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!

Advertisements

weak enough to lead?

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

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

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

That is the very question this book examines:

Am I weak enough to lead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Loving and gracious God,

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

Amen. 

 

Last Sunday

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

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

So – last Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(or, so I thought)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.