That one weekend in Oakland

Back in September, I visited Los Angeles for the first time in a long time. I have been going to Long Beach almost every year for a work conference, but I never made my way up to the City of (Lost) Angels. Along the same vein, this past weekend I was in the Bay Area for the first time forever. I was trying to figure out when I was last there, and I am at a loss. Had it been ten years? More? Now that I think about it, if you add in Mississippi, I seem to be in a period of rediscovery. One of the days, I would also like to revisit NYC again. It’s been a long time since I have been there as well.

 

This trip was weird, for a lack of a better word, in coming together. Originally, I was going to meet my friend Samarah there, but life got in the way. I went back and forth as to whether to go anyway. In the end, down I went in a last-minute scramble with no plans, and I am glad.

 

My friend Pam opened her house to me, and it was such a blessing. If you read about my Ireland trip, you know about our Ireland adventure with Candy. Pam’s husband, Willie, is extra nice! Pam has an amazing patio and garden in the back of her house. It was awesome to see hummingbirds and foxes running around back there.

 

We had some awesome conversations about this strange thing called life. I am in a season where I am not quire sure how the many parts are going to come together, but I must remind myself that it always comes together. I feel like I am a scene in a movie where everything is suspended or frozen. Hopefully whatever the release will satisfy whatever this strange longing is.

 

It was splendid catching up with folks I haven’t seen in a minute. My college buddy DJ was nice enough to bring Pam and I lunch for our catch up. I went to a bar and bowling with Sam and Mark and their friend Kenny. I have not bowled in such a long time, which was evident in my bowling score, but it was extra fun. I unexpectedly ran into LC and his family at Jack London Square. The last time I saw LC was when I unexpectedly ran into he and Mark in Negril, Jamaica. The sunset there was quite amazing along the waterfront, and you know I love a working waterfront. It was good to see the Port of Oakland in action. It was especially nice to catch up with family and attend services at Center of Grace.

 

On Saturday, I went to the Art and Soul festival in Oakland with Pam, her daughter, and grand kids. We walked around and looked at vendors. There was also food, drink, and music. The weather was awesome. How much more can you ask for? The weather in Seattle was hotter, so it was nice getting relief from the heat! On Monday, we hit up the marina in San Leandro. I have not spent much time in Oakland, and I was able to see the China Town there, for the first time I think.

 

We went to this place called Lena’s one night for dinner. The food was good and the proportions gluttonous. Two people could literally split a regular plate, so I would hate to see their large plate. Sunday evening, Willie barbecued, and Pam made yummy potato salad.

 

Like Seattle, Oakland is being gentrified. While it is nice to see some renaissance in the area with new restaurants and establishments, it is hard to swallow communities who have lived there for generations being pushed out because they can no longer afford the area. In Seattle, people want to be close to the city. In Oakland people want to be close to the City without paying the crazy rents in San Francisco. In my neighborhood, there were these two clubs on Madison whose names escape me. I want to say Deno’s and Oscar’s? Anyway, it added a little grit to the neighborhood, but as the neighborhood changed, it was obvious that they would go by wayside. Truthfully, I was glad when they closed. I always felt weird walking past there and had been offered drugs. But then there is the side that says it was okay for them to exist in their fashion when the neighborhood was black. But when the neighborhood changed, all of a sudden, the police made more of effort to be sure that they didn’t.

 

I have always felt a kindredness with the Bay Area. I felt a certain melancholy as I left. Tears could start at any second. LOL! If doors opened, I would certainly make a move there. I left my heart in San Francisco. That’s a song, right? Or is it the story of my life?

 

The good news is that I started writing a story on my way down there. As some of you know, I wrote a story called Harlem’s Song in my early twenties. I have picked it up off and on throughout the years. Of course, the voice of the lead character, Janiah, has changed over time as my own voice changed. I would like to brush the story off in its many forms. It will probably end up being a series of short stories since I don’t have the attention span to write a novel. LOL! The short story I wrote in South Africa, Following Jane’s Advice, is part of that series. Will Janiah finally get over Damien and free her heart to find happiness with someone else? Or will her love for him remain ill fated? Will she cross paths with Stefano again? Stay tuned. Even I don’t know. Lawd Have Mercy. LOL.

 

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PCC Scroll: Editor’s Corner

Here is an article I wrote for the “Editor’s Corner” section of the PCC Scroll.

Washington is one of the few states which has ocean, mountain and desert topography. As you cross the state, the landscape changes. On the east side of the state, a lot of crops are grown. The state is the leading producer in the nation of commodities like apples, hops, concord grapes, sweet cherries and blueberries, and a top producer of commodities like potatoes, apricots, nectarines and lentils. In terms of dollar value, hay is a top export. There is something about the soil here that produces a type of hay that contains one of the highest levels of nutrients in the world.

 

While there are a lot of commodities that grow here, there is an equally long list of commodities that will not survive in our climate. The care, climate and soil needed to grow a commodity like apples is different than what is needed to grow mangos. And even in the same climate, farmers treat different crops uniquely. The way hay is cared for and harvested is different than the way apples are cared for and picked, or potatoes are cared for and extracted.

 

In the natural, the climate determines what can grow there and certain soil contains better nutrients. In some cases, nutrients can be added. The same is true in the spiritual. If you want your unique harvest to grow and be fruitful, you have to make sure you are planted in the correct environment and that you are receiving the right nutrients to produce exceptional fruit.

 

Like the fruits and vegetables in nature, our talents and gifts vary, so we have to refine the processes for optimal growth. This takes times. If you are a writer, surround yourself in communities that support your talent, so you can grow and harvest your gift. If you are a musician or singer, attend workshops that help refine your craft, so you can harvest your talent.

 

The concept of sowing and reaping is found throughout the Bible. What you put out there, will come back. In the NIV, Galatians 6:7 puts it like this, “A man reaps what he sows.” When I was coming up, this was a scripture that was constantly shared as a dire warning against bad behavior. As an adult, I had to reclaim the positive side of that scripture. Like the wheat farmer talked about in “Word of the Quarter,” I have to plant and care for my harvest from seed to plant. If there is a goal I want to achieve, I have to sow into that goal. If I want something from God, I have to sow into it. If there is something I want from life, I have to work and sow into it.

 

I think that many of us have already sown heavily into our gifts. I believe that many of us are taking the time to care for what we have planted. I believe for many of us the time for harvesting is around the corner, and so we must be prepared. Our harvests will be unique and collectively powerful to behold.

 

PCC Scroll: Word of the Quarter

Here is an article I wrote for the “Word of the Quarter” section of the PCC Scroll.

 

In this issue of the PCC Scroll, we are concluding the overarching theme of “Preparing for the Harvest: Positioning Ourselves to Grow.” The overarching theme began in the fall issue with the theme of “Preparing the Soil.” The theme continued in the winter and spring issues with themes of “Positioning to Thrive” and “Removing the Dead Things.” In this issue, we conclude the overarching focus with a theme of “Your Unique Harvest.”

 

We have used farming and gardening analogies a lot during this overarching theme. For this issue, in this section, we are going to analogize the process farmers use to harvest wheat. Wheat farmers in the Midwest typically harvest in late June. The crop harvested in June was planted nine months earlier. To prepare for the harvest, farmers make sure that the equipment that will be used for harvesting is in good order and that facilities used for storage are clean and empty.

 

Farmers must prepare their storage facilities to protect the harvest from insects and to prevent the crop from spoiling. Old grain not removed can contaminate the new crop and cause it to mold. Farmers check fans and ventilation systems to insure moisture levels are correct. They remove plants from around storage bins to prevent bugs from being attracted to the area.

 

Farmers use a machine called a combine that is used for reaping and threshing the wheat. The reaping cuts off the stems while the threshing separates the grain from parts that are inedible as grain is separated from chaff and straw. This is an example of harvesting wheat. Of course, the process used to harvest peaches or strawberries would be different.

 

In keeping with this analogy, from a spiritual perspective, we did a lot of work prior to the time harvest. We prepared our ground by hoeing to loosen up the soil and remove rocks. We planted seeds (sowed) and added nutrients. We watered the plants. We kept up with pruning, and we pulled weeds up by the root. Weeding was constant because they kept trying to come back, but we knew that weeds could choke out the life and/or take nutrients from our harvest.

 

In nature, crops have a season. In the spiritual, we must be mindful of the timing of our harvest. If fruit is picked too early, it is too ripe. If it is picked too late, it can spoil, so it is important to reap your harvest during the optimal time. When it is time to harvest, preparation is needed. Skipping a step can lead to contamination or infestation. What you sow and care for will bring fruit. This fruit needs to be protected, and it needs to be used.

 

We took the time to sow our time and energy into our unique harvest and to nurture what we sowed. Our processes will be a little different, but the care and attention needed is the same.

 

 

 

Women of the Bible: Lydia

Here is what I wrote for the “Women of the Bible” section of the PCC Scroll.

Name: Lydia

Meaning: From Lydia

Her Character: Lydia was a hard worker with a generous spirit.

Her Sorrow: It is believed that Lydia was a widow.

Her Triumph: Lydia and her household converted to Christianity, and she was a successful businesswoman.

Key Scriptures: Acts 16:14-15, 40

Lydia was born in Thyatira in 1 century A.D. in the Lydia region, which is in modern day western Turkey. Later she would live in Philippi in Macedonia, which is in modern day Greece. It is in Philippi that she would sell her purple cloth and dye, which she is known for today. Purple cloth was very expensive and valuable and was often worn as a sign of royalty or nobility. Lydia would sell to the ruling families and social elite in the business district. Because of her business and status as a merchant, she did well financially. It is quite possible that she was among the most successful and influential women in her town. She was possibly a widow because she was in charge of her household.

 

Lydia’s story is told in the book of Acts. Paul and Silas arrived in Philippi. On the Sabbath, they sat down and spoke to some women who had gathered at a riverbank outside Philippi. The women who gathered were Gentiles. They would gather on the Sabbath and would pray to the God of the Jews. Among the women was Lydia. Paul described her as a woman who “worshipped God.” Paul also said that God “opened her heart” as she listened.

 

Even before hearing Paul, Lydia was a Gentile who leaned toward the one, true God and was a searcher of truth. Hearing Paul affirmed her decision to convert and worship God. She sought God how she knew to do so, and God responded by sending Paul and Silas. She listened, and she believed and was baptized. Immediately. There was no thought about how it could impact her business. Lydia was the first convert in Europe to Christianity. Her entire family converted and were baptized, which showed their respect and trust of her judgement.

 

Baptism was a public sign that she and her house were part of the Christian community. She also opened her home to Paul and Silas (she was very strong in her ask), which leads me to believe she had a hospitable and generous nature. Because of her status in the community, her conversion opened the way for other conversions as people heard the message while Paul and Silas stayed in her house.

 

Lydia has been made a saint by several denominations. As mentioned above, she has the unique honor of being the first Christian convert in Europe, which is why we have the honor of knowing her story. She was a woman whose faith was strong and who worshipped God. Lydia is a great reminder that God will find us when we seek Him.

 

Lydia was swift to open her home in hospitality, which appeared at a time right before a storm in the life of Paul and Silas. This hospitality happened before they were sent to prison for freeing a demon-possessed slave. It is from the gift of hospitality that people can find help be it physical, spiritual or emotional. You leave their presence healthier than when you arrived. Lydia also hosted Paul and Silas after they came out of prison, and it is not a stretch to believe that she was among those who prayed for them while they were in prison. At some point, she also hosted Luke and Timothy, and her home became a haven for other Christians.

 

Lydia is an example of the many women God used during the development of the early church and no doubt one who rejoiced after hearing Paul’s epistle to the Philippians.

 

Men of the Bible: Abraham

Here is what I wrote for the “Men of the Bible” section of the PCC Scroll.

Name: Abraham

Meaning: The father of a multitude

His Character: Abraham was a man of strong faith, and he followed God even in the most challenging of circumstances to the best of his ability.

His Sorrow: Abraham’s doubt and fear led to him to be deceitful about the identity of his wife.

His Triumph: Abraham obeyed God, and God blessed him with the promised son. Abraham became the father of a nation and the father of a multitude.

Key Scriptures: Genesis 11-25

Abram was a descendent of Noah’s son, Shem. He was born in Ur, but he spent most of his life in the land of Canaan, which was the land promised to him and his descendants.

 

Abram married Sarai. Abram and his family, including his father, brothers and nephew (Lot) moved to Haran. His father, Terah, died in Haran. It was in Haran, when Abram was 75 years old, that God made a call on Abram’s life. Abram’s instruction was to leave Haran and go to a place where God would show him.

 

From this, he models a truth that there are consequences to our actions. Sometimes these consequences can be felt for generations. It is important to think beyond the immediate consequences of our actions and think about their impact long after we are gone. In Abram’s case, he had to consider whether to stay with his extended family or to venture into an unknown land. He had one huge thing: the promise of God to guide and bless him.

 

Abram left his home and his pagan beliefs. He left his extended family and the status he had as a wealthy landowner. The journey was not easy, but God reminded Abram that He would keep His promise to Abram and his descendants. Abram and his family encountered famine. There was also conflict with his nephew, Lot, which caused them to settle in different areas. Abram went to war to rescue Lot and his family from captivity. I encourage you to read chapters 11-25 of Genesis for the complete story.

 

When Abram was 99 years old and his wife, Sarai, was 90 years old, they had their names changed. He became Abraham, and she became Sarah. Abraham was given the instruction to adopt circumcision for himself and his male descendants. The promise of a child in their old age caused both Abraham and Sarah to laugh, yet in still, Isaac was born. Abraham had had a son, Ismael, through Hagar, Sarah’s maid. There was conflict. At the Lord’s instruction (and Sarah’s well-known wish), Abraham sent Hagar and Ismael away with the promise that his descendants through Ismael would also be a great nation.

 

Perhaps the greatest test of Abraham’s life was when God instructed him to sacrifice Isaac as an offering. I am sure this had to be confusing to Abraham. He was asked to sacrifice the

long-awaited, promised child, and he was willing to make the sacrifice, but God intervened.

 

Sarah passed away at 127 years old. It is then that Abraham sought and found a wife for Isaac. Abraham himself went on to marry a woman named Keturah and had more sons outside of Isaac and Ismael. Though Isaac was the son of promise and receiver of Abraham’s possessions, Abraham did make provisions for all of his sons. Abraham died at the age of 175 years old. The Bible says that the Lord “counted him righteous because of his faith.”

 

Abraham was a fitting person to write about for this issue of the PCC Scroll as we come from the theme of “Your Unique Harvest.” Abraham’s harvest was to become the father of a nation and the father of a multitude, and the reaping of his blessings has been felt for generations. Jesus Christ is in the lineage of this great patriarch.

 

PCC Scroll: Your Money Matters

Here is an article I wrote for the “Your Money Matters” section of the PCC Scroll.

In this issue of the PCC Scroll, we are coming from the theme of “Your Unique Harvest.” When it comes to finances, comparing your harvest to the harvest of others can be discouraging, especially when it seems like others are living life “large.” I would caution you to be careful with the comparison game. As the saying goes, “All that glitters is not gold.”

 

That expression has an interesting origin (and may date back as far as Aesop). In 1175, Alain de Lille, who was a French monk, wrote, “Do not hold everything gold that shines like gold.” In The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, Chaucer wrote, “But al thyng which that shyneth as the gold / Nis nat gold, as that I have heard it told.” In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare wrote, “All that glisters is not gold.” The word glisters is a synonym for our time’s word glitter. During gold rushes, people who were panning for gold would sometimes find pyrite, which we refer to as fool’s gold. In its raw form, gold is dull, and people would be fooled by pyrite because of the way it reflected light.

 

We have all heard the phrase, “Keeping up with the Joneses.” The saying, which began in 1913, comes from a comic strip of the same name by Arthur R. Momand that ran between 1913 and 1938. The comic is about the McGinis family (Aloysius, Clarice and their daughter, Julie) and their housekeeper, Bella Donna. In the comic, the McGinis family struggled to keep up with the lifestyle of their unseen neighbors, the Joneses.

 

I read an article that compared trying to keep up with the Joneses as a donkey moving along trying to get the carrot stick in front of it. It highlights our tendency to judge our standing and lifestyle by those around us. Somewhere along the way, people began fighting over who had the best and most toys. Our financial futures are not based on who has the biggest house, takes the best vacations, drives the fanciest car, has the best clothes, etc. And the value of items like cars, clothes and furniture quickly depreciate.

 

The comparison game will keep you in financial trouble. Before you try to keep up with the “Joneses,” remember that the grass is not greener on the other side. The horrible truth is that seven of 10 families in the U.S. are living paycheck to paycheck. It is quite possible that the lifestyle you are coveting is an illusion accompanied by steep debt.

 

According to Experian’s State of Credit: 2017, the average American has:

  • $201,811 average mortgage debt
  • $24,706 average non-mortgage debt
  • 675 average VantageScore
  • 3.1 credit cards
  • $6,354 balance on credit cards
  • 2.5 retail credit cards
  • $1,841 balance on retail credit cards

 

Here are some other statistics:

  • 43 percent of Americans have been carrying a credit card balance for two plus years
  • The average household with credit card debt pays $1,292 in interest every year
  • The average household with credit card debt owes $16,883

 

I don’t know about you, but those figures concern me. Before you are tempted to make a big purchase, especially one that you can’t afford, ask yourself why. Is it for appearances or is it something you really need? How long will the item interest you until you get bored or the bigger and newer model comes out?

 

Our happiness is not dependent on anything we can buy. Sure, it may give us pleasure for a while, but having more credit card debt than savings is stressful. At the end of the day, the most important items from your harvest are things money can’t buy: love, joy, peace, family, friends, etc.

 

Mississippi nights (and days)

I have been trying to remember when the last time I came to Mississippi was. Certainly, over ten years ago. If I had to guess, I would say somewhere between thirteen and fifteen years ago.

 

It has been great seeing everyone. From my mom, sisters, aunties, cousins, and friends. I have been told more than once to not let that much time pass by again. My family is just a little zany, so I got it honestly. But we have fun. For example, my aunt was in the hospital, and we were up there reminiscing and laughing and the room a few doors down complained.

 

A few things stand out to me:

  • It feels so slow. Not in a bad way, but time certainly seems to move like molasses.
  • The stars. The stars are so visible here.
  • People sitting on their porches. If I were to buy a house, I would want it to have a big porch where I can have a rocking chair and watch people ride by.
  • When people are passing by or you are passing by, you wave and/or honk.
  • It’s hot during the day, but so pleasant in the morning and evening.
  • Watching lightning bugs dance across the yard is magical.
  • There are two, old “plantation style” homes that I have loved since I was little that are side to side. It was great to see them and take pictures.
  • There are more of the homes a little further down. I found out that some of my ‘blood kin” bought one of them. I was able to go inside. It was so beautiful and there is a big pond in the back and plenty of land. The home was built by a black man who looked white. When the neighbors found out he was black, he was run off, so it’s fitting that a black family lives there now. It was built in 1920, but it was still equipped with a secret room to hide people who were running away.
  • My great-grandparents had property that was 11.5 acres. My cousins bought acreage adjoining, and it is quite amazing to imagine how it looked when my great-grandparents owned it, and it had animals and a farm. It is overgrown in the back, but there is a creek back there.
  • I loved seeing the homes of two of my grandmothers (I have three…it’s complicated) and home of my great-great aunt. My great-great aunt’s house has an old portion and a portion that was added on. I have never been able to sleep in the old part. There are way too many shadows, but I can sleep in the new part fine.
  • As good of a dominoes player I think I am, older players have a way of schooling me.
  • I am confused by who some of my relatives are. All this time the woman I pictured as my Aunt Fanny is my cousin Sylvia…shush…don’t tell anyone. LOL!
  • I still have tons of relatives I have never met.

 

Since I have been here, I have been reminiscing about the summer my sisters and I spent here visiting my mom when I was 14.

  • That summer, I spent a lot of time with my girl cousins around my age. We each had a “boyfriend.” One night, we went for a walk (probably to look for the boys), and we ended up walking by (maybe in) the cemetery by my great-great aunt’s house. The boys scared the life out us by jumping out of a tree, and we all went hollering down the street. At some point we started laughing, and we laughed even harder when we discovered one of my cousins (who will remain unnamed – lol) peed on herself.
  • I remembered the time I almost received my first “real kiss.” What had happened was we were sitting on the bench at my grandmother’s house. I was sitting with my friend, and he starting to lean in to kiss me. I jumped up so fast, and I ran into my grandmother’s house and jumped into bed with my mom. It was a mess.
  • I can point at the spot of where the first “real kiss” happened the night after.
  • I can remember my grandmother’s neighbor peaking out at us every night to see what we were up to. She would have her hair bonnet on, and I thought it was the funniest thing ever. She was very nice…just nosy. She would also be out sweeping her porch all day keeping an eye on us during the light hours.

 

The stars are so visible in my small country town in Mississippi. I was sitting with my sister looking up at the stars. We began reminiscing about summers in Moses Lake watching the stars with some of the neighborhood kids. Then we started remembering other things:

 

  • Going far from home with our pillow cases to go trick or treating.
  • Going to pick plums from this tree near a doctor’s clinic.
  • Throwing tomato worms off a bridge onto cars going down I-90 with the neighborhood kids. One time a car came off the freeway to come looking for us, and we ran to the Green’s house to hide out.
  • We would be gone all day playing during the summer time. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood to play with.
  • We talked about all the neighborhood kids from the Guerrero’s to the Vasquez’s to the Green’s to the Gleed’s.

 

Overall, I remember that it is good to reminisce sometimes.

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