The late Chadwick Boseman provides words of inspiration to college graduates about finding purpose in life.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11, NIV
Although the above words were initially intended to reassure those that had been carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon that they’d be brought back from captivity, they also provide comfort and encouragement in the present day for anyone that worries about what the future holds for them. And, thanks to all of the recent news stories about the state of the economy, not to mention all the reports of shocking acts of violence and natural disasters, many people are probably not only wondering—but worrying—about the future.
I usually think of myself as an optimistic person, however, I must admit that on more than a few occasions, I’ve worried about how I’d handle a particular situation or how it might turn out. Fortunately, it was during some of those times that I felt as though God was reaching out to me in a special way through the words found in Jeremiah 29:11. This is why it’s become one of my favorite scriptures.
The first time I felt God was speaking to me through this verse was right before I was scheduled to take a trip on an airplane. For some reason, I’d become terrified of doing something I had been doing since I was about six years old. I’d never had any bad experiences while flying, so I’m not sure why I was so scared that particular time. I just was. That’s why I was so happy that I came across Jeremiah 29:11 in the days leading up to that trip. I felt as if God was trying to tell me to go ahead and take the trip and trust that I’d be safe. I did go on that trip, and it was a safe and enjoyable one.
This verse also ministered to me was when I was sitting in a breast surgeon’s office trying to figure out if I should have a biopsy done. As my husband, Vince, and I sat in this Christian doctor’s office listening to her explain how routine it would be and how quickly it could be completed, I couldn’t help but fear she might find something bad or, worse yet, that I might not make it through the procedure. But, before I could tell her I needed to think about it more, she stopped talking and turned around the nameplate resting on her desk and asked me to read the Scripture verse that was taped to the back of it. Can you guess what it was? Yes, Jeremiah 29:11. I had no idea that we shared a fondness for this scripture, but when I read it, I knew everything would be fine. The procedure was uneventful and results of the biopsy were normal.
That same scripture spoke to me again a few years later on the day that my husband and I moved back to Illinois—along with our then-infant daughter—after residing on the East Coast for several years. I was extremely happy about the fact that I’d again be living near my parents and my sister and her growing family. But, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I’d be leaving behind the church family that had showered us with love during the four years we lived in New Jersey.
Since my husband was one of the staff ministers at the church, the other ministers and their wives threw a special farewell luncheon for us. Near the end of the luncheon, they presented gifts to each of us. My husband’s gift—a personalized black briefcase—was a very nice one and came in handy when he started teaching undergrads several weeks later. However, the decorative little plaque that contained a Bible verse that I received was priceless. And, you may be able to figure out why. Yes, the scripture inscribed on the plaque was my favorite one. The gift served as the perfect reminder that, even as I left the amazing church family that I had come to love and made the switch from career woman to stay-at-home-mom, God would be with me. And, since I’d never told any of them about my fondness for that scripture, I saw it as a true gift from above.
So, if you’re going through an unsettling situation or circumstance, don’t despair. Instead, reflect on the words of Jeremiah 29:11 and think about how they might apply in your life right now.
And remember this: God has unique plans for all of our lives. They may not always line up with the pictures we’ve sketched in our own minds or the life plans we’ve drafted for ourselves, but they are special because He created them just for us. And, because of this, He will enable us and empower us to handle any situation and accomplish any task that He places in our lives.
I also hope you’ll remember that we serve a merciful, gracious, trustworthy, and loving God. Sometimes we spend far too much time thinking about all the ways God is going to punish our sin and nearly not enough time thinking about — and giving thanks for — all the ways He has blessed us.
Sometimes God will speak to us by repeatedly placing in front of our faces a particular scripture, and sometimes He’ll use other people to get a particular message to us. But, regardless of how He chooses to speak to you, I pray you’ll never stop desiring to hear from Him. So, don’t spend a lot of time worrying or fretting over how you’ll handle something that you’re currently — or soon may be — going through; God is already handling it for you, His unique and precious child.
In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, the average Christian spends a lot of money, time, and energy preparing for the holiday. While I’ve always considered that time of year to be a very special one, I’ve often wondered why we don’t elevate Easter–or Resurrection Sunday, to use the name that many believers prefer–to the same level. After all, didn’t Jesus come into the world for the very purpose of suffering, dying, and rising again to demonstrate His love and give us new life?
So why don’t we celebrate the day Jesus arose from the dead the way we celebrate the day He came into the world? Well, if I interviewed every believer I know, I’d receive a multitude of opinions. For example, some men and women of faith would say it’s because Resurrection Sunday is more somber than Christmas. When these Christians think about the horrific thing that was done to Jesus to save our souls, they can’t help but be sad. They don’t like thinking–or talking about–the demise of any human being, let alone the torture and death of the One they call Savior. So, while they honor the day Jesus was resurrected, they aren’t inspired to engage in the same type of festivities as the ones they deem appropriate for Christmas.
For other Christians, the difference in how they celebrate these two holidays stems from the fact that they aren’t constantly being courted by retailers that promise to provide just what they need to have a perfect holiday. In other words, as Resurrection Sunday approaches, they don’t feel the same kind of pressure or obligation to buy the right presents or hang the prettiest decorations. So, they don’t do anything special for the holiday. Still others would probably say that it’s simply because, other than Passion Plays or Sunday school programs put on at churches, there just aren’t that many religious traditions associated with the holiday.
But does it have to be this way? Couldn’t we begin today to create our own family traditions that recognize the fact that Jesus kept His promise that He’d die and then, on the third day, be alive again? Isn’t that very fact pivotal to our Christian faith? Isn’t that reason enough for a celebration or, even better, kicking off certain lifestyle changes that will last long after the holiday has come and gone?
Holiday traditions have a wonderful way of ushering in greater spiritual awareness and a renewed commitment to one’s faith. They can provide us with opportunities to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as share our faith with non-believers. And they can also help us make our faith more tangible in the eyes of our impressionable children.
One way to do this is to set aside time to pray and read God’s Word every day, particularly reflecting on verses that remind us of His Son’s sacrificial love for us. Among the verses you may want to read and meditate on are the following ones: John 3:16; Romans 10:9; Luke 19:10; Romans 5:8; and I John 4:7-10. Don’t feel as though you have to do this alone. Invite your spouse, a prayer partner and even your children to join you. If you already set aside time for devotions, you may want to use the time to not only read them but memorize them. That way, they’ll not just be counted among the many that you perused this year, but listed among those that meant enough to you that you chose to engrave them into your heart and mind.
Reaching out to others during this time is another way to take your appreciation of the holiday to new level. Some people do this by inviting unsaved relatives, friends, or neighbors to go to church with them. Others may opt to host an event–such as a brunch, dinner party, movie night, or even a dessert party–in their home for relatives and friends who appreciate Christian fellowship as much as they do. In addition, those that love giving presents on holidays could consider making homemade gifts–such as sugar cookies made into shapes representative of various components of the Gospel message (e.g., a cross, sheep, stars, etc.)–or purchasing small gifts at their local Christian bookstore.
You also could fill your home, office, and car with sights and sounds that are symbolic of Christ’s life. Little figurines displayed on mantles or tables in your home, as well as small ornaments, hung on bedposts, doorknobs, or even your car’s rear-view mirror could serve as perfect reminders of what God did for us through His Son. If you’ve been thinking about incorporating more faith-based forms of entertainment into your life and home, this is the perfect time to start. Check your local library, video rental store, or favorite bookstore for inspirational titles and schedule a few movie nights. And don’t forget to set aside time to be blessed by the ministry of music, whether you enjoy the gospel, contemporary Christian, holy hip-hop, or sacred jazz. Let it play softly in the background while eating dinner with your family, as you complete chores, and as you’re commuting to and from various places.
Regardless of which traditions you decide to infuse into your life in the coming weeks, what’s important is that you hold on to why you’re adding them. Celebrate the good news of Easter unabashedly so that you, your loved ones, and anyone who crosses your path will have the opportunity to experience a renewed appreciation for Resurrection Sunday and all that it symbolizes for God’s children.
There’s been a lot of chatter recently about Disney’s upcoming feature The Princess and the Frog, since it represents not only the studio’s return to traditional hand-drawn animation, but also the arrival of Disney’s first black princess. Though a little late to the party, this is still a welcome milestone for the mega-media company and for its lucrative Princess brand. For years, African American daughters, and their parents, have wondered if there would ever be a princess that looked like them. Now, this December, we’ll finally be able to answer in the affirmative.
But there’s actually another Disney character who’s become a role model of sorts to many little black girls, including my own 9- and 6-year-old daughters. And, as is often the case, she’s not whom you might expect.
I’m talking about Hannah Montana.
It’s been several weeks since my daughters and I went to see Hannah Montana: The Movie and I still find myself thinking about the film. Is it because it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen? No. Is it because it offered a compelling gospel message? Nope, that’s not it either.
One of the reasons the film has been on my mind is that it has caused me to think a lot about what makes the Hannah Montana character, as portrayed by 16-year-old actress/singer Miley Cyrus, have such widespread appeal. What started out just a few years ago as cute but cheesy Disney Channel show about an ordinary teenager (Miley Stewart) who leads a secret life as a pop-music superstar (Hannah Montana) has evolved into a huge brand that includes a multitude of licensed products, including such items as apparel, backpacks, books, clocks, shoes, toys, and even toothbrushes.
But here’s the kicker: Hannah Montana’s fan base isn’t just made up of straight-haired, light-eyed, fair-skinned girls that look like her; it transcends race and culture and includes girls of all skin tones, with different hair types, from a variety of ethnic groups and nationalities. Just look around the next time you’re in a large crowd where families with young girls are present; you’re bound to see someone of color wearing a piece of clothing bearing the trademark Hannah Montana guitar or butterfly motifs or emblazoned with her popular “Secret Pop Star” motto. Even the Obama daughters danced to Cyrus’s songs at a Disney-produced inauguration concert for kids.
It’s not surprising that the Disney show has become so popular. It features likeable characters and storylines that viewers can connect with easily. No, the average fan doesn’t reside in an upscale, California beach town as the main character, Miley Stewart, does. And it’s unlikely that many of them will ever become pop superstars. But girls still find the show — which is centered on the awkward situations Stewart gets herself into in every episode — entertaining.
And the show is not just a time-killer I give my kids permission to watch while I clean the house. I like it, as well! As a matter of fact, I often catch myself laughing at and repeating some of the one-liners and expressions articulated by the show’s characters (“Sweet niblets,” anyone?). In a nutshell, Hannah Montana is a program our whole family finds enjoyable — including my ordained, Ph.D’d, theologian husband.
I think another reason why the show is so popular with a wide variety of viewers is that it gives kids hope. By seeing that Stewart, a small-town country girl who dreamed of being a recording artist, has succeeded at reaching her goal, young viewers are inspired to pursue their own dreams. Despite all of her antics — and those of her alter ego (Hannah) — Stewart is a successful and well-adjusted young person. And, because of this, she’s become a role model for all sorts of girls — many of whom look nothing like her.
Wisely, the movie isn’t just a big-screen reenactment of the TV show. Though it features the same characters, it places Hannah/Miley in even bigger jams and forces her — and us — to confront several challenging life questions about friendship and personal integrity.
I also enjoyed the music in the film. The songs, like most Hannah Montana music, fuse together pop, rock, and country elements to produce child-friendly, infectious tunes. Take “The Hoedown Throwdown,” for instance. A mashup of hip-hop and country-western, “Hoedown” has spawned a new line dance that my girls attempt whenever the song plays on television or Radio Disney.
But, for me, what’s even more important than the fact that the TV show and movie feature age-appropriate humor, positive messages, and likeable music is that they have prompted multiple discussions with my girls about subjects that are important to our family.
For example, as all of us fans already know, Stewart’s life sometimes becomes complicated when she finds herself being torn between the two “worlds”– that of a regular teenager and that of a famous pop star — in which she tries to live. But she has made the choice to do it — and her father has agreed to it — because they believe it’s the only way she’ll be able to experience a normal upbringing.
Both in the film and TV show, the storylines centered on this theme are entertaining. But they also repeatedly reveal just how challenging and stressful living a double life as a regular teenager and a pop star can be. And isn’t that exactly what happens to us when we try to have it all, or when we try to be someone during the week that others wouldn’t even recognize on Sundays? When we attempt to have “the best of both worlds,” as Hannah’s theme song puts it, we often wind up emotionally, physically, and even spiritually exhausted.
Hannah Montana has given me the opportunity to remind my girls about the importance of prioritizing the relationships we have with the family members and friends that God has blessed us with. We should never allow our professional pursuits and dreams to compromise how we’re seen by the very people that will love us no matter how bad we mess up. When all the glitter and glam that many of us work so hard to have in our lives has lost its splendor, the people that we can usually count on the most to be there for us are not those that signed our checks or had our names engraved on awards. It’s the people we’re connected to by natural blood (our kinfolk) and divine blood (our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ). They are the ones who gird us up when the facades we put on from day to day become too much to bear.
But lest you think I’ve been totally brainwashed by the marketing behemoth that is Disney, allow me to say that I’m aware of that side of the phenomenon. Another reason I’ve been thinking about the Hannah Montana movie is that it further confirms what I already know about the Disney conglomerate: it is very intentional about securing the patronage of our children and, consequently, our families. Thanks to the plethora of Disney products that can be found on the shelves and racks of our favorite retailers, Disney has managed to wiggle its way into our homes and lives in a powerful way.
This is why parental discernment is so important, whether your child is fascinated by a Disney Channel star or someone from another network or recording company. Unbridled exposure to — and admiration of — a particular individual or character can sometimes lead to that figure becoming an idol. As Christian parents, we must guide our kids’ media choices while teaching them how to maintain a healthy separation between being “a fan” of a star like Miley Cyrus and becoming “a worshiper.”
Obviously, Hannah Montana is not the worst thing out there that parents have to contend with today. As an African American mother who wants her daughter exposed to hopeful and constructive messages, I appreciate the character. Though she’s a white girl from the sticks of Tennessee, she’s become a role model for young black girls like my daughters. Is she flawless? Of course not. Nobody’s perfect. But while we wait for The Princess and the Frog and other positive characters who reflect the multihued diversity of our world, Hannah isn’t a bad friend to have around.