PCC Scroll: Women of the Bible

I wrote about Mary for Women of the Bible.

Name: Mary

Meaning: Bitterness

Her Character: Mary was a willing, humble and obedience God-fearing woman.

Her Sorrow: Mary was a witness to the crucifixion of her son, Jesus.

Her Triumph: Mary was able to perform and accept the will of God in her life.

Key Scriptures: Matthew 1:16-2:23, 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 1:26-2:56; Acts 1:14

The story of Mary is a beautiful example of what happens when believers are continually in the right position because of their obedience to God.

Mary was an obscure woman who lived in Nazareth. When we first encounter Mary in scripture, we learn that she is engaged to be married to Joseph. Mary was probably imagining what her life would be like as a wife and eventually a mother. Then Mary’s life was interrupted. She was visited by the angel Gabriel and told of the unique task she had been chosen for. Mary accepted her charge because, as she told Gabriel, she was the Lord’s servant.

From Gabriel, Mary learned that her older relative, Elizabeth, was also with child. So Mary went to visit Elizabeth. Her initial encounter with Elizabeth became a confirmation of her assignment. We can deduce that Mary was aware of the Old Testament because of the scripture woven into the song of praise and adoration to God that she broke out into. After staying with Elizabeth for several months, Mary returned home and to Joseph, who was prepared to quietly break off their engagement until he was visited by an angel of God. From there, we have the birth of Jesus, His circumcision, His presentation at the Temple and her own purification at the Temple.

Like any mother, Mary cared for, clothed and fed her children. As a family, they would make yearly trips to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. Joseph is not mentioned again after the yearly trip when he and Mary searched three days for the 12-year-old Jesus only to find him in the Temple. Although no record is given of his death, it is thought that Joseph must have died sometime between then and Jesus’ first miracle in Cana, leaving Mary a widow.

Mary was present for Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine, and she was there when He took His last breath. He was her son, and He was her Savior. From the Cross, Jesus saw His mother and commanded the disciple John to care for Mary for the rest of her life. Mary has the unique position of being there for Jesus’ birth and death.

As a mother, it must have been incredibly hard to witness her son’s death and to not be able to do anything. Yet in still, Mary had an understanding that Jesus was fulfilling His purpose. What strength it must have taken to endure something so painful. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can assume that Mary assisted the disciples. She is last mentioned in Acts after the Ascension, praying with the apostles in the upper room.

Mary’s example shows us that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We just need to make ourselves available and our response to the unexpected makes all of the difference.

Although she had a humble life, today we can see Mary adorned in fine garments in churches and palaces all over the world. Throughout the ages, Mary has been revered and honored through art, music and literature. She has been called “Mother of Mercy,” “Queen of Heaven” and “Virgin Most Powerful,” to name a few. Yet it is from Mary’s own words that we can sum up her life. She was a humble “servant” who was willing to be used by God. Mary is indeed blessed among women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica. Photo by LaTonja Brown.

 

Spiritual Healing

At the end of September, I had surgery to remove fibroids. I asked my mother to come and be with me as I recovered. My mother did not raise me, and our relationship has been pretty up and down over the course of my life. I thought it would be an opportunity for us to relate as mother and daughter.

My mother not raising me had a profound impact on my life and deeply impacted my feelings of self-worth. In short, I suffered from feelings of abandonment and rejection. When I was younger, I used to have an internal dialogue about my being unlovable. My mother not wanting/loving me was the only proof that I needed. During those conversations, another voice would enter that simply said, “God loved me.”

Even though I knew God’s love was the end all, I spent years looking for love. I desperately sought this seemingly elusive word called love. My friend Billie Washington once told me that God was going to send me love. I remember her words made me cry and were pivotal. God has sent me love. “…Pressed down, and shaken together, and running over…” love. I’m loved to the point that I’m spoiled, which is okay (smile and laugh).

During the time with my mom, I discovered that my mom does love me. Her visit ended up being a wonderful family reunion. I was reunited with cousins who live in the Seattle area who I had not seen or talked to in YEARS. I was reunited with the aunt that raised me who I had not seen or talked to in YEARS. I discovered that my family does love me. It was a great experience, and my family underwent healing. I parallel the recovery I went through after surgery with the recovery that is happening within my family.

Over the course of years, I had something growing inside of me naturally that I didn’t even know was there. It was only when the growth got so uncomfortable that I couldn’t ignore the impact that it had on my life that I took action. I learned that the fibroids were located in a place where they could block conception when it was time for me to try to have a child. If I had gotten pregnant, there would have been complications because the baby would have been unable to grow properly.

In the same way, the bitterness and anger I felt towards my family was blocking the spiritual gifts God would have me birth. Both issues, natural and spiritual, needed the hands of a trained surgeon to remove what was blocking conception and hindering a safe place for a gift to grow.

What does God need to surgically remove from you? Life is too short to hold on to grudges and to hold on to past offenses. The Master Surgeon is ready to perform a surgery of miracles on you. The Church is filled with trained nurses and staff to assist with the surgery and shower you with love and attention as you recover.

Spiritual Remodel

I’m currently remodeling my condominium. For over a month, I have been living out of boxes. My life and existence seem extremely chaotic right now. I was bemoaning my current existence when it occurred to me how long I comfortably lived in spiritual and mental disorder and chaos.

I began musing on spiritual remodeling. When we accept Christ in our life, we become a new creation, and we are in a constant state of “remodeling.” During this adventure, I have learned that there are standard items that can be bought directly from the store because they fit most homes. Then, there are items that are unique to my home. These items are customized and need to be specially ordered, which takes longer.

I began the project by seeking wise counsel Like Esther, who is featured in this issue, sought the counsel of Mordecai. I sought the counsel of those who knew about remodeling a home. The next step was to work on the timing or schedule for each project. I knew painting would be messy. It seemed like the logical place to start. If my carpet was replaced before painting, I would end up blemishing my new, wood floors.

Painting was easy enough. Although my walls were dirty, I didn’t have to clean them before painting them. When I applied paint to the wall, all traces of the dirt was gone. As we learned in the last issue, the paint covered my walls in the Hebrew word kaphar meaning of the word cover. This means “to cover, appease, pacify, pardon, reconcile, cancel, purge away.” The word translates as “make atonement.”

The other projects will be harder. My old, dirty carpet will need to be ripped up. Not only is this physically demanding, but there were tasks that needed to be completed before the carpet can be removed.

I had to pack all my books and belongings to make them mobile. It was a step I couldn’t get around. During this process, I took the time to really go through my belongings. I was able to purge myself of items that no longer fit my personal style for today and would not fit in my new remodeled home.

In the course of taking an inventory of my life, I found some items I thought I had lost. Some things dropped between the cracks. Other items were just filed in the wrong place. Other items I no longer needed, but I could not bring myself to let them go. Other items I just put away and never dealt with. This exercise served as a good method to do away with the old and make room for the new. Because I have a new color scheme, some of my old things just don’t match anymore.

The project is at the point where I can visually picture the finished project, and it looks good! The energy and resources that are being exerted will increase the value of my home. Each step brings out more and more of the potential that was always there. There are times when I wish I could picture myself as the finished project God has imagined, but perhaps I would spend too much time admiring the finished picture that I wouldn’t do the work to bring it from the spiritual into the natural.

None of us are finished projects. We are all uniquely designed, and God has customized specifications for our blueprints. This Season is a time where the vision for my life is becoming clearer.

I look forward to watching the potential in each of us emerge as we are being spiritually remodeled.

Flights of Fancy

I have an extremely overactive imagination. God made me a writer, and it appears the gift comes with a side of drama and an extremely rich inner life.

An example of my over-the-top imagination occurred during a flight to Houston in April. The plane went through extreme turbulence, and it occurred to my overactive imagination that this could be the end.

After accepting my fate, I prepared myself for the end. My recent fascination with Elizabeth I, England’s Virgin Queen, led me to decide my last thoughts would be, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Of course I did not die, but the words led to more thinking. Whenever unpleasant situations happen in my life, I woefully decree, “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Blessed is the Name of the Lord.”

In truth, the decree has nothing to do with celebrating God’s omniscient will over my life. It has more to do with me wallowing in self pity. But, what if my response to the good, the bad, and the ugly events in my life was, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” It would certainly change my reaction and brooding—I mean musing.

Second Corinthians 10: 5 reads, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

This scripture is especially important when my desire takes my imagination in areas it should not be in my single state. In truth, up until three years ago, I had a predictable schedule. Every two years for about six years, I would “succumb” to my temptation. Around year four, I recognized the pattern, and year six may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Then, while reading Joseph’s story, it hit me. Has God not been too good to me for me to do this sin against Him? This course of thought has helped me thus far in keeping myself, and it can be applied to all areas of my life.

The bottom line is we are bombarded with thoughts and desires that contradict with our faith. I find that it’s human nature to jump to the worst-case scenario. Perhaps this is a coping mechanism. It also seems that we desire everything we cannot have. In fact, it seems we desire everything but what we have.

Regardless of our temptations and desires, God has been too good to us for us to sin against Him! Regardless of whether the devil “sent” the sin or your desire “conjured it up,” God is faithful and just to keep you.

A Change is Going to Come

I am ready for change, and I feel change is going to come.

I am not here to endorse any presidential candidate. People should vote based on their own convictions. However, I would like to briefly speak about Barack Obama and his message of change and hope. I was musing on his popularity when the reason behind it hit me. I am convinced that many Americans are drawn to his message because the message of hope and change speaks to what is in the atmosphere. There is a wind of change blowing.

The feeling of needing change and hope began to stir within me two years ago. I went through a period where I was devoid of hope and faith. Obama basically articulated what I have been feeling for some time. I will go so far as to call him a voice crying in the wilderness speaking to our dry bones. Or is that overkill because, in truth, the hurricane of change is coming from God.

We, the people, have felt hopeless for too long and have felt like we were powerless to make a difference or impact change. We have felt like winter would never lift its hold, but spring has begun to emerge. We are embarking into a season of change.

I can look at my life and see fundamental changes in myself. Fundamentally, there is a change in my relationships (with those closest to me), in my expectations of life and myself, in my reactions toward people, in my approach to life, and in my responsibility to my spiritual and physical health.

Yes, change is going to come. The question is are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for change? The message of hope involves the sacrifice of our time, our love, and our resources. The message of hope involves going back to the fundamentals of our faith and Christian basics. It involves going back to our First Love. The message of hope involves streamlining our over-involved, hectic lives in order to reach the one with the love of Christ.

The change allows the Word to be made flesh and dwell among people.

In the words of Albert Camus, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

Servant’s Heart

In Acts 10, Peter makes the statement, “God is no respecter of persons.” While God is not a respecter of persons, I recently realized I am.

This revelation came seemingly out of nowhere and pierced me deeply. The event that birthed this truth happened while I was ushering.

I had always considered myself a servant, but I must admit that there were certain personalities that always challenged me. I must also admit that most of the time this challenge had more to do with issues in me than them as individuals. There was that 5% of the population that I did not want to serve. God challenged my 5%.

I actually feel great about this revelation. I count it an honor that God would see fit to chastise one so unworthy as myself. I turned directly to Hebrews 12:5-8, which reads, “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.”

In 2007, I had to truthfully answer the question, Am I ready for the responsibility and tests that come with the prayer for a servant’s heart?

As I enter 2008, my prayer is that God gives me a true servant’s heart.

The number eight is significant as it represents new beginnings. The number seven represented completion. Let us all make sure we have completed the assignments God gave us to prepare us for our new beginnings.

A servant’s heart is not just important for ushers. A servant’s heart is important for each person claiming the name of Jesus Christ.

God is preparing His church. In what areas is God chastising you? What is the 5% you are holding back? God is going to challenge it. These are the areas you need to develop. This development will propel you straight into your God-given destiny.

On behalf of PCC Women’s Scroll staff, I wish you a prosperous and blessed 2008. We are excited to be entering our seventh year, and we ask you to pray for this ministry.

Who am I at War With?

Psalm 62 is one of my favorite Psalms. But, how does one make the leap from verse two to verse six?

Verse two reads, “He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.” Verse six reads, “He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defense; I shall not be moved.”

I can only imagine the state of my world if I were not moved by work, relationships, feelings, my drama, and my seemingly unshakeable pattern of flirting with dangerous / unhealthy situations.

There are situations where I honestly feel I have the “right” to feel bitterness, hatred, anger, disillusionment, and animosity. I have to remind myself that is not the point.

There are times when I am on top of the world. Verse six is within my reach, but here comes life. I come tumbling down the mountain and into the valley.

Recently, Minister Terry spoke from the topic “Do you know what you are fighting for?” As I listened to the message, I jotted down some thoughts.

There are times I feel as if I am at war. I am at war with situations, and I am at war with people.

In truth, I am at war. I’m just not exerting my energy towards the correct enemy.

I end up fighting the situations. I end up fighting the people. I end up exhausting myself.

Because I never fight the real enemy, I never fight the real issues.

I end up not acknowledging or following the war plan. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

We are at war together fighting a common enemy. What sense does it make that we fight each other? Wouldn’t it make more sense to stand together as brothers and sisters in Christ and fight the real enemy?

As we enter the last months of 2007, I invite us all to take an inventory of what is moving us. What is our attention focused on? What is causing us stress, worry, and anxiety?

Who we are fighting? Who are we fighting with? What exactly are we fighting for?

The battle plans are drawn out. All you have to do is prepare for your position.

Dreams

I dream a lot. I daydream a lot as well.

There are recurring themes in the dreams. Buses—Missed Buses. Classes—Missed Classes. Forgotten Tests. Whales.

In my dreams, I search and long for something.

I am never where I should be. I should be in class or work, but I am wandering.

I am in class, but I forgot to study for a final.

I am running for a bus that pulls away right before I get there.

In the recent past, I dreamt I was pregnant. I remember that I did not want this baby, and I remember thinking I cannot and will not have this baby.

I then dreamt that I had an abortion. I went through a mourning process.

A week ago, I dreamt the abortion dream again. The dream was so heavy. When I woke up, I had to remind myself that it was a dream (This may have been part of the dream). I felt grief, guilt, and a heaviness that I couldn’t shake.

I had questions about the dreams. Was God planting compassion in me to minister to women who have had abortions?

Was this God’s way of telling me that I had let a gift or responsibility die?

I’m leaning toward the latter. I didn’t want the baby. The baby would interfere with my life and my plans.

If I had recognized the blessing of the baby in my womb, I would have rejoiced at the wonder of the gift that was given.

The baby was not my baby. The baby was our baby.

There are so many talents, gifts, ideas, and compassions seeded in all of us. Will we cherish (want), cultivate, and birth these ideas? Or will the seeds go along the wayside and be choked out by life?

We are close to the harvest season. Fall is upon us, and it is time for the fruits of our labor to be reaped (birthed) for consumption and use during the winter that will follow.

What’s in a Name?

I find irony in the following fact about the spelling of my first name. My mother named me LaTonia. The State of Mississippi named me LaTonla. The aunt that raised me named me LaTonja. To go further, technically my last name is not Brown. My father’s last name is Harris. Not only was I never given the right name; I was never told who I truly am. My name is LaTonia Harris, not LaTonja Brown. Yet I still continue to go by the wrong name. Is there any irony in that? No wonder I’m confused.

Why is there all this drama over a name?

We live in a society that tries to define us by our race, our gender, our occupation, or our economic status. The list of labels is exhaustive. The list has nothing to do with who we truly are, but people try to make it about our name.

I see red when I pass by a group of children and hear something along the following: “What’s happening, nigga.” Or, “Nigga, you should have seen it.” I want to stop, shake them, and say, “Is his name nigga. Because, if it is not, you are doing him a grave injustice to refer to him something other than his given name.”

But, how do we put aside the wrong identities we have picked up over time? How do we become who we were born to be?

I had the most disconcerting experience recently. I realized that as I moved between groups of people, my ability to be free was compromised. How can I be seen in different ways in different groups? I had to ask myself how each group defined me. Is community defined by people who see you as you truly are and bring out the best of you in a healthy relationship?

I often want to ask people, “Do you see the real me?” The question is bolded, underlined, capitalized, and any other formatting I can do to help people hear the urgency of the question. I have been with people who I am not sure even really like me or approve of me. In fact, deep down, I know they don’t. How can they accept me when they don’t like or approve of me? It is the strangest experience to not feel safe in spaces that are supposed to be places of refuge. Is there a point when I stop celebrating peoples’ lives that don’t celebrate me?

The best example of seeking the wrong community is when my sister died almost ten years ago. The people I sought solace from were not people who truly cared for me. The sad thing is that I never sought solace from people who I knew were concerned about my welfare and mental state.

As we begin to understand ourselves better, what happens to those relationships that don’t match who we are supposed to be? In other words, how does embracing who we are impact our current relationships?

Do we see people as they truly are and give them the freedom to be so? As we grow, do we seek places and groups that can fill the new wineskin? What if you feel like you are in places you shouldn’t be or you have long outgrown comfortable relationships? But, there is that comfort. That comfort often leads us to resurrect dead relationships where the name you had is not the name you are striving to be.

My name is a feminine form of the Latin name Anthony. It is interpreted worthy to be praised or beyond praise. I am not LaTonja the (mean) usher. I am not LaTonja a black, single woman. I will no longer adhere to the limits and constraints found in these labels. I will no longer be torn in two; I will live out that I am born to be (and I may need a little help in getting there).

Do not let where, what, or who you have been continue to define you. Let God redefine you. Enter a spring of your life as a young plant rooted firmly with its shafts finding their way to the surface. Step out of the shadow and live what you were born to be. Allow your name change to occur. Remember Jacob, the supplanter, became Israel; Abram became Abraham; Sarai became Sarah; Simon Barjona became Peter; and Saul became Paul.

There is a moment of great revelation where you can freely say, “Here am I; send me.”

The Last Debate

Towards the end of the movie version of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, there is a Last Debate. The Debate is whether hundreds of Men should engage in battle against thousands of Orcs. During this scene, the dwarf, Gimli, proclaims, “Certainty of death, small chance of success . . . what’re we waiting for?”

I absolutely LOVE this line, but if these were my marching orders, would I engage in battle?

I barely engage in a war where I know the outcome.

With my intellect, I realize there is a “fixed” war. I already know the outcome. God will have victory. I piggyback God’s victory and proclaim I will have victory. It makes me happy. It makes me gleeful. It makes me gloat. It makes me lazy.

It makes me lazy? I am very guilty of taking advantage of this known victory. The main reason is lack of wisdom in processing the significance of this victory.

I have the victory. I am in a “fixed” war. Why do I need to train? Why do I need to condition? In my bedridden states, I can stay under the covers. I can mope. I can withdraw. I can take for granted that God will step in and rescue me. I can have the victory?

I have thoughts of how do I really know what side I am on? How can I be sure? What are the signs that I actually know Him vs. knowing of Him?

I think I am beginning to understand better. This knowledge should not make us lazy. This knowledge should not validate willingly losing a battle here and there because of a won war. This knowledge should propel us into battle. We should confidently engage in war against our enemy because we know that no weapon formed against us will prosper. We must prepare ourselves for battle. Read Ephesians 6:11-18.

In Return of the King, victory could not be achieved by strength of arms. Our victory will never be achieved by strength of arms either— at least not physical strength of arms. “This is the word of the LORD . . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”

As we start a new year, I invite us all to engage in this battle. In truth, whether we choose to engage in battle or not, the war is coming to us. The plan to attack your life is in place, and the units are moving towards you.

Our temptations are coming, but they won’t come from the paths we suspect or are used to. The temptations are coming, and now is not the time to flirt with them.

What are the marching orders for our battle?

Certainty of (everlasting) life, huge chance of success . . . what’re we waiting for?