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Myrtle

She knew she was going to die. Maybe not how soon. Maybe not the exact day. But. She knew she was going to die.
Nobody else knew. But she knew. And she hadn’t received any type of diagnosis of disease or prognosis of impending death. But somehow she knew.
And she began to make what she perceived to be the necessary preparation.
One thing she did long before her death was to make provision for the grandchild she was raising. She regularly implored her best friend at church to assume the rearing responsibility for the little girl she loved so much. They both loved so much. The little girl always found the familiar lap of the church friend every Sunday. And before church was over began to ask if she could accompany her home after church.
Her name was Myrtle, the one who knew she was going to die. She had the house painted, bought new furniture and perked up her surroundings in a hundred different ways. All the while showing no sign of sickness except for the diabetes that had plagued her for a while and the menopausal changes that seemed no more than an extreme pain in the behind.
She also bought things for the grandchild she loved so much. And what could she possibly need? She already had her own room with her own television and her own set of children’s encyclopedia. She already had the heart and ear of the grandmother and grandfather that doted on her daily. She already had the total attention of her young uncle who took her everywhere he went, except into the army, where he was during this time.
It seemed like a reverse nesting – the kind of fussing and fixing that mothers do while they’re waiting for the birth of their children.
While Myrtle waited for whatever she saw in the distance, she fixed up the surroundings for those she would leave behind. Very nicely. Very intently.
And for the grandchild who already had everything, she bought dresses. What, to a six-year-old, seemed to be a closet full of dresses. The kind of dresses children wore on Easter Sunday. Pink. Yellow. Blue. Mint green. White. Lavendar.
So many dresses. Dresses that fit perfectly. Dresses that tickled the fancy of a little girl. A little girl who would have traded each dress for more time with her grandmother, who knew she was going to die.
And she did.
Just a couple of weeks after the dresses appeared. And the little girl went to live with the church friend who kept her word and raised the little girl until she became a woman.
I was that little girl.

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Only. God.

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This piece is an extra because I wrote it on January 1, 2017, and I’m inspired to embrace faith as never before. Many who know me would be surprised to hear me say this because I have a reputation for believing God – that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him diligently. But it’s a new year. And a new day. We have a newly elected president and only God knows what’s ahead for those of us who are under his leadership through no choice of our own.
Only God knows the amount of mischief the president will wander into that can rain down destruction on people who least deserve it.
Only God knows the places the president will inappropriately insert himself and cause degradation in the lives of people who have already been denigrated more than justice should allow.
Only God knows the outcome of the seemingly chummy relationship between the incoming president and the leader of one of this country’s leading adversaries.
Only God. Only God knows the sadness and depression that has hit the hearts of many who feel abandoned and wonder at the reason.
Only God.
And it’s only God who can guard and defend us.
It’s only God who can bring us through this frightening moment in history.
It’s only God who can protect us from those who would deprive us of righteous needs and endowed rights.
It’s only God who can stay the hands of those who would oppress and deny privilege to any besides those who look and reign as themselves.
It’s only God who can shut the mouths of those who would slay with words those they deem to be inferior naturally and politically.
Only God.
It’s only God.
He is my hope.
He is my strength.
He is my guiding light.
He is the only one who can keep us.
He is the only one who can cause us to thrive in spite of being denied.
He is the only one who can cause us to soar in spite of being put down.
He is the only one who can bless us beyond even that which we can imagine.
So yes. This. Year. I am embracing faith as never before.
This. Year. I am putting my arms around God.
This. Year. I am dancing with great expectation.
Believing that God is and that God is a rewarder of those who seek him diligently.

(Excerpted from Mustard Seed Mondayz, coming real soon to an online vendor of your choice.)

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Happy Birthday!!!

I’m so happy and grateful to see another birthday. I just love birthdays. I love the joy of living. I love the joy of acknowledging the grace of God. I love the gathering to celebrate. I love the cake and the candles. I love the gifts and gags. I just love birthdays.
For those few minutes even this introvert soul loves being the center of attention.
And I’m blessed to see another birthday.
Not mine. It’s not my birthday, you know. It’s the universal celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, savior of those who choose him. I’m sure he was born during some other season, but the point is, this is the day designated for this celebration and I’m not going to waste a minute of it.
Jesus. I love Jesus. You know Black women know Jesus better than others. Seriously! You know our grandmothers and great grandmothers talked about Jesus as if they had tea with him every day. Actually some of the ones I know did just that. They talked to him each morning, before or at breakfast tea. They told him about their troubles and trials. They thanked him for healing their bodies and minds. They thanked him for the trials he’d gotten them through. Sometimes they talked. Sometimes they hummed. Sometimes they just groaned.
But it was clear between the two of them.
And the reason I claim this peculiar familiarity for my own is that professors of other persuasions have told many of us seminary students of their shock at what they encountered when they taught African Americans or became their pastors. They vicariously experienced a familiarity that was new to them.
Jesus really is all the world to people who have experienced oppression on any level and the availability of his sweet presence endears him to the hearts of those who embraced him fully.
So Jesus’ birthday takes on a special meaning beyond the purchasing of gifts for everyone we know. It means much more than the pies and cakes we bake. It means so much more than the family gatherings that remind us how precious our connections are to us.
Jesus’ birthday reminds us that his father loved us so much that he gave himself for our redemption and salvation.
And it all started with the little babe in the manger who was born in some town on some date so all who would could walk in the way that would bring peace to the whole world. From the one to the many.
Merry Christmas! Happy Birthday Jesus!

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‘I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey’

Some children know from the moment they’re born what profession they want to pursue. Or so it seems. And they do just that. It’s as if it is woven into the fabric of their being. Well we know it is, but what about the rest of us. Those who sort of wander around trying to figure it out.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know the one thing I wanted to do. The problem was that I wanted to do everything. And I never could decide so I really did try so many things. And once the challenge was gone and I got bored, I usually moved on to the next thing. Lousy resume. Pitiful retirement plan. Great life. I learned many skills, networked with the best of the best and made lifelong friends along the way.
But there was one thing I was always sure of. Not what I wanted to do, but what I wanted to be. From maybe eight years old.
I wanted to be Miss Vic Clark.
Now if you didn’t grow up or worship in the community of Waverly in Baltimore Maryland in the 50s and 60s, you have no idea who Miss Vic Clark was. And I know very little about her personal life. And she wasn’t the only one who captured my attention. The group included Mrs. Rida Bell Billups and Mrs. Hodges, whose first name escapes me this morning.
And with the intriguing name of Rida Bell for competition, for some reason it’s Miss Vic Clark who personalized for me the woman I wanted to become.
These women were lifelong members of my home church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Baltimore. They had gotten up in age and lived with their children because living alone was no longer an option. It’s been so many years since they went to heaven that their faces are no longer in my memory.
But their souls are vibrant with me even now as I am probably the age they were when I worshiped with them as a child.
So everyone didnt’ have cars back in the day and they certainly wouldn’t have been driving because they were, by this time, showing the signs of aging even more so than we do.
They weren’t able to get to church every Sunday because they had to rely on their children, many of whom by then belonged to other churches.
But on communion Sunday – every second Sunday – at 3 p.m. – there was great rejoicing on the corner of 32nd and Barclay streets. The Franklins lived next door. Deacon Melvin Norman, his wife Elsie and his daughter Helen walked from their house a few doors down. Mrs. Bruce Branch and her son, Donald, walked down. We waved to Miss Betty Williams as we passed her house, finishing our nine block walk. Deacon George Grave and his wife, Louise, and their 10 children came from the opposite direction. Trustee Nick Payne and his wife, Lucille, also. As did the children of the Wells family – Barbara, Lloyd and Ernest.
All the saints gathered in for communion and friends saw friends they hadn’t seen since the month before.
And there was great rejoicing.
The older women embraced worship with incredible joy.
When they reached the door of the sanctuary, tears began to stream down their faces.
The shout was as likely as not to burst forth even before the formal beginning of the service. Not always.
Sometimes they actually contained themselves until the testimonial period that preceded the service. People talked about how good God had been to them since the last time they were there. Some folks told their 60-year-old salvation story once again, with the kind of energy that made it sound as if it had happened the day before. Some told it so often we children mouthed it simultaneously.
Rochelle Hodges’ mother would cry. Now she came more often because she lived up the street from the church and could still walk. She was also an usher as long as she could stand. But she always cried with joy when she reached the door.
Mrs. Rida Bell Billups, who wore the biggest, sharpest hats I’d ever seen, would lean over as she sat. She’d sway her head to the music as if to show off her hat. And she did this thing with her feet that I’d never heard, neither before nor since. She’d alternate between the toe and heels – yes two inch heels – of her shoes, and make these tapping sounds that created their own percussion section to accompany whatever song she was offering as the prelude to her testimony. A signature piece of hers was, “I know I been changed. I know I been changed. I know I been changed. The angels in heaven done signed my name.” And after that part got really good to her, she’d launch into the familiar “I looked at my hands and they looked new. The angels in heaven done signed my name. I looked at my feet and they did too. The angels in heaven done signed my name. I started to walk and I had a new walk. The angels in heaven done signed my name. I started to talk and I had a new talk. The angels in heaven done signed my name.”
And everyone knew the words. And everyone joined in because they shared the same sentiment of the assurance of salvation because each of their names had likewise been recorded in the Lamb’s book of life.
And Miss Vic Clark would stand and wait her turn, clutching the bench in front for support. She’d move her feet as if to see if maybe she could still cut a step or two. And she’d tell of the goodness of the Lord who’d kept her and healed her and filled her heart with great joy. Down through the years, she’d say, “He’s been my savior. He’s been my friend.” And like many others, Mrs. Bessie Dawson, Mrs. Hattie Childs – she’d always declare, she wouldn’t take nothing for her journey.
My sentiment too. So thankful for the journey that began as a little girl listening to women who had such a love for Jesus that it fell on me and made me want nothing more than to know Jesus in the same intimate way that they knew him. Of this I was always sure. And I hope I make my love relationship with Jesus feel just as compelling and irresistible for the children who share my life. I hope it gives them the same kind of hunger and thirst, the same kind of desire for the Desire of all nations.
Because, surely, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey.

The Genius of prayer

You drop. You kneel. You grab hold of God’s feet. No protocol.

You know your connection is good.

You don’t need to re-introduce yourself. You know you already belong.

You just grab onto God’s feet.

You don’t need to ask for salvation. You know you’re already redeemed.

You don’t have to explain why you showed up. You know he was watching out for you.

So you just grab onto God’s feet.

You don’t need to confess a litany of sins. You know you’re already forgiven.

You don’t need a lot of words to feel heard.

You know he heard your heart as your feelings and needs crystallized.

You don’t have to wait for verification of his presence. You know he’s always here

You just grab onto God’s feet.

You are clear about your authority to use his name. So you just speak it into the atmosphere. Just because you like to hear it.

Just speak it. Jesus. Just speak it. Jesus. Just speak it. Jesus.

Not because it’s magic.

But because there’s power in the name of Jesus.

What’s not to appreciate about a God who works out a perfect system so his imperfect kingdom dwellers have immediate access at all times with no need for perfection in intercession. In supplication. In praise. In petition. Or in worship.

Your heart is heard.

Your presence is appreciated

And you only had to say Yes!

This is where you enter into the genius of prayer.

And it confounds us. It’s too easy. We didn’t construct it. And it makes no sense.

So we’re constantly confounded and confused.

We can’t do anything effectively without having this connection and being willing myself to hear and obey as I’m directed by the Holy Spirit of God. Every day. Every minute of every day.

It confounds us because we don’t know when we’ve found success.

Is it with the answered prayer or in the conversation itself? It confounds us. The genius of prayer is in the One who created the process.

He himself ordains the process and the outcome. And we have no control over either. The desired outcome can happen in the moment of conversation. Or it can happen 10 years later. And we’re no more the worse for it because it comes at the perfect time.

Prayer is a complex, simple system of communication.

It’s an ongoing transaction.

It’s everything that goes on between us and God.

It’s words. It’s music. It’s singing. It’s dancing. It’s groaning. It’s laughter.

It’s everything.

And it yields everything. Things we ask for. Things we don’t know to ask for.

Things we think we need. Or maybe just what we really need.

You sit to ask for one thing and find yourself asking for something entirely different.

You kneel to pray for one person and find yourself praying for someone else.

You bow to pray and find yourself weeping.

Prayer is so much more than our minds can imagine

Prayer is so easily navigated if we just recognize that

God is the Creator and Sustainer of the process.

And God’s answer is Yes.

Yes to life. Yes to eternity. Yes to healing. Yes to deliverance. Yes.

We may not always recognize it as yes. But His answer is yes. And Amen.

And the real blessing is being involved in the process and being called his child and being loved with unfathomable love that has no top no bottom no sides.

The real blessing is being the object of his love and his grace and his mercy.

God is God all by himself. And He is nothing but love and grace and peace and joy and forgiveness and redemption and healing and deliverance.

Wait. He’s everything!

And God is the Genius of Prayer.

Bacon and eggs

Walking Worthy Now

One of my favorite characterizations of God comes from The Shack by William P. Young. It’s a novel with a provocative story that evoked criticism from varied arenas upon its debut in 2007. I love it. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard it would be made into a movie.
My favorite scene shows the protagonist walking into the room expecting to see God and becoming mesmerized by the sight of a rather rotund Black woman cooking bacon and eggs. I was not only thrilled but delighted at the thought of God being a woman, a Black woman, a Black woman of a certain age, Black woman of a certain size… In other words a Black woman much like myself cooking my favorite breakfast. Bacon and eggs. I could smell it. I could hear the sizzle of the bacon.

You can smell it, right? You can smell it, right?

I could even hear…

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A reflection on my calling

Salvation. What is it? Once the original invitation has been accepted and the deal is forever sealed in eternity, what does it mean for one’s life? For the quality of one’s life.
Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Just what does that mean? What does that life look like? How shall it be experienced?
I asked God these very questions on November 17, 1981 when God’s call on my life culminated in a dream…which is remarkable because I’m not a “dream” person.
I was standing behind a podium, before a group of people who were weeping. God said to me as we seemingly watched the scene together, “They are being healed by your voice. Do you understand me now?” The latter question was in response to my constant requests for clarification for God’s vision for my life. I really didn’t understand, not then, and only gradually on a progressive basis years later. Healing by the voice caught my attention because I was a music minister but by no means a singer.
But I grabbed for paper and pen and began to take dictation as God gave me visible and audible glimpses.
“I am come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.” God said that was to be the theme of my life – to share abundant life with others. I was almost like Sarah, but I dared not laugh. I did gasp in amazement. After all, at the time my family was living in rather humble conditions. I was 31 and about to graduate from college. We had no extra money, no car, no stocks, no bonds. What kind of abundance could I share with anyone?
God was not put off by my scoffing, but continued to share the vision. God let me know that I would have to depend on him daily for the substance of that life and that as I received, I would then be able to freely give. Along the journey of preparation as I continued to grow into the garment God had woven especially for me, God has shared customized times and words to strengthen and encourage me.
Also to instruct me that as ministers – and all Christians are – we should bear the presence of God in us and share it wherever we are.
We’ve all had people touch our lives along the road in various ways; teachers, preachers, coaches, school maintenance personnel. Just being near them made a difference. Sometimes we didn’t even realize the impact in the moment. For me, it’s like the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21-22) It was God’s way of guiding and assuring the children of Israel of his abiding presence with them. That’s his promise to us, and as his ambassadors, we are called to be present and to be his presence in the global village. Present to share life, light and direction, not our own, that that which God provides through us because of our intimate relationship with him.
Life brightened by the life and light of God cannot remain untouched but must thrive and develop abundantly according to God’s divine design for each of us.
And now, 36 years later, I’m still searching for the refreshing of that call and how it will manifest in this stage of my life. But what I know is that God is even nearer and dearer to me, and my greatest joy is seeing the eyes of one who finally knows in her heart that God loves her with an everlasting love; who gets it in his soul that God loves him and keeps him as the apple of God’s eye.

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My 31-year-old seeking self. My Coppin State University graduation photo.