{ an unlikely tribe }

FullSizeRender (1)I recently attended a meeting at work with two judges, one prosecutor, one defense attorney, and two probation officers. They were telling the federal offender population I serve about a Second Chance program which offers them a support team comprised of the aforementioned individuals who would meet with them every two weeks for about a year and provide guidance and resources to aid their reintegration into society after incarceration. Their allies would be composed of unexpected people.

At first mention, the offenders were suspect of the group members. Afterall, aren’t they the ones that pointed the finger, convicted them and locked them up? Well now, that’s a matter of perspective. This is where we would have to throw our biases out the window and take a risk. If we play the blame game and refuse to budge, we’ll probably rule out potential supporters.

We can choose to surround ourselves with folk who will propel us forward or with those who will say what we want to hear and remain stuck. We need people that will challenge our faulty thinking and steer us in the right direction. We need a fellowship of people that believe in our capacity to change and succeed.

And if we want real and lasting change, we need persistence. We need accountability. We need good examples around us. Especially if we’ve been going around in circles for a long time.

We need people who will teach us that sometimes we have to face the consequences and that it won’t be pretty. We need cheerleaders who will encourage us to keep going even if we get snagged, veer the wrong way or just plain fall flat on our face. We need people who will not give up on us when we’re giving up on ourselves.

And once we’re strong enough and become who we hope to be, we must become part of a tribe for someone else. We owe it to each other. Because along the way, we’ve all crossed paths with people who have lifted us up, who have shaken us awake, and who have loved us hard.

Let’s pick an unlikely tribe to walk our journey with us and if we’re feeling adventurous, we’ll let them pick us. Either way, it’s really not about what we want, it’s about what we need. And let’s not be quick to rule people out of our inner circle. When you expect the unexpected you invite a secret array of colorful people to surround you. That is your tribe.

The Black Oxford

The Black OxfordThis isn’t about a shoe or the woven dress shirt fabric or even about an African American presence at Oxford University. It’s about an apple. Not your ordinary grocery store apple but a classic. The Black Oxford is a purple-skinned, white-freckled heirloom apple, as vintage as one can get. At first glance it looks like a plum. It’s roots go back 225 years. It was born in 1790 in Paris, Maine during a time when backyard orchards were commonplace.

What makes this particular apple special is its longevity. Nowadays you buy a fresh apple and it’ll last you 2-4 weeks in a pantry before turning to mush. Not the Black Oxford. It can keep for more than six months in a cool dark place at the right temperature with enough humidity. I certainly didn’t know an apple variety could be preserved naturally for that long.

Many of the New England orchards with these old apple trees need to be hunted down. You may want to talk to an old farmer who may be able to point you in the right direction. Once you find one you’ll want to remove a strip of live bark from those 100 or so year old trees and graft it into a healthy tree to resurrect that treasure of a fruit.

The story of the Black Oxford reminds me of another story involving a vintage fruit from a forgotten land. I see flashbacks of an abandoned garden filled with trees but no one is left to till it or eat from it. Distant echoes brush past me leaving me unsettled, cold, and naked. “Where are you?” reverberates in my soul. The past pulls me back for a few seconds and then returns me to the present with urgency. As if it’s counting on me to change something.

This time around it can be different. It has to be. We have to refuse to bite into just any apple. We should be done with modern, short-lived ideologies that try desperately to trump truth. We should be done with lies.

It’s time to search for the tree that produces precious, unadulterated fruit. Organic, deeply-rooted, mature and healthy. That tree of life. The one guarded by the cherubim. That very one that would allow us to live forever.

We bite into the fruit of that tree to be made whole because we’re an untended orchard of dwarf-sized, bitter, angry, lonely, sick trees. And our fruit is dormant. We need that ancient nourishing sap to be the blood running through our viens.

That rare fruit hung on a tree long ago for us. He beckons us to partake of Him. And this time, we’ll graft Him into our hearts. Because we’re the dying trees that need revival.

Avenue of Dreams

image1What if we walked down a path expecting to meet ourselves in the future. One second and the next minute. An hour later. Not a day late. A month of encounters and a year of dreams fulfilled. Not ephemeral ones that vanish when our hopes are dashed but revelations plucked from the heart of the promise keeper.

Unexpected days laid out before us. Opportunities at each turn to think differently and to be different, to become the real us. To even take those dreaded steps dripping with pain yet slowly leaving those footprints behind with each step. And we keep moving forward trying not to get stuck in the cement of fear; paralyzed by the past, regrets, and our broken hearts. We slowly unhinge from what’s holding us back. Ourselves. And with each stride we become who we are meant to be. Not shining stars but beloved ones with pure hearts.

We reach forward. With every step, with every breath. Finally caressing what we hoped for. Pulling deep from His wells what we once envisioned. They were His desires for us. What He’s known all along. And He calls us by the name He alone knows. And we answer. And we finally see ourselves as we look into His eyes. And we lose ourselves in His love.

Face the Book

MimiFacebook. We’re either all in or want nothing to do with it. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much time I spend on it. I’m not knocking Facebook at all. I think it’s an ingenious social media tool, if used wisely.

But I find myself scrolling for fifteen minutes at a time or more reading posts and looking at pics, “liking” this, getting upset over that. Sometimes feeling frustrated that I just wasted fifteen minutes or more. But I continue to check in periodically. Let’s tell the truth, many of us do. I’ve even vowed to stay away but when I find myself procrastinating on what I should be doing or have a little down time here and there, I tap on my Facebook app.

Facebook allows us to present our best side but it’s just a snapshot, at most. We have control over what people know and what they see. The real “us” is facing the screen, not plastered on Facebook. And we know it.

Some use Facebook to create a self they’d like to be and some are what my husband calls Facebook preachers, always telling people what they should be or shouldn’t be doing. Others are blatantly rude, publically threaten to “unfriend” anyone who sends them another Candy Crush game request or they let everybody know they’re purging people from their friend list instead of just quietly doing it. I never quite understood that one.

Facebook is making us act weird. I don’t want to be weird like that. That’s why I’m writing this post as a reminder.

But more important than acting weird to me is the question of priorities and time well spent. As I get older, the reality of the brevity of life sinks like a heavy weight in my soul.

Facebook serves as a reminder to constantly question who I really am and what I should be doing with my time, and ultimately, with my life. Spending time on Facebook isn’t going to really help me answer those questions. But sticking my face in another book will.

We can go around reading what others have to say about us, life, or God or we can go straight to the source who created us. I opt for the latter because we’re all really just searching for those honest-to-goodness answers that only He can provide.

The Bible is uncanny in reflecting an accurate image of us, and simultaneously providing the wisdom to transform that image as well.

It’s always time to face the book.

Suddenly

photo(89)I woke up this morning, looked out my window and was struck by the blanket of snow covering everything. Pure, milk-colored snow. I was expecting it but when I actually saw it, its beauty captivated my eyes. And it reminded me of God. The way He suddenly changes things in our lives. Suddenly, the waiting is over. Suddenly, the pain is over. Suddenly, hope shoots up like Spring in our hearts. Suddenly, God…

A few days ago a kindred spirit spoke to me of God’s “suddenlies” and to have an expectant heart. I’ve decided to keep my eyes peeled, and I hope you will too. Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t lose hope for that miracle. Keep believing because what He promises He fulfills. Take a moment to read the messages God sends to you through nature; all those subtle reminders of God moving all around you. He’s nearer than you think. Can you feel His breath?

You may be smack dab in the middle of a storm, but a sudden move of God can drastically change the course of your life at just the right time. I know this to be true in mine. Years of waiting suddenly turned on a dime. It was over and orchestrated with so much love that when the fog of pain lifted, I was able to look back and see God’s fingerprints molding it all for my good.

As time goes by, I hope to see more clearly, but not with my eyes.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for. You don’t have to see it to believe it. You have to believe it to see it.

Wait for His suddenly. It’s coming!

The God Watchers

TheGodWatchersDon Nori Sr.’s latest book release, The God Watchers, speaks of a simple yet profound truth to live by: Jesus did what He saw the Father in heaven do, and we can follow in His footsteps. Writing with a humble heart, searching eyes and spiritually sensitive ears, the author urges us to set aside our personal agendas for God’s plans.

Nori’s seamless, soul-stirring message produces in us a desire to hear the Spirit and perceive the Lord at work in our day-to-day lives. According to the author, God is a prolific talker. He is always speaking, but our ability to hear what He is saying requires a quieted soul.

The secret to being a God watcher is found in Jesus’ surrendered life, Nori says. When we’re positioned to see, sense, feel and hear God’s heart, we can then embrace a greater reality of God and of His manifest presence. In the realm of the Spirit, we see Him, discern His presence and participate in His earthly plans.

Nori writes that yielded brokenness allows God to build His church and radically transform lives that are seeking to do His will. The search for recognition, titles and authority are set aside to heed the call to decrease so He may increase. This allows God’s nature, passion and power to flow through our every living so it’s no longer “business as usual” in our personal and corporate lives as God’s Spirit leads us into a vibrant faith walk.

Nori has vested us with a revolutionary read that pulls the rug from under religious mindsets that have boxed God into theologies, church services and the structures of man. God watchers are those who have ears to hear and eyes to see the new things God is saying and doing.

The God Watchers is a provocative book—the sort that only comes along once in a while. And its immeasurable worth is inherently found in its focus: Jesus, the ultimate God watcher, becomes our example. It’s a simple path to follow that unburdens us from self-centered ways as we trust God’s heart and participate in His plans for the world.

This is a repost of my book review in Charisma Magazine’s January 2013 issue and their website.

Letter to a Friend

Tree SwingDearly BELOVED friend,

I decided to stop what I was doing to encourage you.

You’re not alone. Even when it doesn’t feel like it. Even when there’s no one physically beside you. Even when you haven’t talked to any one for days.

I’ve been there. I know.

It was when the space around me felt so frigidly empty, that I was filled.

When all my friends scattered like wind-blown leaves, He was the deeply rooted tree that sat beside me; sheltering me.

His silent presence filled the empty space that burdened me. He was there. I could feel His warm breath whispering life to my naked and battered soul.

When I stopped filling my hands and stood empty-handed, He came.

It was when everything was stripped from me, that He gave me all of Him.

Don’t let your eyes fool you, my friend.

Close your eyes tightly to the reality around you and you’ll know the TRUTH.

You’re NEVER alone.

Loving you hard,

Ibelisse