Light Shine Bright

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

                A year after Freddie Gray’s death, we are still fighting for freedom. We realize that freedom isn’t free. The cost of freedom is high, really high. The pursuit of freedom will cost you everything in the fight to be “free.” And those who fight for freedom in any area understand this. Immigrants understand that freedom costs you the comfort of home. The slaves of the 1800s understood that freedom cost the lives of their loved ones. Jesus understood that freedom cost both his human life and his connection with God the Father, albeit a temporary separation. And, in spite of all this, there are many souls and voices yet crying out for freedom. So why can’t they seem to find it?

I remember visiting the Statue of Liberty as a child with my mother and brother, not really grasping the weight, and significance of such a monument that continues to stand as a symbol of hope for all those who wish to attain “a better life.” When the monument was first built, America was seen as a land of promise and hope for those who wanted to make more of their lives, and leave a better legacy for their children. The same is true for the Gospel, something we have somehow lost sight of. Listen again, and see if you hear it.

[Matthew 11:28-30 ESV] Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

[Isa 61:1 ESV] The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…

            Can you hear it? Can you see it? We are all familiar with the excerpt from Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” that is etched on the pedestal on which Lady Liberty stands, but we are not familiar with the poem in its entirety.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

            Lady Liberty is calling out to the outsiders, the outcasts, “the homeless,” those who are searching for a place to call home, to be free. And so is Christ in Matthew 28.

“Give me your tired, your poor…”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden…”

“…He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…”

You see, just as the Statue of Liberty stands as a monument, a symbol of hope to immigrants traveling to a foreign land in search of freedom and a fresh start, the cross stands as another monument and symbol of hope for those traveling this side of eternity in search of freedom and redemption. Etched in the nail prints in His hands and feet are the words of Matthew 11 and Isaiah 61. I can see in my mind’s eye, a tablet at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, leaned against it, with the words written, “Come and find rest for your souls.” While Emma Lazarus, hundreds of years later, penned the words, I hear the voice of Christ echoed in the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” The message of the Cross is hope – hope for freedom; hope for healing and forgiveness and a fresh start; hope for transformation; hope for grace and mercy. The Cross is the spiritual Statue of Liberty. And, as we encounter and embrace and accept all the hope that the Cross offers, we, too, become the manifestation of that hope in a world that is dying and in need of that same hope.

[Matthew 5:14-16 ESV] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and pit under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

            We are called to be the torch carried by the cross. As we seek to mirror the life and ministry of Christ, we allow Him to shine through us and influence the lives around us. And how do we do that? By acting with compassion and love and grace. That same hope that the cross offers, that is the hope that we must offer to those around us. We are called to be the visible manifestation of the invisible God, through our hands and feet and mouths. We are commissioned to be the ambassadors of His grace and mercy, of the redeeming power of His love active and alive in the life of the one who chooses to trust Him with all they have.

“From her beacon-hand glows worldwide welcome.”

            We are Jesus’ spiritual welcome wagon, greeting people in love and inviting them to participate in and embrace the rest that comes with an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe. The price for freedom has already been paid. There is nothing more that is required of us but to enter that rest in the presence of a Creator so incredibly enamored with us that He took care of the tab for our freedom for the rest of eternity. And yet we fail time and again, because we somehow have been deceived into believing that we are allowed to determine whether or not someone is “worthy” of God’s rest. This is not the way of the Cross, nor is it the message or the purpose of the cross. It is not our place or within our authority to disperse the infinite grace provided by the cross. It is available to all who believe and embrace it. Our place is to love and embrace all, without a second thought to whether or not they are “worthy.” The truth is that none of us is “worthy,” and yet God sent His Son to die and pay the price for our freedom anyway.

Marianne Williamson said it best:

“We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

            Our purpose is to shine in such a way that it draws out the light that is already in others, to be the glow that beacons the world to draw closer, and catch fire. The things that bring us together are the things that are similar in all of us. Each light is unique, and yet it shines brightly and encourages others to embrace the unique light that lives within their hearts and souls. And when we find the light in one another, we find home and freedom that can only come from the Creator, in Whom we are all one.

SHALOM.

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Embrace the Journey

Three or four months ago, I noticed that the teenagers coming into the office were wearing these silicone bracelets with one white ball and one black ball. I originally blew it off as another teen trend, until I was introduced to them personally. I fell in love with the concept of the lokai bracelet as soon as I understood what it meant and where it came from. A gentleman had a life-changing experience in his college years when he found out that his grandfather was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and would have to helplessly watch his loved one deteriorate from such a sinister degenerative disease. In the midst of and because of that situation, he understood two things: (1) Life is a journey, not a destination; and (2) life is full of ups and downs, and it is up to us to find balance within ourselves in the midst of that. So he created a physical token to remind him of those things. He took water from Mount Everest, the highest point on earth, as a reminder that, when you are at the top, you must remember to stay humble. And then he took mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth, and, incidentally, a desolate place, and that is a reminder to stay hopeful when you are feeling you’ve hit a low point.

Me being me, I immediately fell in love with the concept. Life is such an incredible journey. You meet people, you lose people. You have failures and successes along the way. You learn invaluable lessons, and you get knocked down a few times in the process. But it all serves a purpose, both good times and bad times. I attended a prayer breakfast yesterday, and one of the teaching points was that suffering has a purpose. We usually don’t see it that way when we are deep in the trenches of suffering. But the truth is that some of your greatest moments of growth have been birthed out of your greatest times of struggle and suffering. It’s in those life-changing moments – the loss of a loved one; the loss of a job; heartbreak from a relationship; an unexpected tragedy, that we learn the most. We learn about life, we learn about ourselves, but, most of all, we learn about the character of God. That’s why it’s so important to remember to hold on to hope when you hit a low in your life, when you encounter a valley experience in your life, because God promised that you will come through on the other side, and you will be better for it. Job said this when he was going through:

[Job 23:10 NKJV] But He knows the way that I take; [When] He has tested me; I shall come forth as gold.

The Bible is full of promises that we will not be overtaken by the hard times that life throws at us…

[Romans 5:1-5 NKJV] 1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only [that], but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

 

[Romans 8:28 NKJV] 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to [His] purpose.]

 

[James 1:2-4 NKJV] 2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

At the same time, the high points in life are times to remember to be humble. It’s not a time to gloat, because not long before, you were at a low point yourself. It is in the times that you find yourself at a peak, doing well and feeling good about life, that you should take a moment to look back to someone else who is still pressing and speak life to them. Speak a word of encouragement and empowerment to them, so that they can draw strength from that and be able to press the rest of the way through their struggle.

[James 4:6, 10 NKJV] 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore, He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” … 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Everyone’s journey is different, because each person learns differently, and grows at different rates and in different ways. So it is important to honor your own journey, and not compare it to anyone else. But it is also important that you not judge the journey of others based on where you are in your own journey. It’s important to take ownership of your journey, to honor your energy, and embrace your purpose as it grows and matures in your journey. And, when you have learned the lesson and learned it well, make sure that you share your story with others so that they will see and know that where they are and the struggles they face are not unique to them and will not be the end of them. One of the most comforting things to hear when you are having a hard time is that someone sees you and they have been there and understand how you feel in that moment. Understand that sometimes it’s not saying that they will survive that is comforting and encouraging, but they are not alone in that struggle and that they are not out on that limb by themselves. Beloved, embrace the journey and the beautiful road that will lead you to your best self, and remember this: Life is a journey, not a destination.

 

[Hebrews 4:14-16 RSV] Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Honoring the woman within

Let’s be honest: The average person is terrible about self-care. And, as women, we are the worst at it. We, by God’s divine creation, are nurturers. We care passionately and deeply about others in a way that is profound and unique to us as women. We care to our own detriment at times, and it is often difficult to draw boundaries with ones that we care for most that continue to show them how much we care for and about them, while preserving ourselves and giving ourselves time to refresh and restore the reserves from which we draw. The unfortunate part about us as women is that we often have people in our lives who, for one reason or another, are not capable to giving back to us with the same fervor and energy that we expend on them. Our children are a great example of that. Until they are of a certain age, children are sponges, and our job as parents and nurturers is to pour information and experiences into their lives that will help them learn and grow into well-rounded, grounded people capable to contributing to society and the lives of others. Some of our professions are the same way. We are in positions as caregivers, caretakers, in some capacity of service that requires us to be compassionate and empathetic on a regular basis. Nurses, teachers, social workers, therapists, and the like, all run the risk of developing what some call compassion fatigue. It’s another way of describing the emotional burnout that we experience from persistently taking care of others, without taking the time to take care of ourselves. And it is no easy feat to balance out the things that we love so much and are passionate about, with the reality and notion that, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to care for others with the effort and attention that they deserve in the moment that they come to you. Plain and simple. Compassion must first be extended to yourself before you can truly extend it to others.

I learned this lesson the hard way. There are people in life who will take advantage of the fact that you are so caring and compassionate, to the point where they don’t care to try to reciprocate the efforts that you put forth. You see, sometimes self-care is about self-preservation. There are emotional parasites who exist only to suck the life out of you, and will abandon you when you no longer serve their purposes, when they have gotten all they can from you. Then they move on to the next person. We feel just as deeply for them, but it should not cost us everything we can give them in order for them to see our value in their lives. Self-care often looks and sounds like self-love, because that is where it stems from. Within yourself, you must be convinced that you are worthy of investment. No one will invest time in you if you don’t do it yourself first. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or call you selfish for taking time to invest in yourself and your mental and emotional health. If they try to make to you feel guilty, then you know that you have one of those emotional parasites on your hands, and that it is time for you to set some new boundaries. Don’t so afraid of people walking away from you that you become their emotional prisoner. The worst thing anyone can try to do to you is emotionally manipulate or blackmail you. This is why self-care and self-love are so important, because they allow you to see yourself clearly and take the time to renew and rejuvenate what has been depleted.

So, whatever it is that makes you feel amazing and refreshed, I dare you to make time to do it, and do it on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter what it is – going to the nail salon and getting a manicure; soaking in a bubble bath with wine and candles and music; going to a movie that you have been wanting to see by yourself; reading a book that you don’t think you have the time to read; a weekend away; getting a massage – whatever it is, just do it. You will thank yourself later. And don’t be afraid of spending time by yourself. Sometimes we are guilty of hiding from ourselves behind the guise of “being busy” and helping other people. Take some time to reconnect to yourself, to your sense of being, and embrace her. Encourage her. Take the time to speak life to your own soul, because your inner voice is the one that you hear the most and the loudest. Take the time to listen to the self-talk that you engage in on a daily basis, and correct the things that need to be changed. You are more than worthy of taking the time to invest and care for the beautiful soul of a woman that you possess. She is a gift – don’t take her for granted, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

The Legacy of a King

Today, a nation reflects on and celebrates the legacy of one man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a man just like the rest of us, human, finite, imperfect. But he had a dream and a vision, one that was infectious, one that has inspired multitudes and generations and peoples of all backgrounds, one that a common sense of purpose and oneness and unity that few since have been able to create. I can only imagine Dr. King as a child, what he thought he would become, what impact his life would have on society and the world. Little did he know that his life would be the instrument God used, and continues to use, to ignite the fires of reconciliation, justice, and unity for the cause of the disenfranchised and misrepresented masses. Little did he know that many a brilliant black mind would be able to voice his and her opinion, and be heard by people of all races and creeds. Little did he know that he would pave the way for a biracial man to be elected president, TWICE. And yet, little did he know that the struggle he championed and fought so valiantly for would continue to evolve with the times, and become less overt while becoming all the more insidious. Little did he know that, somehow, the fight would seem perpetual, so long as ignorance existed in the world. Hmm…

When I consider the legacy of Dr. King, I instantly think of the words of the Lord to the Israelites through Micah:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (‭Micah‬ ‭6‬:‭8‬ ESV)

The Message puts it this way:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what GOD is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously. (‭Micah‬ ‭6‬:‭8‬ MSG)

Dr. King embodied these words with his life, and challenged the rest of us to live up to this seemingly simple standard of how to live in this world, on this side of eternity. The way he carried himself, the way he spoke to and about people and the struggle for justice for black people, the way he interacted with others. He LIVED Micah 6:8. And this is the barometer by which we ought to conduct ourselves in the face of adversity, hardship, and injustice. We continue to fight, but not at the expense of our dignity and our faith. We continue to march, but not at the cost of our neighborhoods and our livelihood. We continue to take a stand, but not at the expense of those who would, could, and should stand with us as we raise our banners high and sing our songs of deliverance. Because our voices are better heard and received when we fight for justice while walking in mercy. Our message is embraced when we stand in solidarity, and not in strife. And our songs will resonate higher and reach deeper when we sing from our souls, and not yell from our hatred.

Indeed, the struggle continues. We must continue to fight for the lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and all beloved ones who have fallen at the hands of injustice. We must continue to counter the messages of failure and worthlessness that plague our communities, turning us brother against brother and sister against sister. We must reach our hands in fellowship to those who may not share our struggle personally, but share the passion for justice that will move our cause forward in progress. And we must learn to love ourselves — our dark chocolates, our milk chocolates, our caramels, our mochas, and yes, our swirls. Because, at the end of the day, we are still reflections of our Creator, beautiful in His eyes first and foremost, and beloved more than anything in Creation. We mustn’t forget to honor the tapestry that is US — the richness of our heritage, the joys of our history, and the promise still of our future. We must teach the next generation to be proud of who we are and from whence we came. We must educate them in how we stand of the great shoulders of many nameless men and women who marched and fought and suffered and died so that we might have access to OUR CHOICE of so many resources and avenues. And we must continue to pave the way for the generation following. This is how we honor the dream Dr. King spoke about. This is how we keep moving forward. This is how we keep his dream alive and his legacy strong.

Thank you, Dr. King, for being the change that you wanted to see in the world. Thank you for showing us how to do justice, love mercy, and walk ever so humbly with our God. Thank you for being obedient to the call. May we do all we can NOT to tarnish your memory or your legacy.

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Remember to spread love…

As I sat down to watch Night At The Museum, I had forgotten that this was Robin Williams’ final project before the darkness overtook him and he took his own life. It was jarring to see him ride in on his horse as President Roosevelt, and my heart sank as I realized once more that we would never be graced with fresh laughter or his caliber of humor or artistry on the silver screen. What’s really sad, however, is the thought that he felt so alone and lived in a such a dark place that he felt the only escape from his pain was to take his life. That’s the true tragedy of losing such a bright star. I lost a dearly close friend 2 1/2 years ago to suicide, and seeing Mr Williams hit a nerve. I miss my friend often, and it’s agonizing to consider that someone I loved was living in such darkness, that he had somehow become detached from the life-giving source of Love that could have saved him. Sitting in that theater today I realized that I learned two monumental life lessons when I lost my friend: (1) Love is paramount to the human experience and (2) Grief is a unique journey for everyone — no one can dictate or predict how grief will affect you.

Humanity was created to thrive on Love, because God is Love and we were created in His image and likeness. Apart from Love, we are just shadows of the fullness we can experience. Why do you think we sing about it, write about it, make movies about it, and daydream about it? Love is at the very heart of the abundant life that God wants for us. It is His trademark, as Dr Tony Evans puts it. His children are known by the love they show one another. Love is life-changing, life-giving, and life-empowering. We must make sure that we are loving one another as Christ loved us. It really is true that being loving is sometimes far more important than being right. No one is going to be open to seeing your side of you are not relating to them in love. And the most tangible way people will experience and embrace God’s love is through their relational experiences with His disciples. People who commit suicide somehow never personally experience that love. They become isolated and convinced that they are either beyond love’s reach or unlovable altogether. But neither could be further from the truth. Mental illness and depression are very real struggles that people face everyday, and it is tragic that the church has not extended compassion to those who struggle with these very real issues. We must learn to be more sensitive to this and come alongside people who deal with mental health challenges.

Grief — it’s something that we all experience at some point in our lifetime, mostly because death is inevitable. But how you lose someone and why you lose someone is often what sets the tone for your grief. How close you were to them, what they meant to you and what impact they had on your life shape your personal response to someone you care about. But each person’s grief journey is different. Yes, they all talk about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But they don’t tell you that the order is fluid. And no two people experience grief in the same order or at the same pace. No one can tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve. But it is important to embrace the grief process. You can’t hide from grief. You can’t run from grief. It’s not something you can avoid or skip over. It’s not easy or pleasant. And it doesn’t really end. Grief is something that you learn to live with. It permanently changes who you are and how you approach the world around you, for better or for worse. Embracing your grief process increases your chances of becoming better and not bitter. Above all, honor your grief process and be honest with yourself about where you are and how you feel.