Sunday, December 8, 2013

Nelson Mandela: His Words Live on Forever

On Thursday, December 5 we lost a legendary man that will never be forgotten. Nelson Mandela, a courageous, unwavering political and social leader of South Africa and the world, has left us with a beautiful legacy.

In the Mandela family's first public statement since his death, his family members shared these words about their patriarch:

"The pillar of the royal Mandela family is no more with us physically, but his spirit is still with us."

Mandela's spirit of love and forgiveness and compassion for others does live on. And so do his words of love and forgiveness and compassion. When I thought of what I wanted to share about Nelson Mandela, I decided to focus on the eloquent words of our friend and leader. 

1. "I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances."

As I've heard many people speak of Mandela since his death, this quote resonates with me. I've heard extreme responses to Mandela -- some speak of him as if he were a messiah. As if he never knew failure or the disappointment of others. Others speak critically of him, citing his previous criticism of the US government and his sometimes questionable political alliances.

I agree with his own humble self-assessment. He was an ordinary man called to lead an extraordinary movement during an extraordinary time in his country's history. And yet, he courageously rose to the occasion. He humbly accepted the call on his life. 

And yet, through his obedience, he became a world-changer.

II. "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

Arrested in 1962 for leading a campaign against South Africa's racist apartheid government, Mandela spent 27 years in prison. I can only imagine the fear and despair he felt over not seeing his wife everyday. Over missing his children grow up. Over wondering if he'd ever live another day outside those prison gates.

But he chose to triumph over his fears. He managed to conquer his fears. And today his triumph lives as a testimony for us when we face our share of fear and despair. We too can triumph. We too can overcome. God will fight our battles for us. He will overcome our Goliaths, as well.

III. "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." 

It breaks my heart to witness hatred being born in the heart of a child.

Last year, as my family traveled to Maryland, we stopped for a meal at Chick-fil-a in a small southern town. Our children were playing in the play area, which had gradually become filled with more and more racially-diverse children. My 12-year-old son Christian said he heard a little boy, who couldn't have been more than eight-years-old, say "I'll be glad when all the black people leave."

Now I'm convinced that little boy wasn't born disliking African American people. I'm sure he'd learned from the adults around him to hate, to discriminate, to desire "separate, but equal" play areas in Chick-fil-a. My heart broke for not only my children who heard those racist words, but also for the young boy who spoke them. He has learned to hate at such a young age. 

Maybe one day he'll be taught to love.

This quote from Mandela is the reason my husband Anthony and I remain committed to multi-ethnic ministry. It's so much harder to grow a racially-diverse church. Church growth researchers have proven it's actually a recipe for disaster -- if you're thinking about numbers. ...At least numbers of people sitting in your sanctuary.

But we're focusing on a different set of numbers. The number of people whose hearts have been changed. Who are not only growing in their love for Christ, but their love for one another. Who have begun their first deep friendships with someone of a different ethnic group. Who have realized that when Christ prayed, "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one"*-- He meant it. 

He wants us to be ONE. Black and White and Red and Brown and Yellow. Yankees and Southerners. Baptists and Methodists and AME's.

Democrats and Republicans. Imagine that...

Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for your legacy and your words that live on for us. May we learn to live more courageously and compassionately because of them.

* John 17:22

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

12 Years a Slave: A Painful Truth

When my husband Anthony and I left the movie theater after seeing 12 Years a Slave this past Saturday evening, I KNEW I had to blog about this movie.

Even though I don't feel like I have much to say - that hasn't already been said - I feel like I MUST speak. I MUST write.

Because 12 Years a Slave shook me to my core in way that hasn't happened in a very long time.

I left the theater thinking, I've got to tell THE WORLD to go see this movie.

Four days later, I do have a few more thoughts. So here you go...

I. US slavery was a brutal, evil part of our country's history:

The US slave trade is said to have begun in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia (my parents' home-state). For over 250 years, human beings were sold as cattle for the purpose of financial gain for their slave masters.

12 Years a Slave handles this period of time with fervor and brutal honesty. It is very painful to watch, but it is an authentic portrayal of one man's story. It also uncovers a more obscure aspect of slavery -- free black men and women who were kidnapped and forced into slavery.

Some have labeled the violence in the movie "excessive." However, the US slave trade was excessive. It was brutally violent. It was vulgar and dehumanizing - intentionally so.

II. The Bible was misused by many slaveowners to subjugate their slaves

The key word here is misused.

It was painful to watch the scenes where slaveowners misquoted the Bible. And I wondered, how could someone misuse this life-giving book? How could they use the Bible to justify so much destruction and pain? How did they misinterpret it so profoundly - with such wicked intentions?

I have no answers here. I only know that some people will go to any lengths for money, power and social standing. Even to the depths of distorting and prostituting my Father's beautiful and inerrant Word.

III. God can use our deepest pain for His glory

Warning: Plot-spoiler ahead...

Based on the true story of Solomon Northup - beautifully portrayed by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave ends with a short description of Solomon's life after his rescue from slavery. After spending a horrific 12 years in slavery, Solomon was said to have joined the abolitionist movement and also to have aided the escape of slaves through the Underground Railroad*.

Would Solomon have become an anti-slavery activist without his experience as a slave? Maybe. Maybe not. But his story reminds me that God can use our deepest pain to grow us up, to take us to higher heights, to use us for His purposes and His glory.

The universal truth here? God never, ever wastes pain.

He didn't waste Solomon Northup's pain.

And He won't waste yours either.

* The Underground Railroad was a covert network of people and places that assisted fugitive slaves as they escaped enslavement in US southern states.

Friday, November 8, 2013

This Means War: A Pastor's Wife Speaks

Yesterday my husband Anthony and I returned from Long Beach, California.

No, we weren't there to surf or walk hand-in-hand along the shore, the cool sand rubbing between our toes.

We were there to attend the 2013 Mosaix Multi-ethnic Church Conference.

We were there to hear from amazing speakers like John Perkins, Eugene Cho, Choco De Jesus, Efrem Smith, and many, many more.

We were there to meet and reunite with friends and co-laborers - other pastors and leaders of multi-ethnic churches around the country, and world even. (There was an amazing group of church leaders from Congo, Africa.)

But one special treat for me was connecting with other pastor's wives like me. Other women who get me and this life I'm living. Other women who know that it's hard being a pastor's wife, but it's even harder being the pastor's wife of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-social economic church.

Other women who understand that we're waging war every single day of our lives.

At the end of the conference I had a conversation with another pastor's wife about this war we're fighting. Here's what she said about the warfare we face in the multi-ethnic ministry life:
"The enemy wants to destroy us. And if he can't destroy us, he will try to destroy our marriages. If he can't destroy our marriages, he will try to destroy our children."
This is the boxing ring we pastor's wives step into every day of our lives. The enemy doesn't want hurting people to come to God. He doesn't want the Church to reach the souls in its community. He doesn't want the Church to feed the hungry, help the homeless, adopt the orphan, love the unlovable.

He definitely doesn't want the Church to open it's doors to people of every race, color, language, social class and political party.

And he doesn't want the white man to love the black man. Or the Puerto Rican woman to love the Japanese woman. Or the rich person to love the poor person.

Oh, we can love from afar. We can accept from afar. But to sit next to one another on the church pew? To serve food to the local homeless community side-by-side? To sit across from one another at our dining room tables?

Now that kind of activity means war, my Friend.

And the war is real for us ministry wives. Just look at a few of these numbers:

  • 56% of pastor's wives report having no close friends *
  • 59% of church planting spouses lead 1-3 major ministries in the church in addition to family, community and personal commitments **
  • 80% of pastor's wives report having struggled with depression *
I'd love to collect the stats on pastor's wives of multi-ethnic churches. I wonder if the numbers would be even higher... 

The moral of this story? 

If you're a pastor's wife, reach out. Be honest with your family and close, trustworthy friends about your struggles. The gig is up, Girlfriends. This thing is hard. Let's just be real about it.

If you're not a pastor or pastor's wife, pray for your pastor's family. Pray especially for your pastor's wife. Even if she's smiling and happy every single time you see her, know that her life is not easy. She experiences warfare in ways you might not ever experience. Her life is full of responsibility and service like many will never know. She shares her husband in ways that are unseen to most. Accept her. Love her. Even if she's not nearly as cool or friendly or efficient or talented - or whatever - as you'd like her to be.

Friends, this multi-ethnic movement is a force to be reckoned with. I believe it will change the world. 

But if it's going to change the world, it's going to do it most effectively with faithful leaders and healthy marriages and cohesive families.

Let's work towards that end -- on our knees.

* According to Focus on the Family
** According to "A Study of PCA Church Planter Spouse Stress and Satisfaction Levels" by Shari Thomas, 2005

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Butler: More than a Good Movie

If I know one thing for sure, it's that racial issues in the United States are still alive and well.

And although African Americans now have the right to vote, own property, attend desegregated public schools, etc. etc... I still find myself saying every so often - "Wow, and it's 2013."

Take this story, for example:

One of my friends, who happens to be African American too, took her two daughters to see "The Butler" last week. Her daughters were deeply moved and amazed at the narrative of history being played out before them. They had learned very little of this history in school, and they wondered why.

I too have questioned this lack of the "whole-story" in our country's history lessons.

I think the answer is found in the rest of this story.

So... one of my friend's daughter's plans to try out for a part in her private school's production of "The Great Gatsby." In order to prepare the students for tryouts, the drama teacher set the stage for the 1920s - the decade that  F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby takes place.

The teacher went on and on about how wonderful this time period was for Americans. How most people enjoyed a time of wealth and prosperity. How this period marked a time of fun and revelry.

After noting that "The Butler" began in the 1920's, when sharecropping covered a dark blanket over much of the South, and therefore, most African American families, my friend's daughter responded something like this:

"Mommy, my teacher said the '20s were a time of fun and wealth. But it wasn't that way for African Americans."

And that, my Friend, is one reason why race relations are so difficult in every era of our country. Oftentimes, African Americans and Caucasians have two completely different realities. And what becomes frustrating is when one side is unwilling to see and validate the other side's reality.

Which is why a movie like "The Butler" is so vitally important.

We've all seen movies that helped us peer into the White House. We've seen Eisenhower portrayed. We've seen the Kennedy family portrayed. We've even seen Ronald Reagan portrayed.

Yet how amazing was it to see the White House through the lens of a servant - an African American one at that.

That alone is enough reason to see "The Butler."

What director Lee Daniels did was afford us the opportunity to see life from a different perspective -- the perspective of an African American man who grew up in abject poverty, but rose to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. A man who served with dignity and pride, despite many who considered his occupation beneath the modern Black man. A man who, in service to his country, resembled our Savior.
"Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." *
So, whatever you've got planned this weekend, fit in a viewing of "The Butler" if you haven't already seen it. Go see it with others and discuss it afterwards. Feel free to discuss it with me here or in my Facebook inbox.

Brothers and Sisters, we've got to begin to attempt to see life from the lenses of our brothers and sisters of different hues and cultural backgrounds. 

We've got to talk less and listen more.

We've got to open our hearts to truly see.

It's the only way we're going to tackle this race thing in our country.

Laws cannot do it.

Changed hearts are the answer.


* These words are found in Matthew 20:26-28. And it's no coincidence that I just read them during my devotional time this morning. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Legacy of Leadership: Pastor Oscar Muriu

Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Today marks my last post on the Global Leadership Summit. Sad, I know...

In case you're just getting on board, I'll list my previous posts: Global Leadership Summit: My Takeaways (with a focus on Pastor Bill Hybels), General Colin Powell: Impeccable Leader with Humble Beginnings, Patrick Lencioni's 3 Signs of a Miserable Job and Dr. Brene Brown: Walking Her Talk.

Today, I want to share one more talk from the Summit. I'd never heard of this speaker before, but I'm sure I won't forget his message.

Pastor Oscar Muriu

Pastor Oscar Muriu, Senior Pastor of Nairobi Chapel in Kenya, East Africa, spoke on a topic that I'm excited to close this series on.

He spoke on leaving a spiritual legacy. I'll jump right into his five major points.

1. The size of your harvest depends on the number of leaders you raise up.

Pastor Muriu encouraged leaders to pour into the lives of potential leaders, thus multiplying the work of the Kingdom of God.

I love love love this quote from him:

"The test of your leadership is not the impact you make in your lifetime, but how many leaders you raise up who will continue the work after you're gone." 
2. Live for the next generation, not your own.

His definition of mentorship? Walking with people that are a generation younger. That's at least 20 years younger. Now that's a game-changer.

As Pastor Muriu stated so well:

"When you live for your generation, your vision dies with you."

3. Identify the budding leaders around you and go to the Lord in prayer about them.

Always have your eyes wide open to the potential in others around you, especially those of the next generation. And pray regularly for them - that God would raise them up as the leaders that you - and He - can envision.

4. Instill the love of God and others in them.

Model a life of love for the Father, the Church and the world for them to see and emulate. And encourage them to love hard as well.

5. Never do ministry alone; always have budding leaders around you.

Pastor Muriu emphasized the importance of spending quality time with budding leaders. So much so, that he brought to the stage three budding leaders that had accompanied him to the Summit - all the way from Kenya.

His investment in those young people was evident, and his face beamed when he introduced each of them to the Summit audience. He was a proud papa, showing off his precious children to the world. It was a beautiful thing to see.

Have you identified any budding leaders around you? Are you spending time with them, investing in them, encouraging them in their relationships with God and with others? 

Let's increase God's harvest!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dr. Brene Brown: Walking Her Talk

The week in "Deep Waters" we've heard from Pastor Bill Hybels, General Colin Powell and Patrick Lencioni. Each spoke at the Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit, but each shared a different take on leadership.

A common thread among each of them was this: Leadership is not about me. Leadership is about inspiring others towards a passionate vision, and doing that in a way that honors, encourages and blesses them.

It's not about me.


So with that in mind, I move on to my next Summit speaker -- Dr. Brene Brown.

Dr. Brene Brown
Before I share Brene's talk, let me just say - this lady's has some serious chutzpa. She is one of the most courageous women I know. And yet, her courage is a treasure that she earned through some dark days and long nights. 

As a university research professor, Brene has spent many years studying people. And what has she studied primarily?

Vulnerability. Shame. Worthiness. Authenticity. Courage.

Well as fate would have it, Brene morphed from professor to student after completing her first TED Talk. She'd spoken on "The Power of Vulnerability", and afterwards found herself slammed with criticism and scorn by others. 

People criticized not only her talk, but they ridiculed her for her weight and her looks. She was crushed. Devastated. Ashamed.

So she did what most hopeless people do. She burrowed into her cozy comforter and refused to get out bed.

Thankfully, with a healthy dose of love and encouragement from friends and family -- and some amazing inspiration from someone long gone -- Brene stepped one foot out of bed, then two. And she began to live out all the research and truth she'd already discovered. 

She even did another must-see TED Talk.

Through her own vulnerability and authenticity, she learned to overcome shame. She discovered her worthiness. She embraced courage she didn't even know she had.

And she's teaching many others to do the same. I felt privileged to be one of her students at the Summit.

Her three major points were:
  • We all need to be seen and loved
  • We all need to belong
  • We all need to be brave
If you've read my previous Summit posts, you're probably hearing some running themes here. 

When speaking of leadership, Brene encouraged leaders to be vulnerable and authentic with others, even their subordinates. 

Loved this quote from her: "The model of a leader as 'The Great Oz,' all-knowing, all powerful -- that dance is up..."


Earlier I mentioned that during her time wallowing in shame and despair, Brene found inspiration from someone long gone. I want to share that inspiration with you today - from President Theodore Roosevelt:
"It's not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;' but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
And this, my Friend, gave Dr. Brene Brown the courage to get out of her bed of mourning and get back out into the "arena."

So what about you? Will you remain in the stands or get out into the arena? Will you spend yourself on a worthy cause? Will you, at best know triumph in the end, and at worst, "fail while daring greatly?"

Will you?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lencioni's Three Signs of a Miserable Job

Yesterday I shared some invaluable thoughts from General Colin Powell. Sunday I shared some wisdom from one of the most passionate church leaders of our time, Pastor Bill Hybels.

Well after the calm, refined delivery of Colin Powell, the Global Leadership Summit planning team must have decided it would be a great time to shake things up a bit.

And onto stage walked the most energetic and hyperactive speaker I think I know. And yet he is one of my favorite speakers ever. He's none other than Patrick Lencioni, who is committed to helping organizations become as healthy as they can be. Love the man.

Patrick Lencioni

So with no further ado... I present:

Patrick Lencioni's Three Signs of a Miserable Job:

1. Anonymity

In Genesis 16, Hagar suffers greatly after she discovers she is pregnant with Abraham's child. Sarah's bitterness and jealously drives Hagar away from home and into the desert. When the Lord speaks to Hagar and promises her hope and a future, she exclaims, "You are the God who sees me. I have now seen the One who sees me."

We all long to be seen. We all long to be more than a number, a nameless face, a body sitting in a cubicle.

The best thing an employer can do for his employees is to "see" them. Know their names. Know their spouse's names. Their children's names. And make the time to care for them, not just their work.

According to Lencioni, "Good people don't leave jobs where they're known." 

2. Irrelevance

Everyone wants their life to count and make a difference. We need more than a paycheck or a slap on the back for a job well done. Those things are great and important.

But we need to matter.

"If you don't think your job makes someone's life better somewhere, you feel irrelevant," says Lencioni.

Too true.

3. Immeasurement

Once we know we're seen and valuable, we need to be able to measure that value. 

How much do I really bring to the table? How well am I doing my job? Am I meeting the expectations of my boss(es) or leader?

There's no frustration like taking an important test, yet never receiving a grade for it. Did I pass? Did I fail? Can I make any improvements?

These are vital questions and must be answered to turn a miserable job into a fulfilling one.

Based on these three criteria, is it time to pray about your next job? Or can you encourage this kind of healthy culture right where you are? Think about it!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Colin Powell: Impeccable Leader with Humble Beginnings

Yesterday I shared the first in a series on this year's Global Leadership Summit. Well, today I share one of the Summit's special treats for me: former - and the first African American - US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

When I hear a person speak in this kind of forum, I always learn things about them I didn't know. General Powell mentioned that people often ask him to share all the great military schools he attended. Some even ask him, "So what year did you graduate from West Point?"

Actually, General Powell admitted he wasn't a great student. Segregation forbade him from attending the best military schools. And he'd graduated as a rather average student from City College in New York.

I was floored to hear this.

But I was also inspired and encouraged as a Mama. 

General Powell's admission to a mediocre school career gave me hope for my children - some who make wonderful grades, and one who struggles through school for average results. He reminded me that the jury is still out on all my kiddos - and your kiddos too.

As parents, we cannot assume that our C-students will land a C-level career. We also cannot assume that our A-students will find total success post-college graduation. They will all struggle on some level. They will all succeed on some level.

We must trust our children to the Lord who created them - their minds, their talents and their creativity. And if they avail themselves to His will, He who created them will direct their futures.

But get this: my child or your child could one day become a great leader like Colin Powell. And that C in Math does not negate that possibility.

Okay, now that I got that out of my system... I'll share two inspiring quotes from Gen. Powell's talk:

"Leaders inspire people to reach beyond themselves."

A recurring theme during the Summit was - Leadership is not about me. Leadership is about others.

When Gen. Powell spoke these words, I had to stop and get to tweeting. Because leadership is not just reaching beyond myself to do what I may have thought impossible. It is encouraging YOU to reach beyond YOURSELF to do what YOU thought impossible.

When we all reach beyond ourselves, maybe we can solve the worlds problems. Human trafficking. Poverty and hunger. Orphaned children.

Now fill in the blank and go encourage someone else to reach beyond him or herself to solve that world problem.

"As we move forward, let's not forget others behind us."

Chances are, if you're reading this blog post, you've got some people "behind" you. You've got children or nieces and nephews. You may have some people you supervise at work or at least someone who serves in the position you used to fill. There's a younger generation of folks in your church or community. 

Whoever you consider "behind" you, serve these people. Bless them. Use your influence to speak up for them, especially if they have no voice.

General Powell also encouraged his fellow leaders to focus on their followers. After all, they are the ones that really do the work and the mission of any organization. He also advised us to constantly show people that they're important - no matter what role they fulfill in an organization - or church, or family.

I wholeheartedly agree. After all, people are truly important to God.  

And they should be just as important to you and me.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Global Leadership Summit: My Takeaways

On August 8 and 9, I had the wonderful opportunity to once again attend the Global Leadership Summit, a vision of Pastor Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek Association. These two days of instruction, encouragement - and even rebuke - were game-changers.

Over the next few days, I'll share a few quotes from several speakers, so you don't have to just take my word for it. Today I'll begin with...

Pastor Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Community Church

Pastor Bill Hybels opened the first morning, challenging leaders to be courageous, as God encouraged Joshua to be in Joshua 1:9. Courage, Bill said, must be paired with vision. 

And what is vision?

"Vision is a picture of the future that creates passion in people."

Have you ever experienced passion that had its genesis in someone else's vision? Better yet... has God ever given YOU a vision that created passion in others? It's an amazing thing.

Yet Bill had a warning about vision. Vision can be thrilling in its inception, but challenging to live out. Vision requires courage. And because it requires courage...

"A lot of visions are aborted in the hearts of leaders."

Think of the life-changing initiatives that have been aborted in the hearts of leaders. The non-profits that have been aborted. The companies that have been aborted. The schools that have been aborted. The churches that have been aborted.

Do you have a vision that just needs a little courage to propel it forward? Don't allow fear to snuff out your vision. Or should I say, don't allow fear to snuff out God's vision within you.

There's one more point from Bill's session that my husband Anthony and I have repeated often. 

"People join organizations. They leave managers."

When Bill spoke these words, all Anthony and I could do was nod our heads in agreement. This is so true! When people join churches, non-profits organizations, even companies, they often do so out of a commitment to the organization's mission and work. 

However, when these good folks decide to leave, it is often because of a manager, a CEO, an executive director, or worse -- a pastor.

So what's the answer, according to Pastor Hybels? Relationship. Pouring into others. Nurturing relationship with them. Affirming that they are seen and they are loved.

It's that simple.

It's that complicated.

Come on, Children of God. Let's lead courageously!



Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimmerman Found Not-Guilty/The Church Found GUILTY

Many writers write every single day. Some write three or four or five days a week according to schedule.

I write when I have to write.

Today I find myself in that particular mode. I am writing because I must.

After Saturday's verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial, a verdict of not-guilty, I remained quiet and reflective.

My emotions: sadness, disappointment, confusion.

And yet, my words were few, except for re-posting an old blog post about the case.

But that wasn't the case in the social media world around me. On Twitter and Facebook, I read comment after comment from my friends, family members and acquaintances concerning the trial.

Some expressed fear for their own sons. Some shared their disillusionment over the US legal system. Many expressed their infuriation.

And yet a noticed a strange paradox.

For the most part, my friends that expressed their emotions, encouraged prayer for the Martin family and/or reminded others to trust in God -- the Ultimate Judge in any trial -- happened to be African American.

On the other hand, the majority of my non-African American friends were eerily silent. 

I could almost hear crickets chirping out there in cyberspace.

Today, my feelings have grown beyond this particular case to include my disappointment over the stark polarization of our country.

Yes folks, we still live in a black-and-white country. Even in the Body of Christ.

In the Church, we fail to rejoice when our brothers and sisters of different races rejoice.

We fail to mourn when they mourn.

We fail to even give a darn.

And yet, we say we have the same Father.

We say we belong to the same family of God.

We say there's no difference between us, deep down on the inside of us, way below our skin.

I say, can be begin to live this way?

Can we put aside our political affiliations, our educational backgrounds, our personal preferences (e.g. our favorite worship music) and even our races, to see life through lenses different than our own?

I say, if we truly have the very Spirit of the Living God inside us -- sure we can!

Brothers and Sisters of every hue, race and culture -- let's start today.



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Oklahoma Tornado: What Can We Do?

I've had to make myself stop watching footage of the Oklahoma tornado, which tore through the town of Moore, Oklahoma like few have before.

My heart is aching for the people that have lost loved ones to this horrendous storm.

I am shocked by the devastation and images of Moore, Oklahoma, which looks like war-torn territory.

And I have inevitably asked myself, what can I do?

I. Give
Salvation Army and The American Red Cross are just two ways to give financially to the relief efforts in Oklahoma.  Maybe we could go without our Starbucks lattes for a month in order to donate to this effort. One news report even stated that The American Red Cross is accepting any volunteers that show up on site and will train them to immediately begin working with relief efforts.

II. Pray
The list of prayer requests is almost endless, but here's one we can begin praying through today:

  • Pray for emotional healing for those who have lost their parents, their children, their relatives, their friends
  • Pray for physical, mental and emotional healing for the injured
  • Pray for relief workers that will work tirelessly
  • Pray for community leaders and politicians that are assisting relief efforts, serving victims, handling media and encouraging community members to continue living
  • Pray for churches to come alongside the hurting and serve and love them well
III. Love
Continue to love others while we still have time. Today I read a moving Facebook post that went something like this:
"While ranting about my daughter 'borrowing' my shoes without asking me -- again, I saw a news report about the parents still searching for their children in Oklahoma. It really put things in perspective..."
Folks, we don't know when the next bomb or tornado or drunk driver could take someone we love away from us.

But this we know: We are here on earth to love God and love other people.

Let's do it while we've still got time.



Monday, May 13, 2013

Encouragement for My Momma-Sisters

Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to share with my church family during our morning service. I was a bit nervous and didn't know how it would go over, but God gave me exactly what He wanted me to share with the mothers of our church.

I'd love to share a little sampling here for my momma-sisters that happen to attend other churches around the globe...

I. God Models a Maternal Love

God is a Spirit, not a human being -- therefore, neither male or female.

And as a Spirit, He has both maternal and maternal qualities.

Remember that popular book, The Shack? In The Shack, author William P. Young presents God, the Father as an African American woman. Now when I first met "Papa" in The Shack, I was a bit put off. I mean, God as a woman?

Well, as I searched the scriptures more, I think Young was on to something there.

Let's see what the most important book -- the Bible -- says about God's feminine side...

Isaiah 66:13 - "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you."

Deuteronomy 32:11 - "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreading her wings, taketh them, beareth her wings."

Zephaniah 3:17 - "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."

This scripture conjures an image in my mind of a crying child, being comforted by her momma. The momma is rocking the baby, gently patting her back and singing a lullaby to her. And eventually the baby -- secure in her momma's arms -- remembers she is protected, she is wanted, she is loved. And she is calmed.

In each of these scriptures, God is viewed as a loving, nurturing mother. His love is paternal - protecting, providing and correcting, and it is maternal - calming, comforting and nurturing.

II. God Empowers Mothers to Love Our Children Well

As mothers, we can seek God for His power to love our children well.

God created us all for deep relationships, and only through those deep relationships -- primarily through the family -- can a child become physically, mentally and spiritually healthy and whole.

Last week, I took a 4-hour workshop with Dr. Karyn Purvis, director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University. Dr. Purvis has extensively studied the unhealthy attachments of children born into traumatic settings -- orphanages, multiple foster homes, abuse, etc. Here's what I learned from her and passed on to my church body yesterday.
  • A newborn baby's vision spans 8-12 inches. The miraculous thing? The average length from a woman's crook of her arm to her face is 8 inches. The length for a man's is 12 inches. God created our bodies to nurture our babies from the moment they are born, so the first thing a child sees is his parent's adoring and loving face.
  • Touch is vitally important in the development of a child's psyche.
  • 67% of communication with a child is not our words, but our tone of voice.
  • Our eyes are a mirror to our child. They look into our faces to see what's true about them -- if they are loved and accepted, just as they are.
  • When we deal with the pain of our pasts, we can help our children work through their pain and traumas too.
These truths were life-changing for me. So life-changing that I've already blogged about them in another post. But I also rejoice in God's favor and grace. For when I get this role as momma wrong, He is there for my children as a loving, perfect parent to grab them into His infinite and loving arms.

Praise Him for that!


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

42: Telling Our Story

I loved the movie 42.

This weekend my husband and I went to see the movie we'd been waiting to see -- the biographical sketch of famed MLB Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, played by my fellow Howard University Alum Chadwick Boseman. On opening weekend, 42 made box office history, bringing in $27.3 million, more than any other baseball-themed movie in history.

It warmed my heart to watch the start of Jackie's MLB career play out on the widescreen.

I laughed. I cried. I got spitting mad.

In the end, I celebrated the life of a man who lived with courage and determination. He could have given up a million times.

I'm so glad he didn't.

But what can we, living in the year 2013, learn from 42? I can think of a few things.

1. Never Underestimate the Influence of One Man or Woman

History books are full of men and women who led powerful movements. In the Sixteenth Century, Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation, seeking to make Christianity and the Bible accessible to ordinary men and women. Three centuries later, Martin Luther King, Jr. sacrificed his steady life as a Baptist preacher to lead the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. Mother Teresa, through her Missionaries of Charities, gave her life to feed, heal and comfort others -- orphans, the destitute, those dying of ravaging diseases.

By accepting the challenge of becoming the first African American to play Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson also made a huge difference that we're still benefiting from today.

Never, ever assume one person can't make a difference.

2. Women Can be Powerful Influencers

Okay, now as a woman, I've got to get a little real here.

I loved the portrayal of Rachel, wife of Jackie Robinson, in 42. But I left the theater thinking, "You mean to tell me Rachel and Jackie never had a fight? She never struggled over his decision to segregate MLB? She never longed for the quiet days of old? She never just downright lost it?"

Well, maybe she didn't. I just had to ask.

But nevertheless, I've got to commend Rachel for standing by her man. 

Like Jackie, she never backed down, never turned around, never put her man down. Now that I believe.

And as a woman and a wife, that inspires me.

3. We Must Work Together to Make Change

42 illuminated the role of MLB executive Branch Rickey, the first man to invite an African American to join his team. Without Rickey's courage, Jackie would have had a wonderful baseball career.

But it wouldn't have been in the Major Leagues.

The Civil Rights Movement wasn't fought by African Americans alone. Black and white, male and female marched side-by-side, together, in unity. Today, if we're going to make any major impact on the world, we've got to embrace our brothers and sisters of different hues.

We've got to reach out and grab the hand that may be a bit lighter or a bit darker, if we're going to change the world.

Now let's go change the world, Y'all!


Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing: Our Changing, Broken World

Some people eat good chocolate when they're stressed. Some run on the treadmill. Some take a long, warm bath.

Me? I blog.

As I sit here watching CNN coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, wiping tears, and wondering how someone could do something some cruel, so hateful, I wonder what crisis we will watch next.

And I wonder what kind of world our children will inherit.

A world where fearful third-grade teachers come to school packing.

A world where little children suffer post traumatic stress disorder after witnessing their classmates and teachers shot in school.

A world where we worry more about mass shootings and bombings than we do possible car accidents or home invasions.

Our world is broken.

Our world is darkening.

Our world needs hope.

Today, as the world changes before my very eyes, I'm finding hope in a Savior that never changes.

The Bible has this to say about Him:
Jesus Christ is the same today and yesterday and forever. *
I've decided not to put my faith in the government, in my country, in people.

I'm putting my trust in Him.

Let's pray for the victims of this senseless crime.

Let's pray for the family of the eight-year-old that died in the bombing today.

Let's put our trust in Him alone.


* Hebrews 13:8

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kermit Gosnell: A Front-Pager That Wasn't

Kermit Gosnell. Have you heard this name?

Maybe not.

But you should have by now.

According to witnesses in his grand jury murder trial, Gosnell ran an abortion clinic that went way beyond the call of duty. According to his grand jury report,
"This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy -- and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors... This business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels -- and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths."
Horrifying testimony, but I'm not hearing much about it.

Are you?

Kirsten Powers, a USA Today reporter, begins her story of this trial with these words:
"We've forgotten what belongs on Page One. Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven't heard about these sickening accusations? It's not your fault..."
This so-called physician preyed on poor women with unplanned pregnancies who felt they had no other options. But somehow, the powers that be have labeled this un-newsworthy.

Perhaps it steps on too many toes -- not just Gosnell's.


Well, I say it's news. Let's get the word out, folks. And...

Let's pray that justice is done.

Let's pray for the victims of this man's crimes.

Let's pray for unborn babies who cannot fight for themselves.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Sisterhood: Sisters or Enemies?

Okay, so let me just say this: I have a love/hate relationship with reality television.

I have wept over performances on The Voice and So You Think You Can Dance. The beauty I've seen in the fresh talent on shows like that has left me amazed and, at times, in tears.

But as the Mama of four kiddos with so much to do and so little time, I just can't commit to reality tv. I just don't have the time to tune every week to see if the girl with the fiery voice or the guy who floats through the air like an Alvin Ailey dancer makes it through to the next level.

I just don't have that kind of time...

And then there's the reality television that eventually reveals the depths of every character's worst flaws -- a la Jersey Shore. You know, the kind that makes you say, "Wow, at least I'm not that much of a loser..."

I personally despise that kind of reality tv.

So, it was with much fear and trepidation that I watched the first episode of TLC's The Sisterhood.

The Sisterhood follows five Atlanta-based pastor's wives or "First Ladies," as they are affectionately known in the traditional African American church. I happened upon this show at a holiday family gathering, and I have to admit curiosity got the best of me. Being a pastor's wife myself, I couldn't wait to see TLC's depiction of these women.

The first episode started out rather benign. We entered into the homes and churches of the first ladies. My first thought: they were intelligent and strong. They weren't the kind of women who hid behind their husband's shadows. They were much like the pastor's wives I know.

And then it happened: we were introduced to the villain, the arch-enemy, the trouble-maker. She is a lovely lady with a powerful testimony, but her jealousy and bitterness exude her every word. Unfortunately, we all know this woman. We've met her in the workplace, the church and even our families. She is real.

However, her introduction in The Sisterhood left me feeling like this show was less about sisterhood, and more about rivalry.

Since that first episode, I've only watched a couple more. From what I have seen, I've pulled a few lessons from The Sisterhood that I'd love to share.

Love your Sisters
This lesson is for us all, Ladies. It's a common temptation to see other women as the enemy. She's either prettier than you, smarter than you or richer than you. Or she's the woman that everyone looks up to and wants to be around.

First of all, "she" is human just like you. She is flawed. She is imperfect. She has insecurities and failures. JUST LIKE YOU. And while you're wasting time and energy envying her, she just might be envying you.

So get over it. There will always be a woman that's better, brighter, beautiful-er. (Like that new word?) And realize that at our core, apart from God's amazing love and presence in our lives, we're all a wreck.

Let's stop fighting our sisters. We need each other.

Be relevant Christians
In a recent episode, one of the pastor's wives and her pastor-husband planned a "Bar Mitvah"for their son. (Side note: this particular pastor has a Jewish heritage, but became a Christian in adulthood.) After spending time with their event planner, the pastor asked them to bow their heads to pray.

My heart went out to the event planner, who was completely out of sorts through the entire prayer. She was obviously not a Christian, and seemed quite offended at this couple's insensitivity toward her.

As Christians, we have to remember that every one in our world is not a Christian. Some ascribe to other religious beliefs. Some ascribe to none at all. We must be aware of this and be sensitive to others, loving them as God loves them.

We should never force anyone else into prayer or any other Christian "box."

After all, God didn't force us into relationship with Him.

Don't just do church, be the Church
I'll begin this point by again mentioning that I've only watched a few episodes of The Sisterhood. In those three episodes, I've watched ladies' luncheons, shopping sprees, counseling sessions and lots of event planning.

What have I yet to see? Ladies bible studies, mentorship programs, community outreach and family bible studies. I haven't seen anyone feeding homeless people, mentoring a young single mother or teaching their children scripture.

Not to say these women don't do this kind of ministry. But TLC has of course chosen to focus on black-tie fundraisers, instead of "come-as-you-are" prayer meetings. But that's what the Church is supposed to be about, in every city, in every state, in every country. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, loving and serving others as He did.

But then, that wouldn't make for great reality tv, would it?


So what do you think? Have you watched The Sisterhood yet? What would you include in the program if you were producer?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Foster Care: A Crisis Among Us

I recently heard some great news from Alicen Bennett, an Arkansas Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) caseworker and DCFS liaison to The CALL*.

This past January, 28 foster homes opened in Arkansas, meaning in that month alone 28 new families became available to take foster children into their care. A blessing, considering all the hoops that these families must go through -- background checks, medical exams, home studies and training classes.

On the same day I heard that great news, however, I also heard some bad news.

While 28 foster homes opened in January, 48 homes closed.

Do you understand what that means? While 28 foster families have just opened their homes to foster children that desperately need those stable home environments, 48 foster families have closed their homes to those same children that desperately need them.

Here's one more statistic: In 2012, 500 homes opened across the state of Arkansas.

Sadly, in 2012, 480 homes closed.

And another: 3908 children are in Arkansas foster care today. However, only 1132 foster homes are available to those children.

These numbers are unbelievable.

These numbers break my heart.

"The need for foster parents is staggering," says Alicen Bennett. I wholeheartedly agree.

We could point fingers -- at foster parents, at social workers, at DCFS bureaucracy. But what good would that do?

I've got a better idea of what we can do.

First of all, we can pray. Pray for God to move more of His people to consider fostering a child. Secondly, we can give financially or volunteer for a foster care nonprofit like The CALL. Thirdly, we can take the huge step of becoming foster parents ourselves.

In ten years, I pray that states like Arkansas can boast more positive statistics surrounding foster care. I pray that the number of homes available to children would not only equal, but exceed the number of children in need of those homes.

Until then, what will you do about the national foster care crisis?


* The CALL stands for Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime. The CALL is a faith-based non-profit that recruits and trains people from local churches for foster care. The CALL's vision is "to have no waiting children in Arkansas foster care, but instead to have waiting, Christian families ready to take them in."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ray Lewis: Super Bowl XLVII

I've never claimed to predict the future, but I've got a good feeling about tomorrow.

I think my Baltimore Ravens are going to pull it off tomorrow. And I think Linebacker Ray Lewis will get MVP of Superbowl XLVII.

And even if he doesn't, he's MVP in my book. You know why? Because he's a man of God who loves donning t-shirts with bible references like Psalm 91.

And because of quotes like these:

"Listen to what people say you can't do, and then GO DO IT."

How many of us have heard people tell us what we can't do? Maybe they think we're too young or too old, or too short or too tall, or we belong to the wrong gender or race. Or maybe we're aspiring to do something we've never done before.

Maybe the voices that tell us what we can't do are in our own heads. Sometimes we're actually our own worst critic.

Whoever the critic may be, we've got to press on with whatever God's called us to do. We've got to hear His voice above all others.

"God is absolutely amazing."

I agree with Ray.

God is amazing no matter what comes our way. No matter what hardships we face. No matter who opposes or accuses us. No matter how often people try to remind us of our past.

He's even amazing if the Ravens don't win the Superbowl tomorrow.

But it'll be cool if they do...


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Adoption and Super Bowl XLVII

Next Sunday, many of us will be glued to our television screens for one spectacular event.

Some will watch for the football. Others will remain captive for the hilarious commercials. Others still will hang out for the game just to witness Beyonce's half-time show. 
(Bet she won't lip sync this one...)

Anyway, whatever we consider the main event next Sunday, most of us will be watching.

As an adoptive mother and adoption advocate, I'm always looking out for adoption stories around me. Today, I thought I'd share stories I've discovered in next week's Super Bowl. Of course I must begin with my beloved Ravens...

Michael Oher

Michael Oher has a story that's been told before. If you've had the opportunity to watch Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, you've heard Michael's story already.

One of twelve children, Michael grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. Due to his father's frequent incarcerations and his mother's addiction to crack cocaine, he spent much of his childhood in and out of foster homes. By the time he reached high school, he'd attended eleven -- yes eleven -- different schools. At times, he even found himself homeless, with nowhere to go. 

During one of his homeless stints, his path sovereignly crossed with Sean and Leigh Ann Tuohy. And the rest is God-inspired history. The Tuohy's opened their home and hearts to Michael at age 16 and became his legal guardians just a year later.

Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick's adoption story has made headlines recently -- but for all the wrong reasons. The media loves drama, so everyone's telling the story of Colin's unwillingness to meet with his biological mother.

I make no judgements here of Colin or his birthmother Heidi Russo. Hopefully, the time to meet will be crystal clear to both of them, and prayerfully, that day will come.

But I do love what Russo said about her decision to place Colin for adoption (via Fox31 Denver): "I knew I couldn't have provided my son the kind of life he deserved when I became pregnant. I had him for about six weeks before putting him up for adoption, and what a blessing it was to have Teresa and Rick Kaepernick be able to step up and raise Colin."


Patrick Willis

Patrick Willis has a tear-jerker story similar to Michael Oher's. Raised by Ernest Willis, a single father in rural Tennessee, Patrick has endured -- or should I say overcome -- extreme poverty and physical abuse by a drug-addicted, alcoholic father.

When authorities removed Patrick and his three siblings from their home, a twist of fate landed them in the home of Chris and Julie Finley. It just so happened that Child Protective Services called Patrick's football coach, Rod Sturdivant, to inform him of Patrick's impending move to a foster home in another county. Determined to keep Patrick on his football team, Sturdivant embarked on a mission to find a local foster home for Patrick and his siblings.

His search began and ended with the Finleys, who had only been married a year. Unable to handle all four children for long, they provided Patrick and his brother Orey with the love and security they desperately needed. Chris guided Patrick through his season of college recruitment and later assisted his search for an agent.

Today, Patrick calls both Ernest Willis and Chris Finley "Dad." 

And the rest is NFL history...

Enjoy history-in-the-making next week when the Baltimore Ravens beat -- I mean face -- the San Francisco 49'ers!


Monday, January 21, 2013

MLK National Holiday: The Beloved Community

As I watched the inauguration of the second term of President Barack H. Obama, I could almost hear the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. reverberating in the background.

And I think of the phrase that has been repeated more than once today -- "The Beloved Community."

"The Beloved Community" was a term first coined in early 20th Century by philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Dr. King, also a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, popularized this term and sparked its evolution.

For Dr. King "The Beloved Community" described a country -- a world even -- of justice and equality and hope. A community of faith and love, where people of different races, cultures and socio-economic groups can live together, work together and worship together.

In 1956, Dr. King spoke these words following the U.S. Supreme Court Decision to desegregate the buses of Montgomery, Alabama:
"The end [of segregation] is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men."
King's dream went beyond African Americans having the right to sit anywhere we want to sit on a city bus. His dream went beyond even the election of the first African American president. His dream was one of community, one of solidarity -- where people of different colors and races and cultures can live together in peace, hope and love. Where we see the difference in the color of our brother or sister's skin, but choose to treat him or her with respect and honor and love.

Yet many of us still live separately, work separately and worship separately.

As we embrace a new year and a new hope for our country's future, let's ask ourselves: What will I do to embrace The Beloved Community? How can I encourage my school, my workplace, my organization, my neighborhood to also embrace The Beloved Community?

If we all embrace The Beloved Community, perhaps we will witness "a love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men."