A Miracle On 132nd Ave.

I slumped in the passenger seat as she backed down the driveway. I looked longingly at my house wishing I was wearing my over sized pajamas with a warm dog snuggled near me on each side.

I glanced at the clock.  It was 7:30 and we were already an hour late.

“I really don’t want to go to this,” I thought.

She had invited me to attend a prayer gathering at a home very close to mine.  It wasn’t the theme of the evening that was bothering me as much as it was that I didn’t want to be around people.  In my life, I have gone to many of these type of meetings with enthusiasm expecting for someone to give me a ‘word’.  However, I wasn’t much in the mood for a word, a sentence or even a paragraph.

Situations swirling around me regarding relationships, finances and the approaching pressure of the holidays was fully weighing me down.  I had gotten out of bed that morning feeling absolutely dead inside.  I was quickly finding out that my frustration at not being able to fix my problems was leading me quickly down the dark road of depression.  Every time I went inward, I felt an empty space of nothing.  On the one hand, I didn’t want to care about anything, and on the other I felt so grieved at the overwhelming loneliness I felt.

“If anyone has anything to say to me, they can say it, but I am not telling anyone what is going on with me.  If God has something to say, it will happen.”

“I would like Brad to pray for you while we are there,” she said.

I was fine with that, but I was not going to open up and let any one of these people in on my problems.  Either God was going to reach out and take hold of me or I was on my own.

I watched the streets go by as she followed her GPS and its instructions.  The drive was only eight minutes but it felt like an eternity.  I couldn’t wait to go back home and flop down in my despair with a cup of hot tea.

As we were turning toward our destination, I sent up this silent prayer,

“God, if you care about me, I need you to give me $1,000 in cash for Christmas.  I have nearly nothing left to give right now.”

For weeks, I had been running low on money but made choices to cut back on things to make it work.  At the same time, I kept getting small promptings to give where I could to put what I had into circulation to help combat the fear.  Yet, I knew I had obligations coming and the strain of it all was taking me down.

I had heard on the radio that the average American family spends $961.00 for gifts. I don’t know if I come close to that amount, but being in the position of not being able to give anything was part of my unhappy state.  The decorations and music in the stores were not helping.  Everything was simply reminding me that I was going to be left empty handed.

My friend parked her car and I stood by the driver’s side as she collected her purse.  I did not tell her that I asked God for money.

“I want this to be a night I remember,” I said.  “I hope this doesn’t waste my time.”

We walked into an empty upstairs but found about twenty people in the basement listening to a man speaking about how God could fix anything if you let it happen.   I watched as people went forward for prayer as he spoke positive, uplifting words.  We were trying to slip in quietly.  She found a seat near the front while I took one toward the back.  My intention was to sit and watch.

Without warning, the pastor turned toward me and said,

“Do you have needs?”

I thought he was looking at me, but I was hoping he wasn’t.  Two women who were seated in front of me shook their heads no, but then he said,

“The one in the pink.  Do you have needs?”  He pointed right at me.

There was no escaping it now.  I had worn the brightest pink hoodie in my entire collection.

I answered,

“Uh…. ya.”

“Do you want to get rid of them?”

I paused because I knew what was coming.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then come on up.”  Oh, boy, so much for sitting in the back and letting the evening go by.

I could feel my friend’s eyes on my back.

“Do you have a physical ailment?”

I shook my head no.

“Are you going to say what you need?”

I shook my head no.  I was holding to my vow in the car on the way over.  If God had something to say, then it would present itself without me giving out any information.

He began to speak, and his words pierced my heart. Two weeks before this, I had visited a church one evening and went into a room with two women who sat quietly for a few minutes praying and then began to speak.  They had told me that my future was ‘bright’ and that there was nothing to worry about.  They kept saying that I was going to be okay and not to worry or fall into despair.  His words greatly mirrored what I had already been told.  I felt my resolve crumbling as my pain, anger, frustration and sadness burst out of me.

I began to cry so hard I was paralyzed where I stood.  His wife came and took me to a couch where she continued to pray for me.  The only thing I felt in that moment was what I whispered,

“I feel forgotten.  I feel like I am all by myself, and I don’t matter anymore.”

As the evening went on, more people came up for prayer, and I was still not totally out of my funk.

I heard my friend say to a man across the room,

“I would like you to give a word to my friend Christine.”

I was still wallowing in a puddle of tears, so  I attempted to clean my face up which left all of my makeup on a tissue.

“This is Brad,” she said to me.  He was meeting me at probably one of the lowest times of my life.

He knelt down by my side, and I closed my eyes as he began to pray.

The one thing I recall that he said was this:

“God wants you to know John 14:27 is for you.”

John 14:27 says this:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

He said,

“It’s like your mind is racing at all times.  I see it going so fast and things coming and going in and out of your mind.”

Unknown to him, I was completely consumed with worry about my finances from the time my eyes would open in the morning.  I would get out of bed just to immerse myself in tasks to keep my mind off of it.

As he spoke, I felt myself relax because his words were ringing true. He called his wife over who was so joyful that no one could possibly stay sad in her presence. It was energy that was alive and contagious that only further erased my negative state of being.  It was like the two of them picked me up, stood me on my feet, brushed off the dirt and put me back on the road.

As she prayed for me, I noticed he put his hand over his heart, then he leaned over and whispered something in her ear.  She nodded and smiled and he got up and walked away.  I figured maybe he was leaving me in her care while he helped another.

Within moments, he returned with an envelope with my name written on it.

“We want to sow this into your life.”

I looked at it not fully understanding.  I eventually took it from him and put it in my purse.

The pain had disappeared, and I felt happier and more secure.  It’s difficult to describe an event when it is a spiritual experience.  But, much like having a surgery, I felt as if a toxin that was choking the life out of me had been removed.

After thanking those who had helped me, I got into my friend’s car and said,

“Oh, I have an envelope with something in it.”

“From who?”

“Brad and his wife Lori gave me this.”

As I slid my finger along the enclosed edge, I suddenly recalled my silent plea to God for $1,000 in cash on the way to meeting.

I carefully opened it and saw a $100 bill on top.  I slammed it shut.

“Oh my gosh!  Oh my gosh!  I think God did what I asked.  I think…”  I started crying again as I looked at and counted $1,000 cash, all in $100 bills, in my lap.

“WHAT!?” my friend said as she leaned over to see.  We headed for curbs and lawns as she tried to keep the car on the road.

I could not speak because I felt how much I was truly loved.  For you see, it wasn’t just about the money, it was about feeling that divine, strong, powerful connection between myself and the One who is unseen. My request to God was said as a sort of ultimatum that I thought would go unanswered.  I had asked for something to touch with my hands but it was so much more touching to my heart.

My faith was completely restored and in the past week since this event, I have found myself feeling more secure than ever and my problems seem to be more distant now than a heavy load on my back to carry.

I began to wonder the other day why I was able to have this prayer answered when I didn’t say a word to anyone about it.  I was immediately directed to this passage of scripture:

But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.  (Matthew 6:6 NLT)

What I did that night was I shut myself away from others and sent up a private request that only my Creator was aware of.  And, as I did so, my reward presented itself rather quickly. I encourage all of you that are weary to never give up, and to ask for supernatural help.  I had no idea that I would go into a stranger’s home for a mere two hours and come out the recipient of a miracle on 132nd Ave.

 

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Playing Your Cards Right

We gathered around Mrs. Iverson’s piano as she pounded out Farmer in the Dell. Our off key faltering voices attempted to sing the familiar song that we had gone over since starting kindergarten with her that fall. It was her way of getting us to settle down and to capture our full attention. When we finished the last note, she said,

“Children, I have something that I need you to take home to your mom and dad today. ”

She held up green and red papers that were folded neatly.

“We are going to be having a class Christmas party and this letter will tell your parents what you need to bring.”

This news brought on an uproar so she quickly ran her fingers across the keyboard to begin the song again.

After another rousing chorus, and peace had been established, she assembled us into a line to hand out invitations to the first school party of our young lives.

I was thrilled to have reached such a pinnacle. Being the youngest of six, I had observed my older siblings celebrating events to which I was not privileged to attend.

The instructions were that each child was to bring a boy/girl gift and in doing so, we would receive a gift in return. Over the weeks leading up to Christmas, our classroom became a blizzard of handmade construction paper snowflakes, endless Santa coloring sheets and a tree adorned with red and green paper chain garland.  Each day, more presents appeared as the kids began bringing in their offerings.

My mom bought a card game that was suitable for a child in that age group. She and I wrapped the gift and affixed a tag that was addressed to a girl from me.   I was so excited to contribute to the pile under the tree. Many of us often looked across the room at the various sized boxes and pretty bows wondering which would make its way into our little hands.

The day before the party, I came home to the delightful smell of spritz cookies and a tray that my mom was putting together for me to take to school. The days of waiting were almost over, and I could hardly sprinkle the colored sugar on the cookies in the right direction as my exhilaration grew.

I woke up in the middle of the night fully aware that something was not right. My stomach felt like a washing machine that was stuck in the spin cycle.  Chills ran up and down my skin, yet, I felt heat coming off my forehead.

“Mom?” I called out weakly.

Being a nurse, she was at my bedside in seconds with a basin. I guess by the time you have six kids you recognize a distress call even when you are in a dead sleep.  It was a good thing she brought the bucket.

After determining I was running a fever, she said,

“I don’t think you are going to be able to go to the party,”

I reluctantly fell back to sleep with tears brimming in my eyes at the thought of missing out on something I had waited my entire life for.  I slipped into the black abyss of stomach flu dreams.

By morning, I was not any better so I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going anywhere.

“I will have your sister walk up to the school later this afternoon and get your gift,” she said trying to console me.

I sipped on clear carbonated beverages and took small bites of saltine crackers as the virus worked its way through my body. Falling asleep off and on during the day only made time seem to go slower. I would wake up after a five minute nap feeling as if hours had gone by only to see the clock not advancing.

Finally, I heard my sister return and voices talking in the kitchen. I propped myself up in bed. This was the moment I had been waiting for.

My mom came into my room with a package that looked similar to the one I had brought.

“Hey. This looks like our paper we used.”

I looked up at her and saw a tinge of sadness.

“This is your gift. The teacher forgot to put it into the exchange.”

I unwrapped it and put it aside. The game that was supposed to bring so much merriment to another child now represented disappointment, and I would have rather thrown it into the trash.

Years later, I found the deck on a shelf in my parent’s basement unopened.  I opened the box and took off the shrink wrap and read the instructions.  I realized that I had let someone ruin something for me so long ago.  As a child, that is understandable.  I had felt rejected, unwanted, unworthy.  All these things that I felt in my heart that I could not express at the age of five.  I had decided that I would take it out on the gift that had an intent to bring happiness to the receiver.

As I played the game, I forgave this particular authority figure.  Had she done the right thing? No. However, what was the point of hanging on to the pain?  The only thing it accomplished was to keep me chained to my past.  The moment had come and gone for her, I am sure.  She probably isn’t alive today.  So, the only person I was punishing was me.

It is a well known fact that holidays with family and co-workers can be miserable for some.   There can be awkward silences, or suffering in silence and then later rampaging and venting about how we can’t stand Aunt Gertrude or that demanding guy who has an office next to ours.  The reality is, we can make this time of the year be what we want it to be.  We have a choice about how we react to situations and how we feel.  I am not suggesting that you ignore your emotions.  Just don’t allow them to overtake you and find yourself in a drama of grand proportions. Don’t allow your joy to be stolen by a dysfunctional problematic Grinch.  Eat.  Drink.  Be Merry. Pray.  Forgive.  Ask for forgiveness..because you are somebody’s Aunt Gertrude…and let the season be light.  As you forgive, you are forgiven.  All of this adds up to playing your cards right.

 

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One Smart Cookie

On the first day of Christmas vacation during seventh grade, I found myself with a whole day of nothing to do. I took my mom’s stained Betty Crocker cookbook out of the drawer to see what I could make that would shock and awe all of those who would receive her annual cookie tray that year.

I stumbled upon a gingerbread boy/girl recipe that was intriguing because I had not made those before. I checked to be sure all of the ingredients were in the house, and I rummaged around a drawer until I found a cookie cutter that was in the shape of a traditional gingerbread person.

As I went over the recipe and looked at the cookie cutter, I decided that just one batch was not going to be enough. I wanted to be sure we had plenty to give away. I decided to double the recipe just to be safe.

I gathered up all that was necessary and began an afternoon of what I was sure was going to be the best experience ever. The recipe called for seven cups of flour, but I was doubling it, so I had to measure out fourteen cups. That should have been an indication to me what was to come, but I did not take heed. I happily went along mixing, measuring and stirring.

I did each ball of dough in two bowls so I would not lose track of what I was doing and accidentally omit an ingredient. I decided that one bowl would be for gingerbread boys while the other would be for girls.  After chilling the dough for an hour, I preheated the oven and took out one bowl to begin rolling, cutting and baking. I pressed raisins in for eyes, noses, mouths and buttons. While one batch was in the oven baking, I was sweating it out attending to the next assortment.

My parents were going to a Christmas party that evening, so when they left, I was in the middle of production.

“How many of these are you making?” she asked as they left.

“I don’t know. I doubled the recipe so I’m not certain.”

With that, they departed for dinner, and I was left with a monster I was creating.

By the time I finished baking, the entire kitchen table, dining room table and an extra table I had to set up in the living room were covered with baked cookies ready to be frosted. I had not taken a minute to eat and had worked all evening in an attempt to use up all the dough I had made.

I cleaned up all the baking dishes and plunged into making a huge batch of white frosting that I split up for pink and blue frosting.  I followed the instructions in the cookbook by trying to make neat fringe around the wrists and ankles of each cookie followed by a hat.  My hand grew tired after the first few, but I looked up at the sea of naked cookies around me.  I couldn’t stop now.

As the hours wore on, my eyes were beginning to droop.  I heard the garage door go up signaling the arrival of my parents.

When my mom opened the kitchen door her mouth popped open and she froze in place.  She scanned the dining room and the kitchen with a look of amazement. Not the good kind.

“What is going on?  Are you still baking?”

“No,” I said trying to be optimistic.  “I am frosting.”

“Have you been doing this all night?”

I glanced at the clock.  It was midnight.

“I guess so.”

I went back to the cookie in front of me.  Over the moments spent with them, I silently vowed I would not eat any because I was so tired of looking at them.  After I finished, I was going to part ways with them for good.  My neck and back were developing stiffness and pain from hunching over cookie sheets all night long.

“How did you end up with this many?” she asked.

“I doubled the recipe.  I didn’t think I was going to have enough.”

“What?!”  She went over to the drawer, pulled out the Betty Crocker and found the recipe.

“Did you use fourteen cups of flour?”

“Yes.”

“What?! Fourteen CUPS of flour? Really?”

I put my head down and kept going.

“What are we going to do with all of these?”  I didn’t know.  My job was to bake them and frost them.  After that, my duty was done.

When I heard a gasp followed by the exclamation,

“There is more out here too?!”  I knew she was putting away her coat in the living room closet and had walked past the extra table that held more.

I kept quiet and continued on with my self inflicted slave labor.

I believe I finished just before 2 am and stumbled off to bed not caring what would become of my creations.

The next morning, she had packed all of them into multiple empty ice cream buckets and put them into the freezer until she assembled her trays to give away.  For weeks she brought them to work just to rid our house of them and by the fourth of July, she finally threw them away as everyone had lost interest.

In the years that have lapsed since then, I have only made that type of bakery good once with my daughters.  And, I did not repeat the mistake of doubling the recipe.  In my attempt to control what I thought was going to be lack, I created a mess that would never have transpired had I stuck to the original recipe.

This is exactly how life becomes complicated.  When a person entertains limiting thoughts or has a fear of lack, and she uses her own will power to remedy this false belief, all sorts of trouble can happen. I found out that trying to manufacture an abundance of something by my own doing was not a blessing at all.  It was a nuisance that I could not free myself from soon enough.

In the same way, when we find ourselves short on material resources, we have a tendency to give less and hoard more. However, this flies directly against a well known passage that states: Give and it shall be given to you.

It is a bit frightening to give a hand out when you are terrified of going under financially.  However, it can be exhilarating to actually follow through, put it to the test, and see how it not only brings a blessing to the receiver but also to the giver.

To rest in a state of peace even when it doesn’t seem like you have enough isn’t easy.  To laugh when you should cry, to sleep peacefully when you should be up all night worrying and to give a gift when you don’t think you can afford it, are signs that you believe all is well.  It shows that you are in agreement with God, and that is the sweet life of one smart cookie.

 

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Hello..I am not Boris!

“What?” I said as I retyped my address for the fourth time. I paid close attention to the numbers on the screen. After each push of a key, I glanced up to see what numerical sign had gone in the prescribed box. Everything was in the right order. With an abrupt tap, I hit enter. I was in need of directions from my house to a location I had not been to before. It was late, and I had to be up early the next day.

No such address exists. Please re-enter your home address.

“Don’t tell me that I am not here! I am sitting in the middle of my living room at the address I have given you four times!”

I decided to charge ahead, take my chances and see if a fifth time would do the trick. This brought on another rejection and error message forcing me to find another online map to get the desired result. According to the first site, I was not even on the planet.

A few days later I noticed the balance on my credit card bill seemed higher than normal.  I had mentally kept track of the amount of spending I had done, so when I saw a number that was larger than expected, I scanned the pages of the bill looking for additional charges.  This caught my eye:

Find Hot Black Men

Online Dating for Black Women

Find Your Black Soul Mate

Someone had used my credit card to find the love of her life!

Reigning in my anger, I called customer service.  After the announcement that my call would be recorded along with the usual typing in of my number, followed by telling the customer service representative my number again, the last four digits of my social security number and my mother’s maiden name, I was finally able to express with some dignity,

“There are charges on my card that are not mine.”

“Which ones are you finding that are not yours?”

I told her the dates of the charges and added,

“I am really not in the market for a black man right now.  I am currently in a relationship.”  My sarcasm struck her as humorous.

“I understand, and I am really sorry that this happened to you.  We will cancel your current card and reissue you another one.  We will also send you a packet in the mail so you can put into writing exactly what has happened.”

For the first time in my life, I had been the victim of credit card theft.  Fortunately, I had held the same card over ten years, so the company easily could go back and track all purchases and see that the websites accessed would not be part of my history.

The paperwork she promised arrived a few days later along with a new card.  It made me wonder what type of person would steal my identity in order to find a date?  What man in his right mind would want to be in a relationship with a thief and a liar?  By stealing my credit card to find her dream man, she may have just set herself up to find the exact opposite.

As I began the arduous task of filling out the forms, I decided to forgive her and move on with my life.

These two events made me wonder what my significance is here.  If an online map can so callously erase me from the earth without even an email notification and a desperate woman can steal my personal information, then what defines me?

I think we are given a false sense of security when we have our own passwords and user names. We feel important when we can access what belongs to us by using a unique code or string of letters and numbers. Add on to that our social security numbers, our age, our weight and height, whom we call our friends, our hair color and the brand of clothes we wear, we think we are somebody.  The big glitch in the system is that all of these can be taken away or rearranged at any time leaving us feeling insecure.

We form our lives around our physical world and sometimes at the suggestions and pressure of others.  If you were laid bare of all of your wordly identifiers, who would you be?  Do you ever daydream about being someone else doing something other than what you are currently doing? Have you become shackled by the demands of others and this has determined now who you are? Did you envision yourself doing something really, really great, but now you find yourself living a life that doesn’t resemble what you wanted? That is true identity theft. That is the erasure of you off the planet, yet you are still living and breathing and waking up every day not living the life you want.

I have begun to understand that if I don’t live my life, who will?   I see successful people living their dreams, so why can’t I?  I believe the first step to living a genuine life is to fully embrace the idea that we can.  As I surround myself with more teaching that is positive about how much the Creator of everything loves us, I find it easier to put a barrier between who the world says I am and who I was designed to be.  The societal and cultural factors will exist around me, but I don’t have to swim so deep in it that I lose my true self.

A simple rule to follow is this: Be in the world, but do not conform to the world.  This does not mean we go about in rebellion. But, we rise up and defend ourselves and why we were put here.  If you can paint, then paint.  If you can write, then write. Do what makes you happy and do not listen to what you cannot do.  Your age doesn’t matter either.  Just begin right from where you are and expect that you can be whatever you came here to do.

“Hello?”

“Is this Boris?”

“Do I sound like I would be a Boris?”

“Not really. Well, I am looking for Boris.”

“I am not Boris.  My name is Christine.”

Click. And they hang up on me…

(I have been getting calls for Boris for three years now since I have been assigned a new home phone number.  I have had to respond to drug stores, dental offices, mattress factories, physcians offices, debt collectors, credit card companies and ward off car warranty people just to say…I am not BORIS!)

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