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I Came for the Dream…

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  ~ Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

More than six years ago, I moved to New York City from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That statement by itself has impressed quite a few people. But I didn’t move to impress anyone. At the time I just wanted to be in New York City. Moving here had been an acknowledged desire of mine for more than ten years prior to me actually doing it. With what I know now, I would call that desire a “calling”. Now, I would say I was called to New York City; indeed, I was instructed to go to New York City. It was part of the plan God had for me and it took over a decade for me to answer His call.

Of course I didn’t know it then, but I see it so clearly now.

At that time, I knew I was on a journey of self-exploration, but I had no idea how the road would unfold before me. The only thing I was focused on was learning more about me. In my simple-mindedness, my self-exploration centered on having a sexual revolution because I thought all my problems rooted from my childhood sexual abuse. I’ll tell you now, I thought God was going to let me have my way because it was something I thought I needed in order to heal myself. I believed that I had been repressed back home in Milwaukee – confined to what everyone else expected of me and wanted from me. I saw NYC as my opportunity to burst free.

When I moved to the City, I was working on my second self-publishing venture, VoLux Full-Figured Calendar. One of my goals with the calendar was to show that women of all shapes and sizes (with natural looks and curves) deserved as much media attention as the women starving themselves to be on magazine covers. My wholesome goal of showcasing women in an attractive fashionable spread that would encourage self-esteem and positive body image was received as a highly sexualized product. Through I was trying to explore my sexuality in my personal life, I was not interested in pimping images of women through my business.

However, I did get momentarily caught up in the dream of high fashion and how I could apply it to my life and my talents. In other words, when I came to the City, I had an intention to be an active participant in all things pertaining to plus-size fashion. And I was active for a couple of years. My second calendar was published in 2006 and I admit to being “MySpace-famous” when that cover hit my social media network. Uncomfortably so. During that time, I realized that I was not interested in the attention I was receiving – people who would only talk to me if my product could do something for their product or service; models who only wanted to meet me so they could be in my next calendar; and main stream fashion folks who had no interest in my work at all because my black “wasn’t relevant” and neither was my size.

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David. [Says the Lord your God]  ~ Isaiah 55:2-3 NLT

After a couple of years of battling myself and trying to sustain the business model I had developed in Milwaukee, I stopped trying to force myself on the narrow-minded fashion industry in New York City and started asking myself questions. And surprisingly, I was able to answer my questions too.

Why is it so important to me to have a plus-size fashion calendar?
It’s not.
Then why am I working so hard on this?
Because I had planned a course of action and committed to it.
Well, if it’s my plan, myaction and my life, can’t Ichange my mind?
Absolutely!
So, going back to the beginning, why did I want to start a business in the first place?
I wanted something I could do from home. Something seasonal in nature that would allow time with my husband and children while contributing income to the family.
What else can I do that this goal would apply to?
I can write.   

My blog started on MySpace.com. I started writing about plus-size fashion and my adjustment to NYC. Two years later I published my first Christian lifestyle book, My God and Me: Listening, Learning and Growing on My Journey which consisted mostly of my MySpace blog posts. I did not foresee my change in perspective, priority or purpose. However, when I conceived the idea for My God and Me, I was then able to trace God’s active guidance and instruction in my life. Up to that point, I hadn’t believed He was paying much attention to me. Moving to New York City with no family or friends to depend on and not going hungry or homeless for one day has certainly shown me my God is very attentive to my every need. Over the last six years, I have grown to trust God more and more every day. My hearing has sharpened to pick up His whispers. My eyes have cleared to recognize the good things He is giving me and the bad things I need to steer away from. My heart is open to His Kingdom, therefore His Kingdom is open to me.

…because I believed the lie of the world…

The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.  ~Matthew 13:22 NIV

I’m going to speak to those who have been abused, mistreated or violated in any way because my old way of thinking came from the mindset of a victim – a captive. I was thinking and acting like someone in bondage who was desperately seeking freedom.  All I could recognize was that I needed to reclaim what was taken from me. In my simplicity, I sought to redeem myself by casting what is sacred (my body) before swine (any man who is not my husband). However, the only way to keep the sacred holy is to set it apart. The sacred must remain clean and untouched by that which is unholy (anything not sanctioned by God).

I had been sexually violated in my youth, so I grew up thinking that my power rested in controlling who had access to my body. In my foolishness, I fancied being loose with my favors and indiscriminate with my choices. Those thoughts appealed to me because I would be able to choose. Please note: there is definite power in our ability to choose, however we are only truly empowered when we make the right choice. The right choice will always line up with God’s word and His will for our life.

Seek the LORD while you can find Him. Call on him now while He is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that He may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for He will forgive generously.  ~ Isaiah 55:6-7

If you’ve read my recent post, 18 Years Celibate: An Anniversary I Didn’t Plan On, you know that God didn’t allow my foolish thoughts to grow into action. When God took hold of me and brought me to New York City (what I thought would be the perfect playground for my ridiculous fantasies), He put me in an incubator of sorts. He began weeding through my consciousness, and uprooting ideas. He cleansed me of the lies I believed about myself, my life and my purpose. He shook the loose soil of the world off of me and repotted me in His Kingdom. He’s been watering me and feeding me ever since. I’m still getting pruned. He still has trimming and shaping to do, but my environment now if God’s Heavenly Kingdom, not the world I inhabit.

My early internal struggles were resolved when I realized that what other people expected of me was not nearly as important as what I expected of myself. And what I expect of myself is not nearly as important as what God expects of me. The business I began building in Milwaukee was a business that appealed to the senses of the world. Worst yet, the images I created incited lust in the viewer – lust ranging from a desire for fame, exposure or sex. The work of my hands was feeding the flesh and dishonoring the God I was beginning to know and walk with.

…but I was transformed by the Light.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.         

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.

It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. ~ Isaiah 55:8-11 NLT

When I first moved here, I was looking forward to all that the City had to offer. I was eager to experience as much of “the life” as possible. I did my fair share of arts and cultural events. I did as much of the dance club scene as I could stand. I went corporate for employment and the ladder I’m on seems to extend and expand only by the grace of God’s attention to my life. All of my experiences in this city have been good – even the painful ones. The City has embraced me as much as I’ve embraced it – but certainly not in the ways I first thought. Over the years, I thought it odd that God would bring me to a city steeped in sin, the Babylon of the U.S. if you will, only to purify and sanctify me….

But His thoughts are so far beyond my own…. I have learned to follow where He leads and to do what He tells me to do.

I’m not so humble that I don’t recognize the remarkable work God has performed in my life. He has been building an amazing one-of-a-kind woman who has found comfort in His strength, purpose in His word and love in His presence. The confidence his care and attention has imbued in me makes me equally confident that He has put just as much effort and time in my mate. For God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of partnership and order. He has molded me into a helpmate with a thirst for His Spirit. This means that the one I am to assist has also been re-modeled into God’s image and character.

May you be so blessed in your journey to recognize the hand and the work of the Master in your life. And trust Him to do His part as you obey His instructions and do your part.

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Your Life is Your Ministry

The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. ~ 2 Corinthians 3:2-3  

I have heard many people claim that they are going to do this or that when they clean themselves up, get themselves right. They’ll focus on God when they stop clubbing or have had enough of the promiscuous lifestyle. They’ll forgive someone… eventually… they just have to keep praying about it. They’ll commit as soon as they get the job or the raise they’re waiting on. They will love people as soon as people love them.

I’m sure you’ve heard many variations of this theme. And to all of those excuses and the ones waiting to be spoken, I say – Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation. In 2 Corinthians 6:2 we are told:

For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

So… just do it!

Bust a move and build on your good, life-giving thoughts.

A Lifestyle Example in the Workplace

“You are the light of the world…. [L]et your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:14, 16

My last performance evaluation was eye-opening for me. You may not think of your job as the appropriate place to let the light of God shine through, but I will tell you anywhere your body goes (or your presence is seen or felt) is an appropriate place for God’s light to shine through you.

Last year was a very rocky year for me in some respects, but apparently it didn’t show in my day to day interactions.

Here are some remarks my manager wrote about me in my annual review:

LaShawnda performs her day-to-day duties in a superior manner. She exercises good judgment about priorities. She functions very independently, but seeks guidance when appropriate. She asks questions and applies what she learns to her daily work.

She is well-organized and always pleasant, cheerful, and professional in her dealings with others, and has built many constructive relationships [in the company]. She is a great ambassador for me and our group.

LaShawnda is service-oriented. She works extremely well with others, whether she is in charge or taking direction.

She understands the importance of corporate rules and policies and ensures that this office follows them.

LaShawnda has initiative and persistence. She is a person of integrity and can be relied on to be direct and forthright about problems, complications, errors, and other “bad news” as well as good. She takes responsibility for her performance in the fullest sense.

She is flexible and adaptable, and she is always open to new challenges. If she promises to do something, she always follows through. I love that she comes to work with her brain turned on.

She is an intelligent, enthusiastic, hard-working, conscientious, and creative partner in the workings of my office. She is considerate of my work style and sensitive to times when I need to be left alone to focus on something, but she is also a lot of fun!

She wrote much more, but these are some of the comments that mirror Kingdom principles to me. She deserved an on-the-record response for recording such an evaluation of my character and conduct. In the first part of my response, I spoke as a citizen of God’s Kingdom. “I truly enjoy the role of ‘helper’ – it is a pleasure working in a role where performing well means I must assist others and maintain good relationships with them.”

That’s my life in a nutshell. I’m here to help. I’m here to serve. And it doesn’t matter if I’m giving orders or taking orders, my responsibilities are going to be the same: love people/treat them well, let my light shine, speak truth/be freed by it, do everything as I am doing it for the Lord, declare what the Lord has done for me and rejoice always.

People will know you by your fruit and you drop seeds with every interaction you have.

God has transformed and blessed you so that you may be a blessing to others.

 We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. ~ 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Scripture references:
Psalm 118:17, 24
Mark 12:29-31
Matthew 5:14-16
Ephesians 4:15
John 8:32
Colossians 3:23
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Philippians 4:4-7

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Few are Chosen

Yesterday, I came across the sermon, God’s Greatest Creation by Dr. James Flamming. In it, Psalm 51:10 is highlighted, Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Flamming posits that God’s greatest creation is not complete. That our continual seeking of God requires a continual cleansing of our heart and renewal of our spirit. As you can imagine, that had me thinking. But not as much as his next point.

He spoke of David’s relationship with Bathsheba as one in which David positioned himself as God – attempting to control the events in her life to suit his own desires. The prophet Nathan was sent to David to share a parable and deliver God’s judgment to him (2 Samuel 12:1-14). The parable was one of a rich man taking from a poor man with no consideration or remorse. David was outraged and exclaimed, “Surely the man must die!” Nathan replied, “You are the man!”

Words of praise

According to popular opinion, I am awesome… glow with an emanating light… have the light of God shining through me… and am radiant with some inner peace…..

I’m sure if I thought long enough, more such words of praise would come to mind. My friend, Rhonda, has repeatedly told me through the years, “Shawnda, you are one of God’s chosen ones.” I always chuckle and shrug, as with the other words of praise, I brush the speaker off with a quick thank you and change of topic. But Rhonda caught my attention last week. It could’ve been timing. It could’ve been the fact that other seeds had been dropped and many prayers had gone up. After I shared some very flattering feedback similar to the above, Rhonda looked at me and said, “Why don’t you believe? We aren’t all going to tell the same lie.”

I suffer from the paradoxical thought that I’m no more special that the next person, while committing myself to the work of pointing out the uniquely special characteristics of the people I come in contact with. “I’m nothing special, but you certainly are,” has been my message, even while knowing no one is well-served when I play small.

Can you stand to be a blessing?

So, what if I am the woman? What if I’m the one to deliver a message to you like no other? What if I were able to see my light as clearly as I see my darkness? What if I were able to harness the good in me as securely as I suppress the sin nature?

What if you are the person? What if you are the one your neighbor is waiting to receive from? What if you are the blessing?

I prayed a prayer last week before visiting with a friend: “Father, give me the ability to accept and receive whatever he has to offer.” I didn’t want to walk into the conversation with expectations or walk away with unanchored hope. I just wanted to appreciate the moment for what it was.

That little prayer opened me in so many ways. When Rhonda later dropped her words into me, I wondered, “What is it about me that I haven’t accepted or received?” Indeed, what is it about me?

I hadn’t accepted my light.

Narrow is the way

A young poet at my church blessed the congregation with his words a few weeks ago. A verse he worked from has been rocking me ever since.

“Enter through the narrow gate. The gate is wide and the road is wide that leads to hell, and many people enter through that gate. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. Only a few people find that road. ~Matthew 7:13-14 NCV

Very familiar verse, but I truly heard it for the first time that day. I truly saw my congregation for the first time. They weren’t all on the same road.

See, my most painful struggle with the church has been because I supposed everyone in the church was seeking a Christ-like existence. I assumed that those who called themselves Christian and attended church regularly were seeking to become more and more Christ-like; a functioning part of the body; a loving neighbor…. I assumed I was joining one big happy family.

So much for assumptions…. As I spoke with someone after the poet performed, I looked around the moving congregation. In an awed voice, I said, “That’s why… they haven’t found the road.” Matthew 7:14 said it all for me in that moment. “But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. Only a few people find that road.” I was able to acknowledge that I was one of the few.

After Jesus told His disciples He is the way, the truth and the life, He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the same things that I do. Those who believe will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

So I ask you this, assuming (there’s that word again) I am not the only one who has difficulty accepting his/her light, if you believe in and on Jesus, and believe all things are possible through Him why is it so difficult to accept that His light is shining through you…that you are capable of the same life-altering miracles He performed? That you, by asking God to create a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit in you, would be able to resemble and represent Christ to those who are thirsting for Him?

“You are the light that gives light to the world. A city that is built on a hill cannot be hidden. And people don’t hide a light under a bowl. They put it on a lampstand so the light shines for all the people in the house. In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and will praise your Father in heaven. ~ Matthew 5:14-16

I have been remiss. From this point forward I will be sure to instruct people to praise my Heavenly Father when they incorrectly praise me. Please, praise the Father for the work he has done, and continues to do, in me. That will keep us all in remembrance and as a result, I’m sure I’ll feel more comfortable letting my light brighten the world around me.

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I Love You, But God Loves You More

In her book, Beauty for Ashes, Joyce Meyers says her mandate from God was to tell His people He loves them. I think about her words often. My pastor has been teaching on love since I joined the church a couple of years ago. I thought I knew what love was until I learned who God is. Pastor told a story about one of the elders in the church who had recently died. The man had run with a rough crew growing up. When he got into the Word and learned about love, he realized the men he hung around had never hugged or expressed their love of each other. The elder had told the pastor that one day as he was ending a call with one of his male friends, he said, “I love you, man.” And his friend responded in kind. The elder shared with the pastor that his whole crew was transformed with that simple expression and he was the only one, at that point, in the Word.

I don’t know about you, but that story continues to pluck chords in me. The power of the word resonates. It heals. It waters. It grows. It saves. It’s life.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved. ~ John 3:16-17

I spoke to an old friend shortly after the pastor shared the elders’ story. My friend and I have known each other for ten years now. We started off as room-mates (for nearly a year) and the relationship survived. Since the birth of her first child three years ago, we’ve spoken, on average, once a week. Before that, we spoke two to five times a week. She is most certainly one of my best and closest friends. As I ended a call the other day, I said, “Love ya, girl.” She responded, “Don’t say that too loud! People aren’t going to take it right.”

I was perplexed. “Why would I care how anyone takes it?”

“Do you tell your other friends you love them?”

“Actually, I do.  And only one person has completely fallen off since I shared the sentiment.” The conversation segwayed, but I continued to think about her response. I had certainly told her I loved her before. We sign all our cards in love. I traveled to participate in her life events and make sure I acknowledge the annual celebrations. My love and appreciation of her friendship has certainly been expressed. How could she be so uncomfortable with the voicing of it on an ordinary day?

Then it hit me: she’s only familiar with the world concept of love. Our relationship has grown, but we haven’t grown together spiritually. She believes in God but He’s more of an abstract than active figure to her. Lately, she has expressed more interest in learning Him for herself. I can only hope the way I live is more encouragement than deterrent.

I would much rather speak and hear objections than to say nothing and have you wonder.

Open rebuke is better than secret love. ~ Proverbs 27:5 (KJV)

Dear Reader – My Brother, My Sister, I love you. And God, our Heavenly Father, wants you to know He loves you so much more. He’s the best lover ever! Try Him! In order for you to know and accept that, you must know who He is. God is love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. ~ 1 John 4:7-16 (NKJV)

Light of the World

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV)

I just had my year end performance review. I’ve been working in my current position for six months. My manager, who I call Bosslady, will most likely go down in my work history as the best boss ever. But for now I’ll be modest and say she’s second only to the manager who trained me into management nearly fifteen years ago. He taught me lessons I still apply to life and work. In my performance review, Bosslady said, “You have such a wonderful attitude, you make coming to work enjoyable for me. And people enjoy dealing with you. I like that, because you’re my ambassador. You’re my representative to people who are trying to reach me. I appreciate knowing that they’re in good hands with you.”

Think about that….

Isn’t that what we’re called to do by the Boss of bosses? In 2 Corinthians 5:20, we are told we are Christ’s ambassadors, through whom God makes His appeal to the world. If God were to give you a performance review today, what would He say? I’m certain He’d want to know: Do His people know He loves them? Did you go and continue forth as sent? Is your light shining in the darkness? Do you walk about with the face of Jesus Christ? Have you walked with the people you helped to salvation? Or did you just leave them at the door?

[God] gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:18-21(NKJV)

A church lady was telling me the other day how she gave advice to a young lady who was experiencing difficulties. The church lady gave the young lady her email and church address. The young lady said, “But… how do I speak to you?” The church lady replied, “Email me or find me at church.”

Perhaps to you that sounds hospitable and gracious. To me it sounds cold and disconnected.  And quite honestly, I’d be surprised if the young lady ever shows up to our church. That was a God opportunity to be the face of Christ. We can repeat John 3:16 but it converts best when we live it. You’re the Son. You’re the One God gave to the world. You need to represent the Kingdom to the best of the ability God put in you. As great as church (building/service) may be, the church isn’t sent to bring people to Christ, we are. (Matt 10:5-8) The church (building) isn’t the temple of God, we are (1 Cor 6:19). Do your job, be a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1-2). Give your time. Give your love. Give of yourself. Let God’s glory shine through you (1Cor 10: 31-33). Know that you are loved and you are Love’s ambassador. Tell His people, their Father God loves them.