Wednesday, August 15, 2018

My Best Friend's Wedding

I'll never forget how I cried a river when my best friend got married. I was excited and grateful and hurt all at the same time. She'll be the first to tell you that I was a HOT MESS, and that's only what she actually saw of my crying. What she saw before and during the ceremony was only the beginning. It was after the ceremony that I experienced one of the hardest breaking aways that I've endured in my life.

After crying my eyes out and FINALLY getting myself together

In the Beginning
Chantel and I met maybe a year after I gave my life to the Lord. Although I'd had really close friends before her, she was the friend that I grew in Christ with. We learned a lot about walking with the Lord together. We learned how to study His word together. We made tough decisions that caused us to say "no" to ungodliness and "yes" to righteousness, together. She "called me out" when I was in an unfruitful relationship and "told me about myself" (neck roll and all) when I wasn't reflecting Christ with my actions. And I did the same for her.


We lived in different states, miles and miles apart, and saw each other a couple times a year, but what God had built in us was a friendship that was anchored in Him. We were (and are) accountable to one another, and she is someone I will always associate with my growth in Christ. When I think about those baby steps I took in my first 2 years with the Lord, Chantel was there, "holding my hand".  And one day, just like that, I had to loosen my grip.

Seasons Change

When I knew Chantel would be getting married (she married someone who was one of my closest guy friends at that time), the Lord began to prepare my heart to understand what was about to happen. From the time we became friends, Chantel and I would talk on the phone pretty regularly. Sometimes we'd talk for hours. I don't know how we did this in college, but we did. The same was true for her husband, Antoine. Sometimes he and I would chop it up on the phone for hours too. Then, they started talking less to me and more to each other. I knew something was going on before the two of them did, but when the light came on and they learned that there was something special between them, there was no turning back. 

It was at that time, with one very memorable phone conversation between Chantel and me, that the Lord said, "This is it."  He was preparing me to lose my friends. He was showing me that I wouldn't be able to talk to them as much because they were laying the foundation for what would be their union--the two becoming one. He stretched my patience and curbed my selfishness because there were moments I wanted to have Chantel's time and attention to talk and kick it like we'd done before, but many times when I wanted that, her time and attention was with Antoine. And when I knew that things were serious, out of respect for what was happening, no matter how cool Antoine and I were, and how much Chantel knew that, I backed off of how much he and I talked. If I needed to get anything to him, I sent it through Chantel. It took a few years of them building what would eventually become the marriage they have now, so I had plenty of time to grow into a pretty comfortable acceptance of our new way of being.

And Then It Was Over

He proposed. She said yes. She asked me to be in the wedding. I said yes. We planned and prepared, and for months, talked about what was to come. Then, that weekend in April 2006 was upon us. I was fine that Friday when all of the final plans were being put into play. As long as we were working and she and I were side by side, I was good. Even that Saturday morning, the day of the wedding, I was okay. With all the hustle and bustle from the hotel to the church, who had time to think about the actual ceremony? It wasn't until we were in the bridal waiting room at the church and the photographer came in to snap our pictures that out of nowhere, a burst of emotion swelled up on the inside of me and flew from my body in a hiccupping cry. And it was uncontrollable. I couldn't even contain myself, and there was no comforting me.

I didn't realize it then, but I knew I was having a release that said, "I won't have my friend anymore...not like I had her before. She's always my friend, but her first priority is now her husband." And it hurt. I was so excited for the two of them to be together. Lord knows I didn't want either one of them to be with anyone else. They're PERFECT for each other! But boy was it hard to "give my friend away". And it never got any easier.

Life Began Again

A few years after they wed, Chantel and Antoine welcomed their son, Asa, into the world, and soon thereafter, their daughter, Avery.


Their family grew quickly, and of course, that meant Chantel was pulled into many different directions. I LOVED seeing her as a wife and mother whenever I'd visit, and God always used those visits to remind me that Chantel's first ministry is her family and her home. She and I would set up phone dates to talk and pray, and we'd have our trips planned for her to either come to me, or for me to go to her, and we'd have the most precious time. Chantel was always intentional about maintaining our relationship, but life, naturally, just doesn't allow us to have as much time as we used to.

The Hard Truth

There are times when I only want to talk to Chantel. I have other friends. I have family. And before and above any of them, I have God by way of the Holy Spirit. There are things, however, that no one else knows. There's this me that no one else understands. And sometimes, outside of our scheduled phone dates, I just simply want to talk to my friend. 

Sometimes, I'll shoot her a text, and it'll get a response days later. Sometimes, I don't get a response at all. The same goes with phone calls. And Lord, don't let me send a Glide to the person who convinced me to start Gliding in the first place. I dun' gave that up! And most times, because God prepared my heart and mind years and years ago, I don't even sweat it. I know what's up on the other end. She's been apologetic on so many occasions, but I assure her that the Lord comforts my heart when I can't talk to her or when she doesn't respond. Most times, when I don't get a response from her, it reminds me to pray for her and for all she juggles at home and at work. There are days, though, when I want to have a fit because I just want her to pick up and talk for a couple minutes. And there are times when I send a simple question that doesn't require much thought or time for her to respond, and when she doesn't answer, I swear I wanna hop a plane and get to where she is and make her answer me. And I've been hurt sometimes when she doesn't say anything. I've had thoughts like, "Why doesn't she care like I care? Doesn't she know how it feels to be ignored?" I've thrown fits. And I've told myself a couple times that when she calls or texts me, I'm not gon' respond. I'm gon' ignore her too and leave her hangin' in the wind. But I never can because love doesn't do that.

A Love That Speaks

I was having one of those moments when I was just ready to ignore Chantel because it had been a while since we'd spoken. I had sent a text or two that she hadn't responded to and it had been over a week. I'd called once, too,  maybe a couple weeks prior to this "moment" I was having. I'd been telling myself that if she called or texted, I wouldn't respond.

And then one day she called.

I was at work and on my planning period (I'm a teacher). Normally, I'm all over the place during my planning period. I'm in the office, I'm making copies, I'm making phone calls, I'm meeting with parents, I'm grading papers... It's a busy time, and this day was no different. I'd left my classroom to do one of the above mentioned tasks, and when I returned to my desk, I saw that I'd missed Chantel's call by 2 minutes. I was SO excited to see her missed call that all the craziness about ignoring her went out the window. Ha!

I immediately called her back, hoping that she hadn't gotten busy in those 2 minutes, because it has certainly happened before! I let the phone ring until her voicemail picked up, and when it did, I said, "Noooooo! Nooooo! Nooooo!"

I plopped down in my chair and felt like the Atlanta Falcons must've felt when they were up in the Super Bowl and allowed the other team to gain over 20 points in 1 quarter to win the game and snatch the win. I was finally about to get to talk to my friend, and I missed her, and I realized at that moment that  I would've been okay with just hearing from her. We wouldn't have had to talk about anything major; I was okay just knowing she cared enough to take a moment out of her day to talk to me.

And then the Lord spoke.

He said, "Iantha, this is how my heart feels when you "call" to talk to me. The excitement you felt when you saw Chantel had thought about you is the same excitement I feel when you come to talk to me. And oh how quickly you called back! That's what I do! I run to you. And when I wait for you to "call" me and you don't, I feel that too. I feel the same way you feel when Chantel doesn't call. All the while, all I really want is to hear from you. I just want to know that you cared enough about us to take a moment out of your day to talk to me. I really just want to hear your voice. I think about all of the foundation that's laid in our relationship, and I think about how close we are and how I know things that no one else knows. I think about how you can only share those things with me. And that's all I want. I just want you to share those things with me."

Talk about embarrassing, yet amazingly refreshing!

There are times when I'm the Chantel in my relationship with the Lord. He literally sits there and waits for me and drops EVERYTHING to take my call. I get busy with home. I get busy with school. I get busy with church. I get busy with Praise Movement. And although I want to talk to Him, there's so much in front of me to take care of that I don't stop to "respond to His call" or "answer His text" (that tugging in my heart).  I think He, too, grows tired of waiting sometimes. And I know it hurts His heart, but the moment I run to Him, he can't ignore me. Even if he wants to stay silent, He finds himself running to be there to hear what  I have to say because He loves me so much. He's too vested in who we are, and really, he just wants to hear my voice. He just wants to hear yours too.

Will you "pick up the phone" and call Him today?

This blog post is the Day 10 istallment of a 14-Day Journey to Hearing from God. Consider joining the journey here: Introduction: A 14-Day Journey to Hearing from God

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 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.