Pulling Back the Veil on Christian Love

ID-100201732Scroll through social media long enough, and chances are you’ll read a few (or more) negative posts regarding Christians and Christianity. Some say we’re intolerant, others that we’re hateful, close-minded, or out of touch, or whatever. Find a negative adjective, and I’m pretty sure you can find a statement connecting it to Christ-followers.

Granted, there are those among us who do indeed fit those descriptions, but from my experience, when I step back and truly consider, those angry (or perhaps confused) individuals are the minority. The vast number of Christians I know are doing amazing things. They’re feeding the hungry, adopting orphans, walking beside single moms, bringing clean water to the sick and thirsty, medical care to the ill, and more. So much more.

Yesterday I considered all the ways God’s children have shown up in my life lately, of all the sacrificial giving of time and resources I’ve seen displayed, not by one, not by two or three, but by a large number of believers with whom I have contact.

All this points not to the good of the human heart, nor to the quality of my friends (thoughgirl-1186895_1920 I think they’re amazing) but rather to the power of the Holy Spirit, at work in us. And every act of love displayed by one of God’s children points to His ever-reaching, ever-faithful Daddy’s heart.

Let me explain:

God has called our family to something hard, amazing, beautiful, and frightening. He has called us to help initiate life change and healing, to show the truth and depth of His love, even when–especially when!–that love is spurned.

This in and of itself is not unique to Christians. I believe we all as humans long to make an impact, to help others, and to see our world change. But wanting and doing are entirely different things, and on our own, in our own strength, we lack the power to truly live “all in,” sacrificially, for a significant length of time. 

Let me explain–from my experience. Lately, many have showered me with accolades, saying they view me as giving, loving, and … saint-like. But I’m not. So not. On my own, I’m selfish, fearful, distracted, impatient, ever-viewing the world through a me-centered lens.

And that’s where the tug-push-pull comes in–an inner wrestling of God’s Spirit with mine, and an intimate time where He personally meets with me, changing my thinking, softening my heart, and empowering me to follow, wholeheartedly, His leading.

Here’s how it starts. I’ll step out in love and faith, only to have my love spurned. My natural, human reaction? To get frustrated, maybe even angry, discouraged, and to want to pull back. To self-protect and withdraw–to take the easy route.

But then, in the midst of my selfish thinking, God speaks gently to my heart. Sometimes He’ll remind me of His love. Always, He’ll help me see the situation and the other person through His eyes.

Let me pause here. That is the most powerful, most attitude and heart changing aspect of walking in a close relationship with Christ–being granted the ability to see, truly see, other’s through Christ’s eyes–to catch a glimpse past behaviors and words to the hurting, bleeding heart within.

When that happens, everything changes, in an instant. Anger is turned to compassion. Frustration to peace. Discouragement to hope. Selfishness to love. And suddenly, one is filled with a passion so strong, they cannot not act, cannot not love.

Gal 2-20verse jpgThis has been my journey lately, a daily teeter totter, and praise God, He has been winning–love has been winning. Not because there’s anything remotely good within me, but because God has proven strong on my behalf. Again and again and again. And through it all, I’ve grown even closer to Him as He overwhelms me with the revelation of the depth of His love for our hurting world.

When I started this post, I planned to share all the ways God’s children have shown up for our family as we seek to obey Him. But as I wrote, it took a bit of a detour, hopefully one that was God directed.

For now, I leave you with this–if you’ve never experienced the love and life-changing power of God’s Spirit living within, today can be the day–the day you quit trying to live on your own and in your own strength, the day you stop seeking temporary fillers to the emptiness within, the day you know what it’s like to be loved deeply, at your core, and held close by your heavenly Father, from now to eternity. (Find out how HERE.)

For those of you who do have a relationship with Christ, I challenge you (and me) to get and stay connected–to Him. Make your relationship with Christ your top priority and to carve out time when you rest in His presence, allowing Him to change your perspective, soften your heart, and empower you to do that which He has called you to do. Because in Him, you have everything you need to live the life He desires.

I leave you with one of my favorite verses:

“By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of 2Peter3-1versejpgthis by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! What is God calling you to do? In what ways has He empowered and equipped you to do that? In what ways has He revealed His love to you through others? Share your stories with us here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because God is worthy of our praise and the whole world needs to know about all the great things He does and has done!

But before you go–an invitation to my Omaha Metro friends. Join me and my sister in Christ, singer Shelly Conn, at Chocolaterie Stam for a fun afternoon of live music, books, readings, and chocolate!

Chocolaterie Signing-page-001

Living as a Gift

Photo by Africa taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Africa taken from freedigitalphotos.net

How many challenges and setbacks can an individual encounter before he decides to give up?

I hate to admit it, but if I’d experienced even half of what Dr. Ohaju, director of St. Joseph’s trauma center endured, I fear I may have retreated. Thrown my hands up in defeat and turned down an easier path.

I could learn a great deal from Dr. Ohaju, not only about perseverance but about gratitude, humility, and what it means to have a servant’s heart.

I met this man during a very frightening and stressful time. My mom-in-law had gone into the emergency room with stomach pain and a distended abdomen. After an emergency scope, she was rushed into surgery where Dr. Ohaju saved her life.

I shudder to think what might have happened had God not placed my mom-in-law under his care that week, and it was a good week that she spent in the hospital as she began the difficult and painful process of recovering from major surgery.

While dealing with a cancer diagnosis. That stung, and created all sorts of questions and uncertainties. You could feel the apprehension in the room, a tension that instantly dissipated whenever Dr. Ohaju walked in. God’s love flowed from him and instantly set us all at ease. We knew immediately not only that we were in the presence of a brilliant and compassionate surgeon, but also that, through him, God had absolutely everything under control.

That’s what happens when we surrender our gifts and passions into God’s hands; He uses 12227841_1007588982632353_5276246818269330802_nour every act as a love letter from us to His hurting world. As he did for us through Dr. Ohaju, and as he does for numerous impoverished Nigerians to this day, also through Dr. Ohaju.

He grew up during the Nigerian Civil war, also called the War of Biafra. It was a brutal, terrifying time where innocent people were slaughtered and masses of children and the elderly were abandoned. Many starved to death.

During this time, Dr. Ohaju did whatever he could to survive while helping his family put food on the table. One would find him standing outside the train station, waiting to sell oranges or bananas or whatever he could find to hungry travelers. He went to school in starts and stops, when he was able. Until it came time for him to enter sixth grade, when, in Nigeria, one must pay to go to school.

There was no way Dr. Ohaju’s family could pay his tuition.

Until one day, a teacher had mercy, and offered him an opened doorway. One of many to come. Because God saw something in Dr. Ohaju—God saw past his devastating beginnings to the gift that poor little boy would one day grow to be.

I’ll be telling his story, which is quite extensive and nothing short of miraculous, over the coming year through a separate blog, but first, I’ll share the ending. Well, not the ending, as his story is still unfolding, but what this godly man is doing now.

By God’s grace and with the help of others, Dr. Ohaju came to America where he pursued a degree in medicine. It was an incredibly difficult and long journey. One marked by heartbreak, for while he was in America, his father, back in Nigeria, died. From a treatable condition. Like so many others in Dr. Ohaju’s homeland.

3d188271-22e4-4042-e130-87a7c8f5c5f3Many Nigerians are dying daily from illnesses and diseases that are easily treatable, a tragedy Dr. Ohaju is determined to do something about through the medical missions nonprofit he started. In 2004, the VOOM Foundation, named after his deceased father, was born. The mission’s goal: to bring medical care to the poor and indigenes of Nigeria. (You can read more of his story HERE.)

And you can help. I encourage you to check out his foundations website and visit them on Facebook, and prayerfully consider donating to his cause. I also invite you to visit a blog I’ll be starting at the end of this month titled Truth in Fiction where I’ll be sharing bits of Dr. Ohaju’s story in more detail. In addition, I’m hoping to capture the essence of his story in a full-length novel, one he’s graciously agreed to help me with.

In the meantime, pray for us both: pray that he stays encouraged and focused on the call God has infused in his heart, and pray for me that I can capture the beauty, miracle, and perseverance of his story in novel form.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! What thoughts came to mind as you read about Dr. Ohaju’s story? How do you typically respond to setbacks? Have you ever sensed God calling you to something that felt so incredibly difficult, maybe even seemed impossible? If so, how did you respond? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other!

Focusing on What Lies Before You

pocket-watch-560937_1920The older we get, the less time we seem to have and the faster moments appear to zip by. It’s intriguing to me how easy it is to waste time without realizing it. And even when utilizing every moment, it’s easy to spend our time on things that aren’t assigned to us.

With the New Year approaching, it’s a great time to take stock–to prayerfully evaluate all our activities and commitments, bringing each one under the authority of Christ.

One Sunday a youth in our church approached me, wanting to know how he could know if his desire to write came from himself or from God. That’s the age-old question for all of us, right? How do we know this thing is God’s will? How do we know what to pursue and what to release?

I don’t believe there’s an easy answer to that question, but I know where it starts–drawing near to Christ. Learning to lean on Him, to listen for His still small voice, and to practice an attitude of surrender.

Surrender. It always comes back to that, doesn’t it? Because a surrendered heart is a sensitive and pliable man-263412_1280heart. A heart ready to hear.

Or to wait, should God’s instructions tarry.

So this is my goal for 2016–to stay in God’s presence, ever-alert to His guidance, and then to follow His leading with unyielding focus. Because the question isn’t will God show us His will but rather are we alert and obedient to it.

Consider David’s words in Psalm 16:7-8

Psalm16verse“I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me” (NLT).

Even at night, our hearts instruct us.

God longs for us to obey Him; He longs for us to travel on that very good path He has marked out for us. He longs to see us become the men and women He created us to be, walking toward our unique calling. And He’s committed to bring us there; are we committed to follow?

I leave you with this passage from Proverbs 4, one I’ve been meditating on and praying for over a year now:

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. … Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked. Keep your feet from following evil” (Prov. 4:23, 25-27 NLT).

(Speaking to myself) Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life, even at night it instructs us. And focus on what lies ahead. Don’t get sidetracked or distracted, don’t proceed aimlessly without forethought. Rather, prayerfully determine what God’s will is for you, and follow after that thing with everything you’ve got.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. Do you develop a lifeplan? What about a spiritual growth plan? What might God be calling you to pursue in this coming year? What might He be calling you to let go of? What are you doing to keep that thing (or those things) on the forefront of your mind? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other.

 

 

Unpack Your Talents

“To not use a talent to the best of your ability is to stifle the thing that makes you most special. It is like plucking the wings off a butterfly.” ~Fennel Hudson, A Writer’s Year — Fennel’s Journal, No. 3

VanessaI met Vanessa Fortenberry at last year’s Catch the Wave Christian Writers Conference in Atlanta. As one of the presenters, she shared a devotion I found so encouraging, the moment the main session completed, I made a beeline for her, and having barely made self-introductions, blurted out, “Would you be willing to share the message you just gave with my blog readers?”

She said yes and here we are. She is such a lovely woman of Christ, I know you’ll be as blessed by her insight as I was, and am.

Unpacking Your Talents by Vanessa Fortenberry  

“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving

one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10 NASB). 

A few years ago, I received an email message from a former chorus student I taught in elementary school some 14 years previously. In college and pursuing a career in music as a singer/songwriter, this young woman took the time to thank me for instilling in her a foundation and love of music.

Grateful for this young woman’s message, I felt compelled to give all the glory and praise to God. Through God’s grace, He

Photo by PublicDomainPictures taken from pixabay.com

Photo by PublicDomainPictures taken from pixabay.com

afforded me the talents to inspire and serve this young woman and I hope countless other students. Matthew 25:15 says God gives us all talents or gifts according to our ability.

Fennel Hudson from A Writer’s YearFennel’s Journal – No. 3 is quoted as saying, “To not use a talent to the best of your ability is to stifle the thing that makes you most special. It is like plucking the wings off a butterfly.”

What special gifts do you possess? Perhaps, you are guilty of plucking the wings off a butterfly, as Fennel Hudson stated. On the other hand, you may feel you have no unique gifts to offer. In reality, we all possess a natural aptitude or skill or the ability to do something well. Once we recognize these abilities or talents, it is essential for us to plant the seeds, toil them, nurture them, and most vital, to harvest the fruits of our labor.

To start, what does your behavior say about your confidence level regarding your talents and abilities? Do you question your abilities? Maybe, you believe you lack the needed skills to accomplish your dreams. Let go of negative attitudes and study your craft (or calling) to enhance your skills. Often times, we do not generate enough effort into improving our talents. Move forward, nurture and grow your God given talents today. The gift is yours! However, it takes determination, diligence, dedication, and self-discipline to develop your gifts. No matter your talent: homemaker, musician, writer, artist, actor, chef, baker, secretary, teacher, preacher, doctor, nurse, entertainer, salesperson, etc., commit yourself to do whatever it takes and for however long it takes to reach your desired goals.

When utilizing our talents, God considers us good stewards. In addition, God wants us to give Him praise for our gifts. He also wants us to serve Him, but not through our own accord; rather with the strength supplied by Him. (1 Peter 4:11) Furthermore, we should know one thing about our abilities and our gifts; they are not for us! God so graciously gave us these gifts to serve others.

Unpack your talents today to serve others and to glorify God and serve Him!

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything You gave me.’” ~ Emma Bombeck

***

An inspirational author and speaker, Vanessa Fortenberry penned the children’s verse story, Mama, I Want to See God. Vanessa is also a contributor to the book, Relief Notes: Encouraging Letters for Tough Times written by the Christian Authors Guild. She also writes, “Connecting Readers to the Word,” a monthly e-newsletter. Vanessa savors the moments she spends with her family and friends. She is most relaxed when in her kitchen baking delicious desserts for her loved ones. You can visit her at www.vanessafortenberry.com, Twitter, or Facebook.

CoverHer book, Mama, I Want to See God:

Wanting to connect more with God, a child asks his mother countless questions in this rhyming verse book. In answer, the mother’s tender and patient responses model God’s love. At the story’s end, Mother has answered all of the questions, allowing the child a true connection with God.

Buy it HERE!

 

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. When was the last time you paused to pray about your unique gifting and passions and how God might want to use them to further His kingdom? Are you doing that? Are you using every gift God has given you to its maximum capacity? Are you intentionally developing that gift? Where might God want to take you, in regard to your gifting or calling, in the next year? With 2015 coming to an end, now’s a great time to prayerfully plan 2016. Share your thoughts, dreams, and experiences with us here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other!

Living–For Real!

Photo by edaly, taken from pixabay.com

Photo by edaly, taken from pixabay.com

When I come to the end of my life, when I stand before my Creator, I want to appear before Him with empty hands, knowing I gave my all and lived each moment to the fullest, utilizing every gift and talent He gave me to their full potential.

Because what good is a gift if it’s hidden, or only partially opened?

About a week ago, my assistant Hannah Burch wrote a beautiful, thought-provoking, and poignant poem I felt would speak to many of you. Many of us have those moments where God stirs us to do, and in that moment, we’re ready to jump in, to give our all… But then the next day, with all its stressers and demands, comes, and “logic” begins to take over, and slowly but surely, that spark of action begins to fade.

As you read Hannah’s poem, ask yourself: What would I do differently right now if I knew tomorrow wouldn’t come? Or perhaps a better question, what is holding me back from being the man or woman Christ created me to be? He gave His all for us, not so we could muddle through life, but so that we could live, truly live.

1am by Hannah Burch

I’m afraid to go to sleep
Because I know I will lose this nagging feeling my empty day has given me

Photo taken from pixabay.com by iWorksphotography

Photo taken from pixabay.com by iWorksphotography

This feeling that I did not wring out all that I had to offer
This feeling that I moved too slowly and not enough
That I didn’t shout enough
Or dance enough
Cry enough
Or laugh enough
I’m afraid to go to sleep
Because in the morning I know I will be afraid to do all those things

rsz_1hannah_bio_picHannah Burch is a sophomore in college who enjoys reading, writing, and watching Star Wars in her spare time. She is the oldest of five girls (excluding the dog) and is planning on majoring in either Creative Writing or English so her parents should probably not expect her to move out of their basement anytime soon.

(And to my writer friends looking for help with your blogs, newsletters, promotional jpgs, etc., let me know via email and I’ll connect you with her. She’s amazingly helpful! And routinely does all those things I’d rather not so I can spend my time doing what I love–writing!)

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Back in 2008 and 2009, I clearly and strongly sensed God’s call to write but fought it, hard. One night at a mid-week church service, my former pastor talked about the parable of the tenants and I realized it was fear–self-preservation rooted in fear–that caused the evil tenant to hide his gifts.

I was doing the same. The answer? I needed to surrender, to die to myself and live, completely and fully, for Christ. It wasn’t easy or comfortable. Death never is! But the fruit of that initial decision, and countless times I’ve had to make it again and again over the years, has truly been amazing. Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Speaking of the fruits of surrender, I have news! Many of you have wondered if there’d be a book to follow my debut, Beyond I Do. The answer is YES! I signed a contract with New Hope Publishers Tuesday for book two in what I’ve tentatively called the Midwestern Romance series.

Here’s a preliminary blurb:

Three people held back by regret but one God to help them rise above.

Angela Meadows is ready for a clean slate, to launch a career, and to embrace her newfound freedom in Christ. But self-loathing and remorse for a life forever lost hold her back. When she encounters a single mom married to an incarcerated felon and her children, Angela’s shame becomes swallowed by something greater—compassion. Her past draws her to them, but will it drive away the only man she loves?

And, speaking of taking risks and dying to one’s self, you might enjoy the post I wrote for fellow ACFW member, Ralene Burke titled Confidence in Uncertainty. 

On Tuesday, I visited More to Life to share how a motherhood struggle drew my heart to single moms, and how this impacted my latest release, Intertwined. You can read that HERE.

And, speaking of books, for those of with book-lovers on your list…

Background photo by Unsplash taken from pixabay.com

Background photo by Unsplash taken from pixabay.com

Won’t Be Defined

Photo by makunin taken from pixabay.com

Photo by makunin taken from pixabay.com

What if we viewed ourselves through God’s eyes? Imagine the peace we’d have. And what if, maintaining that vision, we then zeroed in on what He was calling us to do, and pursued that with everything within us.

What might we accomplish?

This is something God has been encouraging me to do. If we’re Facebook friends, you likely read my post this morning with the quote from Real Women Leading With Proverbs 31 Values (an awesome book!). I’ll post the quote I pulled from the book here:

Speaking of influencers, the author said, “They are driven to do something that matters. They seek God for what His call is on their lives, and they are focused on what He created them to be.

Focus. Unwavering. Obedient. Surrendered.

Todays post, by a sweet sister in Christ who is pursuing God’s call with everything within her, shares her journey from the beginning of a dream to full pursuit.

GIVE-AWAY ALERT! As a special bonus, Jessica is giving away 3 of her albums. Winners will be randomly selected from the comments and shipping is only available to those living in the continental US.

But first, I want to announce last week’s give-away winner. Jennifer Hallmark, congrats! You won a copy of Cherie Burbach’s latest release, 100 Simple Ways to Have More Friends. I’ll message you shortly to chat about getting that to you.

Won’t Be Defined by Singer/Songwriter Jessica Angelique

“I won’t be defined by what other say. I won’t be confined. They won’t get in the way of God’s love and His perfect plan. I won’t be defined in His strength I’ll stand. I won’t be defined.”

-from the title track “Won’t Be Defined” on 14-year-old Jessica Angelique’s album “Won’t be Defined.”

When I was a young girl there was this inner joy inside of me that made me happy. I never could imagine my life without God. I always remember believing in God. In the years before I started school I had no trouble being defined by God and not what others said about me, even through challenges I faced.

I have an eye condition called Duane’s Syndrome and I have trouble seeing and reading. The good news is that it’s hardly noticed, but I still struggle even today to read, but I am overcoming it.

photo taken from freedigitalphotos.net by Ambro

photo taken from freedigitalphotos.net by Ambro

My first few years of school were challenging. I was in Dual Language spending half the day speaking English and the other half speaking Spanish. Halfway through third grade I went to a different school without Dual Language. At my new school, I was bullied at the young age of nine and I had no friends, no hope. I felt alone like an outcast. I was being me, and that wasn’t accepted.

In school you’re supposed to like sports and dance, but I loved to sing and instead took piano and guitar lessons.

When I went into fourth grade I moved schools again because of the extreme bullying. I left the school so I would never have to see that bully again.

I was the new kid again. I felt excluded, but not as bad as at the other school.

When I started middle school in fifth grade, it got a lot easier and I made friends. I felt like the same kid I was before I started school, remembering I’m defined by God and not by what others say. A huge bJessica Angeliqueurden was lifted. I did not have a care in the world– except math class.

I’ve always loved music and singing. When I was very young I would sing songs at the top of my lungs and my brother would scream at me to shut up, but I never did. I always knew I wanted to be a singer, like every other girl in my class. Instead of just daydreaming, I decided to do something about it.

I started doing talent shows and playing for family and friends. Participating in a national talent competition gave me the inspiration to do this for the rest of my life. One day I attended a Christian concert featuring Moriah Peters. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a Christian singer. I started in the Christian music field and I don’t think I could do anything else.

I was encouraged to write songs and then wrote enough to make an album. My dream became a reality. Your dream can too with God’s guidance and with the help of those who nudge you in the right direction.

If I didn’t know God, my life would be hopeless. I’ve just started, and I have a lot more to do to make a difference and inspire people to be defined by God, not by what others say. My goal is to inspire one person at a time, follow God, and see where He takes me.

Like Brandon Heath sings, “He’s not finished with me yet.”

Jessica Vogt_021
14 year old, Jessica Angelique has a God-given gift beyond her years to write music that helps others going through doubts and insecurities, inspiring people to love Jesus and love themselves.
Through her own struggles with bullying she wrote the title track to her debut album,”Won’t Be Defined,” telling the story of a young girl learning that God defines us, not what others say. It’s a story every Mom will want their daughter to embrace.

Visit her online HERE.

Let’s talk about this! First, for those of you who joined me at Reality Church’s Women’s Connection Weekend last weekend, hopefully,  you’ve been prayerfully asking livingbygracepic.jpGod to help you do as Jessica encourages, which is to allow God and God alone to define us. (For those who weren’t able to come, I may be posting all three main sessions online. I’ll let you know…)

In what ways have you allowed others to define you? What inner lies are you clinging to, regarding your identity, and what Scripture can you meditate on and pray to center your heart and mind in God’s truth? Are you pursuing God’s call on your life, and if so how? If not, what’s holding you back? Share your comments here below or on Living by Grace on Facebook.

 

A Deeper Look at Baltimore

Photo by Stux taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Stux taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Do you ever wish you could find some hidden, remote closet to hide away in? Do you ever feel like the Internet–most specifically social media–has become a breeding ground for hate? Can good–love, peace, compassion, sacrificial service, dialogue–truly overcome evil? And in the case of Baltimore, do we even have a clear idea of what evil looks like, or have the lines become blurred?

Last night, after skimming through the Facebook wars, I went to bed feeling completely overwhelmed and emotionally charged, so I asked myself why. After a bit of thought, the answer came: because I realize behind the posts, tweets, and news headlines exist hurting people. I think we forget that. It’s so easy to zero in on behavior without ever taking the time to look deeper.

To truly understand the root.

Before I get too far, let me make it incredibly clear: I do not condone rioting, vandalism, and open hatred. But neither to do I condone secret hatred hidden in passive aggress social media updates. Nor do I condone sneaky hatred, spoken in racial epitaphs, jokes, and callous stereotypes.

And in all our posts and comments, we forget, or fail to realize:

Hatred and prejudice still exits. 

A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a business woman who happens to be a Japanese American. Somehow our conversation turned to racial tension and stereotypes, and I mentioned how my brother, a Korean American, often experienced prejudice when we were growing up. Her comment, “You mean you saw it?”

In other words, often, the greatest damage is done when others aren’t looking, and those of us watching from the sidelines only see a fraction of the hate our ethnic friends experience.

Then again, even once is enough to deeply wound. I can think back over my childhood to teachers that have said hurtful things, friends who’ve misjudged me, and those things stay with me. I have to work to forget and forgive.

I could give numerous examples of prejudice I’ve witnessed or heard of, but I suspect you can, too. And if you can’t, I’d say widen your circle. Engage with the world at large. Take time to listen to other people’s stories and to understand their perceptions and hurts. If you live in middle-class whiteland, get to know, really know, those who are different than you. Spend time in the inner cities. Serve in inner city ministries. Get to know those on the front lines of this issue.

There’s a video making the Facebook rounds of NFL player Ray Lewis condemning the rioters for their behavior, as I think many do, myself included. But if we take the time to truly listen to what Mr. Lewis is saying, we’ll notice he acknowledges hatred, oppression, and discrimination does exist. He’s merely saying, “This isn’t the way to fix it.”

Let’s not jump on the sentiment, “This isn’t the way to fix it,” without taking time to figure out what the way to fix it is.

So what is the way? Or perhaps I should say, what are the ways?

Invest in inner city missions, helping families in poverty find a leg up.

Invest in our youth, especially those who, through their behavior, demonstrate a sense of hopelessness.

Walk beside our single moms so that they can raise their kids how they want. (I could go on and on about this one, but sadly, this post is already nearing TMW stage (too many words–a novel worth, actually).

Photo by artura84 taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by artura84 taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Poverty leads to hopelessness.

When we lived in Kansas City, our family reached out to a Sudanese family that came to America from the refugee camps of Kampala. Life was so different for these teenagers! So many things we take for granted were completely foreign to them–like the fact that landlords are responsible for the care and upkeep of their buildings.

It was an insanely hot summer, and the complex this family lived in had window units. The teenage girl called them fans, but I’m pretty sure they were AC units. Anyway, most of the units in the complex were broken. (Did I mention it was an insanely hot summer? Like the type that routinely soared into the triple digits?) When she shared this with me, I told her she needed to talk to her landlord. She said her father–a working, single father, by the way–had, but the landlord hadn’t done anything. I told her this wasn’t right and that she should contact the city. This idea threw her as she had no idea she had a right to, well, rights period. She and her family felt at the mercy of her landlord, and as they were completely broke, they also felt they had no other options but to endure. And the “fans” were but one instance.

Stereotypes and quick judgements only make things worse. 

How easily we throw out opinions on things we don’t understand. How easily we lump individuals with beating, bleeding hearts together. How easily we remain on the surface without taking the time to really dig. To engage. To dialogue and find solutions.

But love engages. Love listens. Love helps. Love breaks down barriers and finds ways to form bridges. Love links arms with those in need of help, support, encouragement.

This post (hopefully) begs the question: What now? Where do we go from here?

We find a way to rise above, to reach out, and to saturate this country with love and grace. Folks, let’s go deeper and find a way to be part of positive change.

And, on a happier note, Mark Bethea of New Hope Publishers interviewed me via Skype the other day. And I learned something. Pink reflects! Watching the below linked video, at first I thought, wow, why is my neck so red? Was I embarrassed? But then when my head bobbed (lesson two, keep head still!) the red crept up to my chin then back to my neck. Pink reflects! Even so, it was a great conversation, and I was glad for the chance to share my heart.

Jennifer Slattery Video Interview from New Hope Publishers on Vimeo.

Let’s talk about this. What are your thoughts about this issue and my post? Am I completely off base? What are your experiences with prejudice, injustice, and racial oppression? What are your thoughts about the posts and comments making the social media rounds? Where do you think America should go from here, and how do you suggest we begin moving in that direction? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook. Speaking of… are we Facebook friends yet? If not, how come? Connect with me here! 🙂