Free Indeed

It was a Monday morning, June 19, 1865. Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas with a proclamation: All enslaved people were now emancipated and free to leave the tyranny of slavery.

It is estimated that at this time, there were over 250,000 enslaved Black Americans living in Texas. This day, known as Juneteenth, has been celebrated for over 150 years, in remembrance of the end of slavery in Texas.

As a Black American, I have always found this day to be bitter sweet. For centuries, blacks were violated, treated as property, separated from their families, and forced to work and live in uninhabitable conditions. The end of slavery is definetly an occasion to celebrate. But what saddens me is that this news of emancipation came 2 years, 5 months, and 18 days after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect on January 1, 1863. 

For almost two and a half years, blacks in Texas continued in the lifestyle of slavery simply because they had no idea they had been freed. They experienced two and a half years of physical and mental mistreatment; two and a half years of families being separated; two and a half years of unlivable, unsanitary conditions. So if you see me looking a bit distraught at a Juneteenth barbeque, this is why.

I’d like to say I can’t imagine living in slavery while I was actually free, but I don’t have to imagine it; I lived it. For years, I lived in slavery. I wasn’t being beaten and forced to work without pay, but I was being held bondage by chains I didn’t even know I had. I was in bondage to my sinful nature. I was being held by chains of defeat and destruction, but the worst part was that I knew I could have freedom. I knew about the freedom that was available through Jesus but I was choosing to stay enslaved.

I don’t have any statistical data or research for this next point, but I stand by it. When a person is not experiencing freedom when it has been made available to them, I believe it’s for one of two reasons: They are not aware of their freedom or they have chosen to remain in bondage.

Unlike me, the over 250,000 enslaved blacks in Texas had no idea that the invisible chains their “owners” used to keep them in bondage had been broken with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. They had no clue they were free.

Today as we celebrate Juneteenth, I’m reminded of not only of the freedom of my ancestors but also of the freedom I have in Christ. The chains that once bound me have been broken.

Staying Consistent in Conflict

“Successful people do consistently what others do occasionally.” -Craig Groeschel

There are more quotes about consistency than I could throw a stick at but this is one of my favorites. Whether we want to write a book, lose a few pounds, or get our house in order, consistency is the key. We don’t have to overhaul everything about ourselves to become the person we want to be; we just need to consistently do the actions that will get us there.

The problem is many of us fall off the wagon the moment a wrench is thrown into our plans. Most of us would agree that the past year has definitely frustrated the plans for many of us. I found that some of my good habits suffered severely while others continued out of necessity. But once I set myself realistic goals and grew to be disciplined in accomplishing them, I began to see my life start coming back together.

King Hezekiah was one of the many kings chronicled in the book of Kings who had a major setback almost throw his life into chaos. He had served God faithfully by destroying articles of idol worship that led the Israelites astray and he faithfully kept the commands of the Lord. He sought the Lord when he was in trouble and did things by the book. The Bible even said there was no king like him in Judah, neither before or after. Talk about a great resume!

Everything looked to be going Hezekiah’s way until one day he got sick. Some people don’t miss a beat when they get sick. I am not one of those people. When I get sick, I can’t walk or talk and I milk every ounce of help I can get out of my family. 

Hezekiah must have been doing pretty badly because the prophet Isaiah shows up and tells him to get his life organized because he was going to die from his illness. I wonder if this news surprised Hezekiah. When we think of prophets, we often think they must be coming with a good word from God. I’m sure he expected to hear a “Get up and walk” or “You’ve been made whole.” But that was not the word God had for him.

After serving God faithfully and even helping the Israelites to return to serving God faithfully, you would think things would work out well for him. There’s a strange misunderstanding that as Christians, we will never go through a hardship or trial once we accept the Lord Jesus as our savior. That somehow, magically, all misfortune will avoid our lives to allow us to live blessed and highly favored. While I do believe we have a once unattainable favor and grace in our lives when we get saved, I don’t believe we are placed inside of a Christian bubble wrap that keeps all bad things away from us. That’s just life. People get sick. People get hurt. People die. Christians included. 

But the difference is, as children of God, we have access to someone who has the ability to change our situations. And Hezekiah knew this. Hezekiah went back to a habit that he practiced consistently his entire life. He prayed. The Bible says that when the prophet Isaiah left, Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and reminded God of all he had done to walk right before him. Look at his prayer:

“Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.” (‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭20:2-3). For those who think that our tears don’t move God, I have to disagree. Who, as a parent, sees their child crying out in pain and turns a blind eye? God, as our heavenly Father and creator, cares about the things that concern us. That’s why we’re encouraged to cast our cares upon him, because he cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7). ‬ 

Hezekiah had always gone to the Lord in times of distress. In times of threats, he went to God. In times of battle, he went to God. So this conflict had no different strategy. He went to God. It seems so simple, right? I’m not trying to oversimplify anything you might be going through, but I want to encourage you to stay consistent in seeking God. 

If you haven’t been consistent in your time with God, today is a good day to start. Sometimes we treat our spiritual health like our physical health. “Wow! Is that scale accurate? Do I need my eyes checked or are those late night snacks catching up to me!? I’m going to start working out this Monday. I’m going to run 3 miles and drink a gallon of water and eat only salads for lunch! But Monday is the 17th so maybe I’ll wait until the 1st of next month so I can get everything together.” 

We put things off, waiting for an ideal time to start. We want to wait until everything is perfect, the weather is perfect, the budget is perfect before we start making changes. But we can begin to be consistent now. Right now! Take out your Bible and read one verse. I’ll wait!

Okay. Now do the same thing tomorrow. Take out your Bible and read one verse. Do the same thing until reading a verse everyday becomes consistent. Then add another verse and let it become consistent. Perfection and consistency are not roommates. In fact, perfectionism is the upstairs neighbor that plays his music too loud and walks too hard to be living on the 3rd floor! 

Discipline yourself to remain consistent even in conflict. When the storm has passed, you will be much further along than if you had waited for clear skies before even starting.

Don’t Forget the Main Ingredient

Last night, my husband and I were sitting on the couch, finishing our evening coffee we have every night together when he gets home from work.

It wasn’t a busy day, but the kids and I had run some errands in the afternoon, so I didn’t really make plans for dinner. I figured I’d make tacos because we all love them and they’re fairly easy, but I didn’t have any ground beef.

As I neared the end of my coffee, I told him I didn’t have a plan for dinner so we were going to pick up food. I told him that I was going to make tacos, but didn’t have any meat.

“Isn’t that the main ingredient you need to make tacos!” he laughed, almost spitting out his coffee. WE both laughed and then ordered a pizza.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been preparing a message for my women’s event at church. Today as I gathered what I needed for my message, I sat back to make sure I had everything. Notes, check. Bible, check. Clothes ready, check.

I felt ready to go. Then I remembered I was forgetting the main ingredient. I paused and dropped down to my knees.

Lord, will you be with me tonight? Will you fill my mouth with your words? Will you meet us as we gather and meet the needs of your women?”

What started as a quick, almost forgotten prayer, turned into hours of prayer and praise and worship. I almost forgot the main ingredient that would ensure that no matter who did or didn’t show up for the service, God would be there.

Have you ever made something and forgot an ingredient or used the wrong ingredient? Missing an ingredient can ruin an entire meal. Leaving out prayer and worship can ruin even weeks worth of preparation and planning.

No amount of preparation or planning can replace the presence of God. Make room for him and invite him into everything you do.

Spring Cleaning

I am not a naturally tidy person. My husband and I joke that my tolerance for filth is higher than his. Considering I had a housekeeper at age 21 when we met, I’d say he had plenty of notice!

Most messes don’t bother me much. I have no problem overlooking the pile of dishes in the sink, the multi room fort the kids like to create, or every pillow from the entire house stacked into a mountain. 

But the one mess I cannot tolerate is an unswept floor. There is nothing worse than a wet sock from stepping in spilled water or brushing crushed pretzels off of your bare feet. Ok, maybe childbirth is a little worse. 

If I do no other housekeeping task in a day, I will sweep the floor. I usually use my hard floor vacuum but every so often I’ll use the broom. My kids always ask, “Why are you sweeping the old fashioned way?!” 

It always amazes me the amount of mess I sweep up from just one day. The piles look like something from an episode of Hoarders! But despite how disgusted this makes me feel, it reminds me of how quickly our lives can become cluttered when we aren’t careful to maintain them. And like my floor, clearing the clutter of our lives is an everyday job.

Romans 12:2 tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” but many people think this is a one time thing. Imagine how much trash I would sweep up if I only swept once a month!

Many believers expect the trash of their lives to be handled with a one hour service on Sunday. We come to church and sing and clap and pray (maybe), then head back into the week and allow the dust of life to gather.

We have to be intentional about daily removing the things that clutter our minds and spirits. Do you have a daily practice of reading the Bible? Do you make time each day to talk to God? Do you feed your spirit with faith-filled words? 

If you aren’t careful to daily sweep out the junk of everyday living, it will begin to pile up and before you know it, what could have been a 5 minute chore could end up taking much longer.

If you haven’t already, make time to spend with God today. Ask him what areas of your life have hidden clutter you may not even see. Ask him to guide you in your day. Welcome him to be a part of it. It’s a practice that seems so small but if it’s skipped, you will notice!

Coffee and Cat Food

My total was $78.13. We had run out of two things we can’t live without. Coffee and cat food. If my cat doesn’t have food, I won’t have a good day. If I don’t have coffee, no one will have a good day. I’m a person who plans. I make grocery lists, meal planning lists, cleaning lists. If it can be made into a list, I make it!

I love checking off boxes and slashing through tasks. It gives me such a rush! What I don’t like is the unplanned. I bet you’re wondering if I spent $78.13 on just coffee and cat food. It wasn’t organic cat food or artisan coffee that ballooned my total to almost $80. It was the oreos, the fruit, the juice boxes, the bobby pins, the cereal, and the press on nails I found in the clearance section.

A trip that should have cost no more than about $15 ended up costing closer to $100. In addition to list making, I’m also a professional exaggerator! 

As I lugged in the multiple bags from the garage, I had a quick moment of buyer’s remorse. While I needed the extra items I had purchased, well mostly needed, I didn’t need them immediately. 

I don’t just do this in the grocery store. There are so many times when I add things to my day or week that in the grand scheme of life, are not really things I need to prioritize immediately. 

I’m in the process of writing a book, but for some reason, I feel like organizing the dining room buffet is a task I have to do, RIGHT NOW! I need to do my workout, but how long has it been since I dusted the baseboards? It’s amazing how we can add on extraneous activities that keep us from doing what is truly important. 

I’m trying to stop adding unnecessary items to my list, both in the grocery store and at home and beginning to prioritize the things that matter most. A movie night with family, a long writing session, a much needed nap. Those are the things I’m putting towards the top of my list and thankfully, they don’t cost a penny!

LEGO and Let God

My son and I often build LEGO projects together and honestly, I think I enjoy it more than he does. It never fails that once we approach around the 75% completed mark, he ditches me to start playing with some of the completed characters and weapons. I really don’t mind since he builds much slower than me and now I can have the rest all to my self!

But during the time that we ARE working as a team, I have the task of finding the pieces for the page we’re on. While he is putting together one section, I’m able to look further along the page and collect all of the pieces he needs for the section coming up. While putting together an intricate Ironman Hulkbuster build, he noticed that as soon as he was done with one section, I already had his next pieces waiting. “Wow! You always have everything ready so fast!”, he told me.

What he doesn’t realize is that while he’s focusing on his job (building the current section), I am already planning for what’s coming next. He just has to trust that I’ll have his pieces ready when he needs them.

This is exactly what faith allows us to do. All we have to do is work on our current assignment while we trust that God is preparing what we need next, for exactly when we need it. It’s easy to get stressed out about the future and wonder if what you’re hoping for will pan out. But faith helps us to remember that even if we don’t see it, God has a plan already figured out!

Do you find it difficult to trust God for your future? Honestly, at times I do. I have to remind myself frequently not to worry and trust God in every detail of my life. One passage of scripture in Matthew always helps to strengthen my faith and remind me of God’s faithfulness when I begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious about the future.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives. Let me be clear: he never says not to plan for life. In fact, the book of Proverbs encourages us to be prepared for life. But worry and preparation are two different things.

Worry and anxiety will cause you to stress about things outside of your control. Preparation is careful planning for circumstances we know will happen eventually so by making a plan, we can eliminate unnecessary stress when they do happen.

So often we worry about things that God has already pulled the pieces out for. We just don’t see Him do it! Our future spouse, our children’s college, our retirement plans, we can trust God to meet these needs. Jesus tells us to “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Matthew 6:26 ESV).

God provides for the birds every day and I’m more important to him than a sparrow! A sparrow can’t share the gospel or encourage a grieving family or give to a ministry. God needs his people to be healthy, prosperous and spiritually fit so we can do his work here on earth.

The next time you feel stressed about your life or future, remember that God has already gathered all of the pieces for your life and all you need to do is stay busy on the instructions you are currently on.

Do you currently have young children at home? Focus on training them in the ways of God. Are you working at a less than ideal job? Continue to work hard as if unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17). Don’t get so bogged down in the details of the day that you feel like your assignment is a distraction. It’s all a part of God’s overall plan for you life.

If my son and I missed just one step in our LEGO build, our design would not have come together how we hoped. Psalm 37:23 says “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way;”. How comforting is this? When we delight in the Lord, obey his instructions and follow his plans for us, we have a guarantee that he will guide our steps so our lives will reflect not just what we hope for, but what he’s planned for them.

An Open Book Test

Every year, my husband and I begin the year with 21 days of fasting and prayer. During these times, I’ve seen God answer prayers, give vision and direction, and speak to my heart about a specific promise or assignment. I often come off of the fast with wide eyes and high expectations for the blessings of God to flow through my life in an unprecedented way! But then I’m reminded of Jesus’ experience when he ended his fast and trust me, it’s much different than what I expect at the end of mine!

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Matthew‬ ‭4:1-2‬ ‭ESV)‬‬

In fasting and prayer, where was he taken? He wasn’t led into the city to start “Son of God Christian Church”. He wasn’t led to write a book “How to Save Sinners and Stay Fit”. He was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (I won’t even get started on how it was the Spirit that led him there!).

While I truly believe that God has great and precious promises in store for those who call him Lord (2 Peter 1:4), we will all experience times of trials and testing. And guess what? They aren’t all from the devil!

The times when we feel tested are times when God is able to root out things in us that don’t need to be there. I homeschool my kids right now and every so often, they have tests. The tests aren’t to beat them down or make them upset. They are to show me the areas that they’ve mastered and the areas where more work is needed.

When we are tested, God can use this time to help us see the areas we have grown in or need maturity. These times cause us to rely on what we know to be true about our position in Christ, which we discover through the Word of God. And the Word of God was exactly what Jesus used during his time of testing.

Satan tried three times to tempt Jesus into worshipping him, but each time, Jesus declared what was already written in God’s Word. We cannot combat the attacks of the enemy without the Word of God. This is why he fights us so hard when we try to read the Bible! Have you ever noticed the amount of interruptions you experience when you’re trying to read the Bible (better yet, how sleepy you get?!)

It’s because our enemy knows the power that the Word of God carries. Don’t forget he lived in heaven! He’s seen the strength and power of God’s word first hand, and if he can’t have it, he will do all he can to stop you from having it! He wants to separate you from God’s word. That’s what he did to Eve in the garden.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”” (Genesis‬ ‭3:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Satan successfully employed two tricks he likes to often use to distract us: He wants us alone and he wants us to doubt God’s word. He waited until Eve was alone to attack. During times when you feel alone, that’s when Satan makes his move. He’s after the one sheep that got separated from the other 99. He’s after the young woman who has stopped coming to church regularly and has distanced herself from her friends.

Did you know that God has never been alone? I heard this from an amazing teacher, Jackie-Hill Perry. That our God is a triune God: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. She said we are never more unlike God than when we isolate ourselves. Wow! Let that sink in.

Satan waited for Eve to be alone and then tried to cause her to doubt God’s instruction. And most of us know what happened next: the rest of humanity has been plagued with sin, sickness, shame, lust, lying, deceit, death and a whole slew of other problems (including pain during childbirth!) that can only be overcome by the blood of Jesus Christ. Thanks a lot, Eve!

Thankfully, like Jesus, we are never truly alone. Like our Savior, we have the Word of God and the Spirit of God to strengthen us during times of testing. Not to mention a cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and Jesus Christ himself, at the right hand of God, making intercession for us! That sounds like victory to me.

Unlike many tests in school, we can take our tests with an open book! There are no sweeter words to a student than “This will be an open book test”. A wave of relief and confidence would fill the classroom instantly! Like Jesus, during times of testing, I encourage you to bury yourself in God’s Word. Memorize scriptures, familiarize yourself with stories from the Bible, listen to faith filled messages by Spirit-led teachers. Use the Word of God to sustain you and I promise, you will pass with flying colors.

Having a Full Tank

When I was younger, my mom would frequently take me and my sister on a casual ride around town. We always looked forward to these rides because it meant we were ordering lunch! I now realize they were just a tool to get us out of the house she’d just cleaned.

We would drive around for what felt like hours, and we’d ask my mom, “Are we lost?”. See, I grew up in the days before GPS. We didn’t have Siri telling us to make a left in half a mile or to continue straight (one of the most pointless directions!). We were on our own! My mom would always tell us, “As long as we have a full tank of gas, we’re never lost!”

As an adult, there have been times when I’ve felt lost. Am I going in the right direction for my children? Am I making progress towards my dreams? How do I balance life, work, and family? It’s during those times, I’m reminded of those long drives with my mom: “As long as I have a full tank of gas, I’m never lost.”

It’s when our tank begins to run low that we begin to feel anxious about the journey. When the bank account balance isn’t enough for an unplanned bill; when we suffer an unexpected loss that depletes our joy; when we can’t seem to rebuild a broken relationship. What do we do?

The same thing we do when our cars run low on gas: refuel. I’m horrible about letting my car get to “E”. The gas light pops on, but instead of filling up at the first warning, I wait until the last possible moment (my gas light goes off again after a few miles, then comes back on to give me one last chance to fill up before I’m stranded!).

Honestly, I have the same bad habit when it comes to life. I go and go and go and despite the warnings, red flags, and sputtering, I wait until the last minute to refuel. I wait until I’m snapping at my kids or I give a snarky response to someone at church.

Jesus tells us in John 3:23 that his words are spirit and they are life. Simply put, they are the fuel we need to continue day after day. I’m reminded of the children of Israel in the desert when God provided manna every morning for them. The Israelites asked, “What is it?” which is what manna means. They weren’t sure what it was but they knew it would sustain them. They knew it would give them strength for the tasks of the day.

I’m not sure why we, as believers, allow ourselves to run down when His word has never been more available to us. Sometimes I feel like this unlimited access to every version of the Bible ever written, hundreds of reading plans to choose from, and thousands upon thousands of sermons online can be overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong: I’m thankful for the accessibility that technology has provided when it comes to studying God’s word. But sometimes I end up spending more time searching for content than just sitting in communion (#thatsaword).

I’m striving to live out the words from the prayer Jesus taught his disciples: “give us today our daily bread”. I need fresh fuel every day. I need direction for what I might encounter in the day that I am in and how to handle it. I don’t want to wait until I’m running on fumes and barely make it to my destination.

I don’t want to look up and see that I’ve been driving in the wrong direction for the last 5 miles. I want to be on the path that God has set out for me and enjoy the ride, knowing, that being full of the Spirit of God, I am never lost.

Shhh.. It’s a Secret!!

My kids are 6 and 9 so they are getting to that age where they have their own sibling secrets. Nothing big, things like grabbing an extra popsicle or hiding all of their stuffed animals in my closet! I’ll hear them giggling a little too much and ask what’s going on and they say in harmony: “It’s a secret!”

I was reading in the book of 1 Samuel this morning where Saul was anointed king over Israel by the prophet Samuel. In 1 Samuel 9:27, Samuel says to Saul to have the, “servants to go on ahead of us”— and the servant did so— “but you stay here a while, so that I may give you a message from God.”

Once the servant left, Saul is doused with a flask of oil and anointed by Samuel to be the first king of Israel. This happened between just two people. Saul and Samuel. No one else knew what was happening, there was no huge presentation or stage. Just the prophet of God and a man.

We live in a culture where many people feel the need to share every detail of their life… everyday… on every platform. Don’t get me wrong: I like updates of kids growing up, anniversaries and vacations, but there is a current trend of over sharing! I can be guilty of this too. I love to talk so sometimes my mouth runs faster than my brain!

What I love about this story is the privacy between Saul and Samuel. Somethings are just for you and God. There are certain promises I’ve received from God that only he and I share. Why? Because some things need time to cultivate. Some dreams need the protection of secrecy so they aren’t killed before they are born. How many times have you shared a good idea only to be shot down? “That won’t work!” Or “Who would by that?” can deter you from what God’s given you.

There was no one present to disagree with God’s choice for king, no one to place doubts in Saul’s mind of his ability to lead the Israelites. Just him and the word from God. I’m reminded of a time when some life changing changing news was shared with a large group. Remember the children of Israel when they sent spies to check out the land of Canaan? Two men were confident of Israel’s ability to overtake the inhabitants of the land. But they other ten spies caused fear and distress to spread through the camp, causing Israel to remain wanderers for 40 years in the desert.

This year, I’m sure you have all kinds of goals and plans and promises from God. I know I do! May I kindly recommend that you be very careful with whom you allow access to your dreams. They are precious and worth protecting!