Lukewarm Like…

I’m so over weak, lukewarm, watered-down Christianity. Seriously. I know of no one who likes lukewarm coffee. Most of us also don’t like lukewarm, melted ice cream. Most foods and drinks are made to be served either hot or cold. Rarely, if ever, have I read serving instructions that state lukewarm as the best serving temperature. Usually it’s either hot or cold.  As Christians, we should really devote ourselves to being lit hot on fire for Christ. We live our absolute best lives on fire. We are our best selves on fire. We are most effective on fire. Being lukewarm or cold only leaves us in a place of mere survival and existence instead of fully thriving and living with purpose in the will of God. Settling on lukewarm does a major disservice to ourselves, to the world we’re called to serve and impact, and most of all, to God. 

I got saved at 19 because I wanted to be “safe”.  You know, I wanted all of the promises, blessings, and protection from God without the commitment. So I got a bit religious and went to church out of mere routine for years. I mastered all of the church culture –  how to clap and sing the songs, when to nod my head and holler “amen”  when the preacher said something really profound, when to hi-five my neighbor and all the other stuff we learned to do in church overtime. I got rid of (or cut down on) most of the “big sins” (or so I thought) and read my Bible every now and then. I thought I had it going on. I thought I was such the ideal Christian. Young and foolish me. I was so dull and lukewarm. There was no passion. No fire. God did not have my heart. I was just going through the motions. In fact, at one point in time I had a crush on my Pastor and was more excited to go to church to see him than to worship God. Ugh. So lukewarm. It took me years to fully understand the need to be on fire. As I grew in this revelation, every area of my life got better –  emotionally, relationally, creatively, etc. 

So exactly what does it mean to be on fire for Christ? It means to yield every part of our being to Him, devoting ourselves to an ever growing relationship through consistent Prayer (Colossians 4:2), study and application of His Word (Matthew 4:4), obedience to His Word and instruction (John 14:15),  and worship (John 4:23-24). To be on fire for Christ means that we unapologetically seek Him and live as His ambassadors. To be on fire is to be filled with his Spirit  (John 14:16-17;John 16:7), rejecting any and everything that is contrary. 

The world doesn’t need lukewarm, churchy Christians with no true relationship, no victory, no power, no authenticity, and no passion. What is gained through us merely holding the title of being Christian and congregating weekly in our churches with no fruit to show that we really belong to Him (Matthew 7:15-20; John 15:5). The world is looking for answers. The world is hurting. The world is looking for healing and health. If we bear the title as Christians, it is our duty to point the world to freedom set forth by the truth of a Mighty God (Christ) who is extending a global invitation into salvation, restoration, and redemption. So, it is our duty and privilege to live on fire for Christ.

This is the Day

This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. This is a scripture of great gratitude found in Psalms 118, verse 24. A scripture that I have become so familiar with over the years of my journey as a Christian. Earlier this year, familiar words written across a page in the Bible became a code written across my heart as COVID-19 shifted the world.

I have always been ambitious with a focus to obtain more. I have two degrees and I am blessed to enjoy a creative career. It has taken much patience, tenacity and perseverance to overcome many challenges. It took me nearly 10 years to complete my bachelor’s degree. By my sophomore year at Frostburg State, I was over school. In fact, I began to loath it. I grew increasingly impatient with completing mundane coursework that was not stimulating or engaging.

I began earning straight F’s because I was so disconnected. My GPA plummeted below a 1.00. Besides, I grew tired of being a broke college student. So, I decided to take a sabbatical from school, return home, and get a full-time job so I can live independently; however, I soon learned that that was not a sustainable plan.

My lack of education and experience landed me consecutive low paying, mediocre jobs, none which were rewarding. After reality set in, I realized that I needed to complete my education to transition from mediocre jobs into a lucrative, fulfilling career. So, I enrolled in evening courses at the University of Baltimore while maintaining a full-time job.

I worked as a secretary at a medical practice from 8:30am to 4:30pm, then attended classes from 5:30pm-8pm, then from 8:15pm-10:45pm. During my second to last semester I earned my real estate license in addition to that. By my final semester, I was working on building my real estate business, while working my full-time day job, and completing a full-time academic schedule, including an 8-hour weekly internship. I really wanted MORE. The struggle was very real; however, constant self-reminders of my past failures pushed me to persevere. Also, the desire to earn a comfortable salary remained a driving factor.

At the time, I was sleeping on the living room floor of my grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment with other relatives. I felt like a failure because of my past mistakes. I knew that I should have been further along in life and I felt regret each day. On top of that, I constantly witnessed my peers enjoying awesome careers, buying houses, etc. and there I was making $15 an hour, still trying to get through undergrad. I really overcompensated by pushing myself hard. I completed my bachelor’s degree with over a 3.00 GPA and I was honored to give the commencement speech as the graduating class representative. The constant longing for more only grew from there. The desire to grow is natural; however, when it impedes on our ability to enjoy the now, it becomes toxic.

Pre-pandemic, I remained in pursuit of more with this subtle, yet constant concern that I was missing out on something. I would wake up early to get extra work done. I would spend hours online seeking new opportunities. I felt that I was never working hard enough. Honestly, the pressure I placed on myself became exhausting, denying me of the peace and joy obtained through enjoying each day the Lord has made. Looking back, I can honestly acknowledge that I was often too optimistic about time, setting daily goals that were not realistic. For example, my to-do list would include something along the lines of completing a few job applications, working on my thesis docuemntary, blogging, finding new photography clients, and getting better with different creative software. With a 3-hour daily commute to a full-time job, I just did not have the time to complete everything from the to-do list. I often went to bed at night feeling unproductive with to-do items incomplete. Sometimes I would try to make it up by resuming after returning home from work, which was unhealthy because I made room for nothing else – no leisure or pleasure, only work from the early morning into the late night. This is the epitome of self-sabotage and it felt horrible. This is the result of overcompensation.

My unraveling from the constant feelings of needing more began when COVID-19 afflicted the world. Each day I heard the tragic stories of those affected by the disease. Suddenly, I joined society in what I believe was a global call to slow down. I began to unravel from many toxic ideologies that became grafted in my mind over the years. In a world full of suffering, I gained a deeper appreciation for life. Though many of my prayers were aimed at healing for the suffering, many prayers were also charged with much gratitude for my blessings.

I exchanged the constant pressure to obtain more for enjoyment of the now, en route to the more. I slowed my pace and made the decision to be present in each moment, no longer feeling guilty for relaxing and having fun. Each day really became the day the LORD has made; so, I chose to rejoice and be glad in it. I have never been happier or healthier. Interestingly, I am still unraveling. It is an ongoing process, and like many other processes, some days are better than others. Fortunately, my overall condition is far better than what it was before.

When quarantine began, transitioning to remote work saved me a 3-hour daily commute, which provided extra spare time to think, reflect, etc. As the whole world was forced to slow down, I had quite an awakening. I was forced to look at the reality of life. Life is too sweet to miss the present moment, chasing the next. I heard about people dying every day. Hospitals were overflowing. People all across the world were hurting. My heart hurt for them, but my heart grew so full of gratitude because sickness never touched me or any of my loved ones.

I became so grateful just to be alive. I swelled with joy just to be able to spend time with family. With unemployment increasing, my heart grew even warmer toward my job. As I witnessed the tragedies on the news, I humbly realized that it could have easily been me, or a loved one. My gratitude is a deep knowing, enjoying, and acknowledgement of my blessings.

I realized what really mattered the most to me, and that is God and family. I realized the urgency to cherish each moment. An opportunity can be replaced, but a life cannot. No amount of success or money can buy good health. So, I closed up my MacBook when my work hours ended, and I started enjoying more movie nights with my family. I slept a little later. I began setting more realistic goals. I ate loads of cookies and milk. Sometimes I layed in bed and starred at walls. I listened to new music. I started new creative projects that bring me joy. I spent more time having fun conversations over the phone. Some days I never changed out of my PJs. I played my Playstation 4 more often. I realized that everything is okay, and everything will be okay.

I decided to give up my strong will (i.e. the need for things in my life to go my way according to my timing). Parallel to the message of the brilliant Mercy Me song that was released during quarantine, I learned to “hurry up and wait”. Only in my early 30’s, I realized that I have no legit reason to rush everything like there is no tomorrow. My success is not based upon anything except the willingess and boldness to live according to my purpose, which I have been doing. Thus, I am already successful.

I renewed my gratitude by taking my eyes off of the next, and gazing at the now. I took a deep look at my life and what I saw was beauty. I took a deep look at myself and what I saw was a perfectly imperfect woman who is growing deeper in purpose each and every day. I saw a woman who is enough. I replaced my complaints with praises for the beauty of each day, from the grey skies to the presence of my 75-year-old grandmother in my life. I gave thanks for everything.

There are some moments when my mind tries to wonder left, but I have gotten so much better at capturing the toxic thoughts and refocusing on the truth that matters. When I begin to feel that opportunities are not coming fast enough, I just remind myself that I never even applied for my current job. It was offered to me, at no effort of my own. That is a blessing worth thinking about, and it helps to keep me hopeful that even greater is to come.

I am a firm believer that shifting our focus to gratitude can bring great joy amidst some of life’s most challenging situations. When you wake up, write down every blessing in your life. Write how they make you feel. Reflect on them throughout the day. Filling your mind with your blessings leaves less space for negative thoughts. During quarantine, I have been rolling Philippians 4:8 around in my head like crazy and it has helped me so much! The scripture states to intentionally focus on what is most dope – everything that is lovely, pure, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. In order words, I’ve learned to combat tormenting, negative intrusive thoughts by interrupting them with something positive, from a compliment that someone gave me to the friends and family who deeply love me.

I capture the negative thoughts and cast them away by intentionally thinking of something good in my life. For example, when I start feeling inadequate, I think back to how I persevered through undergrad, evolving from earning all F’s to standing on the stage to give the commencement speech before my graduating class. That is a blessing I should think of! Another example, when I get tempted to get frustrated about money, I think back to when I was sleeping on the living room floor of my grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment. I now enjoy my own home in a great area. That’s major progress, so sobering– a blessing I should think of! Another example, when I start growing impatient while waiting for greater opportunities, I think about how I was making $15 an hour at a medical practice answering phones all day (which was so miserable). I am now a contractor with a digital media production company, using my creative skills to tell stories and actualize visions. That’s major progress – a blessing I should think of! There is even greater power with verbalizing positive words. For example, I often verbally remind myself that I will meet my goals, if not in my planned timing, in God’s perfect timing. This is how I combat negative thinking and it has been highly effective.

In the evening, write down every good thing that happened to you throughout the day. Feel free to even speak them out loud. Call someone you can trust and confide in to talk about your blessings and ask them to share theirs. The practice of gratitude is contagious! Reflect on these good things before you go to sleep. Wake up and repeat.

May we all develop a deeper love for life, while helping others. This is the day the LORD has made; so let’s rejoice and be glad in it.

Enjoy this MercyMe jam that helped me to hurry up and wait (Isaiah 40:31).

The Parasite

I refuse to submit to hatred and anger. I refuse. Period. I can’t afford to. It costs me my joy. It cost me my peace. I just can’t do it. Hatred kills- literally. What we all must realize is that hatred is like a parasite looking for a host to latch onto for survival. Without a host, it cannot live. Like hate, parasites are contagious. Like parasites, hate is desperately seeking a host so it can spread and thrive. The challenge is avoiding the infection. 

George Floyd is just one of the many unarmed black males who have suffered brutal deaths at the hands of white officers in America. Was he perfect? No. Did his actions deserve death? No. To say that racism doesn’t exist (as some ignorantly claim) is not only incredibly foolish and callous, It’s a blatant lie. If race didn’t play a part in the officer’s knee on his neck, then what did? Why didn’t he release enough force so the man could at least breathe? When did forgery become a death sentence? Sources claim he resisted arrest. When did that become a death sentence? To believe that the blackness of his skin didn’t play a part in his death is naïve. They didn’t have to kill him. I’ve heard asinine comments such as, “Well the officers were probably afraid. Their lives matter too.”  A lame and failed attempt to downplay the issue at hand. 

Officers are equipped and trained to handle all types of situations, from robbery and assault to resisted arrest and shootouts. Even more so, the families of these officers have the privilege of welcoming them back home, while the family of George Floyd is preparing to lay him to rest. A pretty silly comparison, right? There is no excuse or justification for this man losing his life under the knee of an officer. Period.

I find it most appropriate to identify the root of racism, which is hate. Hate is sin. Hate is demonic. Those who are filled and consumed with hate are under demonic influence. This is why it is so important to avoid the infection of hatred. Like a parasite, it drains, depletes, and ultimately destroys. Like all sin, it leads to death (Romans 6:23). Racism is extremely sickening and angering. The audacity of delusional individuals to believe that their racial identity makes them superior to others, generating illogical hatred across several generations. What they fail to realize is that the suffering their hatred brings upon their own lives is far greater than any harm they could ever inflict upon others. In a world that is charged with hatred (in various forms), we must guard ourselves from the infection. If we are not careful, we can become victims of harboring toxic hatred.

It is so easy to become consumed with what’s going on all around us. It’s so easy to get angry. George Floyd is not the first unarmed black man to suffer an unjust death at the hands of a white officer. If you simply Google his name, the disturbing photos and video emerge instantly. The officers’ actions were inhumane. The man was pleading for his life and the officer showed no mercy. If that doesn’t stir up some type of emotion in you, I’m not sure what will. I was highly disturbed.

I am a black female with a family full of black males. I wholeheartedly love the males in my family- my father, brother, nephew, uncles and cousins. I couldn’t image losing any of them the way George’s family lost him. I hurt for his family. I am hurt that they are grieving over a death that didn’t have to happen. I am angry that some people consistently choose stupidity and foolishness over truth and knowledge regarding these matters. I am, however, not consumed.

I will not be infected by the parasite of hatred. I make that choice. I take a strong stand against injustice and racism; however, I cannot drink from the cup of hatred and anger. Those who drink from that cup drink self-destructive poison. No. I just can’t. I will not yield to it. The second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as your self (Matthew 22:39). I have not mastered this yet, but I am trying, praying for grace and mercy as I fail along the way. In other words, hate can’t drive out hate. Only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr. left us with those great wise words that will always be relevant. We have the right to feel what we feel, but when we make our emotions a permanent dwelling place, we enter into the perpetual cycle of destruction.

The Bible ( Matthew 4:4), prayer, worship, sermons, and healthy conversation. That’s how I get through. That’s how I see the light. That’s how I keep my light shining, avoiding the effects of hatred and darkness. Never be afraid or intimidated by darkness. If you turn on a light in a dark room, does it not cut through darkness with illumination? If you are a Christian, you are a light and the world needs you (Matthew 5:14 16). As tempting as it may be, we cannot hate those who hate us. This is not the way of God.

Matthew 5:44–46 instructs us to love and pray for our enemies. After all, if we only love those who loves us, what makes us different from the unbeliever? Now, I really struggle with the thought of praying for those who’ve unapologetically wronged me. The thought of praying for a murderer is even harder. But the good news is the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17) is a gift that is given to every believer so we can fulfill God‘s purpose on this earth and experience His will done on earth as it is in heaven.

This is a time to really pray –  pray for justice, pray comfort upon the grieving family of George Floyd and others whose lives were unjustly taken, pray over our own families, and above all pray that God‘s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Prayer is powerful. Prayer shifts things (James 5:16). I have experienced the power of prayer first hand. Watch the news and read up on things to stay informed, but don’t get consumed, as it does no one any good. Right now, more than anything, we must guard ourselves against the infection of hatred. Don’t be the parasite’s host. Deny access! Lean on God, not your own logic (Proverbs 3:5). 

All Things New

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One of the Most important things I’ve learned along this journey called life is this: DO NOT ALLOW YOUR PAST TO HINDER YOUR FUTURE. JUST DON’T DO IT.  Don’t allow people or past experiences to stop you from progressing into the greater that’s to come. Don’t allow them to stop you from embracing the new. They just simply aren’t worth it. That’s why all through the Bible we are urged to forgive others, renew our minds, and move on – NOT LOOKING BACK.

Everyone on this planet has experienced some sort of trauma – physical, emotional, etc. We’ve all experienced the harsh sting of failures and disappointments. We’ve all been hurt by others in some way. Man, it’s so easy to grow callous, closed, and guarded as a result of experiencing trauma. I’ve definitely been there. It almost seems like human nature. Think about it. When you scrape your skin, your body immediately goes into “self preservation” or defense mode. A hardened scab begins to form as a PROTECTIVE AGENT to prevent additional germs, etc. from entering and further infecting the wound. But notice this – the scab TEMPORARILY forms to initiate the healing process. Once the wound heals, NEW SKIN forms and the scab falls off. Once healed, the body doesn’t need the hard, protective agent. If only it were this easy and quick to heal from emotional trauma.

Often times, painful experiences in life (failures, disappointments, regrets, betrayal, rejection, abuse, ridicule, etc.) create emotional wounds, and similar to how our physical bodies respond, we go into emotional “self preservation” or defense mode. We build up these thick layers of callouses and scabs to prevent anyone or anything else from inflicting further pain. Sometimes it takes years for us to heal and allow the callouses and scabs to fall off, with new skin beneath. On the other hand, some never heal. They live life at less than full potential and they go to the grave with decades old callouses and scabs. Just to know that beautiful new skin was waiting to form the entire time, but never did because of over-extended callouses and scabs. People, PLEASE don’t become the latter. You’ll be doing such a disservice to yourself, others, and God. Healing is a process, but make sure you progress through the process.

A wise woman once told me that the GREATEST revenge is success. The absolute best way to take revenge on all those past hurts and pains is to simply let go and move forward (Philippians 3:13). It’s a decision that only YOU can make. There is something toxic about constantly looking back into the negative past. Check out Genesis 19:16-26. God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but he chose to spare Lot and his family. They were urged to flee quickly and not look back. God had a plan for them – something much greater than what they had…but…Lot’s wife couldn’t resist the urge to look back, and as soon as she did, she turned into a pillar of salt – her future and destiny FORFEITED all because she looked back rather than looking forward.

Jesus is the MOST progressive person to ever had live on earth and through Him, we’re all made new. God loves us. He cares about us and everything that concerns us. He’s fully aware of our hurts and pain. He desperately wants us to trust Him to make everything new (Isaiah 43:19). God wants to heal our wounds, removing the callouses and scabs of yesteryear to form beautiful new skin. While the Creator of the universe has the power to do anything, He does require our participation in the healing process. In layman’s terms, we have to do our part. Healing, moving on, and embracing the new surely takes much purposeful effort.

To begin with, we need to be enlightened and rejuvenated through the power of God’s word (aka the Bible). Jesus took lashes so we can be healed and set free from all types of bondage (Isaiah 53:5)  His word is the TRUTH and the truth makes us free (John 8:32). This implies that FREEDOM is a condition, a state of being, and anyone can obtain it. That’s why Philippians 4:8 tells us to keep our minds fixed on what’s TRUE (first and above all), noble, right, purse, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy. The more we focus on the things of God, the more we heal and our callouses and scabs fall off as beautiful new skin grows. Now, while healing and freedom can be obtained, we MUST be sure to MAINTAIN them so we don’t end up regressing (Galatians 5:1). Aside studying, applying, and meditating on the word of God, we really need to stay in PRAYER. So many folks sleep on prayer, but it is powerful and effective (James 5:16). Prayer changes things. Really. You have to keep your heart clean. FORGIVE. Ugh, the F-word. That word has made me cringe in the past and I’m sure I’m not alone. It can be hard…it is hard. But what’s even harder is walking around wounded, resentful, and toxic – wearing layers of ugly callouses and scabs. Blah. Who has time for that? It’s legit self-torture. LET GO. No amount of hurt, anger, disappointment, etc, is worth you forfeiting your destiny. Your life is not just about you. There are so many people out there you’re assigned to reach, touch, influence, uplift, encourage, etc. You deserve to be the best you and becoming the best you requires the decision to turn away from the old and walk into the new.

MOVE ON. LET THE PAST GO. Everything that was meant to hurt you will work out for your benefit (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28). Don’t let your past suffocate your future – please don’t. There’s a better version of you awaiting for you to become it. Everything new is waiting for you to trash the old. Make sure you run with a tribe of folks who are headed in the same direction as you. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Love wins. Love heals wounds. Love removes callouses and scabs. Love makes new. Believe and trust God through it all. Forgive. Move on. Love. The ingredients to a new you and a new life.

Enjoy the upbeat MercyMe song below that’ll remind you of the new that awaits you 🙂