Jigsaw Puzzle

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Jigsaw puzzles… they didn’t always used to be my favorite. They started off as a way to keep me busy and quiet while my mother cleaned our home. At first, all of those little pieces seemed overwhelming like they had placed a special demand on me to put them together and with accuracy! Asking my mom for help, I learned some great strategies that helped me not only complete the puzzles but also more easily and with speed, focus and excitement!

The key was to first organize. Sorting the pieces and grouping by similarities helped make sense of the massive pile (Massive is an exaggeration, but as a child, everything seems bigger!). I would first sort and group my straight-edged pieces together, making the four corners a sub pile. Then I would go to work sorting my colors even down to the shades and tints. Special identifying markers would have their own pile such as a birdhouse hole, door or path. The strategies my mom taught me stuck with me even unto adulthood.

Dear reader, as you know, this site is branded “Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE”. With that being said, let me share a bit more with you about how I recently found God in a jigsaw puzzle. Last month, I took on my first 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. At first, part of me thought I was crazy. Another part of me was confident that no matter how many pieces to the puzzle, the same strategies could be applied. As I studied the pieces in order to put together the puzzle, I noticed pieces that seemed like they would fit but didn’t. There were some that seemed to have no place at all but did when it was time. There were some that fit but needed a little push to make the union seamless. Still, there were pieces that did fit and match until the arrival of bona fide surrounding pieces made it clear that a particular piece was a counterfeit! Even though I had my strategy and I knew what the big picture should look like, it was clear to me how much I still needed intuition and God’s guidance. I didn’t know what I was doing! The relationship of the pieces ministered to me and reminded me of people who have come into my life, those who left and those who stayed.

The first type of piece reminded me of people who came into my life that I was excited to see coming, thinking they would be a good fit in my life only to find out that they were meant for some place else. The second type of piece reminded me of “angels in disguise” who seemed to have no rhyme or reason for being present until their purpose was served. Bless the LORD! Isn’t it amazing how our eyes can be opened to what was in front of us all along?! How often do we see without SEEING?! The third type of piece is the one that is meant to be there. It belongs. It looks right, and whatever might be askew just needs a gentle nudge to make it just right. How often do we neglect fine tuning just because something is right? Just because things are right doesn’t mean they can’t be improved. Bless the LORD! The fourth type of piece reminded me of the people who seemed to jump right into the rhythm of my life and flow! I mean they fell right in, we had things in common and my close loved ones even liked them, but as other things started falling in place, it was clear that the person I welcomed so easily was a fraud- maybe not intentionally. Maybe they too thought we were a good fit, but there was always that one thing that never was quite right…

In every situation, I need God. No matter how good my strategies may be, I need God. Even if the destination is obvious and the big picture seems crystal clear, I need God, and as a Believer, I believe we ALL need God. Take your pieces to God. I promise you that HE can do something with them!

…In the Brokenness

I’ve always been fascinated by the shattered glass look- how something so broken, shattered, jagged and sharp could be so…beautiful…and useful. So many times, I’ve lost track of time in a store, just staring at one of these beautiful creations. Each time, always in awe, trying to figure it out- how it came to be or why but never understanding. Then, finally, I’d settle for appreciating it with respect for its beauty and usefulness despite its brokenness. These past few weeks, I’ve been reminded just how broken and fragile I am, and in my brokenness, God began to speak to me more clearly.

Dear reader, as you know, this site is branded “Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE”, so please allow me to share with you how I found God…in the brokenness.

As you may already know and have experienced, this COVID-19 virus has really rocked everyone’s world. Those who were fortunate enough to keep their employment and work from home still have issues but just a different set. Internet/ network connection issues, for one! One day, my connection issues got so bad that I had to run up to the office to have my work equipment tested. Well, while waiting in this room for the IT guy to return, I watched the pouring rain from the storm pelt the ground. It rained and it poured! How many of you have felt like that about happenings in your life? “When it rains, it pours!”

Storms used to scare me until God shifted my perspective and gave me peace. God can use a storm to move things that need to be moved, adjust things that need to be adjusted, loose things that need to be loosed, shake things that need to be shaken, tear down things that need to be torn down in order to prepare things that need to be prepared for something new to be built. Praise God for knowing what needs to be done and in what season! God can use what seems like nothing but gloomy, sticky mud-producing rain to slow us down when we are going too fast, water what HE put inside of us and make us stick to where HE wants us and bloom where we are planted! Having learned this, I no longer fear storms like I used to fear them. Now, I have peace and show reverence, trusting that God, just like my grandmother used to say, “is doing HIS work.”

Leaning upon the window frame, admiring the beautiful storm, my eyes began to observe everything that was being affected by the storm- the parking lot, the ground, the fountain, the pond. Then my eyes settled on the lower window pane on the far end. It was shattered in countless pieces, yet it held- no leaks! The IT guy came back into the room, and we began to make small talk while we waited on the testing on my equipment to run its course. I pointed to the shattered pane, “Wow. Look at that window pane. It’s shattered into a gazillion pieces! I bet a lawn mower did it, huh?” “Yeah, more than likely,” he said. “It’s not leaking or anything,” I said, admiring its sturdiness. He walked over and touched the pane and knocked on it. “Yeah. It’s double pane. Only the outside is broken, but the inside is fine.” Each piece told a story and was connected to another piece that told another story. The whole piece was so interesting- so much to admire. It was like a web. Again my fascination with the glass and my attention to detail made my mouth fly open once more about this window, “Look in the middle on the left! You can tell where the rock hit the glass and started the ripple (domino) effect.” He touched the spot, “Yeah.” Then, that’s when I began to think back over different scenes of my life where I’d been hit just like that glass. Then God let me know, “This is you. I hold you together-no leaks. I am writing your story.” He had to remind me that it is HIS strength that keeps me together. It is HIS magnificent and infinite wisdom that knows how to place each piece of me in order to tell the story. HIS hands are the glue.

Out of all the times, I’ve seen shattered glass or mosaic pieces of art, it never resonated with me to the realization that I was looking at an image of myself. I am the shattered glass. The point of contact for blows may be obvious for some who see me, yet some may be my own private knowing. The blow affected and weakened certain parts of me and continued with a domino effect. Only God knows how far and how deep the cracks go. Only HE knows the limits. Still, what was weakened was made strong. What was broken was made more beautiful. What was plain is now eye-catching. What was overlooked, now has a story worth investigating. What was painful can now minister. My God! Help us all- we broken children!

When life hits me with blows that leave me in the fetal position, clutching my stomach on the boxing mat of temporal experiences, I trust that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalm 34:18 New Living Translation).

Even though the pain hurts so bad and leaves me wondering how long it will take me to heal this time, I can be assured that “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds” (Psalm 147:3 NLT).

When my wounds are bandaged and there are still more rounds to the fight, HIS Holy Spirit gives me another wind, nudges me on and whispers, “For the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10 NLT).

Each time I am delivered a punch that sends my world cracking and I wonder, Lord, why so much pain!? HIS response is “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2nd Chronicles 12:8 NLT).

When it looks like I am losing the battle, HE says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 NLT).

Thank God for HIS Holy Spirit because when the sweat of such fights blur my vision so that I cannot see the haymaker coming for my Salvation, HE prompts me to fall on my knees and pray! It is through obedient prayer that HE shows me that HE “is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1 NLT), and I dodge the blow!

Feeling the heat and seeing what kinds of attacks are aimed at me, though they miss, sometimes make me holler out Lord, help and force me to go back and study the “fight manual” on how to win. It says, “…the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs” (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT). How many of you know that when you’re right in the middle of a storm, God will give you peace and drop an uplifting song in your spirit?

This “fight song” carries me through to victory because I believe, “…I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT). Now this scripture doesn’t mean that I can go around doing everything and be successful. What it means is that what Christ gives me the blessing of His strength to do, I can do it! Make sure that you are aligned with HIS will!

Before the referee can finish counting down and announce my victory, another attack is climbing the ropes. Just when I’m about to fuss and yell out, Really!? the Lord is like, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT).

Looking back over my life, there have been countless battles and countless cracks. Countless stories, I could tell, and surely there are many more to go! Isn’t it ironic how what should weaken us makes us stronger for the rest of the journey? “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT). If I didn’t have the crack of abuse, I would not be able to minister to those abused in that same way. If I didn’t have the crack of losing it all and having to start over again from the bottom, I would not be able to minister to someone who had a similar experience. So many cracks in my life prepared me for the ministry that God is still birthing and developing inside me.

My cracks tell a story, and it is a privilege to share with whom God leads me and assure them of what God will do for them. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4 NLT).

So now, I have an even deeper appreciation for mosaic glass because God uses it to show me my reflection and that He is still writing my story…in the brokenness.

…In The Opportunity

January 2015, the last wheel had fallen off my cart of independence, and my son and I were faced with that disappointing drive home to start over. You know the one- the “I’ve got to move back in with my [mom, dad, parents or whoever] again”. Several months of disappointments and bad news led up to this point, but having to resign from a 20+-hour-turned-3-hour-per-week fabric retail job that eventually went bankrupt, finished the picture puzzle of me going back to where I said I would never go back again. Isn’t it funny how as soon as you say “never,” life sets out to make a liar out of you? The saying is, “never say ‘never'”.

Here I was having to go back home to mommy and start over. God had allowed me to experience a different kind of loss- from college student to “college drop-out”, from car to bicycle, from 20+ hours per week to 3 hours per week on my already part-time job, from happy family-like neighbor and church relationships to tense and severed relationships with collapsed bridges. The start-over was intense. The feeling of defeat and failure swept over me as the last bit of money to my name was used to rent a moving truck to move what belongings I could afford to take with me. Some of my favorite pieces of furniture were given away to close friends as there would be no room for them at my mom’s. There was no money for storage.

That month and a half was cold…and not because it was technically still winter. Tension, failure, defeat, disappointment and the feeling that more than one was a crowd, kept me anxiously awaiting the necessary documents to arrive so that an inexpensive cash car could be purchased. The car came. The job came. The online school enrollment came. The juggling started up again. Now the new routine was to work hard and smart, make permanent on the job, get an apartment, etc, etc, basically rebuild my life.

One day, I was skimming through my email inbox, bored with nothing better to do. Many of the emails, I’d signed up to receive, of course, but that meant nothing as I often didn’t read them or at least not in their entirety. Several online job sites had my resume, but one in particular was my favorite because although it had a social interaction side to it, it remained very professional.

This site had sent me an email. Usually, I would bypass emails from job sites including my favorite because at that time, unemployment was not an issue. However, for some reason, this email caught my eye. Doesn’t it feel strange to linger over an email, contemplating whether or not to click on it when nothing seems special about it? This feeling I like to credit to the Holy Spirit. I could not pass it up! *click* This email was read in its entirety as it slightly piqued my interest. What’s more, a nudge arose inside me to call! In my head, my thoughts were saying, “What!? This is crazy! Why call and waste these people’s time when you already have a job!? You’re not going anywhere.” (Meaning “You’re not bold enough to leave the job you just got, especially in your situation!”)

Dear reader, as you know, this site is branded “Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE”, so please allow me to share with you how I found God…in the opportunity.

The nudge was wearing me out as I began pacing back and forth on my mom’s front porch. You better stop pacing back and forth before someone thinks you’re crazy. “Argh! Decisions, decisions! Lord, what should I do? Should I call? Should I reply to this email? Obtaining a little information can’t hurt, right?” Isn’t it odd how we ask God if we should do something that HE’s clearly telling us to do? Where is trust and boldness when fear and doubt try to crash the party? Find them. Embrace them.

The email response was sent. Not too long after that, maybe a day or so, my phone rang and displayed an unknown number on the screen. On the other end of the phone was a pleasant lady who happened to be a job recruiter aka talent acquisitions member for a home appliance/small business machines company. She had seen my resume online and believed that I might be a good fit for the position offered. She seemed optimistic and encouraging. I on the other hand wondered how I’d fit in a professional corporate atmosphere providing customer service in the form of trouble shooting over the phone. Sure, I’d worked with the public for about 9 years at that point, from restaurant to retail to tutoring children, but fixing people’s mechanical and technical issues over the phone with my sewing knowledge was a whole other set of skills, not to mention working in an office! The benefits were good. (I didn’t know how good at the time.) The pay was $6 more than the best pay I’d ever been paid up to that point! The position was full time- a full 40 hours per week…guaranteed! No more being sent home when business is slow! Another uncomfortable piece was that it was a 33+-minute commute one way, and there was no guarantee of how reliable my little cash car would be. The recruiter and I really clicked. She understood exactly how I felt as an African American female and understood what it felt like to want more and better but be afraid to step out for fear of losing what’s already been gained. Add single parenthood to that, trying to rear a son. Her down-to-earth, transparent, encouraging conversation as a woman of faith was a sign that this was a God thing and not just a good thing. There was a magnetic pull that let me know I had to do this. I had to try. Because of her faith in me and the move of our God, she helped me land an interview.

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the company’s human resource intern called and scheduled my interview before an application was even completed and submitted! The interview was set for Tuesday, June 30th. The application was submitted Monday, June 29th. I was to be interviewed by 4 people back-t0-back starting at 9am. If the first liked me, the next would come in to interview. While slightly nervous, my personality shone through as questions were asked and answered and my completed sewn work was displayed. They must have liked me because I ended up meeting 5 people instead of 4. LOL!

Just like that, a targeted start date marked my calendar for Monday, July 13, 2015. About 2 weeks prior, who knew what checking my emails would do?? Such a simple, ordinary task. Now it was time to submit my 2-week notice at my job at which I had not yet made permanent. Here comes the uncomfortable middle between steps. How many of you know that when you step out on faith, you can count on a test? Nevertheless, a wise pastor once said, “Faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted.” As soon as I put in my 2-week notice, the person who was responsible for handling my background check and other important new-hire paperwork ran into trouble verifying my graduation from high school. When I got the news, I was dumbfounded! Thoughts raced through my head, “WHAT!? What do you mean there is no record of my graduating high school?! I graduated with honors #5 in my class with a scholarship to a 4-year university!” Out of my mouth, words to the lady professionally stated that there is an error somewhere and that I would get to the bottom of it and call her back.

Not to get off subject, but have you ever taken the Meyers-Briggs personality test? (https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/home.htm?bhcp=1) Well, I’m an ISFJ, so you can imagine that at this point I’m really freaking out! Before calls were made to the school, God and I had to talk. It wasn’t the type of prayer you might hear at church. It was a “freaking out” conversation with God along the lines of, “Oh my, God! Oh my, God! What am I going to do? Why is this happening?! I graduated from high school! Why would there be no proof? Help me hold it together so I can make this phone call. Lord, You led me here; I need you to work this out. In Jesus’s name. Amen!” The phone rang and was answered with the typical grade school greeting. Naturally, the situation was explained, my business stated. Hold music, or maybe just silence. I don’t remember. My thoughts and yearning for this to work out was the loudest thing in my ears anyway…you know…psychological noise. Back on the line, no record was found. This was crazy! There was just no way this was happening! My name was given again and along with the graduation date. No records found. Then, as if by some great epiphany, she informed me that after a certain number of years, the records are moved from the school to the courthouse. My feelings were somewhere between “How could you let me think I was about to lose this job!? Why didn’t you just tell me that in the first place!?” and “Phew! Thank God! There is hope!” She was thanked, the number to courthouse records was obtained, and after once again explaining and holding, there was proof! More calls were made, faxes were sent and received, and I was able to start my training on July 15, 2015…two days late. The test came, but the delay was not a denial.

Training was challenging in more ways than one, but the hardest part was training from 8am-5pm and finishing my last two weeks in retail working shifts 6pm-12am and 7pm-1am, having homework that needed to be completed and submitted online with no Internet at home. Assignments were done on Wi-Fi wherever I could get them done- fast food restaurants, the public library, my job at the retail store on breaks, and the local 24-hour pancake house. To add to the juggling, another opportunity came. It was a call from the manager of an apartment complex offering the next piece of the picture puzzle of me getting back on my feet! Picture me on a unicycle juggling two balls of employment, the ball of school, the ball of a new-t0-me car and now the ball of a new apartment with all of its processes, paperwork and appointments. It goes without saying that I still had my son to rear. Calls and notes from school were flowing in because my little guy was getting into trouble and even worse since the move, leaving his best friend behind.

One day during training on my 15-minute break, I decided to take a nap but slept right through the break at my desk. The supervisor woke me up 30 minutes later. Of course, I apologized profusely as I wiped my face. One of the senior representatives asked the question of how long would I be working two jobs. Not much longer. Just trying to get through these last two weeks to leave the right way. Soon, one ball of employment was tossed. Then school was tossed because I was falling behind. Plus, I was caught reading for a class assignment between calls at work and could no longer make the necessary time to be successful in school like I knew I could be. Ugh…once again school had to be put on the back burner because of more urgent needs.

The first year of this job (2015-2016) was dotted with having to leave work early or schedule time off because of anxiety attacks and meetings with my son’s school personnel. There were the usually responsibilities of having everything switched over to the new place of residence. Also, I accepted the position of associate minister in the church I grew up in and had received my preaching license on March 6, 2016. The second year (2016-2017) added finding out about hypoglycemia and learning how to manage it, learning how to professionally deal with irrational and irate customers, and balancing work, home, church choir, and preaching. The third year (2017-2018) added learning how to professionally deal with internal customers and starting and ending a marriage engagement. July 4, 2018, I was jumped and sexually assaulted at a family cookout by distance relatives, and so I left the church and quit as associate minister there. That threw my life upside down. October 2018, I forced myself to attend church again (a different church) and began my slow climb back to faithfully serving in church attending Sunday School and Sunday service and singing in the choir again. I preach, teach and minister whenever invited and of course through online platforms. Now on year four (2018-2019), there are new challenges added but so are my many testimonies. Every single time I felt like giving up, felt exhausted, felt like I just couldn’t continue, felt like I just couldn’t get a particular thing right, God would send someone to minister to me and affirm my placement in HIS will for my life. It didn’t matter the challenge faced. It did not matter the traumatic experience. It did not matter the loss. It didn’t even matter the discomfort. What mattered most was the leap of faith and choice to follow where God was leading me.

Why did I tell you so many details of my life? It was in hopes that you might see the big picture that even though I took the opportunity God gave me, there were no promises that there would not be challenges, that life would not happen, that there would not be loss, disappointment or tragedy. What seemed like ground zero gave me to opportunity to build. What seemed like loss gave me the opportunity to gain. What seemed like tragedy gave me the opportunity to trust. What seemed like brokenness gave me the opportunity to heal. What seemed like discomfort gave me the opportunity to grow. Currently, in October of 2019, I am still fighting for my son’s education, the improvement of his behavior (which has improved even with no ADHD medicine, and he’s on honor roll), my health as I have also been dealing with multiple fibrosis of the uterus at age 31, transportation to and from work due to a run-in with wildlife, and my engagement to the same man I was engaged to two years ago though incarcerated. God has kept this job for me through all sorts of personal issues. There will be obstacles. There is no way to know how the path you choose will go, but I can say that if you choose Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, your path will be one worth living.

New opportunities that await me are marriage, though some may not understand, support or agree, and a career diploma in dressmaking accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). Like about the job opportunity, I am pretty excited about my relationship and the idea of obtaining a career diploma. They are both outstanding opportunities with great benefits. It’s normal to consider the uncomfortable middle between steps, but be encouraged to keep Looking for God because #HEISEVERYWHERE. Sometimes doubt and fear try to crash the party, but God strengthens my trust and emboldens me to take the road less traveled, reassuring me that HE can be found…in the Opportunity.

Poet Robert Frost wrote about choosing paths in his poem The Road Not Taken. (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken) God bless!

Maintenance…in the Hallway

Just on the other side is…

Being a single mom is a balancing act and sometimes a juggling act that can leave one feeling like their life is a bonafide circus act. There are so many things that come into play when being the only adult in the household responsible for everything that comes your way. Living in an apartment can help alleviate some of the pressures and stress of maintenance because when major appliances go such as the refrigerator or oven, it is the apartment manager’s responsibility to get the maintenance person to make the necessary repairs and/or replacements. I have had such privileges while renting. Even though there are certain things that are the responsibility of the apartment manager or maintenance person, they do not always do the best job or use the best materials. Sometimes, only the minimum requirements are met. For instance, a smoke detector might have a minimum requirement of a 9-volt battery, so the maintenance person will replace the battery with the cheapest, functioning 9-volt battery, perhaps to cut costs, instead of using the most durable, longest-lasting 9-volt battery. Was the requirement met? Yes. Was it the best? No. This has been the case with the air filter for our central heat and air system for the last 4 years. Some time ago, I decided that if we are to live here and comfortably, we better do the best thing for us and our allergies. Since management was not going to use high-quality air filters instead of the see-through, barely stable, green filters that looked like a kindergarten craft project, it was up to me to invest in what we needed. Out of my own pocket had I already upgraded all our light bulbs to fluorescent, energy-saving ones years ago. Changing the light bulbs was simple. I had known how to do such tasks since my youth, but changing this air filter was not the same.

Dear Reader, as you know, this blog site is branded Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE, so allow me to share with you how I found God while performing maintenance in the hallway.

It was a journey into uncharted territory searching the aisles of my favorite super center and favorite home improvement stores for what would improve our dwelling’s air quality, but thank God that reading is a fundamental that I learned early on! Searching…searching…reading…reading…comparing…EUREKA! In no time, our household would be armed with the air filter of all air filters! It would do it all, or at least what we needed it to do. 

Finally back home with my newly purchased piece of allergy barrier, I whipped it out of the shopping bag and braced myself to open the hallway door which led to where the filter was to be changed. I was afraid. My chest threatened to tighten. My breath didn’t seem to want full access to my pulmonary system. Thoughts of being electrocuted concerned me. Silly, I know, but that is what ignorance will do. Thankfully, those thoughts were replaced. ‘Hmmm…who can I call to help me do this?? Maintenance? Nah…. Hmmm…I wonder if my uncle who’s an electrician is available…Nah… Who should I call? …You know what? I’ve got to do this myself. Just me with the help of the LORD. After all, didn’t the Lord say that the Holy Spirit will teach me all things?’ (John 14:16 NIV) *a few deep inhalations and exhalations* Then I switched the system to off. Home alone, I began to talk aloud with God. ‘Okay, God. Here I am. I don’t know what I am doing, but I trust and believe that You’re going to help me through this because Your Word says that Your Holy Spirit will teach me all things. So, here I am. Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening,’ I said standing in the doorway in cheerful anticipation, rocking back and forth on my heels. Waiting… Two seconds passed. Nothing. More thoughts followed, ‘Okay, Ebony. Just wait upon the LORD. Be patient. Clear your thoughts and listen. God will speak.’ Waiting… One second later, I felt God’s presence, and my eyes were drawn to two plastic latches. “Slide those apart,” God said. Done. The door covering came off and was placed out of the way. ‘Yaayyy! Thank You God! You’re SO AWESOME!’ The filter was visible, but how to remove it? Waiting on further instructions… My eyes were led to a long, thin, metal hooked latch of some sort. “Open that,” God said. Studying the piece, it was clear how it was to be opened…at least after a second or two. Honestly, I felt kinda slow, but I was in good hands 🙂 ‘Woohooo! Thank You, God!’ Done. It was a tight fit. How was this to come out? Waiting, smiling, examining. God watched on, not saying a word. Then, after a few seconds, it became clear that all that needed to be done next was to pull the filter toward me and pull it up and out. Duh! God and I had a good laugh, ‘You were waiting for that, right? God, I’m glad You have a good sense of humor. lol!’ The filter was replacement. The latches and door were replaced, and the system was turned back on. ACCOMPLISHED! God’s Holy Spirit had done just what HE said HE would do, and it didn’t matter what lesson needed to be learned. HE was ABLE to teach me! God was right there when I needed HIM. HE was not asleep nor was HE slumbering. HIS open door policy was in affect, and HE was willing! HE knew what I had need of before I asked, and while I was praying, HE was still listening! James 1:5 NIV says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” God is EVERYWHERE. Do you know that? Do you know that #HEISEVERYWHERE ? Have you tried HIM for yourself?

Maybe the task that needs to be performed in your life is more complex than changing an air filter, but you know what? Look deeper. A hallway is defined as a corridor which is a passage connecting parts of a building. Our bodies are temples (buildings of worship) of the Living God and in us are passages connecting who we are now to who we shall be in the future. The hallway connects our right now to our not yet. When we travel through the spiritual hallway of prayer from the Outer Court to the Inner Court to the Holy of Holies where God’s presence dwells, that is where we can begin to see glimpses of God’s promises for our lives. HE will not show us the entire picture but just enough to spur our spirit into greater belief! “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1st Corinthians 2:9 KJV). As we travel through this hallway, God will begin to reveal to us the maintenance that needs to be done in our lives and in our hearts before we can reach the other side of HIS glory. The Lord Jesus Christ is able to carry us from glory to glory (2nd Corinthians 3:1-18 NIV)! HALLELUJAH! 

My prayer for you, Dear Reader, is that you look for God and find HIM, for HE IS EVERYWHERE, especially if you are performing maintenance…in the hallway.

On the Toothpaste Aisle

Years ago during my freshman or sophomore year, I was working 3 part-time jobs while attending school full time. Don’t ask me how I did it because I could not have done it without the One who gives me strength- Jesus Christ. Though I didn’t mind working for what I wanted, there were days when it took more energy than usual to muster the motivation I needed to get through the long days. One of my part-time jobs at the time was at a popular retail store/pharmacy. Between the cashiering and stocking, my hands were full. It’s not like the store was fully staffed, so juggling was expected. It seems so long ago, but there is a particular encounter that I will never forget!

Dear Reader, as you know, this blog site is branded Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE, so allow me to share with you how I found God on the toothpaste aisle. So, there I was trying to appear cheerful and “serve wholeheartedly as if serving God, not Man” (Ephesians 6:7). Who knows how many times I fought through complaints in my mind and tried to wash myself with the Word? I don’t remember what specific thoughts were running through my mind, but I was more than likely on the verge of being weary in well-doing. In the midst of pushing through, I remember speaking to customers who were shopping down that aisle or passing by. The store traffic was slow that time of day, and few people were shopping for dental hygiene products. Periodically, I’d whisper a shy, “Hi” as I smiled and motioned a short wave with my free hand. Minutes passed, and I was all alone seemingly. It was just shelves, peg board, tiles, a product-filled tote and me. I can see the red, white, gold and blue toothpaste boxes as vividly as I can see the words I’m typing now. I can see my hand aligning the boxes end to end. Then I saw a glimpse of a tall man walking by the aisle’s end to my left. The passing was brief, but I still managed to quickly flash a smile. The smile was heart-felt on my part because I cared so much, but surely it could not fully hide any sadness behind my eyes. My grandmother used to tell her children and grandchildren as we gathered around and filled up on her wisdom, “Always be kind to strangers because you never know when you might be entertaining an angel unawares.” Oh, how I miss my grandma… This tall smiling stranger came back to the toothpaste aisle moving with purpose and giving me unbroken eye contact. He spoke revelation into my life and a word of encouragement and left as quickly as he came. His words had my full attention. I was transfixed by his awesome message. A little slow to process, it took two and a half moments for my thoughts to go from, “Aw, he’s nice” as I continued stocking to “Wait! How did he know that!?” I had questions about what he said, and I needed answers! A surge of thrilling excitement filled me. Stepping into the main aisle, I looked for him. He wasn’t there. Side aisles became the target for my search as a power walk turned into an eager jog. “Where’d he go??” Desperately, I looked and even asked a coworker or two if they’d seen the man I described. No one had seen anyone who fit that description. It was like he was never there. Once I realized that there was no way he could have gotten in and out of the store without being seen, I knew. I had entertained an angel.

I cannot tell you word for word what he said to me all those years ago, but it was so needed, so timely and so heaven-sent! It gave me a second wind, encouraged me to go on, uplifted my downcast head and let me know that God sees me, God hears me, God is covering me and God is with me! I, Ebony Elice Gray, testify that God’s presence has always been with me even when I paid no attention to the signs! Just look for God, and you will see that #HEISEVERYWHERE…even on the toothpaste aisle.

As I Slept

Between Autumn of 2008 and Autumn of 2011, I lived in a big city in a particular area. This area was mind-boggling to me. It never made since to me how from one street to the next the row of houses would alternate between beautiful, well-kept historical districts where people jogged and walked their dogs day and night… and run-down houses with messy yards that one would avoid or lock their doors and roll up their windows if they had to pass through. Was this the same city?? The area was diverse. There were household-name grocery stores. There were mom-and-pop niche grocery stores. There were small outreach ministries and HIV clinics. There were huge medical research facilities. There were lively office buildings as well as abandoned buildings with broken windows. There was an artsy area, a golf course, a zoo, retails stores and different ethnic-food restaurants, and buildings tatted with street art. This area was as diverse in its residents as it was in its buildings, if not more. There would be marathon runners, artists, actors, male and female prostitutes, cross-dressers, the LGBT community, breast-feeding homemakers, retirees-some working as cashiers, DIYers, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, the homeless, community activists, college students- young and old, those on government assistance and those not, troubled youth, you name it! You’d never know who or what you would see, who you would meet, what opportunities would come your way or who would bless you!

For some, this environment might cause an anxiety attack. I understand. For others, it might stimulate excitement. I understand that too. Regardless of the reaction, I wanted to paint the picture. There was enough going on in my own little world. Single parenthood, renting, other bills, college, church and trying to have a semblance of a social life was challenging enough. School was full time. Scheduling my classes earlier in the day had its benefits. There was just something peaceful about knowing that my son was being taken care of at school or daycare during class time. I was free to relax and focus, at least a little. Good parents know that the cell phone still has to be on vibrate and in position where it can be felt, seen and heard in case of emergencies. How many of you know about that outside seat in auditorium classes so you can hurry up and get out if need be? lol Yeah, that life. The daycare was okay for the most part during this particular time period, but parents and especially grade school staff know how quickly sickness can pass between children and then enter your home until every member has had a turn. Walking germ bombs sometimes, but we love them so much! Limited daycare hours of operation did not allow much opportunity for full-time employment, and I had no trustworthy support system nearby who could consistently babysit during the times a full-time job would run past daycare closing times. For those of you who don’t know, many daycare facilities charge one United States Dollar per minute past their closing time in order to pay their workers for overtime. I get it, but it would have put me 10 feet underground (overkill) financially. Therefore, I stuck to what I could manage properly. It was the kiddo and me. Just the two of us. While he was at school or daycare, I worked part time and attended classes at the university. Thankfully, I had a daycare voucher (strings attached, of course, which posed other challenges that I will discuss in another blog post). My income at the time, minus college scholarships, grants and later the regrettable student loans, was a little less than $10,000 annually. This fact may cause different reactions. Some may be moved to tears. Some can identify. Yet some may have their noses in the air. For those with noses in the air, this blog site may not be for you…and watch out for that pole. Grocery shopping was fun. Let me explain. Because my income was so low, my circumstance qualified me for other government assistance. Monthly, I would receive funds on a card that was only good for groceries and not hot food (that program has changed over the years). This was a godsend! This was a fantastic blessing for me because I had the opportunity to feed my son good, healthy foods, afford ingredients for new recipes and make sure my son never went hungry. It is no secret that this program has received much backlash from United States tax payers. However, I wonder how many of those recipients’ stories have become main stream. I understood that the assistance was supposed to be until I got on my feet, so I never let myself forget, “This is temporary.” Some of my days were really long where it seemed like my to-do list was a bucket list.

How often do we rip and run trying to make up for the lack of hours in a day? We run here, run there, drop off, pick up, spend time, reschedule, cut short and check our anatomy for extra hands. It is very easy to forget something, or someone, if only for a brief moment. As you know, this blog site is branded Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE, so allow me to share with you how I found God in my driveway.

One day in particular was very long. I had most likely done any combination of attending class, working, working out at the gym, picking up and dropping off my son, paying bills and grocery shopping. I was dog tired! Seriously, I was running on fumes. When I got home, I backed my car into the driveway and began unloading groceries and putting them up. Several trips were made to the car. There were so many items. Finally, thinking I was done, I tipped over on my bed like a lumberjack’s prize. Tiiiimmmmmbbbeeeeeerrrrrrr! It was over! I didn’t know I was in the world. That was probably the most beautiful sleep I had gotten in a while. It was so peaceful, and I was well rested. The sunlight peered through my bedroom the next morning with a soft, holy glow. The birds were singing their cheerful songs. Pleasant. I arose with a stretch that would make the most limber feline jealous. (Exaggeration about the stretching because I am a comedienne, but it was satisfying.) Eventually, I made my way through my shotgun duplex and noticed sunlight on the floor in an unfamiliar spot. It was coming from the doorway. Of course I was puzzled because there was no way the door that led outside should have been open. The inner wooden door and the outer porch door were unlocked, and the wooden door was open. It still didn’t make sense to me, so I checked the perimeter (namely the door frame) for signs of a break-in. Nothing seemed out of place. I went outside. My jaw dropped. My car was in the driveway- not parked in my regular spot behind the chained, locked gate. Also, my driver’s side door was wide open. The matter was so puzzling to me. Nothing was missing from the car. I knocked on the door of my neighbor with whom I shared a porch and asked him if he saw my car like that when he got home. He had but didn’t think enough about the scene to knock on my door or call or text. Finally, it hit me. I was so tired the evening before that I’d mistakenly thought I’d tied up loose ends after bringing in the groceries! Anyone could have come in during the night and done anything! In this area, people walked the streets day and night, and I’d seen characters I’d never seen before walk near my home. I was completely vulnerable all night long. There was no alarm system, no watch dog, no weapon. Thankfully, my son was gone that weekend. In the midst of possible danger, in the midst of no defense, I slept peacefully unaware. My God had shielded and protected me all…night…long. Not a hair on my sleepy head was harmed. No possession was stolen. Though I slept and slumbered, my God did not! Though I had been running like a chicken with its head cut off, God cared for this single mother! I looked for HIM to help, provide, protect and so much more, and I found HIM to be in my driveway…as I slept.

Carousel

The Carousel

Somewhere between the years of 2010 and 2014, I had come to realize that it would be selfish of me to always expect the sermon to be just what I need. Maybe someone else was in greater need. Maybe God was saying that I wasn’t as bad off as I thought and just needed to get in His Word (Holy Bible). The Word is good, yes, but once I got a taste of Rhema Word, it was hard to quit. Who wouldn’t want a Word from God Almighty just for them and their specific situation? Not every prophet or prophetess is fake, trust me I know (a story for another blog post).

After a while, it became a trend that service was good but missing what I was looking for. Despite feeling spiritually hungry afterwards, I remained faithful and attended Sunday Service regularly. Have you ever been in a crowd of people and felt not only alone but also invisible? Like no one would notice you if they didn’t trip over you, and if they did, they still wouldn’t see you? Have you ever felt like you could scream at the top of your lungs in a crowd of people and no one would hear you, notice you or stop their flow of business? That might be the best description of what I felt in this huge congregation. Not willing to make the 15-20 minute drive back home after church to my predictable routine, I would linger some Sunday afternoons in the area in search for some place to waste time and prolong the inevitable. I was looking.

Somehow I ended up going across the street after church one Sunday to a low-traffic shopping mall. It seemed dead. Sometimes, the only thing open in the entire mall would be the carousel around the early afternoon. At other times, only the outside doors would be unlocked, and I would sit by the carousel and wait. Maybe store keepers were behind the scenes busily preparing their shops for opening, I wondered. The mall was lonely…but then again so was I, so we kept each other company.

There was an interesting layout about this shopping mall; Instead of making the food court the center of attention, the carousel was. An atrium housed it. There were live plants and rays of sunlight peering in from the skylights above. It was BEAUTIFUL! In a place that seemed so dead, there was life, mystery, excitement and awe at the carousel. I must admit, there was something majestic about it. It was not ordinary. It had beautiful scenic depictions, breath-taking finishes and trims and two levels. It was a Venetian double-decker carousel, the first I had ever seen. There was definitely something supernatural about it too. Dear Reader, as you know, this blog site is branded Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE, so allow me to share with you how I found God at the carousel. This stunning work of art was operated by an older lady in her late 50’s to early 60’s. I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of her at first, but she reached out to me through conversation. I had been sitting on a bench with my back facing the carousel, watching my little guy run and play. He was a bouncy ball fanatic. You know the little rubber balls that come out of the gumball-like machines. He was into those. The lady asked me to come ride the carousel to which I politely declined. Then she asked me to allow my son to ride. I didn’t have the money, so again, I politely declined. She asked if I were sure. What was it about riding this carousel that was so important to her? I moved closer to her and told her I didn’t have the funds to let my son ride. She offered to pay for him. Again, I politely declined. She seemed persistent yet harmless and sweet, so I agreed. At that time, my son may have needed me to ride with him on the animal rides, and he could sit solo on the bench seating. When I didn’t ride with my son, I would sit on a stool near the operator’s booth and talk with the operator. Somehow she and the carousel both drew me in. It didn’t take long to realize that she was a Christian woman of faith. Soon my son and I were making regular visits to see her at the carousel after church. We would keep her company, and she would feed us spiritually and share her many testimonies. Oh, the testimonies she had! See, she was not always a saint. She had lived a wild life that included drugs, and been in a terrible accident before. There was family tension, and she had also endured the challenges of interracial marriage. She did not come to Christ until after she was a married adult. There was so much wisdom and experience in her. The mall seemed dead, but the carousel was very much alive! She was so kind to me and my son. She continued to pay for my son to ride the carousel when I didn’t have the money and would feed us both when we spent hours up there with her. She was so special to me. What I did not get at church, God would sometimes speak through her. Laughs were shared there. Tears of joy were shared there. Tears of pain were shed there. Prayers were agreed upon there. Belonging was felt there. Connection was established there. I cannot begin to explain the powerful interaction between a young woman and an older wise woman who has lived and can now impart wisdom! It meant so much to me. I was a country girl, in a big city, with my son, away from family, and now I had a sister in Christ, a friend, a mentor, an honorary grandma to my son and a Holy-Spirit-filled messenger of God. All the feelings I had experienced in the crowd were being washed away. I looked forward to Sunday- both morning and afternoon. The help I needed as well as the help I didn’t know I needed came. God has no limits. Take Him out of the box. #HEISEVERYWHERE. I was looking for God, and HE bridged a gap…at the carousel.

After Service

Before my first apartment, I was in a duplex. It was drafty- chilly in winter and warm in summer. There probably wasn’t much of any insulation in the walls or anywhere else. The floors were a charming reddish brown hardwood except in the one tiny restroom that was tiled and in the small kitchen where there was linoleum. The living room and the one bedroom both had a ceiling fan that somewhat circulated the air flow and the heat from the giant, ancient floor vents. (For anyone who knows the type of vents I’m talking about, you know it is nothing nice to forget about their location on your bare-foot journey to the restroom in the middle of the night! Ooch! Ow! Ow!)

The duplex had two doors that led outside- one off the kitchen and one off the living room. To get a really good idea of how old this place was, let me tell you, the windows worked on a pulley system! I’d never seen anything like it. The landlord was waiting on someone to rent the place, I guess, so she would have a reason and the money to modify the windows that had been painted with lead paint and get the floor heaters cleaned and one of them fixed. Yes, there were repairs that needed to be done. I took what I could get at the time. After all, I was moving in without a job, with a two year old and on good faith because of God’s grace and a distant relative calling in a favor from his best friend who happened to be my landlord- a story for another blog post. God is good!

The front yard was small but had a tree that reminded me of the one just like it that used to be in my grandma’s yard- fuzzy, pink blossoms and all! Fond memories…minus the ants. My landlord managed about 4 duplexes. She lived in one with her skittish, black and white, indoor/outdoor cat. I’m not sure what it’s name was, but it never gave me a chance. *hurt feelings* In the middle were my duplex (a short walk from my landlord) and another duplex that shared a driveway. This driveway led through a chained, locked gate to which we all had a key to and shared. We would park behind the duplexes. My living room door led to the front yard beside the driveway. It was nice for what it was. Living there provided my first opportunity to turn recycling into a lifestyle because there would be a truck separate from the garbage truck that would pick up our water bottles from the containers provided. Sweet deal. (By the way, I’ve upgraded to reusable, personal water containers. Yay, me! Yay, clean, healthy environment!)

I had moved to that particular city in maybe September or October of 2008. In November, I landed a part-time job on campus and joined a really big church whose building had been used previously as a business. (I’m TOO excited to tell you about my first experience at that church and how I ended up there! It’ll be in another blog post, so hold tight!) At this church, I had grown more spiritually in 2 months than I had in 20 years! It was such an exciting time. Things were not perfect there. You won’t find a perfect church because we are the church. However, I learned to be faithful- not because I should be but because I wanted to be, for God. Faithfulness had me showing up to church regardless of the weather. In fact, I remember driving to church in a storm with a black, plastic garbage bag duck taped to one of the windows because it wouldn’t let up. Maybe the window’s motor had gone out. Imagine driving on the Interstate in a storm with the rain beating and the wind rippling through a garbage bag over a window. It sounded like the car had helicopter blades. God’s grace kept us from going deaf! In all things, give thanks, right? Total, I was a member of this particular church from November 2008 until January 2015 when I moved away. There were so many great spiritual principles taught and learned there. One was, “Service (serving others) starts after (church) Service ends.”

Dear Reader, as you know, this blog site is branded Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE, so allow me to share with you how I found God after service. Maybe a year or two had passed at this point, but I was still struggling as head of household, single mom, college student and part-time employee, etcetera, etcetera but looked forward to Tuesday nights where we would have Bible Study! I just knew there would be a Word from the Lord for me concerning my circumstance. Our attendance was necessary. It was the light at the end of the tunnel that we looked forward to each week. It was the refreshing wind that was so sorely needed. Some weeks, it seemed the lessons did not apply to us or our particular situation. However, I had to keep going. I needed a Word, and the children’s class was a blessing! By all means, feed me the Word and give me a break! One Tuesday, I reeeaaallllyyyy wanted to go to church, but my gas tank looked sick. Rent was due, and the pressure was on. I just didn’t have enough money. There is no telling how long I juggled the decision of whether or not to go to church. My gas tank said, “I might let you get to work. I’ll think about it. Get back to me.” My faith said, “Stay consistent and faithful. Keep expecting God to work a miracle.” Knowing that there had to be a blessing in staying faithful, there was no way HE was going to leave me hanging. On a wing and a prayer, we went to Bible Study expecting a move of God. I looked for God in the parking lot entering the church. I looked for God in the church lobby before service started. I looked for God as we gathered and took our seats around the tables. I looked for God at neighboring tables. I looked for God during Bible Study and throughout the message. Constantly, I looked over my shoulder, listened for Him, kept talking to Him and asking Him to help. I really needed the rent money to keep a roof over our heads. Service ended. I made no quick moves. I waited. Lingered. Prayed. I stayed so long that I was nearly the last to leave the sanctuary. Finally, I figured that maybe I should just ask someone and receive. One of the other members, a really friendly lady whom I chatted with from time to time and was quite fond of, was spotted in the crowd. We chatted and I communicated a need. She did not have it to give. Still, I waited on God to move. I had no clue where the rent money was coming from. The church was almost empty, but still I lingered and prayed, taking slow steps, waiting on God to answer my prayers. HE wouldn’t leave me hanging. I knew HE wouldn’t…because I had faith and expected HIM to move…so HE had to show up. I continued my slow walk all the way to my car, expecting God. I drove my car really slow avoiding the exit because I was waiting for God. HE must have been moved by my faith and expectancy because my phone rang just when I was about to leave! It was the friend! She asked me where I was and asked me to turn around and come back! It was “Thank You God! Thank You God! Thank You Jesus!” the whole way. The friend had a friend who God spoke to and told to give me money. The lady went to the ATM and came back and gave me the exact amount for the rent. $395.00. At the time, I don’t even think the lady knew what my rent was. That was a miracle! I had never seen that lady before, and I don’t think I’ve seen her since. Her obedience to God blessed me. God works through the hearts and minds of HIS people. HE can do whatever HE wants to do! God uses people all the time to bless. We don’t know what kind of impact our obedience will have. Just be obedient. Stay faithful, and EXPECT great things, even MIRACLES! Because this wonderful, Holy Spirit-led woman of God chose to serve after service, my son and I were blessed. She could have easily been selfish and ignored our need, but she didn’t because of her willingness to obey God’s Voice. Take God out of the box. #HEISEVERYWHERE High and low, I was looking for God and found HIM after Service.

In the Garden

One of my favorite pastimes is gardening- both indoor and outdoor. It is so peaceful and relaxing. I enjoy having live plants around me, especially foliage. Plants have been around me my whole life, but it became personal about 5 or 6 years ago. My son and I were living in our first apartment, and I had gotten fed up of our not having our own house. There were so many things I wanted to do like paint the rooms different colors; decorate with all kinds of large paintings and wall sconces; have more space and privacy; have a sun room with lots of green, leafy air purifiers; have a screened-in porch where I could get fresh air while I sew, yet keep the bugs at bay. Our plans for what we would call home were a long delightful list, but unfortunately, we were still renting. We were upstairs and only had two windows that let a smidgen of sunlight in. Thankfully, these two windows were about 5 or 6 feet wide. One was in my bedroom. One was in my son’s bedroom. Determined to fight through dissatisfying apartment life (no washer or dryer connections, etcetera) while longing for something more, I spent 3-4 hours in my bed with my cell phone one Saturday Googling about plants that would survive low light and thrive in the average temperature of my dwelling. You know, make the best of things. So after my research, notes and planning, I felt empowered to start my first indoor garden. (I started my first outdoor garden when I was age 8, and it was butterfly central!) I went to the local hardware store and the more main stream home improvement store to see if there were any low light plants that would work for my home environment. Not to throw myself under the bus, but I kinda went krazy and ended up with 21 different plant containers of various kinds and plant types. Such fun! My son would make fun of me because I used to take my babies for a “walk” and have them outside to get some sun. During that time and for the next year, I studied and learned about lighting, fertilization and drainage and root ventilation.

Dear reader, as you know, this blog site is branded Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE, so allow me to share with you how I found God…in the garden. There was a shift in the spiritual atmosphere and all ties keeping me in the city I’d called home for the past 7 years were severed. I mean SEVERED! School, church, home and work. God was moving me for something GREATER, but that is a story for another blog post. *Wink*

Sadly, after I transitioned to a new city to temporarily live with a relative to get back on my feet, the environment was not fitting for my babies and they pretty much all died. *big sniff* I confess that the plants may have become my idols. I also confess that they were a poor excuse for a void-filler and could never take God’s place. The truth is I was battling depression at the time and in my mind, I needed something to do, something pretty and cheerful to keep me going, something low maintenance to take care of that didn’t stress me- plants were it. It worked but only for a little while. It was like…after one plant was settled in a container and looked pretty, I’d get bored and need another plant. That’s how I ended up with 21 potted plants and no more window sill space.

The move was necessary, but I did not expect what happened to my plants to happen. It was January 2015, frost was on the ground and the relative and I had much disagreement about space and I gave up and just put some of my stuff out, including my plants, and said forget it. Every…single…plant…died. I cried and cried and shut down, withdrew and became nonchalant. I didn’t argue about anything and didn’t disagree much. Everything was, “Okay,” “It doesn’t matter,” “If you want to.” I was not myself. For the months that followed, I would not go near a plant for sell. Every garden department of any super center or home improvement store was avoided like the plague, and if I saw a plant or came too close to one, my eyes would tear up. I was broken. My son tried to minister to me. He fed me all of the scripture and lessons I taught him. Poor thing. It must have been hard for him when the teaching tables were turned. I knew he was right, but I’d hit rock bottom. No car, no home of our own, no job and now no plants.

Five months later, I’d gotten back on my feet but no live plants were in our new apartment. I had put so much into my garden before and never wanted to be hurt like that again. This went on for some time. My son would try to encourage me to get back into gardening. From a place of pain I would respond that I couldn’t right now or that I wasn’t ready. Once God made me realize my sin, confess it, repent of it and had cleansed me from that unhealthy attachment to the plant idols, I was grateful. Never again would I repeat those poor choices.

With that new perspective, I handled my new plants differently. They weren’t my babies anymore. They didn’t have names. I no longer took the time to wipe each and every leaf on the plant with a damp microfiber cloth to make sure they looked their best. My goodness! Thank God that’s over, right?

In the last 4 years, I’ve taken pothos plants to new heights, literally! You should see my living room walls! Unfortunately, the outdoor plants that were in small containers were stolen. Ugh…thieves… The plants needed to be in the ground. I figured that if any thief wanted them bad enough and took the time to dig them up, then they can have them! We were in another apartment complex, yes, but God gave me favor with the apartment manager! With my newly granted written permission to start an in-ground garden below my window, I went to work last year in a tornado of graph paper, mechanical pencils, tape measures, straight rulers, calculators, color pencils, etcetera. So many trips were made to my favorite home improvement store that the workers would check in and ask me how my project was going. This garden would be the first in-ground garden I’d done in 22 years. This garden would deter plant thieves. This garden would prepare me for when God blessed me with home-owner status. This garden was special. Why? Because this garden was dedicated to God. Yes. What used to be my addiction had turned into my ministry! I went to God and asked Him to use my gardening skills to beautify the community and to minister. I asked Him to bless and anoint this garden so that anyone who laid eyes on it would be ministered to in whatever way they needed to be ministered to. Who knows how God works?! Maybe some wayward youth would lay eyes on it and be reminded of how his now-deceased grandmother used to garden and used to give him the Word of God and encourage him to always follow the right path. Then he would change. Maybe a struggling single mom would come home at the end of a long day, see it and be reminded of the beauty of God and how He still cares. Maybe a widower would see the blooms and think of his beloved wife, smile and think to himself that she would have loved these, and the fond memory would warm him and give him peace. Who can put limits on what God can do?! There are no limits for God. #HEISEVERYWHERE

God saw me in the state of my depression, saw my faulty attempt to fill the voids, allowed me to be broken so that HE could mend be back better than I was, and then HE blessed me so that I could bless others. …And HE did it all right there…in the garden.

In Progress…like all of us

Shelter from the Rain

Not so many years ago, maybe 5, times had gotten really tough. My car had broken down the year before, and the car that used to be my great-grandmother’s finally left me on the side of the road. Resilience and determination are my strengths. Taking all of the cash I had that week which was less than $200, I paid a neighbor to take me to a particular super center to buy a bicycle for transportation and bring me home. The bicycle was a big, beautiful candy apple red with dark eggnog-colored trim and tires. It had a chocolate-colored wire basket in the front, two-toned handlebar grips and an adjustable rack on the back. The brand was a Huffy Nel Lusso- a real beauty. It rode reeeeeeeaaaaaally smoooooth.

Thankfully, I’d strategically moved within a 7 minute drive of a grocery store, university, grade school, daycare, gas station (which I no longer needed), fast food restaurant and a fabric store that would later became my place of employment. My routine at the time was to take my son to school, finish getting ready for work, go to work, get off work, and pick him up from daycare on my way home (the daycare would pick him up from school). The rack on the back was a part of the bike frame and really not suited for passengers. My son would ride on the back and wrap his arms around my waist and hold on tight. (I was slender enough at the time which really helped the situation.) Soon the rack became uncomfortable for his bottom, so I had to get creative. We had to keep moving forward and upward no matter the circumstance. I observed the bike rack and devised a plan to create a custom seat to attach to it. Of course we still didn’t have much money, so I went on a scavenger hunt around our apartment to see what might be useful. There was wood and 1″ thick foam left over from a custom headboard and foot stool I’d made before my car went down. There was thick, royal purple upholstery fabric salvaged from some old throw pillows that didn’t match anything in my apartment. My tool box housed my staple gun and wood glue, and a local hardware store took care of the u-shaped brackets and short wood screws I needed as well as the strip of foam that had adhesive on one side. After an hour maybe, I’d upholstered the wood and attached the seat. The foam served as cushion so that the brackets would not scratch the paint. It was nice. My son thought it was cool, and I had him try it out. He approved and so we kept on rolling, literally.

God favored us with nice weather for some time. Even getting to work seemed easier and more enjoyable. Dogs were kept at bay. Crosswalk lights assisted us with busy intersections. It was pleasant, and we were truly making the best out of our situation though some people laughed at us. Gee…I wonder what they would have done in our situation.

Dear reader, as you know, this blog site is branded Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE. Let me share with you how I found God on a sidewalk on my way home. One day, the weather turned, and it was up in the air as to whether we would beat the rain home. Right after I’d picked my son up in our 2-wheeled Cadillac, it started to sprinkle. As you can imagine, our journey was sprinkled with prayers. My concern was not only that we would get soaked and uncomfortable but also that the rain would make the sidewalks we road on and the bike pedals slippery. The last thing we needed was to slip and fall into traffic. With much caution and continuous prayer, we road on. We were almost home! HALLELUJAH! Then the sprinkling got heavier and the clouds thickened and darkened. Thunder rumbled a little ways away. Yes, in the back of my mind, getting struck by lightening was a concern. It didn’t look like we were going to make it. On the outside, I stayed calm for my son. On the inside, I kept telling myself to keep the faith in the face of fear. Faith was important. Fear could not win. The pastor of the church we belonged to at the time taught us that it is faith that moves God- not tears and emotion.

Then the Holy Spirit dropped a scripture in my spirit that gave me an idea. HE reminded me of how in the Book of Joshua chapter 10 versus 12-14 NIV, Joshua spoke to the sun and moon and told them to stand still until their victory was won. I knew that my faith had to be some kind of big to even think this would work, but there was no time to doubt. We could not afford doubt. Matthew 18:20 NIV says, “For where two or three gather together in my name, there am I with them.” I believed this, so to prepare for what I was about to ask God, I called out over my shoulder to my son. “Do you remember how in the Bible a man prayed to God to stop the sun so that he would be victorious in battle?” (That isn’t the exact wording of the scripture, but I remembered just enough at the time I needed it.) “Yes ma’am,” he yelled back over the passing wind. “Do you believe that if I ask God to hold back the rain until we make it home safely, HE’ll do it?” “Yes, ma’am,” he yelled back once more. I smiled. That was all I needed. With all the faith I could muster, coupled with the agreement with my 3rd grader, I petitioned God’s throne to hold back the rain until we made it home safely. Of course HE heard me the first time and knew what we needed before we asked, but still I prayed 3 times. The droplets reduced in size and slowed to a stop. More seconds separated the thunder. Answering the knock of opportunity, we speedily but carefully made it home. When we reached the bottom of the stairs, I had my son hop off the bike and go upstairs. I quickly followed behind with the bike on my shoulder. The moment my foot hit the top step, buckets of rain poured from the sky like the neighborhood would flood! Our eyes were wide in amazement at how much water could fall from the sky. Turning to my son with excitement, “Didn’t God do it?! HE answered our prayers!” We cheered and celebrated and just beheld the AWESOME power of God! Then in my mama voice, I told him to always remember the day that we witnessed this miracle. Always remember how God stopped the rain for us so we could make it home safely. To this day, he remembers. We both remember…how God was shelter in the rain. Be encouraged dear reader and just know that if you are Looking for God, #HEISEVERYWHERE

After much wear and tear, she’s still standing. Huffy Nel Lusso

Brocade

Years ago, I was struggling in my finances, struggling to stay in college, and looking for ways to earn money, you know, a side hustle. Being between jobs and being responsible for another life had its challenges. It was October 2009, and I’d remembered a pastor reminding me that my gifts would make room for me and place me in the presence of important people. Using the scripture as my springboard, what followed next were late nights and pre-sunrise brainstorming sessions. The search was on! What could that one gift be? Sure, I had many talents, but what was I so gifted in, so experienced in, such a natural at that people would pay me?? I figured it would have to be something that was introduced to me as a child. The sooner I’d been exposed to a skill the better! Music had been my life for probably half of my life, but I was so out of practice… and I knew what it would take to get me back on point. That kind of time wasn’t a luxury. Plus, the late-night performance opportunities weren’t suited for my particular lifestyle. I needed to be home.

Then I remembered sewing. Hmm… Sewing and I hadn’t done the tango in some time, a little bit of hand sewing custom doll clothes with my mom when I was age 8, and an attempt at an unfinished quilt top on my first sewing machine at age 18. That experience wasn’t really enough to make money. Also, as much as I needed more money, the servant in me believed that my efforts and business would not be as blessed if I didn’t make this about more than just me. I couldn’t be selfish. After a month of praying, researching and modified fasting, I believed I had God’s approval to pursue a business in sewing custom clothing for women.

The idea stemmed from my own painful shopping experiences. This is the part where my story gets emotional. Have you ever gone to clothing store after clothing store after clothing store after clothing store (add in as many as you need to) only to find that nothing fit right or looked right? Pants don’t have your back. Thighs give pants the hand. Ankles play hula hoop, or heels tuck themselves in all warm and cozy. Hips put up a wall of resistance or need a rescue team because they went missing. Rolls pose for mental pictures. Cleavage (if this applies to you) feels extroverted. Armpits choke to death, or shoulder seams look like they’re on muscle relaxers. Bra cups (if this applies to you) play peek-a-boo behind swinging arms. Swimsuit bottoms hold the lap at knife point. The list goes on and on, and my tears have witnessed these true life experiences. Back then, still growing, I allowed myself to entertain low-self esteem. I truly felt that the fashion industry didn’t care about girls like me. It hurt. I still mattered. Not everyone looks like the traditional model, and frankly, I don’t think I want to. No offense. This emotionally debilitating shopping experience happened one too many times. A righteous anger took over me, and it became the FIRE behind Ebony Elice Fashion “Because IT Should Fit YOU!” That business is still building and improving and has seen satisfying success for the most part, by the way.

So there I was in now November 2009, armed with God’s blessing, a mission, a business name, a slogan and a plan to gain the skills and resources I needed to accomplish what morphed from an idea of how to earn money into a passion and ministry!

Fast forward to 2012, I was working in a fabric store earning minimum wage. Even though the feeling of being overworked, underpaid, over-qualified and under-appreciated nagged at me, the journey still seemed on course. Fashion Merchandising and Home Furnishings Merchadising were my concentrations. I’d obtained the first sewing machine that I’d ever bought. (The one that was gifted to me when I was age 18 broke down and went M.I.A..) Plus, I was in fabric heaven! Every day I worked was an opportunity to touch and feel beautiful fabrics from 100% cotton prints to more expensive bridal lace and brocade. This is where my story really gets interesting. *wink*

Dear reader, as you know, the branding of my blog site is Looking for God #HEISEVERYWHERE. Let me share with you how I found God in a fabric store. Being a dreamer and a doer, it was nothing for me to walk the store when traffic slowed down and feel and note all of the fabrics I would buy when I had the money and what type of garment I would make out of it. Heaven! The $6.99+/yard fabric always gave me pause because of my low income at the time. It would take at least 3 yards to make almost anything I wanted to make, so there was much to consider. Waiting long enough for prices to drop while not waiting too long that the fabric was bought by somebody else was a true art that I had to learn. Sometimes it was hit or miss. Timing was a factor. Plus, what could one do about the ones who had the money regardless of the retail price? Oh, well… Wasn’t meant to be, right? We weren’t allowed to really hide anything for sale that we wanted to buy as an employee. Plus, it might have been months before I could save for a decent amount of nice special occasion fabric!

There is a particular work day I will always remember. I’d had my eye on a gorgeous bolt of robin’s egg blue brocade with different pastel-colored blooms scattered over it. Talk about heart eyes emoji! Checking its availability daily and praying for it quickly became a habit. The yardages slowly decreased, and the praying and watching increased. Then the test came. There was only so much fabric left on the bolt, and I still could not financially afford it. A lady walked in the store and brought my brocade to the cutting table where I was stationed and assigned to cut fabric… Let that marinate for a moment.

I believe that prior to her bringing that piece, I’d been helping her locate other choices, answering her questions and chatting with her. She seemed nice. I couldn’t go too far from the cutting table and especially not for long, so I went back to my post to wait for her to make her final selections. When I saw that bolt, my baby, at the cutting table, it seemed like everything went into slow motion. Voices were distant and drowned out, the blinking of eyelids seemed like windshield wipers on the lowest setting, the gulping sound in my throat filled my head and ears, and my heartbeat sounded like a loose bass drum. To say that my life flashed before my eyes would be too dramatic and untrue. At the same time I was seriously freaking out inside! Don’t ask me why this particular piece of fabric was so important to me, but it was. It was like my heart was tied to it. How humbling it was for me to have to measure and cut this fabric I so desired but couldn’t afford! I’m sure my demeanor changed when I had to cut the fabric, but the lady had been so nice to me and we’d chatted previously, so naturally she wanted to continue that as I cut her fabric. My face ratted on me and sang like a canary. I could sense that the customer noticed a change in me. Here I was about to cut and hand over my baby. In this moment, I had a choice to make- either remain professional and take the blow like a woman or let my customer service suffer. Silence and short responses weren’t going to cut it. Plus, my facial expression betrayed me, so I was forced to be absolutely transparent with the lady and tell her the truth. She found out about my passion, my dreams, my college major and concentrations, my faith, my love for that fabric and my hope to own enough of it to create a garment masterpiece one day. She was so compassionate, understanding and also shared my faith. With consideration for me, she decreased her original yardage request. I felt kind of bad because as an employee, I didn’t want anything I said to come between a shopper and an item for sale. Prayers flooded my mind pleading for strength, grace, mercy and favor- anything to keep me together. Finally, her fabric was cut and there was maybe less than 4 yards left on the bolt. There would not be as much as I wanted left. I just knew that the remainder of that bolt was as good as gone. We weren’t going to be getting anymore of that in. The fabric would not make it to see another price drop. My finances hadn’t improved.

What happened next was worse. The luck of the draw had me picked out as the one to ring up the customer who had my fabric! At this point, I looked upward and mouthed, “Why, God?” My palms started sweating though I don’t sweat easily. The customer kept encouraging me, our apologies ping-ponging back and forth across the table and counter to each other. Finally, the transaction was complete. My feet must have forgotten their purpose because I couldn’t move. I just stood there watching the brocade through its clear bag waltz right out the door. My eyes met with my co-worker’s. They all knew how much that fabric meant to me and had watched the whole ordeal go down. My heart and mind tried to make sense of what just happened. I was grieving, literally.

Just when it seemed all hope was gone, the lady unexpectedly came back in the store seemingly with purpose. She was looking for me. I thought to myself, “What now? Coming back to finish me off?” (I know. I’m a comedienne, maybe even a dramatic one.) She patiently waited until I finished with another customer. Then I joined her on the other side of the counter. What she had to say blew my mind! She expressed that she wanted to buy the fabric for me, but I politely declined. She was adamant and shared with me how God had stopped her before she got to her car and told her to turn around and go buy that brocade for me. (My eyes are teary just writing this.) I was taken aback. Cheerfully smiling, she kept reassuring me. I raced to the back of the store to ask my store manager if it was okay and let her know that it was of the customer’s own free will which aligned with policy. Approval was given, but I believe my manager had to cut employee fabric. The customer asked me how much I needed. 3 yards would have allowed me to do something with the brocade. Again, there was less than 4. She bought the remainder of the bolt for me and maybe even got an end-of-bolt discount. I cried. She too was emotional. We talked about God’s love, care and faithfulness, and she left. Standing there, squeezing my bagged gift to my chest, I cried and thanked God. I was a sobbing mess! “Who am I, God, that You would bless me with a want and not just a need?!” I felt God’s love that day. Putting things in perspective, it was just fabric. God didn’t have to do that for me. I wanted it so badly, but it wasn’t a life or death situation. I’m sure there were more pressing prayers that needed God’s attention- like healing diseases and snatching people back from their death beds and rescuing crash victims who were all alone on the road. God is EVERYWHERE, and though HE was at all of those named and unnamed situations, HE also stopped by a fabric store. Who can fathom the mind of God?! That day, I learned that God cares about the small and the big. Why? Because HE cares about us. Look for God. #HEISEVERYWHERE

My Brocade