On this Father’s Day, I have much to give honor to. I have much to be thankful for. I say this with care as I acknowledge this is a hard day for many, for many reasons. I am filled with love and gratitude only because of the everflowing love that God has shown me over the years through continual healing. So, Lord, I thank You first that You have loved me so very well to the depths of my soul and all this has been made possible by Your son Jesus Christ…
I love my father Anthony. I’ve come to understand not only who he was to me (good and bad) but really who he was destined to be. Life, parenthood, and marriage will do that to you if you let it. It will- give you a clear perspective. Moreover Jesus will do that for you, He will open up this perspective in the context of freedom.
But this post is really about my husband, my friend, who I have vowed to love unconditionally- James Richardson. James, to see you grow into a man over the last decade has been a journey as it has been for you to experience me growing into a woman. Witnessing your growth in fatherhood has been a critical component of my healing and has given me hope. We came to parenthood with ambition and limitations. And while this paradox often gets the best of us, His faithfulness has sustained you.
Your love for Julia is a reflection of your God-shaped identity James. You are brilliant, patient, creative, tender, joyful, and most importantly you are resilient. These attributes show themselves strong in your interactions with Julia. I have learned much from you. I think of you often when I discern how to parent Julia. Your youthfulness and intellect shine in her so strongly.
I find it no coincidence that Julia was born on Father’s Day June 21, 2015. Julia is God’s gift to you James to show you what beauty He has channeled through you.
Your love for Julia is a reflection of your God-shaped identity James.
We are only 6 years into parenthood. The best of your years are yet to come my love.
19 For I have chosen him so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Genesis 18:19
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
“Grace and Peace”
This greeting rings in my head, I used to hear it time and again during a season of my life in which I attended a church in the south suburbs of Chicago. During this time James and I would help lead worship by playing our instruments in the morning and then high-tail it back into the city to attend our church in the afternoon. The church members at this particular place of worship would consistently greet one another this way. At that time I thought it was nothing more than “Christianese”. And yet now almost ten years later, it has become a life gripping phrase for me as I have become more aware of how much grace and peace I need to navigate the hardships presently before me. I am also aware of the tremendous grace He has given me to do what before seemed impossible- to grow in patience and in faith in the face of persistent struggle. It is with this opening that Paul writes his letter to the Philippians. Chapter 1 verse 2 he writes:
“ May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” So now I say to a younger, more ignorant, immature version of Shandra “ No, this was not some religious idiom, it is a lifeline of encouragement, drawing from the true source of strength you will need in life- Grace and Peace in the Lord Christ.
But now what does this exactly mean, what does it even look like? This is where I’d like to share some insights I’ve gleaned from this passage in Philippians, my life experience, and a message recently preached by Bishop T.D. Jakes.
Oftentimes when we discuss grace in the biblical context we are focusing on its chief definition which is known to most as “unmerited favor”. In the context of salvation, yes it is right to think about this because we have been granted eternal and unmerited favor through the death and resurrection of Jesus to live with Him throughout eternity should we embrace salvation. Right now, I’d like to underscore another dimension of the word which is more aligned with this definition:
1. simple elegance or refinement of movement. “she moved through the water with effortless grace”
“at least he has the grace to admit his debt to her”
do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence. “she bowed out from the sport she has graced for two decades”
And so when we say “grace be upon you” we are granting that someone would have the elegance to move with refinement, the strength to do goodwill, and the capacity to do honorably in whatever circumstance they find themselves within. We see this unfold in Paul’s instruction in Philippians chapter 2. In this text Paul brings up the conduct that Christ displayed while here on earth- he made himself nothing, humbled himself, became a servant. By the way, how authentic that Paul would write this type of encouragement while he himself is imprisoned! He was displaying the type of grace he encourages others to obtain. And you may ask “Why? Why do I need to have this type of grace and to what end?” This is where I wholeheartedly appreciate Bishop T.D. Jakes sermon. Bishop Jakes would say for the purpose of “Brand”. Brand, as expressed by Jakes, is to be sealed, authenticated so that one understands the ownership thereof. We know that in this life we cannot escape hardship. Hardships come in many forms- physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. And these categories themselves lend to various types of hardships one can suffer and the intensities thereof. Regardless of whether my hardships have been more intense than yours or not, one thing is true among us- we have faced them and they have profoundly impacted our souls. Given that suffering is inevitable, what comes out of its process is what becomes of chief importance. In other words are we better or worse off through it and after it? Are we more virtuous and productive than before? Note when I say productive, I am referring to the ability to produce life-giving attributes. This is exactly what we see of Christ, he went towards the cross, through the cross, and out of the cross giving eternal life to all who fellowship with Him. My goodness, we should pause right there and seriously contemplate this profound occurrence…Christ gave life while embarking upon the pathway towards death. Am I giving (life not grief to others) while on this pathway of suffering?
“…the very emblem of our faith is suffering….we carry crosses to remind us that this did not come cheap…”
Bishop T.D. Jakes – Branded
What is my mindset as I navigate these hardships? In honesty- during what I call grey days, I have thoughts that range from- “ I deserve better than this…” to “ This is the consequence of my sinful behavior of the past, if I only do better from now on, I can circumvent suffering in the future…Lord please give me the grace to get out of this!”. Once I sober up from this state, I come to recognize that first, these are lies. They are lies because they are extreme statements that derive from a place of judgment of the heart that is not based on a full view of what is truth. No matter what I did in the past or do now, I cannot circumvent suffering in this world, our world is marked by hardship. Further, these types of thoughts do not produce in me the capability (grace) to walk in peace and give life to all that is good in my life despite the hardship. Instead, they have me turn inward and get stuck in the mire. And this is exactly what amazes me about Jesus. On his way to the cross, he washed the feet of his disciples, he fed the masses, he healed the ill and did that which seemed impossible for a man who was to face the most gruesome death physically and spiritually. Make no mistake Jesus was under duress. We are told in Luke 22:43-44 that He was so stressed in the Garden of Gethsemane that He began to sweat blood! And it is this reality that puts my heart in check. Surely I can serve well despite my disappointments… YET I can only do this by thinking like Christ and drawing from His divine strength.
I have begun to learn the art of drawing from His strength. Can I tell you a secret? Mastering this art is not rocket science and it is one of the hardest skills one will need to learn in order to survive the darkest hours. It is much like the training of a young Jedi. Mastering self-control while drawing from the strength of the force is critical in order to avoid the destructive, seductive power of the Darkside. (More on Star Wars and biblical theology…)
Ephesians 6:10 Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.
Hebrews 6:11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
These passages side by side convey something about our strength’s source and resting in the Lord. First that there is a power within the Lord and secondly that your very life depends upon its resource. I have learned that resting requires a discipline of redirecting my thought life, redirecting my attention, recalibrating my body, forcing my mouth to praise when my heart is so heavy it has tried to lock down my words, exercising and moving, fellowshipping with others, withdrawing from others at the appropriate time, and so much more. Resting is not only physical health, resting my friends is mental health (more on mental health in a future blog and podcast) To rest in Christ is to trust that the hope of being with Him eternally and internally is greater than the pain I currently experience from the cross He has allowed me to experience. I am so sure there are deeper layers of truth to what it means to rest in Christ. For me, this is what I have come to understand at this leg of my journey. I also rest my worry of the unknown in the fact that I know that come what may, there is a beauty unfolding towards a purposeful end. In other words, I do believe there is a purpose to my current hardship- branding, authentication, to be useful to others in a greater life-giving way, etc.
A few years ago, 2 Corinthians 1:4 became my “jam” while I was in a hard space. This became my jam much like a slow R & B to groove or a funk soundtrack one dances to no matter what circumstance they find themselves in. And so it says: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” It is important to not miss the “so that” in biblical text. It’s like the pocket by which the beat resides and produces more resonance. It is the purpose I am talking about. If we miss the purpose, then what really is the point of it all?
I’ve seen this come to life in my own life! I began to realize that the encouragement I would give to others was now more than what I call “Christian platitudes”. By the way here’s the definition of platitudes:
a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.
If you’ve been around church people for some time you know these all well- verses out of context thrown at you during a hard time, unbiblical phrases such as “ Well, He won’t give you more than you can bear…” By the way, that’s nowhere in scripture my friends. And is actually quite offensive to people who have borne a crapload. Or another one I disdain is the “ Thanks for sharing…” left with a hollow emptiness and no mutual return of exchanging how one has either experienced God’s grace in an equally difficult time OR an admission that they are in need of God’s grace in a similar or profound way. What we find in 2 Corinthians 1:4 is the mark of one who has been authenticated, branded not just with hardship but with the comfort that those who walk with Christ experience! I can now look another person in their eyes and truly tell her/him I know what it means to come to the recognition that Christ alone is my all as I’ve experienced deep relational disappointments. I can equally tell you what God’s comfort meant for me as He gently but firmly showed me the darkness and deception of my own heart and how I’ve deeply hurt those I love. The point here is- receiving His brand requires us to be unashamed of the gospel in our lives.
And so I’d like to end this blog with an invitation for you to share your process with someone about how you are being branded for a greater purpose. I’d suggest to you that even if you just share what insights you’ve gathered (without sharing the details of the situation), that alone is a gem that could touch another soul in the deepest parts of their being- calling them towards endurance and life. You may share with us by commenting, share with me directly by email, or better yet share with another with whom you are in relationship with throughout your daily life.
Grace and peace to you friends, may the Force, the only true One, be with you.
This is a new day for us. I do come in agreement with the confession:
We have a new covenant built on love, hope, and truth that cannot be broken with the Lord Christ Jesus.
I love the fact that Julia loves writing in the air now. I am grateful because I know that over time, it will spill over into other things of authorship. Thank you for sharing this.
— James Richardson, October 12, 2020
Over 15 years ago I learned the power of confession. At Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan, MA, each Sunday I heard Bishop Gideon Thompson say at the beginning of each sermon- “ This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be in glad in it. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law…” On and on he would go with the same confession. I learned that confession and prayer goes hand in hand. Little did I know that years to come, once I left Boston and settled in Chicago that those moments would become a bedrock for faith. A faith that has held me to His truth in some of the hardest darkest times of my life. To this day I carry these words in my heart. In 2009, a year before I left Boston, the Lord gave me a vision and a confession of faith of my very own. I had little understanding of this vision, but now it is clearly understood and erected in the depths of my soul. As the world grows dark I see an invincible light emanating from a tent in which I dwell with the Lord. The quote I posted by James above is a part of this confession of faith. James and I both are under development. If you have been following this blog, you may perceive this and much more. What is being built is being constructed on a foundation that will not be shaken. A new ground that cannot be broken and will stay in place throughout eternity. There is so much more I could say however again I have learned the power to confess that which I know is real, that which is aligned with the author of Truth- El Emeth. May you experience an unshakable encounter with Him.
2 Corinthians 3:6, 9
He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.
If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is a new way, which makes us right with God!
Hey hey hey friends! It is with a refreshed heart and a full belly of warmth that I come back here to The Prototype to share another insight this month. This holiday season no doubt was laced with challenges and grief as we consider the loved ones we either lost directly or indirectly taken by the storm of the 2020 pandemic. And yet in the depths of these dark times, I have experienced these great bursts of light within my own quiet times and through hearing about your “silver lining” moments. For this my friends, I am incredibly thankful.
With a heart full of gratitude and hopeful anticipation, I invite you into a specific place in my thoughts – I’ve been thinking deeply about what it means to be known and what it really means to know God and His son, Jesus Christ. If you’ve grown up in church like me, you’ve been groomed to assume the position of “knowing” God. To take it a step further, if you’ve grown up in a black pentecostal church with a music director who was in tune with every hit gospel song of the 80s and 90s, and an insanely good choir, then you’ve belted out this line at least once or twice if not three times- “Do you know, do you know, Do you know the man?” – Stranger by Donald Lawrence, Tri City Singers
What does it mean to know? What does it mean to be known? As I pondered these questions, I went into the depths of my heart and examined my experience around arriving at knowledge within the context of my marriage. My marriage has been a bedrock of evolution for my growth. The experiences I’ve had over the past 9 years have been full of great joy and great pain. And yet no matter what season we are within, I continue to evolve into my true identity, this is the mysterious and glorious blessing of covenant relationship. Secondly, I looked up the definition of the word in the Oxford Dictionary, then I turned my sights to see how the author(s) of the bible define the word in both Hebrew and Greek. The following are insights I gleaned:
The desire to be known is a direct imprint from the Creator’s design and I’ve come to realize that what truly matters in life is that I am known by Him
Experience in all relationships and especially marriage has taught me that serious friction occurs at the intersection of need and unmet expectations. (New) Love has a unique way of fueling the heart to start down the road of hopeful exploration causing one to go forth in the journey of togetherness with joyful anticipation – to see what else is to come, and maybe, just maybe to have your heart fulfilled once and for all. While some of us have had incredibly fulfilling relationships and marriages, about all of us can say (in romantic and non-romantic relationships) that we evidently encounter the roadblock of recognizing that our loved one has limitations in his or her capability to close the gap between our need and desire. I believe that what is within this gap is the desire to be known, truly known, and loved regardless of what is known about us.
Now back to the definition of knowledge. Did you know that there are over 10 definitions of this word in the Oxford Dictionary? It makes sense! I’d like to underscore definitions 8, 9, 10 which are headlined and summed up as to recognize, to understand the difference, to experience. You can already tell that these definitions highlight depthness. You see, to know someone’s heart, to be known is beyond head knowledge, it is not simply the gathering of data or analytics. It is to recognize that person as the unique individual that they are and to experience the fullness of who they are.
Our hearts ache for this type of knowledge from others. This heartthrob shows up in every sphere of life and plays out in various ways within our soul, families, places of work, community, and society. If we are not careful to tend to this longing in some way, our hearts are compelled to park on a lot of deceit, disillusionment, despair, depression, and even resentment. I could expound upon this, but for the sake of brevity, I will save this postulation for another blog.
I have experienced this intimate knowledge with the Lord that David is talking about friends. Times when my heart was so full of confusion, emotions, pain from unmet expectations, I sensed a deep peace in a moment with the Lord. A soft word whispered to me within my heart, a call from a friend who had no idea what I was encountering, a smile from a stranger, a “I love you” , and so much more has affirmed that my Creator knows every second of my heartbeat and what I need. On the note of a complete stranger-no lie, while on business travel, a security guard intently looked at me and said I love you while in a hotel lobby. And before you roll your eyes and say “ Oh come on! He was hitting on you!” I promise he was NOT, lol. I’ve been randomly hit on many times- and this- my friends, was not that. This was almost like an angel sent at that moment. What this guard did not know is that although I was perfectly dressed up in makeup with my business cards and pressed hair, and surrounded by so many colleagues, I was so heartbroken and alone on that trip. I needed to hear that when I was passing through the conference center. I needed to know that I was loved.
The greatest pursuit I will ever take is to know Jesus in the fullest sense
And so once I gained this deep experiential knowledge of being known by God, my faith cemented deep within my heart. I have come to fully believe that nothing can separate me from His love. I have also arrived at a different lot after encountering the intersection of need and unmet expectations within my marriage and other relationships and it is this place- he alone can know my needs and meet my needs. Should he use my husband to meet a need or another loved one, that is an extension of His love and His grace shown through them. And I believe this to be true the other way around, I am under no disillusion that I can meet my husband’s deepest needs and longings. Instead, I pray daily that his heart is filled with the intimate knowledge of Christ’s love and that he evolves into the man he was created to be which is a man fully loved and full of generosity.
I have had the beautiful experience of being in a relationship with people who have not only had different experiences than I but different paradigms. From this diversity, I’ve learned many things. One thing rings true, knowing about someone or something and deeply knowing that being is two different things leading to two different realities. When the Apostle Paul says in the letter to the Philippians that he desires to know Christ in every facet, he is talking about a deep soul-level understanding that is joined through experience. This type of knowledge leads to the transformation of one’s life.
10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
I can assuredly say I have NOT obtained all this either Paul! So I thank Paul, that great warrior of Christian faith, for his humility. And yet I also press on to know Jesus this way. Why? One may ask, why would you seek so hard to know Christ whom you cannot see? My answer to this is – because He has filled me with life and light in my darkest moments. I believe that the times my heart has been revived from what could have been its final beat of death is because of the love God made accessible to me through Emannuel.
My friends, what is your experience with intimate knowledge? Do you feel known by God, do you affirm to know Him? Why or why not? Would love to hear your thoughts. These questions go out to people of all beliefs whether people who have a religious faith or not, please drop a comment. I recognize God in everything and I seek to know Him more by understanding who you are. Until then, much love and have a wonderful new year.
Relationships everywhere in every space and every form are under pressure. The very essence of what keeps humans committed to one another, the basic level of respect and commonality, and purpose are being tested. Welcome to 2020, my friends. I could throw out a statistic to prove my point, but you need to look no further than the words plastered on the one thing we all seem to show complete devotion to nowadays- our technological devices. Newsfeeds, blogs, social media, op-eds, etc. by the nanosecond prove just how divisive our world is. And in many cases, this pandemic has revealed to us just how divided we are with our own families and even within our souls as we face limitations unlike any other time in recent years.
But it does not have to be this way. I am confident that the Creator of the Universe, who I recognize as Jesus has designed a blueprint within the fiber of our beings for us to be reconciled to God and one another. This is why we so yearn and hope for a better way, a better space, and a better experience no matter how bad it gets. I am living proof of this resilient hope and over the next several blogs I am going to present a series of writings that share deep insights I’ve gleaned about journeying towards unity through hardship.
The Backstory: I am a soon to be 36-year-old Christian wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, and lover of justice and people. There are many dimensions to who I am that you either know or will discover as you read these blogs. One thing I will start with is my marriage. Throughout the marriage, I’ve experienced some of the deepest pains and yet deepest joys of coming to understand the true essence of what unity is. I came into this union over 8.5 years ago with my goals, objectives, strategies, and game plan to accomplish the fantasy of what our marriage would and should be. While this ambition was fire, it was the wrong type of fire. It did not help to fuel our common purpose or even passion. The last few years have been a burning away of this me-centric perspective and a slow but powerful revelation of who I am, who my husband is, and who we are destined to become as what I like to call “Jameshan” a unionization of the two.
And that brings me to my first recognition:
Unity is oneness of heart, mind, and purpose.
What I have learned is that purpose for two isn’t a simple merging of two lives, two pathways, it is the birthing of something entirely new that yes includes elements of the two separate entities but it for sure is a new creation. This is why marriage my friends is so hard, because it is a letting go of your purpose for your marriage and a surrender to something that transcends both you and your spouse. I’ve already mentioned and will say so again that I believe God the Creator through Jesus is the binding force of this creation. And to be clear, I also believe marriage is His divine institution created to display the larger scope of His Glory. This is to say Jameshan is one person displaying one part of His glorious plan.
James and I have begun this blog to cultivate unity, to learn how to “move” in concert with one another. No doubt, over the course of 8.5 years of marriage, we have experienced joys, primarily our youthful daughter. And yet we know that if we want to fully realize the potential of our common purpose here on earth as a unit, there are so many things that will need to be mended, addressed, and reconciled. And while that thought alone often fast paces my mind to a place of “giving up”, the endurance that has kept me in this race is fueled by the recognition that common purpose can foster soil to produce oneness.
Until next time, would you join us as we ponder?
Is it possible to have a common purpose with someone while also having vastly different approaches towards the shared mission? If so, how? Leave us a comment, drop a line, and welcome to our journey towards perfect love.