Mentoring: Relationships Require Work

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Hi, All! We’re absolutely delighted to support our dear sister in Christ, Voices Against the Grain supporter and my Regent University School of Government classmate, Barbara Crymes West, in the release of her new book, Every Bump Counts: How Everyday Encounters & Relationships Can Make Eternal Impact. In her book, Barbara talks about how God is in the “everydayness” of our lives whether we realize it or not. When our hearts are aligned with His, we are a vital part of the Great Commission and showing others the love of Christ. We’ve ordered her book and look forward to reading it! We also have a copy we’d be happy to gift you (please provide your address where to mail it) if you’re interested. In the meantime, please read her article she’s shared with us on mentoring, a work near to my heart.

Thank you, love and blessings,

Nicole

 

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Barbara Crymes West, Relationships Expert, Voices Against the Grain Guest Writer

Relationships don’t create themselves. They take work and commitment. Investment is essential to have a healthy and effective relationship. Most require sacrifice to grow.

Relationships

Dallas Willard, in his work entitled, The Divine Conspiracy, offers the following:

How beautiful it is to see relationships in which asking and receiving are a joyful and loving way of life. Often we see those who cherish one another, each seriously or playfully trying to out give the other. That is how relationships should be (Williard, 234).

The key here is reciprocity. Asking and receiving, giving and taking. Of course, that seems elementary because it is so basic. But in the busyness of life, we sometimes forget that relationships don’t just happen. Relationships require commitment and investment.

Investment

Investing in others is truly valuable and necessary. We can’t expect a relationship to flourish and grow without it. We must invest time and concern while learning about the other person. In the process we will find common ground; sometimes more and sometimes less. All relationships are not the same.

Biblically speaking this is true as well. God commands us to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39). All relationships will not yield the intensity or closeness that others do. Although He loved all of His disciples, the Bible refers to John as “the one Jesus loved” (John 13:23). The good news is that when we make a significant investment in others, really get to know their hearts and minds, we are rewarded with a relationship that will give us meaning.

In the community of Christ, our relationships are very important as we all strive to fulfill our commission in Christ. As we support each other, with our feet planted squarely in the foundation of Jesus and Him crucified, we are enabled and supported to fulfill our calling, both individually and as a part of the whole. Relationships enable us to be who God has called us to be. It begins with our relationship with Him. He makes the difference.

The Good Old Days

If we look at our population of children today, the picture is far different than it was when I was growing up. And no we didn’t drive covered wagons. I felt safe in my neighborhood. My friends and I could walk a mile to the community pool and swim all day and walk home again with a mere, “Mom, we’re going to the pool. See you this afternoon.” We had no cell phones and crime rarely touched our lives. When I look back on local tragedies that were inscribed in my mind and heart, the loss of a home to fire, in which a fellow student lived, comes to mind.

Another involved a friend being struck by a car while in the crosswalk. This one actually is bigger in my memory because this girl lost a leg and the community rallied to contribute to her family through a McTake Over, to benefit her expenses. The point is that as children, we were rarely confronted with the crimes we see today that has become all too commonplace in our children’s lives, communities, and neighborhoods. Drive-by shootings and school shootings did not have a place in the lives of families back then.

Today, we have an abundance of broken homes, absent parents, and footloose kids. Most often, through no fault of their own, our kids find themselves wandering through life without adequate direction, nurturing, or guidance. Can we make a difference in the children’s lives? And if so, how? With limited funding streams and resources stretched thin everywhere, we need to tackle these issues one child at a time.

Mentoring

Mentoring has become a widely accepted practice, although many of us don’t have mentors and more of us aren’t mentors, or at least in an official sense. However, I would offer that we all lead someone and therefore we are in effect, leaders or mentors. Neither can be accomplished without relationship, investment, and reciprocity.

Mentoring is one way in which each of us can play a part. Becoming active in an organization that focuses on mentoring is one way. Could we each give to such an organization in some way? I think so. There are myriad ways to be involved. In whichever way you choose to do your part, whether through a donation of time, talent, or financial gifts, there is a place for you. On a more personal level, we can each pray for these children that are “wandering.”

Take a moment to consider any young people that you encounter in your daily movement who could use a smile, a hug, a kind word, or paper for their binder. Build a relationship with someone that has always been around but is on the fringes of your life. Bring them closer and make them feel cared for.

 

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Sacrifice

We must invest. Sometimes investment is easy and sometimes not so easy. The investment will likely involve sacrifice on our parts but OH the rewards. We have to nurture and build relationships with those we care about. Simple caring and sharing; conversation, can make all the difference in who we are, and in who they will become.

God has taught me through such a simple concept as “making time,” that the principles are the same regardless of who we are pursuing a relationship with. We must invest our time and practice the reciprocity that creates those terrific bonds of the heart that God ordained. It’s all about relationships.

Please visit BarbaraCrymesWest.com to read more of Barbara’s blogs and to purchase her book about relationships, Every Bump Counts.

Barbara Crymes West holds a Master’s Degree from Regent University in Organizational Leadership, with a concentration in Not-for-Profit and Faith-Based Organizations Management. During her studies, she discovered that “relationships” are a common and recurring thread. With this theme in mind Barbara takes her readers on a journey that finds its foundation in Christ, and is applicable whether we are at home or on the job. Barbara resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Misunderstood Arrival

Has something ever come and you misunderstood its purpose?

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

I hope you each enjoyed great and thankful moments with family, loved ones, and dear friends during this Thanksgiving. During Thanksgiving, I went home to Kansas to spend time with family and dear loved ones/friends and to attend the beautiful homegoing service of my beloved 101-year-old grandmother. We have such joy and peace in celebrating her long godly life lived!

This Thanksgiving break, my brother, Dad and I saw the science fiction movie, Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Having been enticed by the trailer, the 93% Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating and the so-so inventory of movies available, we were pumped to see this suspenseful flick. In Arrival,  Amy Adams’ character, Louise Banks, a renowned linguistics professor, is sought out by the military to decode circular symbols used as language communicated in ink drawings by extraterrestrials that have landed in 12 countries. Banks attempts the complicated feat of communicating with the extraterrestrials (called “heptapods”) by using their symbols to inquire what are their intentions with Earth and humans. She is pushed to work expediently and accurately as the U.S. military is anxious to provide answers in order to properly respond to this potential threat. In addition, other countries are becoming anxious with the spacecrafts hovering in their air space and are planning their respective attacks—with or without the U.S. or other countries’ consent or cooperation.

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Clip of alien spacecraft hovering in Shanghai from the November 2016 science fiction film, Arrival. Photo courtesy: SCMP Pictures.

Without giving away the entire movie, what I thought was going to be a suspenseful, alien-against-human-attack and survival film was anything but. The greater importance of the film was not an alien vs. human showdown like Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds but it was the dangerously assumed and misunderstood perception about the heptapods’ arrival and their intentions. Countries throughout the United Nations were feeling threatened by their presence and were ready to draw fire, unconcerned of the consequences of worldwide war, irreparable relations and peace unrecoverable. Countries who were allies of the United States were ready to end such relations to attack an enemy—or perhaps an ally?

As I reflect on the movie’s message (you’ll have to watch to see how it ends or Google it), I think about our post-election situation that has caused many to draw fire upon one another with their words. Are we firing words upon an enemy or an ally? Has the arrival of our current situation been misunderstood only to cause further division without seeking the opportunities that are actually intended in this? Have we sought to remove communication barriers to truly understand the intentions and desires of one another’s hearts?

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I also think of another misunderstood arrival that came over 2,000 years ago that still brings unfathomable joy to many and great agitation to others. An arrival intended to bring peace and friendship between mankind and our Heavenly Father for our redemption and reconciliation to God. Yet, Jesus was crucified because of His threat to the status quo, the intelligent leaders and rulers of those days and present day.

Dear Heavenly Father, when you sent Your Son Jesus to us more than 2,000 years ago—a baby born in a manger, a stable with smelly barn animals—as the King of kings and Lord of lords, His arrival was without question misunderstood by those unperceiving. He interrupted a world that did not want His type of disruption and sought to eliminate His threat to their comfort. They understood not the heart of His and Your intentions. Even today, many misunderstand Your loving, eternal plan for us, Father. Jesus said in John 10:10 that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (NIV).”

Heavenly Father, as we rejoice each day and gather together this Christmas season to celebrate Jesus’ arrival 2,000 years ago, we pray that the veil that has kept many in their blindness will be lifted to save them that they might see and believe. Prepare hearts for Your Son’s return. Thank you for your grace, love and mercy as you continue to strive with us. In Your Son Jesus’ Precious Name, we pray.

May we seek and encourage others to seek His wisdom in all things new and coming.

Amen.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

 

 

 

 

Because He Offends Our Sensibilities: A Post-Election Encouragement

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Note: Since launching Voices Against the Grain in 2013, we have vowed to remain nonpartisan, for we are focused on the true government that rests upon His shoulders (Isaiah 9:6-7). We’ll continue to do so even in discussing political matters.

Donald Trump. Lack of self-control. Disrespectful. Abhorrent. Insulting. His words spoken most always elicited a visceral reaction from me and many others, finding what he said to be crude and offensive. Many of us were taught to respect others; to be kind toward others. We were taught to treat others as we’d want to be treated. We were taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Absolutely, Donald Trump violated every one of these precepts. He offends our sensibilities. His words also unleashed and emboldened others whose mindsets offend our sensibilities in the worst way.

But even in this, on the night of Tuesday, November 8, 2016, into the wee hours of Wednesday, November 9, Donald Trump became America’s 45th president-elect. The votes separating the two candidates was undeniable. It was done. The world appeared like it had been turned on its head. Many commiserated in their alcoholic beverages, shed tears, stood in shock, disturbed by the outcomes. Even the experts had not predicted the polls to shift as they did.

How and why did this happen??

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Donald Trump, president-elect, yelling at a Colorado rally at fire marshall. Eeeks.

Let’s start here. While many were focused on being “on the right side of history” by voting for a woman to become president, while many were wanting to see more “progress,” other voices that have been dismissed, said, “Enough.” Some of those voices are decent, intelligent and loving men and women. They’d risk their lives for you. Some of those voices are not white nationalists, not racist nor sexist. They recoiled at the two candidate choices presented and might have wanted a woman president but not that woman. Some of those voices are black and brown. Some of those voices are deeply grieved when inequality continues to proliferate. Some of those voices were also tired of the establishment. The bought media. Elitism. The status quo. Immorality.

A nation that once said, “In God We Trust,” set forth legislation and behaviors that disregarded God. What came afterward was so wrong, so much and so fast with more to come. Some of those voices fervently prayed for an intervention, in whatever way God fashioned it. People were kneeled and prostrate, hearts pouring out. And when there’s prayer for an intervention…look out. Will it be a prick, a tap on the shoulder or a full out “oops, upside your head”?

Do you know who else offends our sensibilities? God. GOD offends our sensibilities when things happen that we can’t make sense of. God offends our sensibilities when we keep eating the cake that’s killing us and He decides to finally remove the plate from our gluttonous faces to save us from ourselves. God offends our sensibilities when IN His love for us, He removes His grace and sends judgment—like a parent whose child continues to rebel. Throughout the Bible and throughout our lives (for those paying attention), we’ve seen God move in ways that confused us, that made us uncomfortable, that angered us, that caused us to think He was out of His mind or no longer with us.

Fact is, God is not interested in our comfort. This election outcome didn’t just happen on November 8. This extends far before and beyond. Whether it is God’s judgment or His protection, I’m not to say. What I know is that His Hand is Sovereign in all situations. Since last year, I called this entire election a dumpster fire careening down the street out of control—or was it? Was society turned on its head by this election outcome—or is God getting us in position to be turned right side up? To usher in His Kingdom? God works best in our discomfort. 

God WILL OFFEND our sensibilities to do what He needs to do. He will absolutely upset our plans. We may not like it or love it. We may not understand it. But to this, I say, “Lord, have your way. Have thine own way.”

I absolutely understand those distraught by this presidential election outcome. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Cling not to broken, worldly thought patterns.

But to the Saints/Believers/the Body of Christ, I implore you not to be frightened by this outcome. Instead, be JOYFUL that God is moving! More people have come together in prayer. More are in praise and worship! More are seeking God for hearts to change and saying, “Lord, let that change start with me.” More love, more kindness. More of God’s People are emboldened to fight the good fight on their knees while wielding the sword of His Word in their hands.

This is also game time! Suit up, Saints! We’ve rehearsed for game day many, many times, now. We’ve been in training for game day. We know His Word. We trust in God’s Promises to deliver and keep the righteous in perfect peace. We know He has not given us a spirit of fear. We already know that the gates of hell shall not prevail. We know that His Presence goes with us wherever we go and he says, “Be not afraid. Be strong.” He already told us that He has “overcome the world (John 16:33).” We know how the story ends, folks!! While many of you are resting in this truth, some of you are afraid and dismayed. Come on, folks! Such situations do NOT change how the story ends! Through Jesus Christ, we win in the end! No man, no woman, no system, no campaign can bring about such victory. This victory has already been won through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Focus. Don’t Get Distracted.

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Remember our world is fallen, perishing. In dire need of a Savior. For those firmly rooted in Christ Jesus, we are to view all situations through His eyes. We are to glorify God whether the situation is good or bad; to our liking or not to our liking. A spiritual mind is a mind stayed on Jesus. A spiritual mind is indeed sober about situations—and is yet, slightly detached from the world. We handle elation and devastation the same way: fixed, unmoved, abiding in peace, joyful.

Don’t let any circumstance remove your focus from Almighty God, the Great I AM. God will indeed offend our sensibilities to shake things up, to disrupt harmful patterns, to expose corruption and injustices so justice and integrity can be restored, to awaken the sleeping, to move us to abandon worldly wisdom and trust in Him only, to grow us, to strengthen us and to draw hearts closer to Him; to bring us to the end of ourselves so that HE is all that remains in us. Such disruption is good and necessary. Our greatest success rests in Him and our obedience to His process. Focus less on Trump and see what God is doing in this very moment. I am excited to see how God will move. The nations are the LORD’s and He desires that we seek Him (Acts 17:26-27).

Pray for our leaders and for their hearts to be pliable in God’s Hands to do His will as noted in Proverbs 21:1. Lord, continue to use Your People as Ambassadors of Your light, love and truth in these times.

God bless you.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

Does It Matter What We Do in Private?

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Behind closed doors where it’s just you, no one else. At your dining room table where conversations are shared with your nearest and dearest and not for public dissemination. The videos you watch. The music you listen to. The fetish that is private for now, but it’s growing appetite will soon put you on front street and embarrass you. The locker room conversations not meant for the board room.

Does it matter what we do and say in private? Does it matter who we speak unlovingly about? For those of us living in the “free world” of America, most would say that what we do and say in the privacy of our homes or private spaces is no one’s business. But to God, it matters.

For those in relationship with Christ Jesus, our character, actions, speech and heart should mirror His in the office, the storefront, in our homes, at the dining room table. As lights on the hill (Matthew 5:14) for everyone to see, the Christ in us should not be compartmentalized or covered. He should not be excused from certain environments for flesh to have its way.

As Voices Against the Grain and those of us who no longer wish to conform to this world’s status quo AND who desire to be continually transformed into Christ’s likeness through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), we can display Christ to a skeptical world. The world is dying to see if godliness is indeed possible and simultaneously seeks its impossibility. For who would give up their right to not freely exercise whatever they want to do and say?

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In my professional life of public relations, we prepare our clients with messaging and talking points to help them “stay on message” when interviewing with media or delivering public presentations. It’s hoped that these talking points communicate who the client is, what they stand for and what they hope to accomplish through their platform. Yet, away from the hot mic and cameras, what resides in their hearts may be entirely different. Thus, we’re shocked when those “differences” are recorded outside of the person’s “talking points” environment.

If you are a Christian reading this, who are you in public and in private? Do you display godly character in both environments?

As God has grown the desire in me to truly be a Christian public servant, I think often on what that means. It means that God is grooming leaders who will not reflect the current landscape of “it doesn’t matter what I do in private.” They will not have dual minds but minds solely focused on obedience to His will and ways.

Such leaders will not rationalize policies that support convenience and expediency at the risk of morality. Such leaders will exercise integrity in matters great and small, public and private. Godly character is integrated into the whole and throughout their lives. We’ve seen quite enough of the dualism. We need to see more of the principled with moral absolutes.

In serving others publicly or in private, I continue to think on Luke 16:10

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When it comes to character, the little things matter. Lord, may our living be so close to You that the talking points are no longer needed because You live daily throughout our hearts and lives. Our daily public and private living will be Christ-like and not compartmentalized. Help us Lord, to be trustworthy in character in the great and the small things so a skeptical world will be the recipients of the blessings therein. Amen.

God bless you, much love to you and trust that the transformation is worth it.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

 

The Deception of Progress: A Harmful Illusion

“If you want to change the direction of our country, vote.”  And in doing so, what are we advancing?

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (liberty).  (2 Corinthians 3:17 NIV)

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

In referencing the above New Testament scripture, I’m attempting to draw the clearest line, paint-by-numbers directions for this world to obtain true freedom instead of the counterfeit freedoms they currently pursue.

Liberty: the pursuit of it underpins our democratic society. Indeed, voting is important to register your voice in how our government should operate in serving our interests and preserving our freedoms.

But when such exercises compromise or disregard God’s laws for the sake of “progress,” we’ve not grasped the unprotected turmoil we’ve therefore brought upon ourselves. We’ve grieved God and incurred His judgments.

So why are many baffled by the decay our country lies in today?

“The irony of America’s quest for happiness lies in the fact that she succeeded more obviously than any other nation in making life “comfortable,” only to run into larger incongruities of human destiny by the same achievements by which it escaped the smaller ones. Our very success in this enterprise has hastened the exposure of its final limits.” – Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (1952)

Though Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, ethicist, commentator on politics and public affairs, and professor at Union Theological Seminary, penned this quote 64 years ago, his message still rings truth today.

America has sought greater liberties to make people “comfortable” with their immoral lifestyle choices. Ironically, in pursuing such liberty, perfect harmony is yet to be achieved.

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The irony is that the immoral have gotten the liberties they’ve pushed for, but oh, it comes with so much more. The disappointment of the “so much more” is concealed until you get the package home, unwrap it, celebrate its novelty and then realize it is bundled with unwelcomed outcomes.

The duplicitous nature of such progress masquerades itself as a solution to accommodate our self-interests—absent of critical thinking, absent of considering the future ramifications. The only advancement in this type of progress is to advance gross deception within the recipient. This is a harmful illusion. The lesson in this is be careful what you ask for. You just might get it and other things along with it you didn’t ask for. This is the trickery of ungodly progress.

How Do We Obtain Authentic Liberty? 

“Liberation is not found in escaping or manipulating what God requires of us, but it is found by embracing and being faithful to God’s ideals.”- Charles “Chuck” Colson and Nancy Pearson, How Now Shall We Live (1999)

In Niebuhr’s words, our culture has hastened the exposure of the limits of what worldly progress/liberty can bring. There are far too many deceived in these last days.

Lord Jesus, we pray that those deceived would have the veil removed to clearly see that their freedom rests in You alone. May those pursuing ungodly progress be quickened in their hearts by hearing Your Word and be led to repent and recognize that true progress rests in our obedience to You, rooted in love for You. Jesus, You alone remain our intervention and deliverance from temporal and eternal ruin. Life in You is how we transform our country and our very lives.

Are you advancing decay or true liberty through Christ Jesus? The integrity of God and His Word are impeccable. Be very clear: God will not violate His integrity nor His Word. Those who seek liberties outside of His will are grossly deceived.

Why Are We Telling You This? 

At Voices Against the Grain, we present God’s Word to: 1- bring clarity and restoration so you can navigate successfully out of and away from deception, 2- to educate and equip you in God’s truth for abundant living—so you can truly live free as God designed, 3- to encourage you, and last, 4- to love you as we’re telling you the truth. Our platform messages, primarily geared for the Believer, also serve to educate the unbeliever.

We are grateful for our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ who are advancing God’s Kingdom alongside us and within their communities. Thank you for exposing deception with truth and transforming one heart at a time in the love of Jesus Christ, so that those transformed are empowered by the Holy Spirit to help transform others. This is progress.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

We’ve Come This Far By Faith

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

“If one minute’s freedom had been offered to me and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it.” –Elizabeth Freeman “Mum Bett,” a Massachusetts slave who sued for her freedom and helped end slavery in that state, 1800

Sobering words. You can feel this former slave’s yearning to experience freedom, even if only for 60 seconds before being killed. Through her words, you feel her disregard for death in exchange for one minute’s freedom to escape the life she had been enslaved.

Though I saw her quote earlier this week during my five-hour tour of the newly opened National African American Museum of History and Culture here in Washington, D.C., her palpable words have stayed with me. In the course of my tour of the intelligently designed crown/corona-shaped museum and its four levels and basement levels, dare I say that there are many words and images that have stayed with me.

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A project 100 years in the making, the National African American Museum of History and Culture, a Smithsonian property, was built on the last available space on the National Mall grounds. Its history memorializes in artifact, imagery, film, music, written and audio messages the good, bad and ugly of America’s history in its treatment of Blacks.

I joyfully made my way through and down the top levels whose exhibits fabulously celebrate some of African Americans’ crowning achievements from opening businesses and restaurants, to the music many of us sing and dance to, sports records set and the creation of popular Black-owned magazines and newspapers telling stories from perspectives that wouldn’t have been told otherwise. I felt proud.

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The infamous gold track shoes of four-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist and World Champion sprinter, Michael Johnson

The museum staff first recommended that visitors start at the basement level which contains exhibits of slavery (and Emmett Till’s casket), and then work our way up. This was purposely designed to lift us out of the earlier sorrow. But, as life would have it, there was a long line to the basement level so it was recommended that we start our tour at the top levels.

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By the time I reached the basement levels, I understood why the reverse order was preferred. Upon entering the basement level exhibits that embarked on Africans’ journey of slavery into the Americas and Europe, starting around year 1400, my jubilation sunk into anger and sorrow.

Beatings. Brutality. Men, women and children in shackles. Packed in large cargo ships with less than 2 feet of space between the next person. Forced to lie in their excrement. Some were healthy enough to survive the Transatlantic journey and some were not. Those that survived the journey, not all survived the overbearing field work. Rice crops, sugar trade, tobacco fields and other goods established the wealthy and many companies still operating in America today—built on the blood, sweat, brutality, tears and cries of despair from the millions upon millions of enslaved Africans.

In reading some of the slaves’ stories and viewing the clothes and shackles passed down to their family for me as a free person to see today, I asked, “God, where were you in their brutality? Where were you in their beatings, struggles and oppression? Children separated from their parents? Enslaved men and women who loved each other not allowed by law to marry. Treated as property, while the wicked were held in high esteem.  Lord, where were you??!”

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Slave shackles, property of 3rd U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson.

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In my anger, I came upon a display that brought a wellspring of joy within my spirit.

Encased in glass was Nat Turner’s open bible and Harriet Tubman’s book of gospel hymns. Both Turner and Tubman were instrumental in bravely leading other slaves to freedom. The description beneath Tubman’s hymnal reads:

“A fiercely religious woman, Tubman spoke of visions and dreams that helped provide a moral compass throughout her life. The wear and tear on this hymnal suggests that she must have loved it and used it quite frequently.”

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Harriet Tubman’s Hymnal

Wow. More than wow. Seeing Tubman’s hymnal and Turner’s bible stirred my spirit to recognize: Lord, You were with them! Just as You were faithfully with Moses as he led the Israelites out of Egypt after suffering 400 years of slavery, YOU were with those who led, bled and suffered! You are the same God then as you are today. For all Believers, You are with us today, in our struggles! You tell us to go in courage (Joshua 1:9) for you go with us! If we trust You and Your Word, You will bring us out and into freedom! Exodus! For those who trust, that means spiritual freedom in Christ Jesus. For some of you, it also means leaving the land of not enough (Egypt) to the land of more than enough (Canaan).

I could write more on my experience but truly this is a powerful takeaway for me. God is indeed with us in our struggles even when it doesn’t feel like it at times. God knows our struggles, suffering and sorrows, for He sent His only Son to be beaten, whipped, nailed to a wooden cross to die as an innocent to take on the wickedness of this world so mankind could be redeemed and reconciled in relationship with God. Christ died so that you and I could truly be free.

Presently, the Black community is still under siege. There is a present-day slavery of a different sort strategized by Satan that has kept many in perpetual slavery to poverty, addiction, incarceration and violence. It’s my prayer at least for the population God has entrusted me to serve and share His Truth, to help them recognize true freedom in Christ Jesus and unshackle them from the things that enslave and entangle  (Hebrews 12:1). “To proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” (Isaiah 61:1, NIV).

I, like many DC-area residents, get caught up in the busyness of Washington life. Sometimes we take for granted the national treasures easily accessible to us; treasures that thousands travel from far away to simply get a glimpse of; to somehow capture the experience permanently by photo, video or gift shop trinket.

But I promise you, I won’t take for granted what I saw and experienced. In ways I will never know personally, the struggles of my predecessors and more importantly, their legacy of faith and resiliency, has in part enabled me to be where I am today: free.  I think on words from the hymn, “We’ve Come this Far By Faith”:

Oh, We’ve come this far by faith

Leaning on the Lord

Trusting in His holy word

He’s never failed me yet

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Can’t turn around

We’ve come this far by faith

 

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

An Appeal When Love Wanes and Anger Flames

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Terence Crutcher, 40, was shot and killed last Friday by Tulsa police officer, Betty Shelby. Crutcher’s SUV had stalled in the middle of the road and police arrived to address the situation. Crutcher, a large black man, threw his hands up as police approached (to show he was not a threat) but was still tasered, shot and later died at the hospital. Husband. Father. Brother. Unarmed black man. Another one, again.

I was angrier than I’ve felt in some time in learning this news story yesterday. Another unarmed black man shot and killed by a white police officer. The egregious incident, captured on a police dashboard camera, shows Crutcher with his hands up. Officer Shelby is under federal investigation.

Many are angry. We’re inflamed by the injustice of it all. We’re in disbelief that another black man has been taken away from his family like this. In their anger, many have lost their love for others, particularly a number of blacks toward whites. But this response further divides us and plays right into Satan’s ploy. As more Believers grow into the image of Christ, Satan is trying to derail the light of the Church. He seeks to cause division and dissension to where unity cannot be forged. We reject that in Jesus’ Mighty Name!

In recognizing the signs of the end of the age, Matthew 24:12 (NIV) warns us:

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.

This is happening now, among some Believers. 

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And Matthew 24:13 encourages us:

but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

My appeal to all who read this: 

As the crises increase in frequency and intensity, when justice seems elusive and our very lives seem to be under siege, we have an even greater opportunity to display Godly character.  We should be the hands and feet of Christ, serving one another in love; to not lose our love for one another, to not allow our love to grow cold toward others. God’s love demonstrated is exactly what the world desperately needs. Those who are children of God, we are called to manifest His love to others:

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:10, NIV)

As a dear sister in Christ reminded me:

Proverbs 4:23: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (NIV)

My appeal to you: In our thirst for justice to be rendered, let’s maintain our love for one another. Keep your hope, Godly character and faith. Don’t become disheartened and drift away from Him but rather, draw nearer and cleave to Him more. Others need to see His Light in us! If we lose our love toward others, then sadly, we’ve drifted away from our first love: Jesus Christ.

My appeal to you: Remember how the story ends: love/good wins over evil in the end. Satan knows this too. Though he is already defeated, he hopes to make you forget your victory already won.

Lord Jesus, we need You. Our hearts are grieved again by the injustice that has occurred here. Forgive us for our words, thoughts and actions that have not displayed Your Love. Though we are angered by this situation, let it not pull us out of Godly character. Renew a right spirit within us, dear Lord. Create in us a clean heart, for You are holy and require us to be as well. Lord, may we desire to stay close to You, so we can truly be Your hands and feet to others in this sinful and perishing world. So long as we keep You, Jesus, as our first love, our love for others will not grow cold. 

Jesus, please comfort the Crutcher Family in their loss, and all those affected. We pray for the police officer involved, that she would accept responsibility for her actions; that she would seek You to transform her heart and renew her mind so she may truly love and serve others in Your way.  We pray healing for Tulsa and all communities devastated by such actions. Thank you, Jesus. 

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

Toplines on Trauma

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

A couple weeks ago, I attended a Trauma Informed Care training presented by national expert Bonnie Martin, LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor). The training was hosted by National Community Church here in Washington, D.C. I was joined by one of my mentees who is pursuing her Master of Social Work. Since attending the training, it’s been my intent to share with you some of what we learned.

Though I’ve been told by others that I am a good listener, compassionate and provide wise counsel, it was recommended that I attend the training to better serve the at-risk youth population the Lord has placed a burden on my heart to mentor here in D.C. Unlike the young people I’m currently mentoring who seek guidance in navigating career choices, relationship matters and their life in Christ Jesus in a morally decaying world, it is highly likely the stories I’ll hear from the at-risk population will be gut-wrenching and horrific.

The training was tremendously helpful to someone like me who is not—I repeat NOT a mental health expert. She presented a lot of information, at which my mentee and I took copious notes. Though she is a Christian, Martin framed the information primarily from a scientific perspective to depict how trauma affects the brain and how the brain attempts to heal.

While I wouldn’t dare capture for you the entire training in this blog post, I can provide you some toplines. I hope this helps to enlighten and certainly not minimize the scale and impact trauma can have on someone physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. For those of you reading this who are mental health professionals and more versed in issues on trauma, please feel free to provide additional insight.

Toplines on Trauma

What is trauma and what does it look like?

  1. Trauma (as Martin defined it): too much stress at one time for the body to handle properly; a distressing experience.
  2. Trauma can be acute (ex: earthquake) followed by subsequent aftershocks. PTSD looks at how the body and brain are responding two months after trauma. Complex post-trauma could also be trauma that is chronic (ex: some children are born into trauma, such as those born to a heroin-addicted mother, child born into food insecure home or molestation. Chronic homelessness is ongoing trauma).
  3. The brain is being altered under traumatic stress and this needs to be taken into consideration.
  4. Neuroplasticity: how the brain seeks to heal after trauma or injury and establish new neuro connections to adjust to changes in new environment.
  5. Trauma can cause memory impairment. Memories can also change, become disjointed or not make sense.
  6. Negative behaviors of acting out: Some of the behaviors that traumatized people act out is what helped them survive (lying, stealing, etc.) to cope with stresses that never should have been. While we get this, they need to be restored from this. Sexual acting out may be sign of previous sexual trauma. This is done to manage stress response.
  7. Prefrontal cortex of the brain if compromised or damaged during trauma, creates hypervigilence. The person’s ability to perceive stress in a healthy way, is gone. All events are elevated to a high stress level (ex: studying for an exam and being chased by a shark receives same stress response).
  8. A person experiencing trauma may feel unworthy of love, acceptance and carry shame.
  9. They may crave sweet, fatty food combinations. They can gain weight and this compounds the shame feelings. Diet is critical. They need hydration and healthy food. Dehydration impairs mental function.
  10. People experiencing trauma are exhausted. Difficulty getting out of bed to run their race. Weary and faint-hearted.

How can you best help this person?

  1. Listen. If they choose to be silent instead of talk, sit with them in the silence. Don’t seek to fill the silence.
  2. By listening and not trying to “help,” you offer them a safe place to engage and build a healthy relationship. This also helps their brain establish new neuro connections.
  3. Focus on their strengths.
  4. Show up. Be present. Your presence matters.
  5. Stick to what you know. If they ask you a question and you don’t know, tell them, “I don’t know.” Do seek to connect them to the appropriate resources who can help.
  6. Ask questions to get to know them. Be interested in them. People are the assignment. We have as much to learn from them as they do from us.
  7. People who have experienced trauma tend to self-isolate. This can kill. They need community and connection.
  8. Embrace anger and grief. These are honest, raw and real emotions about pain and trauma. Bear witness to their pain. Don’t try to shut them down too soon.
  9. Understand that resiliency differs for everyone. Trauma differs for everyone and cannot be compared.
  10. Empower people. Never take their power away. “Do you want an apple or orange?” “Do you want to sit here or over there?”

 

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How can you stay healthy when serving/ministering to a person who has been traumatized?

  1. Don’t be a sponge/don’t absorb others’ trauma or you will not be good for yourself or others. Instead, mirror love and resiliency, laughter, play, redemption. Mirror everything you pray for them to have. The Holy Spirit working through you and your presence will be the influence.
  2. Make sure you bounce back. If you are not bouncing back, stop and get help.

Praise Jesus Christ, who is our Savior! He is a sure help in our times. You need not think that you can save this person. Only Jesus can. Jesus knows our pain and suffering. He knows that pain and despised the shame of that pain for the joy set before him as told in Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

he-refreshes-the-weary-and-the-faint

Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your Son Jesus, Our Savior, to bear it all for us on the Cross. In our pain, our grief, anger, a yearning to understand “why?”, He knows and sees our struggle. He hears our cries and utterances.  Because of His victory achieved on the Cross, the shame is not His or ours. Thank you Jesus for your amazing love that heals the broken places and makes all things new. We pray that those experiencing such pain would begin to lay their burdens down, so they may see the victory and joy you’ve already set before them. Refresh and renew their spirit, mind and body, Lord with your love, strength, peace and joy. In this joy, may they run their race with perseverance, seeing their victory already won. Please also strengthen those of us you’ve called to help those in pain. We thank you for inviting us to be co-workers with you in this work as they move toward healing and freedom, and prayerfully, may be equipped to help free somebody else. 

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

 

The Believer’s Disposition/Posture

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

What should be the Believer’s disposition/posture at all times? What should be our posture to advance God’s Kingdom in increasingly turbulent times?

The Believer’s Disposition (or posture):

  • Focused on Jesus, Communes with Him. (Colossians 3:2)
  • Worships the Lord in spirit and truth/whole heart (John 4:23-24, Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
  • Called, Called for God’s Work, Made Righteous Through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:9, Romans 1:6, Romans 11:29, Romans 8:30)
  • Sanctified, Holy, Set Apart for God’s Purposes. (1 Peter 1:6, 2 Corinthians 6:17)
  • Love and Goodwill toward others. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
  • Humility. (Ephesians 4:2, Philippians 2:3)
  • Peace. Abiding in Jesus’ perfect peace. The world doesn’t have peace. The world is putting on a good show, but it is counterfeit peace. (John 14:27, John 16:33)
  • Joy. (Galatians 5:22-23, Nehemiah 8:10)
  • Self-Control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Expectant, Rooted in Hope, Knows Who Holds Their Future. (Hebrews 10:23, Hebrews 11:1, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:24)
  • Fearlessness. We don’t shrink back from what God has called us to do. He reminds us in Joshua 1:9 to be courageous: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. For the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
  • Content in all situations, Gives Thanks. (Philippians 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  • Forward moving, advancing God’s Kingdom, led into direct confrontation with the enemy as we take territory away from the kingdom of darkness and reclaim for God’s Kingdom. How else would you get battle experience? (Ephesians 6:10-17)
  • Authorized by God. God, who is greater than us, has authorized you to “GO” and “Conquer.” Walk in it. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Standing-Out-In-The-Crowd

  • Obedience. (John 14:15, Revelation 14:12)
  • Holy Spirit-led; divergent, dexterous; moves boldly and confidently in God’s instruction and not led or made stagnant by doctrine
  • Discernment/Wisdom. (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 3:13, Hebrews 5:14, James 3:17)
  • Rest, Confidence in God. (Hebrews 4, Isaiah 33:6, Psalm 62:5-8)
  • Clarity and Sound Mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • Unshakable Convictions. We share God’s Truth so those living outside of it can begin to bear good fruit. We wouldn’t encourage them to continue sowing lawlessness to appease them and spare our discomfort in telling them the truth. (Colossians 2:8, 2 Timothy 4:2-5)
  • Perseverance. Pressing in, not seeking comfortable spaces, understanding that suffering and struggle grows our faith. Staying the course. Finishing the race. (2 Timothy 4:7, Acts 20:24, Hebrews 12:1, Philippians 3:14)
  • Free. (2 Corinthians 3:17, John 8:32, Romans 8:1)
  • Victorious! (Romans 8:31-32, Romans 8:37, John 16:33, 1 John 5:4, Joshua 10:8)

What an awesome picture of the secure Believer amid the world’s insecurity! What other characteristics would you add to this list? Your comments welcomed!

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.

 

Is Holiness Possible Today?

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

“Oh Nikki, stop it with that holier than thou stuff,” said mom to my then 13 or 14-year-old self. Note: mom didn’t say “stuff” but I’ve chosen a more appropriate substitute.  :-)

Mom was responding to my correction about her cussing. I was a black child, albeit raised in a household by two Christian parents, along with my brother, who found boldness (or ignorance) to correct her mother. Those of you who understand the dynamics of growing up in a black household, mom didn’t like back talk (even if we were right) and neither did/does Dad (mom passed away in 1989). But within me, I had a boldness and love for the Lord and a desire to see others love and live for the Lord as He calls us to.

I-am-the-light-of-the-world

My love for the Lord began in early childhood. My parents bought my brother and me an entire 10-volume set of illustrated bible stories. I read the stories from page to page, enjoying the illustrations, loved learning about Jesus, his ministry, his and the disciples’ interactions with others. Even reading about his crucifixion and resurrection, I may have read that more than the other stories. I loved the Lord, yet my childhood thing was to be so perfect that I wouldn’t get in trouble with mom and dad. So if I didn’t complete a chore, broke a dish, got a bad report card grade, or something else, I lied about it. I sometimes blamed the incident on my brother who had no clue that he was about to get a spanking because I lied so well. Goodness gracious. He and I can look back on it now and laugh, but at that time it was no laughing matter. My parents were grieved by my boldface lying pattern, and one day said to me, “Nikki, we want to be able to trust you. We can’t trust you.”

Those words pained me deeply. I too, wanted my parents to be able to trust me. Why did I fear being punished to the point of lying? I was truly repentant and asked the Lord’s help to stop lying, to turn from this. I didn’t want to be a liar. This was at age 12. It was then that I turned my life over to Jesus Christ, and my heart was made new. It was then that I felt a greater love for the Lord, with such a zeal to share Him and His love with others, to encourage them to walk in His truth.

Oh yes, this has long been who I am. This sudden change occurred within our household with my mom who was a Believer. But she still had her favorite curse words, liked to smoke her occasional More brand slim cigarettes, and liked to drink her occasional screwdriver. She was not delighted to hear her teen daughter’s correction. Eeeks.

Two scriptures (and certainly there are more) come to mind in writing this: 

1 Peter 1:16 (English Standard Version), since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” As one commentary reads, “The written word of God is the surest rule of a Christian’s life, and by this rule, we are commanded to be holy in every way. God makes those holy who he saves.  Holiness (should be) the desire and duty of every Christian. It must be in all affairs, all conditions and toward all people.”

Matthew 5:6 (New International Version), Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  As I was coming more into the Lord in childhood, I genuinely had a hunger and thirst for righteousness; for a right relationship with God and others (and still do). I simply didn’t interpret it with this understanding at that time, and likely, neither did mom.

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Sooo many opportunities to sin abound in our society. Is the Bible and how God calls us to live still relevant or even possible in today’s challenging times? The answer is “Yes.” God’s Word, His character and His nature are unchanging, no matter the situation. In the next few weeks, our ministry will speak with college students who are struggling on how to navigate such societal trappings. Worse, as they seek to successfully avoid the trappings and enticements of sin, they see some members within the Body of Christ who they look up to, engaging in similar sins—the sins the students are told to avoid. Many of them are disheartened and confused by what they see. As I mentor our young people, I understand that this millenial generation truly wants to see those more mature in the Body of Christ walking the walk and not just talking it. Truly living in holiness,  yielding our flesh and spirit in obedience to God’s will. Mirroring Christ’s love and His ways.

But I’ll ask them as I am asking you: Is holiness possible today? Do you even desire holiness or understand what it is? As dear friend and co-founder of Christian think tank FreedomSquared.com, Hakim Hazim, said so well recently: “Many want God’s blessings but reject the relationship standards.” 

What Holiness Means and Why It is Possible Today 

Holiness means to be “set apart, consecrated, set apart for God’s purposes; sacred, hallowed, sanctified. Called out of darkness to reflect God’s Light to the world.” God gives us His Holy Spirit so we can live as He does. That’s why it is possible, even today, to live holy.

Is holiness possible today? You bet. It’s not only possible, it’s God’s plan for us. Be encouraged: I am living it as are others. If you’re living it, continue, as others are watching and listening. If you’re struggling, I offer this prayer:

Lord, help us through Your Holy Spirit to yield to your ways, your will for holiness and not how we interpret that to mean.  Develop within us such a love and devotion for you that drives our desire to pursue holiness no matter the situation or environment we’re facing. Though there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), let us not use that as a license to keep allowing past sins into our present.  Help us to model to this generation what a life of true joy, true freedom, true peace can look like in You. Thank you, Jesus, for your love, mercy and grace upon us. 

Amen.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.