August 12, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we are going to do about it?

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

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

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

Pray.

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


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

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ministry | presence & listening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is power in presence.

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

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


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

weak enough to lead?

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

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

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

That is the very question this book examines:

Am I weak enough to lead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Loving and gracious God,

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

Amen. 

 

(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 guided prayer for the new year

Dear Loving, Holy, and Gracious God,

As this year comes to a close and we prepare for a brand new year, we’d like to take a moment to stop, reflect, and prepare – reflect on all that you have done through out the year we just had, and prepare our hearts, with you, as the new year comes.

*Pause in silence for a time of reflection. Perhaps think about some of the times during which you saw God at work or heard God speak in 2017*

Lord, we acknowledge that to many, this year has been filled with suffering, sickness, pain, trauma, loss, tragedy, and heartbreak. We ask that you would wrap your strong yet tender and gentle arms around those people, who found 2017 to be a year that they would rather not remember. We pray that you would help them to see you clearly and remind them that you are with them always. Help them remember that it is okay to feel whatever it is that they feel from those experiences, and that you love them through it all.

*Pause in silence for a time to remember all those who have lost loved ones, and to remember loved ones whom you have lost in 2017*

We ask that you would take the hardships we endured in 2017 and help us see light in those situations, as well as the strength we gained from those situations. As hard as it is often times, we thank you for the difficult times, acknowledging you did not once leave our side through those darker times.

*Pause in silence for a time to remember the hardships you endured this past year, and allow God to hold you through whatever it is you feel from them*

Lord, we thank you and we praise you for the wonderful and memorable times we had in 2017. We thank you for the joy that we shared with the people we love. We thank you for the triumphs we had and even thank you for the challenges 2017 brought, acknowledging that every triumph, challenge, and even failure we endured has made us to be more like the people you have called us to be.

*Pause in silence for a time to thank God for all the joyous things he has done in your life and in the lives of those around you*

God, We thank you for the endless grace that you offer to us daily. We acknowledge that we do not and will not ever deserve your grace or love, but that you give it to us each day, and for that, we thank you. Far too often we do not acknowledge the presence of you or of your grace in our lives, and for that, we are sorry. We ask that you would forgive us for the times in which we have sought to glorify ourselves instead of you, for the times we have ignored you or turned away from you, and for the times we have neglected to give you praise for amazing things that have happened in our lives that only you could have done.

*Pause in silence for a time to ask God for forgiveness*

We pray for the wisdom to know where you are leading us each day. We pray that you would guide our steps when we are unsure which way to go, and even when we think that we are sure.

Lord, take the plans we have made for ourselves, and wreck them completely. 

Show and tell us of the marvelous plans that you have for us, while helping us to remember that our plans are always insufficient compared to yours.

This year, God:

Take our fears and replace them with your promises.

Take our anxiety and replace it with your peace.

Take our sorrow and replace it with joy.

Take any obstacles and use them as opportunities for growth.

Take any desires to glorify ourselves and replace it with desires to glorify You.

Help us seek You over the things of this world.

God, we pray for growth in this new year.

We pray that you would give to us open minds to talk with people who are like us, as well as with people who are not like us. Help us to remember that we are all Your children, no matter ones race, political party, age, sex, ethnicity, physical, or mental state. We pray for your help in always remembering that no difference between any two people is great enough to prevent us from showing them the love of Christ. We also pray that we would always have open ears with which to listen to those who simply need to talk, may we be present and alert to those in need. We pray that we would have open hearts to welcome into our lives anyone who may need to experience the love of your Son, Jesus. And also open doors, to welcome both strangers and friends into our churches, homes, and lives, for we are all brothers & sisters in Christ.

We ask that you would bless this year of 2018, God.

We pray for the strength we’ll need that only you can provide, to face any challenges that may arise in 2018. We pray for a focus in 2018 that is constantly on you, and when our focus shifts, we pray that you would guide our eyes straight back to you.

We pray that this coming year, you would place in our lives an abundant amount of opportunities to serve in Your Name – opportunities to give our time, money, and love even when we feel we have nothing to offer – opportunities to serve others even when we would rather not – opportunities to be kind even when we’re having a bad day and would rather turn away – help us always choose to serve, and grant us the vision we need to always see those opportunities, and not turn a blind eye as we would often do.

In this new year, God, we pray that we, your servants, would be the hands & feet of your Son, Jesus. And finally, we pray for Your will, in 2018 – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

Optional: The Lord’s Prayer written below

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

This marks the end of this guided prayer. If you have any prayer requests at all that you would like to share, please feel free to leave them written in the comments section below.

 

“God is (still) with us” Sermon

Back in 2015, I had the opportunity to deliver the sermon at my home church’s 11pm Christmas Eve service. This memory is one of the many, many reasons I love this time of year; not only do I love that it is a time during which we prepare our hearts for Jesus’ birthday, and then celebrate his birth, I also love that I am able to remind myself of the pure joy I had in realizing pastoral ministry was where God was leading me. God used my pastor at the time to ask me to preach, He used my delivery of this sermon, and really He used this entire Christmas eve service as a whole to affirm this call to the pastoral role. He ignited in me an even greater passion for the ministry into which I’m called and gave me a whole new perspective and understanding of Jesus’ birthday. With that, it may go without saying, but it would be hard to approach Christmas Eve without being swarmed with sweet memories from 2015. It is so special and I will cherish it forever. What makes it even more dear to my heart is that I was able to do this while I was still a student at Liberty University back in my freshman year of college. To preach on Christmas Eve in the midst of my year at a school that was constantly telling me I couldn’t preach or pastor, was so significant for me. It was affirmation that I needed; it was God not whispering this time but yelling (sternly but kindly) at me, that this is my call – it is his call upon my life. And that He is constantly preparing a way for me, even as I would be heading back to Liberty after winter break in January of 2016 for not only the hardest semester, but four of the hardest months probably of life thus far. But God? Boy was he present. He was present and stirring this call and passion from the moment I first spoke on Youth Sunday, to my first semester at Liberty, to Christmas Eve 2015, to every ministry opportunity I’ve had thus far, to present day. I remember beginning to prepare my Christmas Eve sermon at least a month in advance because of how excited I was – after all, it was the Christmas Eve message! And it would be the sermon folks would hear 11pm-12am as they rung in Christmas day. While I know there is no such thing as a perfect sermon, I was determined to write to the best of my ability, with the Spirits lead, a message celebrating Jesus in all of his precious glory. This sermon is titled, “God is (still) with us,” and it elaborates on, “Emmanuel – God with us” It is about how God was with us at Christ’s birth, and how he still remains present with us today. This is a reminder I know I need often, and maybe you do, too. It’s easy to let Christmas come and go the same as we do with any other day, but carrying this message of Christ’s birth with us each day of the year is as important as carrying the message of his life, death, and Resurrection is.

The other day I stumbled across the DVD from that Christmas Eve and I wanted to share it in a post because I know personally I needed the reminded that God is still with you and I today as he was when Christ was born. I needed to be reminded of that beautiful truth, as well as the truth that God is faithful – he brought Jesus into this world. The God who did that, is the same God whose presence is among you, whose hand is guiding you, whose voice is calling you.

I have the sermon copy and pasted below **only slightly edited…I was 18 at the time…but I wanted to edit it as little as possible before posting it here because I personally love seeing how I’ve grown since then!**


Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSV)

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Mary and Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded and they called Jesus, Emmanuel: “God with us” because God was with them when His Word became flesh, and God has been with us ever since that day – that day when there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn, leaving Mary with no choice but to give birth to Jesus in a stable.

In the song, Joy to the World, the lyrics read, “let every heart prepare him room.” That is what Advent is about each year – preparing our hearts and our minds for the birth of our Savior, and making room for him in our lives because he is our Savior. The more we acknowledge that God is with us, and the more we make room for him in our lives, the more we can be filled with the peace, joy, and comfort that Jesus brought when he was born. The feeling of calmness and security that his presence brought is still capable of being felt, because God is still present in this world, just as he was when Christ was born.
We can go out and show the world that God is with us, just as Jesus did, because the Holy Spirit that allowed Jesus to be borne of the Virgin Mary, is the same Holy Spirit that is alive inside of us today.

Jesus introduced this world to God by first being a miracle born child, and later on by healing the paralyzed, giving sight to the blind, and forgiving those who did wrong and who were against him. He even asked God to forgive those who helped put him on the cross. We obviously may not be able to do those exact miraculous things Christ did, because we’re not perfect as he was, but we are still children of God – we can be examples of Him, by the way we live, and treat people, and especially by the way we love. The love that God displayed for us by sending into this world his only Son, Jesus, is beyond comprehension, and the love His Son displayed for us by giving his life up for us…that love is eternal.

Jesus was born into this world, to go to the cross – that is why he is our Savior. That is why it’s so important to acknowledge Christmas as the birth of Jesus – because it was the birth of the man who saved us – that was God’s intention when he placed him in this world.

Jesus’ birth and life had an impact on those in the Bible – The Wise Men and the shepherds at his birth, and people such as Peter and Mary Magdalene later on in his life, and he still has an impact on us today or else we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be here in church remembering Jesus on Christmas, or on any day. We wouldn’t set up Nativity scenes in our houses, we wouldn’t sing songs about his birth if he wasn’t special.

Jesus is still leading us, his followers. He is still calling us, his followers.

Jesus was adamant about sharing The Word, and being a light, and a messenger. That light was shown and that message was prepared to be given when Christ was born. And that message? The message that Christ was sent into this world by God, to be borne of the Virgin Mary, and save us from our sins, is still capable of being shared today, and we as Christians are called to be that light. And that light is going to shine the brightest when we prepare room for him in our lives and acknowledge that God is with us.

Preparing room for Jesus in our lives is something we can do daily, it doesn’t have to wait until Advent- Christmas is not just an event to look back on, you all, it’s something to be celebrated every single day because Jesus’s birth was THAT significant-
The significance and the beauty of Christmas is not in the presents we get, it’s in JESUS’S presence. The peace, joy, and comfort that he brought when he was born is what makes Christmas so special. HE is so special. Jesus is the reason we have this entire season, and that’s not just a bumper sticker that’s the truth. God’s Word is the truth and because we still have the Bible, and we know Jesus Christ, God is still with us and he is alive, just as much as he was when Christ entered this world. Jesus is still Emmanuel.
Christ was born so those in the Bible would see and hear the good news, and continue spreading the good news, that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and rose again. He was born to save. He was born so that we may know God. He was born so that we may know love, and peace, and forgiveness, and know what it is like to be followers of Jesus and leaders, who can lead others to become followers of our Savior. A savior who was perfect. A savior who didn’t have a single bit of sin in his life. Yet a Savior who gave himself for us. A savior who was born to go to the cross to save us from our sins.

That is a gift. Christ’s birth was a gift. Not a gift wrapped underneath a tree that holds some new material item – The good news of Christ’s birth isn’t new, or different each time Christmas comes around like the presents we get are. The good news of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection is all the same. Jesus is the same Savior, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is the same Christ every single Christmas, and thank God that we can rely on him, and his Word, to never change.

Jesus was born and that is how this world came to know God, but when he was crucified and died on that cross, God didn’t just leave. Remember Jesus rose 3 days later, and God was still with us during those 3 days. Jesus led this world to know God and we already know because God has told us in His Word that he is never going to leave us and he is never going to forsake us- that is proof that God is with us and that is never going to change.

Because we know His Son, Jesus – the innocent, sinless, perfect human being born in Bethlehem – because we know the Savior who was crucified, died, and rose again, we know God. Praise God that we can have a season of time each year where we can so openly and happily remember the birth of our Savior. The birth of the man who had such an impact on this world, and taught us exactly what love looks like, what a miracle looks like, what God looks like.

Right when Jesus was born he had people bringing him gifts, and worshipping at his manger. Right when he was born there were shepherds praising God, because they had seen God through what had happened with Jesus’s birth. That was God’s plan, it was his intention. He wanted people to know him and believe in him by seeing the miracle of his son and he wanted them to know they were saved because of his son.

The story does not stop there because Jesus did not stay in that manger. God sent him out and he changed the world, he had an effect on people, he showed God to the world, and he taught. He taught what love looks like. We as Christians are called to do that exact same thing, and because of that- because we’re supposed to be Christ-like and be examples of Him, God is with us because if we are examples of Jesus, we are showing God to this world, which is exactly what HE did. It’s what he was born into this world to do. As long as that Holy Spirit is living inside of you and me, God is with us.
This time of year on Christmas is the perfect reminder that he was with us when Christ was born and he is still with us, in the midst of the busyness and stress that this holiday may bring, we get to celebrate the peace that Jesus brought, and be thankful for receiving the greatest gift of Jesus Christ – a gift that we didn’t even have to ask for.

Amen.

A Christmas Prayer

Loving, Gracious, and Holy God,

It is that time of year again, where we celebrate the birth of your beloved Son, Jesus. We spend the Advent season awaiting his marvelous birth ever so eagerly, and we celebrate when Christmas day arrives, and we can bask in the peace and joy that is brought when he enters this world.

God, during this holiday season, we acknowledge that it is easy for us to get caught up in the craze of finding presents for those we love, in the parties we attend, the trips we plan, the traditions we have, but we pray that our eyes would not be taken off of the precious gift that is your Son – the gift that is what this season is all about.

We pray that you would open our eyes so that we may see to the fullest picture how marvelous this gift is, and we pray you would clear our vision when it becomes fogged by the pressure of hosting get together’s, by finding ‘the perfect’ presents, or by spending time hoping for that one expensive gift on our list. We pray for perspective.

We pray that you would give to us a heavenly peace in our hearts and in our minds, and that this peace would overwhelm us in the midst of whatever it is that is stressing us out during this holiday season; stealing our joy, anticipation, and celebration during such a beautiful time.

We pray for those who find this time of year difficult, for whatever reasons there may be. We pray for those grieving the absence of loved ones. We pray for those who find themselves plagued with depression, and anxiety, and we ask that you surround them with your gentle arms; your love and care.

We ask for your forgiveness for the times in which we neglect to acknowledge and appreciate to the fullest this gift that we are about to receive. And above all, God, we thank you. We thank you for this gift that you have given to us, and we acknowledge it is a gift which none of us deserve. But we thank you for sending your Son to be born, to show us what pure, magnificent love looks like, and to show us exactly how we should live, as disciples of Jesus. The love that you didn’t have to prove but that you did prove by sending Him into this world, only to soon be sent to the cross, is a love we will not ever deserve, but we thank you, God, for that love you offered to us, and continue to offer to us daily.

We ask that, for Your glory, you would help us carry the story of Jesus’ birth with us in our hearts and minds not only on Christmas, but every single day of the year, for the rest of our lives. We acknowledge this story as one that cannot afford to go untold, for it is far too marvelous and great. We thank you for this story we have the ability, by Your grace, to tell, and we pray we never, ever, take it for granted.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – we adore you & we love you.

Amen.