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!

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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.

The Church & Social Justice

If you’ve ever heard the worship song, “Hosanna,” you may be familiar with the lyrics in the refrain which say, “break my heart for what breaks Yours.” I’ve listened to this song probably a hundred times before, and yet, I don’t think I’ve ever resonated with those 7 words more than I have this semester, and especially this past week. I have felt God breaking my heart for what I am confident breaks his, & more specifically have been left sick to my stomach about the injustices that are occurring every moment in this world, and the pure helplessness I feel when it comes to helping end those injustices.

This semester, I am enrolled in a psychology and culture class, which I know I talk about a lot, but this class is one that has opened my eyes so wide & changed my thinking in ways I never thought a class was capable of. Each Monday and Wednesday evening, I walk out of this class thinking about the many different cultures and social justice issues in ways I’ve never thought about them before, and in some cases, never thought about at all. Our class is comprised of individuals of different races, genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, religion’s, career aspirations, & political views, and it is taught by an Asian professor who is passionate about traveling and entrenching himself in the many wonderful cultures that exist in this world that we live in.

On Monday’s, we have class all together in one large room, and on Wednesday’s, we are split up into our smaller sections. We have dialogues almost every Wednesday in those section meetings, in which the class of 15-ish individuals has a discussion about whatever topic we learned in Monday’s class. This past week, the topic of discussion was race and ethnicity.

I sat during dialogue this week with my jaw to the floor for the majority of class as I listened to my classmates of color talk about interactions that they have had with certain individuals who treated them unjustly solely because of the color of their skin. My classmates spoke about instances in which they were pulled over while driving and immediately asked by the officer if the car belonged to them, under the assumption that they had stolen it, or instances in which they felt unsafe in the presence of police officers who were blatantly being racist to them – my classmates talked about how they were and are very cautious about moving a certain way for fear of them drawing their weapon. (please note: I & them know that not all police officers are this way – I thank God for the women & men in law enforcement who sacrifice so much to keep us safe) There was also one individual in this dialogue who is African American, and they shared about a time in which them and a friend were in a store and one store-clerk suspected that they had been shoplifting, so the store-clerk called the police and searched their bags, even though it ended up being a ‘false alarm.’ Instances were talked about in which blatantly racist individuals would make comments to my classmates of color, which, rightly so, left them feeling defeated & confused.

I left class that evening with a particularly heavy heart, as though I had the weight equivalent to a ton of bricks on my shoulders, for more reasons than one. That evening when I got home, I sat on my bed with my Bible open in front of me with tears of empathy and the feeling of helplessness rolling down my face as I reflected so deeply and processed so thoroughly what I had just heard my classmates so painfully described that day. I acknowledged that if my heart hurt this bad simply in listening to these stories that they shared, I cannot imagine how deeply it hurt to actually experience it. I acknowledged my desire to do more to help change this, but also acknowledged my frustration in not knowing where in the world to begin. I acknowledged the anger I have that this is seriously something people have to put up with because such hate and ignorance exists today.

I myself have been pulled over before for speeding, and yes I got a ticket (ya live & ya learn) but not once during my interaction with this police officer did I ever feel unsafe. I  have never had to worry about being treated unfairly by anyone because of my race. That is a very privileged position to be in. While I know full well what it is like to experience oppression & discrimination for being a woman, I don’t have a clue what it is like to be discriminated against because of my race, and I probably will never. But thanks to my peers who are in this class with me this semester, and in general being in college for almost three years now surrounded by people who are different from me, my eyes have been opened wider to these matters – not as wide as they should be but wider than they used to be, and I am very, very done acting as though I am blind to the fact that this is a problem which needs to be addressed.

I can’t not care about these issues, especially as a future leader in the Church. Social justice issues are not things that can or should be left at the church doors on our way in and not brought in and talked about. And personally, I am very done with the Church having so much fear of being “too political” that it neglects to bring difficult issues that are going on outside the church walls, into the church. These issues affect the Church, and they affect our brothers & sisters who are not in the Church, whom we should be ministering to. The Church is not supposed to be separate from the world, friends – the Church – the body of Christ (us) are not of this world, but we are still in this world. We need to be aware of what’s going on in the world and not be in a bubble closed off from it all. We can come to church and we can sit and act as though everything is fine but that will not change the fact that everything is not fine. When we walk out of church, injustice is still happening, and while I in no way have the answers to what the church can or should do, I know enough to write that the Church needs to do something & not nothing.

If we look to scripture, we find that Jesus himself was political. He was SO political! All you have to do is look at scripture to know that – read the Gospel’s. You’ll find that he did so many things that turned heads & went against the “norm” for the sake of doing GOOD & changing lives for the better.

Jesus was a warrior for social justice. And we’re called to live like him, right?

We don’t need to spend our time discussing which political party Jesus would have been a part of – Jesus wasn’t for the republicans or for the democrats – he was for people. We talk all the time about ‘what Jesus would do’ but never when it comes to things that may become controversial, and call me crazy, but I don’t think social justice is a political topic more than it is just another thing Jesus taught in the Bible, which we should be imitating. It’s something Jesus showed us how to actively advocate for in scripture.

Words are powerful, yes, but they are not always enough. We can pray, and we should pray. But friends, please know that wanting to take actions other than praying does not undermine or negate our belief that God can solve or heal this – what if God is yearning for us to GO and make the change happen that we are sitting around waiting for him to do? What if that’s his answer to this prayer? For us to go & be the hands & feet of Jesus in this? In all we do?

I know that requires action – actions that may make people look at you funny. But hey, the Pharisees questioned why Jesus was eating with the tax collectors & sinners, right? Jesus loved, welcomed, talked with, and cared for the least of these, he talked with a Samaritan woman, he worked on the Sabbath, he went against the norm, was an advocate for minorities – for those who didn’t have a voice, were different from him, & didn’t think they were worth anything. May we do the SAME.

This would be about the time where I would write “how” to do just that, but I can’t write that simply because I do not know how. I know I can love people. I know I can start having these difficult conversations, and know I am going to be more intentional about having those conversations with people in my life who are willing to listen & talk with me about it, even if we disagree with one another. I do find myself overcome by frustration for the very reason that I do not know the ‘right way’ (if one even exists) to go about taking the privilege I have as a white individual, and use it for good & to help those who do not have such racial privilege. I acknowledge I am so small compared to this huge issue facing our globe. But I refuse to let my acknowledgement of that keep me from trying.

So please know that I am writing this post today not as somebody who thinks she has all the answers – I don’t have the answers. I’m not even close to having all the answers and you very well could have disagreed with everything I’ve just written in this post. That’s okay. I wrote this today to lay out with a heavy heart what I am feeling, in this open way, so perhaps maybe we, together, can wrestle with it & discuss how to make progress in the right direction. This is something I am working on – it’s something I’m honestly just recently starting to work on actively. But I do want to actively work on it, and not let it be something that I acknowledge is a problem but then don’t do anything about it. I encourage you to work on it with me! And if any of you have any resources to better educate me, I am all ears.

I know progress has been made, and I hope we all never forget that. But I hope we also never forget that just because progress has been made, does not mean that there is not still progress to be made. I don’t know what that looks like. But maybe, just maybe, one of the very first steps in figuring that out, is acknowledging change is needed, & becoming educated to enact that change.

And if you are white, remember that nobody is asking you to apologize for being of the dominant race – you shouldn’t feel guilty and nobody should make you feel guilty, you never chose the privilege that you have. But we can choose what we’re going to do with it. So what will you do with the privilege you’ve been given? Will you use it to do good? To combat injustice? To make the world better for your brothers & sisters who are racial minorities? What are you going to do? Or will you sit back and refuse to believe anything needs to change?

I’ve been praying fervently about this and ask that you would join me. Like I said, I don’t have the answers, but God does. He cares about these things. He will give us wisdom and insight into what we can do. But my brothers & sisters in Christ, we need to talk about this, both with God and with each other.

 

(i’m going to Cuba!!)

Perhaps you remember me writing at the beginning of this year about how, coming into 2018, my ‘new years resolution’ was to be intentional about asking God to take my plans, wreck them completely, and have his prevail instead. He has done an excellent job of doing that so far in the 21 years I’ve been alive, and although it is sometimes tough to watch the plans I have for myself crumble and change, His plans always, always end up being far greater than mine would’ve been, so I thought – why not go ahead & make it a point to ask him to do it. In addition to this, I wanted to challenge myself to come into the new year being more open to God, more open to doing things that scare me, more open to him leading me places I never thought I’d go, and more open to him using me however & whenever he pleases. The way in which I have gone about carrying out this ‘new years resolution’ of mine has been to simply offer up to him short but loaded prayers, such as, “here I am” “send me” “use me” “lead me”

When this semester began in January, my friends & I decided it’d be fun to make beaded bracelets with words that we wanted to carry with us into the new year on them, and I decided to put the 3 words “here I am” on mine (pictured below). I chose these 3 words because I think they are one’s that really encompass what it means to give your whole self to God, and open yourself to his using & will, whatever it may be. The bracelet hasn’t left my wrist since making it, and I have a feeling that will remain the case as the year progresses because of what a great reminder it has been to me.

cubablogg

These words which Isaiah spoke to God in Isaiah 6:8, and words which many other individuals spoke to God in the Bible as well, such as Mary (Jesus’ mother) and Samuel, have been words that I have found myself saying often to God through out the course of this year so far, and I have to tell ya – God hears these prayers, & he does not ignore them

God takes these prayers seriously you guys!! 

A couple weeks ago, I was walking home from campus, looking through my phone, and I saw that I had an email from Heritage UMC, which is the church that I attended during my freshman year of college. This email was about an upcoming interest meeting for a mission trip to Cuba as part of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team.

For whatever reason, every word in this email seemed to jump right out at me as I read it. I went directly to the calendar on my phone after reading it to check my summer class schedule to see if going on this trip would even be feasible for me (when I transferred college’s 3 semesters ago, unfortunately a whole semester worth of credits did not transfer with me, so I have to take 3 classes this summer if I want to graduate on time) BUT sure enough, after looking at my summer class schedule, I would be finished with summer classes by the time this mission trip rolled around, if I chose to go. So, I sat with this email for a bit. I sat with what I knew about it: the location, the dates, the cost, the purpose, the people I’d be going with. After sitting with it, I reached out with a couple inquiries about the mission trip, such as whether or not this trip would even be open to me, as a young adult (I thought perhaps the skills that I would/would not bring to the mission trip could perhaps be an issue considering I’m barely 5’3 100 pounds and can’t lift many things heavier than a chair) (I can climb though so maybe that will come in handy?)

I was however informed that the trip was open to people of my age & people of my skills (or lack thereof). So thus began the prayer about whether or not this was something God was leading me to say “yes” to. I couldn’t go a day without thinking about the possibility of going which I think now is safe to say was God nudging/pushing/shoving me towards the opportunity to go and serve him in this way.

So to make a long story just a little shorter –  after lots & lots (& lots) of prayer, I sent off an email confirming that I will be joining this team on their mission to Cuba.

………I’m goin’ to Cuba!!!

I wish I could relay to you the excitement I have in simply typing that! But come see me in person and maybe you’ll get a better feel for it because according to those around me I apparently can’t talk about it without smiling.

I know of course only the minor logistics as of right now because it is still super early, but I wanted to take the time to gush about it now in between the loads of studying and homework assignments I currently have, because I thought the way in which God worked in this was super cool. Also, I’m sure it goes without saying but I will definitely be writing more about it as I learn more & as it gets closer (and after it happens of course!)

The team going on the trip will consist of some folks from Heritage UMC, including the pastor and his wife who I know are wonderful individuals, and then as I understand it there will also be some couples/individuals from various other churches in the area. We will be going as part of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team, which I had actually had never heard of before, but after clicking around on their website, it is so evident that they are doing amazing work all over the world in the name of Jesus. Our team will be heading to a small town in Cuba to help repair a neglected church, so that the people who live in this town will have a formal place to worship our awesome God and be in fellowship with one another, as a church family. While you and I both know that the church is not a building, rather, a people, the idea of helping to create for these, our brothers and sisters, a place to gather together and worship God is very special and powerful. I can just picture all of the fellowship that will take place, all the songs of praises that will be sung, and all of the sermons that will be preached.

Needless to say, I am so, so excited. I am excited to help play a very small part in the very huge work that God is doing in this world. I am excited to see the ways in which God works around us, through us, and through those we’ll meet, and I am excited to see the ways in which he impacts lives and uses our imperfect selves to help make this church a place where people can come and worship.

Does going on my first international mission trip scare me a little? For sure. Will I get home sick? Most likely. Do I wish I had taken Spanish in high school/college instead of German and Latin? Yup. Do I love flying? Nope (although thankfully, I am not one of those poor people who panics at the mere thought of hopping on an airplane).

Going on this trip is definitely an example of something that is out of my comfort zone, but I have quickly found that God seldom calls us to do things inside our comfort zones, and he rarely sends us places we are fully comfortable going. (can I get an amen?)

And all fear aside – my confidence in God’s ability to use me and every single person he is sending on this trip is sky high. I am so eager to not only watch as he works & moves but also experience his movement, in preparation for this trip, while on the trip, and after it as well.

I pray that we are able to go and be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in all that we do while in Cuba. I pray for the individuals whom we are going to serve. I pray that God would help prepare the hearts & minds of everyone planning to go, and I pray that our eyes would be opened and that perspective would be gained. I pray for the relationships that will be formed, both among the awesome people who are going on the trip and among the people we will meet in Cuba. I pray that those whom we do meet are able to see Jesus in us, as we work to repair for them a church – a church for public worship, for prayer, for Bible study, for fellowship & communion with one another. I pray that we would be able to communicate joy and love to each person we meet even if some of us find ourselves in the midst of a language barrier. I pray that we all never fail to remember that the people outside of the country we live in are our brothers and sisters just as much as those inside this country are our brothers and sisters. And as a couple of my friends put it, the goal of international mission trips is not to go into these different countries and “fix” or change them, or “bring God” there. God is already there. The goal is to go and serve, and love,with all our might. I am so eager to do that, where I am now, and also there, when the time comes.

Your will be done, God. I am here and I am all yours! Use me, use us, however you want.

(stay tuned!!)

2017.

And just like that, tomorrow is the last day of 2017.

I know many of you are happy to be leaving this year behind, and I know many of you may be sad or simply content with ending another year and beginning a new one – whatever you are feeling about this year coming to an end, I pray that you ALL enter into 2018 with happiness & health, and make it as great of a year as you can for yourself and for those whom you encounter.

As 2017 comes to a close, I have many thoughts, many reflections, & yes, many resolutions. I wanted to share them in a post to the best of my ability, because to me, it would feel weird to simply go into a new year without first writing about the year we’ve just had. I love that writing can be a way to bid farewell to one year and welcome a new one, and I invite you to join me in doing that. Even if writing is not your forte, simply taking time to pause, reflect, and then prepare for the coming year.

2017 to me almost feels surreal in a way, because so many things happened in my life that I never thought would happen (but am glad happened). It seems God has made a habit of leading me places I never thought I’d go & doing things I never thought he’d do (or I’d do). As absolutely insane as it seems at times & as scary as it can be, I have nothing but gratitude for his ability (and liking, apparently) to do just that.

When I look back on 2017, I see a lot of hurt, many obstacles, a whole lot of joy, and a ton of change. In all of it, I see God.

When I think about 2017, I think about transferring to JMU in January of 2017. I think about the entire transfer process that resulted in my being at JMU, I think about the fear but also the joy,  I think about the friends I’ve made there, the professors I’ve had, the difficult yet rewarding time I had transitioning into a brand new university. I think about the pride I have in being at such an amazing school, and the excitement I have in my heart to have at least three more semesters there.

When I think about 2017, I think about the time I spent in the mountains (because let’s face it – I was there more than I was anywhere else this year). I think about the times I went hiking with friends and the memories made there with them. I think about the time I spent alone there in the quietness of nature, simply being present & trying to listen for God. I think of the times I drove to the parkway just to get away from the noise of the world & the to-do lists I had.

When I think about this past year, I think about the ministry I got to be a part of. The preaching I did and all of the churches I had the privilege of leading through out the year. Those 9 different sermons, 8 different churches, & 15 church services contributed greatly to the joy I had this year, really helping to make this year one that I will never forget. Did I think at the beginning of 2017 that I would have done all that? No way! Am I glad & will I cherish those moments, services, & churches forever? Absolutely.

Reflecting on 2017, I really can’t help but think about God and the many ways in which he worked in my life, to challenge me, grow me, give to me opportunities, and open me up to new things.

JMU, mountains, ministry, people, God.

That’s what I think of when I reflect on 2017, and it’s really stinkin’ cool, because those are the things I want my life to be filled with always.

While my time will come to graduate from JMU, I love learning, and I never want to stop learning, so while I won’t always be a student at a university, I do want to always be a student in the sense that I am always, always learning. I never want to get to a place where I think I know everything, because that will never be true – there is always more to learn.

The mountains are & always will be my place of retreat; where I seek sabbath when I need it and when I think I don’t. I want my life to be full of time spent in the mountains, seeking rest, peace, renewal, and God’s voice.

As for the people – I love people! I love the wonderful people in my life, and I love meeting new people. The goal is to never take for granted the people you have in life — and I want to go a step further and challenge myself to never take for granted the opportunities (given to us literally daily!) to bring light into complete strangers’ lives as well.

If 2017 taught me anything about ministry, it’s that it is more than a career or something to pay the bills. I still to this day get an element of surprise every time somebody hands me a check for guest preaching, because I will never be able to wrap my head around the fact that I’m able & will be able to make a living off of doing something I love so much. 2017 taught me ministry is hard & it can be ugly & messy, but it is beautiful, and I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing with my life than serving His precious children in His precious Church. I am so excited to see what God does with my call to ministry in 2018.

I am so excited to see what God does in general in 2018!!

 

My main prayer for 2018 is that God would take my plans, and wreck them — wreck them completely.

He has done a spectacular job at doing that so far in my 20 years of life, and he has also done a pretty great job at proving why (hint: because his plans are far greater than my own!) I figure, why not go into the year asking God to wreck my plans, instead of being stubborn and fooling myself to believe that my plans are sufficient.

 

Going into 2018, I do also have lots of goals, or, “resolutions”

I know a lot of people frown upon new years resolutions, and that is totally okay! You do whatever floats your boat. But I love to make new years resolutions because I love to challenge myself & see growth from doing so.

So, for a new years resolution, I want to do more things that scare me.

I want my immediate mental response when I think, “I can’t, it scares me” to be “you can – do it anyways” (We’ve all heard that quote, “feel the fear and do it anyways,” well, that’s pretty much this new years resolution right here. I acknowledge that fear has held me back from doing so many things. Heck, it almost held me back from making one of the biggest (and best) decisions of my life (i.e. transferring colleges) I have come to realize that fear has no place holding me (or any of you) back in a life where God is present and holding each of us in palm of his hand every step of the way. So this year I want to give those fears to God & ask that in every fearful moment, he would kindly take those fears and squash them like a bug.

I, like many of you, am entering into 2018 with high hopes & goals, while also acknowledging that life is so very good right now. I don’t want to rush or wish away the time I have right here, right now. I love the beginning of new years because I love the fresh start that comes with it. Though things don’t often feel different, it’s a brand new year and something about that makes me excited.

I do want to say thank you x10000 to each person who read my blog this year (or any year!) I am so very thankful for each of you & pray that God has used any of this writing to speak to you in whatever way He sees fit. I hope you ALL have a safe, happy, & healthy new year, & be prepared for lots more blogging in the new year!!