Something to Celebrate

It’s New Year’s Eve, 2016 – a crazy, awful year for celebrity deaths, political mayhem of unseen proportions, and a year that I found myself having a difficult time trying to say anything good about.  My daily Facebook memories reminded me of other years where I had something really great and hopeful to say to everyone; thoughts on personal growth or times I was able to bless others.  This year just felt, well, blah.  I even told my niece that I had to really sit down and think about it, if I had anything positive to offer at all.

And that’s what I did.  I sat down.  In front of my vision board.  With my Bible open.  With my heart open.  And I just talked to God.  Out loud.  And I started with my complaints, my unanswered prayers, my unfulfilled hopes, dreams, and plans. I prayed, if it be His will, that everything on that vision board come to pass in 2017.  I told Him that I was sorry if I seemed ungrateful, because honestly, this year saw me blessed in many areas.  As I sat and complained to Him, my thoughts turned to what I did have…first of all, my son, who – while we don’t always see eye to eye, is an amazing young man, smart, witty, kind, talented.  I’m so thankful that God allowed me to have him even when I felt unprepared and not ready, even when I still feel like I failed as a parent.  God allowed me to mother him and is still allowing growth and lessons through that very special bond.   Secondly, my friends, who are truly like my family.  I recalled how I met two of my closest female friends and how God allowed them to each be vulnerable with me, and I with them, so that a closeness more like family was ushered in.  He allowed me to be there during divorces, and major life changing moments, where my loyalty and friendship was proven to them, and theirs to me,  even if it just meant I helped shampoo carpets when one had to move out of her home due to the divorce.  We’ve seen each other through blood, sweat, tears, and sometimes, even pee.  LOL  (That’s an inside joke.)  God allowed us to meet, and they opened their hearts and allowed me in.  That’s not always easy for people to do, and I’m grateful that they had the courage to be vulnerable and that they trusted me with their darkest secrets and their brightest joys and that we’ve been family for over 20 years.

Lastly, I thought about how He has kept me.  2016 saw some of my darkest moments personally, times where I completely felt like giving up and giving in, but in my prayer time, it was revealed to me how God truly is the giver and sustainer of life. I had always heard people say things like that, but it was like He came down, wrapped His arms around me, and had a gentle conversation with me: “Don’t you know I love you? Don’t you know that through every loss you’ve endured, pain that you thought would surely kill you, it was me holding you up? Don’t you know that I am here for you, uplifting you, and fighting for you when you just can’t fight any more? It’s me, Brandy! I’ve been here  holding you up all along. I’m not going to let you fall now!

I recently saw another Facebook post from a casual friend who lost her only parent last year and has been consumed with grief and navigating life without her beloved mother. She admitted that she attempted suicide this year, but thankfully, her attempt failed.  She proclaimed that He is a keeper and I agree with her.   No matter the fears, the doubts, the lack of strength to get up and keep trying, when I fell to my knees and cried “I can’t do this anymore!”  it was He who held me until I could get up again. Only a loving, all powerful, merciful God can do that.  That was my biggest spiritual breakthrough of 2016.

So what not much earth shattering or explosive happened to me for the positive in 2016…no new car, house, Louis bag,  or other material gains, though my career is going great (another blessing, another blog).  No, the love of my life didn’t show up and sweep me off my feet either, but what did happen was that I was kept, sustained, held, given a chance to see a new year that, who knows, may usher in some of those earth shattering, explosive blessings that I’ve been praying for.  And that chance is enough.  It’s all I need, and I am grateful.  Plus, did I mention that I won the Powerball in 2016, but just the Powerball…won $6!!  2017 – I’m winnin’ it all!  Happy New Year everybody! Praise God for keeping you all! Love y’all!

 

Addendum: The holidays typically do see an increase in suicides, and while I did NOT attempt to take my life, I know people who did.  If you or a loved one have suicidal thoughts or tendencies, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at  1-800-273-8255.  For further information visit them on the web at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.  Your life is a beautiful thing.  You are needed, loved, and valued.

 

 

 

Covered in Shame

During a recent call with one of my spiritual big sisters, we talked about generational curses and other negative things that were passed to us even before birth.  She shared with me some things that she felt the Holy Spirit revealed to her about her spiritual lineage and it caused me to think about my own.  There are some obvious patterns that even the average person can see, but what would I find if I dug a little deeper?  I wanted to know what the atmosphere was like while my mother was carrying me.  I wanted to know if she felt bonded with me, or if she was ambivalent.  I wanted to know more about her during that time as much as I wanted to know about myself.

A couple of weeks later I took my aunt, my mother’s older sister, to lunch.  As I was driving her home I asked, “How was my mom when she was pregnant with me? How did she act?  Did she seem happy?” Before giving me any information about my mother, she immediately, without hesitation, said “Mama made her cover up her stomach with a towel when she sat down at the [dinner] table.  She didn’t want anyone to know your mama was pregnant. She tried to hide it.”  The “anyone” my aunt was referring to was my mom’s five other siblings.  Later that same day, speaking to another aunt that is married into the family and mentioning this story to her, she told me that her husband, my uncle has said on occasions of discussing our family “I was the only one at school with a pregnant fifteen year old sister.”

The revelation that I got from these two simple stories was profound.  As an adult who has made my fair share of mistakes and poor choices, I struggle with feelings of guilt and shame, sometimes to the point that they cripple me and hinder my happiness and ability to receive love and joy, even God’s love and joy.  I recently realized how deeply my spirit is steeped in these inaccurate thoughts.  These two brief conversations with two different aunts were truly eye opening.  I came to the realization that I was born into shame.  Being a writer, it was not lost on me that my grandmother covering my mother’s stomach with a towel was a metaphor for her literally covering me in shame.  My conception wasn’t celebrated or welcomed.  It was, I was, my mother was…seen…as an embarrassment.  I left those conversations with a depth of understanding that shame literally followed me out of my mother’s womb.   And this knowledge freed me!

After the initial jolt of sadness wore off from knowing my grandmother was so embarrassed by me, I laughed at the irony of how God made me.  I was one of the most talkative, chatty, precocious children ever!  One of my mom’s friends paid me one time to stop talking.  (This really happened!) I started singing and entertaining my family, pretend mic and stage and all, at about 4 years of age.  I excelled in school, in music, in extracurricular activities.  I was outgoing and bubbly! I was a cheerleader, literally. One of my middle school teachers was a former classmate of my mother’s and I remember him saying to me once that I was nothing like her at that age.  He seemed to look at me in a sort of bewilderment as he spoke.  He told me that she was very shy and quiet and not involved in any activities.  I was, in his words, her total opposite. I thought of all these characteristics, these God-given gifts of my personality that made up my spirit, and I saw how God never intended for me to be hidden.  He did not want me to be ashamed.  I know my grandmother didn’t know what she was doing, but God did.  Everything about me from a very young age said “I’m here!  Look at me! God made me and gave me these gifts!  I’m His child!  You will not hide me or shame me for existing!  I was meant to be here!  I have a purpose, even if that purpose is just to make people smile when they are around me!

Other things started to make sense to me as well;  it’s hard enough to shake emotions like shame and guilt when you realize the magnitude of your own mistakes, and how you’ve hurt or disappointed the people that you love,  but it’s nearly impossible to do when those things were put on you without your permission, by no choice and no fault of your own, by simply being conceived.  I began to understand why it was so difficult for me to forgive myself, or to even accept Christ’s love and forgiveness.  These feelings were in my literal DNA.

God gave me a vision as I was lying in bed one morning dwelling on my past, the part that I wasn’t born with…the part that I created including all of my many mess ups and awful choices.  I saw Jesus carrying His cross.  (I actually recalled the scene from Passion of the Christ.) I remembered in that movie, how heavy the physical weight of this huge wooden cross was and how difficult it was for Jesus to bear its weight on His shoulders.  He was in such agony.  It was then that the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said “The cross, by itself, was so heavy already…how much heavier do you think it was with the weight of all of your sins on it?  All the sins of the world…past, present, and future. Jesus did that for you.  He carried, not just that cross, but all of your sins with Him, on His shoulders, on His back,  so that you wouldn’t have to live in guilt or shame.”  I don’t think I ever understood the purpose of the cross and Christ’s death so clearly before.  In all my years of believing in Christ, in that moment, it dawned on me that I never truly accepted His forgiveness and I was living in a world where I continuously punished myself and negated what He did for me when He willingly laid down His life.  By not accepting His forgiveness, I was likely hurting Him more.

I try to live each day now with this vision at the forefront of my mind.  Any time those shameful feelings try to creep in, or those voices that say “you don’t deserve to be happy, look what you did back in 1996 or 2008 or yesterday.”  I pray them away.  I rebuke and renounce them.  And I live each day to the fullest, trying to be better than the day before, forgiving myself, loving myself and those around me, seeking His wisdom, and relying on His grace and mercy.  I am here.  I will not be ashamed.

 

The God of Surprises

About a year ago, I woke one morning feeling particularly sad. Nothing seemed to be going well in my life.  I was in a temporary job that I hated. I was still single at 42 and incredibly lonely and feeling disconnected,  but as I had been trying to be in a more positive mindset, I made the choice not to sit in the sadness or dwell on it.   As I drove away from my apartment, headed to work, I decided to pray:

God, thank You for waking me up this morning.  Please help me not to be sad.  You are an all powerful God who is full of surprises.  I will be hopeful and expectant today, God.  This could be the day that you choose to surprise me, God.  This could be the day I get that unexpected phone call that changes my life, or this could be the day I get a call for a job that I actually love!  You can do more than I ask, think, or imagine (Ephesians 3:20 – 21). Your ways are higher than my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). You are the only wise God (Romans 16:27), a god of infinite possibilities!

I was in a place where I really, really wanted my life to change and was so tired of being sad, lonely, not purposeful in my work, and all the other worries that come along with being a 42 year old single woman living in this day and age.  I had been reading books like “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale, and “Hope Will Find You” by Rabbi Naomi Levy.  I decided to make a conscious choice to think and be more positive. I went to work and decided, that day, to live out my new, positive mantra.  I made conversation with a nice woman in the elevator that carried on into the hallway, and later, shared a genuine smile and wave with her as I walked back the same way.  I just wanted to be happy and hopeful and share (exude) that wherever I went.  I had some good conversations with prospective candidates on the job and felt really good about my productivity.  Imagine my surprise when, at 3:15 PM, I was called into the boss’ office and summarily dismissed.  I knew this wasn’t a long-term thing for me, but I still hadn’t really seen this coming, and especially on DAY ONE of my “I’m gonna be super-positive and happy anyway” journey!  I mean, seriously, God?? For real?? 

As I drove home, still a bit shell-shocked, fear and doubt began to creep in.  The prayer that had sustained me on the way in to work was gone.  Tears began to well in my eyes, but I choked them back with what felt like the last ounce of strength and positivity that I had left in me.  I got in the house and recalled my prayer from that morning, that God is full of surprises, and how ironic it was that this certainly wasn’t the kind of surprise I was expecting.  For a few moments, I thought about the ramifications of what this seemingly negative surprise meant for me, especially after praying such a positive, hope filled prayer.  Doubt kept nudging me forward into the darkness.  The questions began to form in my mind: “Is God playing some sick joke on me? Does He really want me to be afraid? Does He care? Is He even real?” It seemed the questions flashed before me, one after the other, like headlines on a marquis.  I stopped myself, stopped those thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5), and I remembered that “Yes, God IS real!” but “so is Satan, and I know what he came to do (John 8:44 & John 10:10)!”

I stopped and realized and recognized what was happening and I made another choice to continue to exercise (an action) my faith and to choose, again, that no matter what my circumstances looked like, to trust and believe in God.  He would take care of me.  He would provide! (Philippians 4:19) I also recalled how, just the week before, I had given the largest amount of money that I’d ever given to the church because I had felt led to do so.  I knew that I was being tested, and that I could either cower in fear or I could walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).

One month later, I began what I considered my ideal day job, working from home as a recruiter, which is something I had prayed for.  I did not search for that job.  I did not apply for that job or send in a resume.  They found me.  They called me.  They approached me and made the offer. God hooked me up!  I was fired from that dreadful job on October 3, 2015 and began my new job on November 2, 2015, almost a month to the day.

Fast forward to present day, I just celebrated my one year anniversary on that job and I just read my journal entry from the day I was fired, which is what you just read here.  I am still on my journey and I have good and bad days, but I am increasingly learning to stop striving and allow what will be to be and trust that God always has my best interests at heart.  I believe God is ushering me into a new season of my life and setting me up for the next level in other areas.  It’s my time. I am claiming it and continuing to pray my “God, you are the God of surprises and infinite possibilities” prayer. There is absolutely nothing too hard for God!  Reading this journal entry reminded me to seek Him and to trust Him with my whole heart.   What we think is the worst thing ever, can eventually work our for our greatest and highest good.  (Romans 8:28) After all, He IS the God of surprises! I can’t wait to see what He has for me next!

 

 

 

Wild Horses Couldn’t Stop It

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have read how much I love my little dog, but there is a story behind how I got him.  First of all, he’s a Craigslist find! I saw his ad in the Pets section and it said that he was a lap dog who loved to watch TV…sounded like my kind of dog! I called and left a message only to get a call back saying that he was already gone to another home.  For some reason, the lady decided to go ON and ON about how great this dog was going to have it.  “The father is a Doctor, and the wife a stay-at-home mom.  He won’t have to be in the crate all day.  They have lovely children, yada yada yada.”  After her dialogue, I hung up the phone feeling kind of bad, not just that I didn’t get the dog, but also that I was a single-mom in an apartment, working to make ends meet, and not a doctor’s wife!

The next day, the lady called back and left me a voice mail saying that Dr. & Mrs. Stay-at-Home Mom brought the dog back and told me to call her if I still wanted him.  Intrigued, but cautious, I called her back and asked “What’s wrong with the dog??”  To which she replied “nothing” and proceeded to tell me how the Dr. & Mrs. also owned horses and that the dog wasn’t afraid of them and was running with them and they were afraid he’d be trampled.

I drove to pick him up the next day.  He tore through my Wendy’s bag that I had in the back seat and ate all of my fries and the rest, as they say, is history!

As I think of this story, something else comes to mind.  There is a phrase that many of us use, but sometimes have trouble really grasping and believing in, and that is: “What God has for me, IS for me.” This dog had been given away to a seemingly more fitting home, one where he’d live his days in luxury, perhaps dining on the finest cuts of meat.  I was told I couldn’t have him, that I’d missed out, maybe called a day too late.  Know this: TRULY, what God and the universe mean for you to have, you will have.  Stop striving.  Be still and know.  No one and no thing can stop what God has intended for each of us.  In this case, wild horses couldn’t stop me from getting this dog, in fact, they helped me get him! He was supposed to be my dog.  He was already my dog.  

I can’t tell you the joy that this little dog has brought to me, and quite frankly, he seems to like apartment life.  It suits him.  He greets me at the door with “hugs” and kisses.  He loves me unconditionally, and I am so blessed to have him.

God cares about our EVERY need.  Tonight, as I hung out with my little dog and reflected on how he came to me, I was reminded of that, and I am grateful.  There is a force much larger than any one of us that just wants us to trust that our needs will be met, and they will be.