Not So Stupid Advice from a 31 Year Old

A few weeks ago I turned 31 which my pal Brittany says is a huge blessing; I’m inclined to agree. I have been incredibly blessed and fortunate to know some amazing people and do some pretty dope things in my life… I’m a little older and little wiser. On my journey, people have given me some great advice and some of it has been down right horrible. One old guy down south told me that “I needed to make a baby in my 20s so that I would leave a seed on the earth just in case I didn’t live to be 30. ” HORRIBLE. My neighbor in undergrad told me “If you gotta pick between staying broke and staying fly, Stay fly til you DIE bruh!” HORRIBLE and STUPID!!! And the classic one: it dont matter how long you been married, you always need a lil something on the side. HORRIBLE, STUPID & STRESSFUL (cheating is hardwork). It is indeed true that some people get old but never grow up… ! So in honor of my 31st birthday, here are few things I’ve learned.. Take what you need:

1. Never form an opinion about someone else based on what you “heard”- in most cases, you probably heard it from someone who only told the part of the story they wanted you to hear. Take the information, file it away in the back of your mind, and then form your own opinion based on your own interactions. Sometimes what you heard is true but sometimes its hogwash!

2. Live below your means- If you make $500 a week, live a $250 lifestyle. . Some people have gone without food because they didn’t have money. I have gone without food because I didn’t want to be broke (drink a liter of water and go to bed). Two essential life guides: First -your bible, then your budget. I don’t have a problem living like a pauper today if I get to spend the rest of my tomorrows like a prince. You will also find that there’s something oddly fulfilling about seeing commas and zeros in your bank account. It helps you sleep better at night too. ANNNND you have not known a greater joy than being able to bless the people you love and those in need on a level that leaves them scratching their head.

3. Make it memorable- Life is not about the stuff you collect. it really is mainly about the experiences you create and the memories you make. Have breakfast on the balcony at 3am with your boo {boo as in your (future) wife or husband} in your pajamas and even if you don’t eat the burnt waffle at least take a bite… 5 years from now you’ll still be laughing about how horrible the waffle tasted and how romantic and crazy the whole idea was… and here’s whats so cool about this-You don’t need money to make lifetime memories. You will need some courage, a good measure of creativity, and someone to share it with… and Ive found the more random and spontaneous and impromptu- the better. Just Make it memorable.

4. Most of the time- negative naysayers are very insecure people; make sure you don’t allow them to deflect their personal insecurities onto you. People will tell you that your socks are too loud in the pulpit because they themselves are afraid to wear them. Or that you shouldn’t be friends with certain kinds of people, people because they themselves are uncomfortable in their own skin or any number of other ridiculous things. Constructive criticism is one thing (it’s useful and necessary) but narrow-minded critique from insecure people should be avoided like the plague.

5. Be your own version of happy. If you like sitting in corn fields and watching the moon, do it every chance you get. If listening to tv in Spanish makes you smile even though you don’t speak a lick of Spanish, binge watch Spanish tv. If you like the way your 600lb body looks in spandex, then spandex every centimeter of it (blind me, Lord). Whatever makes you happy, Do that. And don’t worry about the people who don’t get it. You probably won’t get their’ s either- I will never understand my sister’s joy of dipping cookies in MILK AND GRAPE Juice…(barf). Life is better lived when it is lived based on your own version of happiness- not your parent’s version, or your pastor’s version, or your partner’s version. Be your own version of happy !!! (Disclaimer: …unless your happy is killing you- and by killing I mean spiritually, physically, emotionally, or spiritually… if it’s killing, you might want to pump the brakes but if dying makes you happy… well… I’m praying for you.)

Generally speaking: Trust your gut. If you’re in charge, arrive first-never last. Never EVER make a speech of any kind without first giving some thought to what you will say. Always make friends with people on both ends of the totem pole. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t want to talk. Don’t snoop for things you really don’t want to find. Smile at people who don’t like you. Trust God.

When God Greenlights a Dream

11013116_10152680605912038_227731029603675445_n11173346_10152680591687038_3238595794810587822_n

Last week, I fulfilled the dreamed of a lifetime: I bought my mom a house…yup.. a house. Almost 2700 square feet of 100 year old wood and windows. It’s still surreal to me that what started out as a whim in December is a reality in April.  I mean, I’ve had dreams realized before but for me, this one is different. To start, the project just so happen to unfold while I was reading the book The Alchemist ( If you haven’t read the Alchemist, YOU SHOULD, and if you have, you already know what I’m talking about.. hopefully). One of the main premises of the book is the idea that ; “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”  Frrom the beginning it seemed as if God was conspiring to make the whole thing happen.

A few things help me to know this:

– About 10 years ago I guess, when the previous owners acquired the house, I’m told that my mom was the first person to stop by and visit.  As the story goes, she walked in talking about how much she had admired the house for years. It was lovely visit I’m told/

-Years following that my younger sister Azalia, visited the house and inquired about the purchase and felt the price was too high… so much for that..

-In December 2014, during a Christmas visit to Natchez, I saw the house adverstised in one of those random real estate picture book insert things they put into local papers.  I called the number 4 or 5 different times and no one ever called me back. After I returned to DC , I called the real estate company directly; they told me that the house was no longer part of it’s listing.. (why the heck did ya’ll print it in the dog on paper like 2 weeks ago then…ugh) lol

BUTTT

– On January 9, 2015, I attended the New Year’s Revival  at Jericho City of Praise. Bishop T. D. Jakes was preaching and the reserved seat I thought I had commandeered was …gone… I was annoyed because I had to sit wayy in the back- preacher ego (pray for me)… I was sitting in the service in a room with 10,000 people filling like I was on an Island … (sidebar: It was also the night that Anthony Brown and Group Therapy introduced us to a song with these amazing word: You thought I was worth saving, so you came and change my life, you thought I was worth keeping so you cleaned me up inside. You thought I was die for so sacrificed your life so I could be free, so I could be whole and so I could tell everyone I know. Awesome song. Listen here: http://www.shazam.com/track/249142474/worth-full-versionI was still in a slump). Bishop Jakes preached about something and before he was done I was walking to my car which is highly unlike me… but sometime between the time I was walked to my  car and the time  I pulled up at the Checkers to  get some of those awesome Cajun fries (My comfort food of choice)- God began to impress on my heart in the most unrelenting way to find out about the house- to ask- to inquire- to do some digging.

I knew that  the house was in some way affiliated with the Grinnell family, so  that same nightI texted Darryl – the second eldest brother of the Grinnell clan- and mentioned to him that I was interested in the house and life got better by the minute. Darryl indicated that it was his sister house…  but that he was handling the sale.  Really God?  He then mentioned that he could probably get me a sweet deal on the house to which I replied: yeah right…

By Saturday morning he had confirmed that the unrealistic price that he’d mentioned to me the night before was actually the amount that his sister and brother-law- ( Lluana and Dante Wier) were happy with and that if I wanted it, the house it was mine…

By Saturday afternoon, I’d spoken with my dear friend and colleague, Lisa-Bailey Harper – the Realtor in Your Backyard- who informed me that there was a special HUD program that loaned money to folks to purchase and renovate homes.   By Sunday, she’d identified an awesome realtor in Natchez- Dianne Brown- who she thought would be able to help. I called Dianne Sunday afternoon and it was clear that she was an angel sent by God . I explained to her that I had never bought home before that I wanted to do this for mom but that I would need alot of hand holding.  She was up for the challenge and what a challenge it was.

For next several weeks, as I vetted every possible option for purchasing the home from HUD programs, to traditional bank financing, to cash sale, she answered every question I had ( I  had alot of questions.) and advised me every step of the way. She was literally.. a God-send.   Dante- the homeowner- obliged every single request I had  to have contractors and inspectors and my sister and my mom and my dad and anybody I could think of- to visit the house and vet it for me. Once I think he traveled from out of town to bring my mom the door key.- BTW- my actually saw the house several times before the big surprise. She thought that she was visiting the house to assist a  member of my church -Andrell-who was planning to move to Natchez and looking for a house for his family. It just so happened that in early January, Andrell  had stopped by my office in DC and indicated that he was moving to Natchez to open several Papa John’s Pizza franchise…I conveniently recruited  Andrell to serve as my cover up for the big surprise   … which really was another God thing because what are the chances that anyone in DC is moving back to Natchez to do anything?  And how likely is it that they would attend my church and randomly drop by the church office  to say so..

Here’s my point in sharing all of this: The house was a God thing… orchestrated by God, ordained by God, sent by God… but had I not been willing to move when God said move AND go when God said  go AND  had I ignored all the ways that God was conspiring to make my dream come true … my awesome, well intentioned dream would still only just be a dream.. The moral of this loonnng story is that when God greenlights your dream, take your foot off the brakes and GO!

Church is Killing My Vibe…

I’m changing the way I live my life because it dawned on me that I actually like sitting around the table and on people’s couches, laughing and debating and eating and well… Just living life. I no longer intend to live life based on the assumption that people can’t be trusted because doing so robs me of the gift of getting know people, and creating memories, and cool stories. It sucks and is kind of sad and embarrassing that church has made me skeptical of creating community when thats the very purpose for which it was created… To build community right?. 4 years, nearly 7000 members, and I can count on one hand the number of meals I’ve shared away from church with members who weren’t clergy. You won’t believe this but I’ve actually only ever been invite to the home of probably maybe 3 members. Ever. Period. Either I’m a prick ( which is highly possible) or I’m intimidating ( which is laughable) or I just really need to be more intentional about saying to people that I wanna do life with you and whether that means having you over at my ghetto penthouse in pg county or sitting on your floor eating stale popcorn from a tin can and drinking semisweet kool aide … I wanna live my life differently with cool people who like to eat and argue and drink wine and talk about Jesus and Marion berry and church growth and politics and how to get cheaper cable.. Let’s do life together. Inbox me. ( disclaimer: no we can’t marry, no we can’t have sex, and no I will not pass a message to my boss … Well I’ll think about the message but the other stuff.. Naw! ) let’s live it up! — thanks to the “perfect host” for a banging dinner last night !!!! 1 down many more to go!

A Wuss or A Warrior

This past Sunday, Pastor preached a really dope message on stewardship from Matthew 25. ( it was only dope in the sense that it was well prepared and well executed… not in the sense that it made me feel good… im actually still binge drinking Southern Peach Calypso and planning to go buy another case to help me cope.. but keep reading.) Most of the sermon dealt with the guy who received one talent and buried it. Pastor offered some ideas about why the man buried the talent: he compared himself to others, he made excuses, and he was lazy. (I did all these at least once just yesterday.. help me JESUS!) Today, I reread the passage in the cool kid bible (aka the Message bible ) and something in the passage arrested my attention: The dude with the one talent was basically A WUSS, A COWARD, A SCAREDY CAT. Matt 5:25 ( in the cool kid bible) says that Mr. Wuss offers this excuse: “ I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place to secure your money.” … translated: I was scared , so I hid it. Soooooooooooo yeah. CONVICTED. C.o.n.v.i.c.t.e.d. I can’t tell you how true this has been in my life- that because of people’s opinions, or people’s reactions, or the possibility of success and therefore more responsibility, or the possibility that the idea will ACTUALLY work but people will find out that I really have no clue what the heck I’m doing so then idea will stop working… that basically like the dude in the parable, Im a WUSS of sorts… maybe not a total wuss but easily 23.73% Wuss. The shameful reality is that, in my own life, just like this man, I’ve been afraid to … take risks. I’ve played it safe. I’ve made excuses about why not and run from the possibilities of what could be. In some major ways, I’ve buried the Master’s wealth. Maybe not in every area of my life but definitely in more areas than Im proud to admit. Smh smh smh …

I used to think that the Master was harsh for taking the one talent from Mr. Wuss but it hit me today: The Master took a risk on Mr. Wuss and Mr. Wuss didn’t return the favor. It is in fact true that God through Christ has taken incredible risks on us. No he really did. Think about it: God really had no assurance that we’d accept the salvation he was offering… in fact, lots of people decline it everyday. God has no real assurance that when he goes out on a limb to bless us, that 1. We’ll be grateful for it or 2. We’ll use the blessings for things that honor him. And do I even really need to mention the risk that Jesus took by putting his life and body and prestige on the line for people who, after they say yes to the gift of salvation, still punk out from taking the comparatively small, mundane risks, he’s calling us to take… The reality is that God didn’t give us gifts and talents and favor and grace to play it safe…In fact, the last thing, Im sure God expects from us is that we’ll become grave diggers of our destiny who make a life of burying the things we should actually be breathing life in to. (please… a moment of silence for the dreams we’ve buried alive.)

The cool kid bible closes the story like this: “Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of the “play-it-safe” who wont go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness…”

So let us pray: Dear God, give me the courage not to play it safe. Forgive me for being a wuss when you’ve called me to be a warrior. Please. Thanks. Help!!! Amen.

White House,…Black Singer.. Opus II

… ok.. let’s see.. where did I leave off?…

oh yes..So after all the security theatrics, we finally made it inside.  The staffer assigned to us seemed kinda agitated that of all the  night’s A-list performers she’d been assigned to escort some unknown college kids. As we walk through the majestic halls, gawking at pictures and peeking into open doors, the unhappy staffer lady attempted to pass us off to some female military official who smiled brightly and replied happily , ” I can’t leave my post.”

I should pause here and mention that the White House is much larger than I’d expected.  Because I’m from Natchez, Mississippi, I’ve seen my fair share of antebellum mansion, with super-sized columns and massive entry ways. But for some reason, the White House stands out  in my mind as being HUGE . ( maybe I was just excited.) As you can imagine, the places was VERY CLEAN. Even in a blizzard, there wasn’t a mud splash or snow track to be found, not even at the door.

When we finally arrive at the Diplomat Room, the first thing that catches my attention is Morgan Freeman, standing just to the right of the door. (He’s a lot taller than he appears in fills. ) To those of us who’d been waiting at the gate for nearly an hour though , nothing  in the room was as important as the nicely sprawled table of nutrition: miniature crispy chicken sandwiches; succulent crab cakes; mixed greens with feta cheese, baby tomatoes, with just enough  salad dressing; assorted cookies; and yes even Coca Cola. Needless to say, I found a place to plop my coat and bag and made my way back to the  buffet. From looking at the way the “pre-cleared” singers were kind of  just hanging out throughout the room, one could have gotten the impression that it was my grandma’s living room and not some exquisitely decorated room, with priceless artwork  INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE.  As we made our way back and forth to the buffet, other artists and their entourages move in and out of the room. After some time, I noticed that showtime was drawing near and suggested to Dr. Norris that we might rehearse , especailly since we’d missed the sound check. In the way that only Norris can, he reminded me that he was the conductor and that I should ” Let him handle it.”  He was convinced that someone “will be down to escort us up and take us to our rehearsal space.” ( of course he was using his South Carolina-British accent.) Despite my explaining that it was 7:40 and that the show was to start at 8 p.m, he  put his foot down …And as is our normal m.o., five minutes  later he an epiphany that we should probably rehearse.

At five minutes to 8 p.m, a kind , woman wearing a head set and holding a clip board came and instructed us to follow her. ( This would be the same lady that  would save my camera from the wrath of the WHITE HOUSE SECURITY.. thanks ma’am).  She escorted us up to the green room ( the room was literally adorned in green, expensive but antique looking wall covering. I say wall covering and not wall paper because I later learned when leaning against the wall that there was something under the covering that  made it feel sorta like a trampoline ).  All the program participants where in this room: Yolanda Adams, who was tall and majestic; Smokie Robinson, who had a sage-like presence; Natalie Cole, who, less the  glittered arm sling, look as though she’d walked off the cover of Ebony magazine; The Freedom Singers- all clad in AFrican garb; and a host of other handlers, stage hands, producers, make-up people, Secret Service, and White House staffers. The room was packed.

One of the producers beckon to the a staffer that we were in the wrong room and  we soon found ourselves shuffling to another huge room. When we walked in this room,  the Blind Boys of Alabama were standing around laughing. The staffer asked us to move further into the room and we continued to look around at the details of the room.  After several minutes a female military official enter the room and informed us that she would be introducing us and  that we needed to move as a cluster. At first I assumed that she  meant she’d  be introducing  the choir during the taping. But what she actually meant was that she would  be introducing us to Mr. and Mrs. Obama.  (calm…..calm…………….ECSTATIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Dr. Norris was like a kid in candy store, much like rest of us.  Everybody seemed to be doing something that include making too much noise because the historic  room calmer (“shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”) soon followed. When it as our turn to move to the greeting room, no one wanted to be first… that is of course, except me. I was happy to lead the line.  We moved from one big room ainto another big room and I beckoned for Norris (who somehow always finds his way to the rear of the line despite the fact that he’s moves the slowest) to come to the front.  As we waited in the door way watching the President and First Lady greet the Blind Boys, we had no idea that we were blocking Joe and Jill Biden, who were happy to shack our hands as they eased past us.

Finally it was our turn to personally meet the President and First Lady of these United States of America.

I  have never felt more proud to be a Howard student.

The President and First Lady shook our hands and made much of our being from Howard. Despite my effort to stand right next to the President, I was shuffled over my Leon Clark, to whom I happily relinquished my coveted post.

(Everything after this is point is essentially minutia. I performed, laughed, joked, had a great time; gawked at Jennifer Hudson, collected autographs; evaded Dr. Norris request to leave for nearly an hour because we couldn’t find Brandon, whispered about Bob Dylan, took  a picture with Natalie Cole, cracked jokes with Yolanda Adams, and tried not to be  embarrassed by some of the groupies in our group.  A few of us contemplated staying and enjoying the show but of course no  one had the guts to do it. (Had it not been a blizzrd outside, you know I would have had no problem staying.) When we departed, Bob, our driver, was happy to give some of the singers curb-side service to their dorms. Thanks Bob!

So there it is… my journey to the White House… I hope you enjoyed reading it as much I enjoyed living it..

Signed~ The Guy in the Red Fitted

Snow:Divine Disinfectant

I really hate being inconvenienced. .. so much so that almost as  a rule, I refrain from  doing things that could  lead to my being inconvenienced.   I  usually don’t ride with other people, crash at other people’s house’s, borrow other people things, etc… As  you can imagine then, having to sit around for days due an untimely and routine altering blizzard has been somewhat of a challenge… no .. actually its been a serious challenge.

BUT…

As I stood looking out of my patio window at the wintry war zone created by the mountains and mountains of snow, I couldn’t help but  think about how spoiled I am, how spoiled we are.  Here I am obsessing about being trapped in my warm, nicely furnished penthouse (of sorts) due to an inconvenient snow storm when people just south of here in Haiti are dealing with a much more dramatic and devastating interruption.  Mountains of snow pale incomparison to mountains of bodies.  Pouting because I must shovel  snow for  a few hours to clear a parking space is quite trivial to having to walk miles each day for food, water, and sanity. Even my disdain for the crappy tv programming seems painfully immature in the face of living with no power, no plumbing, and no proof of any speedy return to life as it was known.

I don’t know what God was  trying to prove  through SNOWPOCALYPSE 2010 but one is for sure: I’m sure glad that he sent this gentle reminder of how fortunate I am to be the  recipient of such choice blessings as those that flood my life everyday. If a snow storm is all that God chooses to send to keep me grounded and appreciative and compassionate… then a snow storm and another snow storm and another storm  I am willing to endure.

Yesterday, one of my colleagues shared that his Mom says that God sends the snow to clean and purify the earth;  I’m glad that includes me too.

Thanks for the snow God. I really do get the point.

Signed- The Guy In the Red Fitted.

White House, White Night, Black Singers: My Journey to the White House, Opus I.

Yesterday I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life: I visited the Obama’s at THE WHITE HOUSE.  To be sure this was not my first time meeting the Obama’s (   I meet them during the CBCF weekend a few years ago) but it was my first time being inside the People’s House.  🙂

The trip to the Obama’s  actually begin around 4p.m. yesterday.  I was torn between rushing to get dressed and watching THE BIG O’s (Oprah) exclusive on the life a modern-day  geisha  and nuns. After I peeled my self away from the tv, packed a just-in-case-I- get-stuck-in-the-snow bag and a hurry-up-and wait bag ( you always need one of these when you’re the infamous person at the tv taping),  I tucked my tuxedo pants in to my winter boots and ventured out in the historic SNOWPOCALYSPE 2010. Most of the streets were fairly clean but since the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) is home to probably some of the worst drivers in America, you can imagine the driving experience was…well… A PAIN!

After  40 or so minutes of gushing through snow and slush and awful driving, I arrived at Howard U, parked the car, and boarded the  important looking Black SUV. ( I’ve come to associate Black SUVs with important people :Oprah, Senator Obama, Colin Powell and tons of others .)  Since I was the first singer there, I was subject to Dr. Norris’ musing about this and that and then his rants about the other late singers and then his hilarity about fat people, senile students, and just “poe-dunk” inefficiencies in general. After about 10 mins the other singers arrived and we were on our way… off to the Obamas. ( I should mention that our driver, who said very little except to answer his phone, galloped  through the snowy DC streets as if there was not 3 inches of snow and ice on the ground.)

…and like Presto  we were at the East Gate… and still at the East Gate… and still at the EAst GAte and then parked at the East Gate. Apparently, several of the singers had not been cleared including our manager, Brandon who coördinatedour being there.

Even with all the checking id’s though, I manage to help Amber (a tall, lacrosse playing blondie who didn’t bring or couldn’t find her state issued Id) evade the entire security check process.  Because she was  still shuffling through her duffel bag purse thingy after the guard had walked away with the other ids, it was clear that she hadn’t presented her’s. ” stop looking, amber. if he comes back and says something then look for it. If not, just play it cool. It’ll only be an issue if you make it one”  ( I’ve been to enough of these ritzy sorta affairs to know that once the “official”  people are distracted, unless they are moving very slowly and bring very attentive, they probably  wont notice something as minor as one choir lady who didn’t have an id… even with a huge sign that says 100% id check. )

After waiting at the gate for about 15mins or so, the guard asked  those who had been cleared to proceed inside, which required that I moved into the “under- surveillance SUV” with the other singers who had not been cleared.  BOMBER! Here I am at the WHITE HOUSE, surrounded with a sea of wet looking cotton, and stuck at the gate. Thanks God.

So we  waited… and waited.. and waited… During the lulls and moments of awkward 7-guys -stuck-in-a-car silence, I commenced to asking BOB, the driver all sorts of question. He was happy to answer IN DETAIL, pausing for Brandon to speak to White House staffers on the phone when necessary and amazingly picking up at precisely the place where he left off… almost as though there had not been a 5 minute pause. (Everyone noticed and laughed in amazement when this happened. Bob was clueless).  Bob was  at least 60 years old and had taken up driving  16 years ago after he retired from  the Department of Defense. It  was clear that he enjoyed driving as  much as I enjoyed being driven. ( This is why Bob has been tapped as the official driver of the 2021 freshmen Senator from  Natchez,Mississippi. Thanks Bob) Bob gave us details about the White House Party Crashers and how they were able to get in. He talked about TSA and how they only wear the mask of security to make us feel safe. He  asked bizarre questions about street cleaning and  even coined the phrase ( via his girlfriend) that anything that doesn’t work or works poorly is because: “IT’s the Government”.  GENUIS!

After a while, Leon, one of the other singers,  needed to use the watering hole and Bob kindly drove us up to the W Hotel, where we ran into the Blind Boys of Alabama and Smokey Robinson. Our field trip must have signaled to the White House security that the wait was getting a bit out of hand because no sooner than the last of our gang was returning to the car, we got word that we had all been cleared. FInally. ( Some lady at the hotel with a clipboard and white ear cord thingy  who worked for the White House or WETA was attempting to ask me some question  about something but after Brandon gave me the thumbs on being our clearance, I just kinda walked away…sorry ma’am.)

So back in the car,  back to the gate,  guards hands us our id, stop at the bomb sniffing dog tent, move to another gate (the folks at this gate clearly just needed something to do because their being at this.gate was POINTLESS!), gates open and finally we arrive at the EAst appointment gate. more security, show id’s,  through the magnetometer.and finally in… ( i should mention that despite all this Amber, the tall, lacrosse playing blondie who didnt bring or couldn’t find her state issued Id, got in and Micah Robinson’s Faygo Ginger Ail that he was told he couldnt bring in, all made it in.)

.. to  be continued….

Signed ~The Guy in the Red Fitted