Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Stepping Into 2015 - Stepping Into My Double-Portion - Who's Coming With Me?

Seems like it was only four or five years ago when all the world appeared to be in a frenzy about the impending unknowns of the Y2K. All of our lives we'd placed a 19 in front of our years when posting dates, and suddenly, we had to change and get used to placing a 20 there instead. It changed everything from the way we did business to the way we functioned on a day to day basis. It took us out of our comfort zone, but in the end, everything worked out okay and most of our concerns were proven to be unfounded. Change is imminent, and sooner or later we have to accept it . . . even if we don't readily embrace it.

The year 2014 proved to be a very active one for me. The changes it brought sparked emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other. Not only did it bring me immense joy, but it also brought great fear and deep heartbreak. The fear came when an attempted robbery was made on me as I arrived at work in July. Fear nearly paralyzed me that day. It was still relatively dark outside, and I was all alone (except for the perpetrator), so the only one I could rely on was Jesus. Having only recently moved to the area, I'd only been on the job for six months. On every job I've ever had, I'm known for my ability to overcome challenges it presents. But having someone walk up behind me with a gun and threaten to use it if I didn't give up my purse was more than enough to make me leave. I put in my 2-weeks notice the very next day. I still triumphed in my opinion. Maybe not professionally, but definitely personally. After all, I lived to tell the story. I was still around to put in the two-week notice only because God preserved my life. He allowed me to remain calm in a chaotic situation and enabled me to think quickly that day and outsmart my aggressor. Not only did I escaped with my life, but also my purse. The perp succeeded in taking nothing from me.

The heartbreak came with the the passing of my mother. It's still a hard reality to accept. I honestly can't recall a time in my life when I grieved so heavily. I already knew the pain of losing a loved one that was dear and near to my heart. In 1995, I buried my first husband; a man I loved and adored with all that was within me. But it felt as though the departure of Mama pierced an entirely different area of my heart. For a solid month, I think I cried every single day. Often times the tears would break suddenly and without warning. I no longer had an outside job with assignments to keep me busy and my mind on other things. Being a full time writer again seemed to make the healing process even worse. I was at home alone for much of the day, and writing wasn't a big enough distraction to keep my mind occupied.

Mama was a trooper 'til the very end. God didn't permit her to suffer long at all which was a tremendous blessing. From the time of the doctor's devastating diagnosis until God took her home was a matter of about two months. And she was basically able to fully carry out her life as normal until the last two weeks. Mama never once complained. She never once seemed the least bit concerned of what was to come. Mine is a very close-knit family. I had a tight bond with my mother. I spent nine days of those last two weeks of Mama's life living in the house with her and my dad and helping to give her the 'round-the-clock care that she'd come to need. She was having trouble getting around at that point, but she was fully in her right mind, had a healthy appetite, and was always in good spirits. We had many talks and shared in many laughs during that time. In the aftermath it seems like the knowledge that I'd been there for her when she needed me most would have brought me a great sense of joy and peace. Instead, it seemed to do the opposite. All those fresh precious memories of my mother would overshadow me, and the constant realization that I'd never see her again on this side of life was consuming me with grief. I felt the onset of depression; some days not even being able to get out of bed. One while, it felt as though I might grieve forever, but with a little time and a lot of prayer came God's divine comfort. I still miss her terribly and at times I still grieve. The truth is, I probably always will. But it's no longer the overwhelming sadness that I originally experienced. I'm not drowning in tears now, and I can actually talk about her without completely falling apart. Today I'm able to rejoice in knowing that she's completely healed and in the presence of the Lord.

Sometimes when things happen that we label as "bad," we tend to forget all of the great and marvelous things God has done for us. One heart-wrenching moment can erase every celebrated moment if we allow it. And that was a mistake that I came very close to making. But in 2014, the Lord did some awesome things for me in spite of Mama's transition. In March, I married one the most wonderful men I've ever known. A man who loves the Lord with all of his heart. A man who loves me as Christ loves the church. A man who exceeds everything that I've ever asked for or dreamed of. Meeting him in 2013 was a blind blessing. I didn't plan it, I wasn't looking for it, and in fact, I didn't even want it. The crossing of our paths was completely orchestrated by God. There is no other explanation. After having to endure the utter heartbreak of burying my first husband and the sheer embarrassment of the details that led to the divorcing of my second; marriage wasn't something that appealed to me anymore. My heart never hardened toward marriage, and I still fully believed in true love. However, neither of them were of any interest to me at the time. I was single and completely happy at that status. I didn't feel incomplete or lonely. I was an independent woman, living comfortably in my own home, working as Director of a respected preschool, providing well for myself, and loving every minute of it. But God had other plans for my life...and I'm so glad He did. My husband, Michael, is the absolute greatest gift that I never prayed for, and if God had done nothing else for me this year, allowing me to become Mrs. Michael Holmes would have been more than enough. But the Lord had more in store.

For instance, there is the matter of my 20th published work. If writing and publishing books is indeed the equivalence of giving birth to children, I surpassed my due date many times with The Path From Pain to Purpose. I became "legally separated" from my ex-husband in 2010, and although I began writing the book in 2011, the Lord made it abundantly clear to me that I was going to have to walk through the spiritual storm that my life was going through at that time before I'd be able to complete the book in the manner in which He was inspiring. In my stupidity, I tried over and over again to force the premature completion of it in spite of what God told me, but His will would not be overruled by mine. That entire process (the dissolution of the marriage) was probably the biggest personal trial I've ever had to come up against. Between the lies that were told, the betrayals that were discovered, and the just plain disgusting details of it all; I found myself being broken, remolded, then broken and remolded all over again. It was a rough transformation process, but on the other side of it, God made me so much strong, wiser, better . . . and HAPPIER! It took more than three years, but this year, the book finally birthed electronically in the month of September and in print in the month of December. Not only that, but God gave me a bonus blessing when He allowed me to also publish a 21st work when I released an electronic version of my very first novella on Christmas Day entitled Three Wyze Men.

To end the year, God favored me with a new job. The end of my former employment (even with the fear and danger that surrounded it) was something that God allowed. The timing of it proved that God was (and always is) in control. During the downtime that followed the ending of that employment, the Lord allowed me to fulfill the things that He had assigned me to do in my writing ministry--those things that full time corporate obligations on a mentally stressful and demanding job just weren't allowing me to complete. It also allowed me to be totally available for my mother's needs. But once those assignments were complete, God opened a great door for me to return to corporate America. On December 14th, I spoke the name of the company for which I wanted to work and I spoke the title of the executive position that I wanted to hold. I hadn't applied for it nor did I know that position was even available at that moment, but on December 15th I applied for an online job posting that I found as I was browsing the Internet. The position that needed filling carried the exact same title that I'd spoken the day before. But I because it was a posting that didn't include the company's name, I was totally unaware at the time that it was also with the exact same company whose name I'd spoken a day earlier. I discovered that the following day when I received a call for a preliminary interview. Within five days I'd been hired for the position pending the outcome of a criminal background check...and I certainly had no worries about that. Because of the nature of this particular job, I'll also be allowed the time and the mental calm that I need to be able to get necessary writing assignments done too. I will begin working shortly after the New Year. To God be all the glory!
So yes...God has done great and mighty things for me this year and I'm GLAD. Yet, as much of a milestone as 2014 has been, He has rested the words in my spirit that 2015 will be my year of double-portion. As Michael and I fellowshipped with my dad at his church in Valdosta this past Sunday (Michael was the keynote speaker), my father got up near the end of the service and said that God had told him that 2015 was going to be the best year for his (my father's) ministry. I turned to look at my husband as I sat beside him in the platform because I'd just told him a few days earlier that the Lord had rested the words "double portion" in my spirit as it pertained to the year 2015. I'd never told my father that, so when he said what he said, it was confirmation! But I don't believe it's a word only for me regarding my life or a word only for my dad regarding his ministry. I believe it's a word for all of God's people! Not those who just speak the name of Christ, but those who LIVE the lives of Christians. Those who are walking in the will and the ways of the Lord. Those who don't mind being ridiculed for the sake of the gospel. Those who aren't trying to fit in with the world, but instead are determined NOT to conform but be TRANSFORMED. Those who are walking in divine purpose. I decree and declare it right now. As God has spoken it to me, so shall it also be to you: 2015 is our year of DOUBLE-PORTION!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Bit Torn, But Still Thankful

About eight or nine years ago, I sat among a group of high school students and listened as my firstborn daughter held her debut novel in her hands and discussed with them her newly attained achievement of "published author." For a sixteen-year-old, it was quite an accomplishment and her audience was captivated. When asked who was her greatest inspiration, Brittney quickly pointed toward the place where I sat. It was a proud mommy moment for me as she told them how much it meant to her to have a mother whose footsteps she desired to follow. In the next moment her tone changed as she voiced disappointment that her daddy wasn't around to witness the moment. My first husband--her father--had passed away just weeks before her sixth birthday. Brittney's clear memories of him were a precious few, but her one regret was that he wasn't around to share my pride. She went on to say one of the things that frustrated her most was to listen to her teenage friends complain about what their fathers disallowed them to do. Every time she'd hear them griping, she said she would become aggravated because some days, all she ever wanted was to experience what it was like to have a typical teenage dispute with her dad. What other teenage girls didn't appreciate and took for granted, my daughter greatly desired.

Today, that scene replayed itself in my mind as I read a comment posted in the status of a Facebook friend, stating how "sick and tired" she was of her mother calling her every other day adding to the list of things she wanted her to prepare for their Thanksgiving dinner. Just four days ago, my family buried my beloved mother. My heart still breaks every time I have to come to grips, yet again, with the unchangeable fact that she's no longer with us. In my opinion, I had the world's greatest mother. She was the perfect example of everything good and godly. I can't think of even one bad quality that she had. There's not a single negative thing that I can point out of which to accuse her. A couple of days before her homegoing service, my mom's sister and I were having a conversation in which we both concluded that if a person didn't like my mom, something had to be wrong with them, because she certainly never gave anyone a valid reason to dislike her. She was kind to everyone and had a true heart for God and for her family. 

A year ago, my fiance' invited my parents, my daughters, and me to his house for Thanksgiving. Our wedding was still about 3 1/2 months away at the time. In fact, we weren't even officially engaged yet, but "the babe" wanted his future parents-in-law to see the nice living accommodations that he'd already prepared for me, and he wanted them to meet his mother and niece, who also made the trip to join us for the family gathering. The day couldn't have gone more perfectly. It was a beautiful time of fellowship. I had no idea at the time that it would be the last Thanksgiving I would share with my mom, but I'm so glad that my husband-to-be had the idea to host it. Between me, my daughters, and the great folks at Ed's Country Cooking & BBQ, we provided a feast fit for the royal family that we were.

Today, as I read that sister's comment on Facebook, angry tears burned my eyes A part of me wanted to reach through my computer and slap some sense into her. I'd give just about anything to have my phone ring right now and it be my mother on the other end; even if it were her nagging me by adding to the list of foods that she wanted me to prepare for the holiday. In my opinion, she had every reason to be rejoicing instead of complaining. What that woman was taking for granted, so many of us can only have through wishful thinking and in our fondest dreams. This morning I woke up realizing that tomorrow is Thanksgiving and feeling like I didn't have anything for which to be grateful. The continued heaviness of the loss of my mother momentarily clouded my judgement. But it wasn't long before I found myself repenting for my forgetfulness. 

In spite of the grief, I can't even begin to count my blessings. Aside from life, health, strength, and food, clothing, and shelter; I have an awesome husband who showers me daily with honor and adoration. I have beautiful, intelligent daughters who love and respect me. I have a great father who is still the strong patriarch of my family. I have three sisters and a brother that I wouldn't trade for for anything. Through marriage, I've been given a wonderful mother-in-law who has embraced me from day one, a fabulous sister-in-law that I love like a natural sibling, a brilliant niece whose smile lights up a room, the handsome son that I've always desired but never had . . . and because of that son, I also have a precious little prince that introduced me to the wonderful world of grandparenting. How could I possibly have thought I had no reason to be thankful? Shame on me!!

Just as I had to remind myself this morning of all of my blessings, I encourage everyone who reads this to do the same. Blessings don't always come in the form of "stuff." Good family and true friends are the greatest blessings of all. I'm abundantly grateful that there was not even one instance in my life that I disrespected, talked back to, betrayed, took advantage of, or abused my mother (physically or verbally). I have no reason to look back with regret, but if I had the power to snatch her from God's very own arms and bring her back to her earthly family; I would. I know it's a selfish thought, but it's an honest one too. My mother will always be sorely missed from my life. Even in her absence, I love her. There is nothing like loved ones, and we should never take them for granted. Family unity has always been of great importance to me. Parents, children, siblings, in-laws, grandchildren, nieces, nephews...all of them should be treasured and treated each day as though it may be the last day they'll be in your life. One day, that will actually be the case, and the worse thing to live with is regret.

For everything (and everyone)...give thanks!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Storm Is Over

As I danced with him on the stage during our wedding reception, my mind was flooded with all the personal storms that God had allowed me to endure in recent years. Unlike many women, I don't wear my emotions on my sleeves. I don't thrive off of drama and I don't crave attention. In the five or so years that I've taken full advantage of social media, I've never been one to use it as a platform on which to announce my troubles or to call out those who may have been the culprits that caused them. I choose, instead, to use social networking to encourage the masses through motivation and ministry. Because of this, very few people know that even in the midst of the uplifting status updates I posted, my trust had been (and in some cases, was still being) betrayed in the worst way. 
Subtle clues began to surface . . . like when the identification displayed on my Facebook page suddenly reverted back to my maiden name in 2013, but the transformation of my personal life had begun way before then. Few people were aware that I had been "legally separated" since June/July of 2010. They weren't clued in on the fact that when I relocated from Atlanta, GA to Macon, GA in 2012, it wasn't a family move, but one that I was making as a single woman on a mission to rebuild my life after ugly betrayals and inordinate affections and desires were fully revealed and proven by way of written correspondence and open admittance. When I accepted the assignment of Director at a preschool, outsiders were unaware that it wasn't just a professional change being made by my own choice. Though it was an assignment that was obviously a part of my divine journey, taking that job was one that was necessary in order for me to survive. 
At the time that the "covers were pulled off" and indiscretions were fully revealed, I was in the midst of making great headway on what was to be my 20th published work. God had given me the inspiration to write The Path From Pain To Purpose, but what I didn't realize at that time was I would have to go through my own painful preparation process before I would be fully equipped to write it the manner in which He directed. As much as I tried to continue to pen this ministry tool, God wouldn't allow me to. I had to get through this season before it could be done. Until then, I wasn't qualified. I had to walk it out. This book wasn't meant to be written based on biblical principles alone, but also with a level of knowledge that could only come from present-day experience. And I was clay on the Potter's wheel. I had to be broken and redesigned for the "greater" that lay ahead.
I made the transition to Macon with virtually nothing. Shortly after I moved, I had to even shed some of those that I called my closest friends when it was discovered that they'd had a hand in the mayhem that had transpired in my life. Betrayal is a monster. The depth of the hurt caused by friends, on some level, was the worst pain of all. Once in Macon, I had to live with family for three months before being able to get my own place. My savings was depleted. For reasons that I am totally unaware, my primary publisher had been refusing to (and still has refused to) relinquish my earned royalties. I haven't received a dime of my earnings since 2011. For nine years, the residuals of my writing ministry had been my livelihood, but for unknown reasons the company that I entrusted the business end of a gift that God had given me had decided to unlawfully withhold what was rightfully mine. Since I was now a single woman, I was forced to return to corporate America so that I could provide for myself. It was a very stormy time of my life, but with God's help, I survived . . . and I did so without bitterness or a desire to seek revenge. And on March 15th, it all became worth it when God rewarded me for my faithfulness to His will and His Word. Oh, the joy that floods my soul!
I felt a peace and a protection unlike any I'd ever felt before as my king wrapped his arms around my waist and together we swayed to the tempo of BeBe Winans's "When I Found You" while the lyrics were so beautifully sang by our pastor's youngest son. After all I've been through, I should have been unsure and apprehensive. The whole idea of saying "I do" again should have turned my stomach, but it didn't. From the moment I met him, I knew this was God. I wasn't looking for it and I hadn't asked for it . . . but I knew it was God. And all while we danced, I could hear the Spirit assuring me that the storm was over. Just like in the days of Noah, the Lord placed a rainbow in my sky and assured me that I would never again have to face the type of flood that I'd been through. And I'm thankful. 
At last, I've been given permission to proceed. Finally, my fingers are dancing on the keyboard of my laptop once again and I am moving full steam ahead with finishing the book that so many have been waiting on; the book that some have already pre-ordered. I still have a corporate America job (for now) so my writing time is still limited. But the finishing line is within view now, and the book will release within the next few weeks. I'm excited about my present and my future and the level of love and support that is already being given. The wait is over. The storm is over. It's my season.
Ours in an incredible story, and more details of it will be included in the pages of The Path From Pain To Purpose so stay tuned... :-)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

This has become my anthem for 2014. 

And the best is yet to come!