Saturday, September 16, 2017

Legacy: What Will We Leave the World?



I've been thinking about one word a lot recently... LEGACY. My thoughts can be traced to a recent event in my life.

This past week I spent time in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. I traveled home for my Uncle Alvis's funeral on this past Monday. His funeral was one of the most precious I've ever attended. The room was filled with people whose lives have been touched one way or another by Uncle Alvis. Family members, colleagues, neighbors, fellow church members -- we all crammed into his A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) church home to reminisce and illuminate a life fully lived.

My uncle spent his life serving college students as a professor in the School of Social Work at Howard University in Washington D.C. (my alma mater, by the way - HU!!!). As the president of Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina for a short time. As a member of the peace corps in Liberia, West Africa (which my family and I visited when I was only 4 years old). As a social activist for African Americans in our nation's capital and beyond. As a political enthusiast (and Republican, like my Dad, believe or not). As a family historian and writer.

As a man who constantly searched for opportunities to lift up the poor, the hungry, the outcast. 

As I sat, reminiscing over these things that I already knew he had accomplished, an interesting thought came to me. I had always wondered about the origins of the "Mother Teresa" deep in my soul. I know my beautiful Mom and Dad had great influence for sure. Interestingly, I believe my Uncle Alvis did too.

As I sat in my uncle's funeral, I also thought about the word LEGACY.

This one word makes me go deep, makes me do a heart-check and makes me ask some hard questions. When I leave this world, what will I leave in my absence? Will I have made the places I frequented better than when I arrived? Will I have encouraged, supported and loved the people I'm blessed to have in my life - even the ones that might be difficult to love at times? Will I have changed the world for the better, even in my little corner of the world?

I am in a period of rebooting of sorts. I'm forty (eh hem...) now. For me, it is time to focus on making this life count, on making an impact for God's kingdom, on seizing opportunities to lift up others in my little corner of the world.

One way I'm wanting to do this is to WRITE. For over a decade, I've focused on ministry and nonprofit work. This I will continue to do, for sure.

But the one question I heard over and over again when I was in Maryland/Washington D.C. was this... "Are you still writing?"

Apparently God's given me a mission here, as small as it may be. I may not have a huge platform. I may not have thousands of Twitter followers. I may not have droves people that would flock to amazon.com to purchase a book written by me. But God keeps giving me something to say. He keeps encouraging me through others to persist and press and prod. He keeps exhorting me to sit my rear in a chair, put my fingers on my laptop keyboard and WRITE.

And so I have. And so I will. Even when everything in me tells me that it's not enough. That there are more important things that need doing. That I should spend my time and energy elsewhere.

The things that God puts in us are the things that He wants us to give back to the world. What has God put in you? What has He given you to do? Think of all the books that would be written, paintings that would be painted, words that would be spoken, ministries and business that would be birthed - if only we examined our hearts to find the thing God has placed in us. 

So many things can impede us... Fear. Discouragement. Busyness.

Yet so many things can propel us... 

A calling from God. 

Family and friends cheering us on. 

Knowing that someone, somewhere needs to read, see, feel, experience whatever it is we have to give.

What else propels us? LEGACY. Knowing that this life on earth is brief and short. That we will have - at most - 80, 90, 100 years here to make a difference.

Even the Bible speaks to the brevity of life...

"Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."*

Life is short. One day we will all walk the road my uncle, my mom, my dad and many, many others have walked. We will leave this earth to join those who have gone before us in heaven. For those who know the Lord, it will be a day of celebration for sure. 

When that day comes, may it also be a day of remembrance. A day that our family and friends remember a life lived to the full. A life lived for others. A life lived pouring out the things that God has placed in us not to hoard or preserve, but to share with the world.

A life lived with the end in mind. 

That, my Friend, is LEGACY.



* James 4:14

Saturday, September 9, 2017

DACA - Speaking Up for the Dreamers



DACA...

Also known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

There's been a lot of talk on both sides about DACA recently. The loudest voice has been that of President Trump, who this past week rescinded the DACA program, charging Congress with the task of creating policy to fix the program.

I could say so much about this.

I could list the many scriptures that encourage us to welcome and care for the alien, stranger or immigrant, depending on your favorite translation of the bible.

In fact, according World Relief Global...
"The Bible has a lot to say about immigrants and immigration. In fact, the Hebrew word ger, the closest word to our concept of an immigrant, appears 92 times in the Old Testament alone."
I could also quote what pastors, leaders, politicians and entertainers are saying about DACA. 

Again, there's so much I could say about this issue.

But today, I'll keep it short by sharing a poem I saw hanging on the walls of The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta

It's a poem written by Martin Niemoller, a prominent German Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

This poem is a reminder that whenever I have the opportunity to speak up for the rights of another human being, I must speak.

It's a reminder that whenever YOU have the opportunity to speak up for the rights of another human being, you too must speak...

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me -
And there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller, Holocaust Survivor

The day may come when we desperately need someone to speak for us. 

Until then, may we speak out for those who need our voices today.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hurricane Harvey: A Wake Up Call for a Divided Nation

Hurricane Harvey is a national tragedy. 

If you're like me, you've watched the footage through tears - footage of ravaged homes, destroyed landscapes and lost lives. Raising four children of my own, I struggled to watch an interview with the mom who lost four children in Harvey. My heart breaks for her and so many others.

Yet I had a thought while watching the many Texans that stepped up to the call to help their fellow Texans during the storm and in its aftermath...

Hurricane Harvey might be a wake up call.

I believe Hurricane Harvey, and tragedies like it, could be a wake up call for a nation that's becoming more and more polarized. You see this polarization everywhere...

CNN, Fox and MSNBC news. Our Twitter feeds. And should I even mention the vicious comments and fights on Facebook these days?

Just name the topic, and folks are fighting over it - Black Lives Matter, Civil War monuments, immigration, Alt-right marches and demonstrations, and on and on...

Gone are the days when we can discuss, even debate, an issue and say, "You know I totally hear you. But let's just agree to disagree."

People are no longer agreeing to disagree.

People are no longer agreeing about anything, it seems.

Everywhere we look - especially if we look to social media with any regularity - someone is drawing a line in the sand. Standing back, crossing their arms and saying, "Okay so... which side do YOU choose? You are either for me or against me."

I often wonder, why can't we walk together, live together, worship together when we have differing political and social views? Why do we have step on, stomp on others, when their views are different from ours?

Yesterday I read these words from rapper Lecrae in Relevant Magazine, discussing the opposition he faced from brothers and sisters in Christ who disagreed with his position on various social justice issues...



"Why can't I talk about what it's like to be a black man in America? 
Because people say, 'Oh, no! That's too black.' 
If you suffocate my blackness, you've got to realize that's supremacy. ... But because of the tension within American history with blacks and whites, you talk about blackness too much and in some people's minds, it means you're anti-white or if you talk about police brutality, you're all of a sudden anti-police. We don't do well with complexity." 
Amen Brother.

Our country is more complex than ever. And yes, "we don't do well with complexity".

...Until a catastrophic event unleashes on a city, state or nation - a catastrophic event like Hurricane Harvey.

When floods rise and winds tear through brick walls and people fear for their lives, it no longer matters whether the person clinging to life beside you is black or white. Rich or poor. Democrat or Republican. Documented or undocumented.

All that matters is that I am a human soul that wants to live, to thrive. And when I see you next to me, clinging to your life as well, I want you to live, to thrive. I want to do everything I can to help you live and thrive. I am willing to sacrifice my own life to protect you, to lift you up.

It no longer matters how we are different. It no longer matters what opposing views we hold. It no longer matters what side of the line in the sand you stand on.





In tragedies like Hurricane Harvey, people of all colors, cultures and political camps, come together for one purpose, one goal. For the sake of survival, for the preservation of the human soul, all kinds of people walk across the line in the sand and choose to stand together, hand in hand.

Imagine if we, the Church, chose to walk across that sand every day of our lives.

We can learn a lot from Hurricane Harvey.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stand Sunday - A Day to Stand Up for Foster Children



There's a movement rising up...

A movement that will address a huge issue in the US. 

An issue that affects over 400,000 children each year.

400,000 plus children and teens. That's more than the population of New Orleans. 

The issue? 

Foster care.

For many years now, Christians around the world have dedicated one Sunday a year to address the issues of orphans around the world. This Sunday is Orphan Sunday - dedicated to the over 140 million orphans around the world.

I've been blessed to participate in Orphan Sunday in my local church for many years now. I love speaking about this issue. I love calling the Church to rise up and "defend the cause of the fatherless".

Well this year a new movement has begun. 

It's a movement to call the Church to continue to rise up for orphans - the "orphans" in our cities, our communities, our own backyards. The local "orphan". We know them as foster children.

I've had the pleasure of working with a fiery pastor from Texas that's been working for the cause of foster children for decades now. Bishop Aaron Blake, pastor of Greater Faith Community Church is the kind of man who does more than preach sermons about the cause of foster children in his community and around the country. 

He lives his sermons.

Bishop Blake and his wife Mary have opened their home to several young men over the years -- young men that very likely would have bounced from foster home to foster home. Or they may have landed in group homes or shelters. Instead, the Blakes opened their home. They have loved these young men, trained these young men and raised them as their own.

Bishop Blake has called his church to do the same. Aware that not everyone is called to foster a child through the state system, he has challenged his church members to do something for foster children in their community. Every year he makes a fervent call to his members, asking them to "Stand Up" for children in local foster care.

One such Sunday, he posed this question to his congregation: "Who will stand with me to defend, care and support abused, abandoned and neglected children in our community?"

At the end of this charge each year, Greater Faith church members literally stand up - one by one. They commit to foster or adopt. They commit to support other families that foster or adopt. They commit to serve foster children through local ministries. They commit to pray. 

They commit to CARE.

A new movement has grown out of this passion to care for foster children - STAND SUNDAY. Stand Sunday is an Initiative newly formed by the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO). Stand Sunday will coincide with Orphan Sunday on Sunday, November 13 this year, and will provide churches and Christians with a heart to serve children in US foster care a platform, resources and a message.



So... I end this post with the same question that Bishop Blake posed to his congregation...

Who will stand with me to defend, care and support abused, abandoned and neglected children in the United States?

Will YOU stand?


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Diversity and the Olympics

In July I shared a post titled "The US Racial Divide - Where Do We Begin?" that began with these words, "This week was one of the most discouraging in our country in some time." I wrote this post in the aftermath of glaring racial tensions around the country. In the aftermath of several African American men gunned down by police officers. In the aftermath of police officers being murdered in the same city streets they had sworn to protect and serve.

Since that posting, there have been more mass shootings, more hatred and more racial tensions in our country. More lives have been lost in senseless violence. We are a long way from solving these issues.

Yet today I wanted to share some good news in the midst of all the horrible.

Last week I was excited to share a perspective of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games that I'd heard bits and pieces of leading up to the Games. I love a wonderful foster care or adoption story, so in "Foster care and the Olympics" I shared the backstories of Olympians Simone Biles, Tori Bowie and Carlin Isles. Backstories that include time spent in foster care during their childhoods. Backstories that also included loving people that came alongside them to raise them, love them and become the parents they were all desperately needing.

And now I must state the obvious. EVERY child needs loving parents. 

EVERY. SINGLE. CHILD.

I won't rehash last week's post again today, but I do want to illuminate something else I've noticed about the Olympics this year in Rio. It's something else I'm very passionate about. Something that our country forever struggles to get right.

It's something that even the Church doesn't get quite right. Something that Christian nonprofits struggle with even more, with minority people hugely underrepresented in most Christian nonprofits, especially in leadership roles.

The thing I want to discuss today? DIVERSITY and the Olympics.

As I watched the US Olympic trials and celebrated with the five girls chosen to flip and twirl on the Olympic gymnastics stage, I noticed something quite beautiful. These girls were a beautiful representation of the various hues, ethnicities and cultures of our country. 


The Amazing "Final Five"
Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Aly Raisman. These girls are diverse in every way. They are amazing athletes. They are strong young ladies. They are each amazingly beautiful. 

And I couldn't be happier for them.

Olympic Swimmer Simone Manuel

One more highlight during the Summer Games... another Olympic rock star named Simone.

Thursday night, I screamed as I watched Simone Manuel stroke her way to first-place in the Women's 100-meter Freestyle. I thought she'd clinch a silver or bronze maybe, but that baby girl pushed through the last seconds of that race and tied for a gold.

Simone made history with this win, becoming the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in individual swimming. Swimming has been a largely Caucasian sport for multiple reasons, like those highlighted in a recent BBC article.

The magnitude of her win wasn't lost on Simone who said, "This medal is not just for me, it's for some of the African Americans who have been before me and been inspirations. I hope I can be an inspiration for others. This medal is for the people who come behind me and get into the sport."

Despite racial disparities that still exist in the US, seeing these young people of color represent Red, White and Blue did my heart so much good.

We've got a long way to go, but we've come a long way too.






Saturday, August 6, 2016

Foster Care and the Olympics

I LOVE the Olympic Games - both the winter and summer games. Every two years, I'm captivated by the national pride, physical strength, mental endurance and emotional resilience of the athletes from all over the world. Last night I sat captivated while watching the Olympics opening ceremony. Brasilians* are beautiful, spirited and warm people, and I fell in love with Brasil over a decade ago when my son Kalin and I served orphans and vulnerable children on a mission's trip there.

Another love of mine - following the lives of former foster children. My heart is always moved to hear the stories of people - young and old - whose lives began with so much stacked against them. Inevitably, while hearing the "how did they get here?" stories shared during the Olympics trials, I've discovered some amazing Olympians whose lives have been touched by foster care and/or adoption in some way. 

And you know I had to share... 


Simone Biles ~ Gymnastics

This 4-foot-9 inch powerhouse is all the rage this year. During the Olympic trials this year - of which my daughter Jada and I watched every second - the 19-year-old dominated, finishing first in the all-around gymnastics competition. Simone soars through the air like no other. Her power is undeniable. As she owned the vault during the Olympic trials, sports commentators consistently marveled, "No female gymnast has done this before." 

This girl is amazing.

And yet her life started off much less secure than her standing on the world stage of gymnastics. Simone's biological father abandoned her while she was very young, and her biological mother struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. Simone and her sister Adria, unfortunately landed in the Ohio foster care system. In 2002, Simone's grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, stepped up to take in their granddaughters, moving them to Spring, Texas. 

A year later, a 6-year-old Simone would experience another life-changing event. On a daycare field trip to a gym, the gym staff observed her imitating other gymnasts. The gym sent a letter home to Simone's new parents, requesting she join tumbling or gymnastics.

And the rest, as they say, is history...


Carlin Isles ~ Rugby

I must admit, I don't usually follow the U.S. Rugby Olympics Team, so I had never heard of Carlin - until today. I was instantly inspired by this 26-year-old sprinter-turned-rugby player. After achieving great success in football and track, his first year in rugby was only 4 years ago. He has already been dubbed "the fastest man in rugby".

Yet Carlin's life began with heartache. He spent the first years of his life in Ohio foster care, and remembers days that he was so hungry he would eat dog food to survive. He and his twin sister Cambra watched while a police officer drove away with their birth mother in the back of his car. Carlin told CNN his life "was basically survival of the fittest. I had to fight. I went from home to poor schooling - I had to eat dog food. We didn't celebrate birthdays, Christmases or anything like that."

At age 8, Carlin and his sister were adopted by a loving couple, Starlett and Charles Isles. Carlin says, "My parents have always been there for me." No doubt they'll be supporting their talented son as he dominates on the rugby field in Rio.



Frentorish "Tori" Bowie - Track

I can't tell you how much I rooted for this young woman during the Olympic trials. I hadn't heard about Tori until the trials, but she's not the kind of athlete you forget. And as much as I love Allyson Felix, who made her mark in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics, I couldn't help but scream for Tori when she edged Allyson out of the 200m trials by .01 second. Her 3rd-place win secured 25-year-old Tori's spot for the 200m in Rio.

Like Simone and Carlin, Tori also spent part of her early life in Mississippi foster care - albeit brief. As a 2-year-old toddler, Tori spent a short time in foster care, when her mother was unable to care for her and her sister Tamarra. Her grandmother Bobbie Smith took her young granddaughters in, taking over for their troubled mom and a dad that was mostly absent from their lives. A natural athlete, Tori played basketball and moved on to track in high school, being named All-State Basketball and Track. Incidentally her father reentered her life when she began her track career, which was great timing since he had excelled as a long jumper in high school.

Her loving Grandmama might be as responsible for Tori's road to Rio as her speed and athleticism. "I encouraged them to go to school, don't think about boys at a young age, and to do good," Tori's grandmother told NBC. "And they took my advice." 

Great advice. 

And my advice to you? 

Don't miss Tori or Simone or Carlin during the Summer Olympics in Rio.




* Native Brasilians spell their country with and "s" instead of a "z".


Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Racial Divide: Where Do We Begin? Part 2



Yesterday my heart was so grieved over the tumultuous events throughout the week, that I felt I had to share my heart here. So I posted The Racial Divide: Where Do We Begin? yesterday, hoping to encourage us as Brothers and Sisters in Christ to love one another well during these times.

Love digs deep. Love is costly. Love calls us to live not only for our own benefit and welfare, but for the benefit and welfare of others.

Yesterday I felt called to call us all to LOVE one another during these times. It's what I believe our Father expects of us, now more than ever.

Today, I feel called to inspire us to do one more thing. This is perhaps the most important thing we can do right now. This is perhaps the real starting point. I believe I took it for granted that God's people were already doing this. I took for granted that it didn't need to be said.

Then I read a Facebook post from a man I call my "Big Bro". His words were poignant and powerful. His words reminded me that these are times when nothing can be taken for granted. All truth must be said and shared - LOVE.

Here... His thoughts:

"I have read the news articles and posts here in response to the news of recent days. I have read of suggestions for protests, marches, recalling our legislators, add and modify legislations, calls for "dialogue", sensitivity training, additional training, body cameras, youth centers, prison reform... whew... NONE OF THESE WILL EFFECT A LASTING AND POSITIVE RESULT. To my friends who believe in Jesus Christ, the ONLY solution is prayer. The Bible says "and the government shall be upon His shoulders...", not the other way around. As much as I love and respect social justice as a ministry I believe that this country, and down to our community are in need of a focus that has not been experienced in quite some time. Therefore I am asking my preacher friends to point out to their congregations scripture that will (1) get us through this period and (2) offer solutions based on prayer and supplication. I no longer have faith in our government... to effect change in our quality of life. 'MY faith is built on nothing less...'"

As my Brother has said, we must run to the Father, His Word and Prayer like never before.

HE is the answer.

Today.

And always.

Amen and Amen.