preparation, Spiritual Growth

Strength for the Journey

“Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” Isaiah 41:10

Hard work pays off. No one knows that better than those in the pursuit of success, especially high school and college graduates.

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An illustration of how God empowers us: My husband and me on a cruise to Bimini in 2013.

Lately, I have been noticing a lot of sentimental posts and pictures from recent grads on social media. I know that feeling of utter relief and satisfaction. Even though I haven’t been in school for quite some time, I still remember all those hours I spent reading, researching, writing, and discovering formulas for algebraic expressions like it was yesterday.

I thought those days would never end. There were times when I was tempted to quit…and there were times when I did, mentally. In a world where some things are dictated by time—like a four-year degree—it’s hard to escape the pressures of completing each semester with a passing grade. No one wants to arrive late to success and the real world, but in most cases, some people get left behind because they failed a few courses.

That can be discouraging, and this is also something I know full well. I didn’t graduate college with my class. It took me an additional three years to finish because of lack of preparation, concentration, and motivation. I almost gave up because I could not deal with the challenges (math was not my strong suit).

One Sunday morning, I attended church service and heard a guest pastor say, “Just because it’s difficult does not mean it’s impossible.” As simple as that sounded, I thought his declaration was profound. I repeated those words in my head in the latter years of my collegiate journey until it was time for me to cross the stage and receive my degree. I was empowered by them because they confirmed two biblical truths for me: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” and “Nothing is impossible with God” (Philippians 4:13, Luke 1:37).

The former verse was a direct quote from Paul, the apostle who was thanking the Philippians for their generosity. He was also sharing with them how he had been able to survive the worst and best parts of his journey because he knew he would be rewarded for his labor when it was all said and done.

The angel who had just told Mary that her cousin had conceived a son in her old age spoke the latter verse. Mary was still grappling with the idea that she would conceive a son through the Holy Spirit. The angel shared Elizabeth’s pregnancy to assure Mary that God would keep His promise.

Considering that we’re all on a journey, we all need divine encouragement to get us through the hard lessons of faith. Paul did not have a church to fund his missionary trips or a private jet to get him to different parts of the world. He relied on God to meet his physical and spiritual needs. Elizabeth did not have access to expensive fertility treatments to get pregnant right away, but her faith carried her through the ache and the wait.

Therefore, not everything that we desire in this life will come easy. In fact, some of our goals may end up unfulfilled. We need the power of God to endure the grueling process of maturity, but it takes discipline to commit to our spiritual progress or any endeavor in life for that matter.

Just as we graduate when we’ve worked hard and passed all the lessons entailed in our field of study, Scripture states that God will “establish” us after we have “suffered a little while” (or after we have passed life’s tests). As challenging as that sounds, it is refreshing to know that the God who is fully aware of our shortcomings, empowers us to overcome any obstacle.

Whatever challenges you are faced with today as you try to achieve your goals, I pray God gives you strength…and that you readily accept it.

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Life began with the Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John 1:1

word-of-godOne of my favorite past times is reading. Growing up, I enjoyed going to the library and checking out five-seven books a week. I always chose the thick paperbacks because I wanted my reading experience to last me a couple of weeks. I also hated to see a good story come to an end.

My favorite books to check out were from The Babysitters Club collections, including anything else by Ann M. Martin. I always got lost in the lives of the characters and pictured myself right alongside them. Reading made me feel so alive, so inspired and so creative.

Every time I finished a book, I would write a poem, a song or a short story in my journal. As I got older, I became even more fascinated with reading and writing. It was my way to escape my reality, express my true self and engage my colorful imagination. Interestingly enough, I never thought that writing would be a part of my career nor my purpose.

I started reading the Bible when I became serious about my relationship with God. I had been attending church since I was a baby. I knew about God, but nothing about Him and His love toward me. I knew He loved the world — so much so that He gave His Only Son to die for it — but I did not know that He knew me before I was in my mother’s womb and that He had great plans for my future.

Discovering this truth made all the difference. I had been wandering aimlessly, thinking the wrong thoughts, hanging out with the wrong people and doing the wrong things for a long time.

Sure, I had goals. Sure, I fantasized (indulged in daydreaming about something desired) about what I wanted my future to look like. Sure, I wanted a better life. But that’s where it stopped for me. I didn’t have the ambition to go after my dreams nor the faith that they could ever come to pass.

I accepted Christ as my personal Savior after high school. When I began to delight in the Word of God, I began to see my heart’s desires manifest. One of my dreams was to get married. My mother used to study me and my sister’s hands when we were kids. She told us the creases in our palms formed an “N.” She said that it meant “no marriage” and revealed to us that some girls had “M’s” in their palms. These girls were the ones that would someday become wives. She told us that we had inherited her curse. My father never married her even after she had us. They entered a cohabitation agreement when they began dating and never pursued a deeper level since. My mother longed for that sort of commitment. But truth be told, my father was abusive and he was a cheater. Even worse, he was not a believer like she was. They were completely, unequally yoked.

She planted a seed in me. It was a seed of failure and death, as far as relationships and finances were concerned. I watered that seed with confidence that what she said would be. I had no idea that I had subconsciously agreed to the terms of generational curses. Thank God for Jesus. When I gave my life to Him, I saw the light. I saw a way out of despair. I saw life after years of inhabiting a dead place.

I realized I had a purpose just as long as God was not dead in my life. Slowly, but surely He showed me…sometimes in dreams, sometimes through sermons, but most of the time, through the Word.

I rediscovered my passion for writing my senior year in high school. Initially, I had my mind set on becoming a doctor (pediatrician to be exact) at my parents’ request. But I knew, there was more to God’s plan for me than some worldly status quo.

Since I love movies–they are the manifestation of a written story– I decided to pursue a career in film. Things did not go as I planned. My parents could not afford to pay for my tuition, nevertheless take out a loan for me so that I could attend school at the International Fine Arts Academy in Miami. I ended up going to my local community college.

Soon after, I transfered  to another community college eight hours away from home. I was relieved at the opportunity to leave my parents’ home because their semi-marital issues began to take a toll on me. All I saw or heard was negativity. Seeing that convinced me more each day that their plight would soon become my own. Going away saved me from the noise and got me alone into a quiet place with God.

I prayed and read the Bible more when I went away. I focused better on my courses and passed them effortlessly without the added stress. I discovered what I wanted to do — become a journalist. I figured it would be the only way I could do something that I love which is writing. Also, I had developed an admiration for the evening news. Thanks to my dad, the majority of my childhood was spent catching up on local and world affairs instead of tuning in to my favorite cartoons.

When I finally graduated from college, I transferred to a university back home to pursue a Bachelor in Arts degree. I chose to live on campus to maintain some sanity. I eventually graduated in 2007 and let me say, I was excited and confident about my future. I could not wait to share news with people through writing or broadcasting (I figured a career in television would be equivalent to one in film). I did not get the job I wanted at my local television news stations, but I did land one with my local newspaper.

I started off as an editorial assistant which gave me the opportunity to publish stories about the school board. One day, my supervisor proposed an idea–for me to write about something I was more passionate about. That was easy. I love Jesus! We weren’t sure how the Editor-in-Chief would feel about a weekly religion (I like to call it my personal faith) column, but by the grace of God she obliged.

Let me just say, my column took a life on its own. Every week, I shared an experience combined with a biblical story and lesson in the paper. This generated a lot of buzz in the community. Everyone was writing me to tell me how much they enjoyed reading my articles. My supervisor and her boss said I was the only one among all the writers in the office that got so much feedback. Soon I was being invited to give lectures at retirement homes and women Bible studies.

It’s funny how God can take the foolishness of man to confuse the wisdom of man. I wanted to share news through writing and He had me doing just that. Only, it was the Good News instead of the horrid stories of debt, theft, murder and injustice!

I was grateful for the experience. The ability to encourage people and impact their lives with the Word brought so much joy to mines. It also confirmed that I was not destined for failure. God did not only prove this to me by connecting me with the man of my dreams and allowing us to get married, but He revealed it to me through all those years I spent in college and in my career.

I didn’t graduate from college in four years. It took me seven years to pass the courses (math classes) that I failed over and over, overcome health issues and a financial challenges to finally walk across that stage.

It took me a year and a half (after being jobless for two years) for me to get hired by my current employer. Every set back was literally a set up. I could not see it then, but I see God’s glory now. I am grateful to know that my mom was wrong about me and that God had me in the palm of His hands all along.

And you know what, I am not mad at my mother. She was a victim of her cultural upbringing and the dangerous environment she found herself in after she met my father. In spite of her religion, she was without hope. She didn’t have peace because she was surrounded by darkness and she lacked faith because all she saw was a dead end.

I am happy to say that she is in a prosperous place these days. My mother left my father after 27 years of being with him. She declared 2007 as the year of deliverance because my siblings and I were adults that time. She said she stayed with my father because she did not want us to be raised without structure.

As strict as my father was, I am actually thankful for the way he raised us. It was traumatizing sometimes, but God allowed it to work out for our good. We respect people as well as ourselves, we value hard work and most importantly, a good education. We didn’t have a choice growing up.

It was a great thing that my mother kept us near the cross, literally, in the midst of such turmoil. We were at church six days a week. Sometimes, we went to three different churches in one day because she kept us involved in children Bible programs that our home church could not offer. We increased in our knowledge of Christ, which set the foundation for our faith today.

All because of the Word, my life was given a chance to catch up with my destiny. All because God lives, I can finally face all of my tomorrows!