Monthly Archives: November 2017

Gifts of a Changed Perspective

I’m so happy to have my friend Juana Jordan sharing a message this week. During this season of busy days, I pray that we will pause and look around for people who need love. What better gift could we give?

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son,” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” — John 19:26-27

Rev. Juana Jordan is a native of Jacksonville, Florida, where she is currently planting the soon-to-be Bridges UMC in the city, a multi-ethnic intergenerational faith community in the downtown urban core of her hometown. As an elder in full connection of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Jordan holds a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga. and a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC. She is the former senior pastor of Harris Chapel UMC in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., her very first appointment where she served for 5 years and is passionate about pursuing her passion as a Gospel storyteller, teacher and writer, and believes like the Rev. Dr. Nancy Lane that “telling our stories is a holy work.” When time permits, Rev. Jordan can be found at the local kickboxing gym, dancing to the rhythmic beats of the African drums or thrift store and consignment shopping. Follow Juana on Instagram at preachergirl_in_the_city.

I remember praying I wouldn’t be asked to preach this text for a Good Friday service. Of all the seven last words of Jesus, this was a passage I feared. Not only did it not seem sexy enough (yes, there are passages that are sexy, therefore making them easy to preach), but it didn’t seem to offer kindling to get a good fire started — or so I thought. Besides, how could I relate to this passage. I am not a mother nor a wife. I am a no children having, single, never been married preacher and in no way can I relate to the Jesus/child/parent dynamic — or so I thought. So with hesitation, “fear and trembling” and in obedience I accepted the challenge to deliver a message, only to be surprised at what Jesus revealed. I did in fact understand the feelings that can rise up when the one you depended on being there is no longer there. I did understand the anxiety around the thought of being alone for the rest of your life. I did understand the feelings of not wanting to go on or knowing whether you can go on and how to go on when your life is torn apart. As a single, never been married, no children having woman, I guess I really could understood the absence of a family and the fear of not having one.

Jesus was Mary’s son, yes, and he was also her family. Jesus was John’s friend, yes, and he was also his family. And in a compassionate expression of selfless love, Jesus introduced them and “gave them” to each other so that they would be each other’s family. Jesus handled it, in an unexpected way. He covered their silent fears and concerns of loneliness and aloneness in one fail swoop. He sent the message that bloodlines don’t necessarily bind us. It’s the love lines we have with each other that matter. It was a point he made to the disciples: “And they will know that you belong to me by your love for each other.” (John 13:35) In other words, it is our act of love and acceptance and embracing of each other that speaks the language of family. Jesus’ action is a reminder of what he does for all of us — loves us so fiercely by adopting us into his family and connecting us to others who share his call to love beyond traditions and societal and familial boundaries. He reminds us of what it means to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper. He reminds us of what family looks like and what its members do — they care for each other.

In this holiday season, I was reminded of this gift of family through this passage. I was reminded of the many times Jesus has turned me and others over to each other and sealed us as members of the same family. I was reminded, in the moments of loneliness, that I am, in fact, not alone, but a part of many families that stretch from my days in college, my work in the cities I have lived as a journalist and now those given through my vocation as a pastor and preacher.

What a beautiful present in this season of Hallmark commercials, movies and holiday billboards that can sometimes taint our mood, cloud our perspective and leave us feeling as Mary and John — that love is gone and we belong to no one and no one belongs to us. What a beautiful sight, when in those times, Jesus, in his surprising, unexpected way, commands us to look around to see who is among us and who is with us and what we have been given. He invites us to change our perspective. How has Jesus invited you to change your perspective this season? Who are those Jesus has invited you to name and claim as family? Because I am almost certain that in looking into their faces, we see Jesus and are reminded once again, like insurance, He’s got us covered!

A Teachable Spirit Takes Discipline

Do you want to be successful? Of course you do, so what’s the secret? A teachable spirit—because if you are willing to admit your weaknesses, learn from your mistakes, and seek out wise counsel, with God as your guide, you will develop the skills necessary for success.

For at least a year, I’ve been praying for one of my children to have a teachable spirit, a couple of weeks ago as I literally wrestled him into his soccer uniform, I had a revelation. God was going to use me to instill this virtue in this stubborn child. Would someone please tell me why God always works like this? I really would’ve preferred he just transform my son’s attitude, but alas, that is not to be, so if you hear me shouting, please know I am doing the Lord’s work.

Proverbs teaches us the necessity for a teachable spirit. “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” Proverbs 1:5.  “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” Proverbs 9:9.

Seems pretty simple, but sometimes it is easier said than done. When we have poured our hearts and souls into our works, the critiques feel harsh. I think a teachable spirit requires not only a humble attitude but also thick skin. Let’s face it, it’s hard to listen to your work being picked apart line-by-line or even word-by-word. But we can’t grow as writers or God’s servants if we don’t possess this quality. In all likelihood, we will find that we have to change a lot and work tirelessly. Criticism is hard to accept, but when we allow it to refine our work—our lives, we will be stronger, more effective writers and servants.

It is the secret of the wise and successful. They are constantly seeking instruction from experienced teachers and learned text. Proverbs 2:2-6 teaches us to “turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”

God gives us human teachers and earthly resources to improve our writing and our lives. It is up to us to listen and read. We must take this instruction and apply it. An instructor at a writing conference told me about the number of writers that argued with her about her comments. Now, let’s just be clear, this person is an expert in the field from a number of angles, and she was trying to help budding writers. It boggles my mind, why anyone wouldn’t be writing down everything she said and begging for more. What a blessing from God to have this person willing to help and encourage me as a writer.

I know I need a lot of work. My bookshelves are filled to overflowing with writing craft books, Bible studies, and Christian living texts. Usually, I’m reading one from each category plus a novel and several blogs. When friends or family members have problems, they will often receive a book from me. (whether or not they want it) Obviously, seeking God’s guidance from the Bible is a must. It is the greatest instruction, story, poetry book ever written. Craft books and novels help me hone my writing skills. Sometimes I can read the same concept in book after book, but it takes just the right author to turn the light bulb on for me. What an incredible feeling to grasp a concept, and I apply it to my own writing and life—surely, a gift from God.

To me having a teachable spirit, is not only listening to advice, but actively seeking out the best ways to write, live, and serve; praying for God to provide me with wise and experienced mentors; and being grateful for the opportunity to learn something new each day that will improve my writing and my walk with Him.

King David wrote, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches him his way.” Even the powerful Kind David, a man after God’s own heart, knew the value of developing a teachable spirit. Psalm 25:4, 9.

 

In what areas of your life do you need a teachable spirit?

 

 

Giving Thanks brings Perspective

There is a television commercial that starts about this time every year. The voiceover says, “we are thankful,” or “we give thanks.” Something along those lines, and every year, I think and sometimes say, “to who?” Who provided the bounty on the table in the commercial? Do they really think they provided it, and if so, does that means they are thankful for themselves? Seems a little narcissistic and selfish for Thanksgiving, and as you can tell, it really gets under my skin.

I mean, I am as thankful as most Americans for the convenience of the modern supermarket. Although we (and by we, I mean my husband who thinks he’s a farmer instead of a hospital administrator) keep a small vegetable garden and rarely buy beef because of our supply of venison, I really like being able to find almost any food from around the world at my local store. Not to mention the frozen food section, pizza sustains life around here sometimes.

But the Hebrew author of First Chronicles wasn’t confused about who provides for us, and we should listen to his words.

“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what He has done.

“Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

“Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

“Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

“Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He pronounced.”

1 Chr. 16:8-12

A few years ago, I participated in a gratitude study with a small group of friends. As part of the study, we were supposed to keep a journal, listing at least five things we were thankful for every day. After family members, I’m pretty sure dark chocolate and cabernet were next on my list, just in case you think I’m a super-deep thinker.

Now, as I look back at that season of my life, I remember that it was also a very stressful time. I remember telling a friend about all of the crazy, bad things that were happening to me and my family, and she couldn’t believe I was still functioning. At the time, it seemed like bad was chasing us down from every direction. From problems with our children’s school, to problems at work, to problems with family members. Seriously, our air conditioner and dishwasher even jumped in on the action. But with hindsight, I’m certain God sent that study and those girls at just the right time to help me remember that He has always provided, and He always will. I certainly wasn’t wandering in the desert, praying for manna, but just like the Hebrews, God faithfully provided everything I really needed.

Keeping track of God’s blessings is such an important practice to help me keep my perspective. It also gives me the opportunity to remember how God has been faithful. I love to see the big ways He shows up and gives us more than we asked for, and in ways we never dreamed. I don’t always write it down in a journal, but I try to meditate daily on God’s provision.

Next week is Thanksgiving. What things are you most thankful for this year? I’ll tell you today, I’m very grateful that I stockpiled blog posts and flash fiction pieces because I’m able to spend more time on my books. Every day that the Lord blesses me with a healthy family and words to write, I give Him my thanks. This journey would be impossible without Him. He blesses me so far beyond what I need and in ways, I often don’t even comprehend. Thank you, Jesus, for letting my greatest worry be a leaky sink. (Don’t tell Carlton, I forgot to call the plumber today. I was so caught up in my characters’ lives, and their sinks don’t leak.)

I’d love to hear what you are thanking God for this year. Leave your comments below. Let’s give God our thanksgiving this year.

Just Jack – a Flash Fiction Story

This month’s flash fiction piece presents a meet cute, a first meeting.  Will it turn into more? We love to remember the experience of meeting the person that makes our heart do somersaults and tingles dash over our arms. I met my husband on a blind date, and we were talking about engagement rings within a month.  What attracted you to your love? How did you meet? I’d love to hear your stories. Please comment below.

Here’s a snippet from Just Jack. To read the rest, click on the link at the end.

Brady flipped his truck keys in the air as he sauntered across the tarmac. His buddies played cards in the open bay of the firehouse. The clank of a metal door slamming shut, pulled his attention to the nearby hanger. Bright sunlight bounced off the white paint of a medivac helicopter, stinging his eyes, but the woman with her hands on her hips and two perfectly toned legs held his attention. The woman slashed her hand through her short, dark hair as she circled the helicopter.

Energy surged through Brady, as he turned to the burly guys hunched around a piece of plywood on an overturned five-gallon bucket scattered with poker chips and cards. “Wow. Who’s that? Y’all been holdin’ out on me.”

“That’s just, Jack.” One of the medivac pilots he recognized tossed over his shoulder as he drew a card.

“Doesn’t look like any Jack I know.” Brady shaded his eyes as he surveyed Just Jack’s ripped arms tugging a bag from the rear of the chopper.

“Dude, you don’t want to mess with her, especially not today. We just found out we’re stuck here waiting on a part for our bird, and she’s not happy.”

As if on cue, Just Jack kicked one of the landing skids.

“Obviously, but that’s never been a problem for me. I don’t mind being her shoulder to cry on.”

“Dude, she doesn’t cry, she punches. I’m warning you, steer clear. She’s not like the sweet, southern girls you’re used to.

Click here to read the rest of the story.