A Mother’s Plea for Autism Awareness

Autism Spectrum Disorder entered my life 6 years ago.

My youngest son, Kenden Andrew was diagnosed at the age of 2. Immediately, I started learning about his disability. I learned Autism is a complex developmental disorder. Some of the challenges of Autism are seen in communication, social skills, and behavior. All three affect Kenden. I also discovered no one person is the same. The most important thing I can share about Autism, is each person is unique. I like to see it as, God blessed each and every one of them with their own special superpower.

The truth is there is no one definitive cause for Autism. According to Autism Speaks, “Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and non-genetic, or environmental, influences.” While some wonder if complications during pregnancy are a factor, during my pregnancy I had no complications. In fact, I knew the exact date that I would be having Kenden. My doctor scheduled me for a c-section due to my previous one with my first son, Jaylan. Everything went as planned. I stayed in the hospital for a couple of days and then was discharged home.

The first night home alone was extremely hard. I will never forget it! Both boys were fed and bathed for the night. I put Jaylan to bed first and then tended to my new baby boy.

I just knew this night would go smooth but…it didn’t.

For the life of me I couldn’t get my baby to sleep. Nothing seemed to work. He was clean, fed, and sleepy but just refused to sleep. That night I felt defeated. I kept saying to myself something isn’t right, but would immediately tell myself to erase that thought from my mind. I felt it was wrong to compare my two children. My baby experience with my older son was smooth sailing. But things were different with Kenden. Soon, months led to years of no sleep, uncontrollable behaviors, and no verbal communication from Kenden.

At the age of one, Kenden was accepted into the Tennessee Early Intervention Program. This program assisted us with resources to help Kenden. Most importantly, they setup Speech and Occupational Therapy for him. At that time, he had therapy twice a week. Also, they helped with placing him into a Special Education Pre- Kindergarten Program. By the age of three, Kenden was going to school three days a week. I believe early intervention has been one of the reasons for his continued success.

There is Hope in Progress

Kenden is now 8 years old. He has made great strides with his communication, social skills, and behavior. About 3 years ago Kenden finally started saying words. He is still in Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy once a week. Not only has early intervention been a great attribute to his success but I’m so thankful for my church family. I attend Ephesus SDA Church in Clarksville, TN. Sometimes I still struggle with taking Kenden out in the community because I worry about his behavior and the reaction of others. People tend to forget a disability isn’t always visible.

But outside of our home and family, Church has really been the only place I feel comfortable. At Ephesus I don’t have to worry about people’s reaction. Kenden sometimes makes quirky noises and talks loud during service but no one is ever bothered. I love that no one turns their head or gives weird and mean stares at us. Service is never interrupted, and I love it! Kenden is definitely a part of the congregation and they love him. I appreciate their kindness and acceptance of him.

Church Engagement with Autism

It is for this reason that I believe churches are critical for Autism families. One way they can be helpful and inviting to the Autism Community is to talk about Autism. Educate yourself and bring in professionals to train and discuss this disorder with your congregation. Unfortunately, I have found that church tends to brush off or not discuss hard topics. It is oftentimes much easier to bury our heads in the sand and tell others, “I’m praying for you.” But when you are raising a child with a developmental disability the time and energy you have to pour into them is indescribable. Oftentimes, you feel alone and misunderstood. Church should be a place you know you won’t be judged about your child’s meltdowns or have your parenting questioned. It should be a place of peace, understanding, and acceptance.

1 out of 54 children are diagnosed with Autism.

The time is now to put old traditions and usual clichés aside and be about action.

Being a special needs parent, I am always researching and looking for resources and grants. What has been the most helpful is staying connected to my local Autism foundation and programs, my local government and state websites, and any Autism websites such as Autism Speaks. I have had lots of success with these resources. In addition, each year I apply for the Family Support Program funded by my local state. This program is specifically for individuals with disabilities and their family. The program covers a variety of services. It does not take the place of social security benefits, Medicaid, state wavier programs, or private insurance. But it is another resource that helps the individual with the disability to stay at home with their family and community. Also, I stay connected with Kenden’s teachers and therapist. They have been very helpful assisting me with navigating resources for him.

This statement might come as a shock to you. But Autism has been the answer to my prayers. All of the questions I had about Kenden, were finally answered. Autism was the foundation that helped me and Kenden build our bond. I have a clearer understanding of him and I can now effectively parent him.

I believe it’s vital for communities to learn about Autism. The more aware and accepting we become, the more influential we can be to individuals and families with disabilities and disorders like Autism.




Devotional with Pastor Edsel Cadet

This week on #WhatsTheMessage we talked about the impact of COVID-19 on relationships with Dr. Willie and Elaine Oliver and Pastor Kim Bulgin. And for our weekly devotional we are so excited and grateful to have Pastor Edsel Cadet, Senior Pastor of Cambridge SDA Church, share with us a short devotional on relationships. Tune in to this short piece of inspiration to hear how to avoid pitfalls from your past during this quarantine season.




#WhatsTheMessage EP 013 Rona Relationships: Marriage, Dating, and Singleness in Quarantine

In this episode Carmela and Claudia welcome Dr. Willie Oliver and Elaine Oliver, Message Magazine Relationship columnists and the Directors for Family Ministries for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and Pastor Kimberly Bulgin, Senior Pastor of the New Beginnings SDA Church and Founder of The Love God, Love Sex Experience. In this conversation, we discuss with them how quarantine has placed added pressure on marriages, the importance of intimacy for married couples and singles, and even discussed healthy ways for singles to enjoy their singlehood or date if they so choose. This entire episode is authentic and academic. Here you get amazing information, resources, counsel, as well as honest and transparent sharing. We know you’re going to love this episode and truly be blessed.

Be sure to follow our guests!

To get more content from Dr. Willie and Elain Oliver follow them on Facebook, they have content on YouTube, books for purchase, like Real Family Talk: Answers to Questions About Love, Marriage, and Sex, and Hope for Today’s Families—the world missionary book for 2019. They also have a show called Real Family Talk on Hope Channel that you can tune into: https://www.hopetv.org/realfamilytalk

To get more content from Pastor Kim Bulgin and to engage with her Love God, Love Sex Experience follow her on Instagram @_kimberlybulgin and @lovegod_lovesex, and on Facebook at The Love God, Love Sex Community. You can visit her website for more details on their next experience: https://kimberlybulgin.lpages.co/the-love-god-love-sex-exp…/.

As always, you can find more content from us and subscribe to our newsletter and bi-monthly magazine at www.messagemagazine.com

And follow us Instagram and Twitter @Message1898




Alone Together

An Introvert’s Tips on Surviving Social Distancing

My dreams have come true! Never did I imagine that this day would come. Due to the increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 43 states and the District of Columbia have issued stay-at-home orders. States like California and New York have cancelled everything requesting everyone to stay inside! No gatherings of more than 10 people. Stay six feet away from everyone. No school, crowded volleyball tournaments, or 10-hour Sunday soccer games. No parties, no play dates, no awkward small talk with strangers. Introducing (drum roll please) Social distancing!! An introvert’s dream, but an extrovert’s nightmare.

An Introvert’s Reaction to Social Distancing

Three days into this dream, I came home from work and my 11-year-old met me in the garage. He was like a puppy eager to get off his leash. Stuck in the house all day he practically leapt into my arms begging, “mommy can I go to the park and play with my friends?” Still wrapping his head around social distancing, he didn’t understand that kids were not allowed to play at the playgrounds anymore. “No son. We can’t go!” His response caused my heart to break into pieces. Big, voluptuous tears streamed down his cheeks. He ached to hang out with his buddies.

What alarmed me was that he was my most introverted child. After four days on lockdown, with eight weeks to go, it was getting hard for everyone. Introverts, extroverts, children, adults, teachers, health care workers, preachers and grocery store clerks. From the left to the right the east to the west…the struggle was getting real.

While this is challenging for all, it’s no secret that introverts have the upper hand when it comes to surviving social distancing. While extroverts thrive on social connection, introverts have always thrived in solitude. So if you don’t mind, as an introvert myself, I’d like to share with you a few tips on how to maximize, or at least survive this time that we are apart.

1. Take Advantage of the Time

Every introvert knows that times of solitude are rare. Ten minutes between soccer practices, weekend trips out of town, they all come to an end long before we’re ready. But the truth is we’re never really ready.

That being said, we know the importance of taking advantage of this time. There are things you can do now that you can’t do when the world picks up speed again. There are things you can accomplish now that you’ve been trying to accomplish for weeks, months, or years, but could never seem to find the time. Do those things now!

I usually wish I had more time to rest and restore my body and my mind. So rest, is my priority. I sleep longer for physical rest, journal more for emotional rest, pray more for spiritual rest, and play more for social rest. I sit in the sun with my kids, enjoy lazy Sunday afternoons, read my favorite book, and sip a cup of tea.

Rest is hard to come by in the normal pace of life. For as long or short as this time may be, resting is what I do. What will you do? Whatever you do, make sure you take advantage of the time, it will be over before you know it.

2. Re-evaluate Your Life

When we stop moving at breakneck speed we can re-evaluate our lives. Busyness is a great way to cover up the cracks in the floor. When my life slowed down I became aware that most of what I do is for the purpose of pleasing others. I spent little or no time pouring into any of my own interests or hobbies. I started to wonder if the reason for my chronic exhaustion was not because of doing too much, but because of doing too little of what made my heart happy.

While I am taking to re-evaluating my life, others are re-evaluating their marriages. According to an article in The New Yorker  entitled, “To Have and to Hold, in Quarantine and in Health,” when quarantine restrictions were lifted across the country of China the divorce rate spiked. Lawrence Birnbach, a psychoanalyst who wrote the book How to Know if It’s Time to Go, predicts that as the pandemic subsides in the U.S. we too will see an increase in the divorce rate. Laura Wasser, a Los Angeles divorce attorney, says, “A quarantine experience, particularly where there are underlying issues of resentment and poor communication, could be devastating to a marital relationship.”

I believe this is due in part to the fact that when life slows down, husbands and wives may realize that, without a busy after school schedule, they have nothing else to talk about. This time is giving us the opportunity to re-evaluate our familial and marital relationships. Now, you can see the cracks in the kitchen tiles and the chipped paint on the bedroom walls. They were always there, but you sped right by them. I encourage you to use this time to find to the cracks, the holes, the ignored issues, and give them attention.

3. Think Creatively

This time has also made the majority of our traditional gathering practices out of reach. Physical school buildings, church buildings, soccer complexes, workout facilities, and malls are off limits. But people still need to be educated. People still need to worship. They still need sports. People still need to be fit. They still need to shop. In the void, the creatives should rise. If ever there was a time to think outside the box, it’s now, because we desperately need a way to connect.

I’m immensely inspired by mom’s who turn living rooms into classrooms to make sure their kids graduate. Pastors who have crafted sanctuaries through cameras to bring hope to people trapped at home. Children creating driveway chalk art to encourage families as they walk by. Trainers sculpting online workouts with couch cushions and water jugs to help people stay fit. Designers promoting clothing lines to keep people dressed to the nines. The absence of our traditional gathering places has paved the way for creatives not to give up, but to innovate.

It’s quite possible that these creative innovations will not only help us survive our current situation, but stay with us as part of our new normal.

Lessons From Being Alone Together

This is a stressful time for all of us. No one could have predicted that we would be facing these hardships today. Most of us were expecting to be celebrating weddings, going to concerts, planning tropical cruises, walking for graduation, and playing championship basketball games. Instead, we are doing none of those things. We are at home. Alone. But be encouraged. For we are alone, together.

One day all of this will come to an end and life will return to the way we’ve always known it. In the meantime, we can learn from introverts, the experts in social distancing, to take advantage of this time, reevaluate our lives, as well as use this time to think and produce creatively.




Behind the Myth That African American Children are “Lazy”

When I get home from work, he hasn’t done anything. The house is still dirty, and he’s laying around playing that stupid game. No matter how much I ask him or tell him that I need him to help me.”

I looked at the young man, and he stated, “I’m lazy, I guess.”

Slave children were devoid of childhood. Often their childish antics were met with severe punishment.  The slave master had unrealistic expectations, and the slaves pushed their children to reach these expectations. When children failed, the master punished them and called them lazy.

Slave masters pinned this label on our forefathers. Slaves pinned it on their children and on down to our parents’ parents, and then our parents pinned it on us.  People (even black people) today say, “You know how lazy black people are.”

Thus began a pattern that still exists in African American communities today. Too many African American parents set unrealistic goals for their children. When children are incapable of meeting their expectations, these parents label their children as shiftless and lazy.

We do not have to continue this pattern into the next generation.  We can stop setting unrealistic goals and train children so that they can reach high aspirations.

High Aspirations vs. Unrealistic Expectations

There is nothing wrong with having high aspirations, but unrealistic expectations can be discouraging and breed hopelessness, and defiance.

The difference between high aspirations and unrealistic expectations is preparation. Parents, who have high aspirations for their children, recognize that success requires training. They know they will have to prepare children for the goals they want them to achieve.

When a parent has unrealistic expectations, they set goals with no understanding of what it takes for their children to complete the objective. Then they treat children as if they are obligated to reach their expectations. When their children can’t attain these goals, parents label them lazy.

When parents set unrealistic goals, they do not take into account their child’s developmental ability, unpreparedness to reach the goal, and natural inabilities due to age or stage of development.  Instead, they focus only on the desired outcome. When children don’t reach their set goals, parents become frustrated and lash out. Many talented and gifted children are discouraged early in life because of the unrealistic goals set by misinformed parents.

The Outcomes of Setting Unrealistic Goals

When parents set unrealistic expectations, hopelessness may set in, and children give up trying to reach the goals parents set because they feel they can’t accomplish them. Some children learn to disbelieve what parents say. Teenagers, especially, become disobedient, defiant, and disrespectful towards these parents. They feel their parents are manipulating them.

Children are discouraged, and without some intervention, children remain on a path of frustration, anger, and, eventually rebellion.

One parent repeatedly told her children that when she was a child, her aunt’s mop was as clean as new white sheets. In fact, she suggested they could eat off the floor because the floor was so clean. She gave this talk every time her children mopped the floor. Try as they might, they couldn’t get their mop white nor the floor that clean. Eventually, they gave up trying to keep the mop or the floor clean. The parent, not realizing the effects of her words on her children, labeled them as lazy.

The truth is, when children are small, they’ll agree to almost anything to gain their parent’s approval. Parents’ behavior can destroy this simple trust. Expecting too much can quickly become discouraging for children. Unrealistic expectations can even cause children to give up the goal entirely or consistently do a poor job.

The Affects of Reality Distortion

The parent mentioned above was talking to children who were not physically as capable as adults. So, of course, their work was not the same quality as the work of an adult. They didn’t have the ability to reason through the tale their mother told and so they accepted and believed that they were just plain lazy, and they stopped trying.

The mother did not realize she was distorting reality. She repeated a story told to her as a child. The

intention was to inspire the children to work harder. Instead, her children felt guilty, inadequate, and then gave up. Distorting the truth to encourage compliant behavior does not work! It instills anger, discontent, and irritation in children.

Distorting reality is also a form of lying. Consistently being dishonest with children destroys trust and confidence in parents. If parents consistently use reality distortion as a means of getting children to do what they want, by the time they are teenagers, they will have little confidence or trust in parents.

During the teen years, lifelong decisions are made. Teens need to trust their parents’ counsel. Unfortunately, when parents use reality distortion as a way of manipulating their children, by the time they become teenagers, they are skeptical of parents.

What to do:

  1. Learn if your child can accomplish the goal developmentally before setting a goal. The child’s stage of development is critical to consider when setting goals for children. Due to children’s reasoning, physical, and emotional development, they may not be capable of performing the task. Ask, have I taught her how to do this task? Does she have the physical, developmental, and reasoning ability to complete this task?
  2. Train children so that they can reach high aspirations. The Bible gives us instructions on how to teach our children. For example, Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” In other words, Invest time in teaching your children. It will pay big rewards.
  3. Do away with harsh inappropriate labeling. Children see themselves as you see them. Numbers 13:33 says, “And there we saw the giants of Anak, and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” Just like the Israelites facing the Canaanites of their Promised Land, if you see your children as lazy, they will see themselves as lazy. They become what you teach them to be.



How Partnerships Help Us Prevail in Purpose

You cannot accomplish the purpose of God unless you partner with His posse.

In Exodus 17:1-13 the writer tells of how the Israelites journeyed out of the Wilderness of Sin and came to a city called Rephidim. A Hebrew word meaning “rest or stay,” the Israelites believed Rephidim was a place they could set up camp and rest from their long journey out of Egypt. To their surprise there was absolutely no water in Rephidim. Disgruntled the Israelites complained to Moses saying, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (v.3) The children of Israel were frustrated with their condition because their current location seemed to be a contradiction. Rephidim meant rest or stay, yet it lacked the very resources necessary to foster such activity.

I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated when I’m in a particular country, restaurant, or facility and what I expect is not available. For example, I can’t stand going to express fast food places in the airport. These establishments annoy me because they do not carry all the options found in the restaurant outside the airport. It’s frustrating to be somewhere whose very name means what you need, yet it lacks the actual resource. The children of Israel are frustrated because they’ve camped in a city whose very name promises an environment that is conducive to their rest and stay, yet it lacks the very thing they need in order to rest and stay – water.

Quench Your Thirst

Physically and emotionally weary from travel and leadership, Moses cries out to God asking what he should do. God gives Moses the most awesome response ever! He says, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink” (v. 5,6). In these couple of verses we see that God does not simply provide the children of Israel with water. Instead He is the water from which the children of Israel drink.

Look at the text again! In verse 6 God is standing in front of the rock. Moses is not striking the rock, but he is striking God Himself! What we learn here is that God is the first and most important alliance you will ever have because He will position Himself in front of the very barriers that are keeping you from having life and having it more abundantly. In that position, God will even allow you to go so far as to strike Him to get what you need.

God will allow your location, your environment, or your resources to fail you so that you learn there is only one entity that is inherently capable of not simply meeting, but also being all you need.

So, the first and most important alliance you need when you’re in a place that seems as like it doesn’t have the resources you need is an alliance with God. He will not simply give you what you need. He will be what you need.

Battle Grounds

Rephidim failed at being a place of stay because it lacked water. But it quickly failed at being a place of rest because it became the place where the Israelites had to fight their first battle.

In verse 8 the writer tells us that the Israelites fought the Amalekites in Rephidim. This leads me to believe that the Israelites initial experience with God as water was paramount. The Israelites needed to learn total dependence upon God for their livelihood in order to have faith strong enough to totally depend upon God in battle. This is of the utmost importance because we are victorious in battle when we fight with God, and not simply for God. What’s the difference Claudia? When you fight for God you’re attempting to do what He asked you to do in your own strength. But when you fight with God you’re doing what He asked you to do in His strength.

But the battles God often calls us to also require armies. And in order to fight with God and be victorious we need to partner with godly men and women. In other words, you need a “Godly Alliance.” Now, a Godly Alliance is a small group of people who hold you up while the power of God works through you so that you can prevail in within purpose.

Godly Alliances vs. Ungodly Alliances

Come with me to verses 10 through 13. The Bible says, that when Moses’s hands were up the Israelites started to win the battle. But when Moses became tired and his hands began to fall the body count quickly went in the other direction. Moses’s brother Aaron and his friend and colleague in ministry, Hur, were up on the mountain with Moses. (Side note: You can’t take everyone to the mountaintop, but you gotta take someone. Choose wisely). Watching Moses and the battle Aaron and Hur noticed a pattern in the power of God. Seeing how the Israelites would win when Moses’s hands were up and they’d begin to lose when his hands fell down, Moses and Hur grabbed a stone for Moses to sit on. Then they got on either side of Moses and held up his arms until the Israelites successfully defeated the Amalekites.

 

Aaron and Hur were a Godly Alliance because they had the spiritual discernment to see how God’s power was operating through Moses. They then took it upon themselves to position their friend in such a way that he would be successful in the assignment that God had given him. Furthermore, they positioned themselves at his sides as support. They did not encourage Moses to rest. No, his Godly Alliance positioned him, and themselves, in such a way that Moses could prevail in purpose. They did this because

Godly Alliances care more about you being victorious in the battles that God has purposed for you to fight than you being comfortable and rested; even in places where comfort and rest are expected.

Ungodly alliances, on the other hand, encourage you to take breaks. They see your fatigue, observe how drained your purpose has made you, and not recognizing God’s flow of power in the situation encourage you to rest. This is because

Ungodly Alliances care more about your present comfort than your long-term victory.

They encourage you to make decisions based on your present feelings and desires not thinking how those decisions could lead to defeat. Not a Godly Alliance! A Godly Alliance encourages you to resist what you want to do in present so that you can live victoriously in your future. I encourage you to find two people you trust. Two people who when your mind, body, and spirit are failing and all you want to do is rest, they go out of their way to change your environment on your behalf. Find an Aaron and Hur who are willing to help place you in the best position to prevail in purpose. But who also place themselves in the best position to support you.

God has given each and every one of us a purpose. In 2020, there will be times where we will find ourselves frustrated, drained, and just flat out failing. The question is, who do you have around you? Do you have a Godly Alliance, or an Ungodly Alliance? Do you have people to hold you up? I encourage each and every one of you to ask yourself

Who are my Aaron and Hur?




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)




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.

 




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!




4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Doing Ministry With My Spouse

For many Christian couples, when they imagine marriage they picture walking hand in hand as they do ministry together, “changing the world one heart at a time.” At least that was the picture we had when we were engaged. We both loved Jesus, loved people, and loved each other. That should be enough to guarantee ministry success as a couple, right? Well after over a decade of joint ministry, let’s just say that there were some things we wish we’d known…

1. My spouse will often do it “wrong”

By the time we began leading ministries together we both had experience doing this — but independently. Now, there was someone who was always there, and who always had a point of view. This person would inevitably do tasks that the other was historically responsible for. While we loved the many gifts the other possessed, we now had to watch our spouse do something we would usually do — but their way. Otherwise known as, “the wrong way.” Because different is often mistaken for wrong.

This sometimes led to one of us stepping in and taking over, or micromanaging the other person into eternal submission. However, to be successful we had to acknowledge that my way wasn’t the only way. We had to learn how to make room for the other person to bring the things we loved about them to the spaces we both had been called to. For if you don’t make room for your spouse to be fully themselves, don’t be surprised when they stop having a desire to enter that room completely.

2. Sometimes one person can get all the credit

Getting it wrong isn’t the only thing your marriage will face in joint ministry. Oftentimes, one of you will get credit that both, and maybe even the other, deserves. I know, I know, we don’t do ministry for the praise of man. That being said, it can be very difficult to be overlooked or dismissed. There have been many times when one person got recognition for something we both were responsible for. This can happen when one person is seen as “the brains” of the organization, or one is more extroverted, or when one of you plays a role that has you up front more than the other, making you the face of every positive movement that takes place in the ministry. To put a lot of effort into something and always be seen as an “accessory” to your spouse can quickly kill any sense of purpose.

This was sometimes challenging for us early on. Slowly we learned the importance of celebrating the incredible gifts and contributions of each other both privately and publicly. However, you can’t celebrate what you don’t know. We realized that one of the reasons we hadn’t done a great job of celebrating each other’s strengths, was because we hadn’t taken the time to adequately explore and identify those strengths. So we took the time and began the journey. We found that personality tests and strengths’ tests were great tools for this process. Two of our favorites are the Enneagram and Strengths Quest. This exploration gave us language to accurately celebrate the other because if we can’t consistently be an encouragement and support for each other both privately and publicly, how can we expect anyone else to be?

3. Conflict is Inevitable… How you manage it matters

Feeling constantly corrected, dismissed and invisible are quick ways to experience conflict in your marriage when you’re doing ministry. Something we wish someone told us, was that even if you are doing “The Lord’s Work” together, you will still have some of your most ridiculous arguments as you are getting ready to do ministry. There were a few car rides where the Wonderful Rose of a spouse The Lord had given us, felt like the thorniest thorn in a field of thorny thorn-bushes. Then we would pull up to our destination mid-argument and not only be expected to do ministry together, but to do it with loving smiles on our faces. Conflict is a natural process in a relationship.

However, we had to remember that conflict shouldn’t stop us from doing what God had called us to do. So we would have to put a pause on that disagreement, and walk in our calling. But the key was never to mistake that pause for a resolution. Unresolved conflict leads to bitterness, which leads to resentment, and resentment when left unchecked spreads like a virus threatening the life of any relationship. So no matter how well the rest of the day went, we would still make the time to resolve what happened earlier. Yes it means upsetting the apple cart for a moment, but a moment means little in light of a lifetime.

4. Your first ministry is Your home.

And finally, your first ministry is your home. It’s very easy when doing ministry with your spouse to forget the person you’re actually doing ministry with. When you’re out there making a difference in everyone else’s life that sense of purpose can blind you to the fact that you stood before God and made a commitment to minister to your spouse first. The problem is that the people you are ministering to did not make that same commitment to your spouse. You can’t expect them to make the needs of your family a priority.

This makes it your responsibility to set healthy boundaries for your marriage. These boundaries can limit the access people have to you and your family or restrict how much time you spend serving. They can even encourage you to take a break from having conversations about ministry. It isn’t selfish to take time to focus on each other. Your ministry will only be as impactful as your marriage is strong.

When all is said and done, remember that you and your spouse have been called to accomplish something together that you couldn’t accomplish apart. God has a joint purpose for you. So take the time to discover that calling, then boldly, walk in it.