Monday, April 21, 2014

A Purpose, A Place, And a Promise... An Easter Message

What a week! It was probably one of the busiest I have had this year; which left me with no time at all to blog. Although frustrated, I have decided to stop beating myself up when this happens... it drives me nuts to miss my weekly posts, but I am human just like the rest and realize that sometimes my busy schedule simply keeps me from obligations that I have. Blogging is one of the few obligations that I can put on the sideline; while there are others I cannot. So.. my week was overbooked but low and behold, I managed to survive. Unfortunately, my plans for Easter Sunday were squashed when my two youngest woke not feeling well, however I managed to get to church this morning for a positive Easter message and soaked in every word. I was happy as I was filled with the glory of His grace this morning and I suddenly recalled my very special Thursday night.

About a month ago I was asked to come speak on April 17th to a women's hope ministry church in the heart of east Tampa (the "not so great" side of town) by a beautiful female pastor whom I had met and who had read my book. I was honored and humbled that Pastor Alecia wanted me to share my story with this group of deserving women, so I happily accepted. However the last few weeks have been smothered with sickness,  business meetings, travel and bookings, so I had not found the time to properly prepare for this event. Being that I am typically better speaking off the cuff, I did not worry too much, but as Thursday quickly approached right in the middle of yet another busy week, I hoped that I would be able to find the right words being as tired as I was.

After a very long day of doing makeup and wardrobe for a promo shoot for the Tampa Bay Bucs, I changed clothing in the bathroom at One Buc Place and made my way to my speaking engagement across town. As I drove into this part of town I could not help but notice the signs of a poverty stricken, less fortunate culture. Payday advance places,  fast food restaurants and low income retail stores everywhere I looked. I pulled into the parking lot of the strip plaza where this "church" was located and suddenly had a feeling it was going to be a powerful and rewarding night.  I quietly prayed in my car asking God to put the words He wanted me to speak to this group of African American women into my heart and I got out of my car. I was lovingly greeted by Pastor Alecia in the parking lot and we walked upstairs to the suite where she runs her ministry.

I was welcomed by a few smiling women as I walked into a modest room with bare walls, a small raised platform, a lucite podium, about 30 folding chairs and two speakers in the corners of the room. The night was opened up in prayer by a middle-aged lady who spoke with such feeling... it was a long prayer; heartfelt, and her repetitious "Thank you God's" and "Thank you Jesus's" filled the room with emotion. After the prayer was closed, a young lady, timid and meek got up to read a bible verse about judging others and shared what  this verse meant to her. As she left the podium a strong, tall lady from across the room made her way up to the podium and began to share how her week was struggling with a terrible cold while working two jobs every day. She continued to share her struggles for the week but quickly spoke of how much better this was compared to her life on the streets, and for that she was thankful. Chills ran down my arms as she shared her testimony, and a tear rolled down my face as I realized she had been homeless.

The next person to come up was a young lady who was about 7 months pregnant. As she held the microphone, she started tapping her foot on the floor and gently slapped her hand on her leg for a beat and began to sing... no fancy sound system, just raw vocals and meaningful words. The words to the songs were so simple, but as they left her mouth and I looked around the room at the mere dozen woman in attendance I was completely moved with the spirit in this small room. The lyrics to the last song she sang were nothing more than  "Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Lord" sung over and over again, but as everyone sang the last round of thank you's.. she added "for the food that I eat, for the air in my lungs, for the shoes on my feet, for the clothes on my back, for the roof over my head..." I was moved to tears as she named things that are taken for granted every single day. By the end of the song I needed a tissue and the pastor finally approached the podium. She praised God and his presence in this room and invited these women to share what they felt they needed to before the "special guest speaker" started.  The lady who had opened with prayer stood up and shared her past of drug addiction and how it was a daily struggle, how this ministry was her saving grace and how she is so happy to have this "family". A young 14 year old stood up and shared her struggles with self esteem and self worth and asked everyone to pray for her... my tears began to fall. This was so raw, so real, and so appropriate as I too was going to get up and be raw and real with my own testimony.

Pastor Alecia then gave me an incredibly humbling introduction of how she met me and as she called me "their sister" I stood, wiped my tears away, and approached the podium. (of course with  my loud voice no microphone was needed.) As the words began to leave my lips, I shared how moving this was in comparison to my large church, how amazing I thought it was how they conducted the evening and how awesome it was that they shared their stories of struggle. I then shared my journey with them. During the hour and a half that they had given me to speak, the words poured out of my heart and as I looked around the room, they were completely engulfed hanging onto every word. I felt so amazing... I felt just like I did when I spoke to inner city schools last year and I decided that THIS is where God wants me to be; it is where I can make the most impact and my heart was filled with gratitude. These are the people that need hope the most... the forgotten, the broken, the ones that most people would turn their backs on. THIS is where I am meant to be.

When I was done, they took up an offering and had a very special gift giving moment where a chosen person  brings a gift each week to give to a person that inspired or touched them... the person who brought the gift gave ME the "gift of love". I was so touched. More than half of the women came up to me and thanked me, hugged me and said I gave them hope. The 14 year old girl that had shared her struggles came up to me and began to cry, I held her in my arms as we sat down for the pastor close the night in prayer. After the prayer Pastor Alecia walked up to me and handed me the envelope filled with the offering they had just received and said they wanted me to have it. Tears once again filled my eyes... as I looked around at these women, this barren room, I did not want to take this money, however they insisted I keep it the moment I asked them to put it back into the ministry.

I have never felt the kind of  love that I felt as I left that night. They all waved goodbye in the parking lot as I drove away; it was truly amazing and more powerful that I could have ever imagined. When I got home, I opened my "gift of love" to find a beautiful bracelet and card. Although reluctant, I then opened the offering envelope to find $115 in it. I could not believe it, a room of 12 women who are barely making it collectively gave $115 of offering to me. I immediately put the money back in the envelope tucked it in my purse and decided it would only be used to give to others...  I did not need this money. Every time I wear the bracelet it will remind me of the blessings that I have and how 12 amazing women gave so selflessly to me.

The next day as I was on my way to another photo shoot, I stopped at a gas station to fill my tank with gas. The man  in front of me handed the clerk $1.19 for gas...  I thought to myself, that won't even cover a gallon of gas." I paid for my gas and quickly walked out to my car, opened the envelope and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. I ran over to the the other side of the gas station and handed that man the $20. I told him to put more gas in his car. He stared at me, puzzled for a moment and then began to explain that he had been out of work... I said, "no explanation needed, just take it." I walked back to my car, pumped my gas and drove away feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Although my Easter did not go as planned and my week was utterly exhausting, I am truly and incredibly blessed. Although my mind may be mush, my heart is full and I look forward to a great week ahead. As your week begins, I hope that you find something to make you smile, I encourage you to count your blessings and take nothing for granted. God's Promise is to be there no matter what.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only son so that whoever believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life... 

I am thankful for the storms in my life... for they brought me back to You. I am thankful for the blessings in my life... for they confirm that you're always there. Today I celebrate Your life and the life You breathe into me... Thank you Lord for loving me no matter what. AMEN






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