The Ministry of Entrepreneurship

What should be the church’s response to this issue of debt?

It was probably the most popular commencement speech delivered at any college graduation this year. To say it went viral would be an understatement. Billionaire Robert Smith in his address to the almost 400 graduates of Morehouse College pledged to pay off all their student loans. It was an estimated amount of $10 million.[1]

Many of you reading this probably wished you were in that graduating class (so do I). This act of kindness underscores a major fact in America today – to be young and college educated is to be in a lot of debt. The total national student loan debt is over $1.5 trillion. Graduates of predominantly black colleges and universities carry 32% more debt than their counterparts at other institutions of higher education.[2]

We are in a crisis that threatens the economic, emotional and social well-being of a generation. Political candidates are making big promises as to what they plan to do about this issue if they get elected. What should be the church’s response to this issue of debt?

What does the prophet say?

In the Bible there is a story of a woman facing a similar debt crisis. It is affecting her peace of mind, her family, and threatening to jeopardize her future. In 2 Kings chapter 4 we find the story of a widow whose deceased husband was a church worker. Not only has she lost her life companion and the father of her two sons, but her only income source as well.

When we are introduced to her, she is in debt and the creditors are coming to take her boys and make them slaves. With nowhere to turn she seeks out Elisha the prophet, the mouth-piece of God in that day.

It may be expected that Elisha, as spiritually connected as he was and with all the miracles he had performed, would have prayed down resources out of heaven for her. But he does not do that. With a network of other believers it is also conceivable that he would have collected an offering from the body for her. But he doesn’t do that either.

Instead Elisha helps her to develop a small business to relieve her debt situation, care for her sons present needs, and secure their future.

Could it be that this advice to this mother in debt is still relevant today for those under the weight of debt?

3 Steps to Start a Side Business

This story captures three principles that can help anyone to start a side business. It is estimated that 45% of Americans are earning extra income on top of their salary.[3] Some of that is through freelance and contract work. Here are three steps for anyone looking to start a business.

STEP #1: Figure out what you have

The big question Elisha asks the woman is “What do you have in your house?” For someone who seemingly has nothing, that is a challenging question. It is difficult for each of us to stop and assess what skills, expertise and resources we have.

Just like the woman back then, it is easy to down play and overlook what we have. We tend to value what others do much more than our own abilities. But good stewardship of what God has given us requires that we stop and take inventory of what we have.

We can figure that out by looking at what we know a lot about, what we are highly skilled in doing, and evaluating the things people come to us for help with. Those three areas can give us a good picture of what we have that we can use for a business.

STEP #2: Connect with others

One of the brilliant lessons that Elisha shares with this widow is the need to connect with others. So he has her go borrow vessels from her neighbors. The fact of the matter is, in order for someone to lend items to you there has to be a level of trust. This widow had to tap into the trust she built up and possibly even develop new relationships of trust.

This is key for anyone seeking to build a business. You have to grow a know, like, and trust factor. People are looking to do business with others they feel confident in and believe in. And there are so many ways to build up trust in who you are and what you have to offer.

One big way to develop confidence in the eyes of potential customers is to show results. You demonstrate that what you have has helped others. More than anything people want to know that what you say you can do you are able to deliver.

STEP #3: Convert into sales

Elisha instructs this mother to go pour her oil into the jars she has borrowed. We cannot overlook the miracle that God works here. From a small amount of oil in her house, multiple vessels are filled. What an encouraging feeling to know that God blesses entrepreneurial efforts that we give to Him.

After the vessels are filled, she has to go sell the oil to get the money to pay her debts. This shows us that what we have has to be packaged in a way that our customers can receive it. In our world today there are so many ways to package your knowledge and expertise. And people are willing to pay for it!

What’s in your house?

Perhaps you opened this article by chance and initially were not interested in full time entrepreneurship. Truthfully, it is not for everyone. But what if God is nudging you to use what He’s given you? What if He’s challenging you to pour your oil into empty vessels? Once this woman filled those vessels I believe she went back to the same people she borrowed them from and offered the oil for sale. She took what they gave her and made it better.

I encourage you to use what God has given you to enrich the lives of others through your small business. Remember, Billionaire Robert Smith, through the success of his entrepreneurship, was able to take care of the debt of the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College. How can the success of your small business help your community or church? Maybe God is waiting to bless you so that He can use you to bless others. What if God is seeking for a generation of believers, a generation of churches, that are willing to do ministry through entrepreneurship? What’s in your house?

[1] https://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/education/billionaire-robert-smith-says-hell-pay-off-morehouse-college-class-of-2019s-student-loans-20190519

[2] https://www.businessinsider.com/student-loan-debt-crisis-college-cost-mind-blowing-facts-2019-7

[3] https://www.fool.com/retirement/2019/06/07/45-of-us-workers-have-a-side-hustle-data-shows.aspx




Tax Benefits of Charitable Contributions

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased your standard deduction, which lowered your incentive to itemize deductions, including for charitable donations. This causes many to ask if there are any tax benefits left in making charitable contributions? Well, it depends! Here are three tax benefits to consider.

  1. Limitations Suspended: The new tax law suspended the limitations on itemized deductions. Translation – You are no longer limited by the amount of your charitable contribution for which you will receive credit. Prior to the change in the law you would only receive credit for some of your charitable contribution and not the entire amount. With the change in the law it is possible now to receive full credit for your contribution.
  2. Increased Deduction Amount: Under the old tax law you were only allowed to deduct charitable contributions up to fifty percent (50%) of your base or adjusted gross income. Under the new tax law you are able to deduct up to sixty percent (60%) if you’re making cash contributions to a public charity.
  3. Donor Advised Funds: A Donor Advised Fund (DAF) is a giving vehicle established at a public charity. It allows the donor to receive an immediate tax deduction and then recommends the grant from the funds at a later date over time. One tax benefit is that you can designate the recipient of your funds later and NOT at the time of your contribution.



Be Smart About How You Give

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s the line from a popular song played during this holiday season. This is the season in which most tax exempt or non-profit organizations receive more than fifty percent (50%) of their charitable contributions. But with all these individuals, friends, family and organizations soliciting your donations, how do you know who to trust or how to allocate your resources? Here are smart steps to consider before you donate.

  1. Accountability:  It would be wise to investigate whether can you hold the organization accountable to execute the responsibilities associated with your donation.  To assist you in making a wise decision you should look up the organization at www.charity.org and www.give.org.
  2. Avoid Donating Over the Phone: During this season, you may get bombarded with calls from several individuals who claim that they represent an organization. What they are not telling you is that they are employed on behalf of a for-profit organization, soliciting funds on behalf of the non-profit organization. In other words, their company will receive a percentage of your donation as compensation for fund raising services. So, do you want one hundred percent of your contributions to benefit the organization or do you want some to go towards fund raising expenses?
  3. Tax Exempt: This is a simple question which has significant meaning. You just don’t want to know if the organization to which you are donating, is a non-profit. The real question you need to know is whether the organization is currently tax exempted under the Internal Revenue Service Code and has section 501(c)(3) status. Some organizations were once tax exempted, but may have lost their tax exempt status. To help you figure this out check on the organization at www.irs.gov and click on charities to find out if the organization to which you are about to donate is still legitimate.



Black (and Blue) Friday

“It was like the running of the bulls in Spain!” My wife told me with a voice that was quivering. Her eyes appeared to be bugging out of her head and her hands were shaking. I thought to myself, is she describing a fight; an accident; a natural disaster of biblical proportions?! No, what she was describing in horribly descriptive detail was…a sale…at the Wal-mart several years ago…at 5 a.m.—that’s right, a.m.—the day after Thanksgiving! She was there at 4:45–and the parking lot was already packed!

She braved bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, caffeine-crazed, frothy-mouthed shoppers—some of which probably had been planning their Friday shopping blowout down to the last aisle and item in intricate detail. Like someone planning a bank heist.

Now, before you begin to judge my wife, I need to give you a little background; first, let’s talk about our finances. We are a one-income family and money is tight! I mean tight!!! Conversely, the money that she saved was phenomenal! Secondly, my wife did it because she loves her family and that’s why she subjected herself to this craziness. I’m thankful for my wife’s love for both her family and for her unwavering focus on being a good steward of our money, but…in the end…it’s just stuff! My wife was not happy that I told her that! In fact, I don’t really remember what happened next—maybe several years of intense therapy may begin to make the details more clear, but really, who has the money and the time for that?!

“Black Friday Death Count”

Anyhow, several years ago I saw a bumper sticker on a car that read “The person who dies with the most toys wins!”  But the real-life bumper sticker should read “The person who dies with the most toys…still dies!” We live in a world that is absolutely hollow! It’s like a beautiful chocolate Easter bunny. Sweet to eat for a bit, but in the end, hollow, leaving us with a bad taste in our mouths and leaving us wanting. But wanting for what? I’ll come back to this thought in a minute.

According to the website “Black Friday Death Count,” there have been a total of 12 deaths and 117 injuries.[i] Trevor Wheelwright[ii] noted that the five states that are at highest risk for Black Friday violence are (in order of most to least violent):

  1. Arkansas
  2. Tennessee
  3. West Virginia
  4. North Carolina
  5. Alabama

An article I saw on cnn.com[iii] titled: “Wal-mart death preventable, union says” states, “Jdimytai Damour, 34, was crushed as he and other employees attempted to unlock the doors of a Long Island, New York, store at 5 a.m. Friday, police said.” By the way, this was not the same Wal-mart my wife was at. The article goes on to report “At the Wal-Mart, police say that a line began forming at 9 p.m. Thursday and that, by 5 a.m. Friday, there were as many as 2,000 customers outside. A video showed about a dozen people knocked to the ground as the doors were opened and the crowd surged, breaking the doors. Minutes later, police trying to give Damour first aid were jostled by customers still running into the store, authorities said.” 

A Hole in the Soul

Does any of this sound awfully bizarre to you?! It should: a person died because people wanted stuff! Why are we so focused on stuff?  Is it that important? I contend that the stuff isn’t that important, but it’s the hole that the stuff is trying to fill that is so important. You see, each one of us has been created by God with a hole in our soul—an indescribable need for an intimate relationship with him that nothing will ever fill…nothing but God.

According to the website, beliefnet, “ . . . 52 percent of people used retail therapy to improve a sour mood. Buying a new item or going to a thrift store can help with mild depression.”[iv]

So why does this happen? The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson explains:

The dark side of materialism as a tonic is that shopping bags aren’t a great replacement for friendships. Loneliness can make us materialistic. Feeling isolated makes us anxious, which makes us less likely to get up the energy to make and maintain connections that would make us feel less alone.

Retail Therapy

So, in the hunt for immediate pleasure, some people turn to shopping. But medicating our loneliness at the mall can make us lonelier, over time [called “The Loneliness Loop”], as shoppers begin to learn that it is challenging to form a meaningful relationship with a wristwatch or brag about one’s children to a porcelain vase.[v]

Kate McCoy, of the website, Biblical Woman, reports that compulsive shopping is more common among women than men and that such compulsions come from a core lack of fulfillment.[vi] Another way to describe a lack of fulfillment is a lack of feeling- full-ment.

So after learning this information about not feeling full, there are only two questions that you have to ask yourself (and hopefully answer correctly):

  1. Am I looking for stuff to fill that hole in my soul that only God can fill?
  2. If I am, what do I need to do about it to fill it with the right thing: God?

A Wise Guy’s Insights

In regards to the first question, which by the way is a timeless and crucial issue for everybody who’s ever lived, is living, and who will ever live. The wisest man that ever lived spent his entire life searching for meaning and satisfaction without God. To his frustration—but to our benefit—he wrote everything down in his diary and we have it in the form of the Old Testament Biblical book called Ecclesiastes.

You remember Solomon don’t you? He was the one who wrote many of the proverbs in the book of Proverbs. How do you think he got so smart? Well, he screwed up a lot…and he wrote it all down! All right everybody, all together in one, two, three “Thanks Solomon, you’re the man,” well technically, “you’re the King.”

In twelve short chapters in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon drops the wisdom bomb! He doesn’t mince words or mess around. He’s straight to the point about his ups and downs and you and I can greatly benefit from it. If you haven’t read it, don’t wait another minute. I challenge you to read it today. I know you’ll learn a lot from it.

“Vanity, Vanity, All Is Vanity”

Solomon rants and raves for 12 chapters about all his getting and all his stuff. At one point we find out that he got literally anything and everything he wanted…can you imagine that. That is incomprehensible to me!  This is what he wrote:

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.

I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2: 4-11, NIV).

Savior, not Stuff

In the end Solomon admits that the only way to be happy and satisfied is to “. . . fear God [worship Him with awe-filled reverence, knowing that He is almighty God] and keep His commandments, for this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, every hidden and secret thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12: 13, 14, AMP).

So there you have it. The sad, sordid tale of one man’s—correction: of all mankind’s– search for satisfaction, fulfillment, peace, and joy. Solomon said it straight: if you want to be happy, if you want to have peace, joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction in life, then acknowledge and respect God and obey what He says! The only true and lasting freedom, joy, and peace are found in Him. The Apostle Paul said it this way in the New Testament Biblical book of Acts: “in Him we live and love and have our being.”

It’s All about Importance

Back to my original statement: “It’s just stuff.” Stuff is okay–as long as you recognize that’s that is all it is: stuff! Nothing, not stuff, not knowledge, not even earthly relationships—as important as they are–can replace the most important thing (Who, by the way isn’t a “thing”): God! Hey, as stuff goes, the stuff I’m getting this year is pretty cool, but the coolest thing in the world is something you can’t buy in a store. It’s a daily close and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ as not only my Savior, but my Lord as well.

Take a look at what the Bible says about stuff and what will ultimately happen to it:

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”

(2 Peter 3:10-12, NIV)

What’s Really Free

Did you catch that?! It’s all going to burn up. All our collective stuff will one day be gone…and the only thing we’ll have left is the only thing I—and you–really ever needed in the first place–Salvation: perfect peace and fellowship with God. I hope you have salvation, but if you don’t it’s really easy to get it. Salvation is the only free gift that really is free; not just for this season, but for forever! It cost Jesus a whole lot to give it to you: it cost Him His life!

If you accepted God’s free gift of salvation today, write me and let me know, I’d love to rejoice with you and strongly encourage you to read Matthew 6:25-33 about how a relationship with God will provide you everything you will ever need.

Have a happy holiday season, a great Thanksgiving, and a merry Christmas. Enjoy your Christmas gifts (in moderation) and for goodness sake, be careful when you’re shopping, I’ve heard it can be a real contact sport!

Works Cited

[i] Downloaded on November 24, 2019 from http://blackfridaydeathcount.com

[ii] Downloaded on November 24, 2019 from https://www.reviews.org/trends/high-risk-states-for-black-friday-violence/

[iii] Downloaded on November 10, 2019 from https://www.cnn.com/2008/US/11/29/black.friday.death/

[iv] Downloaded on November 24, 2019 from https://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/health/galleries/benefits-of-retail-therapy.aspx

[v] Downloaded on November 24, 2019 from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/08/the-loneliness-loop-why-feeling-sad-makes-us-shop-and-shopping-makes-us-sad/278443/

[vi] Downloaded on November 24, 2019 from https://biblicalwoman.com/shopping-for-fulfillment/




Sacrifice For Love

Elijah and Katrina have been friends since childhood. They attended the same schools from the first grade through high school. Both were very active and involved in sports and community services. The two worked diligently caring for the elderly after school. They both loved to read and sing to encourage the senior citizens in the nursing homes. 

Sudden Sickness

One day Katrina was not feeling well and she collapsed at work. Elijah dialed 911 and she was rushed to the hospital. After a complete examination it was revealed that one of Katrina’s kidney’s was failing and she would need an immediate emergency transplant. A variety of tests were done and there were no donors that matched her blood type. The doctors were very concerned because time was running out. 

Elijah said to the doctors “Can I be tested please?” Katrina could not speak as tears rolled down from her face. By this time, her parents had arrived and Katrina had become very weak. The doctors informed them that it would take time to complete all of the tests but if Elijah was a donor match then she had an excellent chance of surviving. 

A Perfect Match

Elijah prayed and asked God to please let him be a match to help save Katrina’s life. The testing process began and soon Elijah learned he was a perfect match. His decision was an act of faith and a sign of love and genuine friendship for Katrina. The surgery took place the next day and the procedure went well.

A few hours later Elijah and Katrina were taken to the recovery room. Soon afterwards, they were awaken by the nurse. Their vitals signs were steady and strong. All Katrina could say is “Thank you my dear friend. What a sacrifice of love you have made for me.” Elijah smiled and replied “You would have done the same thing for me.” During the next few weeks and months Katrina was coming along just fine and Elijah was doing well also. 

As the years passed, Katrina never forgot Elijah’s tremendous sacrifice to save her life. They both went on to college, graduated and became physicians with a desire and commitment to serve and bring healing to others.

Recently, Katrina and Elijah contacted my office for counseling because they decided to get married. Katrina said that ever since they were children, she knew that Elijah was so special to her. Elijah felt the same way about Katrina. Truly, God used Katrina’s situation as a test for Elijah, not realizing that God was saving her life just for him. 

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

John 15:13 (KJV)




Power Play: Giant Killers

“Stand your ground and fight your battles like a man.”

That was the counsel my absentee father gave me on the evening of our pre-wedding engagement party. While they weren’t words I was averse to hearing, they were words I wasn’t willing to hear from the man who had just uttered them.

2 Samuel 21:15-22 is the story of a father, king, and uncle who found  redemption in a generation of young leaders who were willing to walk in his footsteps.

To say that David was the greatest King of Israel and a failed parent would not be raining on his parade or putting his business in the street. He was who he was, and the record is what it is.

In 2 Samuel 21 we find a king in the twilight of his strength but not his courage. His warrior heart is not failing him, only his fatigued body. Placing him in a situation where he has to trust his nephew to do something on his behalf that has been second nature to him for 40 plus years.

Giant Killers

Over time David created a generation of giant killers. He passed on the best parts of himself distilled from years of success and failure. Abishai wasn’t born when his uncle killed Goliath, but when the opportunity arose for him to step up he was confident. He walked up to his giant declaring, “I got, I got giant killing inside my DNA.”

15 years into my marriage we faced our own giants. It was then that I realized what my father was privately trying to tell me, in that very public space. He was saying be more than me. Fight for all that God is placing in your future. Be more for yours than I was for you. Don’t run, “stand your ground and fight your battles like a man.”

May our power play be to empower generations of giant killers, that empower generations of giant killers. May we build kingdom legacy into the culture of our families and the fabric of our communities. And above all, may we personally concern ourselves with the legacy of our doings that point to Jesus.




The Grace to Manage Marriage, Motherhood, and Mission

I would love to start this piece with an inspirational quote about being a wife, mother, and pursuing a career. You know the quote I’m talking about. It pops on your social media feed and inspires you to work and love harder. It gets you motivated to get up and start a business, run a 5k, or build your personal brand. Sometimes, it’s even informative telling you how to get sleep with a newborn, get that same baby walking by seven months, and then have them reading novels by a year old.

In fact, I would love to tell you an inspirational secret to balancing relationships and career. But the truth is, and listen closely, the secret is in His strength. I have found that all I have is my reliance on the grace of God and His promise that it alone is sufficient.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV)

Like no other relationships I have ever been in, marriage and motherhood have activated unimaginable strengths while revealing incredible weaknesses. As for many of you, there are days a nursing baby is in one arm and a laptop is in the other. There are days when nap times are few and far between and I find myself frustrated and exhausted by 2 pm. To top it off, there are days when my husband and I are so in sync that we start and finish our first and second books together. But then there are days we can barely get a long due to some small argument neither of us remembers the cause for. There are days I’m glad I moved to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia to pursue my career. Then when my grandmother and uncle passed within months of one another I couldn’t help but regret leaving home.

Myth or Mandate?

The reality is, while most Christians hold up Proverbs 31 as the standard for a well-rounded woman whose example should be emulated, few consider what it really takes to replicate her. We often fail to imagine that more than likely she did not become that woman overnight. In fact, I would go so far as to say that she, too, relied on grace to move her throughout the day with wisdom, composure, and love.

As women after God’s heart, we want to be everything we can be to our husbands, our children, our employers, ourselves, and most importantly to our God. The Proverbs 31 woman wanted the same. In fact, Solomon writes that

“she…rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard…She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy…She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

This woman was intentionally rising every morning to cook and feed her family and her servants. Then she’d take care of business earning and income and increasing profit for her household. Only to also take care of the needy in her community.

No woman finds the rhythm to do this overnight. She does not learn these skills in a moment. No, she needed the grace of God to train her and strengthen her over time. So be patient with yourself.

God is gracing you to manage your marriage, motherhood, and your mission.

Managing Marriage

In order for Solomon to say, “her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” there had to be grace for her to grow into all of these roles. She had to learn how to love her husband. This “virtuous wife” as she’s called in the text had the learn how to hear criticism from her husband as well as learn to listen with him. She had to learn how to raise children with her husband, and even build a business with him.

Each of these tasks require a different kind of communication. New language to express needs and concerns. With grace and commitment to the process, any couple can experience the kind of spiritual oneness that God speaks of in Genesis. But the fact of the matter is, we all must first receive that such connection and understanding doesn’t happen overnight. This type of knowledge doesn’t come just because a wedding occurred. This type of joining together, this kind of oneness, only happens when two people decide to truly submit to one another. It comes when two people rely on grace to cover their imperfections.

Managing Motherhood

But not only did God have to give the Proverbs 31 woman the grace to learn how to love and work with her husband. He also had to teach her how to love her children. Most people don’t talk about the transition from being a woman without children to one who is blessed with the gift of motherhood. But it really is a transition that requires a lot of hard work, both mentally and physically.

Children come with no manual, guidebook, or attendant. As someone told me, parenting is the sharpest learning curve you will ever experience in your life. This is because you have to learn your child. You have to take note of his or her tendencies, personality, likes and dislikes, and fears and insecurities. The moment they enter the world you are discerning what strengths and weaknesses they’ve gained from you and your husband. In other words, motherhood is a job that only God can grace you to do well. And I believe He designed it that way intentionally.

Depending on God

See, God looks for our complete dependence on Him. The “strong black woman” stereotype isn’t just problematic because it flattens the totality of black women’s love, hurt, grief, or passions. The “strong black woman” stereotype is harmful because it denies her need for God in everything – even the day to day.

The truth is we need God to help us build our personal brands. We need God to help us strategize for growth in our businesses. We need Him when we feel like our friendships are falling to the wayside, and we need Him when we’re raising babies and beyond. Marriage, motherhood, and mission all require our dependence on God.

If we’re honest, in our own strength, we cannot be everything to everyone. You can’t be the perfect friend, perfect entrepreneur, perfect wife, or perfect mother. But here’s the good news: God doesn’t expect you to be. He created you to need Him. Whatever the world may say, whoever the world may show you to be, every relationship, even the one with yourself, needs God. Let the Holy Spirit speak into every aspect of your life. Let God activate His presence and His power so that you can be all that He has called you to be.

 




Spiritual Double-Consciousness

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate to do, that I do…for to will is present in me, but how to preform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not do, I practice…So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

Romans 7:14-16, 18b-19, 25b

“…double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, – an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, who dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

As a child of God born in and shaped by sin, I ever feel this spiritual tug of war within my mind and my members. On the one hand I desire to do the will of God and bring glory and honor to His name, yet on the other hand I feel my body and mind crying out to fulfill the lust of the flesh. My sin, ever before me, I wonder if it is truly possible to be of one mind, of one body in the Spirit when the law of God ever stands revealing my flaws and iniquities?

Spiritual Double-Consciousness

Like DuBois articulates concerning the African American’s journey on the color line, I too experience a “double-consciousness.” Only my double-consciousness is not restricted to my body. I have found myself living with a spiritual double-consciousness. I ever have the sense of always looking at myself through the eyes of the divine, measuring my soul by the law of a world that looks on in loving compassion, yearning for me to commit to their world and stop traveling in and out on dual-citizenship. I ever feel my two-ness, – a Righteous woman, a sinner; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose faith in the power of God alone keeps me from being torn asunder.

What makes it worse is that my fair ideals show that I am light, allowing me to pass. But true spiritual things are spiritually discerned and the spirit knows my darkness. I can’t pass in heavenly spaces. Places where God sits and clearly sees sin running through the veins of my actions. Running through my thoughts. Passing simply allows me the privilege of walking in earthly spaces and not be judged, because man can’t tell if I’m light or dark.

I think about this often. How these two souls live within me, the righteous man, the sinner. Sometimes I want to only be righteous, and sometimes I wish to only be a sinner.

Spiritual Identity

But the Spirit has revealed to me that I am called to find self-hood in the amalgamation of both. It is in my recognition of the sinful man that I understand that I am weak and in need of the strength of God. It is through such self-revelation that I desire to unite with the Spirit of God to be the righteous man. For unless God abide in me and I in Him, I cannot produce spiritual things; I cannot create, articulate, nor postulate of the Spirit because the Spirit is not in me. I cannot live and walk in the will and way of God, unless God live in me and walks with me.

Just as the black man is not simply American or Negro, he is the American Negro, I am not simply righteous or a sinner. I am a righteous sinner. The Bible says, “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16a). Meaning my righteousness is defined by my rise, not my fall.

Spiritual Warfare

These two souls: the righteous, the sinner, living within one human body will ever war against each other, as the ideals of one will ever seek to oppress and suppress the ideals of the other. I cannot seek identity or belonging in one or the other, but must see the salvation that is presented in the fusion of both. I must understand that I can only find my righteousness in the only One who lived a righteous life. Therefore, I cannot settle for an identity based in my fall, for I am determined to continue to rise. It is God living within me that comforts me “because He [God] who is in me is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

I do not look to myself to live a righteous life. For no man other than Jesus Christ has done this. Rather I look to “Jesus, the author and finisher of [my] faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is because of His sacrifice and His spirit living in me that I can boast of my two-ness “[that] the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:10). For I am a sinner saved by grace strengthened to be a righteous woman.




Diagnosis: Racial Bias

“This is the week, here we go!” I tell myself with a mixture of dread and excitement.

For the last two years I have co-led a weekly class where several hours of the course are dedicated to racism and bias in medicine. I walked into the week with a bit of dread because I know, given the demographic and geographic characteristics of my medical students, there is going to be resistance. I had to prep myself going in that at least some of my students were going to reject a reality that plagues our healthcare system: racial bias.

I knew this because I live and work in the State of Idaho, in a medical program that exclusively draws it’s students from the State, many from rural communities. However, I was also excited because I had the opportunity to teach such an important topic. These are future physicians many who are not aware of these facts. What’s great, is that now we are requiring these topics to be a part of their medical education.

Medicine and Racial Prejudice

Race and medicine is a topic in which everyone – patient and provider alike, regardless of racial or ethnic identification – needs to be made aware. The racial biases that exist in our world bleed into our healthcare system preventing many minorities from receiving equitable care. Healthy People 2020 defines health equity as medical persons addressing the avoidable, historical, and current injustices that create health disparities or differences in health outcomes across groups. These differences show up for example in rates of death and disease between groups based on their race, religion, gender, or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.

I’m sure many of you are saying to yourself, “well this doesn’t happen today.” “People are not dying from various illnesses or infections because medical personnel are refusing to care for them based on their race, religion, gender, or what have you.” “That goes against their oath to care for sick persons!” The truth is that yes, this is still a problem in 2019. African-Americans and other racial/ethnic minorities have historically been and remain affected by healthcare disparities. And it is important that we call it out so we can address it!

A History of Malpractice

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that various sources, including the bias, stereotyping, and prejudice of health systems and health care providers, are contributing to racial and ethnic disparities. In fact, they suggest they may be related to worse health outcomes among the racial/ethnic groups affected (Betancourt & Ananeh-Firempong, 2004).

For example, the framing of blacks as primitive and inferior has resulted in denied treatment for real ailments. This was seen in the 1932 Tuskegee, AL syphilis experiment on black men. These men were denied treatment for syphilis just so white physicians could identify how syphilis destroys the body. Or, in the case of Henrietta Lacks whose body was used for various scientific experiments for breakthroughs in medicine without her permission, or the permission of her family.

Even as far back as 1758, race has been factored into how patients are viewed and treated. A scientist named Carl Linneaus put humans into categories based on their race assigning them physical and psychological characteristics. Europeans he described as “fair…gentle, acute, inventive…governed by laws,” whereas Africans were described as “black…crafty, indolent, negligent…governed by caprice” (Witzig, 1996). In other words, this scientist used, or manipulated science, to describe Africans or those of African descent as sneaky, lazy, careless, and as people who act on a whim. Can you see how these stereotypes impacted, and still impact, how people of color are treated in society at large? But also, in medicine.

Enduring Effects

Black patients still suffer the same treatment and abuse their ancestors suffered. This history of racism in the U.S. has lingering effects that are evident in the medical care African Americans and other people of color receive. When I coordinated health programs in Tuskegee, AL I saw firsthand how the history of that tragedy still impact blacks in that community. Many, almost 80 years later, still have a poor relationship with healthcare professionals and struggle to trust medical providers. The sad truth is that they still have reason to distrust.

In 2015, the CDC published a report with a special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. In this report, black mothers had the highest percentage of pre-term births; Hispanic and black children and teenagers had the highest prevalence of obesity (21.9% and 19.5 % respectively, compared to 8.6% in whites); black men (42.4%) and black women (44.4%) had the highest prevalence of high blood pressure, and Hispanic adults were the largest groups without health insurance, followed by blacks (National Center for Health Statistics, 2016).

More recently, the Harvard Public Health magazine has published its winter 2019 report entitled, “America is Failing its Black Mothers.” In this report Amy Roeder writes that “African American women are three to four times more likely to die during or after delivery than are white women. According to the World Health Organization, their odds of surviving childbirth are comparable to to those of women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan, where significant proportions of the population live in poverty.” The study goes on to state this is directly linked to racism and racial bias in medical practices.

Assumptions and Responses

These realities produce several common racial biases in medical practice that include:

  • Lower rates of major surgical procedures for black Medicare patients
  • Lower rates of pain control medication given for broken bones for African American children seeking care in emergency rooms
  • Lower quality of basic hospital services for things like pneumonia and congestive heart failure in black patients (Tsai et al., 2016)
  • Fewer referrals for kidney transplants when a patient is on hemodialysis (Betancourt & Ananeh-Firempong, 2004)

But there are ways that people of color can navigate racial bias when seeking medical attention:

  1. Listen to your gut. If you know something isn’t right with your body or your provider pay attention, make a note, and make a complaint.
  2. Come prepared for your visit. Have questions related to the reason for your visit ready with notes about your symptoms along with any concerns you have.
  3. Bring someone with you. It is always good to have support and an extra pair of ears to listen to what your provider is saying. They may even ask questions that you haven’t thought of.
  4. Be firm and aggressive. If a provider dismisses your conerns, it’s ok to ask them to explain why you should not be concerned. Make them explain things to you until you fully understand. It’s ok to keep asking questions. Even if someone seems impatient or irritated, it’s your right.
  5. If possible, go to a doctor of your race/ethnicity. There is a chance that this person will be someone who will better understand your physical, mental, cultural, and social needs.
  6. Get recommendations on a healthcare provider from people of your race/ethnicity when possible, people you know have a similar experience as you.

Conclusion

“Even well intentioned physicians may be susceptible to stereotyping and may unknowingly contribute to racial/ethnic disparities in health care,” (Betancourt & Ananeh-Firempong, 2004). Fortunately, these topics are being taught and discussed more and more within healthcare education. Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of work to be done and one cannot rely on every provider to accept and “buy-in” to the reality of racial bias as experienced by their patients.

The fact is, it should not be the responsibility of the people oppressed by the injustices of the healthcare system to fix it. However, until it is fixed we have to protect ourselves. We have to do what we can to get what is needed from a broken system, including self-advocacy, researching providers before visits, identifying and using various support systems (e.g. friends and family), as well as being open to getting second opinions. Ultimately, when it comes to your health always be aware, and always come prepared.




This Pineapple Love: A Testimony

Heartache. Heartbreak. Two miscarriages. Two separations. Two foreclosures. Two children. Two divorces.

Multiple lives shattered into innumerable little pieces. Darkness with seemingly no entry point for light. Long, winding roads that seemed to go nowhere. Depression. Anxiety. Anger. Grief. Numbness. Challenged faith. Pruning. Winter. Spring. God, who? God, where? God, here? Not here? Yes, absolutely here. Right here.

This is the tale of a love story where boy meets girl on a beautiful summer night and wonderful things happen. Luc, my pineapple love, and I vowed to become partners on this marital journey for the rest of our lives. And it’s been a harmonious love song since we exchanged those vows on November 3, 2018.

What is “this pineapple love”? Grab a cup of tea and let me tell you a story.

In 2014, I was two years removed from a tumultuous divorce and on the road to rebuilding my life with the help of supportive family, friends, and a lot of therapy. Over the course of my six year marriage I’d lost two children to miscarriage, our home, as well as pieces of myself I thought I’d never regain. Divorce is a death of sorts.

But, this particular year was different. A collective of women from my church and I formed a prayer circle that changed our lives forever. We gathered once a week and read, prayed, and fasted our way through a book called Draw the Circle – The Forty Day Challenge by Mark Batterson.

I’m entirely certain that I did not know what I was getting myself into. As we met in my little oasis I trudged ahead hoping to get something out of it. I sought God’s guidance over numerous areas of my life – one of which was remarriage. God had given me a vision of what He intended for marriage though I had not yet experienced it, and it was this vision that I held on to. The zaniest part of Batterson’s challenge talked about crazy faith and encouraged us to pray about what to pray about. If ever I was confused, this day took the cake.

Dear Future Husband,

While talking with God about the desire to remarry, He responded telling me to demonstrate my belief by writing a letter to my future husband. Then He instructed me to buy him a tie. What an odd thing! How do I write a letter for someone I haven’t yet identified, and how do we select the right tie for this mystery man? Y’all, I sat down with pen in hand and the words came. I bought a gift box and placed the letter in the box. But I held off on the tie for a while.

Soon after this prayer circle ended, I began to hear stories about how God was answering the prayers of the other women. I celebrated all that He was doing in the lives of my sisters excited about what I believed He was about to do for me. These answers to prayer made me so happy some days I found myself leaping forward almost as if to jump into the things I was believing Him for. 

On the heels of a 2016 trip to London with my cousin, she and I talked expectantly of how life would change when these husbands appeared in our lives. At the end of that trip, we decided to refer to our husbands as pineapples. Why pineapples? We needed to be able to talk about potential suitors without being obvious, and so pineapple it was. Little did we know, some view pineapples as an expression of “welcome” – an invitation of hospitality, friendship, and warmth.

Obedience in Dating

I finally got my dating shoes broken in by 2017 and got past the shell shock of swiping left and right. However, it was time for another fast in my life. I met this guy who seemed to line up with a number of prayer journal entries but something was just a little off. I was confused (major hint that this probably wasn’t God) and wrestled with God. After toiling through this 40-day journey with a couple girlfriends, the Lord distinctly showed me that His hand was not leading me toward this man and He instructed me to leave him alone. By this time, I’d learned to tell my feelings what to do and let them catch up. My spirit was at peace. On that last day of the fast, July 14, 2017, I released that man and registered my own business.

The next day, July 15, 2017, I took this newfound freedom and peace out for a spin. I was schmoozing with friends at a fundraising event when I met a gentleman by the name of Luc A. Gabriel. He approached me and our exchange was light-hearted and easy. Little did I know that here stood my “pineapple.” We became friends and things would remain that way for nine months until God revealed who we were to each other.

The Other Side

After nine years of marriage and subsequent separation, Luc found himself a year removed from divorce in late 2014, and at the time I wrote that letter, God was in the process of pulling Luc back toward Him. The divorce had left him injured but he struggled forward.

By 2016, Luc was reconnected in church and regaining his footing. God began speaking to Luc very subtly and persistently. He wanted to remarry and serve God alongside his wife and though unsure if God would come through, he began to search. He continued to date and started wrestling with God over many things. God challenged Him to go deeper and though he couldn’t conceive His will at the time, Luc accepted the challenge.

About this time, Luc had actually come across photos of me by way of social media and thoughts of interest surfaced but nothing would come of it for quite some time. He dated around, searching for something more but not quite finding it.

Preparing For What’s Ahead

Luc relocated back home to Philadelphia in late 2016. His life took many twists and turns with his career, living arrangements, and his own share of dating escapades. He too suffered many losses along the way and wondered if God was ever going to deliver on His promise to restore to him what he’d lost.

Around the time we met in July 2017, Luc was recommended for jobs he was well qualified for but nothing was materializing. Suddenly, after joining the Navy Reserves, an opportunity for full-time orders came about and what would normally take up to a year, took less than two months! Approximately nine months later, Luc began the process of moving back to Maryland.

Looking back on that time, Luc needed that temporary move back to Philadelphia to reset his frame of mind, desires, and focus. He believed that God pulled him back home as a means of preparation for something ahead. He had no idea what that would be until that first friendly date in November of 2017. It was short and sweet. We discovered a few of our common experiences and life moved on. But one thing we both took notice of was that our friendship developed effortlessly.

There’s Love in Hard Conversations

Months later, as our core values seemed aligned we both sought clarity from God about whether this was what He was orchestrating or not. Either way, we were prepared to accept the friendship. Not long after, we had a turning point conversation in Spring of 2018 that laid things out pretty clearly. You know the ones – the make or break conversations that determine whether to move forward or not.

I returned from another trip with girlfriends to a very serious Luc who stated his intentions with crystal clear precision. I stated my expectations and requirements and God showed off from there. Suddenly and abundantly, just as God had said, I AM began to restore the years the locusts had stolen.

Luc and I began taking this journey together and I had a few Gideon-like encounters just to make sure this was it. Remember the tie? Remember the pineapple? After several signs, I asked God for one more. One morning I prayed in my heart and said “I’ll walk away today if you say to.” While getting my hair done, I got a call from Luc. We’d already spoken a couple times that day so it was a little odd that he was calling back so soon. He’d been window-shopping and began gushing about a pin-striped shirt and I wondered where he was going with this story.

Then time seemed to stand still as he uttered the next few words, “and you should see this dope tie to go with it, it’s navy blue with gold pineapples.” I have no idea what he said after that. I simply sat in shock looking down at my wrist staring at my gold pineapple charm bracelet. It was at that moment that I realized I would never have to question God about this pineapple love ever again. I bought the tie and presented it and the letter at just the right time. He wore it on the day we married.

The rest, is His story to continue writing. We are now expecting our first pineapple chunk this December.

The lesson from this pineapple love is…

God restores!