breathe.

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

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

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

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

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

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

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

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

1 Corinthians 1:25:

“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,

God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Advertisements

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.

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. 

 

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.

 

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.

A Prayer for Las Vegas

Las Vegas has been weighing heavily on my heart and mind today, as I’m sure it has been on yours as well. Right now, I feel as though I have nothing to offer but prayer, and I am encouraged by that, because I believe there is great power to be found in prayer, and it is needed right now, as it is always. I cannot begin to imagine the unbearable fear that the people attending this concert must have been filled with when this person opened fire, killing 50+ people and injuring hundreds more. I checked Twitter every chance I could today, trying to keep informed and updated on what was going on in Nevada, but I had to stop. I had to stop because it became overwhelming and sad to see politics trumping the compassion, empathy, love, and prayers that Las Vegas is so desperately in need of right now. My brothers and sisters, events such as the one that occurred today is not an excuse to argue about our political views. I am not saying that the political issues associated with events such as this one should not be talked about, but remember to tread lightly, and remember that people have died and there is a lot of grief to be had right now. May we also remember that these acts of terror and hate that leave us broken, also leave us with an opportunity to unite in a type of love that casts out the hate that people who carry out such events strive to spread. May we stand with the community of Las Vegas as they mourn and heal, may we be in prayer for them, and may we unite to uplift them during this time.


 

Merciful God, we come before you burdened with a pain and sadness that we can never seem to comprehend when these events occur. As we watch the effects of the massacre in Las Vegas unfold, we are filled with anger, fear, and anxious and hurt hearts for the community of Las Vegas. We come to you, God, with the hope and prayer that you would heal the enormous hurt, whether emotional or physical, that has been caused by this event. We pray that you would be with the friends and families of those who lost their lives as a result of this hate-filled act. We pray that you would cover with your loving and healing hands all of your children who were affected. We pray that you would bring comfort to those who are mourning – may we mourn with them. We pray for the courage, during this time, and always, to love one another amid a world that is so constantly seems to be on a mission to divide us further and further apart, especially when tragedies like this strike. We pray for the wisdom to always know that no matter what, your love is greater, stronger, and more powerful than any act of hate that tries to overcome our country and world. We pray for peace right now, God, and we thank you that when we feel there is no good left in the world, we may be brought peace by the simple reassurance that there is good left in the world because YOU are GOOD, and YOU are here, even amid all of this turmoil. Help us to see you, seek you, and be like you each day. Help us to be bearers of your goodness and perfect love in a world that is in such desperate need of it more and more each day. We pray that you would help us to know how to act in response to the massacre that occurred in Las Vegas. Help us to speak in love and act in love so that people, especially like the person who committed this act of hate, would know your love. Help us to be beacons of your peace, love, grace, and compassion, everywhere we go. We ask above all right now that you would simply be present with Nevada and each person affected by this shooting – may they know you and your peace and comfort. We pray all of this in your son Jesus’ precious and holy name –

Amen.

Charlottesville.

When the events in Charlottesville happened this past weekend, I knew right away that I would want to write about it, but I wanted to wait a little while. I wanted to wait and take some time to gather my thoughts and figure out how to formulate the ‘right’ words to put out there for the world to see. Before tonight, whenever I would sit down to write, I could not for the life of me seem to find words that described to the fullest the heaviness and large affect that this weekend had on so many people and on our town. But I realized tonight that it’s not about having the ‘right’ words. There really are no ‘right’ words to say or write when something like this happens, so I’m going to try, to the best of my ability, to share my reflections on this past weekend’s horrific events, in my beloved hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.

On Friday evening, when I saw all over social media what was happening down on the campus of UVA, it made me absolutely sick. Just 10 minutes from my house, I have walked the campus of UVA more times than I can count – it is absolutely beautiful, but all of a sudden, there were crowds of people with lit torches walking all over it – people who were clearly filled with so much hate, anger, and rage. The worst part about these people stomping around with torches is that it was only the beginning of what would end up being a horrific day that would impact our town for despicable reasons.

As this, “Unite the Right” rally approached, I knew that that Saturday was going to be ugly, I’m sure we all did, but none of us knew exactly how ugly it would become, or how quickly it would escalate. I certainly never thought that my hometown would become a nation wide topic of conversation, and for such an awful, awful reason. I never thought that I would open social media and see my town’s name all over the place with hashtags and on the news nation wide. Yet here we are, amid the aftermath of something that nobody native to Charlottesville ever thought would happen here. You see it happening in other places all the time, but you never expect it to be something that your own small town is in the news for.

On Saturday morning, my plan was to go downtown and be among those who were down there from various faith communities, but I couldn’t find anyone who was able to go with me, so I opted not to. Instead, I watched live videos on social media, I watched the news, and I read countless tweets and Facebook posts about what was going on down there. I saw videos of the violence that broke out in numerous areas of downtown – the fist fighting, the attacking one another…I saw so much hate and disunity – more than I had ever seen firsthand before in my life.  It made me sick to watch and read about, but at the same time, I couldn’t stand to not keep myself updated about what was going on down there.

Saturday afternoon, I logged back onto Facebook and immediately saw the news about the car that had ran head on into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters on the downtown mall, injuring about 20 people and killing one. A little while following this car incident, I heard about the helicopter that had crashed, killing two police officers who were on duty doing air control for all that was occurring in town. Like most people, I couldn’t help but be brought to tears watching as all of these events take place in my hometown – the hometown I love so incredibly much.

One thing that had these events on Saturday weighing especially heavy on my heart was the fact that I was scheduled to preach the next day. I would be filling in for my pastor that Sunday – the Sunday after all of these horrible events had taken place. Never had I ever been scheduled to serve in a church service, let alone lead one following an event as huge and close to home as this was.

The whole day as tragic event after tragic event occurred, I couldn’t even bring myself to begin brainstorming the words that I would say in church the next day about it all. When I saw videos of that car plowing into the group of innocent, peaceful protesters, I knew I should say something. When I heard about and then saw on the local news about the helicopter crash, and that two more innocent lives had been lost, there was no question that something needed to be said about this in church. Being politically correct was not a concern of mine as it (to be completely honest) has been in the past. To me, this was no political issue – to me, if you are human, these events made your stomach twist. So while I knew that I needed to say something, I was a nervous wreck. I found myself in a puddle of tears trying to think of how in the world I would come up with the ‘right words’ to say following something so terrible. I contemplated calling my pastor and seeing what he would say in the service if he were preaching, but I refrained, and thought, “Na, I got this, don’t bother him.” I had an event to go to in the evening on Saturday, so I left my sermon editing for when I got home, acknowledging that I really needed to sit down and think, reflect, and pray hard about what all I would say come Sunday morning. While I was at this event, my pastor ended up calling me. He informed me that despite him originally having that Sunday off, he would be in church – due to everything that had taken place, he felt he needed to be there. I hung up that phone call and took one big sigh of relief. I would still be preaching and leading various aspects of the worship services, but having the presence of a pastor there to guide the services on that day was what this aspiring pastor needed.

I have never in my life preached with as heavy of a heart as I did this past Sunday. I must say that I am so immensely thankful for the Holy Spirit’s ability to give us words when we seem to have none.

I got home from the event I was at late Saturday night, knowing that the sermon I had prepared for that Sunday was not the exact sermon I should or could preach anymore. I knew that I needed to tweak it, so that I could acknowledge everything that had happened – the loss of innocent lives, the pain our town is in, how we move forward, what can the Church do, etc. I woke up around 5:00 a.m Sunday morning with new words to put into my sermon. New words that I prayed would bring more insight, peace, and comfort to a hurting congregation (and to a hurting me as well). I am so thankful for God’s ability to show up and make his peaceful presence known when we need it most – this past Sunday morning was undoubtedly the most nervous I had been before preaching in a long, long time. But by the grace of God, he led myself and my pastor through those services so that we could lead the congregation, and I was so aware of and confident of his presence there with us – it was a beautiful and gut wrenching Sunday morning all at the same time.

Looking back, I’m so glad none of us walked into that church and acted as though it did not happen, especially because what happened, happened right in our backyard. What happened in town on Friday evening and on Saturday – that was not Jesus. Our churches, communities, towns, and world needs to be reminded of who Jesus was and is. That is why I am so grateful that the sermon that just so happened to go along with the sermon series we’re currently in, was about Jesus’ identity, and in turn, our identity which lies in Jesus. On Sunday, we talked about who Jesus is. We talked about the fact that our identity lies in him which means we’re called to be like him. We talked about how much power there is in his name. We talked about how loving he is, and how love is what we need to show in this world if we want to be more like Jesus.

The hate, darkness, and loss that occurred this past weekend has left our town with a sense of brokenness that I cannot quite articulate to you all. Driving through downtown feels eerie and different right now. Last night I attended an impromptu prayer vigil led by a local United Methodist Church, and the large group of people who came together there to pray, sing hymns, and talk in the very park where so much hate was being spewed on Saturday, gave me a sense of peace, of comfort, and of hope. Following this prayer vigil, I walked with my sister and friend over to where the car came through – the memorial for Heather, where there were countless beautiful flowers, candles, letters, and pictures. Witnessing all of this with my own eyes for the first time was gut wrenching. But I have an incredible amount of hope – I am so convinced that, because of the way that our community has come together following these events, and because of the God we have, there is hope for reconciliation and healing, and that this community has the potential, through prayer and loving one another more than hating, to our come together even closer instead of divide further, despite any of our differences.

The Church plays a very important role in this – when events such as these take place, The Church has work to do. It needs to act. It needs to act because in times of darkness and pain like these, talking about it isn’t enough. There can be prayer vigils, safe places where people can go and process their feelings, thoughts, and emotions following the events, we each individually need to practice communicating with people who have opposing views than us, acknowledging that at the end of the day, our differences only matter so much. But our differences do matter when our differences keep us from loving one another, because that’s when our differences stop us from being like Jesus as we’re called to do. I have never in my life believed so much in the power of these words, that:

Love overcomes hate. Prayer overcomes hate. God overcomes hate.

I know those words may seem like the most cliche in the world, and they will be, unless we ACT as though we know they’re true. We need to love and not hate – we must love those we disagree with. We must pray for these situations. We need to pray for the people involved in these situations – we must pray for the people who have hate in their hearts just as much as we pray for the people who have love in their hearts. We need to carry ourselves as though God has the power to overcome hate. It’s not enough to say it, we have to act, pray, and love as though we believe it.

I pray for the people whose hearts and minds are filled with such hate, anger, and bitterness. I pray that God would work in their hearts in a powerful way, acknowledging that nobody is beyond the grace of God. Nobody is too far out of reach for God to grab onto and change their hearts from hate to love. I pray for these people who may not know any other thing but hate, because they have never been shown the love of God.

I pray for the families of Heather Heyer, who lost her life on the downtown mall when that car struck. I pray for all those who were injured in this car incident as well – I pray for their healing from both their physical wounds and what I can only imagine will be some emotional wounds as well. I pray for the families of the two police officers who died in the helicopter crash. I pray for comfort during this time, and that they would feel God’s loving arms wrapped around each person affected by all of this.

My heart is broken for this beloved town of ours as it grieves and recovers from the hate that plagued us this past weekend, as well as from the pain that resulted from all of this. But as I wrote above, I have hope, and I’ve got that hope for more reasons than one.

To my fellow brothers and sisters here in Charlottesville, we will overcome all of this evil, and we will rise, if we choose love over hate, always.