(Re)Build My Life

I heard Build My Life sung by Amanda Lindsey Cook of Bethel Music for the first time while in the UK. “I will build my life upon your love. It is a strong foundation. I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken.” How powerful is that!

As I started to pack up and prepare for my transition back to the US, I started praying that God would rebuild my life at home. Over the course of my 6 months abroad, I’d developed a lot of healthy practices and rituals I wanted to retain. I was getting in some sort of physical activity every day. I got 7-8 hours of sleep every night. I attended church every Sunday. I started and ended each day with prayer and devotion. I ate basic, whole foods with very few exceptions. I was no longer drinking alcohol and intentionally choosing what I listened to and what I watched. Most days were filled with listening to Christian music or sermons. (By force) I limited social media and email time. These were things I wanted to hold on to for dear life. But I also knew I was coming back to some familiar spaces and relationships. How could I transport the positive changes I’d made (or GOD had made through me) from the UK to home, while also allowing God to do a new thing in me?

My daily prayer became God, rebuild my life. Rebuild my relationships. Rebuild my schedule. Rebuild my routines. Rebuild how I find and create joy. I wanted God to help me create a new life in an “old” place.

The funny thing about our prayers is that we never know how (or if) God will answer them. We never know what it will take to see our desires through. I didn’t know what to expect but I KNEW I needed God to do a new thing. Two weeks after my return, life is shifting and being remolded. I’m grateful! I’ve spent the bulk of my time with family and close friends. I’ve remained active. I’ve remained intentional about my time, as well as what I watch, what I listen to, where I go, and who I’m with. I have submitted all I have and all I am; I freely assert that I never want to go back to the life I was living. So yes God, rebuild my life. Take anything away that is not like you, distracts me from your purpose for my life, or inconsistently focuses on the person I was versus who I’m trying to become. Rebuild my life. Rebuild my life. Rebuild my life.

 

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New Beginnings: Returning Home, Celebrating 40, and Healing

Me in 2012

It’s been one week and four days since I have been back in the U.S. To say I am happy to be home is an understatement. I enjoyed my time abroad. I needed the time away more than I knew or could ever imagine. I am a better person because of my time abroad and how God used that time to work on me. AND it is amazing to return to familiar spaces, with a new attitude, new focus, new vision, and a new heart.

Just four days after I came back to the U.S., I celebrated my 40th birthday. If you’d asked me last year what I thought I’d be doing or wanted to do for my 40th, I would have said celebrating with friends, perhaps on a trip somewhere adventurous. But this year as I prepared to return to this side of the “pond” the only thing I could fathom doing on my birthday was spending time with my family … so that is exactly what I did! I woke up on Thursday feeling grateful. I completed my morning prayer and devotion, opened a few gifts, did some minor things around the house and got on the road. I stopped over to have lunch with one of my closest friends. This was my first full meal in three days since I also decided to fast leading up to my birthday. By the time I saw my mom in the early evening, I was overjoyed! We had a relaxing evening. No bells and whistles. No birthday cake. No fancy gifts. Just quality time with the woman who has loved and nurtured me since birth. I could not have asked for a better day.

The next few days were more of the same. Lots of family time and then returning back to my own neighborhood to celebrate with friends. It’s hard to believe my birthday this year was such a drastic difference from last year and actually any other birthday I have had. So much of my birthday represents this new chapter of my life. I’ve shared much of it in my previous blog posts, but simply echo here that I am grateful God can still do a new thing in me at 40. I am grateful that I open this chapter with new revelations, new mercies and new grace. I am grateful that I am still able bodied to fulfill even a portion of what I believe God has called me to. I am grateful that I am surrounded by loving friends and family who pray with and for me, AND are also on their own spiritual journeys. I am grateful that I have a dream planted in my heart that is not of my own accord. I am grateful that I was blessed with one more chance (and prayerfully many more) to see and spend time with my family. And I am grateful that through the ways in which I have been changed, I can see my cup overflowing in the lives of people around me.

I’ve also spent the last week or so going through old storage bins filled with pictures, notes, and other random trinkets. This walk down memory lane brought lots of laughter, but also tears. The picture I chose for this blog post is from 7 years ago. I remember the day like it was yesterday. There I was in one of my friend’s weddings, extremely happy for her and honored to be one of the few selected to be a part of her special day. But inside my heart was crushing. I was hurting so badly I couldn’t see my way out of my pain. I didn’t know that over the course of the next few years I’d continue to sink deeper and deeper into periods of no regard for the choices I made or who I hurt. It has taken me SEVEN years to heal. SEVEN years to see a new start for my life. SEVEN years to find my way back to Christ in a way that brings new possibility, new purpose, new joy, and new fulfillment. In this regard, I am also grateful that God has kept me; that my life is not a full reflection of the choices I made; that God’s grace and mercy have been my ever present help; that even when I turned my back to God, He did not turn His back on me. Perhaps most of all, I am grateful that “… He that has begun a great work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:6, NIV Translation.

I look forward to sharing the new journeys and ventures from this season. Stay tuned :-)!

You can read about my last few birthdays here:

Turning 33: https://carterscorner23.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/its-my-re-birthday-7/

Turning 34: https://carterscorner23.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/my-birthday-my-re-birth-day/

Turning 35: https://carterscorner23.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/birthday-thoughts/

Turning 36: https://carterscorner23.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/its-my-birthday-thank-you/

Turning 37: https://carterscorner23.wordpress.com/2016/07/18/its-my-birthday-and-what-happened-at-the-party/

Turning 38: https://carterscorner23.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/happy-birthday-to-me/

Turning 39: https://carterscorner23.wordpress.com/2018/08/03/chapter-39-the-year-of-letting-go/

Where Are All the Cool Kids?

Cool Kids

I grew up hearing, believing and sometimes witnessing that women could be: attractive, but not smart; athletic, but not feminine; … Christian, but not cool. With this in mind, I crafted my life and spent a lot of time trying to prove to others (as well as to myself) that I didn’t have to choose so I ran in different circles: my cheerleading crew and my academic crew; my Fri-Sat night party crew and my Sun-Thurs study crew; my church crew and my “all other things” crew. You may see where this sort of approach to life can cause some conflicts, but for me it helped nurture a wider circle and allowed me to explore all of my interests without feeling limited or boxed in. But I now know this posed more significant challenges in terms of my faith walk and how I perceived women who were in the church. Let me pause and add a caveat that I mention often: I grew up in an extremely small town (less than 1,000 people) with many churches and a small population spread across those very churches. We didn’t have vibrant youth ministries or exciting Vacation Bible School. Church wasn’t perceived as the cool place to hang out.

The churches I attended were extremely traditional in nature and I often had trouble meeting role models who represented how I saw myself or who I wanted to become while in church.

Why weren’t the beautiful, successful women with fly clothes and fancy shoes in church? Why weren’t the attractive guys with muscles and swag at Bible Study? Why weren’t the popular boys and girls leading ministries? This is not to say there were NO people in the churches I attended who fit the aforementioned descriptions, but from my eyes they were few and far in between. So I resigned that the church was NOT where the cool kids were. Church was where people went to let their “fly” die as they committed to Christ. Once you gave your life to Christ, all the fun and the fly ceased to exist.

I encourage you to also keep in mind that this was before social media, before I moved to a major city, and before campus ministries blossomed to having an unavoidable presence on campuses, social media, and in the larger communities. This was before celebrities of all ages were publicly proclaiming their faith. This was before preachers and pastors quoted the latest hip hop songs and related scripture to popular culture, as well as to younger audiences. So I went to college on the fence about church, thereby on the fence about my faith, and in search of the cool kids.

On campus much of my reservations about church were perpetuated in some regard or another. I knew about the parties. I knew about rush and interest meetings. But I had to search a little deeper to find places for my faith to be strengthened. I was fortunate to meet people who were committed in their faith, many whom I would ultimately worship with. But the temptation and enticement of other activities had much more of a presence.

Although college ministries look much different than they did when I was in undergrad, I still think many young adults live their faith in silence. They don’t openly share their love of Christ or weekend activities that center on Christian fellowship. They may struggle to find like-minded peers, particularly on college campuses. Perhaps the lure for parties and celebrations is stronger than that for Bible Study and Christian fellowship. Perhaps many young adults – like I was at that time – are still looking for the cool kids. Perhaps they want to be one of the cool kids and that may not always equate to being a Christ-kid. Perhaps the struggles on young college students mirror what it can still be like as an adult in search of a Christian fellowship community.

As an almost 40 something woman, I am encouraged to do a little better and view my presentation (physical and spiritual) as its own sort of ministry. I despise hair salons – LOL – and often see money and time quickly going down the drain :-). I only know basic makeup techniques and can never keep up with the fashion trends. My exercise routine wavers, although it has been much more consistent since I have been abroad. But I’m encouraged to do better; not for purely vanity reasons but because perhaps this is my opportunity to be someone I needed and was looking for when I was younger. Perhaps this is my opportunity to reach a small audience and say women can be successful, beautiful (yes, I do believe I am :-)), concerned about their physical appearance, AND love Christ. I love all the social media pages highlighting Christians from all backgrounds living their faith out loud. I love that now being Christian has no limitation and no stereotypical look. I love how gospel music now appeals to a range of musical tastes, including jazz and reggae gospel. The representation of the church has expanded. My view of what a Christian, particularly Christian women, look like has grown by leaps and bounds. For my little circle – those who I come in contact with – may I also be an example. I’m encouraged to be a model that the cool kids (we are all “kids” in some regard :-)) do believe in Christ.

Separated Sundays

Black Church

“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

*My disclaimer is that I grew up attending Pentecostal and Holiness churches. I later attended Baptist and AME churches. Therefore, by “Black church” I’m referring to predominately African American churches in the U.S. that are highly charismatic in nature. I am aware and wholeheartedly recognize that not every church that identifies as Black fits this description.*

I LOVE Black churches. I’ve spent nearly 40 years of my life – with a few breaks here and there – in predominately Black churches. I love swaying choirs with matching choir robes. I love energetic and enthusiastic choir leaders. I love dance ministries and Easter programs with cute little children. I love the section of the church where older Black women, commonly referred to as “church mothers”, sit . I love the Word delivered in any manner of teaching and preaching to include hooping, shouting, preach-song combinations, and spontaneous praise. While these attributes are not exclusively unique to Black churches, I grew up experiencing these things in the Black church.

Ironically, for the last few months I’ve been attending a multiracial, multi-ethnic church – the most diverse congregation I have ever been a part of in my life. I’ve had an amazing time and credit much of my spiritual growth to worshiping as I have within this church. Once I attended my first service there, I never questioned the racial or ethnic make-up. It didn’t bother me that there were fewer people who looked like me. I just knew and know we worshiped together and shared in some powerful experiences. I kept going and never pondered otherwise until a week or so ago when I started feeling a heart tug about finding a church home when I return to the U.S. I pulled out the list I’d created a few weeks prior … all African American churches. I felt convicted.

Was it that the Black church is all I’ve ever known? Was it that I work and live in spaces where I don’t see many people of color so church is a familiar point for me to be with others who look like me? Was it because I grew up in the rural south and have spent the majority of my life in this region, where multiracial and multi-ethnic churches weren’t in close proximity to where I lived? Was it because of the history of the Black church in America and what a central force the church has been and continues to be in many communities related to advocacy, education, family support, and helping to provide basic needs to the larger community? But these very things didn’t halt or even slow my transition from a historically black college and university (HBCU) to predominately white institutions (PWIs). I’ve never not taken a job due to the demographic makeup of the organization. So why was church different? Is it that I’ve selfishly only considered church in the essence of what I can gain, what I need? If is that I never considered the potential benefit to others of me worshiping and serving in a diverse space? I see a place for me in my work spaces. I see things I can offer. I see a benefit to me being there. So why is church different? Is it that I never contemplated what I can offer to the church?

Last week I volunteered at a community project coordinated and facilitated by the church I attend. After we were done, I stood around talking to another volunteer. He asked how I landed at the church and I asked him the same. He shared a number of reasons why, including that he loves how diverse the church is. I confessed to him that I’ve never attended a church that wasn’t predominately African American. He replied, “Our church is what heaven will look like” :-). That stuck with me.

I’m still working through my hesitations, but I’ve added a list of three places I will visit when I return to the U.S. I’ve moved out of the way to allow God to fully guide me where I will be and serve. I very well may end up at a Black church, but for the first time in my life I’m okay if that doesn’t happen.

All the Single Ladies

Single Ladies

I listened to a sermon a few weeks ago about being single that resonated with me in more ways than I imagined, I wanted to share it with every single woman I know. But I also found that the sermon excluded a lot of people, types of relationships, and categories of intimacy. After wrestling with my options, I decided not to share the sermon. In lieu of sharing, I wrote this blog post.

Being single gets a bad rap. People tend to feel sorry for me or think there has to be something wrong with me. As a person who has been single for extended periods of time (mostly uncoupled officially, but dating, also known as “it’s complicated” :-)) and married, I can admit to thinking these very things about myself. But never in my life have I considered the blessings of being single. Yes, companionship is a wonderful experience. Being HAPPILY married is one of the best gifts I think one can have in life. However, I don’t think anyone who is in a relationship will deny that there are choices that have to be made. All healthy relationships include some compromises and perhaps even a few sacrifices. My healthy relationships have included foregoing some things, delaying some things, saying no to some things in order to say yes to what benefits our mutual interests or desires, as well as those things that may have been a more significant benefit for my partner.

When I was preparing for my semester abroad, a happily married colleague told me that reflecting on my freedom to accept this opportunity was the only time she wishes she was single. I chuckled and have never forgotten her statement. Had I been married and definitely married with young children, I do not think I would be in the U.K. There are a host of other last minute travel, adventure, and professional development opportunities that came about that I would not have been able to take advantage of had my circumstances been different. Perhaps, this sounds selfish or self-serving. Perhaps it sounds egotistical or self-indulgent. I offer an alternative approach: it is my opportunity to see the blessings of being single. It is my chance to spend less time thinking about when I will meet my partner and more time praying about how God can use me in this season. My relationship status provides a window to serve in ways, in places, and by means that utilize my gift of having more time, more energy, and more flexibility to do so.

I’m not going to spend any time or space talking about the unequivocal joys of couple-dom or motherhood – there are more than enough spaces for that. This post is exclusively dedicated to those who are single. For the first time in a long time, I am openly welcoming a prolonged season of being single. As my previous posts have alluded to, I’m excited about my renewed walk with Christ. I look forward to experiencing what it is like to devote my time and energy not to waiting for a date, going on a date, talking about the date – LOL – but to faithfully serving. I am not referring to the busy sort of serving to fill voids or to ignore my human desires or longings, but serving in a way that allows me to use my divinely given gifts to help others in the unique ways this season affords.

I used to give people two side eyes when they said they didn’t want to date or weren’t interested in companionship. What? I’ve always felt they were suppressing their desires or what I felt and still feel is a very human need: to be in community and have companionship. But I now know how detrimental and distracting it can be to exist within the wrong community or to be with the wrong companion. I now know how powerful God’s presence is in fulfilling us in ways no one or no thing can. I now know what it is like to say I have Christ and through Him I have a new sense of fulfillment.

Will I ever date again – perhaps. Will I ever remarry – maybe? While I leave doors open for God to fill, I know that I don’t want to waste any time looking at my single status as merely an in between time. I want to be fully engulfed in the gift and blessing of 1 Corinthians 7:34: “…and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.”

Liverpool Won (and the things I leave behind)!

Cathedral One

*It’s ironic that I write this post on the 7th year anniversary of my blog. As 7 is the spiritual number for completion, I too feel a bit more complete … Liverpool, you won!*

I was hopeful about Liverpool … so hopeful that I even bought a pair of sandals for my afternoon and evening strolls after the conference sessions ended. Yes, I am here for work so technically as long as the work is done all is well right? Not so … I wanted to sight see, I wanted to take pictures, I wanted to explore Liverpool.

It didn’t take long – the 2nd day actually – to realize that I needed to rethink my time in Liverpool. After visiting the International Slavery Museum, I resigned that I’d embrace having some quiet time in Liverpool. I ramped up my reading, found quiet places to sit and “tackled” a task from my list …

I’ve mentioned a few times on my social media platforms how much I enjoyed and was moved by reading Rediscovering Jesus by Matthew Kelly. The author recommends a series of reflections and activities to help the reader rediscover Jesus. I completed nearly all of them and have continued with the prayer process. The final task I had was to sit in an empty church.

Kelly suggests finding a church and just sitting for one hour, uninterrupted and in silence. I was down for the task, but after unsuccessfully finding a spot in my temporary home and then visiting a beautiful church in Cardiff, I decided I’d go back there. BUT then there was Liverpool …

Situated very close to our hotel is one of the largest cathedrals in the UK. I stopped by on Wednesday during a brief rain break and decided I’d complete my task that day. The first day I just sat, prayed, cried, and sat some more before one final prayer and then leaving. On Thursday I realized I wanted to go back, this time with my journal (thanks Ayanna), slightly breaking Kelly’s rules. I prayed, wrote, cried some more, wrote some more and ended my time with reading through my entries since arriving in the UK (AMAZING) and one final prayer. Today I returned for a 3rd time, once again just to sit … this time with my headphones. The plan was the repeat the sitting activity, but this time within the larger part of the cathedral where I knew it would be slightly noisier than the smaller, semi-private prayer space I’d be in for the previous two days. My plan worked perfectly for the first 30 minutes or so but then the organist started playing (or perhaps practicing) and the music overpowered what I was trying to listen to on my headphones. I decided to listen to a sermon instead. At first it was hard to focus on the message with the organ in the background so I tried to refocus by looking at my screen. It didn’t take long before I thought about how my experience of visiting the cathedral over the last few days – and even my semester in the UK – related to a larger theme in this season of my life.

In the stillness we gain clarity. In the stillness we hear from God. In the stillness we can reflect. In the stillness we are healed. In the stillness we can gain the courage and strength we need to carry on. Since being abroad I’ve had a lot of stillness and quiet time. Time to be broken. Time to repair and rebuild. Time to recommit. Time to refocus. But I will return home soon and will be without the luxury of ongoing moments of solitude and stillness. How will I handle the “noise”? How will I cope with the interruptions? How will I balance all the lessons I’ve learned, my renewed relationship with Christ, my new relationship with Christ with the loud and sometimes distracting “organ” of life back in the U.S.?

My visit to Liverpool did not deliver the adventurous exploration I wanted or have experienced on other trips this year, but it brought something so much more significant. I gave me an opportunity to lay down a bit more of more burdens, to submit at another level to God’s will for my life …. to find my way to God in my moments of stillness, quiet and peace. And Liverpool helped me transition my thoughts ever so slightly to my transition back home.

Ironically, I also finished reading “Traveling Light” by Max Lucado on today. How fitting … #LiverpoolWon #CompleteSurrenderInLiverpool #TotallyLitForChrist #WithholdingNothing

The Prayer Process

Book Cover

When I was a child, my mom taught me to pray the “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to the Lord my soul you keep …” prayer. I imagine that I didn’t learn the “Our Father’s Prayer” until much later in life, perhaps during my teenage years. From that time, I have prayed in an assortment of ways and sometimes not at all, including a very structured prayer like those from my childhood to random ramblings of thoughts to angry and confused “shoutings” to God to barely audible (to the human ear) mumblings through tears and pain. I’ve prayed in my bed (which I no longer do, mostly because I fall asleep), in my car, while sitting in meetings, in my office, and before class. I’ve found that my prayer process has represented where I am in life and where I believe God stands in relation to that that positioning.

Earlier this year and really on a whim, I attended Ash Wednesday service. I am not Catholic, nor have I ever attended an Ash Wednesday mass, but I knew I wanted to be somewhere sacred on that day to commemorate the beginning of Lent. The mass was the only service being hosted on campus that I knew of so I went. Not only did I enjoy the service immensely, but every guest was given a series of devotionals and other further reading resources. The Lenten devotional become one of my primary resources during Lent. I am reading another short book I received on the practice of silent prayer. But by far and large, Reclaiming Jesus by Matthew Kelly was the absolute best tangible resource I walked away with. Lent coincided with my own desire and quest to explore reclaiming my relationship with Christ. I had no idea what would happen or what the end of my exploration would bring, but I was committed to giving the trial my full commitment. Kelly’s book was more than I could have asked for: a perfect guide to recommitting to Christ, provided alongside practical tasks to aid in the process. One process Kelly details is the “prayer process.” The prayer process includes five steps, which I summarize below. Although I finished Kelly’s book over a month ago and Lent also ended close to three weeks ago, I continue with the prayer process. I have found it to be a daily humbling, gratitude, and submission practice. Will you give it a try?

  1. Step One: Gratitude. So often I find myself harping on what went wrong or what I want or what I’d like to do. This step reminds me to simply stop and give thanks. Each night I kneel beside my bed (also recommended by Kelly) and begin my prayer time with an abundance of gratitude for all the seemingly simple and grand ways God has blessed me and my family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else I encountered, as well as remember, in that moment.
  2. Step Two: Acknowledgement. In step two Kelly asks the reader to acknowledge two important things: ways in which we were versions of our best selves throughout our day, as well as ways in which we were not. This step has been particularly humbling for me. To be intentional each day about ways that I have not been compassionate or patient or considerate or caring or forgiving or loving … to do this each and every day has been an experience within itself. To admit that every single day I do something that I could have done with greater care has kept me both humble and striving. And likewise, to acknowledge the small things I do each day that do reflect versions of my best self are also reassuring and affirming of my personal growth and desire to please God.
  3. Step Three: Significant moments. This step is often when the tears flow. During step three we are asked to think about moments throughout the day when we felt there was a message or lesson. This step has equipped me to see all the mighty ways God is present in my every day encounters and how these encounters present opportunities for me to continue to grow, to serve, and to be an example. But knowing that step three is a part of my nightly prayer process has also caused me to intentionally seek Christ in every moment of my day – I pause to look at a beautiful landscape a little longer, I contemplate interactions with others in hopes of seeking clarity, I am much more intentional about receiving clarity on exactly what happened during my day and what lessons are needed for the next day, week, month, year …
  4. Step Four: Peace. In step four Kelly asks the reader to ask God for forgiveness for wrongs committed against others, as well as against Him. However, I have extended this step to an additional three-part process where I ask God for forgiveness for those of those who have wronged or offended me; extend forgiveness to those I have been wronged or offended by; and ask God to place forgiveness on the hearts of those I have offended. This extension is important to me because during Lent I realized how many people I hadn’t forgiven. I wasn’t necessarily upset with them, but I definitely was not in communication with them. One by one I started to name their names to ask God to help me forgive them, but to also ask for their forgiveness for any ways I’d distanced myself from them. Daily, I also ask for strength and humility to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us; and finally that at some point, when the time is right I am also forgiven by those I have offended.
  5. Step Five: Freedom. In step five we are asked to request that God provide clarity on how He wants us to change our lives. During this step I give God thanks for equipping me to freely walk in my faith, to do so without shame, and to recommit to Christ every day regardless of the cost. I have found this step both courageous and liberating.
  6. Step Six: Others. During step six we are asked to pray for others. What a joy to set aside time each and every day to pray for another. I have enjoyed this process especially during this season of incredible favor as I acknowledge that it is during these times that I shouldn’t sit back and gloat in God’s blessings in my life, but use what God has blessed me with to be a blessing to others. Likewise, it is – once again – humbling to use a part of my devotion time to focus on others: their needs, their healing, their desires, their struggles, their blessings, their triumphs. Thank you God!
  7. Step Seven: Our Father’s Prayer. And finally, Kelly requests that we close by reciting Our Father’s Prayer. What a way to seal such a powerful process … that at the end of everything I have said, asked, proclaimed, declared, I simply say to God that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven; acknowledge that God will make provisions for this day and this day alone, but I have no reason to fear; that I can and willingly plead for forgiveness from God and toward others; and that I pray daily for covering from temptation.

Such a powerful process! Such a joy to participation … such food for my soul. Thank you God