Saturday, June 24, 2017

Concert Recap: Upper Room COGIC's #WU2L

Last weekend, I visited Upper Room COGIC in Raleigh, NC for their Wake Up 2 Life concert featuring Todd Dulaney, Kierra Sheard, and Zacardi Cortez. It was more than just a concert, it was the perfect praise smorgasbord, with some of everything: a little old-timey church from Zacardi, some sanctified swag from Kierra, topped off with an eclectic mix of acoustics, reggae, and contemporary worship from Todd.

Event flyer / Upper Room COGIC's Facebook page

In my concert reviews, I always mention how the "appetizer(s)" have to be en pointe in order to set the proper atmosphere for worship to flow. The appetizers this time left me so full, I almost didn't have room for the entrées — almost. The first few openers were local and semi-local artists from Durham and Charlotte, but they lit a fire under the audience and kept us on our feet, singing covers of songs like Micah Stampley's upbeat call-and-response hit, "Be Lifted" and a few others, setting the tone for a spirit-filled night. Just when I thought the appetizer round was over, Upper Room served up a pleasant surprise, their own Senior Pastor, Bishop Patrick L. Wooden, Sr. The man can SING. It's not uncommon for most pastors to at least be able to carry a tune, but Bishop Wooden is the real deal. He sang a few songs, including one or two that he wrote, and his incredible range — from clear falsetto to smokey baritone — kept first-time listeners like me interested.

Bishop Patrick L. Wooden, Sr. / Upper Room's website

Now, onto the three entrées — yes, plural. They were all so wonderful, I couldn't choose a favorite. First up was Zacardi Cortez. I'll admit, I was most excited to see him because I've been following his career for a number of years now. His voice on CD is out of this world, but hearing it live is a WHOLE different ball game. The Texas native started out joking with us about wearing boots under his church suit, but when he closed his eyes and belted that first note, "Let Your power fall..." everyone stood up and every hand lifted as the power of God literally fell over the entire congregation. By the first ridiculous (in a good way) run ("Prooo-ooooove the dooooubters wrooo-ooong!"), I was through, screaming "YES!" at the top of my lungs and swatting at him, all while trying to record. (I'm uploading the videos now. Let me apologize to my headphone users in advance 😂). I almost couldn't pull it together during his rendition of "The Blood," but I had to regain my composure for my absolute favorite, "1 on 1," from his 2014 album, Reloaded. Needless to say, "Cardi" definitely didn't disappoint.

Reloaded (Deluxe Edition) album art / Amazon

Next up to the mic was Kierra Sheard. Can we talk about how "Kiki" and I are friends in my head? No, but seriously, she's so cool: always fashion-forward, body-positive (as a plus-size girl myself, I appreciate how she embraces her "thick"), and she's constantly dropping godly wisdom on her Instagram and her blog. And homegirl can BLOW. Her set catered to the younger crowd, and she invited tweens, teens, and young adults closer to the stage to rock with her — literally. After she apologized to the pastor for wearing pants (lol), we bopped through almost all the songs she performed, starting with "God in Me," the hip-hop-inspired feature she recorded with gospel duo Mary Mary, and ending with her latest crowd favorite, the uber-catchy "Hang On" with GEI. She even invited a young girl onstage to sing with her during "Hang On." To the audience's delight, the starlet-in-training, a member of Upper Room's youth choir, held her own and nearly matched Kiki run for run. Between the upbeat tracks, Kierra paused for a few classics like "I Love You (Lord Today)" and "In the Name of Jesus."

Graceland (2014) album art / Amazon

Last but certainly not least was Todd Dulaney. Before this concert, I didn't know too much about him, but I'm familiar with his 2013 single "Pulling Me Through" from the album of the same name. Also, I absolutely LOVE his current radio singles "The Anthem" and "Victory Belongs To Jesus." They are the reasons I purchased his latest album, A Worshipper's Heart, which released in 2016. After seeing him live, I'm definitely sold. Todd's "Worshipper's Heart" is evident in his music, and the songs he performed were a refreshing combination of acoustic and reggae-infused pieces. His set was the perfect blend of get-up-and-dance and lift-up-your-hands worship. It primarily showcased music from his most recent project. He (fittingly, since it was raining) began with "Dance In The Rain (Jump And Dance)" followed by "Free Worshipper," then transitioned into an epic three-part finale featuring his current hits "The Anthem" and "Victory Belongs to Jesus" (during which his background singers KILLED their solos! I've got goosebumps all over again!) and of course, the pièce de résistance, the ever-popular "Pulling Me Through." After the show, I got a chance to meet Todd, and if I wasn't already a fan, his humility alone would've sealed the deal (even if he did misspell my name when he signed my CD lol). Upper Room COGIC's Wake Up 2 Life show had something for everyone, kids and kids-at-heart alike. It was a praise party that left the hearts of all the worshippers full to the brim.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Wait, Part 2: Stay Lit

In my last post, I spoke openly about my choice to remain abstinent until marriage. In a recent conversation with a friend who is also single, we talked about marriage 'qualifications,' discussing the qualities we look for in men, and also pondering why we are still single. My friend, an extrovert, expressed concerns about being "too much," explaining that she has a "strong personality" and is unafraid to speak her mind. I'm an introvert, but I can relate. Once I'm comfortable around someone, I tell it like it is (carefully, because I believe we should say everything in a loving way, as Christ would). Still, I feel like a lot of people don't know how to take my straightforwardness coupled with my confidence.

Like my friend, I used to think I was "too much," too; so much that I felt like I was being overlooked. The New King James version of Proverbs 18:22 reads, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord." I don't usually cite the New Living Translation, but in this case, I think it's more relatable to my wait. It reads, "The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord" (emphasis mine). Treasure is often buried. As I've gotten older, I've realized I'm not being overlooked. I'm being hidden. There's a difference.

When you're special, God takes you out of the crowd and places you where you can only be found by others who are diligently seeking Him. If you could see yourself the way God sees you, you'd understand why He set you apart. We reflect His light, and because it's so bright, some people are afraid of its brilliance. Sometimes fear and intimidation cause them to look away. Truth is, you will be "too much" for some people, and that's perfectly fine. Some people will never recognize what you're worth, but your value isn't diminished just because they can't see it. In fact, you are so valuable to God that He has seen fit to put you on reserve for only those who truly respect your worth, those who understand and appreciate the treasure that you are.

While God has me in hiding, I'm working to do my part to prepare for the main stage. I know that if He sees us working hard in private, He'll move to bless us in public...and our public blessings become our testimonies. Here's the key, though: I'm not working on myself for a husband. I'm working on myself FOR MYSELF, so that I can be pleasing in God's sight. If God is not pleased, then there's no point. When God sees you on the straight and narrow (or at least trying to be), He'll reward you with the desires of your heart...but it's up to you to set yourself up to receive the blessing.

Lighter Flame Burning GIF / Best Animations

Even if you're battling loneliness in your single season, you shouldn't ever feel like you have to settle for just anybody. You're not just anybody; you're everything God says you are, and there is someone out there who needs everything you have to offer. You won't be too much for the right person. Stay lit! Matthew 5:16 says, "...let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (NIV). You owe it to God to shine. Don't dim your light to please anyone, and don't worry about setting qualifications for your future spouse, either. God knows exactly what and who you need. Trust that He is preserving you for a person who meets His specific qualifications for your life. His plans are always better than ours. He'll send you somebody who knows that you're His somebody, and finds value in that. Have faith that God is saving His best for you. You're more than just one person's "good thing," you're a light in a dark world, and you are lighting a path for many. You are worth the wait. Shine on.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Wait: Dating, Sex, & Looking Beyond Boaz (feat. Tori Kelly's "Dear No One")

As of today, I'm 23 years old (happy birthday to me!) and I've never been on a date. I've had crushes, but they either didn't like me back or I just stopped keeping in touch with them. Per my mother's rules, I wasn't allowed to date until I was 16, but before I knew it, 17, 18, 19, 20 passed by, and still, no boyfriend. I watched several friends and acquaintances settle down, get married and start families, and I started to wonder if something was wrong with me. I often joke that Tori Kelly's song "Dear No One," from her 2015 album Unbreakable Smile, is pretty much the story of my life.

Tori Kelly - Unbreakable Smile album art / Amazon

Verse 1:

I like being independent

Not so much of an investment

No one to tell me what to do

I like being by myself

Don't gotta entertain anybody else

No one to answer to

I personally feel like I have a lot to offer. I'm an independent, God-fearing, college-educated woman who strives to live a virtuous life. I'm not the prettiest in the world, but certainly not the ugliest (lol), I have self-confidence and a good head on my shoulders.


But sometimes I just want somebody to hold

Someone to give me their jacket when it's


Got that young love even when we're old

Yeah, sometimes I want someone to grab

my hand

Pick me up, pull me close, be my man

I will love you 'til the end

So why wasn't anyone pursuing me? I think part of the answer to that question is because I've chosen to uphold a standard of purity in my wait. I'm abstaining from sex until marriage. I don't go around talking about my virginity, but if it comes up in conversation, people look at me like they're waiting for a halo to appear. I've learned that I'm a rare breed. I've had people tell me that my standards are too high, and that I'm never going to find a man who won't pressure me to have sex with him. I told myself that they were right. I wouldn't find him...he'll find me. I still believe that, and I will not compromise.

I don't believe in dating for recreational purposes. Yes, getting to know someone should be fun, but the ultimate goal of dating is marriage. Sex complicates that because the more people you sleep with, the more soul ties you have, and soul ties are hard to break. If you don't break them before marriage, you're taking the risk of bringing everyone you've ever slept with into the marriage bed with you, which is a major threat to your marital covenant. I want my soul to be tied only to the man I am absolutely sure God has tailor made for me. There was one problem, though. The same way society would pressure me to have sex, I was also pressuring myself to be prepared for my Boaz. Ladies, there are a couple of things wrong with setting your sights on your Boaz. 1) There was only one Boaz. 2) Your sights should not be set on Boaz, or any other man, for that matter. They should be set on God.

I read an article the other day on Married and Young called "What If God Doesn't Send Your Boaz?" It touched on how Christian women have idealized Boaz into this perfect person that we subconsciously expect every man, especially the man who finds us, to be. The article provided examples of other Biblical men who were strong, but flawed, and posed a simple question for those of us waiting for Boaz: Will we be prepared if, instead of sending us Boaz, God sends us a man who is a work in progress? If He sends us a man who needs to lean on us in order to walk in the fullness of who God called him to be, will we be ready to support the weight of the call? In order to be able to be the woman our not-so-Boaz needs, we have to work on ourselves first.

Ladies (and gents! This applies to all singles), we need to stop focusing our season of singleness ONLY on preparing for marriage. Let God work on you for your own sake. Have you considered that maybe God wants to see how you love your neighbor & yourself before He completely entrusts you with one specific person's heart? Find people in need of love/encouragement/friendship in your community and extend yourself to them without expecting anything in return. If necessary, unfollow all those "perfect" couples you've idolized  as #RelationshipGoals on social media. The grass is not always greener on the other side (and if it is, it can be especially toxic to covet that, particularly if you're feeling lonely).

In your season of singleness, ask God how He wants YOU to improve, and perhaps most importantly, learn to love yourself at every stage of improvement! Don't worry about the finish line while you're running the race. Just make sure you're running in the right direction, towards God, and ask Him to make you whole. You owe it to God, yourself, and the person He has for you to make sure you don't enter a relationship/marriage while broken. A happy marriage is one where two people who have been made whole in Christ form a union strong enough to weather all of life's storms.

I don't know about everyone else, but God is still working on me. I still have some areas that need fixing. I'll never be absolutely perfect, and I look forward to growing even more when I'm married to the man God has for me. "Dear No One" is just one chapter of my life, not the whole story, but I'm learning to be content in my singleness because I know that you can't find true happiness with someone else without first finding it within yourself. I say all that to say this: "I'd love to have a soul mate / And God'll give him to me someday / And I know it'll be worth the wait."

Dear No One,

If you're reading this, I swear to be good to you, but I'm done looking. To find me, you'll have to ask God for directions. This is your love song...for now, at least. Hope floats.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Hurry Up and Wait (feat. Travis Greene's "You Waited")

Gospel artist and pastor Travis Greene's new single "You Waited" has been stuck in my head since it was released on May 12th. I learn lyrics super fast, so the first time I heard it, I was pretty much already singing along with it by the chorus. For the past few weeks, I've caught myself singing, "And You, / You waited for me, / Just for me..." without even thinking about it. I love music so much, I often find myself learning the lyrics to songs just to sing them. There's a difference between just knowing the words to a song and actively listening to it. Actively listening to music, especially gospel, requires feeling it as well. When I stopped singing along and allowed myself to feel the lyrics, they hit me like a ton of bricks.

Travis Greene - "You Waited" single artwork / Amazon

Verse 1:

You came out of Your way

You sat down to speak to me

What amazing grace

That You've shown,

So patiently

God does not have to speak to us at all. He chooses to extend Himself to us because He's gracious, and since His thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), He waits patiently for us to process what He's saying. He deposits things inside of us and waits for us to use what He's given us for His glory.

Verse 2:

You called out my name

Knew my past

Covered my shame

This amazing grace

You've shown,

So patiently

You've shown,

So patiently

God knows exactly who we are because He created us. In spite of all the sins we've committed and all the wrong we've done, He calls on us to use our past experiences, especially those we deem shameful, as a testimony to bring people to Him. However, because we are human, pride, embarrassment, fear of being judged, fear of not being accepted, not being good enough etc., gets in the way and we ask God to wait until we are ready to share our stories and gifts.

Our gifts will always be there, right? We can choose to use them whenever we're ready. WRONG. The same way God gave you the gift, He can take it away if He sees it laying dormant. We sometimes forget that our gifts are not our own. It's not up to us to choose when we're ready to use them (Besides, if we wait until we are completely "ready," we'll never use them!). We're always asking God to do things for us, and whether we want to admit it or not, we expect Him to do them on our time. When we don't get what we want right away, we subconsciously yell, "Hurry up, God! Do it now!" How can we ask so much of Him while we're being stingy by keeping our gifts to ourselves? God was gracious enough to give them to us, the least we can do is give them back to Him.

Testimony time: In my sophomore year of college, I started writing poetry. I wrote poems consistently almost every day, but I didn't know what to do with them. Since I believe that, in the words of Aristotle, "We are what we repeatedly do," I was calling myself a poet, but only in private. I knew there was a spoken word group on campus, but I thought, I'm new to this. Nobody wants to hear my work. What if everyone else's poems are better than mine? In the midst of my doubt, I heard a voice loud and clear that had to be the voice of God, I gave it to you for a reason. Use it. He didn't have to tell me what "it" was. I quietly went to the first Can-I-Poet meeting fall semester of my junior year, and as the weeks and months went by, I felt more and more comfortable sharing my work with the group. By fall of senior year, I was ready to perform.

I chose a piece I'd written called "Ode to a Dark-Skinned Girl," about the underappreciation of dark-skinned black women in society. As soon as I took the microphone, it felt like my heart was about to beat out of my chest. My legs were reduced to spaghetti, and I was shaking like a leaf, but I DID IT. I read a poem in front of an audience for the first time, and afterwards I almost felt silly for being so nervous. Everyone really liked it. That night, two other "dark-skinned girls" I had never met before came up to me with tears in their eyes. One of them said, "Thank you. Your poem was everything I've been trying to put into words for a long, long, time. It made me feel beautiful." The voice in my head said, See? I told you so.

"And You, / You waited for me / Just for me..." That was two years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. That moment moved me in a way I can't explain. God waits for us to use our gifts because He knows there are people who need to hear His voice through us. Stop making God wait. Stop sitting on your gift and answer when you hear His call. Don't wait for the right moment, the perfect time, next year, or even tomorrow. His timing is always perfect. It might feel uncomfortable at first. You might not feel ready yet, but do it now, even if you have to do it afraid. There's somebody out there who needs your gift right now. Seek God and ask Him where and how to use it.