An Open Letter to My Mother-In-Law

Dear Marcia,

As I think back to nearly 12 years ago when I initially met your family, I’m not sure if I really thought about the dynamics of the relationship I expected to have with you as my future in-laws.  As a 20-year-old college senior, I’m not sure if I strongly considered the real subtleties of life period –especially not the quality of the relationship that I would have with your family. I just knew that your son, Jelani, was this endearing guy that had not only intrigued my interest but captured my heart. In my immature and love-struck mind, our love for each other was all that mattered. Our love, alone, would be enough to conquer the world.

Fast forward through 2 years of dating, 10 years of marriage, 2 children, and a multitude of mountain highs and valley lows. My outlook on life and relationships is tremendously different than that of my 20-year-old self.  My mentality is no longer that of the “Love Is All We Need,” “1+1=2” or “You’re All I Need to Get By.”  Now, I’m more of a “Can You Stand the Rain,” “Love and War” and “We Are Family” kind of girl. I’ve learned that, yes, my husband and I need unconditional love and an impenetrable unity of mind, soul, purpose and spirit to flourish. But in addition, we also need a village. A village of like minded family and God sent friends that support, pray for, encourage, counsel and walk through life with us. And you, Marcia, have been one of our primary village keepers. For this, I must say thank you.

I know that we speak literally every day and that I tell you often how much I love and appreciate you. However, the written language is my forte. Words are my passion. They are my authentic mouthpiece and through them my soul is revealed.  Simply put, writing is my heart.  What better way to honor you than in my favorite form of expression, the written form…..from my heart to yours….

I’ve heard numerous people complain about the relationship with or lack thereof with their mother-in-laws. From television, movies, to my girlfriends and even my nail technician, I’ve heard countless mother- in-law nightmares. I’m even sure that someone reading this has an in-law encounter that they’d much rather forget.

However, I’m grateful to the Most High God that this has never been my portion. From the moment we met, you have accepted, embraced and welcomed me. You’ve never made me feel insignificant or less than a comparably unique and elaborate compliment to your son. You’ve never required that I jump through hoops, bend over backwards to please you, or be anything less than Margaret.

As clueless and unprepared newlyweds, you opened your home to us.

As anxious and terrified parents, you were there for the birth of both of our children. You graciously cared for them until they were preschool ready. You continually and exceedingly care for our children today.

When Jordan suffered a 102-degree fever at 2:00AM, you got out of your bed and raced to meet me at the ER.  You sat and waited with me at Walgreens until the prescriptions were filled. Then, you followed the kids and I home just to ensure we arrived into the house safely.

This past May, you and my father- in-law drove a total 20 hours to just celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday with me.

You never drop by my home unannounced or intrude on our privacy.  You have never once interfered in our marriage or parenting methods.  Yet, you strategically lend your sound advice when requested, deemed necessary, or when the Lord says so.

You’ve allowed me to cry on your shoulder, speak my truth and have never once judged me.  You have never made me feel less than your daughter. You’ve prayed for me, supported my endeavors and encouraged me to trust God and His infallible plan for my life. You’ve been a secret keeper, intercessor, motivator, dream catcher and friend.

At those moments when life becomes overwhelming and I honestly want to walk away from it all, you step in and say, “Margaret, slow down! God has everything under control,’I’m always here to help. Don’t be afraid to ask,” or “I understand exactly where you are! Don’t worry, it gets better!”

My mall partner, style protégé, my comedic relief , my stewed peas chef and seriously one the world’s greatest grandmothers – You are the absolute best second mother a girl could ever have. You are everything I could ever ask for and more. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without your presence in my life. In a world, where it seems as if everyone depends on me, you are one of the few people that I can truly depend on.  You are a constant reminder to me of God’s infinite love for my children and I – patient, kind, forgiving, reliable, steady, gentle yet strong.

I sincerely hope that I can be as great of a mother- in-law to my children’s future spouses as you are to me. I pray that I make you just as proud to call me your daughter as I am to call you my mother.

King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 31:28 “Her children arise and call her blessed…”

So, today and every day, I rise up and call you blessed. I pray for long life, sound mind, abundant health and prosperity. I pray that every seed you’ve sown into my life and that of many others is returned to you in a far greater form than which you gave.  I pray that God grants you the most intimate dreams and desires of your heart according to His will. I pray that nothing will ever be broken, missing, or out of place in your life. I pray that you will see every dream and every prayer for your children come to fruition.

Thank you opening your home and your heart to me. Thank you for extending your love to my children and I. Thank you for being you!!!

Love Always,

 

Margaret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Lessons From the Desk of Elouise C. Williams (AKA – My Mommy)

Anyone who knows my mother, Elouise, will attest that she is a straight shooting, Spirit led, kind hearted, Diana Ross hair wearing, Patti Labelle loving, no nonsense, kingdom minded, giving, hilarious, “Get Yo’ Life”, woman of God. Even the most articulate of words won’t allow me to express the gratitude that I have for her. I am privileged to be her daughter and could not have asked for a better mother, teacher and friend. She is the primary reason why I am who I am today!

Thus, in honor of Mother’s Day, I have decided to revisit a list that I compiled prior to my 30th birthday of 30 life lessons that my mommy has taught me. Enjoy😊

1)      If you fall down, get back up! -Although my sister and I grew up with our parents being very active in ministry, my mother never made us feel like mistakes were the end of the world.  Don’t get me wrong. She did reiterate that there were consequences for every action. But she also let us know that life isn’t always about the mistakes because mistakes will happen. But, life is about your ability to learn, recover and grow from your mistakes.

2)      No matter what people do or don’t do, keep your heart pure! – This is a DAILY prayer because life and people will have your emotions all out of whack ! In the words of King David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew and steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51: 10 AMP) My mommy constantly reminds me to examine my motives and ensure that my heart is pure before the Lord. She often says that it’s the matters of the heart that affect every aspect of life. If your heart is tainted, heavy and/or unsettled, your mind, soul, spirit and actions will all follow suit.

3)      People aren’t permanent, not even me.  -From a young age, my mommy taught me that death and change are inevitable. She always spoke of “getting your house in order” for tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. As much as I hated the conversation, she always let us know that there could possibly come a day when she would no longer be with us.

4)      Always do something for yourself because you deserve it. – Every mother knows the importance of this! With the demands of marriage, parenthood, career and ministry, sometimes I forget about me. Whether it is a biweekly mani-pedi, a hair appointment or monthly lunch date with the girls, I am reminded that “me” time is an absolute must!!!

5)      Never be afraid to speak up for yourself. You have a voice –use it (wisely).  Some may find this hard to believe, but there was once a time when I didn’t always speak up. My little sister, Ashley, was often my mouthpiece. Without any hesitation, my sister would articulate how I felt. I admit, that even now, I’m not always apt to verbally communicate everything that I’m feeling. My mommy has always reminded me that verbally expressing my feelings is of the uttermost importance. For in the words of Iyanla Vanzant, “You cannot heal that which you do not speak.”

6)      Don’t lose sight of your dreams and God given purpose. – It is so easy to focus on everyone else and lose sight of everything that God has called you to do. Been there. Done that and probably still in trekking through this valley. I’m learning that apart of living a balanced life is ensuring that I am included in the equation. I should invest just as much time, energy and resources into accomplishing my dreams as I do in the support and building of the dreams of others.

7)      Of all your relationships, place the highest value on the one you have with the Holy Spirit. In Him, you will find all that you need. –  THIS IS EVERYTHING!!!!!!! The Holy Spirit is my Ultimate Source. When I’m not connected to Him, I’m literally out of gas. Without Him, I’m nothing. But with His guidance, strength, and grace I can do the impossible.

8)      There’s nothing you can do to stop God or me from loving you. – I know that God’s love is incomparable and that nothing can separate me from His love. But I strongly believe that my mother’s love for me is next in line. I never fully understood her love for my sister and I until I had children of my own. Every sacrifice she made. Every dream that she deferred. Every tear she cried. Every prayer that she whispered or yelled out in tongues. Every container of anointing oil she slung all over my sister and I – it all makes sense now.

9)      Just because you were born out of wedlock does not give me or you an excuse to act like a fool. – My mommy is not here the pity parties and sob stories. She is a firm stickler for not allowing your past to define your future. She did not allow my biological father’s absence to prevent her from being a great mother or me from being an extraordinary child or adult.

10)  You are “Lady Margaret” so you betta act like it! –You will never eva’ eva’ eva’ “cash/catch me outside!” Elouise didn’t raise me to be yelling, screaming, cursing, fighting and carrying on like I don’t have good sense. (Well that is unless somebody messes with my children…..) She always said to me, “You are Lady Margaret!”  Want to know more about Lady Margaret? Check out my bio on the About Page😊

11)  Being a mother is a choice. A woman can have a child and never choose to be a mother. – #ISSAFact

12)  Stop putting responsibilities on people that belong to God. –  Drops mic. Cues shout music. Run around the church! #thatsaword#youbettacatchthatinyourspirit

13)  You can’t do everything that everyone else is doing. You were not made for that. –  It took me a while to learn this, but God has a very specific path for my life. For me to accomplish His will for my life and be the most authentic version of Margaret that I can be, I cannot do, say, wear, or go where everyone else goes. I must be true to whom God has created me to be. There is no need for me to compare, compete or copy anyone else because I am just who God created me to be. I am simply Margaret – that’s me!

14)  Always keep the living room, kitchen and bathroom clean because you never know when company will stop by. – I live by this. However, don’t judge me that my bed is not made up or if my kids have toys all over their bedroom floor. You shouldn’t be in our rooms in the first place:)

15)  If God tells you to do something, do it! You don’t know what He knows. -I believe that 1 Samuel 15:22 sums it up, “…obedience is better than sacrifice…”

16)  Always have at least one good black dress and a nice pair of black heels.– And this is why most of my closet consist of black clothing and shoes.  I am my mother’s child and black will always be my favorite color.

17)  Take care of the things you have. If you have a shack, take care of it as if it were a palace. – I watched my mom maintain homes, cars, furniture, clothing and electronics for years beyond the expected lifespan. Although the products were aged, they still appeared and functioned as if they were brand new. My mother taught me the value of caring, preserving and appreciating the things you have in life.

18)  Don’t spend every dime you have and make sure you pay your tithes. – In other words, pay yourself and pay the Lord.

19)  Always look out for your sister. – It’s only my sister and I. And, it always will be. Although we are five years apart, my mother did everything in her power to ensure that Ashley and I developed a strong, healthy and close knit relationship. I literally talk with my sister almost every day and I never attend any event without first seeking her fashion advice.

20)  Never think that you are better than anyone else. The tables can quickly turn.-   Although my sister and I had a fairly comfortable, middle- class family life, my mommy made sure we knew that we were no better than anyone else. She never allowed us to become prideful or let our privileges go to our heads. We were constantly reminded of the principles of hard work, humility and the grace factor.

21)  When you use something, put it back how and where you found it. – If you only know how many times I repeat this to my kids on a daily basis! It irks the daylights out of me when things are not in place.

22)  Return things that have been loaned to you better than how you received them. – Simply put, nobody wants to have the items that they loaned to you returned in a soiled or broken state. Returning a loaned item in an unacceptable manner is downright disrespectful!

23)  People don’t control your destiny, God does. – And for this, I am eternally grateful!!! If people controlled my future, I wouldn’t have one!!!

24)  Put on a slip! – If my dress doesn’t have extra lining underneath it or if the daylight can reveal the things that only my man should be seeing, I’m putting on a slip!  Call me old school, but a good ole’ slip has saved my soul on many of occasions! But stockings….no ma’am! The only stockings I own are fishnet…I’m just saying…lol.

25)  Holidays are just one day. Celebrate the ones you love all year around. – My sister and I never grew up with extravagant Christmas or birthday celebrations. My mom always ensured that we were celebrated all year around. She consistently expressed how much we meant to her and never allowed one day to define her love.

26)  A little makeup and high heel ain’t never hurt nobody! –I’m not a makeup guru. But I’ll surely thrown on some concealer, eye liner, lipstick, mascara and a pair of heals with the quickness.

27)  Your children are not the same –so don’t treat them that way. They each have a specific path. Ask God what that is and do everything in your power to keep them on it. – As a mother of two children that have two very different personalities, this is quite challenging. It’s very easy to assume that what works for one should work for the other. Through prayer, partnership with my husband and the support of our families, I am very strategic about the schools, activities, and commitments that Ayanna and Jordan partake in. They are unique individuals with a distinct purpose. It is up to I, as their mother, to ensure that they discover and continue on a path towards greatness.

28)  Give and don’t expect anything in return. – Need I say more? Although I do have a hard time with people not saying, “Thank you!”

29)  There will always be a room for you at my house. – There is truly no place like home! Even though I am married, have a family and a home of my own, there’s no feeling like going back to my parent’s house….eating at my mother’s table…or laying across my parent’s bed. There’s an indescribable peace, comfort and familiarity that I find there and I am grateful that I’ll always have a home to return to.

30)  Just because you are good at a lot of things doesn’t mean that you need to be doing a lot of things. People will milk you dry if you let them. Know your role and position in every season.  – To be honest, this is a work in progress.  I am often pulled in so many different directions that it becomes overwhelming. At times, it seems as if everyone wants a piece of Margaret’s time, attention, talent, creativity and/or skill. I am learning that just because people request something of me, does not mean that I am obligated to respond in their favor. I am learning that it is truly ok to say, “No.” Saying “No” does not make me lesser of a person but rather a wiser woman.

A Test of Heart

Within the last couple of weeks, my daughter Ayanna has had a few issues with determining the meaning of true friendship. Honestly when she arrived home with her tales of little girls that she “thought were her friends” choosing to sit next to someone else instead of her, spending more time talking to another friend than her, or certain people not acknowledging the creativity in her art work – I had a hard time relating. Outside of me drilling her on the details of her interaction with them and reminding her of her worth, I inquired if I needed to show up to the school in true Elouise C. Williams’ style (act like my mother) and call her teacher (which I did). I really didn’t know what else to do.  For a moment, I couldn’t understand why the dealings or approval of these wishy washy little girls mattered so much to her. She is genuinely a kind hearted, caring, talented and beautiful kid.  In my eyes, my daughter is a gift to the world. Anyone who has the privilege of being in her life is simply that– privileged.  As an adult, I really wanted to tell her to get over those shady little girls because when you get to be my age you’ll be happy to find even just three good friends.

But as a parent, I knew that I needed to take a different approach.

At the advice of my sister friend, Julene, I consulted with my parenting coach, who also happens to be a licensed clinical child psychologist. (Yes, I have a parenting coach/licensed clinical psychologist on deck!  You better believe that I want to be a great parent, not an average one!  In addition to praying for God’s wisdom, I research and utilize all applicable resources that enable me to rear and empower my children. And to be frank, I believe that everyone should see a therapist at least once in their life! We all need to clear our heads, with a neutral party, every now and then. Trust me, when I hit the big leagues, I will have one on payroll!)  Anyway, I wanted to get an expert’s advice on how to address and maneuver through this situation with my daughter. I wanted to properly respond and sympathize with her rather than breaking her spirit with nonchalant “get over it” responses.

After I explained the situation to the Dr., she began to enlighten me on the emotional, physical and psychological developments of 8-year-old girls. Then, she had a few questions for me.

“Well Margaret, do you remember what is like to be in second grade or how important friendships were to you at that age?”

I responded, “I honestly do not. I can remember family events or personal achievements during that time. I remember riding to and from school every day with my late godfather, Willie Montgomery AKA “Dad,” in his white Ford Mustang. I also the remember the name of my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Jackson. I remember being the only African American in my class. I remember that Mrs. Jackson, also African American, never allowed me to feel inferior and pushed me to excel beyond the norm. “

She inquired further,” Well do you recall any elementary school friendships that stand out to you? “

I thought a little further.

“I recall my 5th grade friendship with Georgette Spratling. She and I both attended South Miami Elementary School for the Arts and spent lots of time together.  We ate lunch together every day and even had a sleepover once.”

I continued, “I remember highlights of my elementary studies. There were spelling bees, pageants, etiquette classes, a brief stint with ballet and tap (cause the Lord gave me all brains and .05 drops of rhythm), playing the lead actress in the “Little Luncheonette of Terror,” a field trip to Broadway and watching the OJ Simpson trial verdict live in class. “

So then my therapist inquired, “Hmm….I see. Well do you know what it’s like to have someone whom you thought was your friend turn their back on you? Or let you down? Or do you know what it feels like to be excluded or to be left out? Do you know what it feels like to be disappointed?”

My answer to all four questions was, “Definitely, yes!”

She responded, “Well that’s how you respond to and empathize with Ayanna. Not from the standpoint of a second grader’s friendship troubles, but from a mommy who knows what it’s like to be disappointed.”

The conclusion of that session left me with a whole lot to think about.  As I got into my car to take the 15-minute drive to work, my mind began to turn. I began to reflect on some of the moments of disappointment that I had experienced in life. Both self-inflicted disappointments and those caused by others started to flood my brain. I recalled moments of when I discovered the truth about my biological father, not making the middle school cheer leading squad (God’s fault–for not giving me rhythm –LOL) , failing the driving exam, boyfriend breakups, my undergraduate GPA (SMH—that was ALL my fault), the passing of my godfather, being overlooked for what seemed to be a “dream career,” and layoff from my job of 7 years. I thought of incidents where people that I believed had my best interest at heart, proved that they did not. Or when close friends didn’t meet my expectations or let me down.  I even pondered on those moments when I have felt “unaccomplished” in life or that I should be more advanced in education, career and financial standing that I am right now.  And with all those thoughts swirling around in my head, I recalled the emotions attached to them – insecurity, betrayal, pain, inadequacy, sadness, fear, rejection, guilt, distrust, uncertainty, shock, and disappointment.

I thought to myself, “This is what Ayanna has been feeling? My Baby!!! I need to explain to her that I understand how she’s feeling. But at the same time, she needs some advice.”  

To add more fruit for thought, TLC’s “What About Your Friends” began to play on the radio. “What about your friends? Will they stand their ground? Will they let you down, again? What about your friends? Are they gonna be lowdown? Will they ever be around? Will they ever be around? Or will they turn their backs on you?”

I recited the chorus and bobbed my head in true 90’s music fashion. But as I hit the second verse of “well is it me or can it be I’m a little too friendly…,” a light bulb went off. In an instant, I maturely re-examined my current and past friendships. I suddenly realized that certain parts of the song painted an unrealistic picture of the friendships in my life.

 What about your friends?

Will they stand their ground?  – Yes, friends should stand their ground.

 Will they let you down again? -Sadly, friends – even true friends, can let you down. No one is perfect.

  What about your friends?

  Are they gonna be lowdown?  –If you have lowdown friends, you really need to find new ones.

  Will they ever be around?  – Friends–even true friends—won’t always be around. Sometimes life just won’t allow them to.

With all of this in mind, I began to consider all the ways that I could respond to Ayanna’s friendship dilemma. I felt that she needed to know that I understood what she was going through.  She needed to the importance of friendships and that she’s bound to find friends that were made just for her.

Later that evening, I started my conversation with Ayanna with one simple question.

“Ayanna, what is a good friend to you? “

She responded, “Someone who I can talk to and hang out with. Someone who is nice and kind.”

I continued, “So are the little girls at school who you’ve been complaining about people that you can talk to or hang out with?”

Ayanna replied, “Well sometimes. Sometimes they won’t let me play with them or join in their conversations.”

I continued, “Are they nice or kind to you?”

Ayanna, “Not always.”

I continued, “So are these the kind of friends that you need?”

Ayanna, “No, but we use to be friends.”

I continued, “HmmmWell, unfortunately sometimes people change or disappoint us. Or don’t do the things we expect them to do. And that hurts and makes us feel sad.”

Ayanna, “Yes like when (insert name of first mean child) told me I couldn’t sit at the table with her and (insert name of a second mean child). And they weren’t nice about it. That made me feel really sad because we all use to sit together.”

I responded, “I’m really sorry you feel that way. I know what it feels like to be excluded and it doesn’t feel good.  And sadly, not everyone is the world is as nice and kindhearted as you. It wasn’t nice that they did not include you. But would a real friend, someone who really cares about you, treat you that way?”

Ayanna, “No…they wouldn’t.”

I said, “So maybe we should consider making new friends. Can you tell me the names of some kids in your class that have the qualities of a friend that you spoke of?”

She went on to name three other classmates.

Enthusiastically, I responded, “So let’s consider talking more to those classmates!”

Ayanna, “But does that mean I can’t talk to (insert name of mean kids) anymore? Because I can’t be like them, Mommy. They don’t know any better. I am a nice person and I can’t help but to be nice. You taught us in children’s church that we should forgive people and be kind. You also said we shouldn’t treat people the way they treat us.”

Impressed but not surprised by her response, I said, “You’re exactly right. I’m not telling you not to talk to (insert names of mean kids). You’re a wonderful kid and anyone who is your friend is a lucky person. And I’m not saying that just because I’m your mom.  I am saying that because you really are great! But, again, maybe you should consider other people to be your friends. People that will appreciate you and be kind to you. People that will make you a better person.”

Impatiently, Ayanna asked, “Okay, okay mommy. Are you finished talking about friends?”

Puzzled, I said, “Wait…I didn’t even get to share my thoughts on friendship being at test of heart and…”

In the height of my lesson on friendship, Ayanna threw her hands into the air and interrupted me.

“Mom, I got it.  I need to choose my friends wisely and I’m a great friend.   I can still be nice to the other girls even though they weren’t nice to me. And I need to pick a new set of friends because I’m a cool kid!”

Determined to finish my statement, I said, “Yes, but wait…”

Ayanna stood up from the kitchen table and walked over to the cabinet to grab a plastic bowl.

“Mom, can we talk later? I need to go finish my science experiment with slime. “

“Ok, Ayanna we are done…. for now. We can talk more about this later. I love you!”

“Love you too, mom. But, can you please pass me the food coloring? I need to mix it with the glue to make my slime?”

And that was the end of our conversation.

I’m sure that my friendship-being-test-of-heart spew was too big of a lesson to teach an eight-year-old. But since I refuse to let the brilliance of my mind go to waist, I’ll share the rest of what I wanted to say to Ayanna with you😊

I wanted to continue my conversation with Ayanna by saying that friendship is a priceless gift. In short, friendship is a commitment between individuals to be truthful, trustworthy, caring, reliable, supportive, kind, transparent and genuine.  More importantly, it is an invaluable exchange of hearts. I wanted to continue by encouraging Ayanna to find friends that know, understand, and protect her heart – people that know and understand her motives, her intentions, her desires, her potential, her purpose, and the delicate intricacies of who she is.

And that she, in return must know, understand, and protect the hearts of her friends.

I also wanted Ayanna to know that a genuine friendship is never perfect. Nothing in life is perfect. True friendship includes more than just epic group selfies, the perfect bridal party squad or #friendsforever#bff#myfriendisbetterthanyours.  Or in more relatable 2ndgrade terminology, friendship doesn’t only consist of friendship bracelets, lunch buddies or someone always complementing your artwork.  True friendship, even with all its goodness and splendor, often encounters hiccups that can dissolve or strengthen a relationship. Truthfully, friends will disappoint. People, in general, will disappoint. It’s an unfortunate, yet realistic part of human nature. Friends won’t always meet your expectations.  No one will ever meet all your expectations—not your parents, your spouse or your friend who you’ve known since elementary school.  Only God never disappoints and never fails.

I’ve heard people say that friendships stand the test of time. But I wanted Ayanna to know that true friendship also stands the test of heart. In these instances, where a friendship reaches a tough space, I believe that a testing of the heart is what matters.  It will confirm the solidity of that relationship.  I wanted Ayanna to know that if you truly know a person’s heart, you will often know and understand the intent of their actions.  Before reacting or jumping to conclusions, I want Ayanna to think, What was the heart behind my friend’s actions? What was the motive behind my friend’s words? What were the circumstances behind my friend’s absence? What did my friend really mean?

Finally, I wanted Ayanna to know that, as a kid (and sometimes as an adult), walking through the maze of friendships isn’t always easy. Sometimes she will bump into walls, take wrong turns, and reach dead ends. But then there will be those perfect moments when she successfully navigates through the U-turns and roundabouts of life.  It is there that she will meet an absolutely amazing friend that will make (insert name of mean kids) look like chopped liver:)

Handle With Care

It was 4:10PM on a Wednesday afternoon. Ayanna, Jordan and I had only been home for 20 minutes. I had nearly an hour and 30 minutes to spare before taking the kids to swimming lessons. Within that short period, I desperately needed to prepare dinner, help Ayanna with her homework, put a load of clothes in the wash, tidy up the living room, clean the bathroom and review my teaching points for the evening’s young adult life group. Suddenly with a bolt of Thor’s lightning, Moses came down from heaven, stepped into my kitchen and rested his staff. (I can only assume that the Israelites were taking their precious time and his arms were tired of holding the staff in the air.) The waters of the Red Sea were released and began to consume my house. For the tenth time this week, Ayanna burst into tears and begin whining about the events of her day.  First, it was about me not allowing her to have a longer break before starting her homework. Then it was the epic complaint of “starvation” and how she just needed just one more snack before dinner. Jordan, on the other hand, continued his newfound career as a snack mixologist. He had taken his snack collection of goldfish, raisins, yogurt, and Capri Sun and mixed them together for “a swim” on my kitchen table. He had also managed to strip down to only his underwear, pour out all the hand soap over the bathroom counter and leave a trail of poop all over the toilet seat and tiled floor.

My husband, Jelani, was at work and would not be home until after 7. My mom, dad and sister resided ten to eleven hours away in the states of Georgia and South Carolina. My mother in law was probably running errands and packing for her new move. There was no one available to rescue me from this distress of my eight-year old’s continual emotional roller coaster and my three-year old’s tornadoes of poop, bubbles, and mixed food.

With Ayanna crying a river, this time over cleaning her room, and Paw Patrol under weared Jordan screaming out the lyrics to his version of Cool It Now by New Edition, I threw my hands in the air and yelled, “CAN YOU GUYS JUST …. YOU ARE ….… I CAN’T…..”

Instantaneously, it felt like God cracked the sky, pushed pause on my life remote and for three fourths of a millisecond everything sort of stood still. In a cloud of smoke and glittery sprinkled fairy dust (lol), a vision of a big, shipping box with bold and capitalized red lettering stating “HANDLE WITH CARE” appeared before me.

Press play. 

The crying resumed and the screaming/singing of “I’m going to lose control” and “ooooohhhh watch it” continued. The vision of the box disappeared.

I, fresh from my epiphany, washed the food seasonings from my hand and turned off the stove. I looked at my children in the calmest mid voiced tone possible, I simply stated, “I just need a moment.”

I walked to bathroom, closed, and locked both doors behind me. I put down the toilet seat cover lid and sat down. I did not really need to use the bathroom. I just needed a place to breathe and think in peace. But as expected, my children followed me and the sound of their bare feet running down the hallway seeped under the bathroom door seal.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

I purposely did not respond. I hoped they would get the hint.

Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock

“I’m using the bathroom. Give you guys just give me a moment!”

Jordan inquired, “Can we come in?”

I responded, “NO!! I’ll be out in a minute.”

Ayanna asked, “But why can’t we come in?”

I replied, “Because, I would like to use the bathroom in peace. Please just give me a moment.”

Jordan asked, “Are you sure you have to use the bathroom?”

Ayanna continued, “Do you have to pee or poop?”

Annoyed and irritated, I loudly responded “That’s none of your business!!! Can you guys just PLEASE give me a moment?”

Ayanna said, “Jordan, mommy sounds stressed out. Maybe she had a bad day at work. She needs some relaxation. Let’s leave her alone.”

Jordan agreed, “Ok, Yanna. Let’s go watch Guava Juice on Youtube.”

And just like that, Jordan and Ayanna’s secret service left their guard post of the bathroom door and hurried in the opposite direction.

FINALLY! I could breathe (in the stench of Jordan’s smeared poop) and think in peace.

Hoping to regain a moment of sanity, I uncomfortably reclined my body.  With my head leaned back onto the toilet tank cover and my feet propped onto Jordan’s stepping stool, I began to reflect on the vision of this mysterious box and its possible contents. In the shipping world, I imagined that this box could have contained antique China, a mirror, a delicate piece of glass furniture, jewelry, or any sort of fragile item. The contents were probably tightly bubble wrapped, packaged in Styrofoam or plastic casing or surrounded by those foamy popcorn shipping thingies. The item could have originated from overseas or the Amazon warehouse base in Seattle. Regardless of its origin or contents, this box had a destination.  How the box was handled during its packing, shipping, and delivery process, would determine the state in which the contents would arrive to its destination.  Throwing, dropping, kicking and any careless mishandling of the box could ultimately damage the box’s contents and yield an insufficient product.

The more I thought about the box, the more evident it became that God was trying to tell me something.  The vision of this box was His way of saying to me, “Hey Margaret! Before you complete the rest of that sentence, yell at the top of your lungs, or say or do something that you might regret…remember this, HANDLE WITH CARE.”

In my world, this box and its contents represented my children. They are the fragile contents composed of invaluable material. They each have a unique and individualized God-ordained purpose and destiny awaiting them. I, along with the partnership of my husband, are the packers, shippers, and deliverers. God was reminding me that not only am I, as their mother, responsible for the outward provision, covering and protection of my children, but I am even more responsible for the health, security, and productivity of their inner contents.  The way in which I handle them – my responses, my tone of my voice, my demeanor towards them, my attentiveness to their needs, the elements in which I expose them to, my actions on a whole– would affect how they grow up, perceive and adapt to their surroundings. I undeniably play an unprecedented role in the manner into which they are delivered into adulthood. They can either arrive in shambles, broken into pieces and in a state of disarray. Or they could arrive in good standing and ready to serve a purpose greater than themselves.

Although my children are merely three and eight years of age and our journey as family has really just begun, parenting is probably one of the hardest task I have ever had! Anyone who says that parenting is easy……has imaginary kids..….for real!!! The vision of the box marked “HANDLE WITH CARE” was a reminder that I must be a safe and sound molding place for my children. The handling of the box, or my children in this case, never requires me to be perfect. But to rather that I AM CAREFUL, conscientious and thorough in my dealings with them. Ayanna and Jordan need me to be an active listener, to be attentive, to empathize with them,  to be fair, chastise, correct, guide, acknowledge, encourage and applaud them.

For now, my husband and I are everything to our children. We shape the world as they know it. They depend on us for their very survival. But in all honesty, I think we need them  way more than they need us. For a world void of emotional breakdowns, whiny eight-year-old complaints of after school starvation, poop stains and a three-year-old’s rendition of Cool It Now is simply no world at all:)

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Ayanna asked, “Mom, are you done, yet?”

I responded, “Almost, Ayanna. Almost.”

Ayanna replied, “Well can you hurry up because I need help with putting all of my 100 pages of school papers back into my notebook. They need to be in chronological order. And Jordan left his dirty underwear in the family room and is running around the house naked. I can also still smell his stinky poop!”

 I replied, “I’m coming, Ayanna.”

I turned on the tub water to run a bath for Jordan.  Picked up the Clorox spray and wipes to combat the trail of poop. I unlocked both bathroom doors and headed down the hallway into the Red Sea.

I whispered quietly to the Lord, “So, God, on my days like this, as I’m sure there are lots more ahead, grant me the wisdom and grace to handle Ayanna and Jordan with the utmost care. “

DEAR MOUNT EVEREST PILE OF LAUNDRY: LOVE IS CALLING, YOU HAVE TO WAIT!”

  On last Thursday my husband, Jelani, released this post on FB: Today was rough. I had a lot on my mind, which caused me to have a huge headache. I got home from the gym not in the best of moods, which my wife noticed. She kindly asked if I would like for her cook dinner to which I replied yes, so she did as well as brought it to me along with a bottle of water. After I ate, she sat next to me, held on to my arm, put her head on my shoulder, didn’t say a word but just sat there and my headache subsided and I just started to calm down gradually. She knew exactly what to do and didn’t escalate the situation by screaming “what’s wrong with you” or “why do you have such an attitude”. I’m not saying we don’t have our disagreements but she knows how to deal with me when I’m stressed I’m out. This woman is the absolute BEST and to say I love her is a
HUGE understatement. Fellas, if you have a woman that does this for you, please hold on to her and make sure she knows that she’s appreciated!”

Ahhhhh isn’t that sweet!!! Indeed!!! I love me some him! But, first, let me push pause on your wellspring of “Ahhhs” and give you my backstory.

Upon arriving home from work, errands and after school pickups, I walked into my front door with the sole focus of folding and putting away the 5 loads of two-week old, clean laundry. Piled high on Ayanna’s bed like Mount Everest, this laundry stared me in the face every time I entered into her room. (Ayanna is too scared to sleep alone. She sleeps in her brother Jordan’s room. The empty bed in her room is the ultimate scape goat for not folding clean laundry.)  Folding and putting away the laundry was my sole mission for the evening and there wasn’t anything or anyone that could deter me from accomplishing that.  I had no intentions of cooking dinner, cleaning the blue sparkly Kid’s Crest toothpaste off the bathroom counter, working on my website content, searching the internet for 10-year anniversary ideas, ironing school clothes or pre-packing snacks bags for the next day –laundry was my ONLY priority. Everyone and everything would have to fend for themselves.

But before tackling the unbearable task, it was of absolute necessity that I put Ayanna and Jordan on notice. I said to them, “You are not hungry. You both already ate. I need to finish the laundry so I’m asking that neither of you disturb me for the next two hours. Do you understand?”

Unconcerned and unenthused, they responded, “OK, mommy.”

Ayanna pulled a Junie B. Jones book from bookshelf and Jordan retreated to my room to watch PBS kids. I could officially start my mission.

I transported what seemed to be the laundry for the 19 Kids & Counting crew to our
family room and turned on the TV to occupy my attention. The terrible process of folding clothes and putting them away began; and within an hour and a half, I was almost finished! Although there were several interruptions concerning Jordan’s Kindle
battery dying, Ayanna’s “extreme” hunger pains and their collective bickering, I
managed to fold the clothes and put them away into their designated drawers. The only task that remained was the placing the leftover clothing onto hangers and the valley of the shadow of unmatched sock. As I began to place one of Jordan’s uniform shirts onto the hanger, the front door opened.

In their usual routine, the kids ran down the hall towards the door and began screaming, “Daddy!! Daddy!!”

But unlike most days, they did not receive my husband’s usual loud, extravagant, and playful response. Instead, my husband gave Ayanna and Jordan a half smile and a quiet, “Hello.” He then, silently, proceeded to put away his lunch container and work bag. He walked into the family room, took off his shoes and watch and planted a solemn kiss onto my lips. No words, no random Isley Brothers “Living for the Love of You” song outbreak, no long intense eye gaze into my eyes, no suggestive bodily stroke, no huge grin…just a solemn kiss.

I, aware of his demeanor but focused on the task at hand, picked up Ayanna’s PE uniform shorts and placed it onto a hanger. Just as I opened my mouth to inquire about my husband’s day, Jordan, as if he were Flash, came running into the family room.

He asked, “Mommy can you fix me some milk please?” 

I responded, “Mommy has to finish with the clothes. Can you ask Ayanna, please?”

Jordan defiantly replied, “No!! I can do it myself!”  He turned around and ran out of the family room.

Jelani somberly emerged from arranging his work shoes within his closet and said to me, “ I’m going to take a shower.”

I responded with an “OK,” picked up the next piece of clothing to hang and pressed play on my new TV adventure, 7 Year Switch. (Thanks Simone:) I picked up Ayanna’s
uniform skort and began to unlock the clips of the hanger. Instantly, there was a loud shout.

“Jordan,” Jelani exclaimed.

I dropped Ayanna’s uniform skort on the couch, ran into the kitchen and found my husband reaching for paper towels. While attempting to fix the milk himself, Jordan managed to pour all the Nestle Quik strawberry syrup into the almond milk carton and onto the kitchen counter.  Jelani stood in the kitchen – unfocused, mumbling and just plain out of it. Aware of my husband’s unusual disposition, I immediately jumped in to help clean up the mess and poured Jordan the requested cup of milk. My husband proceeded to the shower.  I returned to my almost complete task of laundry.

As I pressed play once again, I heard the shower water come to a cease and love called out to me. I paused the TV, dropped the laundry, and headed to the kitchen.

I opened the refrigerator and took out yesterday’s pan of baked chicken. I lifted the foil and there only remained two legs and one wing—definitely not enough to fill my husband’s stomach or meet the demands of his high protein diet.  In search of an unfrozen alternative, I returned to the fridge and reached for the eggs. I  glanced at the clock on the stove and it read: 7:45PM. I only had a few minutes remaining before the start of Grey’s Anatomy and my husband’s 8pm training, dinner deadline.  (Side note: My husband does not expect me to cook every day and would be crazily disappointed if he did!  He surely knows how to cook and will prepare a meal if needed.) On any other day, he would have whipped up something for himself. But I knew that this day, was not “any other day.” And on that day, love was calling for me and laundry would have to wait.

I quickly diced and sautéed peppers, onions, and shredded the leftover chicken. I added three eggs, shredded chicken and triple cheddar cheese to the pan. Tada!!! An omelet was born. (Thank God my husband isn’t a picky man! ) I plated the omelet, grabbed a fork and a bottled water. I walked into the family room and there my husband sat silently clipping clothes onto hangers. I placed the plate of food into his left hand and bottle of water into his right. Jelani, briefly looked up, said “Thank you,” and proceeded to eat his dinner. After my husband finished his meal, he inaudibly cleaned up the kitchen and returned to the family room couch.

I purposely allowed the kids to play beyond their 8:00 bedtime. I knew that love was calling for me and needed my attention far more than they did at that moment.  I left my children to enjoy their custom pillow and blanket made campsite and 100th replay of Trolls. Although my insides were screaming at Jordan’s attempt to make tents utilizing every comforter and pillow in the house, I knew that there was a far more important matter at hand. I turned a blind eye to the fact that I had just washed and folded Jordan’s campsite comforters and made my way into the family room. I pushed aside the laundry basket lined with unmatched socks and sat next to my husband. Without muttering one word, I grabbed his arm, placed my head on his shoulder and intertwined my hand into his.

Love called out me and I am beyond glad that I answered.

Often, preoccupied with the demands of life, children, careers, ambition, our personal battles and even laundry, we, as wives, unintentionally miss the opportunities to truly connect with our spouse. I’m not referring to the grand moments of birthdays, holidays, or the celebration of life’s accomplishments. I mean the everyday moments. We miss the signs, the cues, the doors that are left wide open. We even bypass the bright neon, flashing billboards that read, “Hey, you!! Put the laundry down and pay attention to your man!!

In complete honesty, I must admit that there have been occasions where my ears and heart have been deaf to the call of love. There has been a time or two (or three or four) where I have responded to my husband’s bad days with loud, neck rolling, side eye responses of “What’s wrong with you?” Or, I am guilty of selfishly making the decision to not acknowledge or attend to his need for reassurance, comradery or intimacy because I was simply tired, overwhelmed or felt like I had nothing left to give. There have been times when I have overlooked the invaluable moment to connect with and be present with my husband. I have naively assumed that the task at hand was more deserving of my attention than his call for my love.

But on last Thursday, love called out to me. And, I, put the laundry basket down and answered the phone.

When love calls, it demands more than just gushy feelings, erotic passion or fancy gifts. It requires more than just the assurance of a fairy tale fantasy or “happily ever after” ending. When love calls, it often necessitates your immediate, undivided attention. The call of love requires sacrifice. Work. Attentiveness. Humility. Understanding. Patience. Persistence. Endurance. Action. Commitment. Selflessness. Integrity. Grit. Support. Kindness. Gentleness. Forgiveness. Truth. Compassion. Grace. Transparency.

The call of love seeks a willing and surrendered vessel. A soft answer. An open heart.

When love calls, it is beckoning you to make a choice.

On last Thursday, my love called out to me. And, I humbly chose him over the unfinished Mount Everest pile of two-week old, clean laundry.

“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

“I have decided to follow to Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.”

I can remember the moment when I decided to follow Jesus Christ. It was during a revival service at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. I remember falling asleep across the royal blue church pew shortly after the deacons completed devotion. For those of you that are unfamiliar with old school Baptist church customs, devotion was the deacons form of modern day praise and worship. Devotion consisted of the deacons interchanging Baptist hymnals with prayer, scripture reading and testimony service and it usually last anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour–depending how the Spirit lead.  On that evening, I slept all the way through the revival service and abruptly awoke as the altar call began. Somewhere in between Rev. Randall E. Holts finishing his sermon, the choir singing “We Offer Christ to You” and “opening the doors of the church,” I jumped up from my sleep and confidently jolted down to the altar. I took a seat in one of the ten blue, fabric cushioned folding chairs that the ushers had lined up across the front of the church altar.  As I dangled my black, patent leather, Stride-Rite church shoes and fancy, ivory, ribbon laced church socks from the chair, my mom stood back in our row in a state of awe. Not that I had rushed to the altar, but at the fact that I had been asleep, snoring and drooling on her lap, for most of the service.

As I waited patiently for Rev. Holts to interview me, I looked up at the choir who sang with bold confidence and persuasion. Each member wore a royal blue choir robe, swayed from side to side and waved their hands in forms of adoration. They stood directly in front of the baptismal pool. Baptism was a symbolical and traditional part of our Christian faith. At the age of eight, I recalled it being the reason as to why church service was super long on certain Sundays and the method by which people were “washed white as snow.” Behind the baptismal pool was a stained-glass window portrait of a black man. I knew that picture all too well. It was Jesus Christ clothed in a red robe and kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane. As I stared upon the picture, I recalled the story that my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Jones, had often told us. Per Mrs. Jones, at this point in Jesus’ life he was near the end of his earthly ministry. The Bible records that Jesus requested the accompaniment of two of his twelve disciples, James and John, to the garden. The remainder of the disciples were asked to stay behind and pray.  Jesus, realizing the necessary but excruciating task of crucifixion that lay before Him, cried out to His Father in heaven, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

Interrupted in mid thought by the church claps and loud shouts of, “Hallelujah,” my eyes shifted to the row of chairs in which I sat.  The row was now filled with new converts and the ushers began adding additional folding chairs to seat those who were still coming to the altar. Soon the choir went silent, the applause and shouting ceased and all that was left to hear was Min. Elvis playing softly on the keyboard. Rev. Holts stepped down from the pulpit, into the altar area and began to interview the new converts. With my feet still dangling and my hands clasped in my lap, I watched Rev. Holts go from person to person and eventually he came to me.

Rev. Holts stood directly in front of me and reached out his arms to hug me. I obliged as Rev. Holts was no stranger to my family.  He and my mom attended high school together and New Hope Missionary Baptist Church was literally the only church I’d ever known.

He said, “Sweetheart, can you tell everyone your name?”

I responded, “My name is Margaret Smith.”

He asked, “For those of you who don’t know this is Elouise’s daughter! Weesie, do you see your daughter down here?”

My mother, Elouise, waived from the back of the church, smiled and nodded .

Rev. Holts continued, “And, Margaret how old are you?”

I said, “I am 8 years old.”

Rev. Holt’s responded, “Church, Margaret is 8 years old and she is here to give her life to the Lord!”

The church immediately exploded in applause and shouts of “Hallelujah,”  “Thank you Jesus!” and “Glory be to God!”

Rev. Holt’s waited for the congregation’s excitement to cease and then he continued, “Margaret, why do you want to be saved?”

With the boldness of a lion, I exclaimed, “I just love Jesus!”

Fast forward nearly 24 years later to January of this year. My 8-year-old daughter, Ayanna, came to my husband, Jelani, and I with the desire to be baptized and commit her life to Christ.  Although we were excited that she made the decision to follow Christ, we wanted to make sure she understood what baptism symbolized. I also needed to ensure she fully understood that the commitment she wanted to make was not the same as the pinky promises that she made between her friends.

As that of a child, her response was simple, yet profound.

With the same boldness and tenacity that I displayed at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, my daughter said to me, “Mommy, I just love God and I want to live a life that pleases him!”

That response sealed the deal for me and immediately the over the top, mommy milestone-party planning juices began to flow. I set the baptism date for the last Sunday in February. This would allow the necessary time for my parents and sister to book flights from Atlanta and for me to plan the most extravagant baptism celebration ever.  I know mother’s who celebrate the loss of baby teeth—which I find kind of gross by the way. So why couldn’t I celebrate my daughter making the single most important decision of her life? I wanted to be sure that “Ayanna” would remember her baptism and that her decision to follow Jesus Christ was celebrated in the most excessive way possible.  I needed to have custom pink, gold and purple rhinestone and glittered invitations made, plan a kid and adult friendly menu, rent a covered tent, chairs, tables for our backyard celebration, and feed my preexisting obsession with Pinterest while searching for perfect décor. Ayanna’s baptism celebration would be one for the books – one for my mommy celebration hall of fame book , that is.

About two Sundays after Ayanna’s desire to baptized was revealed, our church worship service was extraordinarily consumed by the presence of God. Our praise and worship segment shifted to a time of intercessory prayer and then into a quiet stillness. During the height of this service, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “If she’s ready today, don’t make her wait until February.” I knew immediately that the Holy Spirit was referring to Ayanna’s decision to be baptized on that day as baptism was scheduled to take place later during the service.

With a sense of urgency resting in my spirit, I took Ayanna aside and asked her, “Ayanna, are you ready to be baptized today or do you prefer to wait until February?”

Ayanna boldly and enthusiastically declared, “Yes, mommy I’m ready and I do not want to wait until February to be baptized!”

I quickly spoke with my husband, Jelani, and we conceded to her demands. All my elaborate baptismal celebration plans were driven over by a Mack truck and would be replaced by Ayanna’s desire to get celebratory frozen yogurt from Menchies…smh!  I took Ayanna over to her Great Aunt “Mackie” to be prepped for the baptism. As the baptismal team rushed Ayanna to the changing area, I proceeded to the upstairs office area to call my parents and my sister, Ashley. After two unsuccessful attempts at reaching my sister, I called my parents. To my luck, my mother answered the phone immediately. I quickly informed both my mom and my dad, Lem, of Ayanna’s decision to be baptized on that day.

My mother, in all of her Elouise-like wisdom, grace and no nonsense demeanor responded, “I felt in my spirit that she would want to be baptized earlier. You should allow her to. You don’t need to wait on us. You never know what God is doing and you never want to hinder His plans.”

I agreed to Facetime them for the entire experience and headed back downstairs to prepare for Ayanna’s baptism. By the time, I arrived back inside of the church, Ayanna was dressed in her white baptismal attire and seated in the front church pew. My husband had been summoned from his usual position as a minister of  music so that he could have the privilege of baptizing his own daughter. He was, too, rushed to the changing area to exchange his Sunday attire for white, nurse-like scrubs. I sat down next to Ayanna and fumbled through both her cellphone and mine to ensure ample battery percentage and Wi-Fi connection. I would use Ayanna’s phone to FaceTime my parents and my phone to Google Duo my sister. (Side note: Yes, my 8-year-old has a cell phone – compliments of grandparents. Please know that I pettily remind her that I did not get a cellphone until I was 17. And that was only because I was going half way across the country to attend college at Oral Roberts University. Grandparents…gotta love them!!)

I looked at Ayanna as she fidgeted in her seat, just as I did. Barefoot, she dangled her feet and bit her lips as she always does when she is nervous.

I asked, “Are, you ok?’

Ayanna responded, “Yes, mommy. I am fine.”

In a final effort to ensure that she was confident in the decision she had made and hopes of salvaging my grandeur baptism celebration plans, I asked once again, “Are you sure you want to be baptized today? There is no pressure from your dad nor I. ”

She stated once again, “Yes, mommy, I am ready.”

I hugged her tightly and told her that I was very proud of her. Her Great Aunt/Pastor Helga reached for her to seal her commitment with a hug, kiss and a quick prayer. And then, Ayanna was beckoned to join our Bishop, on the stage for her interview.

Bishop, who also happens to be Ayanna’s Great Uncle Donald, asked, “Ayanna, why do you want to be baptized?”

Ayanna replied, “I want to live a life for the Lord.”

As with me, nearly twenty-four years prior, the church immediately exploded in applause and shouts.

Just as I did at her age, Ayanna bravely stood before our church congregation. Although there were no blue, fabric cushioned folding chairs at the altar, nor “Come To Jesus” melodies playing in the background or a stained glassed image of black Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I felt like I was 8 years old all over again. But this time, I was not looking at a rerun of my former life. Instead, I was watching my daughter, my baby, my own flesh and blood make the decision to follow Christ.

Bishop then passed the microphone to my husband. After detailing a brief history of Ayanna’s spiritual journey, her eagerness to make the right decisions and to remind even her parents of the importance of reading God’s word and pray, Jelani escorted Ayanna to the baptismal pool. With both Ayanna’s phone and mine aimed and ready, I watched as my daughter stood fearlessly and firmly in the baptismal pool. In between, waving and calling out to my parents streaming in via Facetime and folding her arms to keep warm in the chilly water, she smiled from ear to ear.

With her father behind her and her “Uncle” Pastor Don, Jr. in front of her, Ayanna raised her right hand to the sky.

At the instruction of her “Uncle” Pastor Don, Ayanna recited, “I, Ayanna, have decided to follow Jesus Christ for the rest of my life until I die or they call me home in the rapture.”

My three-year-old son, Jordan, blurts out in the background, “That’s my sister, Ayanna!!!”

I responded, “Yes, Papa! That is Ayanna! She is getting baptized!”

Continuing the baptism ceremony, “Uncle” Pastor Don, Jr. replied, “Ayanna Williams, based on the confession of your faith, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Shivering, Ayanna was brought up from the baptismal waters and carefully out of the pool. I, in that moment, thought that this is just a tiny form of what God must have felt when Jesus was baptized. Matthew 3:16-17 states, When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He[a] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Ayanna is my beloved daughter and I was well pleased! As a parent who daily strives to impart godly wisdom, disciplines and values into my children, I was beyond proud. My husband and I had no desire to force Ayanna into this decision. Instead, we wanted the life that we lived and the values that we impart to be the example. Just as we did as children, we wanted her to make the choice to follow Christ when the time was right for her.  I was pleased with Ayanna’s confident disposition and her child like faith that believed that  with God, all things truly are better. Ayanna’s decision to accept Christ validated me as a parent. Ayanna made the conscious effort to the choose to follow the God that her parents served and loved wholeheartedly. It reminded me that the countless Sundays of children’s ministry instruction, morning and evening prayers, Bible study readings and lessons in “What Would Jesus Do?” were not in vain. Besides, as Christian parents, all our sacrifices for the best living environment, clothing, shoes, education, etiquette and extracurricular activities are null if our children don’t grow to have their own personal relationship with Christ.

But at the same time, in all honesty, my heart was just tad a bit heavy.  Yes, I was beyond excited that my daughter had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into her heart. For, I believe that a life without Christ is truly an unfilled life; that a relationship with Jesus Christ affords you with promissory note of hope, joy, peace, love and abundance that exceeds all others. But Ayanna, just as I at the age of eight and sometimes now at the age of 32, probably only has the slightest inkling of what a true commitment to Christ means. Yes, committing your life to Christ does guarantee an incomparable and eternal life– but that life surely isn’t always a daily dose of rainbows, golden pots of Skittles or yellow brick roads.  It is more than just attending church, praying, reading your word and being “nice” to people. It’s a continual surrender of your entire being—your mind, your will, your emotions, your intellect, your desires, your plans, your heart. There will be days when the commitment seems to be overwhelming and you are not sure if you can carry out your end of the deal. There will moments when your faith won’t seem strong enough or your heart can’t seem to take the pain. There will be times when you don’t want to be the bigger person and you really want to tell the Lord to turn His head and close His ears just for 5 minutes so that you can give someone a piece of your mind or punch someone in the face. There will instances where your initial responses are not to forgive, not to turn the other cheek, or spread love, or be at peace. As with any commitment, there will be times when you question yourself and even God.

And in those moments, I pray that as He does with me, the joy of the Lord becomes Ayanna’s strength. I pray, that in the words of those old-school deacons at New Hope Missionary Baptist church, she holds to “God’s unchanging hand.” I pray that she knows that every sacrifice she makes is worth it and that she does not “grow weary in well doing.”  I pray that she is surrounded by a body of fellow believers who will genuinely love, encourage, uplift and intercede for her. I pray that the presence of God will surround her like a warm blanket of reassurance, peace and fortitude. I pray that in those moments, the child like faith she displayed on the day of her baptism is rekindled. I pray that she remembers that God truly makes all things better. I pray that the melody to this old but powerful song plays sweetly in her ears, “I have decided to follow to Jesus.I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow to Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.”

“I’m Out!!”

Deuces 2016!! I’m out!! You have been “interesting” to say the least………….

I waltzed into 2016 optimistic, confident, strategically focused and ready to follow the “yellow brick road” to success. I was ready to “ease on down the road!” I can remember declaring, “2016 will be a year like none other! This will be my year!!!” I can even recall the article I wrote professing that 2016 was “The Year of My Return “..SMH…it should have been called the year of “you still don’t have the slightest clue.”

Contrary to the normal vision boards, Sallie Mae did not miraculously erase my student loan debt. I did not quit my day job and become an overnight YouTube sensation with a gazillion followers. Neither did the Lord whisper the Powerball numbers into my spirit or lead a random stranger across the world to deposit 1 million dollars into my bank account…LOL….

2016, in sum, was literally as if God himself slammed the brakes, kicked me out of the driver’s seat of my own car, forcefully put me in the backseat, buckled my seat belt and placed duct tape over my mouth. Every ounce of control I thought I had, was totally revoked. I was off my originally mapped course, the GPS app on my phone stopped working and I was far from my ultimate destination. But, I was right where He needed me to be.

For me, 2016 was not a year of success as I nor the world would define it. Instead it was a year of humility and breaking. Most importantly, 2016 was a test of faithfulness and has left me with 5 life altering lessons:

1) Every season is not always about success. Sometimes a season is about our ability to be faithful. In the words of Wikipedia, it is about “unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something and putting that loyalty into consistent practice, regardless of extenuating circumstances.”

2) I must make faithfulness an absolutely, non-negotiable priority. I must be:
a. Faithful to God’s word
b. Faithful to the authentic version of myself, to trust my individualized journey and God’s specific instructions concerning my life
c. Faithful to believe God’s promises and that His timing is perfect
d. Faithful to keep my hands clean and my heart pure

3) Faithfulness is far more valuable than success. For success means nothing to God, if a spirit of faithfulness is lacking.

4) Faithfulness does not always feel good.

5) Exercising true faithfulness will always be a constant reminder that everything is not always about me, my human abilities or my ambitions.

I’m definitely not running into 2017, but rather I’m being carried on the wings of God’s infinite grace. On this 31st day of December, I am humbled, broken (in a good way), frazzled, exhausted and totally not where I expected to be. I won’t even pretend to say that I have a clue as to what 2017 will bring. But I will dare to say that in the midst of it all, I’m just a girl that’s walking a little bit closer with Jesus and a lot more “out of control.”