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.