Alpha and Omega

Some years ago, I was listening to Israel Houghton’s song, “Alpha and Omega.” I have loved the song since I woke up late one night to the video of the song playing on the television. The song took me in then; it still ushers me into the presence of the Most High God. In my research, I learned that alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. But, as I listened to the song back then, I asked this question, “Please, Jesus, tell me what it means that you are Alpha and Omega.”

This is He ‘said” to me:

I Am the beginning and the end.

I Am the first and the last.

I Am the author and the finisher of your faith.

I am your definition.

I am your defining moment.

I am the definitive in your life.

I am the song in your heart, the smile on your face, the joy in your soul.

I Am the lifter of your head.

I Am the path beneath your feet.

I was with you in the beginning of your life; I will be with you at the end of your life.

I Am with you in everything in between.

I Am the beginning of your journey.

I Am your companion on your journey.

I Am the detour on your journey.

I Am your journey.

I know what has happened in your life; I know what is happening in your life; I know what will happen in your life.

I Am present always.

I Am the beginning of the matter.

I Am the conclusion of the matter.

I Am Alpha and Omega.

Just give my due in that you do!

What else do you need to know?

Well, when you ask Jesus a question, I guess He will give you the complete answer you need … from A to Z.

When Grief Takes Up Residence In Your Heart

The world has entered into a season of profound grief. It is most likely a season of common grief that is shared around the world. Quarantined inside the four walls of apartments and homes, isolated from loved ones and physical touch. Jobs have been lost. Homes have been lost. Income has been lost. Relationships have been lost. There is food insecurity and housing insecurity that results in the new homeless. All are common events around the globe.

But, the most overwhelming loss, the most devastating loss, is the death of loved ones, some, too soon, others, too young, mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and partners. All are losses that fiercely deposit grief into our hearts.

It is interesting to me that death always seems like a thing that never happens until it happens to someone we know or someone we love. Death is not embraced as a part of life so when it does take up residence in our living rooms, we are so surprised that it would dare cross our thresholds. As such, too many of us are not prepared for the grief that follows to demand absolute control of our thoughts.

Moment by moment, we are drawn into the shadows of life with only “Why” as our companion.

Those individuals who express a faith in God may turn to Him with their “Why,” but are often to broken unable to quietly process His response through their grief and the anger that they even have to ask the question.

What do we do when grief takes up residence in our hearts? Here’s what grief experience has taught me:

  1. Breathe intentionally, even if you have to set an alarm to remind yourself to take deep breaths
  2. Do your best to center yourself in the moment, heart wrenching though it may be
  3. Accept the depth of the pain but try your best not to wrap yourself in it
  4. Sort through the memories, literally/figuratively, welcome the laughter and the tears
  5. When the broken moments/meltdowns come, go with the moments then come up for air
  6. When you feel like retreating from the crowd, retreat without explanation or apology
  7. When you need help, seek help, either a good friend or a professional counselor
  8. Don’t feel compelled to explain your pain/tears/silence
  9. There is no need to take care of everything in those early days; handle what needs to be handled now; leave the rest for later

Zig Ziglar, the Master Salesman and motivational speaker, wrote that grief is not only unavoidable, but desirable because it “brings us to the point of realizing the vastness of our love,” and it “puts us in a position to trust God alone for our restoration, that it “is perhaps the most profound way of expressing love; the more we love a person we have lost, the greater our grief.”

This is not a truth any of us would want to embrace but it is definitely understood by every broken heart.

In the beginning, the grief that takes up residence in our hearts is cold and hard, slow to dissolve, but as the moments roll on, memories begin to warm our souls that eventually begin to melt the cold lump in our hearts.

I have read in the Bible that God captures our tears in a bottle. The context may be one of acknowledging our pain but I find it somewhat comforting to think that God cares enough about me to keep track of my sorrow. While most people are embarrassed by or turn away from my tears, God captures them.

One final word: Give yourself the grace to grieve. When people ask, “How are you doing?” tell them how you are doing. They may not understand. They may not be able to fix anything but you will have given them the opportunity to step into your grief with you. That is the definition of compassion (your heartbreak becomes their heartbreak; your suffering becomes their suffering).

I am grateful that He is the God of Comfort, especially when grief takes up residence in my heart.

THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER

The prince was rich, which is usually the norm for princes. The pauper was, well, poor, which is, actually kind of the definition for pauper. Each envied the other, and in time they wind up trading places with each other. Do you know what they discovered? They realized that whether rich or poor, it is not so easy to live another person’s life, that each place has its own challenges.

Most people, at some time or another, have probably wished they were someone else, but envy and jealousy are liars. They tell us our lives would be so much better if we were just in the other person’s shoes. We see the outside of someone’s life and believe it to be reality so we spend much of our time watching them, wishing to be someone else, so much so that we do not embrace our own lives.

What might we accomplish in our lives if we weren’t so busy envying the other person’s grass?

“I know my plans for you; plans of good, not of evil, to bring you to an expected end” is God’s word for his people.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14) Just remember that it would be 70 years before Israel would see the fulfillment of God’s promise. Make yourself at home where you are and move forward in God’s already ordained purpose for you. (Ephesians 2:10)


Take heed, take hope, take hold and move forward on the path God has lain out before you. Besides, that grass on the other side of the fence may be greener, but it still has to be mowed.

Living My Life

Another blast from the past! I still feel this way about ministering to women! Anyone interested?

*******

Some years ago, I did the stereotypical single woman Saturday night thing for dinner. I walked over to the neighborhood Safeway and brought a huge slice of chocolate fudge cake. I also bought two single-serve cups of ice cream, one Haagen-Dazs Vanilla and one Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie. I returned home with my wares, sat in the middle of my bed and enjoyed every mouthful.

It came back me a few days later, the idea that I had spent my Saturday evening alone in my bedroom, just me and a few thousand calories. This reflection got me to thinking even further. I have not been a single woman very long, just a little over five years since my husband’s death. The first four years do not really count since I still felt married and acted like a married woman. I was not looking for a companion and apparently no one was looking for me since no one came along. In the last two years, however, I have become more sensitive to the alone moments, the times when I feel isolated and separate from the rest of the world that must be out there somewhere having a great deal of fun without me. No, I am not so naïve as to think that this is really so, but when I am alone with me, myself and I, it just feels that way. What’s a single woman to do on a Saturday night other than eat herself into sugar oblivion?

I think it is time for me to move outside of myself and reach out to the women who may feel the same way I do and just don’t know which way to turn. True enough, the world does offer alternatives, but do I really want to subject myself to everything that is a part of those alternatives, most of which do not line up with my faith? Yes, I know that I should be confident enough to go out by myself and treat myself to a dinner or a movie or a play or even a stroll on the beach without feeling self-conscious; I can and I have. Still I have to wonder if my life is just about me or is God calling me to reach out to someone else who is feeling the same pangs of “aloneness?” Has he allowed me to be alone so that I might live the lesson before I try to teach anything?

I sense a ministry growing out of my experience and not just one for single women but one for women of all ages who feel stuck in a rut and just don’t know how to get out of that rut and get on with their lives. It would be a ministry for that woman who thinks she must have a man and for that woman who has a man and wishes she didn’t. It would be a ministry for the young adult woman who wants to jump start the rest of her life and for that seasoned woman who needs a charge for the final years of her life. This ministry would be a union of the married and the unmarried, a ministry to address the social as well as the spiritual, though I don’t think that the two can or should be separate. This ministry would be a ministry that would encourage all women to come together, as our female ancestors once did, for the common good of every woman. This is, after all, a Christian edict, the idea that we should esteem others more highly than we do ourselves. Isn’t it time that we, as Jill Scott sings, help one another to live life like it’s golden?

Stay tuned . . .

CONTENTMENT

A friend said to me that people seldom believe they are where God wants them to be. Her point was well taken. As I think about her statement, I see the issue as not whether or not we believe we are where God wants us to be, but rather the real issue is acceptance, can we calmly accept being where God has allowed us to be, especially when the state of our affairs conflict with our expectations.Such a conundrum almost always makes us think we are out of God’s will.  

While it may be true that we too often make choices that can delay God’s plan for our lives, those choices do nothing to negate God’s power to intervene and reconfigure our very often dumb decisions. Good, bad or indifferent, God is still in control, therefore however we get to a place, it is not out of the purview of God.

 The Apostle Paul said, “Whatever the state in which I find myself, I have learned to be content.”

This is what I get out of this statement: “Contentment is not the absence of aggravation; it is the decision not to be aggravated (donnaproverb).” It’s a big learning curve, but I believe it can be learned.

Here is the life lesson, as I see it. I accept that I am who I am, and, that I am where I am by God’s Divine Providence. I believe it is only when I come to this conclusion that the question is no longer “Why?” but rather “Now what? Now that I am in this place and this space, Lord,  what would you have me to do?” 

Grace and Mercy

I wrote this piece over 6 years ago, but it seems like a timely reminder for these days in which we find ourselves.

********

She stood in front of us in the cashier line at the grocery store. Pushing a baby carriage with her right hand in which slept a beautiful newborn, she held some slips of paper in her left hand. Quickly taking in everything, I surmised the papers she held were WIC slips (women/infants/children). Immediately irritated, I thought, and expressed sotto voce to my friend, “Oh, man, it always takes forever for the processing of these things.”

He, having just a little more grace than I in that moment, said nothing to me but expressed to the young woman how beautiful the baby was. I, immediately convicted by his quiet rebuke and my sour attitude, asked the baby’s age. “Two months,” was her reply. 

We stood there and silently watched the cashier (who appeared to be management solidly out of his element) bumble his way through the processing of the WIC coupons as the young woman quietly watched him and answered the questions he asked. She only had a few things, a couple of bags of frozen fruit, I think, but there was a third item that the management cashier told her she could not purchase, a bag of fresh cherries. I asked my friend to let him know that I would pay for any difference. 

True to my original thought, the WIC transaction for two items took forever (my hyperbole, of course), but as we waited, I watched the young lady. Her expression never changed as she stood at the counter. She never raised her voice in frustration as she answered the questions. I now realize that this was probably her shield against any potential judgement of the people in line behind her, too wrapped up in their own world to care about any distress on her part, something she had probably experienced too many times before. 

As we moved up with my full conveyor belt of food, including a bag of fresh cherries, the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “Do more.” I asked the young lady to wait as I presented to management/cashier a gift card and told him the amount I wanted on it. 

I pulled out my debit card to pay when he announced, “You have to pay for these with cash.”

I gave a quick retort, which I can’t remember now, but I opened my wallet praying I had enough cash since in these days of easy access by technology I very seldom have any money on me. I found just enough to cover the gift card when I was then told I would have to pay an activation fee as well.

“Do I need cash for that, too.” I did not, “Thank you, Lord.”

I handed the gift card to the young lady and true to the demeanor she had displayed at the counter, she quietly thanked me. I asked her name. She told me, and as she walked away, I silently prayed for her. I pray for her now. 

I turned back to the task at hand, the processing of my groceries, and as the management-cashier swiped items across the scanner, he said, “”You guys are awesome.”

I do not know if he will tell this story to anyone else. I do not know if the young woman will tell anyone else this story. What I do know is that in moment of going from irritation to compassion, the Lord reminded me of those days when I was that young woman with a baby wondering how I could make those ends meet.

My response to the man’s comment was “There but for the grace of God go I,” but it is really much more than that cliched response. God’s grace is extended to all. The fact that I am now a woman of faith is not defined by my economic status. Salvation does not come with dollar signs attached. That moment in the grocery store was really about how God could be glorified in that moment, how I would wrap the tenets of my faith in flesh, and no, I did not think these high and lofty thoughts in that moment. I just felt her heartbeat and in it I heard my own. I am, by no means, flush today. I still pinch a few pennies and my retirement years have the potential for some financial question marks, but I am not afraid. God is still provider and I am learning more and more every day how to give out of my need. 

I do not write this to impress. I share this story to remind myself, and any others who will hear, that our pasts should compel us to act out our faith, a humble thank-you for the “where” from which He has brought us. After all, we really are where we are today only by the grace of God.

*****

Take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be safe.

WHAT DID YOU DO TODAY?

Remember when we wished we had the time to do our own thing, time to pursue dreams and fulfill purpose?

Yeah, me too, and now that we have that extra time, how are we managing it?

What did you do today?

Woke up (Yay!), and laid in bed for a while.

Mindlessly scrolled through social media.

I do have a plan in mind; Just need to execute it better.

Maybe I should create a schedule.

Recorded video for read-aloud page, “Storytime With Ms. Donna.” I enjoy reading out loud and today shared one of my favorites, “The Paper Bag Princess.” Hope my viewers enjoy it!

Daily conference call check–in with school CEO and a colleague.

Toasted English muffin, brewed Keurig hot chocolate for breakfast.

Too much unscheduled time on my hands.

I should create a schedule.

Created FB Live to create more community as we SIP (kind of an appropriate acrostic, isn’t it).

Wi-fi is slow in the bedroom. Go into the living room to upload videos.

Had a funny idea for a video series the first of which I create on the spot and post to my social media platforms. I think it’s funny.

Lunch, chicken sandwiches made by daughter. It’s good.

Chips and salsa snack.

Daughter asks “What are you doing?” Huh?

“I’m on two conference calls daily.” Duh!

Tuned in to a new favorite British reality show (Netflix) about interior design.

Mindlessly scrolled through social media.

Post to blog.

I really do need to create a daily schedule.

What day is it?

 

My links:

Storytime With Ms. Donna

DonnaNotDiva Facebook Page

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN LIFE SHIFTS: The Gift Of Desperation

The first week of Consecration week was challenging; everything went to the left and I could control nothing (as though I could even control anything)

In 1992, Queen Elizabeth used the phrase annus horribilis to describe just how tough that year had been; in other words, that year was a hot mess.

I looked up Latin for a horrible week and it is iter sabbati.

My intent was to walk into Consecration like a boss — Instead it was my iter sabbati; it was a horrible week.

There is a Facebook page titled “Humans of New York.” A line from a recent story caught my eye. A man described his coming to gasping for air in an ambulance, most likely the consequence of a heroin overdose.

As he recounted his story, and the decision he made to be clean and sober for 160 days, he said, “There comes a point when you’re given the gift of desperation.”

I instantly connected with that phrase and stretched it out even more, that sometimes God allows us the gift of desperation. We are at our wits end; we are facing tough challenges; the ends don’t meet, the finances run out, the spouse takes an extended hike, the job locks its doors and we are left holding the gift of desperation.

What do you do when you’ve done all you can and you’re left holding the gift of desperation?

I say hold on to your hope in spite of this because this gift just might be the push you need to make a decision you may never have made but really needed to make. .
Here’s the thing:
Desperation can either push you into a positive space or it might lead to self-destruction.

Desperation can make you look inward to reassess the choices you have made or it can make you look outward to blame people and circumstances, to act out, to implode.

Handed the gift of desperation, the Facebook man chose to turn away from heroin in order to reclaim his life but he could have just as well celebrated being revived and then returned to the needle.

He chose life. He opened the gift of desperation and chose life.

Have you ever found yourself in a state that literally sucked the wind out of you, where you found yourself wandering around in an emotional fog because you didn’t know where to begin, what step to take next?

What is one to do when you find yourself holding the gift of desperation and you find yourself holding it between a rock and a hard place and when you open it you are faced with hard choices, neither is pleasant but one is better for you than the other.

Whenever I’m in the car, I have the radio tuned to listen to the different (and sound) bible studies. This time, however, tuned to a station which airs, most of the time, hymns and contemporary gospel and this one hymn came on that I have not heard in years:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold
I’d rather be His than have riches untold
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or land
Yes I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands
Than to be the king of a best domain and beheld in sin’s dread sway
I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today
Continue reading

Choices, Decisions, and Faith, Oh My! The Journey Begins…

It had been a tough week. Emotionally drained, I dragged myself through each day! I felt disconnected, standing on the outside of myself going through the motions. It was a struggle to maintain any kind of momentum! I was caught up in the doldrums and I had no energy to stir anything up! Each morning I crawled out of bed in weary anticipation of the same kind of day.

But Sunday, Oh Sunday invited me into the new week with a full blown praise party in my car on my way to church. It was triggered by one nonsensical word spoken by a pastor in a service that was live streamed. That one word, “whoop,” sent me into a paroxysm of praise! I needed that moment. It was my moment of recovery but I still was not where I needed to be spiritually.

I had allowed my emotions to trump my faith. I was in fact dragging my faith behind me as I allowed my emotions to take the lead which led to the inevitable result, malaise and doldrums. I looked forward to nothing. I was excited about nothing. I wanted nothing. I embraced nothing. I expected nothing.

Then I picked up a flash drive onto which I had loaded some writings years ago. I inserted the drive into my computer, clicked and opened it. I immediately went to the folder labeled, “Gern,” my code word for Journal in case someone got into my computer and happened to come across it (as if their curiosity wouldn’t be piqued by this weird word). “I thought I knew what the journal contained and to some extent I did but I was not prepared for the rawness of the text, the pain and passion between each line. As I read those thirteen year old words, I had to ask myself, “Have you ever felt this way about the Lord?”

It was a revelation that my heart best so strongly for a person while those same kind of heartbeats for God were often moment based and momentary rather than lifestyle laced.

From time to time, when I am in my car, I listen to a Christian radio station that plays hymns in different slots of time. In the week following my week of the doldrums, I was driving and I tuned in to that station. A hymn played that I had not heard in years,‘I’d rather have Jesus.” At first I was locked in to the beauty of the arrangement and the singers. Then the question came to me, when was the last time I put Jesus first in everything rather than giving Him first place in a few things? How often have I intentionally surrendered the reins of my life to Him in all things?

I read the book, “in His Steps,” some years ago. I like the premise of what would Jesus do and tried to emulate the concept but as with all trends, that soon passed as a habit. The hymn challenged me to institute a “I’d rather have Jesus” mindset in all things, as best I could in this fragile frame of dust.

My journey begins now. When I reach out to try and hold on to people and stuff; when I try to control circumstances, when I put It or Them before Him, I will give it my all to remember, “I’d rather have Jesus.”

63 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

“I’d Rather Have Jesus”
Rhea Muller
George Beverly Shea

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold
I’d rather be His than have riches untold
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or land
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

Than to be the king of a vast domain or be held in sins dread sway
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today

I’d rather have Jesus than vain applause
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame
I’d rather be true to His holy name

Than to be the king of a vast domain or be held in sins dread sway
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords

Impostor Syndrome

Have you ever felt as though you were not the person you presented to the world, the genuine and authentic you? I’ve felt that way a few times, times when I’ve stood in front of a group of people or sat at a conference table in wood paneled room or just shared in a 1:1 conversation.

It turns out there is a name for this “dilemma,” Impostor Syndrome, defined as a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”

Impostor Syndrome, those moments when your represent yourself as someone other than yourself, repped a relationship that looked ideal but was in reality tore up from the floor up.

What happened along our life’s journey that short-circuited our authenticity, forced us into a “suit” that does not fit yet we squeeze into it each and every day. We are uncomfortable but we’ve worn it so long, we’ve convinced ourselves that it does not limit us and how we relate to the world.

What will it take to strip ourselves of that suit, to move into the ease of our true self?

Well, I think it takes my no longer lying to me about my value or worth, to affirm that I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a faithful and true God. It takes my waking each morning to affirm my faith in God, in me and in my ability to create and achieve. It takes me celebrating every scar that speaks to healing, and embracing the flaws that makes me unique. It takes becoming friends with my body and my mind, to no longer compare myself in any aspect to any other self. It takes, moment by moment, daring to look each challenge in the eye without blinking or flinching. It takes my letting go of that which I have convinced myself is just right for me, be it a job or a relationship or any prestige or status, to take the chance to walk away without a backward look, to relinquish any controls I thought I had. It may take a moment to get past the pain of letting go, but each day of courage and resilience will be reward enough as I, as you, as we, step into the new, real, authentic self we were designed to be!

Let’s do this!

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Posing outside of Southern University, Baton Rouge