27 b says, "...you destroy all who are unfaithful to you."

The writer was reminded that a life with "enjoyment" outside of the will of God is momentary. He was reminded that "it is good to be near to God."


Is This You?
I wrote all of this to simply say, your leaves have withered. Your branch has been disconnected from the vine for too long and you're not thriving. Get connected! He longs for you to draw near to Him. He wants to give you what you need to live, and to live IN HIM. You're not so far gone that He can't love you back to Him. You'll never be too far for Him to love you back to Him.

Connect.

Apart from the vine, you can do nothing.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day, Schmather's Day...


I'm not extremely celebratory when it comes to holidays and birthdays. I'm far from being the Grinch, but I'm definitely not offended by not receiving gifts, or by someone forgetting to wish me a Happy "This" or a Merry "That". I'm chill when it comes to all that. I understand, however, that there are people in my life who view holidays and birthdays through a different lens. Receiving gifts and hearing Happy "This" or Merry "That" is important to them. My biological father, for instance, is one. He likes to know that he's not forgotten on specially marked days on the calendar, so I make it my business to call him.

Especially on Father's Day.

Throughout the years, God has shown me that I can feel how I feel and maintain my personal convictions while still extending love to others in the way they understand and receive it. So, even though I could've gone all day without saying a word, I didn't. I made sure my first phone call today was to him. He beamed with excitement! I didn't even have much else to say beyond Happy Father's Day. Sure, we had our usual conversation about what's going on and how we're doing, but because we talk often enough, and in this case, not too long before today's call, saying Happy Father's Day was just a formality.

Then, still out of formality, I called my stepfather, the one who raised me, and wished him a Happy Father's Day. He and I are pretty much the same with holidays. We can, or we can't and we'll still be fine. He was grateful that I'd taken the time to call and talk to him, but our relationship is so much more than just today that our conversation was pretty blasé.



The whole time I was in those conversations with my dads, all I could think about was how badly I wanted to talk to my mom. And I didn't want to talk to her because I wanted to acknowledge her as "the father" in my life. I definitely ain't 'bout that foolishness (ebonics and all)! I have TWO dads, for crying out loud! I wanted to talk to her because for the past few days, the Lord had been stirring up some words in my heart for me to share with her. I would've probably been calling her in the next few hours anyway, so when I finished my short talk with my stepdad, I asked him to pass the phone to my mom. I had to give her the Hallmark card that the Lord had written on my heart, regardless of it being "Father's Day".

You see, lately, I've been pretty heartbroken as a mentor. I've been experiencing the pain that comes with "mothering" and loving someone so deeply and wanting the best for them so much that it hurts. It hurts a mother when her children make wrong choices. It hurts when they get their hearts broken. It hurts when they're in tough situations that they can't be rescued from. It just hurts. And the most recent hurt for me has been learning that many of my girls have strained relationships with their mothers. They argue and fight with their mothers. They intentionally exclude their mothers from their lives; they don't want to have anything to do with them. They love their mothers, I know, but for whatever reason, at the same time, they can't stand them. And I have NO IDEA what that's like. I had to call my mom and thank her for me not knowing the ins and outs of this type of "love".



From the moment I stepped into true adulthood at the age of 23, with my own home, bills and responsibilities, I've been calling my mom and thanking her. Every now and then, the Lord would (and still does) show me how much she sacrificed for my siblings and me when we were growing up. He would show me something she said or did and remind me just how much those things are for me NOW.  In fact, it's for me more NOW than it was then. I've thanked her for so much over the years that I feel like she may be getting tired of hearing my many thanks, but when the Lord tells me to call her, I do, even if it is on "Father's Day".

Even as a teenager, when I didn't like everything my mother said, and when I didn't like that she punished me or took things away from me, I understood, as young as I was, that EVERYTHING she did was for my good. I never questioned it. There was something in me that knew if she was being hard on me (and she was), it was making me better. I never argued (because I would've died), and I never rebelled. I didn't like a lot of it, but I knew she loved me and I knew she was serious about making me responsible, dependable, respectful, and adaptable, among other things.

I called to thank my mom for being tough on me and for teaching me through EVERYTHING she said and did. I thanked her for making it so I would never know what it's like to hate her because her love wouldn't let it be so. I thanked her over and over again.

I had nothing profound to say to either of my dads. Not today. I didn't "prepare" for this holiday. Today, God gave me a word for my mama, and I wasn't shuttin' it off just cuz it's "Father's Day" or because I "should have" something special for my dads. The way the Lord works, I may have a word for both of my dads on "Mother's Day", and without question, regardless of what day the calendar says it is, I'll say what He tells me to say to whomever on whatever day. Shoooo...the way I see it, every day is "Father's and Mother's Day".  At least for me, today sure proved to be.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Meet Chef Destini!



It all started with a writing assignment I gave my 6th graders...

One of the vocabulary words in one of our units of study was enterprising. I always explain to my students that they have natural gifts and talents, and that those gifts and talents are designed to be used to help others who need what they have. I always tell them to pay attention to what they do well and to key in on how it's connected to what they like to do and/or have a passion for. They learned from our very short study of young entrepreneurs that they, too, can be enterprising. They learned that they, too, can be entrepreneurs.



I decided, in the middle of that unit, to give them the following topic as one of the Quick Writes for the week.

Everyone has something that they do exceptionally well, something that they just have the natural ability to do. What is that thing for you? How can you use that to help you become enterprising?

Their responses blew my mind! They had so much to say, and there were some AMAZING ideas! I was so moved by how in tune they were with their gifts and talents, and I was floored at their ability to articulate how they could help others with what they have to offer, so I decided to take a couple of their Quick Writes and post them on my social media outlets. I was just so proud! I would've never imagined that what took place thereafter would have been so.



When I posted Destini's Quick Write, one of my college friends, Chef Ederique Goudia, who is a chef in Detroit, sent me a message. She was moved by Destini's pure desire to use her gift with cooking to help others, so she wanted to be a blessing to Destini and assist her in reaching her dream. One thing Chef Ederique knew for sure was that she wanted to don Destini with her first chef coat. I was stunned!

Throughout the next few days, Chef Ederique and I were texting, e-mailing and talking on the phone, panning out the details of what she wanted Destini to have. Chef Ederique wasn't satisfied with just making sure that Destini had her PERSONALIZED chef coat, but she wanted her to be encouraged by other chefs so she won't lose sight of her dream. Chef Ederique reached out to other chefs in the Detroit area, shared Destini's Quick Write with them, and gave those chefs the opportunity to be a blessing to Destini too. Not only did the chefs give Destini "cooking gifts", but they showered her with letters of encouragement.

Once all of the details were etched in stone, Chef Ederique gathered all the goodies from the other chefs and sent 3 packages to me. I, in the meantime, was on the phone with Destini's mother planning a presentation for Destini. I knew I wanted it to be during the school day in Destini's class so her classmates could see and be encouraged to believe in whatever they mentioned in their Quick Writes, and whatever else was in their hearts that never even made it to their papers. Destini's mom made it her business to leave work for a couple hours to be in my classroom to witness Destini being coated and to share in that special moment with her.

Watch the presentation here:Way to Go, Chef Destini!

Destini not only has her first chef coat, but she has cutting boards a set of knives (that we were sure to put in her mom's hands to take straight home), t-shirts from Detroit restaurants and letters of encouragement. Chef Ederique has even offered to be Destini's distant mentor and has encouraged her to reach out any time.




The students were motivated by the presentation. We had talks afterward about how they could use what they're naturally gifted with. Seeing Desitini's dream up close and personal triggered something in them. Still, I encourage them to focus on what's already in their hands. I may not be able to tell them that God created them to use the gifts He's placed inside of them, but I never miss an opportunity to tell them that they were created to be great, and that they can do that by simply tapping into who they already are.

Way to go, Chef Destini!

I'm already looking forward to my dinner date with Chef Ederique at Destini's Cafe` one day in the very promising future.