Present your gifts with joy!

Last night, I was mesmerized by the voice of Leontyne Price- Feb. 10th was her 87th birthday.  I listened for hours, first to videos of her performances and then her interviews. I realized then that she is the epitome of the verse Proverbs 16:18 that says A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men. The clear perfection of her voice, performances, stage presence clearly demonstrate her steadfast belief that her voice was a gift from God and therefore she cherished it, nurtured/honed it, honored it and then presented it with great joy to the world. She did not just sing, she presented with great joy “thrilling” as she put it, her God given talent. God has given us GREAT gifts and talents that we must WHOLLY embrace and align ourselves accordingly to present with great joy and enthusiasm. Our gifts are really God’s gifts to the world, to make it a better place, to bring joy, healing, solutions, grace to others. Stop hiding your gift – the world needs it.

Leontyne Price NEA interview:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gn8mEWvuvMg

Leontyne Price’s last performance at the Met.  the last 3 minutes is the emotional standing ovation she received which lasted for 20 minutes.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGfP38nd-U0

Lifetime love

Lifetime love

They were married almost 62 years, and as she fell ill, she told him “thank you for giving me such a wonderful life” and he said “thank you for making my life wonderful.” 

I was thinking about commitment and remembered a note I wrote on Facebook after interviewing two octogenarians for an oral history project I was working on.  I was moved to tears many times hearing them tell their stories even though the topic was unrelated. I thought I’d share a glimpse of what REAL commitment looks like, sounds like, talks like.  What “til death do us part” means….

I am so grateful for the journey that led me to this particular life event. 

(the link to the original note is in red above, but is posted below)

Lifetime Love

March 22, 2009 at 3:50pm

I’m learning about lifetime love -I’m talking about love between married couples that starts before “I do” and literally lasts until “Death do us part.” This lesson started to unfold just in the last month or so, as I started a new project documenting a black banking legacy, conducting oral histories of folks who are in their late 70’s, 80’s and yes, 90’s. It is amazing how God works in the strangest ways, and certainly at the start of this venture I didn’t think that “lifetime Love” was on the agenda. I’m learning more and more that love is always on God’s mind, you can find it anywhere, everywhere because it is the essence of who He is. 

2 different stories have anchored themselves in my memory- one from an 89 yr old gentleman and the other from a lovely reserved woman in her mid 80’s. Both had lost their spouses recently, in 2008, and in both instances, as they shared their stories about their banking experiences their relationship with the spouse came up with all the love and longing, as if it were yesterday. 

The gentleman said when he first saw, met his wife, he proposed on the first day – He was newly arrived in Washington DC to participate in the GI’s promise of college education at Howard – Howard was full so he went to American University instead even tho’ he still lived in Howard’s dorms.  He went to get a bite to eat and said he knew when he saw her over 60 yrs ago that she was his wife and so he told her so. She brushed him off time and time again, as he would frequent where she worked as a waitress, hostess. At one point, she told him to leave her alone which he did for about 2-3 weeks. Then he got a call from her inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner at her parents house. He gladly accepted and when he went over there he proposed to her again, asked her father and they were married several months later.   All of this happened in a period of months! They were married almost 62 years, and as she fell ill, she told him “thank you for giving me such a wonderful life” and he said “thank you for making my life wonderful.” Upon hearing those words spoken so tenderly and lovingly, my heart swelled and I was speechless. This was a lifetime love story. When I asked how he knew she was the one – he just replied, I knew. The decision was made and that was that. 

The woman I interviewed had a similar story. She met her husband because he just happened to ride down (from Wash DC ) to North Carolina with a friend who was smitten with her sister. Upon seeing her, he was also taken and asked her if he could come down to visit her. She sort of brushed him off too, but he kept visiting her since his friend kept making that drive down to North Carolina. He was persistent and almost made the drive every weekend. He started coming by himself. He was on a mission one weekend, because even Hurricane Camille and the flooding that ensued could not keep him away. He proposed that weekend and they were married a few months later on New Years Day 1955. She followed him to Washington DC where they made a life together for over 52 years. The faith, the love, the mutual respect was so evident in her voice. 

I learned that things were not perfect, but in both instances, their commitment to each other and mutual respect and love endured the imperfections. The honor and pride that they took in their respective spouses and celebrating the decision & commitment itself made so long ago was at the heart of these lifetime love stories. They took seriously (held sacred) the covenant and the vows they made to each other before witnesses and before God. 

So many times we get stuck in “what have you done for me lately” syndrome. This works/performance-based “love” is doomed to failure if one’s performance slips. What is implied is, ” I’m with you” for better, richer, and in health. If perchance, things gets worse, poorer and in sickness then I’m not so sure how that is going to work for me. 

This culture shuns commitment, makes light of marriage vows — it welcomes those contingency clauses that help us wiggle out of commitment – to limit exposure. Tell me this… How do limit exposure on a life time commitment??? Breaking a lifetime covenant should be costly… it should be punitive, and it should make us think twice (or 70 x 70) before rendering void a sacred commitment. 

But these beautiful stories so poignantly illustrate that, lifetime love is a decision you make. It is built on foundational principals of respect, honor, humility, gentleness, hard work, humor and resolute commitment to honor your word. This is why we love to see Obama’s – we see the mutual respect, the honor, the gentleness, that commitment, and yes the LOVE. It’s empowering to see people really love each other, and honor and respect they have for one another. 

We have all seen the tumultuous winds of changing circumstances, changing personalities, broken promises, and so forth try to tear down or weaken the vows we made to each other. There will be other trials ahead of us, but God has shown me thru the lives of these two wonderful people what lifetime love looks like — and that is what I want! Lifetime love also means lifetime learning and so, I’m really hoping that I learn the lesson that their lives are teaching.

Someone is determined to be a blessing to me

Yes – It’s true.  Absolutely true.  I don’t know exactly what to do with it because I feel most unworthy.  She is a long time friend from college, though our friendship started after that time when we went to church together and we were in our mid 20s.   She thinks so highly of me, and reminds of things I said or done that I have no recollection of doing over our long friendship together.   We are VERY low maintenance friends. We don’t demand much of each others time and speak about 6 times a years – sometimes more, sometimes less. But mostly we laugh together (REALLY REALLY laugh) and serve together. I can call her anytime and ask her to do something (and vice versa) and with little hesitation do we respond and help for that period of time.  Lately, as my 50th birthday approaches, she has called me at least twice a month since August to find out what I’m doing to celebrate, how can she help, what dates am I thinking about so that she can clear her schedule, inviting me to whatever she is doing if I am not celebrating in a big way.  She called just this week to say that she would like to treat me to dinner if I’m not celebrating!!!  She is determined to bless me, to honor a significant time in my life.  I am greatly moved and quite overwhelmed by her desire to bless me.

This morning as I pondered her desire to be a blessing to me, it occurred to me this is how God is.   He is always waiting for opportunities to bless us, to honor our relationship with Him, to fellowship, to commune with us. Yes, we are unworthy, but this is how He is.  Remember the  prodigal son (in the Bible), who thought he only deserved to eat with his father’s servants, and yet when he returned, his father gave him a ring, a robe and a feast for coming back.  No matter how unworthy we feel or whatever we may have done, God is always trying to give to us. His hand is ALWAYS open.

So today,  I am so very thankful to God for this wonderful reminder of His persistent love toward us in the life of my dear friend.      

Love your Seasons of Transition

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” Ecclesiastics 3:1

Earlier this year, after the longish winter,  I fell in love with Spring as never before – and now this November baby is  back in love with Fall again.   Just a few weeks ago I lamented that a month into autumn, the leaves were still green.   It seemed August/September’s lack of rain caused many leaves to go brown and fall prematurely.  But now, in the past week – like a male peacock preening, Fall displayed its plumage triumphantly! And while there ARE less leaves, the remaining leaves have peeled off chlorophyll’s green mask and unveiled their glorious authentic colors as temperatures cool and daylight shortens.Image

The profusion of color as the leaves turn in the Fall is on its best display during rainy grey mornings.   There’s something about the yellows, oranges, reds, maroons and eggplants against that grey palette of the skies that takes my breath away.  The rain darkens the bark of the trees and makes the leaves a little translucent.  The diffused lighting of the cloudy grey skies softly passes through the leaves making them glow against the elegant dancing arches of the darkened tree branches.  Oh yes, Fall is best viewed on inconvenient slightly cold rainy days.  

This morning my daughter begged me to stop my comments about the foliage and exclaiming aloud how beautiful everything was.  I could not promise her that I could hold in my joy if some pop of red/orange color revealed itself in the landscape.   I am completely smitten again with my first love, Fall.  

Fall, like Spring, is a season of transition.  Lots and lots of change is occurring, and only Mother Nature and God who created it all  can predict the rate of change and how the transformation occurs.  After I commented about how the landscape was mostly green last week,  my daughter impatiently remarked “Mom, the leaves can change at any time – it doesn’t’ have to be slow.  Things can change very quickly.” She nailed it!  Change happens when IT is ready.   

I then began to wonder why,  if I’m smitten with transitional seasons of Fall and Spring, why don’t I embrace and fall in love with my own seasons of transitions and change.   Don’t just endure, but embrace, celebrate and flow with the transitions.   God’s grace is in abundant supply in every season.  Like the transitional seasons, it can rain too much for periods of time, or get too windy for our liking.  But the rains are necessary for all living things and the wind too!  The winds may knock off all the leaves but it is also carrying and spreading the seeds of new growth on its wings bringing new life to places that a tree’s limbs just cannot reach.   And who can deny the breathtaking splendor of showers of falling yellow, orange and red leaves as the wind blows.

So embrace and celebrate the transitions in your live – let God’s grace empower you to use every inconvenience as an agent of growth and new life. Let the wind blow you around and spread your glory.  It really is beautiful in every season. May God open your eyes to the beauty of your ever changing life. 

Under construction/Under contract

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I was driving my daughter to school today and realized that a brand new house located on a plot that we have been driving by for at least 2 years is finally under contract.   Last November (2012) I wrote a Facebook post noting that after almost a year of wondering what they were building on that once wooded plot, in about 2-3 weeks I noticed the house taking shape (first image in pic). In that post I wrote the following:

“I have been driving by this intersection for at least a year. It was a vacant lot and then it seems they worked and dug for about 6-8 months with a fence around it with all kinds of equipment. I had no idea what they were putting there. Now in the last month, this house began to take shape. First the framing and now quickly it is taking its form for all to see. I was reminded today, that this is exactly how God works. The foundation building is a lengthy process done in secret. Many people don’t know what is going on but He does. It is messy work and can inconvenience others in the process. But when that is done, our lives start to take shape revealing in time what we are becoming. Consider the cost, pay attention to the foundations for which the rest of your life is built. Jesus is the chief cornerstone. He is that rock, that sure foundation.”

In February of this year, they finished the landscaping etc and listed the house for $1.7 million (it is absolutely beautiful inside) and I thought to myself, “I sure hope they get the asking price (especially since it was not brick but that’s my Louisiana roots speaking)”  Well, after a little over 3 months later it is under contract (second image in the pic) and I was really happy!!!  I almost felt like it was my house because I used to park by that wooded lot and pray sometimes.   Yes, it took a while for that foundation to be built because something of great value was being built to last.  It was really messy  over 2 years ago, but look at it now!  I saw the time, toil and work put into it!  I realize that I have been impatient with God’s process in my life especially as I am trying to transition into another career.   People looking for value  will pay for it.  It just takes a little time for that marriage of mutual respect/values/senergy to be made.  God does not want you to settle for less than what He has for you.  Jerimiah 29:11 says

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Lessons from my mother:Real Beauty

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My mother ‘s salt and pepper hair after her first bout with cancer and my mother before cancer. Always beautiful!

Thinking about my mother this morning – about how her life continues to speak to me. One thing that I find myself thinking about is that she never considered herself to be a great beauty. She always said her sisters and many of her friends were always better looking, but that she didn’t mind at all. She said that she always focused on being the best person she could be.

She was always VERY popular because she really was a GREAT person to be around. My mother made more friends at Howard in that first week when she brought us there for my freshmen year than I did. Other freshman and students would say, “I met your mother and she said to look out for you. What a nice lady — she really encouraged me too. “

My mother was a doer… for all her glamour, she was many times the last person to get ready for an event because she was normally there putting it together. She never compromised on the hair (every week at John Jays with Wyona) but while others were getting their nails done, she was doing her own because she would have been helping make sure the arrangements were just so. That includes my wedding.

It came as a shocker that she never thought she was pretty because she was always fabulous to me whether she was a size 6 before she stopped smoking or 12-14 when she stopped smoking, when she had red/light brown hair before cancer, to salt and pepper hair after cancer. She kept pressing, moving, doing, cheering the next person on and bringing laughter in the room. In this my mother taught me that real beauty REALLY REALLY does come from within.  It is who you ARE, not what you look like..

Remembering my mother today and all that she continues to teach me.

Absolute Power of a Song: True Story

ImageLast night, I received the text  (featured in the above photo) from my son,just minutes before going into our church’s First Wednesday service AND I was responsible for leading worship. I would normally ignore this text, since my son plays pranks, but I distinctly remember him being pressed to “go running” after we got home around 5:15 and him ending on the neighborhood playground playing basketball. I  frantically called him and couldn’t get an answer.  I called my husband who was doing something and refused to discuss this pressing concern.

I was deeply troubled but decided to go inside to the service.  Thankfully, they were praying when I came in, and then there was a technical difficulty with the cord to the piano, so I would not have to “be on”.  While we waited, someone shared a testimony and our pastor followed with a brief word of encouragement, so that in just those 3-4 minutes I heard the song come in my heart, ” Bless the Lord, O my soul”(Tye Tribett).  Well we sang that song, followed by a worship song and I tell you that I COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT MY SON’S TEXT!!!  The Pastor then exhorted us about the power of a song-   the song of Moses(deliverance)  and the Song of the Lamb (victory)!    I was very encouraged and only remembered that stupid text when saw my son when I got home.   Of course, it was a random trend on Instagram to send a text to alarm your parents and then post the results. I couldn’t even get mad for almost causing me the stress.

This morning I realized that I had in fact “lived” last nights exhortation – that as the Pastor was preaching about the power of a song, it was unfolding in my life when I made the decision to follow God instead of giving in to confusion…

I was reminded that  we get distracted all the time by things that “seem” devastating — diverting our attention, depleting our energy,AND producing unfounded doubts about our circumstances, families, careers etc.  In those moments, lift up a song, a praise before reacting!  The power of praise lies in the fact that all of our attention is directed to an almighty GOD who deeply loves us and empowers us to do the greater works.  It absolutely works, every single time… and even if the circumstance is, in fact, a challenging one, you arise from that praise knowing that you have an Almighty God who is working things out for your good.   And THAT is GREAT NEWS!!

Follow me

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I just got another email from Twitter, LinkedIn, and suggestions from Facebook to follow some “thought leader”, a friend on Twitter,  a page, a brand.   And it struck me that we receive so many requests these days to follow someone– and without too much thought because they seem familiar, we will “follow” them to where ever they want to take us. And with a click of a button, we are following a rabbit hole via a random thought on twitter, a new experience from a service provider, music from a new artist, or a provocative article or blog post on a subject we maybe interested in.

It gets even more interesting still, that information gatherers like Google, and social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are gathering data and making assumptions about YOU based on who you “follow” and what you may have clicked on no matter how random it is. Based on many of our half-hearted commitments to follow,  this information is sold to others to then draw you to “follow” them.  This is superficial.

But really following someone, some thing, some message takes a lot more commitment than pushing a button.  Really following someone is getting out of your seat, leaving your familiar places to pursue where the other person is going. It takes time. It takes action. It takes resources. It can be risky. It requires faith.   Sometimes you don’t even know where the other person is going, but really following has faith that where ever that destination is, is where YOU need to be.

John 8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

Well, Jesus was one of the first to say “Follow me”.  He called/beckoned His disciples using those words and they immediately left all to follow Him.  There doesn’t appear to be too much discussion, but somehow when He spoke, the words ignited a passion to leave all, risk all to have it all. Real following requires real discipleship.

Mark 10:28-30 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,  But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 

Trust Peter to always speak up. In Matthew, he adds a question to his declaration of having left all to follow Christ.  He says “what do we get?”    But look at Jesus’ heart — He is always seeking to give  us exponentially  more than whatever we give up to follow Him in this life.   But even more telling is that the disciplines did not ask Him this when they first left all to follow Him.  In those first words Jesus spoke to them, “Follow Me”, they had already found everything worth living for.

Laissez les bon temps rouler! What shall I render

I am refreshing /updating this note I wrote after Ash Wednesday 2009.  It still blesses me because it refocuses my mind in the Lenten season as a dedication and cultivation of my relationship with Christ right before He paid the ultimate price for our salvation and ultimate reconciliation with our Heavenly Father.  

“Laissez les bon temps rouler!” Let the Good Times Roll right into Lent

As a native of Louisiana,  Ash Wednesday was a huge deal because of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) whose whole existence is based on the big day of revelry and excess before the Lenten season begins.  Let’s live it up, before we have to give up everything.  What shall I give up is really tired, old, deficit thinking. The Good Book says obedience is better than sacrifice.  Obedience is a forward looking act of your will – acting on a requirement.   All sacrifice should come from a place of obedience rather than convenience.    This Lenten season, I am challenged to think deliberately of how I will prioritize my time to honor and cultivate my relationship with God in every area.

what shall I render


Ps 116:12 says in the Amplified version: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? [How can I repay Him for all His bountiful dealings?]” 

The Lenten journey is marked by sacrifice – in recognition of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness before he began his ministry, facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling. Christians today use this period of time for introspection, self examination, and repentance.

Many times we “give up” things, to sacrifice as Jesus did – to discipline our bodies and ultimately conquer it’s desires so we can focus on our purpose, goals etc. It’s very self-focused about getting ourselves right before God.

But this passage provokes me to ask the question ” What shall I GIVE, rather than “give up” — it is directed as an act of thanksgiving for God’s goodness rather than my own failures and struggles.  We don’t have stop having a good time during Lent, we can celebrate and honor our relationship with Him!

Of course, we can never repay God for what He has done for us – but psalmist offers a few suggestions in the following verses 13+. It’s a wonderful place to start

1. Thank God for His Blessings and partake of His saving grace

  • Ps 116:13 says: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and deliverance and call on the name of the Lord. Per one of the commentaries: To take the cup of salvation was in itself an act of worship, and it was accompanied with other forms of adoration, hence the Psalmist says, and call upon the name of the LORD. He means that he will utter blessings and thanksgivings and prayers, and then drink of the cup which the Lord had filled with his saving grace.

2. Boldly commit to do what you have vowed before God, and proclaim His goodness to others. 

  • Verse 14. “I will pay my vows to the Lord, yes, in the presence of all His people.
  • Another commentary writes: The Psalmist has already stated his resolution, to devote himself to the worship of God evermore, and here he commences the performance of that resolve. The vows which he had made in anguish, he now determines to fulfil. “I will pay my vows unto the Lord.” He does so at once, “now,” and that publicly, “in the presence of all his people.” Good resolutions cannot be carried out too speedily; vows become debts, and debts should be paid.

In this age of lack of commitment and betraying on ones word, “Do what you said you would do – no excuses, and don’t be ashamed of witnesses.” It’s liberating to live out your faith, to you and those around you. 

3. Rededicate your service to God, and as we do this we are free AND stay free

  • vs: 16 says: “O Lord, truly I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid; You have loosed my bonds .   As explained, David in paying his vows rededicates himself unto God; the offering which he brings is himself, as he cries, O LORD, truly I am thy servant. We are liberated when we declare that we belong to an all mighty, all knowing, omni-present God. We can really boldly say, ” I can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me”

4: Continue to give thanks to God for everything and seek Him on ALL things. 

  • vs: 17 says “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord.”   This posture reminds me that there is always a reason to give thanks even if I’m not feeling any gratitude at the present time. It is not about me but who God is. Think of how we teach our children to say thank you – many times because they are so focused on the gift. But acknowledging the giver is just as important. That’s why sometimes its a sacrifice, not conditional on how we feel at the moment but always celebrating the sovereignty and graciousness of God.

As Matthew 6:33 reminds us, as we seek Him first, everything else is taken care of. 

There will be times for introspection in this Lenten journey, that’s a necessary part of our daily walk. But God always encourages us that He is also focused on our destiny, our future, the limitless possibilities of walking with Him.

What shall I render means that I  ALWAYS have something to GIVE. In Christ, we are earthen vessels of HIS limitless GRACE, unsurpassed PEACE, unspeakable JOY. – conduits of His Love. Let this Lenten season be filled with the awesomeness of and gratitude for Christ’s great sacrifice, His ministry to others – especially the least of these, His great love for us. 

So over the next week as many of us will be celebrating Mardi Gras or not,  also plan for your Lenten journey.  And while sugar may be off the menu for the next 46 days,  giving our time, service, and thanksgiving to God is going to be the best sugar substitute.