Unbowed

As time does, today finds us acknowledging that time has swiftly passed.

It seems as though it was just summer…just autumn…just Christmas. And now, we’re embarking on a brand new year.

For a lot of folks, the New Year is filled with the hope of what’s to come. There’s so much possibility in the coming days, weeks and months. I’m excited, too.

But what I feel in addition to excitement is a renewed confidence. A belief that no matter what comes or what the future holds, God brought me this far. I know He won’t leave me.

Much like the line from “Invictus,” we’ve made it “bloodied but unbowed.”

Last year was hard for so many. Folks lost loved ones and jobs. They fought physical, spiritual and mental illnesses. They sacrificed, nearly succumbing to hell all around them.

So while many are facing this new year with excitement and optimism, there are a great many still who are simply relieved. Those who are glad to be done with a year that tested and tried us — our patience, our faith, our fortitude.

We were bent to near breaking last year. We often felt as though we cried more than we smiled. Worried more than we hoped. Fought more than we simply lived.

We struggled and scratched and clawed through layoffs and loss, debt and depression, sadness and sacrifice. We prayed and pursued. We protested and proclaimed. We worked and waited.

Many of us made it to 2015 only by the grace of God. And we’re relieved just to have made it.

If this is you. If all you feel about 2015 so far is relief that 2014 is over, know this: you made it.

The storms that the enemy thought would take you out only made you stronger. The traps the devil meant to harm you only catapulted you forward with more focus and greater determination. What would have literally caused someone else to lose their mind motivated you to keep going, to not give up.

And you’re here, standing at the dawn of a new year. Bloodied, but unbowed. Bent, but unbroken. A little weary, but still a battle-ready warrior.

To you I say own your stripes. There’s a courage, a confidence, and a determination that comes with overcoming. Yours is a testimony no one else can give because they haven’t walked in your shoes, haven’t fought the battles you’ve won.

To you I say stand tall and proud. Because while others were too busy wishing away their todays hoping for tomorrows, you lived and breathed every moment — the good, the bad and the unbearable.

To you I say don’t shrink back. Don’t be so overcome with relief that you forget the strength, the faith, and the resilience your trials earned you. Yes, you may be bloodied, but you remain unbowed.

To you I say this is a new day. A day ordained for your victory; predestined for your triumph.

This day. This week. This year is a year of restoration for you.

God saw every test, every trial, and every tear. He heard every prayer and every plea. And for you He has worked in the background to bless you in the open.

Time will not slow down. It won’t ease because we’re tired or overwhelmed or overcome. But it is the knowledge of what we’ve already been through – and beat! – that spurs us on in our weakest moments.

My prayer for you is that even as you make resolutions, that you’ll also make it a point to count your blessings and your wins. In all of your forward thinking, look back long enough to claim your hard-earned strength and faith and fight.

Own your stripes, your bruises. And honor the important parts of the “old” you in this new year.

Bloodied, but unbowed. Bruised, but unbroken. And blessed in spite of it all.

*A version of this post appeared on The Huffington Post yesterday.  You can check it out here.

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Huffington Post Blog: On Bedside Baptist

I can’t remember how many times I’ve learned – and relearned! – the lesson about the pitfalls of busyness. (Check out one of those times here.)

But a few days ago I found myself in that space again: suddenly realizing the toll overcommitting was having; this time not just on me, but my family as well.

Head on over to the Huffington Post to check out my latest post on my membership-in-good-standing at Bedside Baptist and, most importantly, the liberty I found there.

Huffington Post Blog: On Being Radical

I’m pretty sure my latest piece for the HuffPost is going to piss some folks off. I’m almost certain of that.

But, it had to be done.

I get so tired of Christians crying victim, living and walking a “woe is me,” “I’m just getting by lifestyle.” The reality is that God has more for us, gave us the power to get more, and wants us to expect more. Period.

The simple truth is: believing and asking God for small things isn’t noble or humble. That doesn’t honor the God who created everything. So do you really want to insult Him in the name of humility?

So, check out my latest post, “On Being Radical,” and share your thoughts with me. (And while you’re there, read all of my HuffPost pieces here).

You can also take a look below.

Huffington Post: On Being Radical

Timidity doesn’t honor God.

There, I said it.

I’ve given a lot of thought to how often followers of Christ find themselves – or more accurately, place themselves – in the role of victim.

Text messages change our moods. What someone said about us ruins our day. We pray fervently the same prayers, pleading with God to bless us in some area of our lives. Or, we allow ourselves only the most modest of dreams in a misguided attempt to be humble.

Yes, the Bible talks frequently of the blessings of humility. And Jesus Himself extols the virtue as one of the most desired traits of those seeking to live like Him. But nowhere have I seen a verse that says, “Think small, dream small and pray small. These things make God happy.”

In fact, I would venture to say that the opposite is accurate: big, bold prayers and dreams honor God.

On the basest of levels, followers of Christ, those seeking to model their lives after His example, must admit that our Savior was radical.

He flipped tables. He preached and healed on “forbidden” days. He hung out with the outcasts. I mean, come on: Jesus was our first maverick.

Yet somehow, centuries later, many of us have accepted a role of inferiority. We’ve come to accept mediocrity and “just getting by” as the life we should lead, and happily.

I disagree.

The Bible clearly states that the riches of the wicked are stored up for the righteous. In Psalms 35:27, we’re told that the Lord delights in blessing His children. And Mark 11:24 explicitly says that if the children of God pray, believing that they have received, God is faithful to do anything they ask in Jesus’ name.

Where in those scriptures does it say “accept whatever the world gives you”? To the contrary, we’re encouraged to command our day in Job 38:12, and we’re told that have authority over all the power that the enemy possesses in Luke 10:19.

Time after time, God reiterates through scripture His desire for his children to be bold, to have divine confidence, and to walk open to and expecting abundance in every area of our lives.

So, it’s far time those of us who aspire to be like Christ accept this simple fact: to be radical is to be like Christ.

Yes, be humble. Seek God’s will for your life, and walk that path with love and temperance. But don’t make yourself, your dreams or your abilities smaller than they are to make others comfortable; out of fear; or because you think that pleases God.

God knew what you’d be capable of when He made you. He knows your personality and the dreams He’s placed in you. He formed you with the express intent of fulfilling the purpose and dreams He placed in you.

So do it. Do you.

Be confident in your uniqueness. Embrace the big dreams God’s given you, and the great ministry He’s placed in you.

Accept that you’re different (Heck, we all are. We were made that way: to stand out, to be a remnant). Love you for you, and then live your God-given life out loud.

It’s what God wants. It’s honoring God by being and doing and dreaming all that He wants you to, the way He wants you to.

Last year for the Lenten season, I read “Draw The Circle,” a prayer challenge authored by Pastor Mark Batterson. I still remember the entry for day 31, “What Do You Want Me to Do For You?,” which talked all about praying and believing God for big, explicit prayers as an act of honoring how great and powerful He truly is.

That very day I decided I would seek God and write down (just like they tell us in Habakkuk) all of the visions He’d given me. And man, they were bigger than anything I’d allow myself to think of.

Almost a year later, I remain determined and passionate about living each day as radically as my Savior did: confident in who I am and what I’m gifted and called to do. It has given me a peace beyond my understanding and freedom previously unattainable.

The season of mundane Christian life is over. Be bold and be radical in whatever God’s called you to do. Evangelize with passion. Work with divine confidence. And live with Christ-like love and humility. Expect good things in your life daily, and decide right now that yesterday was the last day you’d take whatever this life gives to you.

You are an heir to the King. Walk in that power. It pleases God for you to do so.

My Balanced Plate Post: Quitters Win?!

I am so honored to be a part of the great things going on over at My Balanced Plate, a blog curated by my long-time friend, Esther.

My Balanced Plate is for those of us who are trying to figure out life in general: Who we are now, and who we want to be when we “grow up”! We’re working on putting ourselves first by learning to balance our mental and physical health, our careers, our finances, our homes, our social lives, and more. We’re trying new things, and most importantly, we’re moving beyond the fads and into a life that’s full and fulfilling in a healthy way.

Starting this year, I’ve joined as a guest faith contributor and I’m excited to share my inaugural post with you, “Quitters Never Win!

If you’ve been believing God for a breakthrough personally that you just can’t seem to reach, maybe quitting is the key to your success!

You can head on over to My Balanced Plate to read my post, check out the site and subscribe for updates on everything from good food, great fashion and other fun topics!

…or, you can of course, read the entire post below.

Thanks as always for your support.  As I’m sure every pastor who preached on NYE told you, let’s move FORWARD IN 2014!

My Balanced Plate: Quitters Never Win!

I may be the only person you will meet who will say these words to you: be a quitter.

Really. It’s ok.

Just quit.

We’re a few days into 2014 now and I am giving you permission to quit your New Year’s resolutions. (And if you never made any, kudos to you.)

In fact, can we all just commit now to NOT making New Year’s resolutions ever again?

Let’s forego the latest lose weight fast fad. Pass by the “30 seconds to a new/better/slimmer/different you” section at Barnes & Noble. And say “thanks, but no thanks” to yet another “great deal” on a gym membership.

Let’s decide right now that for 2014 we will not look to outside sources for fulfillment, satisfaction, self-validation or self-improvement.

Instead, I propose that we all do this one thing as the New Year picks up steam: let’s accept ourselves just the way we are. Our stories. Our mistakes. Our curves. All of it — the good, the bad and the unbelievable.

No, this isn’t some reverse psychology initiative to get you to look at what lies ahead and forget about all the hell you’ve been through. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

I’m challenging you to love every test, trial and challenge you’ve come through.

Every level of hell, torment and obstacle that you overcame last year.

Every heartbreak, let down and failure.

Every tragedy of your past.

Every lie told about you and story told on you.

Decide today to accept your story because if it weren’t for the hell in your life, you wouldn’t be who you are right now. And you wouldn’t be capable of accomplishing all that you’re going to this year.

Our downfall is that we focus too much on getting through, getting over, and get past stuff. We just want it to be over.

But, in burying the lessons of our lives we miss out on critical opportunities to grow stronger, better, faster, and smarter.

We actually take longer to be our best selves when we choose to deny parts of who we are.

I know it hasn’t always been roses for you. I know we’ve each had our fair share of trying times. I have personally had more overdrawn bank accounts, underappreciated efforts, gained pounds, and yet un-realized dreams than I’d like to count.

But if we take the bold step to shift our perspective, to say, “I’m better because of what I’ve overcome,” then we may actually be able to change our loves.

The reality is that what you’ve been through would have taken someone else out. Someone else would have lost their minds – literally – but by God you’re still here…and making it look easy.

See, just by changing how we look at our pasts can catapult us from being victims to victors. Only then are we free to love all of ourselves and welcome the love and blessing of others.

Your testimony is far more than a tale of triumph. It’s your key to your next season and is critical to the growth of those around you who have to know that they too can make it, will make it too.

So save your dollars. Don’t go borrowing against your tax refund to finance this year’s “get fabulous”-quick gimmick.

All you’ve got to do is decide that you’re fabulous because of everything you’ve overcome and who you are right now, not in spite of it.

When you stop hiding from your past, other folks lose the power to hold it over you, and you are free to walk boldly and unencumbered into 2014.

You are one of the strongest beings on the face of the planet. There’s nothing you have to do to earn that title, nothing you have to prove; you just are.

So this year I pledge to myself to accept myself, my entire story, and I am committed to encouraging, equipping and amplifying your voice as you do the same with yours.

Ditch your New Year’s resolutions. Resolve to be you, fully, fiercely and without fear.

Safiya Jafari Simmons is a wife and mother of three in Washington, D.C. Her 9-to-5 is Partner at Values Partnerships Inc., a consulting firm, but she curates a blog of Christian encouragement and guest writes for The Huffington Post on the side.

 

Huffington Post Blog: On Keeping the Faith

Recently I was asked to pen a guest blog post for another Saved Mama, Wife and Blogger that might inspire others.  After writing that post (details coming soon!), I thought long and hard about what would most inspire people whose lives look like mine, or who aspire to have a family and career.

When I really boiled it down, the greatest truth I discovered was that often walking out my faith is less about insurance on my eternal home and more about just keeping me sane today, right now.

So, I’d be honored if you’d check out my latest Huffington Post blog on just that: the sanity that comes with being saved.  While you’re there, check out my two other HuffPost Pieces, “On Millennials and Faith” and “On Not Ruining Christmas.”

I’d welcome your feedback, and greatly appreciate your likes, shares and Tweets.

Be blessed and keep keepin’ on!

On Keeping the Faith

I’m not sure if it was between my first and second child, or my second and third, that I literally thanked God for Jesus.

Sure, I’d heard church mothers say it before, but somewhere along my journey of parenthood I realized that without faith I’d most certainly lose my mind.

Before our first child arrived, my husband and I sat down at our kitchen table with pen and paper to plan our family.

We would have four children (because I like even numbers).

We wouldn’t speak to our children in “baby talk.” Instead, we’d speak to them like little people. Accordingly, we’d also empower them to disagree with us — respectfully! — and express that disagreement in the spirit of raising confident little people.

We wouldn’t teach about Santa Claus, choosing instead to teach only the story of Christ’s birth as the reason for the season.

And, before we broke our huddle, we agreed that we’d have our children back-to-back, because only then, we deduced (with all of the wisdom that two 24-year-olds could muster), would we have any shot at having a life together after the kids were out of the house.

And that was that.

But, when our first child was delivered by emergency C-section, my husband and I quickly realized the true meaning behind that trite saying, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.”

Despite all of our best-laid plans, my husband and I have come to the realization that the only way we are still “clothed and in our right minds” is because of our faith.

It’s faith that keeps us from releasing blood-curdling screams when our son trips down the stairs or falls off the bed.

It’s faith that opened my tightly clasped hands the first time we saw our little ones off to preschool.

And it’s faith that helps me hold my peace during the never-ending chorus of “MaMa” that has become white noise in our home.

Truly, if it weren’t for my belief in a higher purpose, I’d question who thought it a good idea to allow me to parent at all.

After all, we are our worst critics. For every mistake, bad choice and misstep I’ve made in my life, I nary think I’m worthy of the air I’m breathing. But God…

I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I’ve said things I’m not proud of. I’ve gone all-in on bad bets and taken risks I should have avoided. But God.

Even now, I raise my voice at my children more than I’d like. I’m not always patient. Sometimes I wish I could close my bathroom door without seeing little fingers wiggle beneath its jamb. And there have been times when the most I could find the energy to offer my family for dinner is microwaveable pancakes or oatmeal.

But God.

Or, is it because of God?

Because of God I know that all things work together for my good. Because of God I know that there is no weapon (nor tantrum, fussy baby or explosive diaper) formed against me that will prosper. And, most importantly, because of God I know that His grace is sufficient to get me through any and everything I will face daily.

Parenting is tough. Being married is tough. Running a household — whether solo or with a partner — is hard work. But I believe that I was created to do exactly what I’m doing right now. And so were you.

There is no one alive who could love your partner the way you do; care for your kids the way you do; kick butt in the office the way you do; or walk in your shoes. Period.

The same God that blessed you and I with the spouse, the kids, the home and the careers knows what it takes to keep everyone of those balls in the air. He knows our limits and He knows our every shortcoming.

And in spite of all of this, He keeps blessing us, pouring out His favor and grace and mercy on us every day.

This is why we keep at it. This is why we don’t throw in the towel. Because at the end of the day, we know in our hearts that we were built for this. We know that God made us specifically to overcome every obstacle that comes our way.

And He made us to win.

It’s not going to be easy. It almost never is. But, just in case no one has told you today, you are a freakin’ rock star. You are kickin’ butts and taking names as a parent, a professional, a friend, a servant and in whatever else you’re doing.

And thanks to God, you’re doing it all and making it look like a piece of cake.

So, parents-, spouses- and professionals-in-arms, hold on to your faith. If nothing else, it’s keeping you sane, keeping you motivated, and helping you keep it moving.

Huffington Post Blog: On Not ‘Ruining Christmas’

Yesterday, I was pleased to know that The Huffington Post published my article.

The piece, “On Not ‘Ruining Christmas’,” talks about recent conversations I’ve had about my husband and my decision to not teach the Santa Claus myth in our home. We’ve chosen instead to focus on the reason for the season – celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Well, as you might imagine, the dialogues grew quite heated, with some parents going as far as urging me not to “ruin” Christmas for those who believe.

You can read the piece on The Huffington Post (along with my other post on Millennials and faith) or below. I welcome your thoughts and feedback!

Thank you!

On Not ‘Ruining Christmas

My daughters came home a few weeks ago and asked the question my husband and I knew was coming but never wanted to hear.

“Is Santa Claus real, Mommy?”

I’ll admit that the first time my five-year-old popped the question last month, I panicked and deflected, “Oh, why do you ask, baby?”

“My friend at school said he is.”

Moments later I spat out, “Ooh, listen! Our favorite song is on the radio.”

The reprieve was short-lived. A few (short!) weeks later my younger daughter, three-years-old and every bit of a precocious middle child, blurted out on our way home from school one day, “Mommy, Santa isn’t real.”

I’d like to say that this time I was ready, that I had a well-thought-out response. The truth was very different.

Although my parents allowed my three siblings and me to believe in Santa Claus, my husband and I decided before we had children that we would not support the Santa story in our home.

Instead, we decided that we’d teach our little ones the truth of our faith: Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, God’s son and the best gift any of us could and have ever received.

We decided that we’d tell them that in the spirit of celebrating God’s gift to us, God blesses us to buy gifts for those we care for in a symbolic expression of love.

We opted not to tell our children that Santa was not real… we just focused on what was more important to us — the story of Jesus’ birth and why it remains such an important gift.

But, as beads of sweat peppered my brow in the silence that followed my daughters’ statements, was that all of the planning in the world quickly falls by the wayside when tested by the persistent, inquisitive questioning of children.

In the days that followed, I took to Facebook to poll my mommy friends, motivated by one fear-inducing thought. I don’t want my kids to be those kids.

As you might imagine, the feedback I got on Facebook was mixed. There were many parents in my boat — “We aren’t promoting the ‘man down the chimney’ myth either,” one father responded.

But I also got a number of “passionate,” (read: angry and snarky) responses from other parents instructing me to “fix it” so that my kid didn’t “ruin Christmas for everyone.”

I was struck by that term, “ruin Christmas.”

How could I “ruin” a holiday established to celebrate the birth of Jesus by teaching my children that — gasp — the purpose of the holiday is to celebrate Jesus?

Sure, I understood what they meant, but I simultaneously felt bullied in a way I hadn’t expected. I somehow had to go along with this myth to protect the practices and beliefs of other families while de-prioritizing the beliefs my husband and I were endeavoring to instill in our own.

How is that fair?

The answer is that it isn’t. People of faith the world over are daily grappling with how to both walk boldly in the divine confidence of who our Creator has purposed us to be and to not make others uncomfortable. It is a tightrope one never quite masters but never quite quits either.

So while my husband and I stuck to our script, we added there are also families that celebrate the spirit of Saint Nicholas, a man who lived many years ago and gave gifts to orphans during this same time of year.

And we closed by saying that, ultimately, we are all believing the same thing: it is a much greater blessing to give and love on others than it is to receive.

My husband and I realize that “Santa” is inescapable (He knows when we are sleeping for goodness sake!). But we are undeterred, perhaps like Joseph who walked countless miles looking for a room for his pregnant wife to stay in and birth the Savior of all people.

We’ll keep affirming our family truth fully expecting that our perseverance will birth great faith and a different — yet equally beautiful — type of wonderment in our children.

Just like the birth of baby Jesus has continued to do for generations.

We’ve chosen to stay on our tight rope and, we respect everyone else who walks the other.

In doing so we, I suppose, are giving a gift of understanding in a season where an appreciation for our fellow man is all that really matters.

Huffington Post Blog: On Millennials and Faith

I had the great honor of being published on The Huffington Post last week.

Speaking to the prevailing rhetoric that the Millennial generation is less religious than previous ones, I offered a different view to what my generation may be looking for in religion.

Take a read.  Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/safiya-jafari-simmons/on-millennials-and-faith_b_4193964.html