Lessons in a Jar

You Are enough

We frequently pray prayers that we don’t realize we’re praying. We see things in other people and our hearts pray “Why can’t I be that way?” Or “Why am I not able to do those things?” The vulnerability in feeling inadequate by comparison takes these earnest prayers from our hearts to God’s ears and if you listen, God will answer them in the most amazing ways.

Recently, I was standing in my kitchen after a frustrating week. It was only Tuesday but I felt like the week had beat me up enough for it to be Thursday. I was having the kind of week that made every single little thing irritating. The control freak in me had tried all week (two days) to make sure that things would improve. I kept trying to stay positive and to rearrange my surroundings to work in my favor, but I was failing and it felt like I kept being reminded that all my attempts to succeed were failing. On this particular Tuesday, all I wanted to do, was come home, cook the meal I had planned to cook, eat, relax and hopefully recover enough to do it all over again tomorrow. But of course, that was too much to ask on this particular Tuesday.

I was at a point, emotionally, that I was just barely holding it together and I knew the smallest disappointment would have been the last straw and I would inevitably crumble under the weight in a full dramatic performance, as is typical for me at least once a month. That last straw happened to be in a jar. There I was, standing in my kitchen attempting to cook. I was almost finished but needed a jar of sauce to complete my dish. I reached into the refrigerator and grabbed what I needed. I placed my right hand on the lid of the jar and attempted to twist it off but it wouldn’t budge. I tried twice more and it only made my hand hurt. I considered eating without the sauce but that didn’t seem fair. Nothing had gone my way all week (on a Tuesday) and I thought the least the universe would allow me, should be to enjoy my food the way I wanted to eat it. But here I am pacing my kitchen floor, after smacking the bottom of the jar, after placing a towel over the lid for traction, after shaking it up and down for whatever reason, trying to figure out why I can’t open this jar.

I sat the jar down in frustration, rubbing my temples and asking what else I hadn’t tried. Should I ask a neighbor for help? No, because if I talk to someone, I’ll cry and I don’t need these people thinking I’m crazy. I had opened the jar before, why is it so difficult today of all days? Was this jar a sign that moving away from home was a terrible idea and I actually can’t do all this by myself? This is how dramatic I was being. In a last ditch effort, I tried something I hadn’t tried. Something that didn’t even make sense to me. I picked the bottle up with my right hand and grabbed the lid with my left hand. I’m not left handed at all. There’s no real reason my left hand should be more capable of opening this jar than my right because I don’t use it, but I have this other hand I haven’t tried so I’m going to try it. Sure enough, with one firm squeeze and twist, POP! The top came off and I got my lesson.

I had spent the last few days wondering why my gifts and talents weren’t producing in the same ways my peers’ were. I was looking at friends and family thinking, well what are they doing that I’m not doing? What do they have that I don’t have? And with a jar and my left hand, God told me to worry about myself. I may not have all of the resources I think I need, but have I valued ones I have enough to use them to their full potential?

Many times, we look at others and think we don’t have enough or that we ourselves are not enough for the task that we are being called to. Meanwhile, God is saying to us,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Your gifts, talents, resources, etc may be different from someone else’s but I’m the same God to them as I am to you. If I’ve given you a vision, I have also given you the provisions. You’ve exhausted your right hand, so try your left. You’re not any less capable or adequate than anyone else. Use and strengthen what you already have while you have it and whatever else you think you need will fall into place. God would not send you on a mission you are incapable of accomplishing and that is simply because God is incapable of failing a work God has initiated. Whatever the task, whatever the goal, whatever the unopened jar, never underestimate what you’ve already been given.

A Presentation

Holy & Acceptable

One of my biggest pet peeves is to give someone detailed instructions and they still complete the task incorrectly. I understand communication very well, so when I give instructions I try to think of every question a person might have in regards to the instructions in order to be sure the instructions are very thorough. So when something is not done according to the instructions I gave, it triggers my control freak defense mechanism that says “see, I knew I should have just done this myself if I wanted it done correctly,” even though I know I would have been overextending myself which would have only lead to further complaints. It’s even worse when you know the reason the task was incorrect is because the person did not read all of the detailed instructions I took time to make clear for them.

I was thinking to myself, I know that God is perfect and patient, but how many times have I taken that for granted?

The bible tells us to

“…Present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service.”

Romans 12:1

Now, one could interpret this literally as it pertains to the condition of your human body. But for the sake of today’s devotion, let’s think about this in a broad sense. As Christians, we are supposed to make ourselves available to be of service to God at all times, living our lives in perpetual sacrifice to him. This includes sacrificing our time. Sacrificing time, as a Type A person, is a big issue for me but I’m understanding how important it is to dedicate time to doing the work of God’s will, as it is our purpose, and doing it in a way that is holy and acceptable.

It does take a lot of time spent with God to properly understand the instructions we’re given. How many times have we cut our prayer time shorter or skipped a study session in order to make more time to do something else we had planned to do? This is the exact same thing as the very scenario described above. If you have accepted God as the authority in your life, you are saying that you will complete the assignments given to you in a way that is acceptable to God. But we shortchange God when we do not sacrifice time to spend with God. We cannot read all the instructions or know what will be acceptable to God, if we do not take time to get to know God and spend time learning what his will is for our lives. We can’t say a quick prayer in the morning or bless our food on its way to our mouths and think that will be enough to complete our assignments well.

This does not mean God will have the same reaction to us that we have when someone doesn’t follow instructions.  However, with any relationship, you don’t want to be the partner who can’t be trusted to follow through. Think about how disrespected we feel when someone cuts corners on something that is important to us. So today, let’s reflect on our sacrifice. Are we truly concerned with the quality of effort we are putting forth toward our purpose? Are we truly concerning ourselves with our efforts being acceptable? Or are we just giving God what we have left after we’ve done all the other things that are important to us?

 

Lose a little…

Lose Yourself

Scrolling through social media, I see a lot of posts and kind words meant to encourage people on their various journeys through life. A sentiment I see often is one that is encouraging to those of us who may be experiencing the loss of friends and loved ones. Not in a sense that they are departing from this realm, but that relationships with friends and family members may become strained once you decide to take the path that God has called you toward. The posts usually say something like “There are certain people who can’t come with you where God is taking you…” Or something like that.

I’ve given that statement a lot of thought over the years as I’ve experienced shifts in my social life. I’ll admit I haven’t had to sever ties with very many people but that made me consider something else. I asked myself, If I’m not losing a lot of people what else should I be willing to put aside?

In the 16th chapter of Matthew, Jesus starts to talk to his disciples about the suffering he would eventually have to experience. Peter, in disbelief, pretty much told Jesus that would never happen to him. Jesus said,

“Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me. For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Matthew 16: 23-25

Peter was trying to tell Jesus that he should never have to experience what Jesus knew was his purpose. Then Jesus called Peter, or Peter’s attitude toward his calling, a stumbling block. But instead of kicking Peter to the curb and telling him “you can’t roll with me where I’m going if you’re not going to be supportive,” Jesus understood that Peter simply didn’t understand what his purpose was. So he reminded him that in order to do this whole will of God thing, we have to be completely prepared to deny parts of ourselves. The fear and anger that Peter was experiencing in regards to Jesus’ purpose, are also feelings that Jesus was feeling. But Jesus had to be willing to deny himself the luxury of letting those feelings steer him away from his calling because he knew what he was doing was bigger than himself.

That hits home for us control freaks. There are sacrifices we must make on our journey toward our purpose that require us to let go of familiar parts of ourselves. Just like everybody can’t come with us where we’re going, there are parts of our own lives and personalities that we are responsible for putting to the side.

Peter was one of Jesus’ hot headed friends. He wasn’t a perfect person by any stretch of the imagination. That encourages us that God is able and willing to use anybody to accomplish his will. However, Peter and all the other disciples had to give up their whole lives to follow Jesus and I’m sure they were constantly having to check their attitudes and behaviors so that they were representing Jesus well.

So today as you begin your week toward the end of Lent, what is it about yourself that you are unwilling to let go of that may be stalling your process toward your purpose. Is it your temper and lack of patience? Are you too used to being on your own time and can’t fully commit to the work God is calling you to do? Are you simply attached to people and places that don’t encourage your growth?

Today’s challenge is to be real with yourself, take responsibility for the thing or things about your own personality that might be holding you back, and tell yourself to let go of that.

Sometimes you have to lose a bit of yourself to level up. Everything you lose with be replace with better!

 

Wait for it: A lesson from Tino


Tino is my dog. He’s a 1-year-old beagle who is very friendly but very mischievous. The dog is so smart that it has been quite difficult for me to train him. In my attempts to teach and also understand Tino, he has unexpectedly taught me his own lesson in patience and obedience.

Tino and I have a pretty good routine going. I get home from work, take him out, we play, then I’m able to do a few things around the house. Then at some point I go take a shower and get ready for bed. While I’m in the shower, Tino is completely unsupervised in my apartment. I’ll remind you, he’s very mischievous so I used to get apprehensive about leaving him alone, even to shower. I’d leave the bathroom door open so I could hear or see him and try to shower quickly. After a little while I stopped being so nervous because Tino does the exact same thing each time I take a shower. He sits quietly by the door until I get out. This is not something I’ve trained him to do. He has all the space and opportunity to get into anything he wants while I’m not looking, and instead he sits and waits for me on his own.

Initially, I thought nothing of it. I was just happy he wasn’t ransacking my apartment. But one day I really thought about how obedient he had decided to be and it taught me something about myself. Tino has a quality in his relationship with me that I’d love to have in my relationship with God.

There are times when we ask God for guidance or permission and don’t really get an answer in the time frame that we feel is reasonable. So, because of our inclination to want things to be the way we think they should be, We get restless and anxious and panic a bit. Just like Tino, we all have the freedom to do whatever we want while God is taking his time to get back to us. However, unlike Tino, too many times, we taken that opportunity. We didn’t hear anything from God so We just started moving and doing things We thought were going to work. Things that might not have even been bad things but they didn’t necessarily have God’s blessing and subsequently end up ransacking our lives. Now, God is not too busy taking a shower to get back to us, but things work in the time he designates for them to work, so what we’re supposed to do in the meantime is trust that God has our best interest at heart and have patience. We all know how difficult it can be to sit (figuratively) by the door and wait for God the way Tino waits for me.

My favorite part about Tino is that every time I get out of the shower he greets me with the same excitement. This tells me, he’s not just waiting for me because he can’t do anything until I get back, he’s waiting for me because he genuinely loves me. He could be doing other things but that’s boring when I’m not there to do them with him. This is what I want more than anything. I want to enjoy God’s presence so much that waiting on an answer from him is not me begrudgingly waiting for God to say or do something so I can have my way. I want to wait on God because that’s the homie! who else would I move forward with?

These are the three things I’m praying for myself and for you: Patience, obedience and a relationship full of love and desire for God’s presence. And I learned all that from a beagle. Go figure.

40 Days of Dust

take

Today is Ash Wednesday.

In the Christian faith, this is the beginning of preparing ourselves to observe Easter as the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 days of prayer and fasting known as Lent. We fast following the example of Christ when he was lead into the wilderness to fast and to be tempted by Satan. Basically, this entire observance is a time when we reflect on the death and the resurrection of Christ and imitate the things he did leading up to his death in order to prepare himself for the HUGE task of ushering us into salvation.

So, on Ash Wednesday, people go to service to have their heads smudged with ashes, traditionally, from burned palms from last year’s Palm Sunday service which is the service before Easter. Ashes appear in the bible many times as a symbol of mourning, consecration, and even a blessing. It’s customary that those observing Ash Wednesday, receive a smudge of ashes on their foreheads accompanied by a blessing from a clergy member. Now, I’m no bible scholar so pretty much all the things I’ve learned about this holiday are mostly things I’ve read and cross referenced. While researching the actual ritual of receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, a particular thing stood out to me that is very relevant to our condition as Christians who are triggered by the idea of not being in complete control of life’s happenings.

As a person receives ashes, they may hear the words, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” It’s in reference to the above verse. That verse helped to put my worries into perspective for two reasons:

  1. I am a fully functioning being, fully composed of what will decompose when my spirit has left my body. I’m literally made of the makings of dirt. How amazing is it that God designed a person as complex as I am and as you are from what he found lying around (figuratively speaking). That’s encouraging to me because there are so many times when I get hung up on not being able to make things happen the way I want them to happen completely overlooking the fact that God is able to make great things come from absolutely nothing.
  2. My physical body came from the Earth and will return back to it. As amazing and as great as God has created me to be, it’s inevitable that what I see looking at me in the mirror will one day be nothing again. Every time I get beside myself with how well I’m able to maintain control over the things God has given me power over, I have to remind myself to be humble. Just as quickly as someone can admire my shiny accomplishment and accolades, I can return to dust and be forgotten and reduced to nothing if I’m not doing things for God’s glory.

So while we’re observing this period of fasting, let’s be mindful of the the attitude we maintain. While we’re experiencing the discomfort of the thing we’ve removed from our daily life for the next 40 days, let’s remember to remain humble in recognition of our position as servants to God and to Each other.  In the absence of the thing or things we’re fasting, take time to remind ourselves who gives our vessels of flesh and dust purpose. For the next 40 days, let’s get our dust in check.  I pray we all end our 40 days with a new sense of submission and purpose.

#BathroomBreakChallenge

I know we’re already halfway through the month but it’s never too late to try to advance your prayer life! So I’m inviting you to join me in the #BathroomBreakChallenge. 

Each time you enter the privacy of a bathroom, spend some time talking to God. You can make your own posts about your experiences and progress using #BathroomBreakChallenge or just comment here, on Facebook, Instagram or under the Youtube video.

I’m excited to see how this helps us get through our day and ultimately alters our prayer life. Let’s Go!

More

It’s so easy to pray for increase and for God to enlarge our territory but how many times do we actually do an inventory of how much we’ve given to God?

We often have a tendency to excuse ourselves from giving our best to God. We use sayings like “Jesus says come as you are” and “God knows my heart” to relinquish ourselves the responsibility of giving God even a fraction of what he deserves. It is true that God knows our hearts, but he also knows our pockets, our schedules and our priorities. God knows how much time we devote to things that do not serve us well. God knows how much money we spend on useless things.

Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.

Romans 12:1

Many times the above verse is used to warn us against doing ourselves bodily harm. However, the verse says a lot about what we should be striving toward. As long as we are living, we ought to be sacrificing something out of gratitude for God’s presence in our lives, especially as it applies to mercy and grace. As control freaks, it’s tough for us to sacrifice time and money where we do not see a need. When we feel like we’re doing fine serving in your church and giving our tithes are we really sacrificing? or are we participating in a ritualized routine that doesn’t hold much value to us in the first place?

This is a challenge for us to assess what we’re doing currently and ask what more could we be giving. Where can I sacrifice time, energy, money, etc., to improve my relationship with God and to point others to God’s presence in my life? This is not a call to irresponsibly over compensate. However, this is a call to go deeper in your relationship with God to determine something specific God wants from you and what’s keeping you from giving it.

There’s always room for more.

Living

the-new-you

So I’m back in the comfort of my parents’ home, in my hometown, with my home girls and home boys, and best of all my home church. So much good could come from being back at home where things are familiar. One would imagine feeling some sense of comfort. But not I.

Away from home was a symbol of success for me. I associated home with “stuck.” I had spent the last 4 years away from home trying to figure things out and make sure I wouldn’t be forced to return home but there I was. I was at home, resenting all the comforts that home provided. All I could feel was that I had tried to do something and it didn’t work. I felt like I failed and that was so hard for me. I had never truly felt like I had failed at anything before so a new feeling of failure mixed with the familiarity of home was heavy.

Of course, I couldn’t let anyone else know that. I was about to be around people who have known me since I was born and who I felt like expected more from me than I was able to produce but I wasn’t about to let them know how I really felt. I had to make sure I appeared satisfied with my decision to return home and seemingly begin again.

I began going through the motions.  I read books, I wrote poetry, I looked for jobs, I ate a lot and I exercised so I wouldn’t feel bad about how much I was eating. Of course I started attending my home church again just as I had before I left. I re joined the choir and helped to revamp the young adult ministry. I appeared to be making use of my time and trying to regain my footing but in reality I had no idea what I was doing. After obtaining a degree, I still wasn’t quite sure what career I wanted to pursue so I was looking for jobs just because I needed a source of income. I wanted to go back to school and I knew where I wanted to go, but I didn’t have any money so I was kind of just applying to see what would happen. I was literally just waking up and doing things until it was time to go to bed again.

Keep in mind, God still wasn’t speaking to me the way I was asking him to. I was attending church, I was praying, I was serving, I was tithing but I was doing it with clenched teeth because I still could not hear God. As I served in ministry, I was able to watch God move on everyone else’s lives and it was like sitting in a room watching an ex friend walk in and speak to everyone but you. The kind of ex friend that you still love but you’re just not seeing eye to eye at the moment so a part of you wishes they’d say hi but you’re too stubborn to kick off the conversation because you feel like they should apologize first. Physically, I was fine but my spirit was perpetually sulking and it was weighing me down.

Then one day, I was sitting on my parents’ couch watching TV. I was alone and preferred it that way. I was watching Say Yes to The Dress enjoying the brief escape from my self-proclaimed boring and uneventful life. When all of a sudden a young woman appeared on the screen. Margo Mallory was her name and I will never forget. Margo’s head was completely bald but she was so beautiful and full of life. She was excitedly shopping for a dress for her big day when she would marry the love of her life after a long battle with cervical cancer. She found a beautiful dress and made a decision not to wear a wig on her wedding day because she felt beautiful as is. The show gave us a short glimpse of her wedding day and I was so happy for her. Then the last few seconds of the show right before the credits, the screen went black and in white letters appeared the words “In loving memory of Margo Mallory.” In that moment, it was like time stood completely still as I stared at the screen. I couldn’t hear anything and all I saw was the last image on the screen of the tribute to the beautiful bride I had just watched marry the love of her life. I felt sick and I knew exactly why.

When I was 18 years old, I went to the doctor for an annual exam. My doctor performed my exam as she normally would but she came back with different results. My pap smear came back abnormal and  I had tested positively for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is sexually transmitted which was confusing to me because at this point, I had only been with one person who I assumed had also only been with me since we had been together and we were using protection. After expressing this to my Doctor she told me that HPV is contracted by skin to skin contact and not necessarily bodily fluids, meaning it is possible to contract HPV even while using condoms. She also told me that it’s common for the virus not to present symptoms in men. They can simply carry the virus with no knowledge. It is also common for HPV to progress into Cervical Cancer so she scheduled me for a biopsy. As you can imagine, this was tough news for a person who had only recently began participating in sex, but I didn’t allow myself time to think very hard about it. I put the next appointment on my schedule and waited.

When I returned for my biopsy  I took my sister and  mother with me for when the results came back. When my doctor returned with my results, she told me she had indeed found cancerous cells and I needed to quickly schedule an appointment with an oncologist. She asked me if I had any questions but I couldn’t really breathe enough to ask anything. I remember my mother asking if I would need chemo and if I was going to lose my hair. The Doctor told us I would likely only need surgery but I would need to consult with the oncologist. She then left the room to give us time to process. I still couldn’t say anything. I didn’t even cry right away. I just sat there silently. I’m not even sure if my Mom said anything else to me after that. The last thing I remember is my sister turning to me and saying “Well… now you get to be a cancer survivor. That’ll be cool.” That was when I cried. My baby sister, 14 years old at the time, was so optimistic and I love her for that.

The next few months were kind of a blur. Everything happened so fast. I met my oncologist, he scheduled my surgery, I had surgery and then months later I returned for a follow up and was told I was cancer free. Two months later I was off to college and didn’t really think too much about it after that. I don’t think I really fully processed the gravity of the situation because I truly believed I was going to be fine. But watching Margo on Say Yes to The Dress that day put everything into prospective for me.

As I sat, staring at the TV not even realizing I was crying hysterically, I heard inside myself the clearest voice “You’re so angry that your life didn’t turn out the way you wanted but you’re 23 and your life isn’t over and it very well could have been. You’re alive! Now go live.” It sounds unbelievable but that is the most personal experience I’ve ever had with God and I felt so ashamed. I was distraught at how I had behaved; Treating God like God ruined my life and there was absolutely nothing wrong with my life. I was living a GOOD life and it was up to me to continue doing so. The chapter of my life where I lived in Atlanta away from everything familiar was over but my life was far from over.

It was at that moment I decided I was done sulking. I was embarrassed that I had been living a tantrum. I couldn’t control everything but I could definitely control my attitude. So that’s what I did. I lived.

 

Be Intentional

As a type A person, we often take issue with doing things that do not yield immediate or clear cut results. We like for our actions to be meaningful and intentional. Take joy in the fact that we have this in common with God.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to God’s purpose.”

Romans 8:28

Everything that God does is intentional and meaningful. Everything that God doesn’t do is intentional and meaningful. Everything that happens to us that is not of God, but that God allowed and has overseen, God has the power, ability and desire for the outcome of it to work in our favor. Nothing just happens by coincidence outside of God’s watch. God is intentional in the care of God’s children.

A personal challenge for today is to work toward being intentional in what we offer to God. Every gift, every talent, every ability you have was intentionally given to you by God. God gave them specifically to you and you have a unique way of presenting these gifts simply because you are the only you. Let’s be intentional about the way we use our gifts to honor God. Think through ways to use your gifts and talents and think about the outcome of how your efforts toward walking in God’s will and purpose for your life can be received. Let our behavior toward God and in representation of God in our lives not be coincidental, but let’s be intentional about how we behave in accordance with his will.

God is intentionally making sure that everything you encounter will eventually work in your favor for his glory. Are you making sure that everything you put out into the universe is working in God’s favor for his glory?

Grow Up

discomfort

A good sign of outgrowing something is when it becomes uncomfortable, too tight, too loose, etc.

Discomfort in your life may be a sign that you need more space to expand beyond your current location and circumstances.

“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Matthew 9:17

sometimes we, in all our control freak tendencies, linger in a particular place or circumstance with a particular person or persons simply because we aren’t finished. We haven’t quite gotten out of it what WE felt like we needed to get. That could mean anything from not getting the desired outcome from a project and wanting to repeat it in hopes of a different result, to giving something or someone everything we could possibly give and not getting the reaction we feel like we deserve.

The above verse is about wine skins. Back in bible times, people carried around and drank wine from a sack usually made out of the skin of an animal. Once stretched to fit the desired amount of wine, the wineskin was done. There was no refilling them or reusing them. You could not put new wine in an old wineskin.

In this next season of taking our hands off of what we can’t control, remember that when you ask God to take you where he wants you to go, everyone and everything can’t go with you and some things will have to be left completely as is. No cleaning up, no tying up loose ends just leave them where they are. You are growing. Growth is often uncomfortable, it’s lonely and tiresome but it is for the best. Your new outlook, habits, attitudes, your entire new self won’t fit into your old lifestyle no matter how hard you try and make the situation one that you can function within. It doesn’t mean you’re better than or above anyone in your past life but it means you are better off outside of those circumstances. It may even mean that the people in your past are better off without you as well. Trust the process and allow God to do what God does best… and that’s pretty much everything. God does all things well.

Shake off the desire to fix things that are out of your control, grow and move on.