Refining On Purpose

For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.” (Psalms 66:10 NKJV)

I was talking to my husband recently about the purpose of the trials in our lives that feel like we’re walking “through the fire.” Did you know that fire is often a necessary step in the refining process? For example, gold is heated to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit in order to make it 99.999% pure (or 24K for the Bruno Mars fans), while steel requires high temperatures in order to strengthen it for use.

One of the most compelling stories in the Bible about being tried by fire is Job’s. Job was a righteous man that God brought to the devil’s attention:

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job‬ ‭1:8‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

Job lost his children, his wealth and his health, but viewed it all as part of God’s refining:

Then Job answered and said:
“Even today my complaint is bitter;
My hand is listless because of my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find Him,
That I might come to His seat!
I would present my case before Him,
And fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know the words which He would answer me,
And understand what He would say to me.
Would He contend with me in His great power?
No! But He would take note of me.
There the upright could reason with Him,
And I would be delivered forever from my Judge.

Look, I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.
But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
 
(Job 23:1-10)

The refining or the testing is not made to break you, but to build and strengthen you for God’s purpose, and to show God’s glory in you as his representative on earth.

This was especially true in the case of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when the king required his subjects in Babylon to worship an idol. Their response not only demonstrated their faith in God, but God used their trial to demonstrate His majesty:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 NKJV)
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“Therefore I (the king) make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.” (Daniel 3:29 NKJV)
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Every “refining” experience of mine was difficult and often painful, but necessary in hindsight because it prepared me for the next part of my God-ordained journey. And while I know that refining is often part of the process, being in the fire is still never easy or fun. However, when I reflect on the lessons learned and the strength I’ve gained, I’m humbled. And when I recall the glory God receives when I respond to the question, “How are you bearing up under that?!” and I respond,”God’s grace,” then all I can be is thankful for my “refining on purpose.”

 

When You’ve Done All You Can… Stand

I have heard the statement over the years, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” This is usually meant to suggest that, at different points in life, you will be required to “take a stand” or declare your position on something even when it is difficult and may cost you something like family, friends, popularity, status, credibility, etc.

I can recall several times in my life when I was required to make a decision as to whether I should or could stand, and if I was willing to pay the price either way. (This is a good place to remind you that every stand taken or not has a price associated with it.)

As a teenager, my first major stand was to confront my boyfriend, who I had allowed to physically abuse me for several years. I’ve often recounted that the choice was to continue to be abused or to stand up to him with the possibility that he could kill me. I chose to stand because to remain battered was no longer an option — my future was worth the risk of death.

My second major stand was the decision to release myself from an unhappy marriage, even though I had vowed never to divorce as my parents had. My ex-husband is a great person, but we married for all of the wrong reasons. It took my having a mental breakdown to confront myself and him with my newfound knowledge that life was too short to waste it on unhappiness when I had the ability to choose differently. Because of that stand, I went on to marry my solemate and best friend 32 years ago.

Other instances in my life that I’ve taken a stand have at times given me notoriety (or infamy, depending upon the person telling the story), but I was willing to go through the process, whatever the outcome, because I believed that the cause was worth it.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that it’s important to me to take a stand when it allows me to give a voice to those who feel they can’t be heard or when it’s necessary to “speak truth to power” — real or perceived– because to do less makes me part of the problem rather than a contributor to a solution.

In the final analysis, I have learned to take the advice of Donnie McClurkin, one of my favorite gospel artists:

STAND

What do you do,
When you’ve done all you can and it seems like it’s never enough?
And, what do you say when your friends turn away and you’re all alone?
Tell me, what do you give,
When you’ve given your all and it seems like you can’t make it through?
Well, you just stand, when there’s nothing left to do,
You just stand, watch the LORD see you through.
Yes, after you’ve done all you can, you just stand!

How Do You Measure A Year in Your Life?

I recently looked at my blog and realized that I hadn’t written anything in over a year. I was amazed!! But, I’ve learned that I can only write when God inspires me. So, after more than 15 months of silence, I heard in my spirit, “How do you measure a year in your life?”

This simple question was prompted by a song from the Broadway and movie musical Rent entitled Seasons of Love. These are the lyrics that inspire me:

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure – measure a year?
In daylights – in sunsets
In midnights – in cups of coffee
In inches – in miles
In laughter – in strife
In – five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure
A year in the life

I’ve written about my journey from darkness to relevance, from questioning God to a deeper understanding of myself in relation to God, and a recognition that God truly does “work everything together for my good” (Romans 8:28) when I trust Him.

This has been especially true in the past year; I’ve had amazing experiences — some great and others that were heart and soul wrenching and demonstrated that My definition of friendship may be significantly different from someone else’s.

The year has also been eye-opening in learning the depth of my conviction and willingness to risk when, by conventional wisdom, it would be easier to walk away.

The question that kept popping up was, “What is my soul worth?”

Is it worth betraying my faith in God’s ability to right wrongs and to bring me out of a nightmare when I don’t see an end to the madness and only hear Him say “trust Me?”

Is it worth continually standing up to bullies in friend’s clothing, whose mouths say one thing and their behavior another?

Is it worth reminding God of His promise to fight my battles and to hold on even though the war appeared to be lost?

Or is it worth standing still, being prayerful and asking for wisdom like King Solomon to ensure that God gets the glory when it’s all said and done?

The Year found me constantly asking God for guidance, direction, vindication, strength and wisdom. With every prayer — whether answered immediately or still pending — God demonstrated His faithfulness in a whispered comment that gave me a different perspective or a catalytic idea that propelled me forward.

I’m sure there are lots of things that would be good measures of my year, but let me identify the ones that were the most impactful:

  • I didn’t fully know who I was and what I believed until I was tested — this was where “walking my talk” took on real meaning.
  • Faith in God is more than a scripture or slogan, it’s the foundation of everything I will do for God and that He will do for me. However, I don’t believe that God requires that I have perfect faith, otherwise I would constantly disappoint Him. But, I do believe He wants my heart to be open to Him; He doesn’t require me to be anything but a human who loves and wants to serve Him…faults and all, even when I’m unsure.
  • Seasons come and go and this includes relationships. Instead of trying to hold on to something (or someone) that has outlasted its season, it’s always better for me to bless and release whatever or whomever’s season is fast approaching an end.
  • Sometimes I’ve had to stand up when it would have been much easier to lie down…but my spirit wouldn’t let me. Another way of saying this is, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything!” (Alexander Hamilton)
  • When lights are turned on in a house, things that live in the dark have no place to hide.
  • Good soldiers are battle tested — these are the ones I want with me in war because they hold themselves, each other and me accountable in the victory.
  • A lie told a thousand different ways is still a lie.
  • Truth is truth — whether it pertains to me as a person or a difficult situation. The truth will eventually have the final word.

So, how did I measure the Year? As the song in Rent goes, 525,600 minutes of What??!! and Wow!!!

 

God’s Heart Versus His Hand

I’ve been quiet for several months in my transition to my new job heading one of the largest nonprofit organizations of its type in our state. The road here has taken many twists and turns; most totally unexpected, but absolutely necessary.

I’ve recounted in many of my blogs the soul crushing experiences of the past two and a half years, where my faith took a major hit — I couldn’t talk to God and was pretty certain that our relationship would never be the same. I remember telling God on more than one occasion, “I love you, but I can’t talk to you right now. I’m hurt, confused and am really not happy with you.” I knew God understood my complaints and my feelings because the Bible says that God knows our thoughts from far away (Psalm 139:2). I tried to hold on to the hope that like Joseph (who was sold into slavery by his brothers only to become Pharaoh’s Deputy), whatever negative things happened, God would turn it into something good…I just didn’t know when.

I have to admit that at different points in the journey, everything that could go wrong did. I cried out to God, “Where are you?” “Why have you forsaken me?” I understood in a real way how Jesus must have felt hanging on the cross; knowing it was His destiny, but not wanting to go through the agony to get there. It was heart wrenching!

Two things kept popping into my mind, though: the first was the song by Babbie Mason that talked about trusting God’s heart when you don’t see His Hand (see YouTube below).

The chorus goes:

All things work for our good
Though sometimes we can’t
See how they could
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth

Our Father knows what’s best for us
His ways are not our own
So when your pathway grows dim
And you just can’t see Him,
Remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His Heart

The second was the Footprints poem:

The Footprints Prayer

One night I had a dream…

I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before us, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life, There was only one set of footprints.

I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, You would walk with me all the way; But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, There is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why in times when I needed you the most, you should leave me.

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child. I love you, and I would never, never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.

It was only near the end of this “backside of the mountain” experience did I come to understand that God really had a plan for the pain and setbacks — He used every experience to prepare me to lead an organization that ministers to people who are often hurting and in need of help. Without the struggles of the past two and a half years, I would not have fully appreciated or understood what it means to have “life happen” to the point where you can’t tell which way is up! Because of the struggle, I now have a genuine passion to help people, not that I didn’t before, but now it’s extremely personal. I’ve told others that it’s the difference between being sympathetic and empathetic: sympathy says I understand your problem; empathy says I’ve been there and know how it feels.

God knew that at the end of my “dark night of the soul” experience was waiting a much larger ministry that would require a closer walk with Him that only comes through trials and heartache. I wish it wasn’t necessary, but the experience definitely allowed me to see God and myself much more clearly, and to gain a greater appreciation for who and what really matters. I lost a few people along the way and gained an authentic self that is fully persuaded that I’m operating in my call and walking in my destiny.

So, when your life turns upside down and you’re wondering where God is, remember that you may not always see His hand in the mess, but you have to trust that His heart is with you preparing you for His purpose.
 Can you hear it beating?

 

 

 

To Me Or For Me?

I have been privileged to write a blog since 2012 when I began my journey from a life that was fairly predictable to one that was anything but. Like a roller coaster, the turns and twists of life were exciting and nauseating, and the highs and lows were fear inducing and, on occasion, faith shattering. In fact, I have said to many people recently that this has been a “dark night of the soul” experience.

The Dark Night of the Soul is a poem that was penned by St. John of the Cross in 1578 or 1579 and it describes the journey one’s soul takes from the body to be in union with God. The phrase has become synonymous with being plunged into spiritual crisis.

I willingly admit that I have been extremely angry with God (He can handle it!) for a number of things that I expected to happen or that didn’t happen on my timetable; so much so that I couldn’t pray for months because I convinced myself that God wasn’t listening to me anyway, so why bother? This reminded me of when I was young in my faith; I wouldn’t speak to God for a long time because of something I thought that He should or shouldn’t have allowed to happen to me. But, as I grew in understanding, I just assumed that, while bad things happen to good people and to those who are striving to be good, I had immunity from the devastating stuff simply because God and I were on good terms. Little did I know that being on good terms with God, especially when you sincerely ask Him to use your life, may mean the worst is yet to come!

I have recounted in several posts the past two-year journey of putting a music museum together and the triumphs and trials associated with the process. I was certain that I was called to do it, but the outcome was extremely disappointing. I returned to my home town having been severely tested on every front imaginable. At various points, I cried out to God and said, “Are you mad at me?” “Did I misunderstand?” and “Can you still hear me?” At every turn during this odyssey, the response was that God was with me and that this journey was His plan for me. God also reminded me that in order for Him to release our gifts and anointing, like flowers for perfume, we must go through a “crushing” period. I truly understand in a way that I couldn’t before this experience Jesus’ statement to His Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me, but not as I will, thy will be done” (Luke 22:42).

I prayed and waited, and waited and prayed for God to work things out to my satisfaction, but each time, the situation took another turn that appeared to be in the wrong direction; instead of bringing me closer to what I thought the end would be, it took me farther away! The price of obedience was higher than any I had paid in the past.

I felt horrible that my faith had been all but shattered and that I no longer saw God as my loving guide and my protector, but rather as someone who allowed me to be hurt and victimized as I had during my teen years. I couldn’t reconcile the God that I served with the bully that I had made Him to be. Throughout this time, I kept hearing in my spirit and from various ministers that this part of the journey was preparation for something bigger and better. Like Joseph in the Bible, who was elevated to prime minister years after his brothers sold him into slavery, I have come to appreciate his triumphant statement that what his brothers meant for evil, God intended for his good (Genesis 50:20).

So, for the first time in several months, I am able to pray with a newfound understanding that God did not allow those things to happen to me, He did them for me so that I might know Him– and myself– in a more intimate way during my soul’s “dark night.”

 

Have you Hit a “Redirecting” Wall?

I was talking to my husband recently recounting the times when my life hit a wall and how God used that to redirect my steps. I’ve had many redirecting walls in my life. Several are particularly memorable:

Wall #1: I distinctly recall when my mother made the decision that it was better to be single and raise three girls under the age of 12 than to stay in an abusive marriage. We eventually moved into a nice house in an area that had seen better days. In fact, our street was at the end of a fairly steep hill; as I walked down to our house, it felt like I was entering another world. It was a little depressing. But, the move caused me to be introduced to the first teacher who made me feel like I could achieve anything with hard work and perseverance. Her name is Mrs. Mattie Stephens. She inspired in me a love of learning.

Wall #2: We then moved to a nicer area because my mom, wanting a better life for us, decided to marry someone who promised to “put a roof over our heads,” which he did. The only problem was that he was an alcoholic. Those years were extremely turbulent; we never knew what “my mother’s husband” (I refused to call him my step-father) would do on a daily basis. I found solace in the library. Through books, I could travel beyond my neighborhood and pursue any profession I chose simply because I could “see” it in the books I read. Those days, weeks, months and years curled up in the library and at home in books gave me a vision for a yet-to-be-revealed future.

Wall #3: I did not do well in math in high school because of a decision I made in response to an ignorant comment by my 10th grade math teacher. Instead of rising to his challenge, I shrunk, which resulted in my refusing to learn anything else from him. Consequently, my report card had “A’s” in every course, except math, where I consistently earned a “D.” My struggles in math caused me to work very closely with the Chair of the Math Department, Mrs. Lelia McBath, who forced me to complete all of the classes that I would require for college regardless of the grades I received. I hated it, but I trusted her, so I kept taking the classes. When I received my “flush” letter from the college that I did not get in, Mrs. McBath contacted them and said that they were making a mistake; she said that I was exactly the kind of student they needed. Because of her, they interviewed and admitted me. I have earned three degrees from that college because of her support.

Wall #4: I was admitted to college with the intent of becoming a surgeon. Here’s the problem: I struggled in every class that was required for medical school; they call it the BCPM – Biology, Chemistry, Physic and Math. In order to be admitted to medical school, your BCPM grade point average is calculated and reported. So, here I was in college trying to pursue the only dream that kept me moving forward through my own abusive relationship that carried over into my freshman year and a failing marriage in my sophomore year (let’s just say that I made a lot of bad decisions in a very short period of time). I felt like a boat adrift because I was not having success where I thought I would, and I didn’t have a “B” plan if it didn’t work out. Fortunately, I had to fulfill certain general requirements, one of those was in global studies. There were several courses that I could take to fulfill the requirement, but I chose anthropology. I walked into the class, met my professor Dr. Charles Callendar, and fell in love with the subject! I let my passion lead me to a Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D. in Anthropology.

Wall #5: I had been working for my college for almost two decades when the administration changed dramatically; I found myself having to constantly renegotiate expectations because I was assigned three different supervisors in 18 months. Things got so bad, that I became embarrassed to represent or be associated with the institution that I truly loved. I cried out to God and asked Him to deliver me from the bondage that I felt. The next thing I heard in prayer was, “Get ready to move.” I assumed God was going to take me out of that situation by moving me to another part of the university, but He moved me to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, where I learned a great deal about effective nonprofit management and planning through my former boss Terry Stewart and my colleagues.

Wall #6: Since 2014, I have recounted my experiences with developing a music museum and the ups and downs inherent in a process of taking something from vision to reality. I thought this wall was catastrophic, in that my faith was tried to the breaking point. I questioned God wondering if I heard him correctly or if I misunderstood. At every question, the response I heard in prayer was, no, I was not mistaken; this part of my journey was divinely ordained. I must admit, though, that divinely ordained or not, it hurt more than I can possibly explain in writing! And, since God knows my heart and thoughts and I promised to be honest with Him…I hope never to experience again! Being a little farther down this road now, I am learning that it was all a set-up for something greater!

God has had me look at all of the times when things that I thought were walls were really times when he got me to meet people and experience things that were important to my future. I saw them as obstacles, but God knew they were divinely orchestrated periods of preparation.

Are you hitting walls not knowing what a next step should be? Maybe they are not walls that are meant to stop you, but “redirecting” walls that God is using to guide you into and to prepare you for your next moment of destiny!

 

 

I’m in the Room

I recently spoke to my cousin, who is pursuing her Doctorate in Pharmacology, about an experience I had a few years ago while participating in a leadership program in Cleveland, Ohio, my home town.

The exercise was part of the diversity module in the program. The instructor had all of the participants line up with our backs against a wall facing another wall. She indicated that she would make certain statements; if they applied to us, we were to step forward as many steps as she indicated for that particular statement. For example , if you graduated high school, you stepped forward once; if college, you took two steps forward. With the rules understood, we all began our march toward the opposite wall.

I was able to take about seven steps before my forward progress was halted because much of what she said did not apply to me. So, with each statement, the gap between me and others in the room widened. In fact, there were four of us closer to the original wall than we were to the opposite wall.

I have to admit that it was very humbling to realize the slow start in life I had compared to so many other people in the program. I literally had to shake off feeling “less than” or inferior to my colleagues. I thank God that in that moment of perceived humiliation, He quickly whispered to me, “But, you’re in the room!”

“I’m in the room! I’m in the room!, ” I yelled in my head. So, it didn’t matter that I didn’t have all of the opportunities that my colleagues had, I still made it to the same program at the same time they did! Wow, what an epiphany: God can place me wherever He wants, whenever He wants and I don’t have to have the same pedigree as everyone else in order to get there! All I have to do is show up and He’ll do the rest! Talk about reframing an experience! It was life changing!

The exercise really helped me understand that, when God has a plan for you, the “facts” don’t matter. What does matter is whether you’re willing to trust Him for the outcome by doing your part: in order to be selected for the leadership program, I had to complete the application and submit recommendations. I was not selected the first time I applied, and I vowed that I wouldn’t apply again. However, the next year, my boss insisted that I reapply. So, had I not followed through, I wouldn’t have been in the program to have that revelation.

This reminds me of one of my favorite “Successories” posters. The poster is of a basketball court. The ball is on the ground with a spotlight on it and the basketball rim with the caption, “You Will Miss 100% Of The Shots You Don’t Take!” I believe that The Lord requires that we take the shot with preparation (e.g., you should know what a ball and hoop are and the dynamics of shooting, etc.) while trusting that God will allow you to make the shot at the appropriate time and place to accomplish His will in your life.

Back to the “room” narrative…six months ago, my husband and I were sitting in a small stately room on the University of Cambridge campus in England to witness our youngest daughter’s graduation with a Masters of Philosphy degree in Latin American Studies. The event was very regal. There were approximately 400 people in the building and we were not allowed to speak or take pictures throughout the ceremony. We witnessed traditions that were centuries old, and all I could think of was how privileged I was: me, who was raised by a hard working mom in a low-income family; abused by a boyfriend, married and divorced in my early 20s, former suicide risk; who started my life over too many times to count, was sitting in England watching my child graduate from Cambridge! It hit me like a ton of bricks: God placed me “in the room” again!

So, in those moments when you compare yourself to your colleagues or others and feel like you don’t measure up for whatever reason, just remember that your credentials and experiences are only part of the equation; God owns the room and He chooses who occupies it!

“Death Becomes Her”*: The Price of Obedience

I attended an event recently and was reacquainted with a phenomenal young woman, who is actively pursuing her purpose in God. I was recounting to her some of my experiences of the last two years, especially being called by God to a place that feels desolate. She said, “God will strip everything away in order for you to die so that He can be glorified in you.” I forgot that!

This is not a new situation to me; I’ve had these kinds of experiences over and over again. Like that time I really wanted to graduate in May and begged God to allow me to do so, and He said, “You have to love and honor me whether I let you graduate in May or not.” I told the Lord that I wanted His will to be done more than I wanted mine. I died to the outcome…I graduated in May.

Or the time I really dedicated my life to The Lord and all hell broke loose; everything that could go wrong did — job, marriage, children, etc. I said, “God, why is all this happening; why aren’t you protecting me?” And He said, “Keep your eyes on me, not the situation.” I died to having it my way…I came out with my marriage intact and stronger, children healthy and a better job.

Or when my department became embroiled in craziness at work because of someone’s ego issues. It was one of the worst times in my life! I was depressed, bitter and very upset with God for not sparing me. Then, God sent me to a professional development conference at Bryn Mawr College. By the time I returned to work, I was markedly different; I used to deflect compliments regarding my skills and talents believing that if I acknowledge them, I was being arrogant. God told me my gifts and talents were part of my “armamentarium,” my tools for battle, and that not acknowledging them prevented Him from using them optimally through me. I died to who I was…I went to the conference a victim, I returned to work a soldier in God’s army ready for battle.

And what about my recent experience of jumping off the cliff (see my last blog entitled “Going ‘All In’ to Get Your Wings”) and having a Noah moment, where God called me to do something that has not been done before. I knew that there was a high degree of risk of failure and looking foolish, but I also knew that I was called by God to do it. Everything I thought I was or was important to me has been put to the test. In fact, I saw a vision of myself as being broken into small pieces, placed in a furnace for melting — smaller pieces melt faster, God told me — and being poured into a new mold. I died to my old identity…I now have a new outlook and renewed energy for the future.

With each experience, I had to die to who I was, what I had and all that I desired in order to do God’s will and to receive what He has for me. Jesus put it this way:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears  much fruit.  (John 12:24 NASB)

I mentioned in a previous blog The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson. The main character, Ordinary, was given a big dream by God. At one point in his journey, God asked him to give the dream back, or in other words, to die to it:

Then the Dream Giver spoke again. “Come higher,” he said…Ordinary was overcome with happiness. His Big Dream was finally within reach.

“Ordinary,” said the Dream Giver.

“Yes,” said Ordinary.

“Give me your Dream.”

“What do you mean?” Ordinary asked. “It’s my Dream. You’re the one who gave it to me.”

“Yes. And now I’m asking you to give it back.”

Ordinary was shocked, but he didn’t even have to think. “I can’t,” he told the Dream Giver. “And I won’t.”

Ordinary paced back and forth along the rim of the summit, trying to understand what had just happened. Why would the Dream Giver want to take away his Big Dream? How could he even ask? Especially now, when Ordinary had come so far. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t even right.

Then Ordinary had an idea. Maybe there was a way out.

“Do I have to give it back?” he asked.

“No,” the Dream Giver said. “Some choose not to.”

So he had a choice. He could keep his Dream. But instead of relief at the thought, Ordinary felt confused and sad. What was he going to do?

He slumped down on the rock. He thought for a long while. Finally, he saw what was at stake. He could please the Dream Giver and surrender his Dream. Or he could go against the Dream Giver’s wishes and keep his Dream, but risk losing the Dream Giver’s pleasure.The choice broke his heart.

Time passed. Ordinary thought, and thought some more. The sun set and rose again.

The Dream Giver had always kept his promises. He had always been good to Ordinary, even when he was nowhere in sight and nothing seemed to make sense.

Then Ordinary knew what he had to do—no, what he wanted to do. He carried his knapsack to the edge of the rock and sat down. He took out his journal and his long white feather, and he wrote his last entry about his Big Dream.
“I am surrendering my Dream to you, Dream Giver. I’ve decided that it’s you that I can’t go on without.”

Later that day, Ordinary reached the river. No one waited for him there. He had no Dream or plan now. Yet he felt a deep peace. He waded into the river and swam across, pulling his knapsack behind him. At the far bank, he climbed out. And the first thing he saw was his journal, lying open on the grass. His heart racing, he picked it up and read:

“Ordinary, I am giving you back your Dream. Now you can use it to serve me. Now you can achieve truly Great Things. And I am with you always.”

Now when Ordinary looked at his surrendered Dream, he saw that it had grown. Now his Dream was no longer only about Ordinary. Now it was part of the Dream Giver’s Big Dream for the whole world.

Ordinary had to die to the dream — through obedience–before he could move forward to pursue the dream God’s way. What a contradiction! So, in God’s plan, death, through obedience, is really the best way to live!

 

*Title taken from the movie “Death Becomes Her” released in 1992 by Universal Pictures.

Going “All In” to Get Your Wings

For the past two years, I have been relating my experiences developing the Global Black Music Center. There have been major highs and major lows, and I always believed that it would become a reality. I must admit, though, that there were times that “tried my soul,” as there are in anyone’s life, especially those who are pursuing their passion. In those times, I would ask God to reveal Himself to me so that I would know that I was on the right path. Without fail, God would open another door and that kept me moving forward.

My rallying cry became, “Feel the fear and do it anyway! …drag it with you, if you must.” Too often, fear of failure prevents us from attempting great things because we worry about what will happen if it doesn’t work out. I am no exception! But, I knew that I was living a moment of destiny; a moment for which I had been preparing most of my life. How could I pass it up now?! So, like a poker player, I believed I had a good hand and could win, so I moved all of my chips into the center of the table and said, “I’m going ‘all in!'”

You should know that I had days when my fears got the best of me and I couldn’t think straight; I could only feel anxiety or despondency. Then I would remember that the larger the building, the deeper you have to dig the foundation, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other to pursue the vision God had given me.

In the process, I learned that trusting God is not as easy as it sounds; I actually had to “walk my talk,” meaning that I had to live what I had been telling others on a level that I had not experienced before. It was very difficult at times and I constantly told God, “I QUIT!”  But, as much as I wanted and tried to quit, I couldn’t; my passion for the project was too strong. In addition, doors kept opening when I was certain they wouldn’t, so I walked, often blindly, trusting that God would continue to lead and provide.

Then something amazing happened: the door that was wide open closed shut! Even though I am certain that God called me to this task, things didn’t turn out the way I thought they would or should. I was devastated! I was also left with more questions than answers, and my faith took a major hit. I told family and friends that I feel like I have no ground under me because God asked me to step off the cliff and trust Him, I did and the results were disappointing, to say the least.

The feeling of not having ground underneath me is a new experience and not one that I wanted, but definitely what I now feel I needed. Let me explain: during the Exodus in the Bible, the Children of Israel had to leave the familiar place of Egypt, even though they were slaves there, to travel to a new place unknown to them, but promised by God. The Bible recounts their journey and says that their clothes and shoes didn’t get old and God fed and protected them for 40 years. This was a time of preparation: to leave their old identity and mentality as slaves and to remember who God had created them to be — chosen and blessed — and to depend on God rather than their masters and themselves. Their “cliff jumping” took 40 years before God allowed them to enter the Promised Land. I am fully persuaded that this portion of my journey has been preparation for my promised land.

And, while I have longed for steady ground over the past two years, I realized recently that this is the wrong prayer; I should be asking to live joyfully whether I have ground under my feet or not. A dear friend also reminded me of something that God told me during the most difficult part of this journey — He had given me wings to soar above the ground! I finally became aware that I’ve been so intent on seeking new comfortable ground, I didn’t honor the fact that God has changed me through this particular wilderness experience…I mean, season of preparation. My wings, if I choose to use them, allow me to fly closer to God, see farther than I have in the past and travel farther than I could without them.

This reminds me of a video that God brought to my attention: Steve Harvey, the comedian, says that success requires jumping off the cliff, so to speak, in order for your parachute (wings) to open (see video below).

Even though things didn’t turn out as a I had hoped they would, I now have a set of wings that enable me to soar. I wonder, though, is the experience of going “all in,” or laying it all on the line and pursuing your God-given passion, a prerequisite for gaining your wings? If it is, be prepared for confronting all or most of the fears you have because they will keep you stuck on the edge of the cliff looking down and wondering, “What if I fail, what will people think?” “What if I fall, will God really catch me?” Great questions!  But, if you’re ready to soar, you, like me,  must make a decision to trust God more than your fears…to feel the fear and do it anyway. I did and because of that, I’ve earned my wings. I’m still learning how to use them, but I’m thankful that I have them. It’s just a matter of time before God shows me how to soar higher than I could have ever dreamed, of that, I’m certain!

Have You Cleaned Your Closet Lately?

Twice a year I clean my closet: I exchange winter clothes for summer and reverse this in the fall. So, as I began this bi-annual ritual, a question popped into my head: isn’t cleaning our closets a great analogy for how we should evaluate our thoughts?  In our closets, we have several categories of clothes: clothes that no longer are in style and those that are always in style, those that fit and those that don’t and those that have special meaning to us –good or bad — whether we can fit them or not.

CLOTHES THAT ARE NO LONGER IN STYLE

The clothes that are no longer in style are the thoughts that have helped me to climb the ladder of success out of a fear of failing rather than a will to succeed. These clothes required that I position myself appropriately: meet the right people, make sure they know who I am, attend the right events, serve on key boards, etc.  While all of these activities  helped me reach certain goals, what I now understand is that, if the climb is predicated on fear, I will never feel truly successful because the fear is the driver. Unless I acknowledged this piece of clothing as out of date (i.e., that it no longer serves me), I will keep it in my closet because it’s familiar rather than functional.

CLOTHES THAT ARE ALWAYS IN STYLE

The clothes that are always in style are those that are foundational to who I am: A lover of the Lord Jesus Christ, a devoted (and thankful) wife, mother and grandmother, who is passionate about fulfilling my purpose on earth and making a positive difference in people’s lives.

CLOTHES THAT FIT PERFECTLY

My current wardrobe includes clothes that fit me perfectly: they accentuate my positives and camouflage or mitigate my negatives — I feel good in them.  These clothes represent thoughts that empower and encourage me to feel good about my life and my journey; they help me balance focusing on the future and living and enjoying the present.

CLOTHES THAT NO LONGER FIT

Ill fitting clothes are sometimes difficult to remove from my closet because I remember when I could fit them and hope to again.  These clothes remind me of the thoughts that kept me locked in the past wishing that I could change what happened or could go back and relive a particular moment in my life; like when I lost my mother…The loss was devastating to me because I wasn’t ready for her to leave. She died 28 years ago, and it’s taken me 28 years to make peace with it. I never grieved because there was too much to do at the time; my first child was born just 2 weeks before her death. I was a new mom and I went into survival mode.  Gratefully, a few months ago, I met two wonderful holistic practitioners, both of whom confronted me with the truth of my unfinished business with grieving the loss of my mother. Because of them, I took the time, finally, to really grieve. It was cathartic! I was able to remove the black shroud and the pain that I’ve had in my heart and make room for the joy of knowing that she’s always with me whether I can see her or not.

CLOTHES WITH SPECIAL MEANING

Over the past two years, and especially in the last 12 months, I have come to terms with some issues in the past, especially from childhood, that have plagued me my entire life. These are the clothes that have had special meaning to me that I’ve held on to because of how large they loomed in my life. For example, I’ve been mad at my dad for not being the father that I needed and wanted him to be.  I was so angry that for awhile I stopped speaking to him. Then, something miraculous happened: I gave my dad permission to be human! I let him off the hook — he was the best father he could be to me given who he was at that time. I remembered the number of conversations I had with our girls that ended with, “if you really tried and a C or D is the best grade that you can get, then I’m satisfied.” What great advice for my children, but I never allowed it to apply to my dad’s parenting efforts until now.

Or the time I wanted to give up on earning my Ph.D. because the process was worst than childbirth and much longer. These clothes I can’t get rid of because they remind me that “if it was easy, everyone would do or have it.”  They also remind me that, if I persevere, I will achieve my goal(s).

CLOSET CLEANING

The “clothes” in my closet include lessons that I have learned over the years through some very challenging experiences, old hurts and deep wounds, and memories that serve to remind me of who I am and what’s important to me.

The process included my having to “put on” each thought like an item of clothing and become fully conscious of how I “felt” in it and then decide if I wanted or needed to keep it. What I mean by this is, each thought had a feeling(s) associated with it — some made me feel hopeful, peaceful and secure, while others made me fearful, anxious and depressed. What I realized was that I spent way too much of my energy on avoiding a lot of bad feelings instead of unpacking them. So, instead of running from the bad emotions, I allowed myself to really feel them in my body — I allowed them to wash over me, like submerging myself in a pool. I remained consciously aware and eventually realized that I wasn’t going to die; I could just feel them and that was okay. It took the power out of the thoughts and helped me to heal. However, some thoughts required that I seek professional help in order to unpack them and that’s okay — I’m worth the investment.

I now know that thoughts, like clothes, need to be tried on now and then to determine if they serve a productive role in your life — do they move you forward, backward or keep you stuck — and you get to choose whether you retain, discard or re-purpose them.

Happy cleaning!