Monday, June 27, 2005

Love: From a Teenage Perspective

By Cassaundra Ricketts

Love is when you get butterflies in your stomach every time you see “that” person.
Love is when your heart beets 1,000 times faster than normal and jumps for joy every time you see “that” person.
Love is when you talk about “that” person most of the day.
Love is when you have “that” person on your mind more than you have yourself on your mind.
Love is when you feel you are on cloud nine.
Love is when you will do anything for “that” person.
Love is when you will accept “that” person just the way they are.
Love is staying with a person even when times get rough, for better or worse, until the end.
Love is still wanting to be with “that” person even though they don’t look the greatest one day or even when they annoy you or make you mad.
Last of all, Love is the bond that can never be broken.
It is what keeps people together.

Copyright © 2005 by Cassaundra Ricketts
Saturday, June 18, 2005

D.S. White

An avid reader, D.S. White is the former proprietor of an online African-American bookstore and wholesale distributorship. Unfortunately, she didn't have a back up plan for 9/11/01. Nevertheless, she has made a home for herself working amongst books at a Publishing House in PA.

She is the divorced mother of a fabulous 19 year old who is has just completed her sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania.

D.S. White loves traveling but most of it to date has been done within the pages of a book. While planning that mother/daughter trip in the distant future, she's tried her hand at acting, singing, dancing, modeling, cosmetology and sales. She settled for a long term stint at a title insurance company that lasted 14 years (because she simply felt that eating was mandatory). On the side she began a gourmet carrot cake business and continued to audition for broadway and off-off Broadway shows, but alas either her talent or look was not up to par, or the timing was simply just wrong.

A budding wordsmith, she has few credits to date which opened her eyes to the need for a place where writers of color could congregate, a Water Cooler, if you will. There writers of all levels of experience can find awards, contests, markets, scholarships and the like specifically geared to writers of color.

Aware of the need for reading material which accurately reflects the look and mindset of the person of color, she decided to do her part to facilitate the same. Aware that she's droning on and on, she's simply going to end by saying that if you remember nothing else from her bio, remember that she loves God and is always happy to share what He's done in and for her life.

Fashion Tips: Choosing Pantyhose and Nylons that Flatter Your Body
Small Business Advice: Finding Startup Financing

Jehovah Shalom

Believe in Me

The Strong Black Woman is Dead! Or is she?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Compassion: God's Introduction

Earlier today I saw a bedraggled, obviously down-on-his-luck man in town. Amidst the heat and bustle, he was crouched against a lamp post, the very epitome of a “man brought low.” Beside him was a can of God-knows-what.

My first instinct, to reach into my purse for two dollars, was curtailed when I remembered that I only had a ten dollar bill. If I gave it away, I’d be left with nothing. The thought quickly followed that I was on my way to pick up my mom’s prescription. I could charge that and get cash back. But…give away a whole ten dollars?

As I neared the man, I gritted my teeth and braced myself to make the final decision--to give or not to give? He didn’t look up, nor did he volunteer a word of supplication. As I sidled past him, a slice of Sunday’s sermon came back to me. Pastor had spoken about us (Christians) being the body of Christ, physically representing Him here on earth. I hesitated, until the sensation that my deodorant was about to expire propelled me across the street into the dollar store to rectify the situation. My change came to seven dollars. I figured five for me and two for him. When I came out of the store, there was no sign of him or his can. I looked up and down the street to see if I could catch a glimpse of him, for I’d only been gone five minutes, really.

Flitting through my guilty mind came the conversation where Jesus said that his followers turned Him away when they did not feed the hungry or give to the needy. Convicted by my thoughts, I repented.

Twenty minutes later, after a quick pickup at the pharmacy and twenty dollars cash back, I was off to catch my bus back to town. As it turned out, there was no bus for another forty minutes. I was stuck in the heat. Spotting the unprepossessing Woody’s Pizza across the street, I decided that pizza for dinner, and more importantly, the air that hopefully came with it, was in order.

I gave my order twice before anyone deigned to acknowledge me. (Not a good starting point in my book, but I let it slide and kept my goal of cool air firmly in focus, because a sistah doesn’t glow, she straight up sweats.) I again ordered a slice of pizza (which, had it been a chicken, would have been considered, really dead) and a Pepsi. Warmed, the pizza looked slightly better. Subscribing to the West Indian motto that a little pepper will fix anything, I added some pepper seeds, garlic, and oregano for good measure. But alas, the culinary creation Woody had the nerve to call Hawaiian pizza was beyond saving. I manfully (or is it womanfully?) crunched my way through the pizza while sipping delicately at my Pepsi.

Finally done, I checked my watch. I had twenty more minutes to kill, so I whipped out my pen and rummaged through my bag until I found a scrap of paper and began trying to write my response to “If there is a God…why do bad things happen to good people?"

At the sound of the door opening, I looked up to note two adorable little boys, around ten or eleven, wearing matching basketball outfits. (They’re always adorable when they’re someone else’s, aren’t they?) They sat down and one proceeded to ask the other to buy him a slice and he’d repay him upon receipt of his allowance. My immediate urge was to pull out two dollars to give them, but I bided my time and watched as the first boy pulled a pill bottle out of his bag sack, with what appeared to be quarters only inside. My immediate thought was, “Heck, he doesn’t even have enough for himself, much less for his friend, poor little guy.” The top came off the bottle to unveil two severely folded dollar bills. They began doing the math aloud, figuring out the possible combinations their meager funds would allow. The owner of the pill bottle timidly stated that they didn’t have enough, to which the borrower responded, “Why, what are you having?” “What nerve!” I thought.

I glanced once again at my watch. It was now time to cross the street to get my bus. I reached into my purse, pulled out two dollars, and quietly walked over to the boys' table. Smiling pleasantly in what I hoped was my non-crazy lady face, I asked the borrower if they had enough. He said, "We don’t know yet.” I opened my palm to reveal the two dollar bills I’d placed there and handed it to him.

His face lit up and his eyes opened wide as he said, “God bless you ma’am.” I don’t know when I’d graduated to a ma’am or how I felt about that exactly, but I exited Woody’s Pizza feeling quite a bit better about myself, and resolved to write about it tonight. Then the thought occurred to me--hey, did you give those two dollars just to have something good to write about yourself? Nah…as a former people-pleaser, I’d identified with little Mr. Pill-Bottle. I’d sensed that he was about to cave in to his assertive friend, and I’d given the funds to little Mr. Borrower to spare him the necessity of doing without. Maybe I'd misinterpreted the situation and broken up an opportunity for the little pill-bottle holder to express his selflessness? Somehow, I didn’t think so.

Also at the back of my mind were the many occasions as a teenager when I’d found myself in a fix, wishing a benevolent stranger would show up to magically whisk me away, or to find the lost money, watch, earring, bracelet… (I was always losing stuff). Add to that the thought that you reap what you sow. I have a daughter out there in this big scary world, and I figure that her crop could come in in a needy situation because of the seeds I’ve sown.

My euphoria was cut short when I realized how eager I'd been to share my two dollars with two obviously clean, well-cared-for little boys, yet I’d waffled so stubbornly over the bedraggled man in town that the opportunity to make a difference was lost. I’d even told myself that my little two dollars couldn’t, wouldn’t make a difference anyhow.

Why is it that we are still so caught up in externals? That we still have images in our minds of who is deserving of help? Maybe at the back of my mind was the thought that I didn’t know what was in that can. Alcohol maybe, and I’d just be giving my money away to support his habit. So what? Is it really my place to judge? Heck, if I were living on the streets, I’d probably need some form of escapism as well.

How is it that we forget that we yet live in a state of grace? I began to sing a song, and my eyes pooled with tears as I was reminded anew of my own story. Two years ago, I’d exhausted every financial avenue available to me. To call my mental state shaky would just be a kindness on your part. Yet I continued showing up at church, conducting choir rehearsal, and attending Bible School as my world crumbled around me. My standard answer to "how are you" was still a bright smile and a “Blessed…and you?”

Not only was I financially bankrupt, I also existed in a miasma of confusion. I'd been abstinent for over three years, and my formerly obedient hormones were jumping all over the place. My thoughts were chaotic and raced non-stop. It took what felt like a Herculean effort to pull a coherent thought out of the babble, much less a series of organized thoughts. A simple Bible School paper that would have taken three hours the previous month, now took three weeks to complete or went undone. My business was being challenged by a competitor. It seemed that now that I was doing the right thing, God had turned His back on me. How could He allow all of this stuff to assail me? Wasn’t I His chosen vessel, living holy and upright?

I got mad, really mad (in more ways than one). I was angry and about two steps away from being loony like a toony. I was not sleeping. I became addicted to IMing (counseling sad, lonely, crazy folk, and getting my mack on too…ain’t gonna lie). I paid no bills (not that I had anything to pay them with), I did no laundry, I did even less housecleaning than my usual reluctant contribution. My daughter was away at her first year of college at an Ivy League school and I had not a cent to contribute, when I’d promised that her first year of college would be on me. I was suffering from empty nest syndrome and was scared to pieces about my own mother’s medical and emotional state. She too was exhibiting signs of depression, uncertainty, and bewilderment. She was shaky on her feet and eating less and less. She lost weight, I gained weight. She prayed and read her Bible; I ate and chatted and chatted and ate. We were behind a month-and-a-half in the rent, and I was aware of it; but when our precarious position tried to impinge on my consciousness, I simply turned on the computer and dialed up. I think I hit a wall of reality (or else it fell on me) when the phone company finally cut off the phone and my final means of escape was gone. The phone was followed shortly by the lights…

In the midst of the darkness, I was forced to acknowledge the fact that I’d sunken as low as I could go. Instead of taking care of my mother in her advancing years, I was now little better than a leech. I eagerly anticipated the mail which would herald the arrival of her social security and disability checks to pay our rent, and of course, they weren’t enough…

Then one day my pastor asked me to come by the church to assist him with some administrative work. It was a trick. I was in for a heart-to-heart. Thoughts racing, about ready to jump out of my skin, I was forced to sit still and hear that he was concerned about me. I hadn’t been out of the house all week, to work or even to get some fresh air. He wanted to know what was going on with me really. I tried the old blank stare and dead silence which had worked well for me as a child. But wouldn’t you know it…he stared me down. Not in a menacing or judgmental way--his caring just seeped through and my defenses crumbled. Then the durned floodgates opened.

I cried and cried, while he hugged and rocked me. He asked me how much was owed in rent, bills, etc. When I’d settled down enough to become coherent, I told him about I owed about eleven hundred. Not a huge sum by ordinary standards, but as a street vendor, when you’ve seen your income dwindle slowly from five hundred on a good day and two hundred on a bad day to seventy-five on a good day, eleven hundred becomes as attainable as a million dollars.

He told me that he would bring my situation before the church, anonymously of course, and ask them to contribute. With the money situation out of the way, he again asked me what was going on with me…really?

After listening to me, tears began running down his face as well, and then he asked the question of the day: “Why would you suffer in silence and not tell anyone? You of all people?”

“I dunno? Asking just hadn’t occurred to me.”

My pastor broke it down to me that considering myself to be a mucky-muck, spiritually speaking, was the beginning of my entrapment. Because when I present myself as someone who’s got it together and on top of the world spiritually, when I actually do hit a glitch, as I did, I’ve painted myself into a corner with nowhere to go and no one to turn to--and the devil loved that. He also mentioned that part of the relational make up of a congregation is the fellowship and burden-bearing aspect. But come on now…who in the black community really wants to stand up and say, “My name is D.S. White and I’m bi-polar, broke, and hormonally challenged?” No takers? Didn’t think so.

I finally wrought up the courage to quietly tell him (as though if I whispered God wouldn’t hear me) that I felt betrayed by God, had in fact become angry with Him when a competitor set up her bookstand in the middle of the same block I occupied and immediately cut my profits in half. I just didn’t understand why He would allow that to happen. Pastor pointed out that my sense of entitlement was my first mistake. To consider that God owes me anything is to put God in the place of servant instead of master. Yes, He is Jehovah Jireh, my provider. That promise is true. Any appearances that seem to contradict His promises do not in any way negate, diminish, or dissolve what He has promised me. The key is to hold fast to His promise, which will be fulfilled in His time, and not in my perceived timing. In Abraham’s situation, all that God promised was contrary to Abraham's circumstances at the time the promise was made, but he wavered not.

I was all too ready to waver. In fact, not only did I waver, I crumbled and fell… for a time. But as the phoenix rising from the ashes, I was a humbled, repentant witness to the grace of God as my brothers and sisters in the congregation rallied around the “anonymous” member and raised fourteen hundred dollars within two weeks. This was a sizable amount for a congregation of thirty on a good day. (I don’t know how anonymous I was sitting in the front row blubbering while Pastor reiterated that we fail as a congregation, and we fail God, when one amongst us is in need and we do nothing to aid her. But who knows, since I blubber easily, they might not have figured it out…'cause ever proud, I pulled out my checkbook too and wrote me a check…yes I did.)

How had I so quickly gotten into such a state of complacency that I struggled with giving up ten dollars to someone who needed it, when others had given up more to assist me when I was not even in such dire circumstances as the man on the street? Maybe I’d begun to take credit for the blessings of God, attributing them somehow to an ability of mine. Maybe in the attempt to put the depths of my slide in my past I’d forgotten to hold fast to the lesson learned from the ordeal.

How could I so easily forget that God is spirit but He exists physically in Christians, in you and I, who make up His arms and legs while He controls the thoughts and actions as the head? This truth means that when we’re in distress we are surrounded by people who are ready, willing, and able to assist us. On the other hand, we who aren't in need at the moment can’t live in an isolated world, blind the needs of others. We can’t forget that we ourselves live in a state of grace; that we were delivered into the same because of the compassion of God, who didn’t wait to be asked but acted on our behalf before we were even conceived.

Compassion is a useless emotion if we don’t move past the feeling of empathy and kick into action. The onus will not always be on the person in need of compassionate assistance to ask. We cannot use the silence of others as an opportunity to avoid acting on their behalf.

Let’s not be forgetful or complacent about the needy among us, whether the need be apparent as in the case of the downtrodden man, or hidden as it was in my own life. Let’s listen to the Spirit of God and be cognizant of the fact that when we feed the hungry, clothe the needy, and house the homeless, we’re introducing them to God.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Stop the Pain! Part 1

"Forgiveness – the act of excusing or pardoning others in spite of their slights, shortcomings, and errors. As a theological term, forgiveness refers to God’s pardon of the sins of human beings."

At some point in our lives we’ve all been in the position of wanting forgiveness or being asked for forgiveness. Sometimes we give it, sometimes we withhold it, sometimes we receive it, and sometimes it is withheld from us.

In fact, I’d even be daring enough to say that one or two of you reading this article has had an act perpetrated against you that you find hard to forgive and just about impossible to forget. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the perpetrator is probably lucky that the old eye-for-an-eye adage is no longer enforced, or they’d be utilizing a seeing-eye-dog, right about now.

But maybe you’ve been one of the lucky ones who made it through childhood without any major league traumatic experiences, but you just love to hold a grudge. If asked why you weren’t speaking to the grudgee, you probably couldn’t even say, because all you recall, is that somewhere, someway, somehow, and/or at some time, they hurt your feelings.

But for those of us who didn’t escape the trauma, how do you forgive the unforgivable? I mean, how do you forgive someone for taking, by force, that which you didn’t offer? How do you forgive the resultant self-hatred? How do you deal with the fact that the one who was supposed to protect you, instead violated you? How do you forgive the loss of hope? Or muffle the incessant refrain of “Why me…Lord?”

How do you forgive the husband or boyfriend who uses you as a punching bag, because he loves you, and you just keep on doing things to make him mad? How do you forgive the parents who abandoned you to the mercies of the state; The resultant bouncing around from foster home to foster home, where more often than not the foster parents cared more about the paycheck they received than your welfare?

How do you forgive the furtive gropings and invasion of your person you endured while being told it’s because I love you, but don’t tell anyone, because it’s too special to share so it’s our little secret? How do you forgive the best friend who should have had your back, but while you were working overtime to pay the bills, she was working overtime on your man?

How do you deal with these injustices?

May I suggest to you that it is possible to forgive what seems unforgivable? Am I denying the fact that you were hurt? No. Am I negating your pain? Never! But what I want to propose to you today, is that weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come in the morning! I know, beautiful prose! But what does it mean, really? I’m so glad you asked.

It means that your pain has a time limit, a season if you will, and a purpose under heaven. I’ll even go so far as to say that the catalyst for the cessation of pain is directly tied up in forgiveness. In order for you to move on to the next step, which is healing, you need to give the gift of forgiveness to the offender and most importantly, to yourself.

In my struggle to work towards forgiveness, I read and re-read Jesus’ last moments on the cross. I imagined there was some pain but I couldn’t quite empathize. The passion of Christ, I was told, which came out last year around Easter, did an excellent job of portraying His agony. I never did get to see it, because I’m a bit squeamish. But I just couldn’t let it go. After some rooting around on the web, I found this article which delineates the medical complaints of Jesus on the cross:

I don’t know about you but when I’m in pain, I’m short tempered (which means I’m less than my usual tactful self, even a little mean spirited, sort of that "misery loves company" mindset). I want to be alone, by myself. No hovering, no fussing, just thinking about no one else but me. Just a little bit short of a pity party.

After reading the true nature of Jesus’ injuries, and the fact that He refused the combination of gall and myrrh, which would have served to dull His pain, I found His fortitude and lack of vindictiveness uncommon. As I re-read the scriptures describing His last moments on the cross, I marveled at how He took time out to say “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

So, again I pose the question. How do you forgive the unforgivable? Or maybe I should ask. Is it really that hard to forgive? Or are you holding onto your hurt, out of habit? Might you just be holding on, because it’s all you’ve known for five, ten, fifteen or maybe even twenty years?

Has it become like a familiar companion? You know exactly what to expect from it. It won’t ever disappoint you; it’s there when you need it. As a reason not to try something new, or when you need a scapegoat for every thing that has ever gone wrong in your life. It’s there beside you as you watch the world go by, saying “if only”, “when I,” or “I could have.” Stunted, unmoving, crippled by your memories.

Stop the Pain! Part 2

"Forgiveness – the act of excusing or pardoning others in spite of their slights, shortcomings, and errors. As a theological term, forgiveness refers to God’s pardon of the sins of human beings."

How do you forgive the unforgivable?

May I suggest that you follow the example of A God who forgives? One who has and will never ask of us, what He hasn't done Himself, for He was fully God, yet fully man. He experienced every bit of agonizing pain the cross-offered, but still, His love for us superseded that of His pain, while He took time out to see to our forgiveness.

During His ministry, the question was asked, how often should I forgive…7 x 7? The answer was 70 x 7. I’m sure right now someone is thinking, but if I keep forgiving, they’ll keep on doing it! Maybe, but our forgiveness is dependent on our forgiving others. Even as we go to pray, if it comes to mind that we haven’t forgiven someone, we are to stop praying and forgive, in order to avoid any hindrance to our communication with God.

Unforgiveness hinders our communication with God? It most surely does. To remain unforgiving, you have to nurse the hurt, recall it quite frequently, harden your heart. In essence you slowly poison yourself with bitterness. The bitterness acts as a wall between God and us.

Why do we need to forgive?

Two reasons:

Matthew 6:14: which states “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;”
Romans 6:23 states that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Which means that no matter how big or small the disobedience, the punishment is death. Right about here, we get comfortable, because we’re confident in the fact that we love God, haven’t murdered, raped, committed adultery, blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, robbed a bank, embezzled funds or run over anyone with our car. Which is all good, but don’t get too comfortable just yet. If you’ve never told a lie, been envious, run a red light, stolen a quarter from your parents, jaywalked, listened to gossip, failed to return a library book, cheated, or disobeyed God in any way; if you’ve done everything you were ever supposed to do every single time…then you have no need to forgive. But for the rest of us, the following are some practical steps towards the process of forgiveness:
Choice -- Decide you are going to forgive
Love –Allow love to continue flowing – don’t shut down or close yourself off
Faith -- Realize that we forgive by faith, not by feeling: Utilizing faith allows us to act as if a thing is so, in order that it may become so. In other words…you may start out faking it, but your genuine desire to act on your faith will connect you to God’s store of faith for you.
Obedience--We must forgive others if we don’t want to disobey God and break our fellowship with Him. As Christ forgave us without being asked we may need to forgive others who have not nor will ever ask our forgiveness. The forgiveness may be undeserved, but the reward of healing and reconciliation makes it worthwhile.
Forget --You must be willing to forget past hurts. Forget about it. Stop willfully calling it to mind. Or if it does come to mind consciously replace it with a good memory or find something positive you learned out of the bad memory. You may even want to print out some scriptures dealing with forgiveness like Matt. 6:14, Romans 6:23 on an index card and carry it around with you, to whip out when needed.
Prayer – Pray for the offender, a biggie, I know
Turnover -- Give the hurt to God. Resolve to let it go.
I think the hardest thing for me to get about forgiveness is that it wasn’t about me, it’s about obedience to God and in my obedience I reap the reward of being released from the yoke of my hurt. I had to realize that accepting grace meant I had to be responsible enough to show grace myself. I had to remind myself of how I felt when I discovered that no matter what I had done previously, God still loves me. Or if you can’t relate, I reminded myself that no matter what a screwup I was or still am at times, my family loves me.

Forgiveness is about passing on that kind of revelation, to others who have no concept of it themselves.

Maybe you’re on the top of someone’s feces list and you feel the weight of their unforgiveness. Or maybe you’re sitting there feeling the weight of the unforgiveness you have towards yourself, because sometimes we can be our own worst enemy.

No worries, the only sin God will not forgive is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is giving Satan credit for acts of God, accomplished by the Holy Spirit. This sin is unpardonable, not because God cannot or will not forgive such a sin but because such a hard-hearted person has placed Himself beyond the possibility of repentance and faith.

If you’re one who’s never accepted the forgiveness/salvation/justification/love of God. Trapped in the notion that you’re not worthy of forgiveness, because folks have told you repeatedly that you’re nothing, you’ve been nothing and you’ll never amount to anything and somewhere along the line, you started believing them. Or if you have accepted and got a little sidetracked and feel that you’ve tracked too far to return.

I’m here to assure you today that God is A God who forgives! He is clear when He states that He came not for those who “have their acts together” but He came for the screwups, like you and I. His forgiveness is available to all who would choose to receive it.

Three steps:

1) Repent
2) believe it
3) receive it!

He meets you at the point of your need. As you step forward, He’s ready and willing to embrace you to His bosom, He’s the shepherd who will leave the whole flock undone, searching out the one mislaid sheep.


Curious Dee

Being the youngest of eight, I have always been considered precocious and inquisitive, a curious Dee, if you will.

This site is the result of research on some of the burning questions I have had. The information has been floating around in my head doing nothing of importance...until...lightbulb...why not share?

I know as a child of God I'm unique, but there exist some commonalities in all of us and curiosity is one of them.

Becoming a child of God didn't stem my curiosity, in fact, my questions then became more focused on what I considered inconsistencies and inadequacies in being a part of the Kingdom of God.

Thank God for grace, mercy and divine perspective. For thirty-two years later, what appeared at seven to be abandonment by God, I now see as molding exercises for the woman I am today.
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