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Last week, a dear friend of mine sent me the link to an article that he knew would get a rise out of me. It was an article about Stewart-Allen Clark, a pastor at First General Baptist Church in Malden, Missouri and a recent sermon he preached about women. The sermon can be found by clicking here. It's 22 minutes long, but it's worth watching. In case you don't have time to watch, though...
Here's some of the highlights of the sermon:
"Why is it so many times that women, once they get married, let themselves go?"
"Men have a need for their women to look like women."
"Here's a secret you need to know ladies: God made man to be drawn to beautiful women. We are made this way. We can't help ourselves."
"Men are going to look, but you want them to look at you. So don't let yourself go."
"What's the difference between a man's wife and a man's girlfriend? About 60 pounds."
"How important is [weight]? I have a friend who has put a divorce weight on his wife. Men want their lives to look good."
"Praise God for makeup. It's like crack-filler for dry wall."
"Wear makeup. It does miracles."
"Scientists have discovered a food that diminishes a woman's sex drive. It's called wedding cake."
"Men put this on your headboard: 1 Corinthians 7:4 says 'The wife has no longer all the rights over her own body, but shares them with her husband.' So whenever she's not in the mood, dig out your Bible."
"Men have to have sexual intimacy, or they're not happy."
"We are not lust monsters. God made us this way."
The above comments are just some of the statements that stood out to me in the 22 minute sermon. Please know, I'm typically not a pastor who nit-picks others' sermons. Preaching is tough and even if I don't believe with someone theologically, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. This, however, was not a sermon by definition. This was a "how to please and keep your man" TED talk that no one wanted to hear.
I find it interesting this story has gotten as far as it has in the last week. When I first heard about this guy and read initial articles, I laughed. He's clearly not met a Texas woman--because that just isn't gonna fly for any woman I know! But when I actually sat down to listen to the sermon, I'm sad to say none of what he said surprised me and I have heard said just about every single thing he said.
The reality is, the above statements that he preached from a pulpit are the very things being told to every single woman. Sometimes it's told to them by other women and sometimes it's told to them by men. Your six year old? Yep, she's already hearing and seeing on TV or in the media or maybe even at school that she's not pretty enough. Your teenage daughter? She's hearing that being "fat" is not attractive and so she's wondering whether she should eat dinner or if skipping a meal or two will help her lose weight. Your college-aged daughter who so desperately wants her ring-by-spring or her MRS degree? Well, she thinks the only way to get and then keep a man is to have sex with him whenever he wants. Women who are struggling in their marriage are wondering if there is something wrong with them physically and how they can possibly change in order to stay married. And, the unmarried women out there are looking at themselves wondering why no one wants them.
The troublesome part of this sermon is that for the women who were in that room, it confirmed the many things they have heard their whole life. That they are too big, they don't have enough sex, they don't look pretty enough on their own, and that they only are married because a man wants to have sex with them or thinks she's pretty.
Today is International Women's Day. It's a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. In other words, it's celebrating the bravery and hard work of many women who helped women not just be seen as property but also to be seen as valuable human beings. We cannot properly recognize this day without not only celebrating the women who have been trailblazers. We also have to recognize the men who stood up for us along the way. This man who preached a sermon is not a person with an opinion that is abnormal. He's just someone that shows us we have a long way to go in how we teach girls, how we treat women, and how we talk about and to women. I'm grateful to be in a church that does not believe these things and to be surrounded by people who don't agree...and I pray that one day, that is a reality for all girls and women everywhere.
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Portions of this blog were previously published here: https://www.txcumc.org/lent-is-not-a-punishment
"Lent" is a word many are talking about right now. Lent is the intentional period of growing closer to Christ in the 40 days leading up to Easter. It was a season on the church calendar that I, honestly, had no interest and no clue what Lent is.
You see, even though my mother came out of a faith tradition that heavily celebrated Lent (she was raised in a Catholic family) I grew up thinking celebrating Lent was a punishment! I remember we would often go out to eat on Wednesday nights and my brothers and I would laugh and stare at the people who had dirt in the form of a cross on their foreheads. Every Friday in the school cafeteria, we had fish sticks or fish sandwiches for lunch. The smell alone made me bring my lunch to school! I’d also hear my classmates say, “I can’t eat chocolate—I gave it up for Lent” and think, “Why would anyone want to give up chocolate?!?”
The school I attended as a child automatically gave us Good Friday off, but we never would go to a Good Friday service because it seemed weird to my brothers and me to go to church on a Friday of all days. We would show up in our best outfits for Easter Sunday and be happy that we would get the Monday after Easter off from school, too!
It wasn’t until I was in high school and we had a pastor that really pushed Lent that I remember attempting to understand and follow a Lenten practice. I remember we went to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time and that the ashes felt strange on my forehead. That same year, I decided to give something up for Lent—makeup—and it stuck with me after that! We attended our first Good Friday service, where the readings of Jesus’ journey to the cross were read and I remember feeling sad and leaving holding back tears.
That first Easter after I truly lived into Lent, I didn’t just feel happy in my fancy Easter clothes or that we wouldn’t have school the next day. I felt joyful that Christ had risen again. I was relieved that the feelings of Good Friday, those same feelings we often feel after we experience losing someone we love, were not going to last forever. I finally understood that Lent was not about looking funny on Ash Wednesday, giving up something you love to honor God, or just enjoying the extra days off of school for Good Friday and after Easter Sunday.
Ash Wednesday is to remind us that we are human and will one day die—this is not to scare us, but rather encourage us to live the best life we can here and now, and do all the work God has called us to do because tomorrow is never promised. Giving up something for Lent isn’t just to kick-start a diet or punish you by getting you to give up something you love for 40 days.
Choosing to give something up, or choosing to add something to your daily routine, is meant to help you reconnect with and make more time for God. Good Friday is not just about enjoying the day off with family and friends, but is about remembering that Jesus, the innocent Messiah, faced a brutal death. If he didn’t die, there would be no chance of a resurrection and, therefore, no chance of hope of a life everlasting.
For some of you, it might be difficult to want to truly live into the Lenten season this year. Perhaps you feel too busy or overwhelmed. Maybe you remember that last year you just went through the motions and got nothing out of the experience. No matter what your fears, apprehensions, or excuses are for not wanting to truly live into the Lenten season, I encourage you to keep an open mind and try it again anyway. We make time for the things we find important in our lives. Lent is not meant to be a punishment like I thought it was when I was a kid! Lent is supposed to be a time for us to grow closer in our relationship with Christ.
It is meant to be a time where, perhaps, we start out feeling distant from God, but end our journey on Easter Sunday with a joyful heart that is closer to God. I hope you take the leap this year and give Lent a true try, devoting your time and energy to drawing closer to your Creator, allowing yourself to cry on Good Friday, and opening your heart to feeling the hope that can be found on Easter Sunday.
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On Saturday afternoon, I was invited to attend a Little Dribblers basketball game of one of our 5th graders. As I headed over to the small, old gym with hard, wooden seats, I'm not sure what I was expecting to see when I watched the game. I think I planned on them barely being able to dribble, struggling to shoot, and just being a fun game to watch. That was hardly what I saw! These girls, just like our JV and Varsity basketball girls, were intense! Full court press, never let the other team figure out what to do with the ball, and lots of layups! I was very impressed with how great they were!
During the game, there were a couple times I watched the girls on both team second-guess their decisions. They had appeared so confident running down the court with the ball, but when they got to a certain spot on the court, something in their face changed. You could see their eyes intently thinking, their mouth turn into a frown, and they wondered if they could make a layup after all. So they stopped and planted their feet, waiting for others to get down the court to help them. There were other times where they weren't sure if they could shoot from that far away or if they could really steal a ball from the other team.
For as many times as I saw their self-doubt, I saw something equally important--they were much stronger than they knew. There were girls who overthrew the basket several times. I saw a ref have to shake out his arm after a girl threw him the ball. I watched in awe as some girls threw the ball to the basket and it somehow made it in the goal even though it clearly wanted to go through the backboard. These girls, for as strong as they are, did not know their strength.
I started to wonder when the switch happens for us, the moment where we start to question ourselves and our abilities. As young children, we don't often have that fear of being wrong. We just go through life confidently, doing our best. By the time you get to the end of elementary school, though, you are well aware of the concept of being wrong, of being embarrassed about yourself and the way you look or the way you talk or walk, and you're constantly second-guessing yourself. Perhaps adults can mask those feelings better than children, but if we are honest with ourselves, we feel those things, too.
Perhaps, in spite of all the self-doubt, fear of embarrassment, and wondering if people will like us, we are truly stronger than we know. There is something unique, special, and purposeful in all of us--after all, God created each and every one of us perfectly. What if we celebrated who we were and stood firm in our identity as Christians? Perhaps we would no longer be stronger than we knew...we would be strong and know we are strong. And we'd encourage and inspire others to be strong, too. Let's celebrate who we are (instead of focusing on what we are not), strongly, boldly, and courageously doing what God has called each of us to do.
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As you know, last week was the inauguration day of our 46th president, Joe Biden. As with any inauguration, there was all the fancy clothing that was evaluated, there was singing, there were speeches, there were pledges, and people from all branches of government were gathered together at one place. There were many moments that news outlets and social media have been continually sharing since then...but only one has brought us all together--a picture of a cold Bernie Sanders in a jacket and mittens.
Above is the original picture taken. Since this moment, Bernie has been photoshopped out of the picture and placed in the craziest of places and in the funniest of memes. Below are a few of my favorites.
You can find Bernie everywhere! So many laughs have been had over this meme and over all the photoshop jobs done. And all I could think while seeing this all over social media was..."I'm so glad that we can all agree on and laugh at something together."
For months, we have only seen arguments online, arguments at Presidential debates, and we've been arguing in our own daily lives as we have navigated through the last year of economic struggles and health struggles. It has seemed as though we may never get along again...okay, maybe that was just my fear! Everything has just been so polarized that we have seen friendships and close family relationships have strains and breaks due to the stress and pressure of it all.
Then comes this meme to make everything better. Perhaps laughter is the best medicine after all! It also made me realize that anything, no matter how small it may seem, can go viral in just a second. I started to wonder what it would look like if we made the Good News of Jesus Christ go viral. The Good News that Jesus Christ loves each and every one of us, no matter who we are, what color our skin, how much money is in our bank account, who we love, where we live, how many times we have messed up, and no matter just how unworthy we feel that we are...Jesus loves us.
The Bernie meme trend will come and go. The Good News should never go away. What if we choose to take the message that Jesus loves us and spread it to everyone. What if everything we did spread that message of Jesus' love? Could you imagine just how full of smiles, laughter, and joy this world would be? I think it would look a lot like us sharing an image of Bernie in mittens. It would be us sharing the good we see in the world instead of sharing yet another thing that divides us. I hope that we can be better spreaders of joy in a world that wants us to spread hate, negativity, and bad news. Let's be the light that brings the Good News that can be felt around the world.
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Before I begin this letter, I should start by saying I've never written an "open letter" to anyone before, let alone a future president of The USA. I was inspired to do so, however, because I have been watching the show "Designated Survivor" on Netflix. I'm halfway through watching it, and there's a line where someone tells the president he has "the loneliest job in the world." As a young pastor who has already had to make difficult leadership decisions in her just 4 years of full-time ministry as a pastor, I can relate with the idea. Leadership jobs are lonely...and maybe, instead of constant criticism or critique, our president (whoever it may be at any given point in time) needs more prayer and grace than I sometimes want to give. In my few decades of life, I have been slow to pray for and give grace to any president--and I have been wrong. I want to do and be better starting today. So in honor of inauguration day tomorrow, and my own commitment to be a better citizen and Christian, here's my open letter to our next president.
Dear Mr. Biden,
If you ever stumble across this letter, I hope it finds you well. I'm writing this on the day before your inauguration and I'm sure you're busy getting ready to move into a new place and getting ready to sit behind the desk in the oval office that so many men before you have sat in. I'm sure it is a humbling feeling to know that you will join a long line of presidents before you who have had the responsibility of running an entire country of over 300 million people. As a United Methodist pastor, I can in just a small way understand that feeling of moving, starting a new job, and obtaining more responsibility than you have ever had before. It is daunting and a bit scary.
There is a saying that has been spread around fellow United Methodist pastors and it goes something like this..."At some point in time, everyone will have loved you. Half will be happy that you got here and the other half will be happy when you leave." If the results of this election show anything, it is that those same statistics apply to you. Tomorrow, half the country will be upset that you are going to be replacing the incumbent and the other half will be cheering you on as you take the oath of office. Half the country thinks you stole the election and the other half thinks you won fair and square. In the official Senate counting of votes, rioters and domestic terrorists took over the Capitol building (the very one you will be inaugurated at tomorrow) to try to delay and stop the vote from happening. People are angry. People are sad. People are frustrated.
I do not envy you as you take the Oath of Office tomorrow and officially become the 46th President of The United States of America. Many different people have ideas of what you should do as president. The opposing party thinks you are a cheater. Your own political party thinks you're too moderate. Average, everyday citizens are still hurting from the economic drain of the pandemic. So many people have slipped through the cracks and are looking for you to hear them and help them. You literally have the weight of 300 million expectations sitting on your shoulders.
I have not agreed with everything you have ever said or done. I am sure there will be moments of your presidency that I will find what you say and do to be frustrating. You will be juggling more things than I care to imagine having to juggle. Your family will not have privacy, and everything you do, everything you wear, and everything you say will be scrutinized and picked apart by the media and individuals on social media. This letter is not to remind you of what you already know. This letter is meant to be a source of encouragement and a prayer for you. As a fellow leader, I am beginning to understand more and more that you have a bigger picture to all the things going on in this country and in this world that would quite literally make my head spin. You will make many decisions based on information that I and all the other average Americans will not have. I may not understand your decisions and I may be angry about it, but...
My promise to you, Mr. Biden, is that I will pray for you. In the moments where you frustrate me, in the moments where I don't see the bigger picture, in the times I hear media scrutinize a choice you made, or see a post on social media that makes fun of you or your family, I will pray for you. I will try to show you more grace than I have any of your predecessors before you. It is far too easy for me to sit back and think I know it all and how to fix things when the reality is, I have no clue about all that is going on nationally and globally. I will pray for the health of your family, cabinet, and staff. I will pray for all members of Congress, the members of the Supreme Court, and your vice-president. I will pray that, as a country, we can all learn to show you (and others in leadership) a little more grace and pray for you a little bit more.
You are about to have the loneliest job in the world, a job you have been trying to get your whole life. As lonely, difficult, stressful, and I'm sure, at times, rewarding that it may be, know you have at least one person praying for you and all the decisions you must make on a regular basis. I pray that maybe one day soon, our country can once again be united and that maybe we can be united in something as simply praying for you.
Good luck and God bless!
Rev. Patricia Lund
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Sunday we saw snow. Not just a little snow, but a lot of it! In my nearly 30 years of living (and in Texas, for that matter), have I had the chance to experience snow like we did on Sunday. It just kept coming down. It even stuck to the ground! I would go outside with Cocoa and a couple hours later we would come back out and our tracks were covered with fresh snow. Limbs in the yard cracked and fell down. I had a few flickers of electricity loss, but nothing that lasted (and for that I am grateful).
Of course, with Cocoa being a whole nine months old, this was her first experience in the snow. I stuck her little jacket on her (to prevent her from getting completely covered in snow) and she wasn't too happy about that. But then, since I knew she'd likely be scared of the new type of weather, I let her walk outside without the leash (which I knew she would love). It was fun to watch her experience the snow. When I opened the door, she started out like she normally does, but then she paused. She sniffed the snow on the ground, felt it hitting her face, and then, she made her first judgment--she didn't like it one bit! It was cold, it had a funny feeling, she was sinking in the ground, and WORST of all? Her sticks were covered up from the snow! (Oh, the horror!) She was not a fan of the snow. But still, she had to potty and inside is not an option, even on bad weather days.
When I brought her back in, she gave me a look that said, "Mom, can you fix outside? It's broken!" We watched the snow fall from the warmth of the living room. She was upset that it kept falling.
I took her out a couple hours later. This time, she was determined to not let the snow get her down. SHE was going to get the snow to cooperate with HER! She marched along in the snow, she stuck her nose in it, and then she would pick a spot and get to digging! She wanted her sticks! I would, of course, try to get her to stop. And in the process, she stole a glove from me and had more fun than I had ever seen her have before! She'd throw that glove up in the air, catch it as soon as it hit the ground, and then whip it around with her head. She repeated that process over and over--she didn't even want to come inside. She finally enjoyed the change in her environment and didn't let the change affect her in a negative way.
Change happens all the time. Much like the snow that fell for hours on Sunday, we cannot stop change from falling in our laps. Sometimes, change is uncomfortable. We are like Cocoa, exploring the change and what it has done to others and figuring out what it means for us. We may want to go back inside and hide under the covers. But we can't do that. The change is already here. While we don't have control over the change, we do have control over how we react to it. We can, once again, be like Cocoa and be determined to not let the change get us down. We can find something new to enjoy (although I don't recommend you chewing on a glove--that would be strange) or find a new way to experience joy in the middle of change.
We are nearly a year in to a pandemic and, even though things seem to change and things have changed drastically, we have still struggled to adapt to those changes (and others). Maybe this snow day can serve as a reminder that not all change is bad. Maybe it can remind us that with a change in perspective, we can change things for the better. Maybe the snow can remind us that, no matter what is going on around us, we don't have to change who we are--we can remain strong in Christ and as Christians following Christ in all that we do. So don't run from change, even in this long-lasting pandemic. Learn to find ways to embrace it, adapt to it, and maybe even grow in positive ways from the change that is happening all around us and to us.
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In 2011, I was called to go into ordained ministry. It was a huge calling in my life, and it was something that took years to get through. I thought that would be the only big calling in my life—I thought, “Cool, I’m young and have already gotten my calling? That’s a win!” But as I’ve preached over and over, God doesn’t usually call us to just one big thing. God calls us, usually, to several big things and even more smaller things over the course of our lives. This is no less true to me today than it has been in the past. Recently, I have received a second, big calling from God.
In 2014, the summer after my first year of seminary, I worked at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas as a hospital chaplain. What I haven’t mentioned about being a hospital chaplain is that you didn’t just learn inside a hospital room by doing ministry, you learned in a small-group setting. You had group reflections, discussions, and lessons and you had an individual, weekly check in and reflection with your Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE, supervisor. Now, the summer I interned, my intern group got lucky—our supervisor was none other than the head of the CPE division of the hospital, Carlos Bell. It just so happened that he was also the soon-to-be President of the nationwide Association of CPE. He was kind of a big deal—and this was a big deal to be trained under him!
Something Carlos really stressed for me was finding my pastoral identity. He would ask me who I am as a pastor and I could never answer him. I didn’t know how to describe myself. But he, being who he is and having seen plenty of chaplains come and go, knew exactly what my identity was, even if I did not yet know. One Friday, during our individual weekly check in, Carlos took me down from the chaplain offices in the Robbins building. We walked down past the elevator I used to take to the skywalk, and kept walking all the way to the Jonsson building, which is where the labor and delivery department is at the Baylor hospitals. In the middle of the entrance of that building is a simple statue. It is of a female nurse in her scrubs. In her arms is a little baby. The nurse is looking lovingly at the baby and the baby seems to feel safe and secure. We stood in front of that statue and he said to me, “Okay…what do you see?” I said, “A nurse and a baby.” He said, “Go deeper…what do you see?” I said I saw the love in the eyes of the nurse and that the baby looked happy too. He said, “Okay. What else do you see?” This went on for a solid 30 minutes of our one-hour session. I grew more and more and more frustrated with him and with myself. There was clearly something in this statue that he wanted me to get, something that was wrapped up in my pastoral identity. He grew even more frustrated with me that I couldn’t see what he was seeing. We walked away from that session equally frustrated with each other. Carlos would never give you an answer—that was always for each individual to discover.
It wasn’t until another 2 or so weeks later that something happened and it finally clicked for me what Carlos saw in me that I didn’t see in myself. My pastoral identity was that of a mother. Mothers care, mothers are loving and kind. But mothers also aren’t afraid to stand up for what is right, to maybe put people in their place. It is an identity that, once I identified it, I was able to grow into it and have continued to refine and grow into that identity each day in ministry. There’s just one, little thing, though. I found it pretty mean, maybe even a little cruel, that this was my identity, but the possibility of having a family of my own was and still is, something that not only remains to be seen but seems a bit of an impossibility.
In the last two months or so, it has hit me harder—this desire to have a family of my own. I have prayed and prayed for a miracle to happen. I’ve prayed for a family of my own. I’ve fought with God. I’ve said a few choice words, not ashamed of it either. Just like many of you, there have been things I have desired and desperately wanted, things I have asked God for and not gotten any answers or reassurance on. But about two and a half/three weeks ago, something changed. I decided to stop having a pity party for myself—because, seriously, I don’t need a man. It’d be nice to have someone, sure, but I don’t NEED one. I can survive and handle things on my own. So I thought to myself, what would be something you would miss if you didn’t get married? I thought, children. I want a family. I then looked up something that has been floating in the back of my mind for years, something I thought about doing once I got a parsonage and had enough room for a family—would it be possible for a single female to be a foster or adoptive parent? A quick google search said, “Yes, you can.” I began to feel a little better—maybe in a couple years I’d be ready to be a foster parent. At the same time, I began to feel anxious—the idea of fostering a child was terrifying to me. So I tried to get it out of my brain.
And I was successful for about 48 hours. Then began a crazy week with children's choir activities and, ultimately, seeing the need in our community. I continued through the week, but I couldn’t get what I saw and what I heard and what I experienced that week out of my head. At about 10 that Thursday night, it just hit me. It wasn’t a voice, necessarily. It really felt like a hit to the gut. I remember bending over trying to take deep breaths to deal with the anxiety of the call God was clearly placing on my heart. God was saying, “Hey Patricia—you want a family. You have a good job. You live in a big house. You’ve got a big yard and an even bigger heart. You’ve got a congregation full of people who love children. You’ve got a dog that loves children. There is need in this community. It’s time—it’s time for you to step up and sign up to be a foster parent.”
The first thing I did is tried to catch my breath and try to search my brain—was this just what I wanted or what God wanted. Then I realized this was never, in my wildest dreams, what I imagined for my 29-year-old self. I also realized this was not “normal” behavior for a 29-year-old, but that’s what a) made it from God and b) made sense for me because I do nothing normal ever! I joked with my mom after I told her that she is probably going to pray to God asking why she got a defective child—that’s how abnormal I do things and that’s how outside the box and outside the norm I go through and live my life.
I cried off and on for 24 hours. The first time I told someone out loud, I couldn’t do it without crying. I reached out to friends who have done and are foster parents. I was hoping they would say, “You’re crazy, don’t do it.” But they just said, “Yup, it’s scary. I was scared too. But I’m excited for you—it’s such a rewarding experience.” I’ve had such great support from all of them already and they have already said, “We are here for you and we will always be a listening ear.”
And I have to say, as terrified and anxious as I am about this, as soon as I gave in and as soon as I accepted this call from God, my life has completely changed. The grieving I’ve done off and on for six months about not having a family of my own has disappeared. While I know this would be easier with a spouse, it’s not impossible to do alone and I can do this. I’ve started thinking about how this time a year from now, my life will look completely different. I’ve already started changing my mindset, trying to get my life together and trying to mentally prepare to raise a child that is not mine and that will not stay with me forever. I’ve got the first year “baby Bible” currently sitting on my kitchen table. I’ve bought a treadmill so I can do long distance runs in my house with the child nearby. I’ve even re-evaluated my food planning and what I eat, focusing on eating better and doing better so that it can be a solid habit and just second nature by the time I have a baby enter my home.
This Christmas, God gave me a gift of a new calling that I just wasn’t expecting right now. And I wanted to share this with you for a couple reasons. First and foremost, because my foster children will become a part of this church family as long as they are in my home and are a part of my life. I will need your prayers and I will need your support. Second, I think it’s easy for you all to hear me say, “God calls us to do things all the time, we just have to listen and say ‘yes’” and think, “Oh she’s just saying that,” or “People in the Bible are from a long time ago, do calls like that even still happen?” Well, I’m here to tell you, yes, God is still in the business of calling people to do seemingly crazy things in the eyes of the world. And your pastor is one of the people God is calling to do something new and outside the box. This is my newest call and it is a scary one…but it’s one I’m choosing to say yes to and bravely face. I, just like each of you, are to listen to, hear, and take to heart the words from the prophet Micah that say: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
I hope this message gives you some courage today. I know God is calling each and every one of you to something. There are so many people who do not know they are loved by God, who have been cast aside by the world, who don’t feel like they matter, who doesn’t have a seat at the table, and who are in need of help. God is working in their lives and God invites us to act in the lives of others when he calls us to do something new and maybe what may even seem a little crazy! Maybe it’s not something exactly like God is calling me to, but God calls us every day. Are we listening? Are we willing to say yes? Are we willing to go on a wild and crazy ride we never thought we’d be on to do what God calls us to do, no matter what the world may think of us? What is God calling you to do this year? Who is God calling you to be? Who is God calling you to help? Step out on faith, in the full gift of God’s grace, and say yes to whatever it is God is calling you to do. It may be scary, terrifying, and may make you feel a little anxious, but it’s always worth it to say yes and do what God calls you to do.
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On January 1, 2020, we began a new decade! We celebrated with family and friends and wondered what this new beginning in time would bring. Most of us were likely very optimistic and had no clue of what 2020 would ACTUALLY bring.
I like to think that the craziness of 2020 started for me in February. On Tuesday, February 11th, my dad went to a doctor for the first time in a long time to be formally diagnosed and begin treatments for basal cell skin cancer. By the end of that day, I was working on an e-mail with my senior pastor to send out to the congregation to let them know of what treatment would likely mean for me (lots of traveling to be with family) and I was also informing my District Superintendent (one of my supervisors) of the news. On Wednesday, February 12th, I was going about my regular morning business when I heard my phone ring. It was my District Superintendent. I knew cabinet was meeting...but I had also just told him about my dad. It was honestly a toss up as to why I got the phone call. I answered it and he asked how I was doing. I took a sigh of relief, realizing he was calling to ask about my dad. Then he said, "Well, that's not why I'm calling. Are you alone?" I knew what was happening then--I was being reappointed.
I snuck off to an empty room in an empty building and was told what was going on. "A church has opened up in your home district and the bishop and your new DS and all of us on cabinet think you'd be perfect for this opportunity." They told me all about Centerville and all that they do, especially their focus on children and youth. They were right--it was a great appointment and opportunity for me and my skill set.
I numbly walked to my office and closed the door, taking deep breaths. Within a matter of 24 hours, my world literally turned upside down. Dad's diagnosis was real and he was seeking treatment. He was sick and we didn't know what was going to happen. I was moving. I would be leaving people I had grown to know, love, and care for over the past three years and start all over again. What on earth was happening?!? So much change and transition and anticipation of that change and transition set in. While it was exciting to be reappointed to a church that I knew fit me well, with everything else going on, I just felt overwhelmed. By Sunday evening, I had met everyone in Centerville and made the announcement in-person to our youth and by e-mail to adults. It was official. Oh, and by the way, that Tuesday I got on a plane to go to Universal/Disneyworld for a week! So, yeah, life was a little crazy!
I've never had a "normal" appointment experience, and this would be no different. Sunday, March 15th, was the last "normal" Sunday I would have at Athens FUMC. It was the last time I would preach in all three services in person. It was the last time I would stand in the Revival service that I loved so much. It was the last time I'd start in the Traditional service, quickly finish my sermon and run over to the Modern service. It was the last time I would stand on the preaching riser in the Modern Worship service in front of a group of people. I wish I had known that was the last time--I think I would have cherished that moment a little longer.
The pandemic was in full-swing after that. Nothing was normal. We did online-only worship for nearly two months. I was honestly afraid I would not get to say goodbye (I did, but it wasn't the same as in a non-pandemic time) and I was afraid that I would not get to properly get to know everyone in Centerville (which kind of happened...it has been a much slower getting-to-know-you process than I have wanted!). I began to worry about things I never thought I'd have to worry about and all the while, the picture of life in America was growing dim. People lost their jobs, retirement accounts dropped in value (yours truly included), children were not in school and therefore were not being watched to be sure they were being cared for properly, those in nursing homes suddenly were feeling like they were prisoners, and the joys of life could no longer be celebrated in-person but instead via Zoom. No hugging (honestly, my favorite part of it all--not a hugger!), no handshakes (this one killed me), no close in-person contact. These are just a few examples of how life had changed--there are so many more I could list, but this is a blog, not a book.
It's easy as we look back on 2020 to look at all the negative things that have happened. It's easy to miss out on the blessings we still had throughout the year. I, for one, have many to be grateful for! I got a personal record in the Disney Princess half marathon on that trip to Florida. I completed my first (and let's be real, probably only) marathon! I learned that I have high-functioning anxiety and that there are excellent medicines out there that can help me feel normal. I moved closer to home and into a beautiful home that is probably three times bigger than where I used to live. I am the pastor of an AMAZING congregation of people. I got a dog who has become my whole world. My dad's been going through treatments which includes what we call a miracle drug that has melted years of cancer off of his skin. We even walked a 5K together before Thanksgiving! Speaking of Thanksgiving, I hosted it for the first time ever--that was fun! My brother got engaged to an amazing woman and I finally get a sister and a nephew (officially)!
Don't get me wrong--this year has been tough on us all. But I refuse to let the bad days and the tough moments define the ENTIRE year for me. And I hope you don't let all the negative things let it define the year for you! 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." We are not to dwell on all the negative things, but instead be grateful for the good things around us. Absolutely take time to grieve the losses and change of the year, but don't let that be all you do. Before the year ends, I encourage you to take some time and think about where you have seen God this year and what your blessings have been. If you take the time to focus on gratitude, maybe you won't think this year was a complete waste (even though it sometimes feels like it has been).
But even still, I hope you all have a safe and Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and an even better 2021!
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One of my favorite times each week is getting to help out and volunteer with our Children's Choir group on Mondays. They are all cute and friendly. It is heartwarming when they see your face, known your name, come give you a hug, and want to tell you ALL about their day and what's going on in their lives! It gives me such joy each week to be there and to see each of them, too.
What always amazes me about these precious kiddos is their boldness. They are not afraid to step up and volunteer, even if they don't quite know what they're doing! Each week, we say a prayer for their snack and we say closing prayers. I ask for a volunteer to pray for the snack and Mrs. Lana asks for a volunteer to say the closing prayer. Without fail, any time either of us asks for a volunteer, at least 20 hands immediately shoot up into the air. These kids want to pray! And when one of them is chosen, the others get sad looks on their faces, some complain, some say, "But I never get to say the prayer!" The one who is chosen, of course, gets excited. There is a spark of joy that flashes on their face when they find out they get to pray for everyone! And when they pray, their prayers are perfectly imperfect--sometimes they forget words they wanted to say, sometimes they pause because they are nervous, but each time one of them prays, I can feel the Holy Spirit at work within them and within us.
For some reason, it hit me strongly just how excited kids were to pray. When I asked for a prayer over the snack, a little boy shot his hand into the air and even sat up in his seat to make sure he was the first and most bold kid ready to pray. I let him pray and the smile on his face got 10 times bigger, if that was even possible.
As adults, we have opportunities to pray every single day. Most of them are opportunities to pray silently. However, there are also times we can pray out loud, with others around us. When those opportunities present themselves, we don't typically shoot our hand into the air and say, "I want to pray!" We put our eyes down, we shrink even a little. We get quiet. We don't want to be the one to say the prayer. Somehow, between childhood and adulthood, we learned that prayers have to be perfect. That others will judge us when we say the "wrong" things or when we mess up our words in prayer. So we don't want to be embarrassed. We don't want all eyes on us if we get something "wrong." Somehow, as adults, prayers have become more about perfection and less out what's truly on our hearts.
This is not how God calls us to live. We are not called to wonder what others will think of us if we get it "wrong" when we pray. We are not called to shrink, get quiet, or hide when the opportunity for prayer is there for us. We are supposed to be as bold as the children in Children's Choir, shooting our hands up in the air and with a loud voice declare, "I want to say the prayer!" And then, no matter how "right" or "wrong" our prayer is, use our hearts to say what needs to be said in prayer. I hope that next time you have the opportunity to pray, you don't shy away from saying one out loud. Instead, I hope you boldly say you will pray and then pray from your heart. Be bold in your faith and be bold in your willingness to show it publicly through prayer!
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Ten years ago, I experienced a call from God to start a youth group at my home church. I was 18 (would turn 19 by the end of that summer) at the time and I remember thinking, "Am I qualified to do this with no funding and no help?" So, I got some help! I asked a friend of mine who grew up with me at my home church, as well as her husband, to help lead the youth group. They were on board, the families were on board with us being in charge and bringing their kids to youth...now we just had to make them a place that felt like their own.
In my home church, the basement was traditionally the place where youth were placed (when we had a youth group in my junior high days!). So it was only natural that would be their place again. The problem is, at one point between youth groups, it had been designated as a special event and special meeting room. It had been painted a *lovely* brown/yellow and had small, thin, brown vines by some of the windows. It was clearly not a fun space for youth. On top of that, the furniture in the basement was ancient! The pool table was old when I was in junior high and they had purchased the foosball table (that was beat up like all foosball tables become) when I was in youth. We had brown, metal chairs, chipping paint, and old furniture and items stored in this space. It was covered in dust and dirt.
So transformed the space. We cleaned. We swept. We mopped. We moved things around. But there was no funding for paint at the time. We were going to need some nice, comfy seating for the kids, so we had our pastor at the time announce in church that we were looking for someone to bring an old couch up for the youth.
When we asked for volunteers to give us old couches, we envisioned maybe a member or two getting new furniture and needing to give their furniture to a worthy cause. We envisioned soft, comfortable seating. We imagined clean material. Our hopes were too high.
One Sunday, the three of us walked in to our space to find an old, yellow couch. It was a two-toned yellow--one part had only a semi-dirt-covered yellow and the other had a dirt-covered yellow. It was an old sleeper sofa, but you wouldn't have known by looking at it. When you took the cushions off and pulled the bed out, the mattress was maybe an inch thick, still had old sheets on it, and smelled horribly. Even taking the cushions off was an adventure. Dust flew everywhere. And the cushions had been well used. It was clear this had been in someone's storage shed, untouched for decades.
Perhaps what felt like a kind gesture from a well-meaning member was not received as such (and if you're reading this blog and you're the one who donated it--I'm not trying to say you are a bad person--you probably were truly well-meaning and wanted to see the group start). I remember the kids walking in, saying, "Oooohh, a couch!" They ran over to it so they could jump on it, but upon further inspection, they stopped themselves short and said, "GROSS!!! Why is it so old and dirty?" Their faces fell. They felt what we leaders had been feeling--we felt incredibly discouraged. We knew our church was struggling financially--that wasn't what we were upset about. We were upset that someone thought, "I have an old couch that hasn't been used in decades! It's dirty, it's dusty, and I wouldn't sit on it...but they're kids, they won't care." They did care...and so did we. We would have rather had no couch than have felt as though our youth room was a garbage dump for old furniture others would never sit on themselves again.
I've been thinking about this yellow couch lately. I think it's a good, physical representation of the ways we fall short as Christians. If you're going to believe in and follow Christ, you can't do it half way. You can't join a church and say, "Yes, I commit to giving my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness" and then only pray on Sunday with the pastor, only show up to church for Christmas and Easter, only place some spare change in the plate once in a while, show up to no events or activities, and not share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. When you show up halfway, others notice it. When you only put half of yourself into being a disciple, it's like you're trying to skate in flip-flops or you're trying to cook a steak with no heat. It doesn't work. If you truly seek to be a follower of Christ, to give all that you have, you're going to be there 100%. You're going to give it your all, so much so that everything you do, every decision you make, will be based on where you are in your relationship with Christ.
A couple months after the yellow couch arrived, the married youth leaders helping me brought in their old, sectional couch. It was far from perfect, but it was clean, it was comfortable, and it wasn't so new that the youth couldn't enjoy it. It was perfect and was used for years! For those youth leaders, it was a sacrifice to give their old couch--they could have sold it and made some money for their young family. Instead, they chose to give their all to the youth and give their all to God.
We cannot truly say we are living in a relationship with Christ if we are not putting our all into it. Christ is always all-in. Christ wants the relationship with us! It's us who gets to choose whether or not we will go all-in in return. The easy thing to do is to give a "yellow couch" worth of an effort--enough to say you did something, but not enough to truly benefit you. The more difficult thing to do is to follow God in an "old, sectional couch" way--serving others, sacrificing time you could be on social media to pray instead, give an intentional monetary gift to the church or a charity each month, and volunteer at church or community activities where you can share God's love with others. Following Christ is not easy--it's tough. But it's worth it!