Challenge 16: Overextend Yourself

Billy's Cadillac

When I was a child I had a neighbor, Freddie, who loved her Cadillacmore than your mama loves you.” She announced this to us kids after our rubber kick ball hit her Caddy, effectively letting us know that she cared more about things than people, including her youngest son, Hasani, who still lived with her and was standing with her on the porch as she shouted about her love. Her daughter, Mickey, had moved away, I think with a guy, and her son, Billy, had gone away, incarcerated after some thefts and drug dealing. She told us that day that she loved her car more than children, but we already knew this. When he was in high school she bought Billy a 1977 Cadillac Coupe Deville complete with a TV and he would drive with that gangster lean, slumped so low that we wondered if there was a new auto drive feature on that banana stretch beauty. He also wore furs and Freddie wore furs and every other cent she made because her bills went unpaid. After giving her children lavish gifts she would borrow from my mother and we hated it.

“Mama, why you loaning her money? She never pays you back like she says,” one of us would say. “She needs to sell one of dem furs,” another might chime in. “She’s just using you,” someone else would say.

“I’m not worried about her paying me back. Her lights are going to get cut off, and nobody can use you unless you let them,” mama said.

We’d cluck our teeth in doubt, sure that pay-day would never come and that my mother would continue to succumb to Freddie’s pleads about much-needed cash. It didn’t matter to my mother that Freddie loved things more than people; that she lavished her kids with things and didn’t love them with time and talk; that she would spend money on things and not on her bills; that she would likely not pay her back when she said she would; or that we thought her unwise to loan Freddie money.

I learned a lot from my mother’s interaction with Freddie, chief among the lessons being that I would not loan to someone who has her financial priorities out-of-order. I had long made this an absolute in my life, but considering the broader picture of the lives of people in need, I have had to reconsider my position.

I have had to reconsider when children are involved and will be negatively affected by a mother’s poor choices.

I have had to reconsider when a wife thought she was making the right decision in light of her husband’s poor choices.

I have had to reconsider in light of God’s mercies on me.

Over the last few years I have taken my reconsiderations and my mother’s philosophy about people using you and have lined them up with some scriptures that we all would do well to be mindful of:

“Do to others as you would like them to do to you. If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:31-35—NLT).

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers,* cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8—ESV).

In essence, we are to treat others well because 1) we must represent God and 2) God treats us well. As children of the Most High God we should act like our Father. He extended and continues to extend His mercy toward us, healing us from our issues. We didn’t have to pay Him for that so we shouldn’t expect payment for healing others. Therefore, regardless of whom others are and what they do, every act that we do for others should be in tribute to God.

Take a Risk Challenge: Extend yourself to someone, whether by giving money, a ride, conversation, etc. and expect nothing in return.

My One Thousand Gifts List

A supportive husband encouraging me to go see Voddie Baucham while he stayed home with the boys
Tabitha saying, “You’re a mama” and how much she appreciated me
Hearing a thought-provoking message from Voddie Baucham and having money to purchase resources
Joshua being honest enough to share when he’s done wrong and his other struggles
Joshua giving me a drawing he did in art class, saying “I didn’t draw this for you but I want you to have this.”
Nate asking, “You want to sit down, mom?” his way of asking me to watch something with him and I did
Seeing today just how perfect the Veggie Tales DVD is needed for Joshua just like Flynn said yesterday
Being in God’s presence calming my anxiety
Hanging with friends in Birmingham for a birthday celebration
Eating outdoors at Elie’s Mediterranean Grille/Bar

Challenge 15: Love like Christ, Live like King

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.—Ephesians 4:11-15 (NLT, emphasis mine)

I’ve been studying Ephesians for the past year and “speak the truth in love” is one area that continues to stand out to me. We live in a dark world, one that wants to hear what makes them feel good, that wants to embrace what legitimizes their thoughts and actions and makes them feel they’re okay just the way they are. But this is not the truth of Scripture. As Christians, we have a responsibility to 1) allow our leaders to teach us so we can do God’s work and build up the church; 2) be unified in our faith and knowledge of Jesus; 3) mature in the Lord, seeking to be more like Jesus Christ; 4) be stable, not changing our minds when new moral and religious ideas come our way; and 5) speak the truth in love. Scripture is the barometer for our lives and when our lives don’t look like what God says they should look like, we must speak the truth in love, even to ourselves.

From these verses it’s clear that Jesus is our barometer for maturing and loving so we must look to His life to show us. But if we want to see someone who greatly embodied the love of Jesus Christ and spoke the truth in love, I think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an excellent example. On this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, celebrating the birth of Dr. King, I thought it would be good for us to meditate on some of his quotations about love. I believe Dr. King embodied Ephesians 4:11-15. He was that prophet, that pastor, and that teacher who challenged us to be mature in the Lord, no longer immature like children so we can speak the truth in love, “growing in every way more and more like Christ… .” He was a good model of love stability and one we would benefit from following.

Love Quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

Take a Risk Challenge: Live like Dr. King and you will love like Jesus Christ. Choose one of Dr. King’s quotations to meditate and move on this week. Whatever the love quote you will be equipped to show a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

Sleeping through the night and excited to rise this morning
Joshua telling me that I’m “an important person” because “women with dreadlocks are serious”
Dancing and making music with the boys at the youngest two’s beckoning
Pleasantly surprised afternoon of intimacies with Flynn
Joshua saying “I love this house”
Nate telling me he liked my hair and then styling it, saying, “I’m going to make you a princess”
A hard discipleship meeting
Resting even though the boys didn’t nap
Justus trying to get me to chase him by coming up to me, giggling heartily and running away
Having two meeting rescheduled and one cancelled, freeing up my time

Challenge 14: Clean House

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It’s January and it’s housecleaning time! This is the month many of us put away Christmas decorations. As we are sorting, packing and restocking items we often notice other things are out of place: there is a dust bunny here, a few crumbs over there and just downright dirt somewhere else. We may be tempted to ignore the junk, but most of us—even if we hadn’t planned on cleaning—decide that right along with putting away the Christmas stuff that we would clean and reposition what we see that’s out of order. This is the same in our spiritual walk.

January usually is the time for renewal for us all. It’s a new year. Our church has a new vision and we want a new vision for our lives. We set goals. We make resolutions. We fast. And we pray so that we can clearly see the changes we need to make so this year is better in some way than the others before. Though we may have been engaging in spiritual disciplines so we know what to do, we are likely to find that the spiritual disciplines show us who we need to be. Some of us may find we need to be more full of the Spirit, exhibiting His fruit in a greater way. Others of us may find we need to be less doubtful, casting out the negative out so we are able to walk out our God-sized dreams. We need to sort out feelings, reposition our attitudes, change our approach, believe God. We may be engaged in some doing, but not for display purposes only. Our doing should be directly related to our being, helping us shift who we need to be for God’s honor and glory and the good of others. We need to do so we can be consistent vessels of radical acts of love.

Take a Risk Challenge: To get you in the practice of doing something that you have delayed, I want you to clean your closets. As you find items that are still useful but you having been using, set them aside and decide who you will give them to. It could be one person or several persons, but I want you to give away something major and do it this week. We must part with the old to make room for the new. You know this so I want you to do this radical act of love!

My One Thousand Gifts List

Justus liking Indian food
God’s grace to make it through a long day
Being able to fall asleep after being interrupted twice during my nap
Having enough leftovers so I didn’t have to cook
Preparing breakfast for Joshua, Nate and Justus and lunch for Flynn and Joshua in a timely fashion in spite of preparing for two extra folks (Justus and Nate are not usually up at the time Joshua and Flynn are up getting ready to leave the house)
Charyse grooming and styling my hair
Tabitha preparing dinner for my family so I didn’t have to cook and enjoying the meal with her family and Christen
Flynn telling me not to take any meat out of the freezer to unthaw because he was going to buy dinner so I could focus on writing my column
God’s grace to care for the children all day with little time to write
Going to bed resolved that God would help me complete my column

Challenge 13: Release Self Conceptions

I thought my mama was going to die. This was not when she was in the hospital for six weeks, full of tubes and meds and tests, not when she was in the rehab facility, quarantined, therapied, and depressed, not when she lived with me and wanted to go free to do her “own thing.” This was last November when I heard from God she was going to die, that she was no earthly good to God and that her death would happen over Christmas break—on December 21—as an act of mercy, my husband being off work, we would have time to arrange things.

For three weeks after receiving my word, I planned the funeral in my mind, jotted down notes and cried and cried. I thought about my mother, who she was, who she wasn’t and what I wanted her to be. I grieved about who I would no longer have and who I would never get a chance to receive. I thought about her life, the family that shaped her, her shaping that shaped me and couldn’t shape me in the ways I wanted. And every phone call startled me, always wondering if this would be the one where I would hear the news. And my close friends mourned as I mourned, hearing my heaviness in every conversation and praying that my cloak of darkness would cease.

And my mama died, just like God said but not like I thought he said. On December 21, I went to visit her, took my sons to her apartment to see her one last time. I wanted her to tell me that she was proud of my character, maybe say she admired my work as a mother, but she sat there tired, slumped, droopy hollowed eyes staring there, somewhere away from us. We all were there but she had gone elsewhere, perhaps thinking of her finances, having to now pay rent when she had owned her home for well over 30 years. Maybe she was thinking about how her life used to be, how she wished she wasn’t alone, afraid, dependent, broken, unable to travel freely. Seeing her in this state, like I had seen dozens of times before, was different this time. I knew where she was, unsettled, spiritually restless and in no place to give another what they think they need. I had been there with friends, mentees, bosses and my own children who have conceived me to be the crises savior. I saw my mama was in no position, never was in the position, to be my savior, telling me sweet mama words her own mom never had for her.

On December 21, I decided to let mama be, the good that taught me so much, and the incapable that couldn’t give me as much as I thought I needed from a person. When I let her be, I also let free that woman that I wanted her to be. My mama conception died because having her with me shackled me, keeping me from freely completing my God-ordained work. When I let my vain image go God was able to show me that 1) my conception was my idol; 2) I had exalted my conception above the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Psalm 27:10); and 3) I was looking for a person, and not God, to make me feel complete. Letting my mama conception go set me free and was a radical act of love toward my mama, God and me.

Take a Risk Challenge: Decide that you will set free an expectation of someone giving to you or speaking to you in an affirming way when he or she may be emotionally deficient to do so.

My One Thousand Gifts List

Waking up refreshed
Cleaning the shower
Having time with God even with the boys making noise two rooms away
Attending Najeema’s shower
Money to get Najeema a gift and cards for others’ upcoming birthday
Joshua being confident and playing well for his piano recital
Seeing Nana support Joshua at this recital and the 80-something great grandma being impressed with how he played
Attending both services at Ebenezer to support my sister and for memorable and biblical messages from each preacher
Dinner with Flynn
The comfort of Indian food