‘Churtched!’

Ever been “churtched?” The word is in quotes because it’s not mine. It was coined by the Rev. Lenora Howze when she created a blog and now a podcast of the same name to help the healing process of people who have been wounded in their church. If it hasn’t happened to you, be grateful. If it has happened to you, ask God to heal you in whatever way is best. If you have to take a break from church, take one. If you have to find a new church, find one. If you need to find a listening heart, find one. Do what you need to so you can be healed. There’s no hurt like that experienced in the place that’s supposed to provide love and safety.

Many years ago when I was churtched, my heart was so wounded I couldn’t hear a sermon, or maybe it was the loudness of it. I’m not sure. I only know I couldn’t bear it. It was as if my heart had become an open wound and words were like razor blades. Preached words. I was led by the Holy Spirit to listen to the scripture on tape. That’s what I did. I bought tapes. Didn’t have the Bible app like we do now. And every moment that I could think of it, I had those earphones in my ears. Every moment. When I wasn’t engaged in conversation or a meeting at work, my ears were filled with the word of God. That’s how he restored order to my belly. I didn’t fight. I had no fight in me. I knew the source of the pain but had no idea what to do about it. That’s why I’m offended when people say a churtched person who leaves the church wasn’t serving God in the first place. Seriously. It’s the worst pain one can experience. It comes from an unexpected place with unexpected accuracy at an unexpected time and wields unexpected power to destroy. But God knew exactly what I needed. And if I’d ignored it because it didn’t sound spiritual enough, I might have been destroyed.

If it has happened to you, take care of yourself and let the Lord heal you. If it has happened to someone you know, be kind and assist them in getting the healing they need.

Jesus knows your name

If we could interview the donkey on which Jesus took his triumphal ride into Jerusalem, we might ask questions such as:

How did you feel? Dumbest question in journalism. But not in this case. How did you feel?

Why were you chosen?

How did your master treat you?

What was it like carrying Jesus?

Were you returned to your master?

The donkey belonged to this certain man to whom Jesus sent his disciples.

A certain man.

This certain man didn’t need a name or a public reputation. Jesus knew he was just the right person to let such a precious piece of property go without stipulations or regrets. But cheerfully and without hesitation.

Jesus didn’t need any negatives surrounding his ride, nothing selfish, nothing doubtful…

And he could only have gotten that thing from that certain man at that time.

Sometimes we’re raising our hands like we did in third grade…ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh…call on me over here. And we’re volunteering for something that looks like something we want to do, not realizing that we are not the person for the task in that moment.

God is so good, so smart, so genius in fact that he knows in every second who is ordained to fulfill whatever task is needed in the moment. Imagine that.

No other donkey would have sufficed. No other donkey from any other owner could have sufficed. That donkey had been fed the exact feed that strengthened his muscles to the exact degree that allowed him to carry the Savior with the exact gait producing the exact triumphal stance that exacted the perfect amount of attention from the waiting crowd to signal to them that the rider on this donkey was different  from riders on other donkeys, to signal to them that the rider on this donkey was indeed the king they’d been waiting for to push their praise buttons to let go with the hosannas and the waving of the palm leaves.

No other donkey. No other donkey owner.

When you operate in your gifting, it should be as if you’re the only donkey in the world at that moment and no other donkey could suffice.

Wouldn’t you rather …rather than toot your own horn, build your own kingdom, create your own press buzz, assemble your own entourage…

Wouldn’t you rather be the unnamed person Jesus can depend on?

I would.

Hold the door for a soldier

The first soldier I remember was my uncle, Melvin Scott, who went into the army when he was 16. The next was Bobby Johnson, my friend Elsie’s brother. They were both men short in physical stature. But they both looked like giants when they put on those official uniforms. To me they even stood taller and grander. I think I didn’t learn much about honoring these guys when I was younger, but when I think of what they and their families, and millions like them, have had to endure while keeping our country safe, I want to find ways to help them. And celebrate them. Especially now that I have Sam, my son-in-love and Arlen, my grandson-in-love.

Merchants apparently have the same idea. There’s almost no place a veteran can’t go for a free meal on Veterans Day. There are food discounts and clothing discounts. Neighbors fly flags. Little people salute if they see a uniform. Wreaths are laid at selective graves to honor those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. But what about the other days? The 364 other day veterans have to live in this country? What about the rest of the year?

The sacrifices they’ve made are unbelievable. For some, physical injury or lack of mobility. For others, loss of relationships because of the lack of re-entry counseling and care. Still others are suffering from the ongoing shock of the trauma they encountering during service. And some are homeless!!! In this country!!!

It is ungracious of us to forget the sacrifices they’ve made on our behalf. God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labor of love that we have shown in his name, in that we have ministered to his saints. My paraphrase of Hebrews 6:10. Seems forgetfulness is unrighteous and unjust when it leads us to be neglectful of the very ones who have kept us safe.

Look around in the community and see if adequate medical and social care is available for the veterans. Whether or not there is affordable, suitable housing in the area. Whether or not there are veterans on the street begging for bread.

Veterans should have the best quality of life available. Just. Because.

The One Thing

I’ll bet there is something in your life that constitutes the “one” thing or person that made all the difference. It’s important to pause and remember…remembering enlarges our space for receiving and fuels the gratitude bug that keeps us alive.

The flat tire that caused you to miss the beginning of the party that erupted in gun fire before you arrived.

The impetus to try out for the job that seemed a little beyond your credentials. Nevertheless you got it.

The teacher who saw you hanging with the wrong crowd and took you aside to remind you of your own good stuff.

The counselor who saw in you some talent you couldn’t even see and urged you to go a different way than you’d planned.

The friend’s parent who explained to you the wisdom of following your own choices rather than deferring to crowd mentality.

The police officer who lectured you strongly, but let you go because she felt you deserved another chance.

The boss who saw a spark in you and exposed you to every opportunity for expanding your horizons.

And each of these people and each of their singular acts made all the difference in your life. Made all the difference in my life.

I love to remember Mrs. Charlotte Flowers, a retired teacher who nurtured me grandly, but also paid for my books when I was in college. They were no where near as expensive as books today, but they would have been a gigantic expenditure for my family.

I love to remember Mrs. Hattie Childs, also retired, who made her way to every, and I do mean every, little program and project we put on as young people in our church.

I love to remember Mrs. Barbara Powell who never turned me away when I came to her with my teenage worries and woes. She never minimized them or me, and she always loved me through them. And she still does.

I could go on and on. And I know you have your own.

On a day like today, it’s a good time to take a minute and remember the “one thing,” the one person in your life who made it happen.

And to thank God that they made all the difference in your life.

And then there’s the ultimate one thing…the One Thing that made the ultimate difference.

Not on one day, but on many, I was introduced to Jesus, the Son of God, who gave his life on Calvary’s cross so that I could have a right to eternal life on earth and in the hereafter. His supreme sacrifice made me his little sister and dressed me in his righteous clothes, so I can stand with authority before the throne of God as joint heir to the kingdom.

And it has made all the difference in my life. Every day I’m privy to fresh mercies as a reminder of the amazing grace he poured into my life before the foundation of the world.

And it has made all the difference.

Great is thy faithfulness

Through the Lord’s mercies we’re not consumed, because his compassions fail not, they are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness. Lamentation 3:22-23

The faithfulness of God is incomparable to anything we experience in our human relationships. God does exactly what he says he will do. No exceptions. Having the courage to allow God to demonstrate that to us affords us the pure delight of seeing him fulfill his promises on every hand. Have doubts?

Watch the little old ladies, like myself, when the hymn is sung…Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hands have provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me. The eyes water almost immediately, before the first verse is completed. By the time the above refrain is reached, many tears are already flowing down many cheeks, marking the memories of moments God has come through and done exactly what he said he would do. Anyone who has trusted in the faithfulness of the Lord has never been disappointed or left hanging. He’s as good as his word. We were taught to be people whose word could be depended upon. Your word is be your bond, our grandparents would say. It should be as good as gold.

We can say of the Lord, his word never fails…he never fails to send his word and it accomplishes everything he sends it to do.

Morning by morning, new mercies…

God’s love

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for our brethren

I John 3:16

Some days God’s love just bubbles over in my soul. And the joy flows out in tears of gratitude. My life is more wonderful today than I could ever have imagined. His love is not cryptic. Not something you have to figure out. It feels just like love. It feels just like kindness. It feels just like the greatest being we can never understand has our backs in ways we can never understand. But we feel covered. We feel light. We feel like we’re floating and we don’t know why.

Circumstances haven’t changed.

Sometimes they’re downright drastic.

Sometimes they seem unconquerable

And yet

God’s love

God’s love gives us a feeling of victory in spite of the battle

God’s love gives us a sense of security in spite of the imbalance

God’s love gives us a knowing of completion in spite of the incompleteness

God’s love

Love in the bread pudding

I know it sounds silly, but sometimes there’s love in the bread pudding. When I was in kindergarten and first grade I lived with my grandmother, Myrtle, my mother’s stepmother. She doted on this grandchild and there was nothing that exceeded her grasp when it came to demonstrating that love. At four years old I had my own bedroom with bed linens I’d chosen; shelves stacked with books and encyclopedia because she’d taught me to read at an early age. And a small television. In my room. Yes I thought I was all that. Not really. I’d known nothing else.

And her husband, my grandfather, my mother’s father was no slack in the love department either. I could see the love in his eyes when I was perched on his lap in the evenings when he dropped exhaustedly into his favorite chair after hoisting me into the air as soon as he cleared the doorpost.

Love in those deep blue eyes.

Love in those strong arms that propelled me from the floor.

Love in the way he spoke my name and responded to my yell of delight when I saw him.

Love in the television, in the books, in the privacy of my own little kingdom.

Love in the bed linens.

And love in the bread pudding. Two to three days a week when I bounded into the door from school, there was freshly baked, too-hot-to-eat, butter smothered bread pudding – no sauce, always a purist – just for me.

And the kitchen smelled like love.

And the first safe bite tasted like love.

And the baker’s smile looked like love.

As did the many bites that followed.

Love in the bread pudding.

Prayer is…

Prayer is the ongoing transaction between us and God, mediated or spurred on by the Holy Spirit, with Jesus at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. The Holy Spirit is the cutter. He makes sure the ball gets into the basket. Jesus is our elder brother who puts his seal of approval on us.

Satisfaction should come from the richness of the relationship, the fact that we share time and interchange thought, the fact that I can bask in his presence and he can complete whatever work he desires in and through me. Or just maybe make me smile from deep down in my soul as he assures me I’m his daughter.

In prayer I acknowledge his grace of which I am a joyous recipient; celebrate his greatness, submit to his majesty, surrender my will, accept my call for the season or for the day. And there’s no perfect time of day except the time we spend together. And there’s no perfect length of time except that it should be difficult to turn my attention away. And there’s no perfect way to spend the time except whatever God ordains for those moments.

And we are right to be daunted by the whole process of prayer with its mystery and its majesty.

Experiments conducted years ago on the power of prayer reveal that even when doctors and patients were unaware that they were being prayed for, patients experienced more successful outcomes than those in the control group who were not being prayed for. Prayer accomplishes feats our minds can’t even imagine, can’t even fathom although we ask for them. People we pray for with the expectation that they live, die. People we pray for with submission to their transition, live.

In the midst of life’s contradictions, we continue to wonder why bad things happen to good people and vice versa. We continue to wonder why babies are born only to die soon after. So many of our questions go unanswered regardless of our prayer. We’re mere humans and God’s ways are not our ways. And often we attribute to God’s hand those things our own evil rebellion hath wrought through systems that perpetuate injustice and cruelty without measure.

I believe if we can think of prayer as relationship transaction rather than requests submitted, answers received, yes or no; if we can embrace that prayer begins with the Lord and pulls us in, then we can relax and let God do his own thing in his own way according to his own timeline.

We surely can!

On a hot summer night, when it was 90 degrees on Barclay Street in east Baltimore, we’d sometimes sit outside well into the morning. It was too hot to be inside. Especially on the upper floors of our three-story house. In fact all the neighbors sat outside on their porch front (no porches) metal chairs. They visited from house to house within their own blocks.

Sometimes Miss Nellie Logan would come up the street from her house to our house at 2303. She and my grandmother had been friends for more years than I could possibly know. They were girlfriends. I always giggled when I heard them say that. I thought girlfriends should at least be girls, not old ladies. But I never laughed out loud. And I never asked the question.

They were happy with their time together. They wouldn’t have as much when the weather got colder. They’d wave at Aunt Grace and Uncle Walter Maxfield across the street. And Les Andrews and his family in that corner house. They’d talk with Miss Mary Mitchell who lived next door. They’d speak to Joyce Richardson’s mother who always took at least one stroll down the block as the evening grew older. Joycie was my best friend. I didn’t know her mother’s first name. We didn’t know a lot of first names and we dared not ask.

Sometimes we’d run into the corner store that was actually next door to our house and get a cold treat – an ice cream sandwich, a soda or a candy bar. The owners of the store were Joe and Bella Zemlak. They’d been there my entire stay with their children Barry (Bernard), Marsha, the eldest and Margie, the baby. They were also members of the community. They watched after us. They made sure we were safe. They told our parents if we caused trouble. They took us home to our parents if we acted up in the store.

The family up the street that raised a bunch of foster children. The family on the other side of the street that had endless children and grandchildren – The Auggins family. I believe the matriarch was Miss Virginia. We played with her grandchildren – Gary and Patricia, Terry and her brother.

Everybody knew everybody.

We were beneficiaries of a team of folks who knew it was their duty to provide safety and security for all the children in the neighborhood. Not just theirs. All the children. Not every adult meant us well. But the ones who didn’t were few and far between. And those who were caught were stealthily dealt with by the men of the village. Soundly. Directly. With no room left for doubt.

It was in no means a perfect community. We were directed to be seen and not heard. That was a hard habit to break. We waited to speak when recognized, especially when adult conversations were going on. We certainly did without some things some times, but basics were pretty much always available.

There’s got to be a way for us to go forward, not back, to a time and space within which we learn to speak to each other; to know each other’s names. Where we look out for ourselves and for the families, especially the children who live in our vicinity. Where we share those things we need and those we have in excess. Where children can feel safe enough to refuse the attraction of gangs that offer unnecessary support. Where people can be community to each other, family to each other, without reservation. Surely we can!

Had to scrub those steps so they’d sparkle for the evening gathering.

The Mourner’s Bench

Nobody talks about it anymore, but a focal point of the early African turned American church was the mourner’s bench. It was the center of activity back then because the best energy of worship was devoted to invoking the presence of God into the place, revoking any misguided invitation to the enemy and his imps from hell and exchanging the ownership of souls from the devil to their rightful Owner and Creator.

Down on the knees. It was the expected posture, if not lying prostrate on the face. It was the place from which warfare was waged, from which heaven was bombarded, from which redemption was claimed. On the knees. At the mourner’s bench.

In traditional churches, sinners waited for the Lord to save them. In holiness churches, the wait was never complete without the speaking of tongues. Mothers of the church, fathers in the word would gather and encircle the patients in the incubator, as they awaited the promised rebirth. They would speak in their own tongues to arouse the desire in the newbies. They would urge them on with cajoling, enticing them to repeat the name of Jesus… say it faster… until their recitation morphed into their own unique heavenly language to be used in personal conversation with the Lord.

It was expected that by a certain age, children would be saved. The “moaning” that went on was akin to the groaning emitted from a mother in labor with the expectation of new life. The kind of groaning described in Romans 8:22, characterizing the basic guttural unrest in the whole creation waiting for the manifestation of the children of God. The sound requires the use of abdominal muscles from the deepest part of the body.

And there’s no release or relief until the birth is accomplished.

And great shout of hallelujah when it’s done!

We don’t see this anymore.