Remembering Hadiya

ImageHadiya Pendleton

June 2, 1997- January 29, 2013

One year ago today, Hadiya Pendleton was murdered in front of her friends while she was taking shelter from the rain. She was an honor student who had recently performed at the President’s inauguration. Her mother describes her as “quirky” and I think I know what she meant. Hadiya must have been funny, excited, fretful and serious in the way that only  15 year-old girls who are high on life can be. Hadiya was six days older than my daughter.

It was around this time last year that I got in my car, set my VZ navigator and drove from the suburbs to attend Hadiya’s wake.  For me this wasn’t “a tragedy”; it was and is deeply personal. The author, John Green, has reminded us that “there’s a fault in our stars”. The world is out of balance on a cosmic level. The air is poison. The earth is rancid. The center cannot hold. That is my theological position at this moment.

I arrived just after the crowds had momentarily thinned and went straight to Hadiya. I saw that a mother in the throes of grief selected a dress in her daughter’s favorite color that was appropriate and yet youthful hoping that her baby would have liked it. I could tell that her parents carefully chose her coffin. The very last thing they could do was pour every ounce of love into this parting gift. This going away present to a daughter who was too young to leave home for good. These endless details are what occupy the life of the newly bereaved, and serve to keep them from going permanently insane from the shock of hearing, “I’m sorry she’s gone”.  Although, I really don’t know.  I can only write what I think.  My only daughter was allowed to turn sixteen.

After awhile, I met Cleopatra Crowley. I could tell immediately that she’s a lot of fun when she’s not mourning the death of her only daughter who was murdered for something as tragic and pedantic as “being at the wrong place at the wrong time” (what a useless phrase we’ve come up with to make sense of a world unhinged). We talked about fifteen year-old girls. I said, “I’m sorry for your loss”, and I then I went home to soak in my daughter. Cleopatra has gone on to sit with the First Lady at the State of the Union, she has marched, set up foundations and fundraised. For a solid year she has done all the things we expect of the families of victims we turn into celebrities to do. And she has done them because memory is everything.

I think of Hadiya a lot. I thought of her when my daughter headed out at the crack of dawn to get her license on her sixteenth birthday, when she blew out her candles, when I see her whispering to her friends, when she’s “so stressed out”, when she announced that she got her first real job complete with a uniform, when she was inducted into national honor society, when she laughs, and especially in those moments when she’s completely unconscious of just how amazing and beautiful she is. I drink her in and catch my breath, and think of Hadiya. Always of Hadiya.

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What to Do with Regret?

On August 27, 2010, Sandra Vasquez was sentenced to 15 years in prison for reckless homicide and drunken driving after her car struck a light pole on February 11, 2007, killing five teenage passengers in her car, one of whom clung to life for eight days before losing his battle. During her sentencing hearing, proceedings stopped twice after Vasquez collapsed in sobs and had to be taken from the courtroom. The Chicago Tribune reported on August 27 that one of these incidents occurred when Sandra’s mother told how her 8-year-old son has marked the calendar each day his mother has been in jail, and the second was when the mother of one of the victims described identifying her son’s body at the morgue: ” ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, God, I can’t do this,’ ” said Vasquez, 26, rocking back and forth and covering her ears as the boy’s mother described how she tried in vain to close his eyelids.”

 This post is a letter to Sandra.

Dear Sandra,
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and there comes a moment in a woman’s life when she must take stock of her life. Zora Neal Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Sandra, you have been forced to ask yourself some hard questions. And, I know that you, like the rest of us when we examine our own lives, will arrive at answers you don’t like. The cause of your regret is obvious and wrenching, but I want you to know that you are not alone. I don’t care how well a woman dresses, how many lavish vacations she takes, how much respect she commands at work; I promise that if, for a moment, you could get past the façade and peer into her heart, you will find that she, too, has regrets. Just like you. Just like me. Regret for loving a man (or too many to count) who she should’ve run from at “Hello.” Regret for the good man lost, because she was so used to bad she didn’t know what to do with good. Regret for playing when she should have been working, and now she has to work when she should be playing. Regret for money spent that should’ve been saved. Regret for not realizing that there’s a very short window of time to raise children and that, when it’s over, it’s over. Regret for friendships lost over pride, selfishness and careless words. Regret for not realizing the time to develop a prayer life is BEFORE a crisis. Regret for knowing better and not doing better. So for you and me, and others like us, I ask the question: What to do with regret?

 Some of the greatest women in the world would do things differently if they could. I am sure that as Eve wept over the death of Abel and the permanent separation from Cain, her firstborn, she must have wished with all her heart that she made a different choice in the Garden (Genesis 4). I am sure that when Sarah realized that she had given her husband to a real woman, not a robot, who might react unpredictably after being forced to sleep with him and carry his child, Sarah might have held out for God’s best just a little longer (Genesis 16). Surely Samson’s mother must have been tormented with how she might have failed Samson when she was raising him as she saw him being dragged away by the Philistines and heard how they tore out her son’s eyes (Judges 16). She must have wondered if she was firm enough or if she was too hard? What if she could have warned him about the Delilahs of this world? I wonder if Michal, David’s ill-fated wife, while experiencing the pangs of infertility, wished with all her might that she could retract those angry words that sprung from a hardened bitter heart (2 Samuel 6:15-20).

Sandra, the trial is over, the appeals will begin – all of which is out of your control – but what to do with regret? The truth, Sandra, is that there is absolutely nothing left to do with regret, but to forget it. There’s nothing you can do about the past. It happened. You can’t take back your actions on the night of February 11, 2007, any more than any of us can undo the actions from our past. God knows we would if we could. It is impossible to erase the past from your memory, but don’t allow yourself to be mired in thoughts of what might have been. Forget it. The dead are buried. Leave them to God, but don’t let them or anything else from your past haunt you. Paul writes in Philippians 3:13, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind…” Paul admits, he has not “apprehended.” He doesn’t have it all together. He’s made mistakes. He has regrets. None of us is the person we wish we were. We’ve hurt others and ourselves, but we will not be defined by our failures. There is more to us than that.

All we can do about our past is to ask God humbly for forgiveness and accept the miracle of grace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. It is goodness that we didn’t earn and don’t deserve. Paul explains in Romans 5:6 that, if we have to work for it, then it’s not grace—which is given freely. Paul explains grace another way in Romans 3:24: Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” In other ways, we have been justified by the finished work that Jesus did for us on the cross. He bore the punishment on the cross for all of our sins, and, because of Him, we have been given grace. Sandra, I happen to know the judge in your case. Clint Hull and my husband went to high school together. He is a good, wise and decent man, and I know he did his best to couple mercy with justice, but with all due respect to my friend, there is a higher judge. And that judge has already justified you. That judge, your judge, my judge, and Clint’s judge, has also heard all the evidence against you, and because of the work of His Son, when you stand before Him, He has already declared you “not guilty.” That’s what it means, Sandra, to be “justified by grace.” My pastor put it this way, “You have not exhausted the grace of God, and you have not exhausted the God of grace.” Nothing in your past or mine is beyond the grace of God. It is as limitless and awesome as God himself. The miracle of grace is encapsulated in this passage: “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, New Living Translation). I love this passage in The Message Bible. Here is an excerpt:

“Anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! . . . God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. . . . Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”

Sandra, when God first devised the concept of grace, it is because He knew you and I would need it. We would fail miserably and carry guilt too heavy for any one woman to bear. God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is enough. You, Sandra, have to make a conscious decision to accept His grace and leave the past where it belongs. It’s time, Sandra, to start to live.

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Sex and the Christian Single Part III

I would like to know what advice would you give me in terms of reconnecting to the Father, redeveloping that intimate relationship with Him, and remaining in faith and love as I wait for the promises of God to become real for me. Thank you, Gail, in advance.

I will leave you some very practical advice. There is a whole lot you can do while you are waiting for God’s promises to manifest in your life. While you are in this season, why not make the best of it? You might not choose to be single at this moment, but since you are, WORK IT! If you are unfulfilled in your personal life, don’t be unfulfilled in your professional life. Determine that you are going to know and live out your divine purpose. You should wake up every day knowing that you are using your unique gifts and talents to their fullest potential. If you can’t wake up to a man, you should at least wake up to meaningful and rewarding work.

    Also, if you have to be single, there’s no point in being broke and single. One of my favorite videos about sex and Christian singles is Soulmate. As soon as you’ve finished reading this blog, order that DVD! Andrea Wiley has produced a must-see DVD for every African-American, Christian, single woman. One thing I noticed about those sisters in Soulmate is that, although they might be lonely, they were lonely in magnificent surroundings. Trust me, that has to help. I have a girlfriend who is a Suze Orman junkie, and her married friends with two incomes were a lot more stressed than she was when her company was talking layoffs (and because she is so good at what she does, guess who is one of the very few who still has her job?).

    If you have to be single, you might as well look good doing it. If I were single, I would have a banging body. (I’m married with four kids, three of which were C-sections, and I’m still trying to have a banging body!) I would always appear polished in public. If you look great, you’ll feel better. And a great workout is one way to boost sagging spirits and sagging everything else. And if an eligible man did pass me up, I promise you, I’d make him think twice.

Will you have down days? The truth is we all do. So be prepared. When the down days come, pour out your heart to God and get to know Him as Jehovah Shamma: “The God Who Is There.” Allow God to be with you on the dark days and lonely nights. Let His presence envelop you. Although earlier in this 3-part series, I scoffed about Christian women who claim to be “married” to Jesus, there is a place in God where His presence fills your life, and He gives you the assurance that “it is well.” Find that place in Him. And those “attacks” – as my friend, Patricia Ashley, correctly identifies them – will be further and further apart. Practically speaking, be especially good to yourself on those “blue” days. I believe that spa days are mandatory for mental health. As I told a girlfriend, a massage is not a luxury, but a necessity. Take a walk, journal your prayers, celebrate you – and, if need be, ask for help from a trained counselor or therapist. Your feelings are real. Don’t minimize them and don’t magnify them.

    Baby girl, this might not be the life you signed up for, but it is your life, so you might as well Live It! You only go around once. If you have to fly solo, then fly high. I have a single girlfriend who tries to begin and end the year in a new city. When I first met her, I asked how it felt to travel by herself. She said that she’s alone anyway, so she might as well be alone on the beach, or in the mountains, or on the islands. And why not? She deprives herself of nothing, whether it be art museums, the opera, plays, or salsa dancing. And, because she’s interested in life, her social calendar is full. She has a huge network of friends – married, single, male and female. She makes single life look so good that she has to remind her married friends of the perks of their lives. Does she get down sometimes? Of course, but with help of God and an indomitable spirit, she refuses to give in to despair.

    Finally, don’t settle for less than you really deserve. The truth is that you aren’t single because you can’t get married. Just look around. It is obvious that anyone whose goal is to get married can marry someone, but that’s not what you want. Marriage, sex and having children is not your reason for being. Living out God’s will for your life is, and everything else springs from that. You are praying for the right man for you! I love being married, but I wouldn’t have gotten married unless my intended had passed some pretty stringent character tests. At the bare minimum, make sure that your future husband has an intense walk with the Lord, is passionate about his purpose in life, is well-thought of by others (and take a good look at who the “others” are), is head-over-heels-crazy-in-love-with-you, handles pressure well, and is a man’s man (this is where your guy friends/brothers/father come in), and that the two of you complement one another’s calling in life. These are minimum requirements, but I am saddened by how many sisters are willing to look beyond the most obvious flaws. Marriage is hard enough, and life is hard enough, without asking for misery.

    One of my favorite scriptures is, “Why so downcast, Oh my soul? Put your hope in God.” Don’t give up! Reconnect with God. Find a good network of friends to encourage you. Meditate on scriptures that speak about the goodness and faithfulness of God. Read them out loud until they get deep into your spirit and you know that you know that you know that God is coming through for you. Then live out loud, with passion, with purpose, and with reckless abandon, and watch what God does in your life.

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Sex and the Christian Single Woman Part II

Part II

What advice would you give me in terms of reconnecting to the Father, redeveloping that intimate relationship with Him, and remaining in faith and love as I wait for the promises of God to become real for me?

    Many single women are deciding not to wait. When we are speaking to teenagers, we can passionately advocate abstinence. Young people need to focus their energy and efforts discovering who they are. They need to secure an education and establish themselves in careers. For young people, the decision to become sexually involved is fraught with all sorts of risks. Sexual involvement can derail their lives with unplanned pregnancies, result in STDs, and exact an emotional toll for which they are unprepared. But what do we say to mature adult women who say that they understand the risks of entering into a sexual relationship and are fully prepared to handle the consequences physically and emotionally? Some have told me that they would welcome a pregnancy and have ample financial resources to care for a child should a pregnancy occur.

    There no longer seems to be any social stigma associated with a mature single woman who chooses to be sexually active. In fact, it is probably safe to say that most of the eligible men in the dating pool expect that, sometime before the first date and marriage, the relationship will evolve into a sexual one. And it’s not just the men. Can we please admit that women have emotional and physical needs as well? Why can’t two consenting adults decide if they want to engage in safe, responsible sex with one another? What business is it of mine or anyone else? Truthfully, I tend to be a live-and-let-live type of person. I have no personal interest in giving unsolicited advice or minding other people’s business, especially as it relates to such a private and sensitive matter.

This issue, however, goes beyond my personal preferences. God set the rules for how human beings should interact sexually. In His infinite wisdom, He chose marriage to mirror the intimate relationship between Himself and His church. Human sexuality is the means by which heaven itself will be populated. Marriage is two people becoming one. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” Ephesians 5:31. There is no other way to honestly look at scripture but to conclude that God’s highest and best is for sex to take place within the context of marriage. So where does that leave my single friends?

Let’s not pretend that living this out in today’s culture is easy. If my friend and I could sit together in her living room, we would share tears of anger and frustration at the vicissitudes of life. I would acknowledge the dull ache in the soul caused by “dreams deferred.” I was married late enough to watch others walk down the aisle and wonder if it would ever be me. I know what it’s like to watch others start families and wonder if I would ever have children of my own. I know what it’s like to meet a man who I was sure was “The One,” but he wasn’t. I know exactly what happens to a dream deferred.

“What advice would you give me in terms of reconnecting to the Father?” I think this question gets to the heart of the matter no matter the source of the suffering, whether it is the painful loss of a loved one, a terminal illness, the loss of a marriage or an earthquake in Haiti. The questions that we have all asked are, “Why God? How could you let this happen to me? Why do I have to experience this pain, disappointment, unfulfillment?”

    My answer is: Can you trust God when He doesn’t give the answer you desperately want, or when He gives no answer? When life is confusing? When it seems that God is requiring too much? When hope disintegrates into despair? I know that we have been taught that our next blessing is just one praise, offering, or prayer away, but that is not my experience, nor do I believe it is scriptural. My Bible tells me “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22. The scripture states, “Take up your cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34), and the truth is that sometimes the cross is heavy and the road is lonely and difficult. I know that we don’t always hear these in our feel-good services, but it is true nonetheless. Serving Christ means dying to ourselves, and, if you have ever witnessed someone die, death can be agony. The question is: Can you – will you – believe that God is working out the events in your life for good?

How do you reconnect to God? Hebrews 11:6 states, “He that cometh to God must believe that He is.” Do you believe that God is who He says He is? Is He good? Is He faithful? Is He loving? Can you stare the realities of your life in the face and whisper to God, “I don’t understand this, I don’t like this, this is really hard, this seems very unfair, but I believe, God, that you are God.” The next part of the verse says, “And that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Do you believe that God is a rewarder? Do you believe that on the other side of this pain is a reward for you? I can’t tell you how God will reward you, but I do know when God rewards you, you are rewarded.

    Did I mention that this is a process? I assure you that this process is not easy, but it is 100% guaranteed. God is faithful. I know because I’ve wrestled enough nights with my own angels and demons and lived to see morning. I can assure you that God is longing to walk through every issue, doubt, longing, and question with you. The fact that you want to reconnect with Him is only because He wants to reconnect with you. Next week we’ll get down to the practicalities of making single life work for you.

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Tiger Woods: The Deal Breaker

The latest Tiger Woods headline is that his wife is not leaving…yet.

    Would you stay or go? My girlfriends and I have debated that question quite a bit since this whole Tiger Woods fiasco. I have always been firmly in the go camp. But I have a short foolishness fuse. My more longsuffering sisters always leave me dumbfounded. It never ceases to amaze—wrong word —astound me what other women put up with. My visceral reaction is so strong that even my husband, Tim, is taken aback.

Dearly Beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God…

    I made a lot of promises 17 years ago framed amidst a great deal of fanfare. I chose a dress as close to Princess Di’s as I could afford. I invited friends and magnanimously included a few enemies. I made vows to my husband and God in front of my family and friends. I poured over the Book of Common Prayer because I wanted to use vows that had stood the test of time. I would have repeated the vows word for word from the time-honored book, if my dad didn’t temper me. And that’s saying something. I was not a hasty bride. I had been counseled well. I knew that I was floating on cloud of romance and high hopes. I was not naïve enough to believe that our love would not be tested by the realities of life. I just couldn’t anticipate how much.

    Wilt thou love, honor, and keep him…

    I remember when Tim and I were engaged, my siblings tested him, “So, what is it about Gail?” “She’s meek,” he answered, looking at me. I wish you could have heard the earnestness in his voice. The siblings raised their eyebrows and looked at me hard. “Really, Tim? You think, Gail is meek?” They looked at me now with concern. Tim still insisted. It was truly touching. Today, I asked Tim if he still thinks I’m meek:

“What makes you ask that?”

“Tim, it was once a significant point.”

“I heard something in a message by Swindoll or someone about meekness.”

“So there was something that was said that made you think of me?”

“Yes.”

“What was it?”

“I don’t remember.”

“So, you weren’t bamboozled. I was meek in some sense based on that message.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

     In all fairness, I intended to keep those vows when I made them. The truth is that my love is a frail thing indeed. It gets bored, annoyed, fretful, and stressed. It heats, cools, freezes, and boils. It is clingy, indifferent, possessive and nonchalant. It stalks out the door and returns humbled and repentant. I fail in a million ways to live up to my own best self.

Forsaking all others…

     My fear has always been that I wouldn’t be enough. No one is more obsessed with their flaws than me. I am painfully aware of all them. I also know that I am a truly kind person. I am generous and empathetic. I am thoughtful and loyal. I have a sincere heart for God. I am a good woman. I could be a great one. If there was someone out there who would hang in there with me. And I think that gets to the heart of it. When we get married, we are hoping against hope that this one person will hang in there with us. Through anger and grief. Depression and ecstasy. Through the painful and mundane. We say our vows, get naked and trust that this one person won’t turn away from us in our vulnerability. Hang in there. That’s all I ask. I know it’s a lot. I know it’s not always a fair exchange, but I have nothing else to offer than myself, and that has to be enough.

“The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours”

     That is why I don’t care if the other woman never meant anything or if the two were in love or in lust or in whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s over. I believe that God hates divorce. I believe that divorce affects children profoundly, and if people can make it work they should try. Can God restore? I wouldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t firmly believe that God was in the business of mending hearts and lives. I have heard great testimonies about couples whose marriages not only survived, but even thrived after infidelity. God bless them. I am old enough to have learned the lesson, “Never say never.” One never knows what they will do in a given situation until they are in it. But, from what I know about myself, I can say with near certainty that infidelity is a deal breaker for me.

     Why is infidelity the ultimate deal breaker for me? I don’t fully know. I understand the sanctity of sex, but truthfully it does not always feel sacred. Sometimes it feels like a duty. I heard one of Tiger’s mistresses bragging to the interviewer that sex for them was exciting, not like married sex. A young friend once asked me whether she is just saving herself for boring sex. I had to laugh. It was such an honest, intelligent question. The truth is that sometimes it might seem routine. That can be a blessing. There is a lot to be said for a sure thing. Other times, when you are trying to make a baby, it becomes almost holy. In the course of a marriage there is such a range. But, yes, life is mostly predictable, and so is married sex.

     Marriage is two people plowing through life together. The exclusivity of sex means that we are still hanging in there together. Two flawed people with challenges that seem almost insurmountable. Showing up for each other day in and day out. Building a life out of joy, pain, hard work, and a very sacred promise.

     The last I heard, Elin spent the holidays in Sweden and Tiger who was supposed to be saving his marriage is having trouble staying focused. When the priceless glass breaks, sometimes it is irretrievably broken, and the most one can hope is somehow to find the grace needed to give to the one who broke it. Elin will have to find grace for Tiger whether or not they stay married for her own sake and her childrens’. I pray that in the New Year both Tiger and Elin will have an encounter with the Prince of Peace. They and every married couple on the planet desperately need it.

Poem was an excerpt from “The Life That I Have” by Leo Marks

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Where Is the Bottom?

I had promised to write about sex and the Christian single, but the article I am writing is not the one I planned. Last week I watched a story on the evening news that has left me echoing the question Beneatha asked in A Raisin in the Sun, “Oh, God! Where is the bottom! Where is the honest-to-God bottom so he (we) can’t go any farther!” The story was of a 15-year-old girl in California attending a homecoming dance who was brutally raped and beaten outside of her school for 2½ hours by as many as 10 people. The rape took place while police and school officials were inside the school supervising the dance. But the most troubling aspect for me was that at least 10 other teens watched as one of their own was brutalized and not one of them called 911. How does a 15-year-old girl begin to recover from that? How do we?

Where is the bottom? This story is on the heels of another story coming out of Chicago. Honor student Derrion Albert, 16, was walking home from school when he became an innocent bystander in the middle of a gang-related street fight. He was knocked to the ground after being struck in the head with a board, and, after initially regaining consciousness and trying to get up, he was kicked and stomped in the head. He never got up again. The whole thing was captured on a cell phone video recording. I know because for the first time I watched. This time I couldn’t allow myself to escape into my relatively safe neighborhood or hide within the four walls of my church. I needed to bear witness to the horror occurring in the streets of our city. I needed to see the terror in the voice of another woman’s baby. I needed to make sense of the callousness of children. Our children.

Around the globe, 1 in 3 women has been beaten or forced to have sex, and in America a woman is raped every 2 minutes. Sadly, 61% of all rape victims are under 18. Chicago has buried close to one child every week this year as the result of violence. Something has shifted in the psyche of our children, in us as people, and, despite all the marches and handwringing, the violence is mounting. Numbers 35:33 (NIV) states, “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land . . . . ” And the stench from our pollution is rising from the bottom. Last week, our church held a week of prayer and fasting for the city of Chicago. We cried out for the power of God. We prayed for the mind of Christ, and we sought the anointing of the Holy Spirit to break through the darkness that has made our children victims and killers.

Prayer is not a panacea. I’ve been to a lot of prayer services, and I’ve needed all of them. But for some of us, prayer becomes inertia. True prayer is total surrender to the will of God. We become His instruments set apart for His holy purpose to accomplish His will in the earth. Paul tells the Philippians, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 KJV). Prayer must enable us to do, otherwise we are merely offering “vain repetitions” or a meaningless stringing together of phrases that accomplish nothing. The Scripture states that the “love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Corinthians 5:14 KJV). Because I have experienced Christ’s love, I’m driven to demonstrate His love to a hurting world. The passage continues, “that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15 KJV). The end result of prayer takes me outside myself and my own personal comfort and into the service of others.

We have to hit bottom. It is when we hit bottom, when we can no longer live with the mayhem in the streets – the silent screams of women and children, the swelling statistics of incomprehensible cruelty – that we fall on our knees and beg God for mercy. This time, however, we won’t pray that God will help us accomplish our agenda, but that His will be done in the earth, and then we’ll pray until we truly mean it. We will pray that His will becomes more important than our personal comfort, our safety, or even our lives. We will pray until we are completely empty of ourselves, and His Holy Spirit indwells us so that we are empowered to witness, for we know it will take the supernatural power of God to pull us out of the depths of degradation into which we have willingly fallen.

At the end of Paul’s life, he was able to say,For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure” (2 Timothy 4:6 NIV). The will of God is that we die empty of ourselves, and the Christ in us is poured into others. Then we will know what it means to become a living sacrifice unto God. On her Facebook page, my friend has a quote that I love from the British writer, Stuart Wilde:

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “WOW…What a ride!”

I pray that the bottom does not fall out on my watch. I pray that God changes me from the inside out and makes me a vessel that He can use. I pray that Jesus will see fit to thoroughly use me up on behalf of the helpless, the hardened, and the hurting. I pray that the Jesus I encounter in church impacts the streets. I pray that I don’t become religious and irrelevant so that I am neither salt nor light. I live for the day when I run into His arms breathless, having held back nothing, no matter the cost. That is my prayer.

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Sex and the Christian Woman

Sex. It’s everywhere. We can’t avoid it. And, let’s face it, we are doing it. And I’m talking about church folk. Everyone is talking about it, except at church, and for that I’ve been called out. I knew I couldn’t avoid it when the ladies started pulling me to the side saying, “We need to have a conversation; not a rehash of the same lecture we always hear. We mean a real conversation that deals with real issues.” So next month at the Gracious Women’s Annual Advance, we are going to have a no holds barred conversation about sex. We’re bringing together women who have been married forty years, women who are on their second marriages, women who have been married a few years, and single women who have been divorced, never married, never married with kids, and divorced with kids. We’re going to talk to women in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. We’re taking off the masks, we’re shelving the religious talk, and we are going to listen to one another without judgment.

As African-American women, we have the additional burden of finding our way through a labyrinth of images. Some portray us as hyper-sexed Jezebels perpetuated by current statistics of black, out-of-wedlock births and by music videos. Some portray us as the so-called “Sapphire Caricature,” perpetuated in movies and on television as the ugly religious loon whose catchphrase is “Lawd Have Mercy” – in recent years portrayed as Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page) on Sanford and Son, and Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs) on The Jeffersons. Some portray us as Mammy, the asexual, overweight, churchgoing, maternal figure played by Nell Carter on Gimme A Break. The African-American Christian Woman has the challenge of navigating these negative stereotypes with little more than the church’s injunction to “render to your husband due benevolence” for married women and “flee fornication” for single women. Male church leaders have told us how to dress, how long to wear our hair, and how much makeup to put on, and they have been assisted by a church full of women ready to serve as their enforcers. Is it possible to celebrate our beauty and sexuality in the way we dress and still honor God?

What does it meant to celebrate all that we were created to be as women with sexual, emotional, and spiritual needs whether we are married or single? Have we even admitted that we as Christian women even have sexual needs? If not, why not? How should we address the growing epidemic of heterosexual women contracting STDs and HIV? And, by the way, before we prattle “just don’t” – this isn’t just a single woman’s issue; good women who faithfully perform their wifely duties are contracting STDs from their husbands too.

What can the church do to foster a healthy view of sex for women? What are we doing or not doing to keep women safe? What are the most important issues around sex that you think we as women need to address? Women, be honest. Men, what do you think?

For the “Sex Series,” I will suspend my “no anonymous posting” rule so that you can freely weigh in (there is no secret way for me to determine who you are from my end, so don’t worry). The next post will specifically address sex and the Christian single. Stay with me because we are going there.

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