Friday, August 15, 2014

I will not live in fear!

"For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control". 2 Timothy 1:7

Another public story of another black teenager killed while unarmed.  I have 3 black teenage sons.
I will not live in fear.

Confusing thoughts overwhelm me as I try to rationalize why this shooting had nothing to do with race.
I will not live in fear.

Anger builds when I cannot shake the feeling that this shooting and all of the others had EVERYTHING to do with race.
I will not live in fear.

Pain in my heart each time the front door closes and my son drives off with his other black friends.
I will not live in fear.

Saddened over videos instructing black boys how to respond to the police to not end up dead.
I will not live in fear.

Praying that the good education, manners, neighborhood and community we provide our children will be enough.
I will not live in fear.

But I will teach my black sons to not live in fear and stand up tall and confident.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my black sons to treat everyone with kindness regardless of color, race, gender, sexual orientation or the uniform they wear.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my black sons to live with pride and dignity in the skin they were created.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my black sons that though many may look at them and see another set of black boys, God created them fearfully and wonderfully with black skin on purpose not by accident.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my black sons to dream big and go after impossible dreams.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my black sons to know their strength and worth.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my black sons to always stand up for justice and the cause of the oppressed.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my black sons to love the Lord with all their hearts, mind and soul.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my black sons to not ever, ever give up on hope, no matter what the present may say.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my black sons to love boldly and deeply especially when its hard.
I will not live in fear.

I will teach my sons to learn the power of forgiveness especially for the ones that cannot see their worth and mistreat them, for their strength will be tightly wrapped in their power to forgive.

To all of the mothers of black sons, let us band together around prayer and not allow what's happened to countless black boys in America taint our jobs to raise upstanding men of worth and purpose.  Let us not raise men that are afraid to live and move about the world seeking to fulfill their purpose.  Let our fears not dictate their paths.  We shall not live in fear because God did not give us a spirit of fear!!


Thursday, July 31, 2014

The women of Gressier Haiti part 3

On July 10th ElevateHer entered Gressier Haiti to host a women's conference to encourage the women there to heal and find life from chaos.  This blog is part 3 of an update describing our time together in Haiti.

Part 2-Here
Part 1-Here

Part 3-The women pushed back

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Mathew 18:15-17

I'm constantly having to remind myself that the work of elevating women will be a process and it will not be achieved over night. Changing cultural attitudes against women will be a process. And women embracing a life of freedom, seeing themselves as worthy and valuable participants in society will be a process.

I sometimes forget that there are some cultural systems that are nearly impossible to change and there will be resistance when one tries to speak against those systems of oppression, even by the ones suffering under those systems.  I sometimes forget to be patient in the work of helping women find life.

During the three days spent with the women in Gressier, we experienced resistance from the women as we discussed matters that challenged certain thoughts, attitudes and practices that kept them in bondage and could put their lives at risk.  We kept pushing to offer them a different narrative.  We kept challenging them to let go of shame, we shared with them that some secrets can ruin their lives and the lives of their children and we encouraged them to embrace their sisters in their communities so they can heal as a community. 

However you can tell the strength and power of the old story. The old story is all they know and though it may be a story of pain and oppression, it's familiar and "safe". One sister came up front to share but it was more of a put down for women in unhealthy relationships.  Again I pushed back by saying "One woman's pain could be every woman's pain; if a sister is struggling love her, feed her and encourage her; do not put her down because her story could be yours, or your daughter's".

Another example was in regards to the women engaging their husbands and significant others in the conversation, whether it be in terms of using condoms, testing for stds and asking for fidelity in marriage. I used the example of Matthew 18:15-17 to encourage the women that there are biblical ways to enter their partners in the conversation especially when sin, disregard and dangerous/risky behaviors are present. One woman raised her hand and said: if you are married to your husband, I don't think it's necessary to involve others in these types of personal matters (as described in the above scripture). She continued: "Perhaps you can cook him a meal, approach him kindly and gently and have these conversations with him, surely he'll listen".

After she made her comment, I asked  the other women "how many of you have the kind of relationships our sister describes, where all it takes is a good meal and good timing to have your husband value your concerns?" Many of the women laughed and shook their heads to indicate that that is not their reality.

The truth is women in developing countries and developed countries continue to not have the power to negotiate and speak on issues concerning their bodies and their well being.  And when you attempt to give them permission to do so, you will be confronted with fear and great resistance.

And I get it. This is a constant struggle of mine. I'm always thinking: How dare I enter their lives and preach a message of their worth, when all around them a different message is being preached? How dare I speak of truths that empower them, when they can't even ask for their partners to use condoms? I understand their push backs, it's almost like they're saying "you come here and try to give us hope and send us back home to the same homes and communities that oppress us and rob us of our dignity"?

How does one live in the same conditions when they've been given information that can be empowering? You resist. You fight back.

In counseling terms this is called cognitive dissonance, in layman's terms it simply means when two things/ideas don't go together, we subconsciously try to do something to achieve balance or to alleviate the discomfort. Their resistance could be a way of fighting the dissonance, the discomfort present. 

As they push back, we, at elevateher, will continue to challenge thoughts, ideas and systems of oppression; systems that are ungodly and put the lives of women, children and communities at risk.  Next year we will return to Gressier as our work is not done. 

We were honored that these women opened up to us and shared their lives and their stories with us.  We do not take this privilege lightly.  Even now, we're planning and praying to see how we can best serve our sisters.

Please continue to pray for us and Join us as we elevate women wherever the Lord sends us.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The women of Gressier Part 2

On July 10th ElevateHer entered Gressier Haiti to host a women's conference to encourage the women there to heal and find life from chaos.  This blog is part 2 of an update describing our time together in Haiti.  Part one of the update could be found here.

The three days were filled lessons on  grief, forgiveness, setting a vision for the future, and we closed with a lesson on HIV/AIDS awareness.

My favorite moment was during our last session on HIV/AIDS, many questions were being asked.  A woman stood up to ask a "hypothetical" question: suppose my husband and I were married for 22 years, the first 6 years we lived together and after that he moved away to the US for 16 years; upon his return I asked him for an HIV test before we connected sexually, at which he agreed, however the test revealed that he was HIV positive, what should I do?

You should have heard the commotion in the room after the question was asked. I wanted to cautiously approach her question as to not bring any new ideas that could disrupt the community and create more harm than good, while at the same time speak truth that may benefit the women and promote change in their communities. So I gave the safe answer: "this is a complicated situation that may need more attention because one approach will not work for all families; this is a personal issue because there are couples that may choose to stay and work things out".

But I gathered that my safe answer was not satisfactory for the women as they continued to speak among themselves.  And I was completely comfortable allowing them to chatter among themselves; I was overjoyed to see them engaged in conversations.

A surprising response came from a male spectator who lingered around the entire three days; he even asked for a copy of the materials to be in his ministry. He asked for permission to speak and I gladly gave him the mic because the work of elevating women will need our brothers who understand the worth and value of women. He stepped forward and asked the woman: "is this a real life question because if it is I'd be more than willing to helping you navigate through making the best decisions for you and your family". He went on to say: "women be very careful when making these decisions as to not put your lives at risk. I also want to caution you to not accuse your husbands of wrong doing without proper investigations because wrongfully accusing him can cause him to leave. If he comes home with a different shirt from the one he left with, wait for an explanation before jumping to conclusions".

Let's just say his last few statements did not sit well with the women at all. One in particular exclaimed if my husband returns home with a different set of wardrobe, he has some explaining to do. We laughed, we debated and we were better for entering the discussion.

There's something significant about giving women the opportunity to discuss and think critically about their lives, their bodies and issues going on in their communities.  When women are given information, resources, opportunities and the affirmation that they can, trust me you will see communities changing. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Women of Gressier, Haiti part 1

And then God answered: "Write this.
Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
so that it can be read on the run.
this vision-message is a witness
pointing to what's coming.
It aches for the coming-it can hardly wait!
And it doesn't lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait.
It's on its way.  It will come right on time.  Habbakuk 2:2-3

After months of planning with my dear friends Sally and Jen, elevateher entered Gressier, Haiti to work with the women within that region of Haiti. 50 women leaders from 10 different churches gathered. Though we had a sense of the issues the women were facing, we really had no idea what we were walking into in terms of the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the women. Because of this reality, we started the conference by asking the women of the issues that are most pressing in their communities. 

We prefaced that first session with a reminder that they were sisters and to treat each other as such, to not gossip or betray their sisters' trust when they hear of certain struggles and challenges during the conference. They received bracelets that said "ou se se-m" "you are my sister" to communicate this truth.

We used the text Ruth 1 to help the women look at the many challenges Naomi was facing to connect and to help set the foundation for their own struggles. At first the women hesitated to speak of the challenges they were facing but Naomi has a way of helping women get real with their pain.  Once they got started, we could not get them to stop. One woman said of course we have struggles and they're very similar to Naomi's. Several others chimed in saying: "The earthquake on January 12th, things were hard before the earthquake but they've exacerbated after, hunger, lack of resources, no work, infidelity, diseases, sexual abuse, lack of security...on and on it went. Each time a sister would speak, my heart would break because I knew that behind every struggle were 10 other complications.

And it was with those challenges in mind that we opened our first session on trauma and how to heal from the wounds of trauma. Of all the traumas the women suffered they zeroed in on one in particular: sexual trauma. The challenge with sexual traumas in those communities is that everyone suffers alone. Everyone hides and holds the secret and shame of sexual trauma alone.

So we presented the women an opportunity to receive information and enter the process of healing from shame, guilt and suffering alone.

I'm never sure how the women will respond when they receive new information, I'm always fearful that it's too much or too foreign for them to handle. But the response is always the same: women fired up to find out how they can protect their families and communities and encouraged to enter the journey of healing. One woman said "I came in empty handed and now I'm leaving full". 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The one advice I wish we would stop giving to Newlyweds!

There are many advice we give to newlyweds that just make me cringe...know your place/role in your marriage, always be joyful, always be beautiful for him, don't create drama for him/her and on and on it goes. But the one advice that gets me every time is: Never Go To Bed Angry! 


Of all the "Rules" that we try to impose on newlyweds this is probably the hardest to live by. This advice is setting couples up to fail and feel like failures every single time they become angry and cannot resolve the fight in the same day. If you're anything like me, your conflicts with your partner will not be resolved in the same night. Sometimes conflicts begin at night because that's often the only time of the day we get to check in with each other.

The biggest problem I have with this advice is, we make anger out to be an evil force that will destroy anyone and anything in its path. Anger is a natural emotion that's felt when our boundaries are crossed, when our feelings are hurt, when are lives are in danger. Anger is as natural as all of the other emotions; joy, happiness, contentment etc. These emotions make us human, reminding us that we're not robots going through life without ever experiencing feelings. We're humans with the ability to feel, to laugh, to cry and be angry.  

Anger is not a bad emotion for newlyweds to feel, true emotions give us an opportunity to connect authentically with each other and newlyweds need to learn how to be real and authentic with their new mates especially when anger boils.

It's what newlyweds do with the anger that will make a difference in their marriage.

Instead of saying Never go to bed angry, maybe we should say: in your anger don't make any permanent decisions. In your anger do not hit under the belt. In your anger, Do not say things that can't be easily forgotten. In your anger somethings should be off limits.

It is perfectly okay to get a time-out to sort out the thoughts and feelings underneath the anger.  And forcing newlyweds to resolve conflict before going to bed might make matters worse because they have not not had enough time to think through and process the feelings.  Sometimes the feelings one experience during an episode of anger are so raw that deep and meaningful conversations cannot be achieved at that very moment.
Newlyweds need to be loving enough to give each other space to process without demanding a resolution right away.

And lastly, just as we love experiencing all of the other emotions and lavish in them, we need to give each other the grace to feel angry without being admonished or shamed. In grace we are able to handle each other's anger with honor, respect, by listening and paying attention to each other's needs; now that's love.

So let's do better than passing on unrealistic advice to newlyweds.  Let's give them advice that will help them mature as a couple in their unique partnership.  

So your turn, what newlywed advice do you wish we would stop giving?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Finding Your Purpose (Part 1: Are You Ready For your Purpose?)

"When change winds swirl through our lives, especially at midlife, they often call us to undertake a new passage of the spiritual journey: that of confronting the lost and counterfeit places within us and releasing our deeper, innermost self-our true self. They call us to come home to ourselves, to become who we really are." When the Heart Waits-Sue Monk Kidd

We often hear people talk about finding their purpose as if it's this elusive thing that's out there, a concept that has nothing to do with who they are now and from the past. Of course I disagree, finding your purpose is not just something that's out there that you need to chase but more of something that's presently in you and has been with you in the past.  Your life then and now are the biggest clues to living the life you were created to live.  

The biggest challenge is not finding it or realizing it but are you ready for it.  Contrary to popular school of thought, I don't think all of our time is now.  I grow very leery of motivational speakers telling their audiences that their time is now and all they need to do is to step into their destiny.  I don't think we're all ready for living a life of purpose. Not just yet. Some things must first take place before we can get there.  We must be properly positioned to receive and live out God's purpose for our lives.  But we must all be willing to live and daily walk into becoming.  

 Living a life of purpose is not something that can occur overnight but it is a process that requires patience and perseverance. 

Life is the greatest teacher of finding your purpose and if you can't do the time and go through the process and faithfully walk one foot in front of the other, your purpose will continue to be out there and you will miss the magic of discovering what has always been with you.  Living a life of purpose requires honesty as you relate to God, self and others.  But before finding that purpose you must be ready.  

I remember for many years I was impatient with the process.  I would wrestle with God.  Disappointed with myself for missing out on opportunities.  Mad at the world for being unfair for narrowing my options.  But the truth is I wasn't ready.  I had many fears holding me back.  I would succumb to the trap of comparison over and over again and that trap kept telling me: you're not as good as so and so.  I had some personal pains that needed to be addressed.  I had childhood insecurities that continually made me feel like I was 12 all over again.  But I was blind to all of those things and I kept blaming my lack of purpose on others. 

So my question for you is: are you ready to start taking steps into your purpose?  

If so, here are some suggested questions and challenges to ponder to ensure your readiness:
  1. Be honest about your fears.  The longer you allow your fears to drive you, the less likely will you be able to realistically engage in the conversation of your purpose.  Do you have a fear of failure? A fear of not being financially secure? A fear of not measuring up to your family's definition of success?  Take a honest evaluation of your fears.  Write them down and address them one by one.
  2. Get over the trap of comparison. If there is one thing that keeps us from fully living in our purpose it has to be the trap of thinking we have to do it as good as so and so.  I'm so sick and tired of seeing Michael Jordan and Lebron James comparisons.  It's the most bizarre thing I have ever seen, comparing 2 different people from 2 different families, with 2 different unique experiences, with 2 different stories and expecting them to have the same results.  Please stop it.  We're not meant to be the same.  That's all I'll say on this but if you're stuck in this step, you need to address this before and during the journey of realizing your purpose.
  3. Address any personal pains.  I can't tell you how long I nursed personal pain.  And the longer I nursed it, the farther away I moved from my purpose.  Personal pain can also be the trigger that propels you into your purpose. So don't waste your pain.  You can either nurse it or use it as a teacher into the journey of living in your purpose. 
  4. Address the pain of your childhood.  Ok this one might seem far fetched but hear me out for a second.  Many of us are running around in circles because we have unresolved childhood traumas where we created false selves as defense mechanisms to cope.  We are people pleasers, drama queens/kings, damsels in distress, and on and on.  Sue Monk Kidd says: "By naming the inner patterns that imprison us, we come to know them more fully and obtain a certain power over them".  Get to know your false selves, name them and heal from them.  
  5. Let go of control.  Or be willing to let go of control.  If you're in the least bit interested in finding your purpose, you have to let go of control.  Rather than having your hands tightly gripped around your dreams, you must be willing to have your hands wide open for God to give and to take.  Many of us are not at all comfortable with this hands wide open position but in order to get to a place of living a purposeful and meaningful life, we can't be afraid of losing control.      
So go for it.  Take some time to assess where you are on this journey of finding your purpose.  Are you ready to start realizing your purpose?  

Take a step!  

Friday, May 30, 2014

So Really, What Have You Been Up To?

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go" Joshua 1:9

First of all I want to apologize to all of my readers for dropping off without an explanation. This blog will serve as an update of my activities throughout this past year.

I've always heard the saying "be careful what you pray for" I never really knew what it meant up until now. In the past 5-10 years my constant prayer has been "God I want to live a life of purpose, I want to reach those that are in the greatest needs and I want my life to matter." What I didn't realize was to accomplish all of those things I would have to be strong and courageous and to honest with you, I was weak (I know in the Christian world being weak is commended but in this sense my weaknesses were not allowing me to progress; they were debilitating) and I was wounded with a tremendous amount of fears. And that was problematic because living a life of purpose means being strong enough to listen to the small and faint voice on the inside (the spirit of God) drawing you closer and closer to that purpose and responding to that voice in spite of fear.  To be unleashed to step into a life of purpose also means wounds need to be in check and I needed to start walking towards healing.  

My weaknesses were taking over and my wounds were invading everything that controlled the process of dreaming, which is a key component to living a life of purpose.

So God took me on a journey to develop my strength, help me heal from the wounds that have held me back and help me conquer some of my fears (Keep reading my blogs, I'll share some of that process or perhaps my future book).

The journey wasn't smooth and predictable but rugged and filled with surprises.

After years of wrestling, this past year God said "Ok now you're ready to enter into the next season of realizing why I created you". It's funny, finding your purpose has a lot to do with you aligning yourself with what God had already created you to do.  I think this is the first time in my life I sense myself releasing control and aligning myself to the purpose God had already created in me. 

So here's what I've been up to this year:

In August of 2013 I landed a job working with inner city teenagers at a charter school focused on meeting the needs of inner city teenagers. I thought I would not enjoy the experience because it wasn't on my radar of things I wanted to do but I've fallen in love with those beautiful and resilient young adults. It's given me many opportunities to work with immigrant families and first generation college bound children like I was. One of my greatest joys was the parenting class I was privileged to teach.  Most of the parents in my classes were immigrants and their stories resonated with my family's stories and again I fell in love with the strength and resiliency of those parents who were able to sacrifice almost everything for their families to have a better life. 

Another surprise was being hired to speak at 3 different events.  Let's just say I was beyond elated, I could not believe that God was using me a black woman, from a different country, with English as a third language to speak to predominantly white audiences.  Was I scared? Absolutely!  But when God unleashes you to what He has created you to do, you can't help but to walk in it in spite of fears. God breathed strength and courage in me and I walked boldly on those stages and breathed my purpose and helped women heal and find purpose.  By the way, in the past, I would never have extra income to attend these events but I was able to be a speaker at those events.  Who else but God. 

This year I also completed my 2nd year in prison ministry.  Every Tuesday night, after working with my students in downtown Dallas, I would drive to Dallas prison to work with the women. This experience has stretched me beyond measure, specifically how to sit and be in the presence of those who choose to make decisions that I do not condone.  There were some great days and there some days of frustration but in all God was present in every meeting.

The greatest surprise this year was being installed as an associate pastor in my church. Let's just say, there are times God puts things in your path that you did not even know were negotiable.  And this was one of them.  This position has been another stretching experience but every time I'd get on the pulpit to preach, I would feel my chains falling, I'd feel the power of God saying "you are mine and I've created you for this purpose".  Confidence has started developing.  Fears can no longer get in my way.  My chains were falling. I think God for using my pastor to know exactly how encourage and help develop me.  My chains are falling.

And after accomplishing all these things, I'd come home to the greatest family.  A husband that has always supported me in whatever the Lord had called me to do.  He's been my number one fan.  He's challenged me over and over again to follow God's vision and purpose.  And then there are my children who would say things like: "mom you're a pastor pray for me to get well because the Lord listens to pastors right??"  "Mom how was your day? How were your students?  How were the women in Prison?"  

This year is indeed a year of gratitude. I am beyond grateful for how God has cleared the path to show me that he is for me.

Let's continue to Elevate together.