August 12, 2017.

My family moved to Charlottesville about five months after I was born in Maryland, so this little town in central VA has been home to me my whole life. I grew up attending Friday’s after Five downtown, hiking Humpback rock, going to concerts at JPJ, living off of Bodos Bagels, walking the strip of the downtown mall about a million times, especially when I was a teenager and thought that my friends and I were the coolest kids around all because we were finally allowed to be down there without our parents. I grew up attending UVA football games not because anyone in my family went there or because I desired to go there, but because growing up in Charlottesville, it was just something you did. It’s funny, back in high school, kids would always talk about how badly they could not wait to get out of this town; “it’s too boring, there’s nothing to do, it’s too small.” And that last part is true – it is small. You can’t go out anywhere without seeing at least one person you know. But no matter how badly a person wants to leave, it’s amazing the sense of pride people carry with them when they say they’re from here. Charlottesville is the type of town that you tell people you’re from, and they go on & on just raving about how much they love it. My friends at other schools including my own love traveling here to escape the norm. I’ve always loved this place, and can’t imagine having grown up anyplace else. Am I glad to attend college elsewhere, and do I want to venture away from here and experience new places? Yes & yes. But this place is home; spend 21 years anywhere and it’s kind of hard not to feel that way. But myself and everyone whose grown up here, did so with the idea that Charlottesville was just this little town in central Virginia that nobody really knew about. Never in a million years did we think Charlottesville would be a nation wide topic of discussion. But here we are, approaching the anniversary of something not only our city but also our country will remember always, and one day have in textbooks, no doubt.

As I sit here thinking about how vividly I remember this weekend, it’s still kind of surreal to grasp that something like what happened, actually happened here, in Charlottesville.

On the evening of August 11th last year, I sat at home watching live footage on Facebook of the white supremacists marching through UVA’s campus with lit torches. They were chanting, “you will not replace us” in reference to those urging the removal of the Robert E. Lee Statue from one of our parks downtown. There was this knot in my stomach that would remain there over the course of the weekend as I watched everything unfold. I knew there were going to be rally’s downtown on the 12th that would be present to counter the Unite the Right rally, spreading love in the midst of the hate that the white supremacists brought with them, and I wanted so badly to go downtown the morning of the 12th to participate in the counter walks being held, but I ended up not being able to find anyone who could go with me, and with safety being a concern, I opted to stay home. I think everyone knew from the start that this day was not going to play out well.

On the 12th, I was attending a rehearsal dinner for a wedding that would take place the next day. The dinner was on Pantops for this rehearsal dinner, which is about 5 minutes from downtown, where the rally was taking place. I kept updated through Facebook on my phone about all that was going on downtown. I got word that a car had plowed through a crowd of people on the downtown mall, killing Heather Heyer, and then not long after, I saw that there had been a helicopter crash which took the lives of two Virginia State troopers, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, III and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, who were in the helicopter to get visual of what was happening on the ground around Charlottesville. That knot in my stomach grew. What made my heart sink even more during all of this was that I was scheduled to fill in for my pastor & preach the next day — the day after numerous white supremacists had come into our city and held a hate-filled rally which ultimately resulted in the death of three individuals, right in our church’s backyard. My pastor called me while I was at the rehearsal dinner, and when I saw his name pop up on my phone, I knew before I even answered the call that it would be about what was going on. Though he was technically on vacation, he told me that I would still be preaching, but that he was going to be there at church due to everything that had happened. I have to say, that was the first sigh of relief I had taken all day because I was not prepared to lead church through something as horrible as that all on my own. In hindsight, I am grateful that God allowed me to experience what it’s like to lead a congregation through such a devastating time, and as usual, he was faithful in showing up and doing what only he can do in worship.

I was up at 11pm Saturday night, the 12th, and then up at 5am Sunday morning, the 13th, editing my sermon, because what I had as my sermon before all of this happened was most certainly not the sermon that I could preach on Sunday anymore. There was so much hate, anger, intolerance, ignorance that weekend, love was absent. There were people downtown on the 12th who came to counter the hate filled Unite the Right Rally with love, but with such evident hatred being spewed from those white supremacists, I think everyone, including myself needed to be reminded of love, so that is what my sermon was about more than anything else that Sunday — Jesus & love. My heart had never been as heavy as it was before, during, & after preaching on that Sunday. I seldom get nervous when I preach, but that Sunday, I had never been more filled with nerves. But God showed up, like I said, and I’m thankful, because our congregation, our city, needed that. God is love and love is what will trump the hate.

I went downtown a few days after the rally with a couple friends after things had calmed down a bit. It was eerily quiet. The street that the car had plowed through was blocked off, and there laid a memorial for Heather Heyer which was covered with flowers and sweet messages written out in chalk, along with news cameras & many Charlottesville natives there to pay our respects.

Walking the downtown mall felt different, always will now, I think. I believe this event brought out city together more than it tore it apart because in the midst of such a tragic & trying time, people here felt as though they could do nothing more but come together, to grieve, to talk, to give hope to one another that what happened here does not define our city — that we can help be the change even stronger now that this has happened. We acknowledge that this hate is not welcome here. So the question remains:

What we are going to do about it?

Well what if we challenged ourselves to embrace differences, & talk about those differences, rather than attack one another for those differences? What if we willingly sat down for coffee or lunch with people whom we disagree with, and heard each other out, rather than ignorantly refusing to have our minds expanded by others? What if we opened up our own minds wide enough to believe that we could actually learn from people who are different from us? What if we let ourselves learn from people we disagree with, rather than write them off because we disagree? What if, instead of ‘agreeing to disagree’ we agreed to talk about our disagreements, and vowed to not get up from the table until we agree that we will love one another despite our disagreements? What if we let ourselves be vulnerable enough to admit that we don’t know everything? What if we listened — truly & intently listened, to what other people have to say when they speak, rather than just thinking of how we’re going to respond when they’re finished? What if we acknowledged that racism is real instead of ignoring it merely because it doesn’t affect you or me? What if we acknowledged that white privilege is real, rather than telling ourselves it’s not just to make ourselves feel better?

If you are white, you and I have privilege whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. What if we took the time to listen to the stories those of color have; stories about their experiences with racism, words they have about how our history makes them feel & what if we asked & then listened to the ideas our brothers & sisters of color have for how we can move forward, so as not to repeat that history. If you’re white, remember nobody is asking you to apologize for the color of your skin. We can’t control what our skin looks like, but we can control what we do with the privilege we have because of it. 

We also can’t control the actions of others — those who carry out acts of pure hate like the one’s we witnessed around this time last year. But we can control how we respond, and remember that tolerating it, is a response (& not a good one). That is not how we’re going to move forward as a nation. We move forward when we come together, and talk. Otherwise, we’ll continue to live in our own bubbles, with our own experiences & own perspectives & views of the world, separated, and incapable of reaching unity. (And remember, unity is not something that is capable of being reached only if we are all in agreement! Our unity is tighter when diversity exists!) Don’t have yourself convinced that the only way to enact change is to do something huge and extravagant. The simplest acts often make the biggest change, don’t forget that. Start by loving a little more. Go carry our random acts of kindness. Pay for the person behind you’s meal or coffee. Smile at stranger more. Give compliments more. Go hug somebody. Lift people up more than you tear them down.

Pray.

God, today, I pray — I pray that there would be more conversation;  more civil conversations and less shouting, less threatening, & less violence. I pray for such an abundant amount of peace that there would not even be room left for any violence. May we all be filled with such an extravagant amount of love that there would be no room left for hate. God, give us patience when we are speaking to one another. God, help us, your children, to use this anniversary as a way to remember the three beautiful lives lost last year, and also to reflect on what we can do, individually and together, to ensure that this hate & violence does not happen ever again, here or anywhere.


If you are looking for an outlet to express your thoughts as we approach this anniversary, as I have just done through this post, please feel free to comment below and share.

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5 1/2 years||recovery

The 13th of August is actually the day that marks 5 1/2 years, so I am posting this a little early given that I will be out of the country on the 13th & likely without access to the blog. (but will I still carry myself extra joyfully & maybe do some cartwheels around Cuba to celebrate? it’s likely). I wanted to be sure I wrote & published this before I left because over the past few years it has become somewhat of a tradition for me to write a reflective post whenever I hit a whole or half year anniversary in recovery, and doing so is important to me for 2 reasons. First and foremost, I know there are people who read this blog solely for the posts surrounding mental health, eating disorders, & recovery, and I want to share whatever hope I can with them. While writing about such an important & vulnerable part of my life still makes me a little anxious, I think in our society today, it’s important to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, especially as a means of breaking stigmas. I know that back when I was first beginning recovery, I would seek out people to talk to who I knew could relate, and I would always find myself reading articles or blogs online that could help me navigate it all. So now that I am where I am, its become important to me that this blog serves as that source of hope for people who may need it, just as I did. I also write these posts to keep track of this journey for myself, because my recovery is & continues to be the reason that I am here today, and I think that’s something to celebrate, both in writing & in life.

As I approach 5 1/2 years, I think one of the biggest things I’ve been learning recently is that being in recovery is not a weakness. As open as I’ve been about this part of my life, the whole ‘recovery does not indicate weakness’ concept is a fairly new one to me, and it’s something I’m still working on believing entirely. I am a perfectionist, and while none of our lives, realistically, are perfect, having struggled with an eating disorder and being in recovery is a part of my life that stands out to me as ‘imperfect,’ and my mind likes to remind me of that. But what I’m learning is that it’s okay to be in recovery and not yet be fully recovered, and that it’s not a weakness.

I had this belief in my head that I could not simultaneously be in recovery and also be an effective leader in ministry, or an aspiring pastor. When I interviewed with DCOM for my certification interview, we talked about this a lot, and I had no idea walking into that interview that along with being overjoyed about becoming certified, I would also be encouraged in my recovery by the nine or so laity & pastors, including my DS, who interviewed & certified me. It stirred up in my head this crazy idea that maybe this isn’t the end all be all — that I can excel in life and in ministry while also being in recovery. While there is no doubt in my mind that I will be fully recovered one day, it is a beautiful thing to know that I will be supported by those both in my professional and personal life until that day comes. I don’t think the members of DCOM will ever understand the extent to which they reassured me of this truth — that it’s okay to have crap to go through and that you can struggle and still lead well & effectively in the Church (and anywhere else!) Given that my recovery and my call to ministry are two of the most important things in the world to me, believing this has been a life changing thing. In retrospect, I can’t believe I ever let myself think I couldn’t continue in the process towards pastoral leadership unless I no longer had a figurative mountain to climb, or that I could not be in the process of recovery without failing miserably as a leader. But the reality of it is, we all, at some point in our lives (more than once) will have various mountains to climb, because we’re human beings! But that does not at all make us incapable of doing anything, especially not what God has called us to do. That is a truth that sunk in even more for me the day that I sat down in a church one Sunday and listened to a pastor preach about their recovery from an addiction. To hear that being preached from the pulpit & to see someone stand before me who is in recovery, and also a pastor was so helpful in my walk. It was reassurance that I think I needed in order to begin believing that it’s okay to not be perfect, cliche as that sounds. As I sat there, God was like, “hey, you don’t have to choose between being in recovery and being a pastor, you know.” And that is just one of the many examples of how I did not come to this realization all on my own. Along with God I have a lot of people to thank for helping me get this ingrained into my head. The mentors, pastors, & all of the people in my life who I look up to, I once did everything in my power to hide my recovery from, for fear of coming across as weak — but now? They’re some of my biggest supporters in recovery. Not too long ago, I was tagging along on hospital/house visits with one of my pastors, and it was about lunch time and we hadn’t finished our visits yet, so they said, “we’re going to get lunch out, unless that makes you nervous,” and I’ll never forget being taken aback, in a good way, that someone I look up to would be conscious of something like that. Comments like that still make me step back in awe because it rips apart my belief that this is something people will look at me differently for, treat me as fragile or weak for, or something that nobody could ever be ‘normal’ about. But those are lies. Instead, these people who may not even begin to understand what recovery is, still pray for & with me, they listen, they let me vent or cry, they check in with me, & they willingly hold me accountable – these people are nothing short of a blessing from God. It may have taken me 5 years, but I am grateful to slowly but surely be getting over seeing my recovery as some sort of weakness, and instead, seeing it as something that could actually make me a better person, leader, student, friend, & future pastor. We all have crap to go through, amen? Even those whom we think so highly of, or deem perfect. But that crap that we go through doesn’t deem you or me incapable of excelling, or incapable of being used by God. Whatever your mountain is, whatever challenge you face, remember it does not have to stunt your ability to thrive, and it does not make you weak. These obstacles you face aren’t supposed to hinder you, deem you weak, make you ashamed, or discourage you. They’re supposed to help create you.

Personally, it’s not that often that I say out loud the 6 words, “I am in recovery from anorexia” but in my mind, they’re words that carry with them strength, when they used to be words that carried with them shame. I remember when I wasn’t in recovery, still in the very depths of the disorder, and how miserable I constantly was. But now I see where I am in recovery — 5 1/2 years in — and I see how happy & in love with life I am. 5 1/2 years is a long time, and its been hard work, and still is hard work some days and some weeks. But it is beautiful. So don’t lose hope. You’ll get there. Remember recovery is a process more so than it is a choice that you make just once. I say and I write that all the time but it’s a truth that I don’t think can be acknowledged too much. Recovery is a choice you make day after day after day, meal after meal after meal, and sometimes, moment after moment after moment. I am able to have a healthy relationship with food & eat all of the peanut butter m&ms and ice cream I want, I am so very happy with where I am and where God is calling me and am able to exercise because I genuinely love it and want to make my body strong. I am so much better off than I was 5 1/2 years ago, & in every possible aspect of life — mentally, physically, emotionally.  But eating & food? It’s still a struggle some days. And on those days, I just have to fight a little harder. That is the reality of recovery from an eating disorder, or recovery from any illness. It’s not a perfect road. It’s a process, and it’s not one that you can rush. But it’s worth it — more worth it than I could even begin to write here. If you’re struggling, I want you to know that. I want you to know that you are not alone in your struggle and also want you to know that you are strong enough to fight. It’s going to be hard, so you’re going to need to fight like hell, and I know it feels impossible, but it’s not. Remember that having a mental illness of any kind does not make you weak. It’s just something you’ve been handed to combat and overcome, and you are fully capable of doing just that, so do not let yourself believe otherwise, and don’t let anyone else make you believe otherwise, either. You are strong, and you are capable. Study those words until you believe them, and never let yourself forget them. I didn’t, I haven’t, and it’s why I’ve reached 5 1/2 years. I believe in you!

Ruth and Gordon.

I’ve found that sometimes, it’s easier to find the ‘right words’ when you’re writing rather than when you are speaking, and today, that’s me. People grieve in a variety of different ways, and though I am thankful to have had a certain degree of closure when I was able to say goodbye to Ruth before she passed away yesterday, I think it is okay to admit that grieving is still something I am doing, and I’m grateful that writing can be a way for me to do that, & process the loss of somebody as special to me as Ruth. Now that both Ruth and Gordon have left this temporary home on earth to go be with Jesus in heaven forever, I am finding myself grieving both the recent passing of Ruth, as well as no longer having Ruth or Gordon here with me, selfish as that may be. So in attempt to release some of the loss I am feeling, here below is just a small piece written about the huge impact that church grandparents, Gordon & Ruth, have had on my life forever.

I met Ruth and Gordon about 5 years ago one Sunday in church at Aldersgate. I was amazed & inspired by the both of them almost instantly, we quickly established quite a special relationship & it was not long at all before they began referring to me as their ‘church granddaughter,’ and them as my ‘church grandparents.’ I would sit with them each Sunday that we both could be there and we would plop ourselves down on either the far left of the sanctuary or towards the back in the center pews. Every Sunday I would see them coming out of the elevator and walking through the sanctuary doors and it would instantly bring a beaming smile to my face. Always in their Sunday best, they often (adorably) did their best to color coordinate their outfits so that they were matching to a certain extent. Ruth absolutely loved purple, and she loved wearing her hats & bonnets of all kinds & colors, so, you’d often find her sporting a purple dress or skirt and Gordon with a purple tie. They also had this great red, white, and black combo of outfits that they’d wear together, too. Man, they were so in love with one another, and oh how clear it was that this beautiful love came straight from God. Knowing them was a joy because the joy they carried in their hearts was more contagious than the flu, you all. They loved the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, & strength more so than anyone I have ever met before in my life. They both were in their 90s when they passed away, and all of those years were spent faithfully serving the Jesus Christ whom they are now rejoicing with in heaven. They could never not talk about the Lord and his goodness. His praise was always on their lips.

Ruth and I were frequent pen pals while I was away in college. She loved to write, and she sure was great at it (and yes, she was a published author!) She would always end her letters with one or two Bible verses that were always so fitting to either one or both of our situations. No matter what was going on, she would always end on such a positive note. We talked on the phone frequently as well; whenever I needed wisdom or encouragement, I’d find my little fingers scrolling to her name in my phone contacts — she was my go-to gal, and it will definitely be weird not having that anymore. When we did talk on the phone, we would never hang up without first praying. She typically would say the prayer, but once health issues began plaguing her, she would ask me to say the prayer, which I happily did. I think it takes courage to ask somebody to pray with/for you, and she eagerly asked when she needed prayer, which I admire immensely. Ruth and Gordon also never missed me preach, and if for whatever reason, they were unable to be there, they would hear it on recording, get a hold of the DVD, or get me to print them a copy of my sermon. I can’t begin to express in a blog post how much it meant to me to have their support & love during all my ministry endeavors, but it sure meant the world to me and then some, and gosh, I hope they knew that.

I remember sitting beside Ruth in the hospital after she had her first stroke — the stroke that basically marked the beginning of her health roller coaster. The doctor who had performed the operation on her after this stroke had come into her hospital room to talk to her about the procedure. The doctor told Ruth that the majority of people who have a stroke like the one she did, don’t survive. And Ruth’s response to that?

Well, God isn’t done with me yet.”

Well, Ruth passed away yesterday and Gordon has been in heaven for over a year now and still, I do not think God is done with either of them. The impact that she and Gordon had on the lives of many, many people including myself still is very much alive. I will never forget it — any of it, even the parts that are difficult to remember & think of now that they are gone & I am missing them, because still, the impact is so great. They’re my role models, people I aspire to be like, my rocks. They were so very generous in sharing their wisdom, their time, their money, their love, their knowledge.

3 weeks ago, I visited Ruth in her home. During this visit, we chatted about life, about ministry, about my upcoming mission trip, about all kinds of things. She was weak, but she was responsive, and listened well, as I tried to do the same. This past Friday, I got home after a week out of town serving at a camp, and I received word that Ruth’s health had significantly declined and hospice predicted that her date to go be with the Lord would be probably 3 more days. So this past Saturday — 3 days before she passed away — I was able to visit her once more and say my “goodbyes” or rather, my “see you laters.” She was unresponsive at that point, but I like to think she knew I was there. My dad and I went together, and Ruth’s daughter was there, as was the angel of a woman who had taken such amazing care of both Ruth and Gordon during their health declines. During this last visit with Ruth, we sang some of her favorite hymns, and we talked to her and around her, acknowledging that she could hear us, or at least sense our presence there with her.

Yesterday afternoon we received the call that Ruth had gone to heaven to be with Jesus earlier that morning. When we got this call, my family had just finished packing up our car after a day at the beach. This news immediately sent me into tears I think because you can try to plan & prepare yourself for a loved ones death, but when you actually lose them, you find that it is a feeling nothing can truly prepare you for. But on my family’s drive back to the house after this, we saw a rainbow up in the sky, which we thought was our sweet Ruth saying to us, “I’m okay!!”

Ruth and Gordon always made sure to remind me that they loved me, that God loved me, and that they were proud of me. And I pray I never stop making them proud. We may not have been related by blood, but they most certainly were my family. They were my grandparents. Losing both of them within the span of just over a year shatters me as does thinking about never having another conversation with either of them again, but what gives me peace & comfort is knowing that right now, they’re rejoicing in heaven with the Savior they faithfully loved, served, & preached about all the days of their lives. They deserve nothing but joy, and I can think of no greater joy than standing in the presence of Jesus up in heaven — where pain is no more, and joy is unending. They were good and faithful servants, indeed.

Hey God, take good care of them.

Ruth & Gordon, I love you both with my whole entire heart. & I’ll see you again someday.

ministry | presence & listening.

While I would love to sit here and write a post about all of the things that I have learned thus far in ministry, it would be a novel by the time I touched on them all (maybe one day!) I still have so much to learn, but two things from the ministry experiences I’ve had thus far, and from the pastors and various other ministry leaders whom I have observed, shadowed, and learned from, two actions in particular have stood out to me as being of utmost importance – the ministry that can be done through your listening and your presence. The two go together and are often underrated because they seem far too simple to be effective. But while listening and being present with someone may be simple, it’s meaningful, because both are signs of genuine care and have the ability to positively impact a person & their circumstance, more so than we realize – I don’t think we don’t give God enough credit when it comes to his ability to work through us!

Because I have both seen and experienced the importance of these acts, it has become important to me, as a friend, daughter, sister, aspiring pastor, and human being in general, to carry them out, and I hope to offer a calm presence or the ability to sit and listen each day to those whom I encounter, whether it be in church, in school, on the sidewalk, in the store, in my neighborhood, and anywhere else God will have me. Listening to somebody when they speak about the trials they’re facing or even the joys in their life can be so meaningful to them and can remind them that they are not alone – to be listened to is to be cared for, and to be in the presence of another in the midst of sorrow is to be comforted – ministry, I believe, can be carried out in both such acts.

When I think about why these two specific things have found a place of importance in my heart for the ministry that I am called to, I think of two main reasons —

# 1) I myself seek them out in those whom I confide in, and therefore I want to be that for others, the way people have been for me – when I find myself wanting to verbally express what I am feeling, my hurt, or my confusion, I ask myself: who is going to listen to me because they genuinely want to? Who is going to listen and offer their honest thoughts, whether it’s what I want to hear or not? Other times, rather than talking, we find ourselves wanting somebody who can simply sit down beside us and be a calm presence while we think and process our thoughts & circumstances. People appreciate being listened to, and people appreciate being in the presence of someone, especially when they are hurting.

# 2) Whether it be because I am studying psychology,  am aspiring to become a minister, or simply because I like to sit and have coffee with people, converse, and listen, individuals come to me often with issues that are typically on the heavier side, and while I do happily talk with them and do suggest other resources for them if I feel it is over my head, more times than not, I feel as though my presence and these two listening ears of mine have the ability to minister to those individuals more than my moving mouth does. I want to give all that I can, and sometimes, that is simply myself – my time & my presence.

I’ve shadowed a handful of pastors through the years as they have attended to what I believe to be one of a pastor’s most important tasks, and that task would be pastoral care visits (in hospitals and at the homes of individuals who are no longer able to physically attend church). Something that I have observed along the way during these visits is the pastors’ willingness to sit and listen, simply being present with the individuals, some of whom were in their last hours of life, some with terminal illnesses, some not aware that we were even there, some who had had a bad fall which landed them in the hospital to recover. My grandfather has dementia and has progressed to the point where he does still speak but my family and I seldom know what he is trying to say, so we will often resort to smiling and nodding along, but just the other day, my mom and I were sitting on the couch watching T.V with him and he turned to us and said, “it’s so nice having you guys here.” My church grandma, Ruth, is bedridden at the moment, and talking is often very tiring for her, so there are frequent and long pauses during our visits together. When I go see her, I’ll sit myself down beside her, and sure, there will be silence, but even so, when I stand up to leave, she’ll so often say “you’re not leaving, are you?” Gordon, her late husband, (my church grandpa) didn’t have the strength to speak much as he got closer and closer to meeting Jesus face to face, but when I would go into his room, I’d sit there and hold his hand, and he knew I was ‘there’, though we didn’t really speak, he knew I was present.

Presence matters, friends. It means something – God’s love doesn’t need to only be spoken in order to shine through us. It can be observed through us by our actions and it can be felt in the silence as well.

Something also important to remember in ministry and in life is that you are not always going to know what to say, and that is okay. You are not always going to know how to respond to the things people bring before you. You are not always going to understand. You cannot ‘fix’ everything, as much as you want to. When somebody is sitting before me and struggling with something heavy, painful, and not ‘fixable,’ I can learn the classic, “it’ll get better,” you’ll be okay,” “God is with you” and while there is nothing wrong with any of those words, I have found that I often resort to saying them when I panic in the moment because I don’t know what else to say or how to handle silence – but having the ‘right’ thing to say or merely having a response is not nearly as important as sitting with that person and simply being a calm presence, perhaps praying with them/over them. You don’t have to understand exactly what they are going through, and you don’t have to have an immediate response or the ‘right’ answer. There have been times where people will talk to me for what seems like hours and I won’t have any idea how to respond to the things they are laying before me, and it is in those moments and even before those moments happen that I ask God to please help me and give me the wisdom and the words – words I couldn’t possibly formulate and communicate well to a hurting individual on my own. God will give you words when you have none, but sometimes – your presence will be enough. We all have thoughts to process, tears to cry, words to speak, figurative mountains to climb, and sometimes, it’s just easier to do with somebody by your side. Many, if not all of us, know that the presence of somebody during those moments of releasing our hurt, whether it be through tears, words, prayer, deep breaths, or silence, can be so encouraging and comforting – it can be seemingly pointless but it does hold power. If you’re ever in a conversation with somebody, and while they are talking, you’re thinking of how you’re going to respond and what you’re going to say because you don’t want to leave even a moment of awkward silence, odds are you’re like I used to be (and sometimes still am) – you fear the ‘awkward silence.’ But I have since learned that silence isn’t something to be terrified of and it doesn’t have to be awkward – I think I learned that because of the number of times people have come to me and I haven’t had the ‘right’ words to respond with, leaving me with no option but to sit and think for a bit, or just accept that I have no words, and allow myself to simply sit with the person and just ‘be’ – more times than not, that is enough. When you were a little kid, did you ever run into your parent’s room in the middle of night after having a bad dream? You snuggle up in between your parents, and they may have asked you why you’re there, but they don’t begin a conversation or anything, you just laid there and tried to fall asleep again in the silence, but instantly you felt comforted by the mere knowledge that someone was beside you.

There is power in presence.

Friends, don’t underestimate the meaning your presence has to the whomever you are present with. Don’t underestimate the meaning that your ears have when it comes to listening to somebody speak in the midst of their hurt or in their need for a confidant to spill their guts to. God has the ability to minister through you in a variety of different ways, and these are just a couple. We’ve all heard the saying, “we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” So listen. Offer the two ears God gave you to whomever is confiding in you, as you acknowledge that they sought you out for a reason and they are opening up to you for a reason. Be present. Sit with them in their hurt, grief, depression, struggle. Be the calm presence they may need. Plop yourself down before or beside them and simply let them know you’re there, with them & for them. It makes all the difference in the world. It’ll be easy to feel you’re not doing enough, but something I’ve learned to do (because I’m a ‘fix it’ person who can’t always fix things) is pray to God and ask him to guide your words in those situations.

Your presence means something, even if it seems meaningless or boring to you. Remember it doesn’t have to involve a bunch of people, bright lights, a big stage, pews, or a 30 minute sermon in order to be ministry. Ministry is carried out in a variety of different ways, and listening to others and being present with them are most certainly two of them.


If you’re reading this and you’re in need of someone to listen, myself and many others are here for you! If you’re reading this and you’re somebody who has taken the time to listen to my words or who has calmly been present with me in my trials & joys, I appreciate you!

weak enough to lead?

This year at annual conference, as I was scanning the Cokesbury section, I came across a book titled, “Weak Enough To Lead” by James C. Howell. The title jumped out at me in such a way that I didn’t even need to read the summary on the cover before snatching it off the table and heading up to the register to purchase it. The book jumped out at me because its topic was one which I have wrestled with a lot in life, feeling as though weaknesses somehow deem me incapable of leading, especially, leading in ministry and as a pastor someday. At times, I have found myself plagued by this feeling of defeat, as though I was too weak or ‘not cut out’ for what God has called me to do. I have always been a perfectionist, always set high expectations for myself, and am hard on myself if I ‘fail’ or don’t reach my goals at the very time that I had planned. I don’t like to complain or dwell on bad things, and admitting struggle or weakness is something I am not great at. So, perhaps, after stating all of that, it’s not too hard to imagine this book being one that I just couldn’t pass by. As I have read it more and more, I have found that it addresses every single thing I have listed above, and more.

Many times, I have thought to ask myself, “am I too weak to lead?”

But never once have I thought to ask myself, “am I weak enough to lead?”

That is the very question this book examines:

Am I weak enough to lead?

My recovery is something that I am very open and honest about in my conversations with people and in my writing, which many of you know. I am almost 5 1/2 years in recovery from anorexia, and I’ll actually be on a mission trip in Cuba on the 5 1/2 year mark, but you better believe that I am still going to jump up and down a few times out of joy and celebrate the accomplishment it is to me. Something I am not so open about, however, is the fact that recovery is a journey more so than it is a one time decision, and like any journey, it has bumps, detours, obstacles, highs, lows, and everything in between, and for the sake of being honest and at the risk of being vulnerable, I do still struggle at times with my recovery, and it is for that very reason that, at times, it has made me feel as though I am somehow too weak or too incapable of leading. This isn’t because I see my recovery or the fact that I have struggled with an eating disorder as a weakness, rather, it is something about my life that is not perfect, and as a perfectionist, one can see how that could affect my confidence in my leadership abilities. It wasn’t until recently that I came to the realize and truly believe that being a pastor and being in recovery are not mutually exclusive. I thank God for helping me realize that, and I thank him for continuing to assist me in believing that.

My recovery and the ministry I am called to are two of the most important things in my life, and God knows that full well. He knows that I am in recovery – heck, he has been with me every single step that I have taken since day 1 of being diagnosed, to day 1 of beginning recovery, all the way up until now, and he’s still trekking along beside me, behind me, and before me.

God also has called me to be a pastor. He has called me to a life of ministry for him, in service to others. God knows I have weaknesses, and in fact, he knows those weaknesses inside and out, better than even I do. Even so, that doesn’t diminish his confidence in my ability, through him, to pursue his call upon my life to be a leader in the Church.

I don’t personally think for one second that God looks at us and thinks, “she is strong enough for this” or “he is strong enough for this.” God doesn’t call only people who have no weaknesses or no imperfections, because if we’re being honest, those people don’t exist. This book has made me think about the possibility that, rather than calling us based on our strengths or how equipped we are, God looks at us and says,

“She is weak enough – I will give her the strength she needs to lead and I will use her weaknesses for the benefit of my kingdom.”

“He is weak enough – I will give him the strength he needs to lead and I will use his weaknesses for the benefit of My Kingdom.”

Brothers and sisters, it is normal – innate, even – to have weaknesses. There are many differences between you and me and everyone else in this world, but something we all have in common is that we all have weaknesses. We all have brokenness. We all fall short. We all have pain. We all endure hardships. We all sin. We all mess up. We all fail. We are all imperfect. No leader is without any of those things.

I am thankful to have not only a hand full, but two hands full of mentors, pastors, and simply amazing leaders in my life, and one of the many things I respect most about those leaders is their willingness to acknowledge weakness, to be vulnerable, to show emotion, to admit when they don’t know something, to acknowledge their imperfections, to admit their faults, to talk about their fears and their challenges, and let people know that being a leader doesn’t negate the fact that you’re still human. I pray to embody that authenticity as an individual and as a pastor someday. I have more distrust than I do admiration for leaders who try to portray themselves as these perfect individuals who are never weak. Because that’s fake. We all have weaknesses so to portray yourself as though you have none is inauthentic and misleading for those who look up to you and those whom you are leading. Having weaknesses and being a leader are also not mutually exclusive. If anything, they make you a better leader.

I am preaching to myself just as much as I am preaching to you when I write this, but do not be ashamed of the things that you consider to be weaknesses in your life, especially when you have a God who is eager to use those weaknesses! Don’t cover them up, rather, embrace them. I know that is easier said than done, but God can actually use them and perfect his strength in those weaknesses. Our weaknesses do not deem us incapable of leading. We are weak, but God is strong. We have flaws, but God is flawless. We are imperfect, but Jesus was & is perfect. I encourage you to ask the question: Am I weak enough to lead? & What does that mean to and for you?

To close out this post, I wanted to leave you with a quote to contemplate from the book I just have mentioned above (I strongly recommend picking up a copy!!)

…Is it that God uses our strengths? Or is it even truer that God’s strength is perfected in our weakness? (Howell, 2017). 


 

Loving and gracious God,

Thank you for using our weaknesses, perhaps even more than you use our strengths. Thank you for being present in our lives as a stronghold and rock, so that we don’t ever have to rely on our own strength. We pray that when we feel incapable or weak that you would remind us that yes – we are incapable and we are weak but you are strong and you are capable. We pray that you would fill us with spirit and enable us to go out and lead, and serve, in your Son, Jesus’ name. We pray that we would be weak enough to lead. Take our pride, God, and take our desire to be perfect and replace it with humility and peace not only in who you’ve made us to be but in who you are. We pray all of this in your name –

Amen. 

 

Last Sunday

This past Sunday, I filled in for the pastor of my home church, which is always such a joy – it doesn’t get much more fun than leading the church you’ve grown up in. Normally, I, being the sappy person I am, take time to write after each ministry experience I have, whether on the blog or on social media, simply because I love keeping the memories of the ministry that I have the privilege of being a part of, given every experience is special, different, and teaches me lessons that I want to carry with me as I continue on this journey. However, I didn’t make a post about this past Sunday, I wasn’t going to write about it at all, and I would have been perfectly fine with simply forgetting Sunday happened, if that tells you anything about how much I need to work on not being hard on myself for things I can’t control. While it may have taken me a little longer than usual to see the good in this past Sunday, I see it clearly now and finally wanted to write, because writing is therapeutic, and also because I think it’s important to share the wonderful ministry experiences, as well as the tougher and more challenging ones. After all, that is ministry – a beautiful mess, amen?

Sunday was one of the more challenging leadership experience’s I’ve had, not because of anything bad, rather, because it required a lot of quick thinking and leadership skills that I had never really put into practice before. It was just one of those Sunday’s where some things didn’t go quite right, and we had to improvise (which, I’ve found is rather frequently the case in ministry). If I’ve learned anything in so far in my ministry journey, it’s that you can only plan so much, which really goes for any field, I’d say.

So – last Sunday.

We had our 9:00 am blended service, and all was well. I did, however, have to essentially cancel Communion, although it was in the bulletin and already on the alter. I, someone who is not yet an ordained elder, am not allowed to preside over Holy Communion, so, while nobody wants to be the person to cancel Communion and change up the order of worship, I also didn’t want to be the certified candidate who got in trouble for doing something they weren’t supposed to. So, after granting myself a minute to figure out what to do in place of the Communion that was supposed to happen, I pulled my thoughts together, improvised, and led the best way I saw fit. I couldn’t preside, and I obviously couldn’t skip over it without saying something, so, I made the executive decision to nix Communion, and instead, provide a time of quiet reflection and prayer, which I would then close out in a longer, post-communion prayer.

It was fine. Before the moment of silent prayer and reflection, I told the congregation why we could not have Communion that day, and during the quiet time, people still took advantage of the alters and prayed, which I was so happy to see. It didn’t throw anyone off and there were no folks with torches and pitch forks coming after me after the service ended for canceling the Sacrament, so, all was well. In fact, after the service, people were quick to make it known to me that they understood why I did what I did.

So then, the second service rolled around at 11:00 am. Normally, I wear the mic that my pastor always uses, which goes around the ear, but on Sunday, the sound guy and I decided to use a different mic (shout out to Carl – he rocks). The decision to use another mic was mainly because that particular ear mic always gets stuck in my long hair, but also because I absolutely hate that mic (# preacher probs?). The mic that we chose to use clipped right onto my shirt and the battery box fit right in my pocket – simple, right? We tested it before the service, changed the batteries, and it was fine (for the time being).

During the sermon at the second service, the mic started giving me major problems. I thought my hair was irritating it, as per usual, so I flung my hair back, but alas, even when my hair was nowhere near the mic, or the chord, it acted up. The mic started making this weird humming noise, and normally, I would continue my sermon as though nothing was wrong, but y’all – I could not focus on the words coming out of my mouth which I knew meant that the congregation could not focus on what I was saying either. I quickly came to the realization that there was no way I could continue preaching with it, but, continuing to preach as though everything was fine was all I knew to do.

Our sound guy, Carl, was waving at me from up in the sound booth (which overlooks the sanctuary, towards the choir loft) and he was pointing to go grab the handheld mic. Well, I didn’t know where the handheld mic was. Normally, it sits right next to the pulpit on its little shelf, but it wasn’t there. He continued pointing, so, after getting to a point in my sermon where a pause would be a little less awkward and abrupt, I winged it, walking over towards the lectern, where I thankfully spotted the handheld mic.

(If you’ve ever found yourself preaching a sermon while watching someone try to tell you something using only hand motions as a humming microphone is buzzing in your ear, it is not particularly the easiest thing in the world.)

But, I retrieved the handheld mic, made my way back to the pulpit, where I would finally be able to finish delivering my sermon with a mic that was much clearer and worked much, much better.

(or, so I thought)

Would you believe that not even 1 minute after beginning to use the handheld mic, it, too began not working, fading in and out every other word that I spoke?

I could see people in the congregation shaking their heads (which is really never something you want to see, ha). I saw the sound guys up in the booth scratching their heads and wracking their brains trying to figure it out. At that point, I (mentally) threw my hands up and kept preachin’ on, because at that point, there really was nothing else I could think to do. Thankfully, the sound on the handheld mic eventually started consistently working (still not perfect, but could have been worse). The service ended and I swear I have never taken such a big sigh of relief.

I am grateful for the encouragement folks had to offer me following the service, given the difficulty that we had had with the mics. Being told by others that they were proud of how I handled it really lifted my sunken spirits, even though it didn’t change how bummed I was, to say the least, about all of that. It is by God’s grace that I held my own and remained calm and collected, because I wanted nothing more than to climb into a corner and cry a few tears of frustration. But I am glad to have chosen to lead, rather than having given up or crumbled under the pressure to “fix it quickly.” And I know a large reason as to why I was able to press through that was due to the wonderful leadership of my pastors through the years who have modeled well for me how to handle these types of situations gracefully and calmly. (thank you, pastors!!!)

I am such a perfectionist, so although I could have controlled none of what happened on Sunday, I was hard on myself afterwards, because ministry is my heart, and so, I put my entire heart into leading these church services. But let me tell ya – ministry is a really great field to have your perfectionism challenged, and maybe even one day, these things will be able to happen without being a worry wart about it.

I am still super good at beating myself up over imperfections, even when I have no control over them, but I am working on it (as are all of us). I may be 21 and I may have been preaching for a while now but I am still human. No matter how old I am or how many times I lead church, I’ll always be human and I’ll always want to do my best. And on Sunday, I did do my best, it was just clouded by the mishaps. But I see it now!

While you and I cannot control everything that happens, we can control how we respond. Sunday, while I wasn’t able to choose to laugh it off or forget about it right away (hence why it took me till’ Thursday to write about it), I am able to laugh at it now, it just took me a couple days to let that lesson sink in – that you don’t have to be perfect even at the things you’re passionate about doing. And also, you choose whether you let something continue to bother you or not. You choose whether you’re going to keep on keepin’ on or whether you give up. Remember that!

Lastly, I just have to say that I am so thankful to be learning these lessons young, and gaining these different experiences, whether they are good, challenging, or somewhere in between. Ministry will always surprise me and throw new challenges my way, but I am so very confident in God’s ability to help me handle it all (something I neglect to remember often). Somehow, however, I have found somewhere in me enough crazy ti count all of this as joy, because ministry is just that – a joy, and it is something God has called me to. It’s beautiful, it’s difficult, but it is nothing less than a joy. To be in ministry everywhere we go, all for Jesus himself – to know him, to preach about him, to tell others about him, to share what he’s done in our lives, to have his call upon our hearts, to fill us with passion and his spirit to pursue those passions and calls, to go be disciples and to make disciples – what a life!

Today (& every day) I am grateful that nothing – no technology complications or any unplanned circumstances – can get in the way of the Holy Spirits power, which comes upon us and enables us to be witnesses of Jesus Christ.

We love ya, Jesus, & thank you for enabling us to press on — it’s all for You.

 

loving all our neighbors.

About six weeks ago in my psychology & culture class, we were assigned our groups for a project that we would be doing which focused on topics relating to social justice. For this project, each group would need to partner up with an organization either in our local community or on our university’s campus, in order to fulfill the project’s goal of helping spread awareness & education on these various topics.

My group of six partnered with our university’s Muslim Student Association, and the topic we chose to focus in on was religion, specifically, religious minorities and the stereotypes & misconceptions associated with Islam. Through out the course of this project, we attended meetings, as well as a couple of events during Islam Awareness Week, which occurred this past Tuesday through Friday. The events my group attended included a hijab workshop, as well as a talk given by a professor about the Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Yesterday, my group visited a local mosque to attend & observe a service consisting of prayer and a sermon, or, “Khutbah,”  followed by a Q&A.

This psych & culture class in and of itself has opened my eyes so wide & taken me out of my comfort zone all semester in ways I never expected a class to, and yesterday was no exception. As much as I would love to sit here and write that my decision to go to this mosque was one that I came to easily, that would be a lie. I wrestled a lot with my decision to go or not to go, mainly because, honestly, it made me uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable with the idea of wearing a headscarf, feeling as though doing so would be conforming to an aspect of a religion I don’t personally believe in. I was uncomfortable with the idea of going & being in a house of worship that I was so unfamiliar with. I was uncomfortable getting so up close & personal with a religion that I don’t practice & know so little about. These thoughts and feelings made me feel like a horrible person, but I’m not going to invalidate those thoughts & feelings or leave them out of this post, because it was all part of the process of me deciding to go. Though I understood all along that wearing the headscarf would be out of respect for their faith & that I would never even begin to think to be a guest in somebody else’s house of worship only to be disrespectful by not wearing the appropriate attire, and I knew that going wouldn’t somehow make me stop believing in Jesus or make Jesus mad at me. etc, the idea of going to a mosque simply just made me a little nervous. My initial thought was “I’m Christian – why would I go?” And that very question was the one I wrestled with the most, along with “why wouldn’t I go?” Something in me would not let me just say no or yes without first wrestling with the possibility of both. And so, I prayed, I talked with a couple friends, & I reached out to a pastor of mine. Because going would be pretty far out of my comfort zone, something I had on repeat in my head was a saying he told me, which was to, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Welp, that was exactly what I did yesterday. And honestly? There was not one ounce of comfort involved, so, aI simply chose to bask in the discomfort, and I am glad I did.

While my anxiety was vicious & I wish I could say I felt peace which surpassed my understanding as my pastor graciously prayed for me to have, I didn’t feel much peace, but that’s okay, and the reason I think that’s okay is because I realized, the whole time I was waiting to feel peace and comfort about going or not going, I was neglecting to remember that that is not at all what the Christian walk is about. It’s not comfortable. In fact it is seldom comfortable. I look down everyday and I see this bracelet that has not left my wrist since making it back in January, and its purpose is literally to remind me to ask God to take me and use me, whether it’s comfortable or not. Therefore, I have no business getting upset when he does just that. I’m allowed to be scared, but I need to try to do it scared. And so, I did.

 

cubablogg

I kept my nerves and my hesitancy to myself around my group members, but before we got out of the car upon arriving at the mosque, one of them expressed to me that he himself was nervous, in which I simply replied, “same” (while I, of course, was internally jumping for joy at the fact that someone else was feeling what I was feeling).

We walked into the mosque together as a group and were warmly welcomed and told how their Friday services usually go. We then placed our shoes on the shelf and entered the room where the prayer & sermon would take place. Upon entering that room, the women were directed to the back right of the room, behind a tall curtain, and the men were directed to the front of the room. We, the women, were then given headscarves to put on, and those of us not participating in the prayer were asked to sit towards the corner, so as not to get in the way as they carried out their prayer(s).

Was I comfortable? No. But I went & stayed through the service, through that not so fun feeling of discomfort, and left the mosque feeling glad to have gone, and eager to process it.

See up until an hour or two before we left for the mosque, I still was not sure I wanted to go, so, it goes without saying that I definitely wished that I had had somebody there to tell me Ashley, just go or Ashley, just don’t go, but I’m smart enough to know that none of my friends or mentors are dumb enough to tell me that & make it that easy for me, no matter how much I want them to. However, I think God did nudge me a little to go, through one of my group members. Our group met up before the service to go over our PowerPoint presentation for Monday, and during our meeting, we got to talking about the religions that we each individually belong to. After talking about that for a bit, one of my group members looked at me and said, “You are the only open minded Christian I have ever met.”

I thought to myself, “Alright God, I see you.” Also, “No pressure or anything.”

By this group members words, I was reminded of my call as a Christian, let alone as a future pastor, to be a witness for Jesus and who he is. I can’t effectively do that if I am around people who are similar to me all the time. I can’t do that if I reject people who belong to various different religions and I cannot love all my neighbors if I dismiss a select few of them for what they believe or don’t believe. If God put me in this group in which I am the only Christian, and in this class in which I am 1 of 2 Christians, that’s an opportunity to be a witness for Jesus by being like Jesus and showering them with the love of God — not an opportunity to add to the hypocrisy or hate or close mindedness that they have already experienced enough of from Christians. I know full well that I am no perfect embodiment of what a Christian is supposed to be like & I probably makes God roll his eyes at least 5 times a day, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive to imitate Jesus around everyone I encounter, but especially in the presence of people who have lost hope that such a Christian exists. I took this group members comment seriously, even knowing that I am not as open-minded as I should be or as I want to be someday. I also took it as a reminder of my responsibility to imitate Jesus more than I try to imitate a religious person who shoves a set of rules down people’s throats to follow.

So yesterday, I went, & I went for a lot of different reasons. I went to educate myself, to see with my own eyes how those of Islamic faith worship. I went in hopes of maybe helping to eradicate this belief that all Christian’s are intolerant of hearing beliefs different from their own. I went to face my feeling of discomfort for the sake of growing & having my mind opened. I went to show as much kindness as I could to those there, whether they worshiped Allah, Jesus, or no god at all.

I am not going to sit here and try to act as though my faith is really not all that different from that of my Muslim brothers & sisters, and I do not know everything there is to know about their faith, or my own faith for that matter, but I do know that my faith teaches me to love my neighbors – that means my Muslim neighbors, my atheist neighbors, my Christian neighbors, my neighbors of all races, ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic status’. If I can get just one thing right in my walk with Christ, I pray that it would be that – loving other people unconditionally just as Christ himself did.

I am finding that the more I learn, the more questions I have. And I like to think that’s a good thing. I’m so lucky as to have people in my life who are willing to either answer those questions that I have, or simply wrestle through them with me, and I really urge you reading this today to find people in your life who can do the same for you, because it’s really nice to know you’re not alone in the confusions, frustrations, and questions you have.

I could definitely write more about this experience, but I am still processing my visit and am still processing this project and class as a whole, so that is all of the writing I’ll leave you with (for now). My hope & my prayer would be that as a society & as a world that consists of different cultures, individuals, and religions with similarities and with differences, that we would be able to reach a place of seeing one another for who we are, differences and all, and being okay with embracing just that, understanding that differences do not have to equal division. I am as guilty as the next person for allowing differences and my discomfort with unfamiliarity to stand in the way of embracing all people the way I should. We’re all imperfect & are going to mess up, but that’s no excuse not to try. So I’m preaching to myself just as much as I am to you when I say, go out of your way to learn about someone different from you. Educate yourself. Do your research. Expand your knowledge. And get comfortable being uncomfortable.