Monday, May 9, 2011

Faith Before the Fallout

"Examine yourselves to see if your faith is really genuine. Test yourselves. If you cannot tell that Jesus Christ is among you, it means you have failed the test." [2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)]

We pray for help...and why not? God implores us to turn to Him in time of need; and to turn to Him in time of celebration and joy. But, when we pray for His divine intervention in times of "crisis," for some reason, we don't let it go. We hang onto our fear, exacerbating the situation. We, as my husband often says, "feed it and breed it." We then go so far as to try to solve the problem(s) ourselves. Oftentimes, we make things worse, or at least we make ourselves feel worse. that truly faith? We cannot do what the Almighty can do, but yet, we keep trying to run our own lives without calling out to Him for direction and discernment.

The song says, "take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there." many times have you sang that refrain? Felt good while you were in church, didn't it? Well, how many of us leave the lesson in the song/scripture on the pew?! We leave the church, after asking for others to keep us in prayer, and then we worry and cry "wee, wee, wee" all the way home. Saints, it's gotta be more than a lyric, it must be a lifestyle!

I can't count how many times I've approached the church with my tithes check written out, wondering whether I should leave it in the checkbook, and pay a bill, or put gas in the car, or stop for a snack instead. See, that's why the Lord taught me many years ago, write out your tithes check first, record it in the checkbook, and budget and live off of all that is left! I find when I don't, my life is a financial mess; my heart/spirit is in disarray; and my level of worry is elevated. But, when I pay my 10% FIRST, I'm much more at peace because I can say for once, I followed God's direction. I don't know about you, but each piece of peace makes a difference in our lives, no?

So, basically, I've never wanted to be a worrier. Even when I was a little girl, I prayed for God to take away my fears, no matter how small or large they were. I always...not sometimes...but ALWAYS felt better in due time. I knew God had the situation under control, better than anything I could've done for myself.

As I've gotten older, I've learned that God is talking directly to me, giving me His peace and comfort, and His joy. I remember a visiting pastor once said we must do more than believe in Him, we must believe Him! That's faith!! I no longer worry about the bills, the sometimes overdrawn account, the utilities that may be turned off - hey, we've lived without lights before; in fact, when we had a citywide blackout, Hubby and I lit candles and read to each other from our favorite books. We've learned how to negotiate with bill collectors; we've learned how to squeeze a dollar from a penny; we've learned how to be more than okay while unemployed. God's got us! C'mon, we've all lived through it, and guess what? We've made it to the other side! God delivered us! Just like He delivered the Israelites, He delivered us through our trials, tribulations, and bondage. But, is it taking us 40+ years to learn? Or, are we casting our burdens onto Him, thanking Him, praising Him, and remaining faithful to Him...and then reaping our reward?

We must live within our faith before we experience the fallout. The fallout is the constant worry, fear, absolute "worst" that you can experience. If you indeed go through the worst, with faith, you know Jesus is with you and He knows exactly what you're feeling and what you're going experiencing. Jesus is right there with you! He's promised never to forsake you, never to leave you alone, and to reward your faith. Because of your faith, you will be healed, saved, comforted, and forever loved. Let's not forget that. That's what it means to keep the faith. Are you keeping yours?

"Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us." [Romans 5:1 (NLT)]

God bless your hearts!

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm Still Blessed 'n Walkin'!

I've taken some time off from blogging...because of my health, but also because of my fundraising efforts for the MS Walk 2011, Saturday, May 7, at Comerica Park. While I won't be able to walk it, I am putting together a team to walk for me; and gathering sponsors who've donated just a little over $1000 thus far. I've reached my goal...praise God!!!

So, here is my it and tell others. Prayerfully, all will see my MS is a testimony!

If you'd like to donate or join my team, just let me know. It's never too late. God Bless!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thank You, Jesus, for Your Healing Power!

Ezekiel 47:12 (NLT)

"All kinds of fruit trees will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, without fail! For they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing."

For the last year or so, I have awaken every morning with severe back pain. I figured it's either my MS or my old mattress. Each day, I get up, stretch, wince, and try not to reach for the nearest ibuprofen to ease the pain. Various medicines have worked to slow the exacerbations of my relapsing-remitting MS, but many times I still experience extreme numbness/tingling in my left leg, and as I said, extreme pain in my back.

These last few years, I have heard of powerful relief available through cannabis-based herbal medicines, but I've had yet to try them. I don't know, I guess I still have the "illegal drug" stigma attached to marijuana remedies in my brain, when, in fact, cannabis is merely an herb that has been used throughout the millenia by countless cultures to heal various ailments/diseases.

So, a close friend who has in the past year learned the medical marijuana business gave me a sample of a salve to try to ease the extreme morning tenderness in my lower spine. Previously, I'd repeatedly told her no to the brownies, the cookies, the rice crispy treats, and any other "tasty goodness" laced with marijuana/cannabis, although it has time and time again been proven on countless other patients to relieve them of their symptoms. Finally, she insisted one last time I try just a little on my back to see what would happen. There is no psychotrophic effect, so I conceded. And this morning...

...NO PAIN!!!! Absolutely NO PAIN!!! I really couldn't believe it. I praised God I finally awoke in a "normal state." Wow...I just kept saying wow...I wanted to hold onto my painfree status forever! I wanted to shout my joy, I wanted to tell everybody, give that salve to everybody...I just couldn't believe this little bit of ointment had this kind of power. But, then I thought, this is what we, as God's children, often think of His power. We just can't believe He could love us like He does, even though we're not worthy. But, God does love us in spite of us...and He doesn't want us to live in pain. He has given us everything on this earth to provide for us and heal us, including herbs.

So here I am, shouting the way I know how, in a little blog. It works! There are countless varieties of this herb, with countless ways to injest it. You don't always have to take drugs, with horrible side effects, but you do have to embrace Jesus' love and His healing power. So, pray on it, say thanks, and give Him all the grace and glory due Him. Meanwhile, for the first time in a long time, I'm saying "Good Morning, God!", painlessly!

P.S. Please visit my personal MS Walk 2011 page to give a little or a lot to my team, Blessed 'n Walkin'! God bless!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

We are Greater as His Church!

22 Saul's preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn't refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. 23 After a while the Jewish leaders decided to kill him. 24 But Saul was told about their plot, and that they were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him. 25 So during the night, some of the other believers let him down in a large basket through an opening in the city wall. 26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They thought he was only pretending to be a believer! 27 Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus. Barnabas also told them what the Lord had said to Saul and how he boldly preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 28 Then the apostles accepted Saul, and after that he was constantly with them in Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they plotted to murder him. 30 When the believers heard about it, however, they took him to Caesarea and sent him on to his hometown of Tarsus. 31 The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it grew in strength and numbers. The believers were walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Often times when we go through the toughest times in our lives, we feel our most alone. Whatever the situation: our jobs, finances, illness, death, depression, we may not call on our church, friends, and family for their help or comfort. Moreover, we usually don't consistently call on the Lord. Why is that? The Bible shows He is THE most consistent of all!

In the text above, God had transformed Saul from his evil ways. Saul then went out to preach the gospel even when people didn't believe he'd changed. They feared him! But, he continued, and finally, the other believers ultimately got the message that God had made a miraculous change in Saul, and they began to protect Saul. They worked together to keep him safe.

Many times, God puts other believers in our lives to help protect us and comfort us when we need it. We shouldn't forget with anything, we need to use all the gifts, including the people, that God gives us. We each play a part in the Body of Christ. His gifts make us pretty good on our own...but we are greater in numbers...we are greater as His church! Amen!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired?

28 Hast thou not known ? hast thou not heard , that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary ? there is no searching of his understanding. 29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary , and the young men shall utterly fall : 31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run , and not be weary ; and they shall walk , and not faint . (Isaiah 40:28-31 [KJV])

Today is a very blessed day...I am absolutely the most fatigued I've felt in a long time. Yesterday, I felt like someone was literally sitting on me, but God grabbed me and lifted me out of bed. (Thank You!) By now you all know I live with multiple sclerosis, and one of the most prevalent symptoms is absolute fatigue. I know many people complain of being tired, or even exhausted. My MS makes me bottom-of-the-barrel fatigued. After days, weeks, and even months of feeling this way, I truly get sick and tired of being sick and tired. But God! reminds us that those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength...they shall run, and not be weary! This is God's Word, and we all know if He said it, we believe it.

Now, being physically fatigued stretches far beyond the physical. It becomes emotional and even spiritual. Some days I simply can't even think, put together complete thoughts or sentences, or remember things without having to write them down. But God reminds me my "problems" are minor compared to those of so many others. And for them, I pray consistently. I don't want to whine each day. In fact, I say if this is the disease I have to live with? Thank God...'cause I'm living with it. I praise Him that even though I have no medical insurance, the drug companies send me my medications for free through their patient assistance programs. I still have to pull and tug with Medicaid to get certain other major procedures -- it seems I'm not poor enough to qualify for everything -- but at least God is providing my measure of enough. Whoohoo!

So, with all that said, I may feel fatigued on the outside, but my spirit is lifted on the inside...Jesus lives there. I asked Him to come into my life many years ago, and He hasn't forsaken me yet. He knows what my body, heart, and soul feel, but He reminds me just what He went through to pay the price for my sins. Whew! I love Him, I love Him, I love don't worry. I may walk with a limp, or as I call it, my MS swagger; and I may move a little slower, but I will continue my walk and not get weary. I will get there in His time, and in His name...and I'll be right on time. Amen!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Is it Time to Raise Anchor?

In 1752, one of London's great minds and political leaders, Samuel Johnson, wrote after the death of his wife, "Grant, O Lord, that I may not languish in fruitless and unavailing sorrow." He prayed that God would give him the "peace which the world cannot give." He committed himself to God "with faith and confidence."

We all like to believe we, too, commit ourselves to God with full faith and confidence. We pray to Him often, especially when our lives aren't going the way we want. But, how often do we remember to pray to Him when we feel good, but our lives just seem a little stuck? We're fearful to speak up at our jobs or to our spouses for help, because we're afraid of losing  our jobs or our marriages. Sometimes, we feel our lives are not progressing as quickly as we want, as we see others "whizzing" by, making a lot more money, traveling the world, living out our dreams, etc.? We're often trying to keep up with the Jones' instead of trying to keep up with Jesus. We realize we're stuck in our comfort zone, but do we ask Him for guidance, discernment, and direction? Or, do we just complain, give up, or not seek His help, at all? Do we IGNORE God's commands when change makes us uncomfortable, or when we think we may know better?

In the Book of Acts, Paul is taken as a prisoner on a ship. God favors Paul and advises Paul on what to tell the captain and crew as they are in imminent danger.

17 Then we banded the ship with ropes to strengthen the hull. The sailors were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor and were thus driven before the wind. 18 The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. 19 The following day they even threw out the ship's equipment and anything else they could lay their hands on. 20 The terrible storm raged unabated for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. 21 No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, "Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Fair Havens. You would have avoided all this injury and loss. 22 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, 'Don't be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What's more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.' 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island." 27 About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm, as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near. 28 They took soundings and found the water was only 120 feet deep. A little later they sounded again and found only 90 feet. 29 At this rate they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the prow. 31 But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, "You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard." 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes and let the boat fall off. 33 As the darkness gave way to the early morning light, Paul begged everyone to eat. "You haven't touched food for two weeks," he said. 34 "Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish." 35 Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. 36 Then everyone was encouraged, 37 and all 276 of us began eating -- for that is the number we had aboard. 38 After eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard. 39 When morning dawned, they didn't recognize the coastline, but they saw a bay with a beach and wondered if they could get between the rocks and get the ship safely to shore. 40 So they cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Then they lowered the rudders, raised the foresail, and headed toward shore. 41 But the ship hit a shoal and ran aground. The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart. 42 The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn't swim ashore and escape. 43 But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn't let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land, 44 and he told the others to try for it on planks and debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely ashore! [Acts 27:17-44 (NLT)]

In this text, Paul told the captain and his men to listen to what God told him about the voyage, and how to keep everyone safe. Not surprisingly, the crew ignored Paul, believing they knew more than he. In verse 21, Paul gently admonishes the crew and tells them, "Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Fair Havens. You would have avoided all this injury and loss."

Don't you hate it when someone has every right to tell you, "I told you so!"? Here, Paul is trying to get the men to recognize their mistakes and get them to follow follow God's command. Growing up, my parents rightfully warned me to follow their instructions. If I disobeyed, or rather, did not follow their exact directions, most often, I ended up paying for it. Then came that other culturally stinging quote, "a hard head makes a soft behind!"

Just like when the seamen didn't follow instructions, and therefore, the bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart, when we don't follow God's instructions, our lives seem absolutely stuck and life repeatedly smashes us with the gale force consequences God didn't plan for us.

For example, we don't tithe to our church, and we live beyond our means. Then we're repeatedly "smashed" with overdue bills, resulting in bad credit, low self-esteem, and the like. We sin by gossiping, lying, being unkind to one another, committing adultery, and countless other unsavory acts. That's when our lives really seem stuck. We fall into a rut of sin, ignoring God, not praying to Him for help when we obviously need it, and even when think we don't need it. And like Paul's ship, the force of life breaks us apart (i.e., our families, our finances, our health, our faith).

But God! gives us victory. He forgives us again and again, when we ask for it. He instructs us to cling to the broken pieces of our lives, hang on by our faith, and He will deliver us...just like when the crew and prisoners of Paul's ship were told to float on the broken pieces of their vessel. Like them, we need to keep the faith and float on the planks and debris of our lives. According to His will, God will restore whatever was broken within our lives, within our hearts, within our souls. God will not abandon us!

When we think God's not listening to our desperate pleas for help, perhaps God is telling us to pull up anchor on our own carnal desires, and listen to Him. Perhaps He's telling us to pull up our anchors of distrust, fear, or that relentless comfort zone that keeps us stuck where we can't realize the future joy God has planned for us if we just let go of the past. When we feel merely good for too long, we reject feeling our best in whatever it is God has planned for us when we step out on faith! 

When we finally figure out we can't make it through life on our own, without His direction, discernment, and counsel; when we begin to continually pray to God and follow His Word, will, and way, we, too, can swim safely to shore. We, too, can be saved. So, pull up your anchors and follow Him!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Yes, winter's back, now help somebody!

Through this bitter cold we're enduring in the midwest, the east coast, and even in the south, we're "suffering" and complaining, but most of us are getting through it. Many of us have high-tech equipment to make snow plowing easier (i.e., some even have mats/special surfaces that actually melt the ice and snow as it falls to the ground); or snow blowers so we don't have to shovel manually; or we may have automatic car starters to warm up and defrost the car before we get inside, so we can comfortably conquer our commute.

And yet, there are larger parts of the world that have never even seen snow. Many have never oopsed, slipped, and fell to the ground on a hidden patch of ice. I've met many people from around the world who came to the Detroit metro area, actually eager to see their first snowfall and feel the cold crystals fall on their tongues and faces. You know, kind of like how we native Michiganders are during the first snowfall before Christmas. However, by the time February gets here, we're grumbling about the harsh winter elements, cringing at the relentless dirty snow, and succumbing to cabin fever. Where's the sun and warmth we used to know?!

We become jealous of our family, friends, and associates who may be able to leave this blistering cold atmosphere, even temporarily. We get Facebook notices from our "friends" telling us they've escaped to LA for awhile, and how warm and wonderful it is out there. They're wearing flip flops and t-shirts and they "truly" wish we were there. (Yeah, right) We forget that California endured endless brush fires this past year; they're always on the cusp of who knows what size earthquake and when; and that most areas of the U.S. have to endure something "harsh," in terms of weather or natural disasters. Have you ever stopped to think that God gives us moments to pray through our "hardships" and become closer to Him? Perhaps He continuously lets us know just how much we DO have...even in the cold.

Oprah Winfrey recently dedicated a show to military families who must endure without their spouses who are deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, and countless other third-world countries in service to our country's freedom. First Lady, Michelle Obama, is passionate about this issue, opening our eyes to just how many of these mothers and fathers must raise their families as single parents  while their spouses are thousands of miles away in the most volatile countries of the world. We know tomorrow's not promised for any of us. But, the military, they're honored to put their lives on the line each day without complaint, and they pray to just come home safely when their deployment is over.

Oprah also introduced us to a family who's father was severely injured while in the war, returned home blind, with a severe brain injury, and now the family has a new normal. Thank God, the father is making his way back physically, and he has a very devoted wife and loving children, but their lives have changed drastically. On that show, Oprah and First Lady Michelle gave us ways we could help the families who are still here, and not seen because they're not whearing a uniform. It's surprisingly easy to find military families who live nearby, and could possibly use our help. We all can contribute. We all can do something.

In the Old Testament, God tells us to give a portion of our tithes to the widows and orphans. We can take that to also mean give a portion of what we have to military families, the poor, and others in need:
29 Give it to the Levites, who have no inheritance among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all your work. [Deuteronomy 14:29 (New Living Translation)]

Wouldn't it be wonderful to take our minds off our winter woes and tithe our time to help others? We can ask them how we could pitch in to make their lives a little easier. We could say, hey, our church is available to you, how can we help? Do you need a babysitter? Would you like to get your hair or nails done? Do you need a ride to go shopping? Can we cook you dinner? Do you have enough winter clothes, warm coats, and boots? Would you like to join us in church? Would you like to worship with us?

Can we shovel your snow?

God bless!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sober Judgment - The Nina Chronicles

Presenting the first few chapters of my Christian novel: Sober Judgment - The Nina Chronicles. The doors of the church are now open - enjoy the journey!


Sober Judgment

A Novel by
Pamela McCree Sampson
© 2011 Writers’ Blaaq, Inc.

3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
[Romans 12: 3-8 (NIV)]

Victoria Falls, affectionately abbreviated to Vic Falls by anyone who’s ever been there, is one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles. Declared a World Heritage Site, the falls – and much of the town of the same name – fall within a 23,4km² national park, which neighbours onto the 573km² Zambezi National Park. The falls are the stuff of legends, romance and myth. Long before the Scottish missionary and explorer, Dr David Livingstone “discovered” the falls on November 16, 1855, the local Batonga people had named them Mosi-Oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders”. The more prosaic Livingstone named them for his queen, but departed from his normal, pedestrian writing to observe in his diary that “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

Today, the town of Victoria Falls can rightly claim the title of “Adrenaline Capital of Africa.” Still essentially a village carved out of the African bush, Vic Falls is home to a seemingly endless variety of adventure sports. Bungee jumping off the railway bridge and white water rafting through the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls (said to be the world’s most exciting stretch of rafting) are just the two most obvious attractions. For surfers, a new addition to the attractions is a chance to bodyboard the huge standing waves set up as the river bounces off underwater boulders. Floating above the falls in a tandem microlight is perhaps the ultimate way to see what Livingstone’s angels saw, but for the less adventurous, there are regular helicopter and light aircraft flights for a similar perspective. Sublime sundowner cruises on the broad sweep of Zambezi River upstream of the falls while sipping a Zambezi Lager, are an exquisite way to experience an African sunset, while the more energetic can hire canoes for gentle, guided paddling trips – steering well clear of the sweep of current leading over the lip of the falls (and the many pods of hippopotami).

But perhaps best of all is the constant lure of the falls. A network of trails leads through the rainforest surrounding the smoke that thunders. Hire an umbrella and raincoat, and happily spend a day or longer simply gazing at the incredible vistas of one of the natural wonders of the world. When the river is at its lowest, as little as 20 000 cubic metres per minute flow over the lip of the falls, but when the mighty Zambezi is raging in April and May, as much as 500 000 cubic metres a minute smashes down into the Devil’s Cataract below, and then powers its way through the Batoka Gorge.

I felt the joints of my legs and soul crack and pull apart as the Beast tore his way into me. His once soft and gentle hands now harshly gripped me into a carnal cage. The soft caress that used to be was no more. I had suffered through countless days and nights of physical torture trying to somehow please him. Two years before, I had finally summoned the courage to protest. At first, he seemed to listen, or did he? We had always enjoyed our outings and classes together, putting on the expected smiley faces for everyone else’s benefit. Perhaps if I faked it well enough, the seemingly perfect pre-marriage would become real.
However, I felt guilty of betrayal and couldn’t admit from where the nagging feeling had initially emerged. It ate away at me emotionally and mentally, ultimately manifesting itself physically during our lovemaking. At first it was an extreme burn, then tearing, then blood that never seemed to stop. Many nights in the dorm I’d feign sleep, but he’d come in and nudge me until I opened my eyes.
In a matter of seconds, his manhood would rise and the Beast would roll on top of me, plunging past my opening, ovaries, and finally hitting the “back wall.” My immediate tears would stain the pillow as he held down my hands and wrists to keep me still. No amount of begging, no amount of kicking, no amount of my soft screams about the unbearable pain could stop him. He just kept going...he...just...kept...going.
Then, one day, my tears just stopped. My bottomless fountain of sorrow was finally emptied, unbeknownst to me, also taking away the laughter, fear, surprise, and any other emotion that formally comprised my soul. My homely physical features, coupled with the Beast repeatedly mangling me with his persistent pitches into my feminine soul, would keep me stained for life. And I wasn’t able to stop it. Take the punishment. I deserve it. Who the hell is gonna want me now anyway??? I was finally able to block out all that was happening to me. Images of Victoria Falls became my refuge. So beautiful…so peaceful…

Chapter One


We must commit ourselves to the purpose of the Lord and the purpose of faith.

This morning’s service was like all the others, and so was Tyrone’s objective – to get folks out of their seats and into his world. Last week, he alone brought the whole congregation to their feet, then to their knees with tears in their eyes. His fingers elicited hypnotic melodies on the keyboard and once a few of the choir members got the Holy Ghost, he knew he had them all. Blessed Assurance had always been a labor for him to get through, so last year, he introduced his own jazzy arrangement – or, rearrangement, rather. This morning, the keys seemed hotter than ever.

This is my story, this is my song

Praising my Savior all the day long…

Yes, this was Tyrone’s song. His fingers glided effortlessly across the keyboard, giving the listeners something exotically different with every stanza, every phrase. He commanded the old hymn to do what he wanted, putting the notes in a lilt his audience had never heard, and would never hear again. See, what kept them coming back was the way Tyrone never played songs the same way twice. At one point of the song, he held up his hand and the choir knew that was their cue to stop singing and simply sway to the rhythm of the music. It was now that Tyrone was the star, no need for vocal accompaniment.
At 24, he was the youngest Minister of Music in the Northern Baptist Council of a church that size. During his last five years, he had created a devoted, mixed following of parishioners and for lack of a better word, fans. No one at the church wanted to admit it, but the pink elephant in the sanctuary was that Tyrone was the reason the congregation had swelled to a membership of 10,000 people — 5,000 of which never missed a service. Tyrone had demanded, and the church had agreed, he should be paid at least $50,000 annually with cost of living raises, of course. How else could the church survive without his powerful deliverance of musical entertainment? That’s why people went to church anyway, isn’t it?? Yes, it was a phenomenal show every Sunday, every Wednesday night, and every special occasion. And to think, they were all getting a free performance. Heck, perhaps he should demand an even higher compensation. But, he didn’t think too hard on it. He knew his nightclub would be taking off soon.
After his performance, and three encores with nine people still screamin’ with the Holy Ghost – would the song ever end??? – he packed up his things and motioned discreetly to Nina, his premier alto. She had a voice that could move even Satan to seek the Lord. Tyrone used her whenever he needed to put the crowd over the top. Her voice was orgasmic and he couldn’t wait to be with her this afternoon. His music always put him on a natural high and he wanted her to join him on today’s wave of emotion. He was the star and he knew she wouldn’t mind being his #2 today. Nina allowed him to be himself. She listened as he talked about his dreams, about his accomplishments, about how great everyone knows he is. She never got tired of hearing about the greatness of Tyrone and his natural gifts. She knew he was beyond gifted and she would never let him go. She believed Tyrone was hers. Hah! Silly girl…but, she served his purposes for now. With his talent? There are so many women out there, and so little time. Today, however, she was his to have however he wanted. Hmmm…perhaps he could get her to “sing” in the park today, and without all her usual, melodramatic protests.

     “Hey T! Where ‘ya goin’? Church ain’t over, Daddy’s about to preach!”
     “Yeah, well, um, Nina and I got somethin’ to do, today,” Tyrone flippantly answered his older brother. Terry was always dippin’ in his business, why can’t he just leave him alone?!
     “Hey, Nina,” Terry finally acknowledged her presence.
     “Hi, Terry, I enjoyed your Bible study this morning, as always. Could I come by sometime to talk to you a little more in depth about the women we’re studying?”
Terry could see his brother was getting anxious as he replied, “Of course, you can stop by my office anytime tomorrow. I’ll be around. You know I’m always available to my students. Any woman in particular you want to discuss, or just Biblical women, in general?”
Tyrone interrupted, “Look, Terry, you all can discuss that tomorrow, let’s go, Nina!”
As Tyrone yanked Nina toward the door, Terry forcefully asked, “You know, Tyrone, Dad’s counting on the both of us to be here for this afternoon’s appreciation. I know you’re going to be here, right?
“Yeah, yeah, whateva, man. Right now, I’m outta here!” Tyrone answered. He had one thing on his mind, right now, and it wasn’t his dad’s 45th anniversary celebration at the church. He knew somebody else would have to fill in for him—well, at least, try to just provide some music. He knew no one could ever take his place.
     “But, Tyrone! Daddy needs you!”
     “For what, Terry???” Tyrone shouted, “He’s got you!!! You’re his #1. You’re the man who’s gonna follow in his footsteps. He doesn’t want me here and you know it. He’s ashamed of me, he just wants to pimp me for my music. Now, if I show up, I show up. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m outta here. Peace!”
Tyrone grabbed Nina’s hand and hastily sauntered out against Terry’s wishes. Why he gave his older brother such a hard time, he didn’t know. Especially when he knew he’d return for the 4 o’clock celebration. Nobody could deliver the music like Tyrone could. Perhaps it was time his brother recognized that.
What Tyrone didn’t recognize was just how uncomfortable Nina had become. She wondered to herself how she could be so caught up with such a childish egomaniac like Tyrone. Though he indeed was all that in her eyes and in the eyes of the congregation, she hoped he didn’t think he could get her to go against her wishes…again.


“Nina! You comin’?!” Tyrone bellowed from the car as the afternoon’s musical program occupied his mind. He had already gotten up and dressed as her ever-shaky hands fumbled with the buttons on her dress.
The yelling of the anxious Beast beside his latest new car brought reality back into sharp focus. It was the return trip to the here and now that hurt her more than anything the Beast could have ever done to her physically. Victoria Falls, or at least some spiritual semblance, needed to come soon for her. How long could she endure this Satan, masked in the beautiful BA-holdin’, musically gifted body of man whom she called her own for so long? Could she really be saved, even though she continued to take the easy way out, knowingly and willingly doing wrong ‘cause she was too scared and lazy to do right? Nina closed her eyes and prayed for a new day, not feeling the fresh bruises and ripped flesh the Beast left in his wake of passion.
“Yeah, um, okay, I’m ready,” she answered as she brushed the dirt and blades of grass from her body. She hoped she didn’t look as frazzled and pathetic as she felt on the inside. She took a deep breath and walked toward Tyrone’s BMW. She faked a smile and wiped at her puffy eyes as she once again approached the man of every woman’s dreams.

Chapter Two
Nina Forest was 24 and stunningly beautiful. However, no one could ever convince her of that. Somehow, somewhere, quite some time ago, Nina lost anything resembling self-esteem. Through the years, however, she’d learned to hide the saddest heart in the world under a mask of activity. To get away from anything that could possibly let others on the inside, she threw herself into her work. She excelled in anything academic, making the Dean’s list at the private high school, where she graduated two years early, Harvard undergraduate, Princeton graduate, as well as the National Conservatory of Music where she’d spent every summer since she was 16 as a vocal prodigy. When she wasn’t in school, she hid within the walls of the church. Having been there since being in her mother’s womb, she now belonged to five different service organizations, where she was president of four. The only reason she wasn’t president of the fifth is because she was sick the night of the election and couldn’t get the papers in on time.
Today, perhaps she’d worked up enough courage to speak to Reverend Gables about whatever it was that seemed to be killing her on the inside. She’d kept it hidden for so long that much of it she didn’t even remember herself. It had been nagging at her for years, yet every time she got the nerve to get it out, she’d just throw herself into another project to ease the pain quickly rising in her soul. She’d lose her breath and start hyperventilating, and then the hives would begin. It was just so much easier to discuss something else, anything else. As she walked through the door of the classroom, Terry greeted her with his big smile that should have put her at ease. She hoped he wouldn’t notice her hands beginning to break out. With the exception of Sunday mornings, she long ago stopped wearing dresses. The scars on her legs from old hives she’d scratched beyond healing needed to stay covered, for her sake and for everyone else’s.
“Good morning, Nina. What’s got you here so early? You’ve got another hour before class begins.” 
“Good morning, Reverend. I just thought I’d um…well, maybe, just get a head start, I uh…”
“Nina, is there something wrong? You know you can talk to me about anything, and in the strictest of confidence.”
“No! I mean, yeah, I mean…nah, nothing’s wrong, Reverend. I’m just…just tired, I’ve got a lot going on right now. I probably just need to slow down,” she said as her skin began to heat up and tingle.
Terry immediately noticed her uneasiness as she started shifting from her right leg to her left, then itching her hands and arms as if something visible only to her was biting her. He wanted to put her at ease, but he didn’t want to risk saying the wrong thing. She needs to talk, but he didn’t want to push.
“Well, Nina, so what’s been going on, well outside of let’s see, your choirs, the silent ministry, the youth ministry, the church orchestra, the…”
“Okay, okay, I get it, I get it,” Nina smiled in resignation. “Yes, I’ve got an awful lot going on here.”
“Yes, not to mention your teaching position at the university and all the job offers you’re pondering. How do you do it all?” Terry asked genuinely amazed and bewildered with his student’s phenomenal accomplishments.
“Well, I have to keep busy, I mean, I need to keep busy, rather, I just like having a lot to do. Don’t they say idle hands are the devil’s workshop?” Nina nervously asked, while still scratching her hands and nervously fidgeting at the door.
“Nina, why don’t you have a seat? How’s your spiritual journal coming?”
“Oh, it’s um, it’s going great. You did say the journal entries were private, though, right? I mean, we don’t have to share them with the class or anything, do we?” Nina asked with an air of desperation in her eyes.
“Oh no, Nina, your journal entries are between you and God. You only need to share something if you feel comfortable doing so. Is there something you’d like to share with the class? Or, even with me? Remember, nothing goes outside of this classroom.”
“Well, no, I’m not quite ready for that, Reverend. Besides, my journal would probably just bore everyone to death anyway. There’s nothin’ in there worth anything. So! What’s today’s class about?”
“You know, Nina, it’s funny you should ask. Until a few moments ago, I didn’t know myself. While walking through the grounds, I ran across Pheneas, the new groundskeeper. He gave me one heckuvan idea.”
“Pheneas? New groundskeeper?” Nina asked as she pondered the books, and the staffing of Mt. Maji. Being involved heavily on the finance committee, she would have known whether the church had hired a new groundskeeper. To her knowledge, there were no hirings or firings going on at the church.
“But, we haven’t hired…” Nina tried to explain.
”Today’s class will explore the spiritual map.” Terry interrupted.
“Spiritual map?”
“Yes, kinda like when you’re in a mall, you look on the directory, and you find the spot that shows You Are Here. From there you decide where you want to go, then how to get there according to the map.”
“Well that sounds easy enough,” Nina replied.
“While it may seem that way, but forming and following a spiritual map is much harder than you may think. So, today we’re going to discuss doing just that. Actually, your spiritual journal is a big part of it. You’re already well on your way. Nina,” Terry asked gently, “Are you sure there’s nothing you’d like to discuss with me privately?”
Nina took a deep breath…”Well, maybe.”
And Terry indeed wondered where Nina is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Where would she like to be, and how could she get there? Could Terry help her? Terry continued to pray for guidance in helping Nina and all of his students.

Chapter Three
We must conform ourselves to the principles of the Lord.

Nina kept her mind off of Tyrone for the time being. In fact, she didn’t even recall the previous Sunday’s afternoon events. Unbeknownst to her, her psyche had long ago set up an intricate web of defense. One day, she’ll remember, she’ll have to remember.
She thought about the Bible study and the interesting new character in her life – Pheneas. Terry said he was a gardener, but Pheneas seemed much more knowledgeable than just someone who brought floral life to the church landscape. Just who was this Pheneas, and was he indeed a real person, or just someone Terry invented to teach the lesson of the spiritual map? All Nina knew for certain is the church had not hired any new groundskeeper, nor had the church brought on any new volunteers. Well, she’d check it out Monday when the church office re-opened. Whoever Pheneas was, she thanked God for him. She couldn’t wait to get back home and write in her journal again. She was excited to get something down on paper. Just where was she and where was she trying to go? Where did God want her to go?
Oh well, it would have to wait just a little longer.
Right now, she had to meet Kimberly at the bridal salon for the second fitting. Now there’s a happy couple. Kim and Roderick have been dating since their college days. Kim was only a freshman when she met the handsome senior, Roderick Bretton Lesure. Kim was so incredibly intimidated when they first met. Now, after eight bumpy, yet glorious, years, she just couldn’t imagine herself with any other man. Rod was truly her soulmate. Nina wondered whether she and Tyrone would ever really share that kind of happiness. Kim and Rod had the perfect relationship, coming through all kinds of growing pains together successfully. No doubt, they’d have a perfect marriage.
Nina easily pasted on her smile as she walked through the doors of the bridal salon. Kim was already there talking to the salesperson about the bridesmaids’ dresses.
“Yes! They’re absolutely beautiful, I just don’t like the bows on the front,” Kim said as she plucked the bow off the front of the sample.
“Ms. Dixon! That dress costs far too much money for you to just go around ripping the fabric!” the saleswoman gasped.
“It’s okay, I’m buyin’ it, along w/five others…and I want the bows off all of them!” Kim screamed.
Nina knew Kim could be a little more than assertive at times, but the wedding plans had definitely put her in rare form lately. Kim was used to getting what she wanted, but she was usually a bit nicer about things. What was making her so frantic? The wedding was still three months away and the plans were nearly complete. Kim was an organizational fanatic. As maid of honor, Nina had taken care of most things, the girls had been fitted, the parties fully planned, menus selected, everything had been done. This was the point where the bride could relax, yet Kim just wasn’t herself.
“Kim, what’s wrong? Is there something I can do?
“No, Nina, I’m just, oh I don’t know, I’m just not myself today. Truth be told, I haven’t been myself for awhile.”
“What is it? Something I can do to help?”
“Well, I hate to even bring this up…I’m just stressin’ over nothin’. Things are just fine, really.”
“Um, well, lookin’ at the way you bit off that woman’s head and spit it back at her, I know there is something wrong. Now spit it out, what is it? Are you getting nervous about the wedding?”
Kim motioned for Nina to have a seat on the sofa next to her. Her voice became quiet and sullen as Nina took a seat ready to listen. Seemingly right on cue, the saleswoman brought a small tray carrying two dainty cups of herbal tea. Kim began to talk as Nina blew away the hot steam before slowing sipping the welcomed beverage.
“No, Nina, nerves have nothing to do with it.”
“Well then if not nerves, what’s got you so on edge?”
“I really hate to even say this, but I just feel like there’s something wrong between Rod and me…something really wrong.”
“Well, what do you mean? How could there be anything wrong? You two are the perfect couple.”
“Nina, things are not always what they appear to be on the outside.”
Nina nodded in agreement, completely understanding the gravity of Kim’s statement. Sheesh, if Kim only knew what Nina was feeling about Ty.
“I just feel like the closer this wedding gets, the more Rod is becoming distant.”
“Go on,” Nina gently pushed as she felt Kim trailing off.
“Well, it’s just that I love Rod so much. We had so many plans for the future, and now when I bring up actually putting the plans into action, he blows me off and tells me to stop worrying; that things are fine. He acts like he’s doing me a favor by marrying me. He makes me feel like I’m a mosquito he wants to swat away.”
“Kim, you sure you’re not just letting the stress of the wedding get to you? Maybe you’re just reading him wrong. Rod loves you! You two are made for each other and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you!”
“Well, what?! Girl, you’ve got an awesome man in Rod, you betta hold onto him ‘fo you lose him! You’ve been together eight years! I know you not gon’ throw all that love and all those special memories away just ‘cause you feeling a little jittery before the ceremony.”
“Okay, I guess you’re right. It’s just that he seems so…so…”
“So what?! You know what it is? I bet Rod is feeling just as nervous and as jittery as you are. Now is not the time to push him. Just comfort him, love him, soothe him when he comes home, and wait for the magic of the wedding. Girl, you are going to be Mrs. Roderick Bretton Lesure!”
“You know what? You’re right. I’m blowing things way out of proportion. I’ll try and relax, all I have to do now is wait for the magic…oh, and make sure those stupid bows are off those dresses!”
The two women laughed and exhaled in glorious anticipation of Kim’s future. Things can only get better from here. Kim has a phenomenal fiancĂ© and she wasn’t going to do anything to mess this up. They have come too far for it not to work and she was going to do everything in her power to make sure Rod knew she was by his side for the long haul. They had too much invested in one another. She had given him her life and she was sure it was mutual. She had waited for this her whole life. She had prayed and prayed for a good man and she finally got him. There’s no way this wedding wasn’t going to work.
Life could not be that cruel.

Chapter Four
We must conform ourselves to the principles of the Lord.

Slightly buzzed from last night’s Happy Hour specials, Nick’s determination sped him across town to the club where he knew Tyrone would be anxiously waiting for the band to rehearse before the first set at 9:00. He wondered to himself why he should be racin’ across town just to please Ty. Since he’d gotten out of college two years ahead of schedule, Ty had been a thorn in everybody’s side. Nick was just sick of it. Sick and tired of havin’ to follow Ty’s lead, sick of him over-performin’ in church, sick of him gettin’ all the credit for the band’s performances, sick of him paradin’ around as if he’s God’s gift to women, music, and church. One day, Nick would be the star…it was only a matter of time.
Being Nina’s twin, Nick was always in the shadows, never out in front getting at least a little of the attention. Nina was always perfect. Straight A’s. Dean’s list, even where there was no Dean’s list. Shelves full of first-place awards from the National Conservatory of Music, long ago overshadowing anything Nick did while at the same institution. Community service plaques and citations. Five church groups, at last count, while headed for a great new career in…in…just what the heck was Nina studyin’ these days anyway??? He knew his sister was someone you couldn’t help but love. Heck, everybody loved Nina. The usual “big brother protects his little sister” mindset never had the chance to kick in. She was the actual protector. While growing up, she had gotten him out of so many scrapes with neighborhood bullies; she gained a reputation of someone you didn’t mess with. Killing part about it was she didn’t have to raise her voice nor her fist to make people understand that they should never again threaten Nick, nor anyone else in her family. Then, she’d end up inviting the thugs over for cookies and Kool-Aid. She had a way of making her brother look like a real punk! She was even born first, by a measly ten minutes!!!
He always felt that that few ten minutes somehow had snatched all the confidence, beauty, talent, and intelligence from their mother’s womb. Nick got the leftovers. He lived in Nina’s shadow. “Are you Nina’s brother?” “Are you as smart as Nina?” “Are your grades, talent, vocals, and service as good as Nina’s?” “Don’t you want to be more like Nina???”
He was NOT going to live in Ty’s shadow, too. He just couldn’t take it anymore. It was time to take things into his own hands. But, then again, how could he? When it comes down to it, neither Tyrone nor Nina ever did anything to Nick but care for him. Ty was his best friend and in fact, it was Ty who encouraged Nick to take more advantage of his inherent ability to make the sax sing the silkiest songs, from classical to jazz. And it wasn’t Nina’s fault she was so perfect. She worked hard at everything. Although, he wondered whether anyone else noticed during the past few years how Nina seemed to become more solemn and introverted. She just didn’t seem like the Nina he knew growing up. Oh well, she’s 24, and maybe the pressure to be perfect all the time is finally getting to her. She’ll be okay, though. Nick was glad when she started dating Ty, the best guy for the best girl. He knew Ty would take care of her, no matter what. When it came down to it, Nick loved them both tremendously.
But, tonight, the two of them made him sick to his stomach. He continued to push his Nissan Pathfinder through the streets. He knew if Tyrone were to even think about yelling at him tonight, he wouldn’t be responsible for what would happen.

Nick took another swig of Hennessy and closed his eyes periodically to dream of tonight’s performance.


Monday, January 24, 2011

If His Grace is Sufficient, What's for Dinner?

Living in a small(er) college town years ago, I was in my mid-20s and happily single. The town didn't have much going on in terms of culture or "life" for my age group, so, I easily got into a routine to stay sane. I arrived at my downtown office before the downtown awoke...well, to the coffee shop outside the downtown office...then opened the office doors while sipping my hot java, worked eight to ten hours, including a plethora of meetings outside the office to make the day go by faster, and then headed to the local grocery store to decide what would be for dinner. I lived alone, but cooked a huge dinner each night, in case any of my friends were to visit.

Now, almost twenty years later, I realize going to the grocery store each night after work was probably not the most efficient activity in terms of budgeting, but I felt like that town was just so small there was nothing else to do. I was active in at least three church activities, my sorority, three business organizations, and who knows what else just to fill the space. I was living from Friday to Friday...the day when I'd leave work, jump in my SUV, and get on the highway headed back to Detroit for the weekend. "Friday night, just got paid, party's jumpin', feelin' right..." The best thing, though, was with all that cooking, I became a much better cook! Friends did come by for dinner, especially my neighbors in the building who could smell the aroma from my second-floor abode each night. I was popular and loving it...but, after dinner, my mental-emotional space was empty again.

But God! was always there...and He was the only One I wasn't inviting to sit at my table. I was an "adult" then, with a great career, with two degrees, and my sites set on maybe someday becoming an attorney. I had SO much to be thankful for, and yet, I was ignoring Him, not saying thank You nearly enough. I was discovering my spirituality, as a baby Christian, as I've heard it called. If I had known better, I would have come home each night, gotten down on my knees immediately, and simply spent all that "entertainment" time praising Him and thanking Him for the day. Lord knows I would've saved thousands in my bank account, and countless gifts in my spiritual account, instead of "investing" it in the super market and my fleshly ideas of popularity. I wasn't building my pantry...I was just throwing away money on one-night meals. I wasn't investing in God, I was investing in me. As much as I could, I was "living the life."

3Whether my body was there or just my spirit, I don't know; only God knows. 4But I do know that I was caught up into paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be told. 5That experience is something worth boasting about, but I am not going to do it. I am going to boast only about my weaknesses. 6I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won't do it. I don't want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message, 7even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud. 8Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9Each time he said, "My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. 10Since I know it is all for Christ's good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2nd Corinthians 12:3-10 (NLT)] 

At 25, I was diagnosed with multiple ultimate weakness. All these years later, I've come back to the big city, become even more "popular," made even more friends, lived an even better life, and yet, my MS has gotten worse. Like Paul, I prayed many times for God to cure me, to remove the MS thorn from my brain stem and nervous system; for God to work through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to do more than just host annual walk-a-thons, but to go further to push doctors and researchers to find the cure. Many times, my MS has gone into remission, but God has not "removed the thorn." As the disease has progressed, I have learned to "boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ may work through me." More often than not, people say they never even knew I had MS. They say, "How do you stay so positive?" "With all you've endured physically, how do you stay so at peace?" I simply respond, "His grace is sufficient...would you like to stay for dinner?"