breathe.

I thought the football game this past weekend would serve as a great break from studying for the exams I have this week, and although we did win 51-0, the game turned into inspiration for a blog post more so than a fun study break. To put a long story short, within the first 10 minutes of the game, immediately after we scored our first of many touchdowns that night, the unfortunate event of having alcohol spilled all over me took place (which, I should note, is hilarious to me now). The dude standing behind me in the bleachers was apparently pushed by someone behind him, which caused him to then fall forward into me. It’s fine, accidents happen, but when I say that his drink, comprised of coke mixed with Lord knows what kinds of alcohol, spilled all over me, I mean, alllll over me — my arms, my jacket, my shirt, my feet, and yes, my hair. So it’s 10 minutes into the game and I’m already sticky, now reeking of alcohol even though I was sober, and my hair is now wet, tangled, and everything in between. Uncomfortable for sure, but I wasn’t ready to leave, so, I sucked it up and continued cheering on our Dukes! About 20 minutes later, said dude standing behind me who had previously spilled his drink on me, fell down & fell forward (he had had a bit too much to drink that day). This resulted in his 6 foot self knocking my 5’3 self right off of the bleacher I was standing on and onto the ground into the people in front of me.

You know how sometimes, when you get angry or irritated, you have to tell yourself to breathe?

That was pretty much me at this point. (though now I have a neat bruise on my foot to show for this ordeal). I stood there after this kid had slammed into me twice now, and I told myself to breathe. In retrospect, doing so made me think about how that was the first time I had actually consciously breathed in and breathed out. It was the first time I had paused, and focused on only my breathing.

You see, obviously, we typically don’t have to think about our breathing, right? We don’t have to remind ourselves to breathe, because our bodies just do it. It’s innate. But have you ever thought about how incredibly helpful it can be to do that? To actually pause, let your mind rest and think about nothing other than the mere act of breathing in and breathing out…

I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed, something I’m great at doing is neglecting to allow myself time to pause and breathe. I continue to go, go, go, because when I know there is work to be done, exams to be studied for, applications to work on, essays to write, emails to send, I have trouble putting aside things on my to-do list in order to catch my breath. I am certain I am not the only person out there guilty of that. Typically what happens with that is I keep going, going, going until one small thing will stop me in my tracks and open my eyes to how desperately I need to stop for a hot minute and catch my breath. I’m about to enter week 5 of senior year and each day I have felt as though I have had time to do anything but breathe. I even wrote in my planner last week, “reminder: breathe” and I can think of only 1 instance where I actually attempted to be intentional about doing that. It’s hard. But when we do that, it puts things in perspective. It gives us time to step back and realize that the entire world is, in fact, not all on our shoulders. I encourage you to be intentional about doing that.

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

That’s how I breathe when I run, and how I breathe when my anxiety is really bad. The physiological effects of anxiety are sometimes horrendous, and breathing is difficult in the moment. Just yesterday, for example, anxiety decided to disrupt my walk home from campus, so when I got home, I sat down on my couch, and I breathed. I focused solely on that — breathing in and breathing out. And it helps, cliche as it may sound.

You can only continue going, going, going, and you can only bottle it up, brush it under the rug for so long before something gives. Don’t let yourself be the thing that gives. Allow yourself time to pause. To breathe. To simply ‘be.’ I encourage/challenge you (and myself) to take time to breathe this week. No matter how busy you are, no matter how stressed you are from work or school or anything else. Take time to pause. Be intentional about breathing in and out and having no responsibility other than that — just pause, every hour, every few hours, every few minutes, and focus on your breathing. Have a mantra you repeat to yourself. Pray. Meditate. Ask God to be with you. Remind yourself God is holding you in the palm of his hand! Remember he is strong and is able to lighten your load if you would just simply ask! Personally I have been clinging to this verse below recently, & perhaps it’s one you can carry with you this week:

1 Corinthians 1:25:

“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,

God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

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Cuba 2018 || the people.

Its been four days since our team got back into the States after 10 days in Cuba, and I am realizing, through my talking about it & reflecting on my time there, that no words will ever be sufficient. I kept telling myself that I would write a post about the trip when I had, “the right words,” but there are no ‘right’ words to sum up or describe the 10 days we spent in Cuba the way it deserves – in a way, I think that is actually pretty special. Words are so powerful, and for a mission trip to be so powerful that not even words can fully grasp it, is pretty amazing to me. I think maybe it can only be understood and grasped through living & experiencing it, and I am forever thankful to have done just that. I realize it doesn’t help me much as a writer or blogger, to struggle to find words to encompass what those 10 days were to me, but I couldn’t not write about it, so here I am, just typing and seeing where the words go.

I am still reflecting on this trip each day, letting it all sink in, and taking away lessons from my experience there — I think my time in Cuba impacted me more than my mind & heart are able to grasp and realize right now, which is why I’m sure there will be many more than just 1 post. Firstly, how a mission trip affects you is something I feel you can never quite fully prepare yourself for — you can plan, you can pack all of your necessities, you can talk about it, you can have a (very) tentative itinerary, but there is a lot that you will not know until it’s happening, and a lot that could happen that you simply cannot plan for. From the very beginning, since the day I said, ‘yes’ to this opportunity, I was most excited about the people — the relationships that would be built, both with my teammates and with our brothers & sisters whom we would meet in Cuba. That was what made me most excited, and as I sit here, 4 days post-Cuba, I can confidently report back that the people are what made this trip what it was; the beautiful, beautiful people of Cuba were a part of the trip that I most certainly could have never prepared myself for.

The relationships we built with those in San Juan de los Yeras over the course of a short five days continues to leave me in awe. Before I even met any of them, I would so easily refer to them as my brothers & sisters, because God kept reminding me that they are my family — that we are all one in Christ, and wow, what a difference that makes when it comes to our perspectives and view of others — when we remember that we are all part of God’s family, & that no race, ethnicity, nationality, or language changes that. They are our brothers & sisters, and they inspire me — they persevere, they are tenacious, they are innovative, they are kind, they are generous, they are passionate, you won’t find them complaining or looking at themselves as victims, they love the Lord with all their heart & mind & soul & strength, and they rely on him to the extent that I am still striving to rely on him. And the people I got to call my teammates, who I grew such a deep love & care for over the course of 10 days makes me grateful every day. One of my favorite things to do is to truly know people; to know their strengths, their gifts, their likes, dislikes, and watch them be lights for God. I got to do that on this trip, whether they realized it or not, they each taught me something about themselves and about God and I just love that.

Beth and Kevin are two of the most intelligent individuals I have ever met on this planet. I had the pleasure of sitting in the same row as them on the airplane all four flights, and I found that while everyone else was watching movies, sleeping, or listening to music, Beth & Kevin would sit there and pass the time by doing crossword puzzles or studying a Spanish textbook. Kevin also has a wonderfully unique and simply astounding singing voice. Mary Kaye sings also, and when she sings, the type of sound that exits her mouth is one which you may imagine hearing upon entering the gates to Heaven — I am pretty positive my jaw dropped to the floor and remained there every time she would sing. The presence she has when standing before large groups of people is confident & lovely, as is her spirit, in general. She is so great at connecting with people, which is something I got to witness so well in Cuba through her interactions with the people there. Larry is so subtly hilarious, and also wears many hats — he is a preacher, a bus driver, great at speaking Spanish, and I bet you didn’t know he also has his own bank, “The Bank of Larry — open 24/7.” Paul is remarkably kind, a wonderful pastor & pal, he is always encouraging others, has great wisdom to share, he listens intently to what you have to say rather than simply thinking of how to respond while you’re talking, and is also so, so great with children. Gary was our ‘doctor’ throughout our time in Cuba, and he carried out the title well. He is a calm presence if I’ve ever known one, he checks in on you, and he is a BOSS at the game UNO (but he’s not as great as Pastor Gaspar, sorry Gary). Gary also let’s people pick on him (but not without dishing it right back to you). Joanna is a painting pro, she is so fun to be around, she loves well & cares for people well, she is full of energy, and always up for anything. I do wish I had a penny for every time the words, “where is my wife?” came out of Paul’s mouth — but the answer is that she was always off enjoying herself & taking awesome pics of the beautiful places we journeyed to! Also, the love between those two is #MarriageGoals. Viv – Viv is one of the sweetest individuals you will ever meet. She goes with the flow, never has anything negative to say about anything or anyone, & you will never heard a complaint come out of her mouth. She is the definition of optimistic and I strive to have that amount of optimism! Meredith has the best personality and a spectacular attitude about life & about whatever circumstances she finds herself in, especially on this trip, where she fell down not one but two times. She also so easily formed bonds with the people, especially 15 year old Diana. P.J. is the definition of free spirited. She’s like a little kid in the best possible way, she is super fun to be around, and is always so excited about everything which I LOVE. She was cracking everyone up the whole trip. Kerry has the best work ethic – he sets his mind on a task, he problem solves well, and he helps gets the job done. He is independent but also simultaneously works so well with a team. He has the softest heart, is great with children, and with being relational in general. And when he leads a devotion, or prayer, or communion, he speaks in such a calm manner that one can only attribute to the Spirit.

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Those are the people I got to travel with, and I have to say, traveling with an A+ team like them and then meeting even more amazing people during our time in Cuba filled & continues to fill my heart in a way I really cannot express in writing.

I would go as far as to say I was convicted on this trip in that I did not realize how much more I really need to be showing the love of God through my own actions, until I met the people of Cuba, and was shown so vividly how Jesus loved with his actions. Way before I left for Cuba, I was talking to a friend of mine expressing some concern because I barely know any Spanish, and she told me, “on the mission trips I’ve been on, I’ve found that God’s love always overcomes those language barriers.” I had no idea just how true that statement would play out to be. God’s love is something that should be shown more than merely talked about. I witnessed, experienced, and received God’s love on this trip in ways I had never before. I received love & generosity from people who are more rich in it than I have ever been, and I’m thankful for that conviction. I’m thankful for the love I was shown and thankful for the presence of so many beautiful people all in one place for those 10 days (especially the 5 days we spent in San Juan). I was so content being surrounded by these beautiful people, listening to them, laughing with them, playing UNO with them, worshiping with them, sharing meals with them. And it’s funny, because I’m an introvert, so while I love & adore people, I need my time alone to gain back energy I pour out eing around people for long periods of time, but on this trip, I was constantly around people, and not once did I become anxious and tired of being around people. Id be lying if I said I was anxiety-free the entire trip, but never any anxiety about being around so many people so often. To me, that was God giving me the energy, strength, and fuel he knew I needed to be my happy self and be present on this trip, with the people — my brothers & sisters. That was a common theme throughout those 10 days — God doing what only God can do.

The verse I clung to during this trip was Psalm 4:3,  “the Lord takes personal care of the faithful (CEB).’ It’s the first verse I opened up to in Psalm when I was preparing to lead devotions our first morning in Cuba (Saturday, the…). Every single person on our team was there because they were faithful to God’s call to ‘go.’ I was comfortable outside of my comfort zone, and I think that so describes what life with God is — he calls us out upon the waters, literally out of where is comfortable, and he takes care of us the whole time –  never fails. I never in a million years would have seen myself going to Cuba on a mission trip, or preaching in another country with a translator, but I said to God, “here I am,” and so there I was.

& I will be back. I knew the moment I got there that it would not be my only time in Cuba. The people — they, I believe, make Cuba the place it is. The country is beautiful, the old cars are neat, the history is fascinating, sad, difficult to understand, & yet powerful, but the people — you know the beauty of Cuba when you know the people. I cannot wait to go back.

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This picture was from Wednesday evening worship — we were each gifted with straw hats which we had no idea about…there were many hugs, tears, and smiles.

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.

 

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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!!)

A Response to John Piper

By now, I’m sure many of you have heard or are aware of John Piper’s most recent podcast about whether or not women should be professors at seminaries. There has been a great deal of discussion surrounding this podcast, and though it may be needless to say, that discussion has not been very positive, nor has it been in support of his stance, rather, the discussion has been in resistance, against his stance. This post that I am writing today is not going to be a “letter to” John Piper, nor is it going to be a list of all reasons as to why I think that he is wrong (although, I do 100% believe that he is wrong). If I’m being completely honest, people like him don’t deserve my energy or finger muscles, at least not right now when I have a sermon to write and then preach on Sunday 😉

I do know full well what it is like to put my energy into debating with people about what women “can” and “cannot” do, and if I’m being honest, I’m sick of feeling as though it is my responsibility to explain to these ignorant men, why my call from God is just as legitimate as any other call. So, this post is more of a response based, not on how listening to this theological disaster of a podcast made me feel, rather, a response on how to move forward, as well as a sincere thank you to the men out there who hold to a egalitarian view, and strive each day to make room for women’s voices when people like Piper try to take them away. I want this response to be one where I thank the men who constantly strive for our equality, and I want to thank, indirectly (and at some point directly), all of the men in my own life who truly give me hope, that the destructive beliefs like the ones Piper preaches so often, will not last forever; not so long as men like you all step up, speak up, and make room for us women at the table, acknowledging that when women aren’t being heard, half the body of Christ is not being heard. God’s love is what will last forever, and these beliefs, I cannot help but write, are not God’s love. In fact, I can’t sit here and believe for one second that trying to prohibit women from doing what God has called them to do, whether teach, preach, or anything else, does not absolutely tear God’s heart right up.

So, without further ado, Piper’s article/podcast is linked here.

If you want to spare your ear drums (and sanity), I’ll give a short summary:

Piper states that it is as unbiblical for women to be professors at seminaries, as it is unbiblical for women to be pastors. Piper quotes the infamous 1 Timothy 2:12 passage, while neglecting its context completely, while reminding us that it is unbiblical for a woman to have authority over a male, whether in preaching or teaching (and probably more than that, which they just have not admitted yet). Piper uses the matter of mentorship as part of his argument – women cannot train pastors (i.e by teaching theological courses at seminaries) if they cannot even be a pastor themselves. Piper’s (and many others’) stance on this is that women should mentor women, and men should mentor men. This is all a very complementarian view, which, if you are unfamiliar with the term, in a nutshell means that women and men have separate roles in the Church, in marriage, etc. I’m sure you could guess this, but the answer, in Piper’s opinion, is no – women should not be professors at seminaries.

People were very shocked by this podcast. I wasn’t, and many folks who are also familiar with Piper, were not surprised by his stance on whether or not women should be professors at seminaries. I’ve found that no matter how many times you encounter people who believe things like this, you’re never not shocked, simply because of how unbelievable the belief is, especially in 2018. I actually lived in this for a year of my life, surrounded by people throwing these complementarian views in my face, and I still run into it occasionally, as do so many other women. It’s a real thing; it may be shocking, and unbelievable, but it’s not new, and it’s not going to go anywhere unless women and men continue to step up, and speak out against it. It genuinely hurts my heart to know that some people actually think this stuff puts a smile on God’s face. This sexism, and oppression, hatred, and fragile masculinity. It’s scary that sometimes it seems as though some people put more of their energy into defending why women cannot x, y, and z, more than they put their energy into spreading the Gospel. Think about that for a minute.

While I remember many of the not so wonderful days that I had as a student walking the grounds of Liberty University, one that I remember most vividly was when I was told by a guest speaker in my intro to church ministries class, that I was committing emotional adultery with any mentors of mine who were married, a male, and oh, God forbid they were a pastor, too. I don’t remember his reasoning behind why he thought this, likely because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I do remember that he had a PowerPoint on it, and when I went up to him after class to question this odd opinion that he had just taught a class of 60 undergraduate ministry students, he told me this remark that is written above.

This encounter with that guest speaker makes me laugh in retrospect, but in the moment, it made me feel so unbelievably uncomfortable – as though I was being talked to as a temptation to be avoided instead of a human being. I never had a pastor who was a woman until I got to college, and many of the people in my life who are my mentors are men, and that’s not by choice, because plain and simple, I don’t choose my mentors based on their sex. I choose them based on their ability to give me wisdom, guidance, build me up, challenge me, and support & love me well in my endeavors. That’s how it should be. One of the many implications Piper makes in this podcast is simply another man (him), trying to control women and what they do and don’t do – and he’s doing so in the name of God, which is scary, friends. It’s actually terrifying that this is seen as God’s love, will, and Word.

This podcast infuriated me, but it did not surprise me. It didn’t surprise a lot of people, and that’s sad. I know John Piper’s work and views well enough to not be surprised anymore, and while that may be okay, I don’t ever want to become immune to it, because when we become immune/not affected by things like this, our incentive to promote change and move forward from these harmful beliefs, disappears, and we don’t want that to happen. We need that incentive and we need to be active in resisting this and speaking against it.

So, with that, I just want to say a quick thank you to the men in my life who aim to do just that; who not only seek to silence but get rid of the inequality all together. Thank you, guys. Thank you for never making me feel inferior, and for never treating me as though I am inferior. Thank you for never making me feel uncomfortable. Thank you to the men who will go to the ends of the earth to give me opportunities to grow instead of telling me my place is with the children and not behind a pulpit. Thank you to the men who don’t treat me as thought I am an object, and instead treat me with respect. Thank you for knowing how to treat a young woman like myself well. Thank you for talking to me like an adult and not like a child. Thank you for making me feel safe. Thank you for acknowledging that I am strong and not inferior, while simultaneously carrying yourself in a way that lets me know you’d gladly beat the crap out of anyone who tried to hurt me. Thank you for not mansplaining (we all know why we’re thankful for that).

Thank you to the men who go out of their way to stand up for women, who treat us as equal individuals (because we are), who fight for women and don’t let this disgusting message be preached without trying to drown it out with your voice for equality in the Church and in the world.

I wrote this post as a woman who has been incredibly hurt, talked down to, taken advantage of, and made uncomfortable by men, but also as a woman who, in my bias opinion, knows some of the greatest men in the world, who fight against Piper’s harmful teaching – my dad, my friends and pastors and mentors who are men, and (some) of the men I have dated… there are incredible, respectful, sexism-destroying, loving, caring, men & leaders, both in the Church, in the community, in the workplace, and in the world, who are using the voices they have, to do good and destroy sexism and the mistreatment and inequality of women. Don’t lose hope. Change is a long a process. But it’s happening.

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!!