Back to Blog
Pastors are far from perfect. When I received my call from God to be an ordained Elder in The UMC, one of my first thoughts was, "I'm not going to pretend like I am perfect. When I mess up, I will not be afraid to own up to those mistakes." So this is a very public confession of a series of mistakes I have made that I hope will help others.
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone and I must admit I am tired of having to wear masks all the time! It is difficult to have conversations with masks on. It is sometimes difficult to breathe in the heavy, cloth masks. Masks, while a simple thing to wear, are not my favorite accessory! Recently, I have found myself become more "relaxed" when it comes to masks. I would think to myself, "If I stay six feet away, it'll be fine. If I'm in my house and a group of people are there, they've taken the risks and we don't need to wear a mask." It's almost like I had wished away the Coronavirus and just tried to pretend it wasn't happening.
About 10 days ago, I went to church as I always do. When someone would try to speak to me and couldn't hear me through the mask, I'd temporarily take it down so they could hear me. Other than that, I kept the mask on until before service began and put it back on after the service was over. That night, I had the children over at the house for a Halloween party. We didn't wear masks. Again, it was at my house and the kids all went to school together anyway--it can't be that risky, right? Monday, I helped with Children's Choir, even helping in the singing portion. While I wore a mask most of the time, there were times when I was leading singing that I didn't wear a mask. Tuesday morning, I woke up sneezing. I trudged through my strength training workout with a runny nose that wouldn't stop. I took a 4-hour allergy tablet that I hoped would make me feel better and get me through the day. I had Women's Bible Study at 10AM--which I teach without a mask on, but while standing more than 6 feet away. By 11:30AM, I was exhausted, couldn't concentrate, and the runny nose and other symptoms, including some light chills, were back. I went home for the rest of the day to try to sleep off what I assumed was just regular allergies.
That Wednesday morning, just a week ago today, I received a text message informing me that someone I had been around a few days earlier tested positive for COVID. My heart sank. The new list of symptoms for COVID include congestion, runny nose, and fever (which I was lightly running by my standards--I typically sit at about 97 degrees...I was hitting close to 99). I quickly looked up a place I could get a COVID test and made my way to an urgent care in Huntsville. They gave me a rapid flu test and a rapid COVID test. I would have to wait a long 15 minutes to find out my results.
As I awaited my results, I was incredibly nervous. I had been around so many people. I had been too relaxed and I knew it. I couldn't sugar coat this fact. I couldn't rationalize the moments when I had chosen to not wear my mask. I had messed up. And if I tested positive, I had potentially exposed too many individuals and families. It was a huge mistake--I knew better and I shouldn't have made the mistake to begin with.
The doctor came in, we talked about my symptoms, and she delivered the good news--I didn't have COVID and I didn't have the flu! The diagnosis was a sinus infection, but I was still ordered to stay at home for 3-5 days to rest and recover. I remember being relieved, but also feeling incredibly guilty. Too many "what-ifs" were spinning around in my head. I had made a mistake. I could learn from it and move on, or use this as my wake-up call.
On October 23rd, just two days after my urgent care visit, the United States received its highest day of recorded new COVID cases--85,000. It is now clear that the second wave of the virus is here and it's here to stay. It is also, obviously, in Leon County and in Centerville. It has not gone away. As the leader of this church, it is my job to handle crises like these. I could wait until I had to have discussions with leadership regarding the virus, or I could be proactive and push the issue with leaders. I chose to push the issue and meet with leaders at our conveniently, already-planned meeting that Monday, October 26th, to come up with a proactive response to the Coronavirus. Our church's response can be found here.
I know that COVID-19 has now gotten mixed up in discussions involving the elections and which party is doing the right/wrong thing(s). I know that everyone is tired of living this way. I know that masks are uncomfortable. I know we are all tired of staying home and away from others. I know not everyone will be happy with the decisions we have made as church leadership to respond to the pandemic. However, I know God was present in the decision making and I know that God calls us all to care for our neighbor. If caring for our neighbor is doing something as simple as wearing a mask to slow the spread of a virus in the middle of a pandemic, then that is what we will do! I invite you all to join me in practicing showing grace to others, especially in this trying time.
Last but not least, I publicly and sincerely ask for forgiveness for my lapse of judgment and mistakes made in the recent weeks regarding my own actions in not following protocols regarding COVID-19 as well as I should have. It was irresponsible and reckless. There is no excuse. But I will do better from now on and I'm so grateful that luck was on my side and I did not catch the virus and thus expose that virus to so many people.
I will do better and I hope all of you will join me in being better about wearing masks. Wearing masks doesn't prevent us from getting the virus--that risk will always be there. Wearing masks, though, does help slow the spread and prevents the spreading of the virus from person to person. It is the easiest (and probably only) thing we can do in this time to help COVID go away for good. Stay safe, stay well, and keep your masks on!
Back to Blog
This month, we have been talking about stewardship in church. I think it's time I tell my story and how my understanding and practice of giving started, how it's changed, and what it looks like now.
When I was growing up, my parents were probation officers—just two middle class workers who lived paycheck to paycheck. We didn’t have big amounts of money and we didn’t go on big, fancy family vacations—most of our vacations were actually “staycations” and, funny enough, that included trips to Huntsville to the prison museum or to the duck pond or to the Sam Houston Statue. This lack of money presented a challenge at times to my family because all my mom’s family lived out of state. In order to see my grandma, it required a plane ride and tickets were not cheap! We did not take a lot of trips out there! I was aware of my family’s financial situation at a young age and knew that in order to go to school, I was going to have to work hard and try to get as many scholarships as possible.
My parents did not have a lot of money to give to the church. I’m pretty sure their contribution each week they attended was around $20. But let me tell y’all…if there was an event at the church, you best believe my mom was the FIRST person to sign us up. A fundraiser for camp? We’d be the first ones there and the last ones home. A church workday? We’d be up and unhappy about it and at the church by 8AM on a Saturday and we wouldn’t leave until the work was done. I remember my parents saying, “We may not have a bunch of money to give, but we can at least give our time to God.” And that was my first understanding of stewardship. Maybe there wasn’t always enough money to spare, but there would always be a way we could give back to God.
As I grew from a child into a teenager, money still remained a struggle, but compared to so many of our classmates, we were “rich.” But even though we didn’t have a lot, my parents found ways to be generous to others, to give back, and to make sure we knew to be generous too. So by the time I got to college, and found out most of my first two years of college, which would be spent at Blinn, would be covered by scholarships, I of course began to stress about where I’d transfer, how much that would cost, and all the typical things someone worried about money would worry about! I got my call to ministry while at Blinn and felt God calling me to attend Baylor (a place known for being cheap! Ha!). I was grateful that I had half of it covered in scholarship and grants, that I could take out loans for a quarter of it, and that I had an uncle who wanted to invest in me and cover the other quarter of my two years at Baylor so I wouldn’t have to worry about taking out private education loans. At the same time, I applied for the Texas Annual Conference pastoral internship, was accepted into the program, and was assigned to serve a church in Fulshear, Texas for the summer.
Entering into a pastoral intern role at the church that summer, I began to really struggle with what I should do when it comes to tithing. I knew that I was getting money from my internship and that I should tithe. But y’all, that money needed to be saved for school. I felt anxious about giving up even a couple hundred of it to the church! Although I planned to work, and actually had two jobs that first year at Baylor, I was still nervous about money. What if I would need that money I tithed later in the school year and didn’t have enough money to cover basic expenses? Mom and dad were paying for a car, insurance, and my cell phone—I didn’t want to have to ask for more!
This was causing me so much anxiety that I decided to have a conversation with my mentor pastor, Alicia. I asked her what she did about tithing and what I should do, because I was nervous about tithing when I could use that money for school. I remember her nodding her head, taking in the question, and thinking for a moment before saying, “Tithing is a personal thing between you and God—you are going to have to figure that out on your own. But, what I will tell you is what I do when it comes to tithing. I always give my 10%. I’ve been at larger churches where I ask them to withhold it from my check so I never even see it. I believe that is not my money, but God’s. And there have been times when tithing has been hard because I’ve had to help my family, but I’ve always, somehow, someway, even in those difficult times in life been able to come up with the money to tithe—whether it be because of extra weddings or funerals or a generous gift. I believe if you earnestly want to tithe, God will help you find a way to tithe.”
What she told me did not cause any less anxiety in me. If anything, it made it worse. She didn’t want to tell me I had to tithe…but she had this theme of trusting in God. And, when it comes to money, it’s hard for me to trust anyone…so this was a big deal. Was I willing to trust God, write my tithe check out at the end of the summer, and hope I wouldn’t miss that money? Or would I just say, “No, this is my money and it’s a way for me to go to school where I can work hard, graduate, go to seminary and then serve in the church?” Let me just say, I spent a bunch of time in prayer and in agony over it. But by the end of the summer, I ultimately decided to take a deep breath and a leap of faith and write out the tithe check to the church.
From that moment, I made the decision that I would always tithe. Even when it hurt. And let me tell you…there were times in my pastoral internship my last year of seminary when it hurt a lot to give a tithe out of the small amount of money we made. I remember that during the second half of that internship, I seriously considered asking for the tithe to stop coming out—I could really use that extra hundred bucks or so each month! But I didn’t. I pressed on and I kept giving.
I know that tithing may not always be easy for me—I know that one day I may get married, have children, have family I need to help take care of, I may get sick and be unable to work, and any extra money may go to a number of other causes. I know that life happens. And when it does, I will find other ways to serve and give back, just like my parents taught me when we were growing up! But for now, I’m committing to tithing 10% of my income after taxes. It’s at the very top of my budget and the first thing I pay at the beginning of each month. It’s a commitment I choose to make.
Please don’t hear me say I want you to go from giving nothing to 10% out of the blue—again, life happens and I know that’s not possible for many of you. But what I do want to ask of you is to take a look at your budget and consider how much money you may be able to contribute on a regular basis to the church. How many times a week do you and your family eat out? What if you eat out one less meal per week or per month and take that money and give it as your tithe to the church. It may be just 40 or 50 dollars a month, but when you put that across a whole year, that’s you giving 480-600 dollars a year! That’s about a quarter of our budget for Vacation Bible School! It’s amazing how much those small choices and small decisions can add up and work together for something so much bigger than ourselves! If you can't help out financially, take a look at your time--how much time can you give up each week or each month to help serve God?
There are many ways to give and the ways in which we give evolve and change over time. But no matter where we are in our lives, we should always find a way to give back a portion to God in some way, shape, or form, whether it be by giving financially or by giving time. We all have so much to be grateful for and God's only asking for a small portion of it back. It's not to punish us, but to remind us where the gifts in our lives come from and so that our gifts can go and help others. The ability to give is a gift and I hope you join with me in sharing that gift with others!
Back to Blog
Last Monday morning, my alarm went off at 6:15AM. Soon after, Cocoa was licking my face, telling me it was time to get up. I took her out, put her back in, then I got changed into my running clothes. I put on my brand-new pair of running shoes, carefully tying the laces. I grabbed my new Aftershokz headphones, a welcome relief after running with big, clunky headphones for two years! I grabbed my keys and drove over to the school. It was completely dark and there were just a few cars around. The wind was blowing as I stepped out of my car, locked it, and headed toward the gate that would get me onto the black, seven-lane track. My stomach was fluttering. My heart was beating fast. I was a bit scared, nervous, and anxious. After all, this would be my first time in about three months that I was going to be running again. Would I still enjoy running? Would I be slower than I was before? Do my legs remember what to do? Could my mind and body both handle the short intervals of running that I was about to attempt?
Ready or not, it was time to run again. I started my Garmin watch and took off like I used to do, just one leg in front of the other, looking to what is ahead. That first little bit of a running interval was daunting, but when I was finished, I remembered why I love to run. I remembered how I could clear my mind, enjoy the music, and run away from any problems that I knew I'd have to face that day. I remembered the feeling I get after a run, the feeling of a goal completed. I even remembered the feeling of soreness after a good run--I forgot some of those muscles existed!
Today marks seven months since March 13, 2020, when the country started shutting down for Coronavirus. There is still so much we don't know about it. There are still people with long-lasting effects after contracting the virus. Some say it's political and that it will all be over after the election. Others are afraid to go outside because it's now flu season and the virus is still going around. There's frustrations around masks, doctor office protocols, and even sporting event limits. No matter where you stand on the entire Coronavirus situation, one thing is true--your life is not the same as it was seven months ago. The very way of living not just in this country but around the globe has changed drastically. It's hard to believe that over seven months ago, we weren't wearing masks, Zoom meetings were held by big companies that are spread out across the country and world, and you could go to the hospital to visit anyone you wanted without being put on an approved visitor list.
As much as we all want life to go back to "normal," I sometimes wonder if we will really be ready for it. We say we will be, but the way we have lived our lives over the last seven months has made an impact on us. Just like I was nervous getting back to running after just a three month break, I have a feeling that many of us will feel anxiety or fear going back to "normal" once coronavirus ends--whenever that may be! We may feel nervous about going shopping without a mask. We might feel anxious about hugging others or shaking hands again. Some may even feel nervous about going back out at all because we have been safe in our homes, in our bubbles. But one day, we will be back to normal and we will have to face it head on.
In those moments of fear, where we face an old known and a new unknown that we call "normal," we are not alone. We may feel anxious, nervous, or scared--and that's okay. But we can also feel strong, courageous, and filled with God's loving grace as we take a deep breath and take each day of "normal." I have hope that the day will be sooner, rather than later, and I hope that when the day comes when everything is "normal" again, we can be secure in our faith and trust Jesus in those scary moments.
Back to Blog
It's hard to believe that is was just a week ago that I was excited for the first presidential debate. I really do enjoy politics and debates are where you can see certain strategies being used for each candidate. I popped some popcorn, got a nice big glass of water, got wrapped up in my blanket, and sat on my couch as I began to watch the debate. After the first question was asked, it was clear that this would not be a debate. Instead, this debate would be a name-calling battle between three toddlers having a temper-tantrum. Twenty minutes in, I couldn't stand it anymore and had to turn it off.