When troubles hit…

In the past few days, God has brought me back to my childhood by reminding me about the tools that the builders used to erect structures whether for life or for death. Morbid as it may sound, the measurements for a coffin had to be no less accurate than that for a house so the builder employed these three tools extensively in his craft: the plumb line, the level, and the square. It seemed as if they were worth more than gold to carpenters and masons who lived in the small community where I grew up in Jamaica.  I learned later that they were very expensive and without them, a builder was unable to do his work well.

My father was not a carpenter, although he was always building something. How can I ever forget the bright chalk line on the cords that he and other carpenters used on the plumb and the mercury that settled in the middle of a level that he kept out of the reach of my siblings and me when it was not in use?  He would always talk about the importance of “correctness” each time he used a measuring tool.  “If you don’t use the level, it’s going to be off”, he would say to us.  Our family always had this inside joke about a mason in our district who built a leaning house because his measurements were off and so I am always particular about symmetry.

I have little or no knowledge of carpentry and I’m not mathematically inclined as my husband. However, I have lived long enough to know that everything must be exact and correct in constructing a building. The builder cannot fight gravity, his tools are what he uses to erect the most majestic Taj Mahal to the humblest cottage that will stand up to the forces of nature and the wear and tear of human activities. In the same way that the builder allows his tools to harness gravity, we must engage the word of God to stand in the face of temptation, trials, and tribulation. When Job heard one terrible news after another, there was nothing he could do but to hold on to his faith in God. He reminded himself about the surety of God although he was surrounded by friends who tried to make him lose hope because he knew something that we must also know: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17, KJV).

If you have the chance to watch a carpenter, you will notice that as soon as the plumb that he holds in his hands find a vertical line, it becomes taut and the object at the end of it stops moving.  Likewise, the liquid in the middle of a level settles in the same way when used to check for the alignment of lines and the square checks that when the plumbed object intersects with the level object they create a 90-degree angle.  That is what Christians must do in challenging situations, stop moving and intersect with God:

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Ephesians 6:13, KJV).

Make your yourself against sin like the vertically straight line of a plumb line: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). A plumb line does not fight gravity so do not fight the devil. God will fight for you. Do what the writer tells us in Proverbs 3:5 NIV:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

See the source image

 

I am guilty, but…

via Daily Prompt: Mercy

stock photo of mercy - Gods hand reaching out - JPG
The urge for leniency comes from the understanding that we are fallible creatures and that we are susceptible every vice, known and unknown. The lust for power, wealth, and fame has brought otherwise morally upright men to the basest levels of human corruption. Often have wise men through the centuries lost their heads over an alluring woman and even destroyed kingdoms because of a few careless moments of dalliance with the opposite sex. Wars have been fought and friendships severed because of foolish words said in anger or jest.

We know the pitfalls and we have precedents for every act done under the sun. However, we continue to err and mercy has to be applied. Mercy is not tacit approval of an egregious act, but an act of mercy at the right time is for the greater good. Christ showed us mercy on the cross while we yet sinners because He loved us so much that He wanted to give us a way of escape from the sins that held us down. He was aware that because one man sinned and separated us from His Father; one man could unite us with Him. He was the only one who was eligible and He gave Himself as a ransom for us. He had committed no sin, yet He took our sins on His back so we could receive the gift of salvation. O what unsurpassable mercy and grace!

 

The Joy of the Lord

        

  • Image result for bored pictures of people

I’ve noticed that when I’ve had a rough week and I don’t pray enough, I feel more tired than even when I’ve done physical labor. The reverse is also true for me that I still experience a special energy when I ‘m filled up with prayer and the word of God even while being physically exhausted.

We are expected to feel tired when we do hard work, but our mind remains intact. In fact, we feel a sense of accomplishment when we complete a task. That is because our bodies produce neurochemicals to help us absorb and mitigate some of the pain that is a natural consequence of daily living. Dr. Christopher Bergland calls them the 7 molecules of happiness. These neurochemicals are neuro chemicals are endocannabinoids, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphin, serotonin, GABA and adrenaline.

While they all have distinct characteristics, they can be triggered or slowed down by each other.  For the sake of this article, I will only concentrate on four of the seven that Dr. Christopher Bergland has described: Dopamine: the reward-molecule; oxytocin: “the bonding molecule”, GABA, “The anti-anxiety molecule” and serotonin: “the confidence molecule.” He notes that purpose driven activities increase the level of dopamine in our brains and gives us the sense of satisfaction for setting and executing goals. Oxytocin is the molecule that fosters trust, loyalty, and intimacy. In our society where we have high divorce rates, people are overly tense about spatial proximity and suspicious about each other, it would come as no surprise that most of us produce this neurochemical in low quantities. Many tragedies and things outside of our control occur every day so the Creator has placed GABA molecules in us, the anti-anxiety molecule to help us survive the harsh realities of life. When we learn to meditate on the word of God and pray, we unconsciously trigger anti-anxiety molecules because we gain confidence. As we turn over situations into competent hands we have a quiet trust because God gives us peace. We, therefore, become great beneficiaries of serotonin, the confidence producing molecule.

 

I’ve mentioned all of the above to make one statement that “The joy of the Lord is [our] strength (Jeremiah 8:10, KJV).  Let’s face the truth: Sin drains us. Why? Because it separates us from our source, who is God, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Not knowing God gives us spiritual ennui. We are living without the right motivation and therefore dead because the wages of sin is death.

The motivation for a robust, full life has to come from God. He has placed in us natural happiness boosters that are activated and maintained by our living in Him and vice versa. Unfortunately, some people have rejected Him and they are continually trying to chase dreams and engage in pursuits to make them happy.  Yes, they are goal-oriented and they achieve many things, but their lives still remain empty because they have placed too much burden on themselves when God is there to take the stress off their backs.  He has already given us more than enough assurance:

Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved (Psalms 55:22, KJV).

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you (1 Peter 5:7, KJV).

Fear thou not; for I [am] with thee: be not dismayed; for I [am] thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness (Isaiah 41:10 , KJV).

Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28, KJV).

Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God (Philippians 4:6-7. KJV).

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33, KJV).

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7, KJV) .

Trust in him at all times; [ye] people, pour out your heart before him: God [is] a refuge for us. Selah (Psalms 62:8, KJV).
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose (Romans 8:28, KJV).

 

The psalmist David also speaks about the advantages of trusting in God:

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore, my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.

If we follow his lead, we will not have to depend on outside influences to enjoy living. We will be guaranteed complete joy regardless of our circumstances.

 

References

Bergland, Christopher (2012). The Neurochemicals of Happiness. Retrieved frompsychologytoday.com.

 

Ignorance is not bliss

 

via Daily Prompt: Bumble

I remember my elementary school years with fondness. They were some of my most carefree although I sucked up knowledge like a sponge. It was during that period that I learned all the memory gems that I still remember even after more than forty-five years. One of the quotes I still recite today is one that was written in the front of a reading book that I used in the third or fourth grade. I learned it by heart as we did all poems and memory gems. I did not know the author of this poem and thought that it was an excerpt from one of Aesop’s fables. I recently found out it is originally an Arabian quote, although some people believe it is a Chinese maxim. It goes like this:
“He who knows not,
and knows not that he knows not,
is a fool; shun him.

He who knows not,
and knows that he knows not,                 
is a student; Teach him.

He who knows,
and knows not that he knows,
is asleep; Wake him.

He who knows,
and knows that he knows,
is Wise; Follow him.”

― Arabian

The poem talks about four people: three of them bumble through life without intervention while the fourth one is the poster child for success. Ignorance is not a picture of bliss, but knowledge is celebrated.

As an educator, I see examples of the first three types pass through my classroom year after year. However, the good thing is that my subjects are young and their minds can be molded. On the other hand, I feel a degree of sadness when I see adults who bumble and fumble through life because they accept and/or are oblivious to ignorance. Although we have more access to educational opportunities and the proliferation of printed information, too many people continue to be misinformed in our society. There is no reason for it: we are no longer in the Dark Ages.

Image result for knowledge and wisdom pictures

America became great because people had a passion for discovering and creating. There was a quest for knowledge. That’s why this country is great today. The people who “did not know” and knew that they did not know were open to learning and those who knew “that they know” did not sit on their laurels and imparted wisdom to those who wanted to know.
Today, too many of our young people enjoy the fruit of their predecessors’ labor and have little or no appreciation for it. They ignore the fact that many hard-working men and women toiled and built on the work of others before them to bring about things like cell phones, laptops, iPods, and the countless things they now take for granted. Some college and high school students balk at spending time and writing an essay or doing research that is their work. They prefer to plagiarize because they are too lazy to tell their stories and let someone else benefit from their research. They will never “know that they know” because they have not given themselves a chance to produce something of worth.
Even sadder than that, is that some parents will lambast a teacher who demands honest work from their children, not realizing that they may be depriving their offspring of reaching their highest potential.

So what if a student has to re-do a paper several times before he gets a good grade?Should a student repeat a grade if he has not successfully completed all requirements? Should a child in elementary school receive his true score if his work is not up to par? We need to ask ourselves tough questions if we want America to retain its status in this global economy. My mother used to say that Rome was not built in a day so students must learn that we must put sweat equity in everything we do and that the process is as or more important than the product. Pride in achievement is derived more from the doing than the end result.

 

Nothing outside of God’s word says this better than another quote I learned in Jamaica and penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained in sudden flight but, they while their companions slept, they were toiling upwards in the night.”

I just want peace

via Daily Prompt: Bury

 

It can’t be bought or sold, but it can be planted and cultivated. Don’t even try to understand it because you won’t. However, you’ll recognize it when it’s around, and you’ll know when it’s gone. It’s  both accessible and elusive. While it is the opposite of strife, men have fought wars to gain it without knowing it comes from within. What I’m talking about is peace.

I can usually predict when an otherwise well-kempt student is going to have a bad day by looking at their hair. Almost invariably, if they come into the classroom in the morning with uncombed or unfixed hair, their behavior follows suit for that day. They generally cause problems during instruction, in the hallway, or in the cafeteria. Sometimes, they end up getting in a physical fight with a classmate. They may blame their opponent for starting the fight with them but after some prodding, you realize that the fight began with them before they arrived at school. They had an issue that began at home that was not resolved and since misery likes company, they brought it to school.

Anger, resentment, frustration, hate, and bitterness create inner turmoil. These emotions rupture our internal equilibrium, and if left unresolved can destroy our lives. If a spouse offends us and we don’t talk about the problem. we set ourselves up for a divorce. One small hurt festers into something big. We all have problems in our lives; how we handle them is what separates the resourceful from the helpless. Failure to acknowledge our issues or burying our anger is not the best way to deal with the challenges that we face every day.  We must recognize and deal with negative emotions head on so that they don’t overwhelm us.

It does not mean that we are in control of our emotional well-being because we don’t go to work throwing chairs and firing shots at our coworkers. Disparaging a subordinate in front of others, agreeing with wrong simply to please others, and covertly discriminating against someone because of the person’s race, gender, and origin are symptomatic of deeper problems in our lives. We hurt others because we have hurt. Unfortunately, many of us don’t even know that we do and if it’s revealed to us, we will not admit it because we are afraid to confront us. We have been taught so long to bury our emotions to save face that we have become numb to ourselves. Consequently, we have a lot of functional dysfunctional people working in our institutions.

They are a disaster waiting to happen.

We see it over and over again in the news. Mother murders children. Judge commits suicide. Doctor shoots former coworkers. The list goes on, but I must not forget the number of killings carried out by disgruntled postal workers in recent years. It became so frequent that the expression “going postal” has become part of our vocabulary. It’s sad that people laugh at this expression.

Lack of peace is not a laughing matter. Although we shy away from talking about it, we are seeing the effects of it in our society and in other parts of the world. There are wars and rumors in foreign lands, terrorism, and unthinkable forms of an atrocity of man against man. In our country, it seems like every man is against his brother and his brother against him. Nobody wants to bury the hatchet. From the highest to the lowest office in our land, people denigrate each other and engage in immoral and illegal acts, but are unwilling to admit wrong. All these are the result of the absence of peace.

To say that a person who has peace has a pollyannish view is mistaken. Having peace does not mean that one does have emotions like anger or that one is without problems. It means that one is able to cope with stress because one has or can access the resources for doing so. Moreover, one does not go into denial and buries the problem, hoping it will never resurface.

Since peace is not a commodity we buy in the store, it can only be accessed spiritually. God is the beginning and end of real peace, and without Him, there is no right calm. Those who accept Him will receive His peace and exude it. There are many assuring scriptures that He has given us to keep us as we journey through this life:

Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus ( Phillipians 4:6-7 KJV).
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:33, KJV).
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.(Romans 15:24, KJV).
 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee (Isaiah 26:3, KJV).
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful( Colossians 3:15, KJV).
 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14, KJV).

 

Let them play!

via Daily Prompt: Caper   

My grandson strikes a goofy pose in the middle of Time Square. I see this picture several times during the day as I move about in my kitchen. It’s sitting at the front of my refrigerator, and I smile every time I see it as if I’m noticing it for the first time. There are other photos of my grandson on the fridge, but this one captures my heart more than the others.

Perhaps it does because my grandson has this silly grin and a mischievous glint in his eye. Moreover, he has managed to contort his body in a funny position, and it seems that he has enjoyed it immensely. Elijah’s intention was to entertain his spectators, and he has achieved his goal with me. I’m drawn to the energy and exuberance in that photo. Children ought to be that way: carefree, energetic, happy, playful, and a little mischievous.

Something pulls far down in the pit of my stomach every time I hear of another child being kidnapped, raped, or killed. I can’t bear seeing a hungry child on TV or even worse, for unscrupulous adults to parade the faces of disadvantaged kids for soliciting money and cheap publicity. Call me old fashioned, but there is nothing more refreshing than little girls dressed in pretty frocks and hats and boys in suits, especially on Easter Sunday.  Jeans, shorts, skirts, T-shirts and other forms of clothing are fine too.

However, my pet peeve is when parents try to dress their children as miniature adults. Why should little girls wear sexually revealing clothes and be subjected to the negative attention of some who are morally bankrupt? Although there is no correlation between dress and the sexual exploitation of young children, we cannot ignore the fact that clothing affects the perception of the beholder. For example, the worst criminal will appear before a judge in his best attire to create a good impression. Therefore, parents must take into consideration what story their child is unintentionally telling when they dress him or her each day.

Parents have an obligation to take care of their children. They cannot choose which responsibilities they will or will not assume regarding their offspring. Attending a parent teacher conference at least once during the school year is no less important than taking one’s child to Disney World. Sometimes telling your child no also shows that you care. Children need parents to guide and set boundaries for them as they continue to nurture their sense of inquiry.

God had a reason for delaying the full development of the frontal lobe in humans until the earlier part of our adults. Decision making, planning, problem-solving and emotional control are functions that occur in this area of the brain. Considering that children need to explore and learn about their environment, risk taking would be stymied with a full blown frontal lobe. Gradual development correlates with physical maturation.

Since the frontal lobe gives our children more “room to mess up,” they are more inclined to take risks, and less inhibited in expressing their emotions. Immediate gratification matters more to them than what the future holds. That is why they caper, frolic, and play. They feel invincible, so they do things that make you cringe. Let them cavort and laugh and grab life with both hands, but don’t leave them to their own devices. They need you to be their scaffold. Teach them to love God, respect themselves, treat their neighbors kindly, and protect the earth.

Childhood is what shapes our adulthood. Let’s help our children to enjoy this wonderful stage of their lives. Therefore, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tender is relative

via Daily Prompt: Tender

 

When it comes to food, the word “tender” has a different meaning in the South than in the North. Degrees of tenderness to which foods are cooked also vary between Blacks and Whites. Many Southern Blacks take great pleasure in simmering their green leafy vegetables until they are soft and to the point that they melt in your mouth. Their white counterparts also sometimes cook their vegetables until they lose their crispness, but with more bite than their African-American neighbors.

Collard, turnip, and mustard greens simmering gently in a crockpot on a rainy day gives the most comforting feeling to a Southerner. Some like it plush with ham hocks; smoked turkey necks or tails; or just the plain greens seasoned with onions and other spices. One of my church sisters in Atlanta divulged to me that collards are no good without a little vinegar. She does not believe in adding sugar to her greens although some cooks swear by it.

After the greens have reached their level of the desired doneness, they may be served with several starchy dishes. For most Southerners, corn bread is the best complement to this dish. Macaroni and cheese casserole is the ubiquitous side that pops up on just about every southern table on nearly all occasions whether it’s a baby shower or a Thanksgiving dinner – and it also goes well with greens. And by the way, there is nothing al dente about the noodles, rather variations of tenderness since that quality is more inviting to the southern palate.

Talking about taste, every restaurateur knows if he wants to add the finishing touches to his greens, he must place a tasty bottle of hot sauce on the table if he wants to have African-American customers coming back for more.  Another thing that outsiders need to know is that whites and blacks in the south are not divided about food. They both appreciate and like their regional dishes.