Monday, November 26, 2012

One Heart at a Time

Twas the day before pins and needles day and all through the hall,
Come voices and footsteps bouncing off the wall.
The single ornament hung on the Peanuts Christmas tree,
With no other decorations, yet November still it be.

The children talked of presents to be had,
In hopes Santa thought they'd been good, not bad.
Time for Cyber Monday shopping and Christmas cards,
And maybe a game of kickball out in the yard.

Our preparation may look a little different than yours,
Less wrapped presents and more wrapped doors,
Before you think we're just trying to save cents,
Remember Christmas is not about presents, but presence.

I love poems, and I think they just sound better than regular words.  The days have been flying by.  In college, it seemed like three days after Thanksgiving, it was time for Christmas.  For some reason, I thought without finals to study for and papers to write, it would be different.


In Sunday School this week, we were talking about purity of heart and the duplicity and multiplicity we get caught up on that causes us to lose our focus on Jesus.  Purity of heart is seeking one thing; it's that easy.  This topic wasn't new to me, because I'd used the chapter we read from Ortberg as a basis to a bible study a few weeks ago.  It got me thinking that every year we talk about wanting to slow down, but we never do anything to actually make it happen.  Now, I am 100% guilty of this, but this is that duplicity, saying one thing but meaning another.  We want everything to slow down, but we're unwilling to give up a few things that busy our lives and want it seem to go too fast.

I want to take a minute to reflect on the things about the holiday season that make it go too fast.  What are we caught up doing that is so important?

2. Decorating
3. Wrapping all those gifts
4. Cooking
5. Writing and sending Christmas cards
6. Organizing Christmas/Holiday parties

The problem with this list is that we see nothing wrong with it.  These are all wonderful things that bring joy to us and the ones around us, right?  Maybe, but even if your Christmas is about selfless giving, it's still about the gifts.  This is the biggest problem, in my opinion, that pulls our attention away from that one thing, Jesus.  Really want to slow down this Christmas?  Try something new.  Purify your heart.  Remove everything from Christmas besides Jesus.

In bible study yesterday, we discovered some very important things about Christmas.  I'm going to summarize them for you, even though the details are quite amazing.

1. It's Jesus' birthday, not ours.  All of us look around not only for presents for our friends and family, but also make our own list.  It's interesting that on the day we're supposed to be celebrating Jesus' birth, His name doesn't make it on our gift list.

2. We seem to have traded Jesus for Santa Claus.  Santa brings presents, but Jesus gives presence.  Immanuel means "God with us".  For some reason, presents have become more important than presence.

3. Christmas isn't about warm-fuzzy feelings.  Unlike our popular Christmas carols' depiction, Jesus' birth wasn't all fine and dandy.  You say, "Oh ya, I know, he was born in a stable."  But have you considered that Mary, the woman who delivered the miracle, was poor, young(12 or 13), from Nazareth (the wrong side of the tracks), and an unwed pregnant woman?  Appropriately, tomorrow is "Pins and Needles Day".  The real Christmas was less about warm-fuzzies and more about poverty and anxiety.

So, what does that mean for us?  Christmas is a time for miracles.  Jesus' birth was miraculous, and God calls us to be miracle workers.  He syas, "whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me."  To nourish the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned and sick is our duty, but it's also an act of love.  This Christmas, instead of making a list a mile long of things to do, prepare your heart, purify your heart, and try to find a gift suitable for Jesus.

Remember, he's all about presence, not presents.

Saw this picture and thought it should be added...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Shine the Light

When you've given into your fearsWhen you've lost your will to fightLet me know what I can doLet me try to make it rightAnd I will shine the light, I will shine the light
Light is a pretty brilliant thing.  This week, we talked in our bible studies a little about light.  Now, Jesus said "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12), but then later on preaches to the crowd "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).  What is this light Jesus speaks of?  How can we possibly be capable of being the light when Jesus is the light?  I asked the kids to tell me what they knew about light, and I wanted to share a few of their insights.
1.  Light helps us to see.Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. -Psalms 119:105
2. Light is necessary for plant and therefore all life.For with you is the fountain of life; in your light, we see light. -Psalms 36:9
3. Light gives us the ability to see color.You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment. -Psalms 104:1b-2a
4. We cannot and do not want to live without light.I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them.  I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. -Isaiah 42:16
It's amazing to me what we can learn from each other.  God teaches us in practical and simple ways.  The things the kids knew about light were analogies that are used throughout the bible.  What we spent the majority of our time on was this passage:
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.      -Matthew 5:16
Christ gives us the gift of love and that love is meant to be shared with others.  Like the light that helps us to see, God's love helps us to live and teaches us how to love.  Unconditionally, without discriminating.  I am amazed sometimes at the words God sends me during the time with the kids, and tonight was no different.  Without thinking, I heard myself say that everyone is deserving of love.  God gives His love to everyone, so why would we choose who is deserving of our love? You may wonder what that has to do with light, so here's how the train of thought went: 
God lights a fire (love) within us, and just like lighting candles on a birthday cake, one flame can light all the candles and never lose any of its flame.  To put it simply, we were given an unlimited amount of love, and no matter how much we give, we will still be given more, and our love will never run out.  Are you hiding your love under a bushel basket, saving it up for the right people, or are you openly sharing it, knowing it will never run out?
As kids, we sang "this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."  Now I find myself reflecting on these questions: Is your light shining?  Do others see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven?  

Monday, November 5, 2012

You've Got to Stand for Something

Life is busy, so I must apologize to the blogosphere for my lack of attentiveness; however, I have had a very interesting past few weeks, so I've got something to say (not the first time, obviously).  This is no deep revelation, but a simple lesson that needs to be reinforced in youth and adults alike.

One of my amazing co-workers shared with out students last week the story of Amanda Todd.  Now, if you watch the news, you probably already know the story, but if you're oblivious to current events like me, I'll share the basics.  Amanda Todd was chatting online as a 13 year-old.  For parents, I know this is a red flag.  As a girl looking for some attention and approval, she very much enjoyed the compliments made by her online buddies about her looks.  After chatting with an individual for a while, he asked her to flash him.  She did, and that person used the photo to blackmail her.  The picture circulated around the internet, and she began to be tormented and bullied by kids at school.  After battling depression and attempted suicide by ingesting bleach, kids continued to laugh and to make posts about her, saying that they hope she succeeded next time.  Eventually, she did.  But not until she made this youtube video describing her experience.

I know we hear a lot about bullying in the media, and you've probably told your kids that bullying is wrong.  The issue is not whether it's right or wrong, but what is it?  During our conversation, I began to see how this could be debatable, because we were operating on different ideas of bullying.  Everyone agreed that they wouldn't tell someone to kill him or herself, but laughing when someone does something stupid seemed acceptable to most.

I know we laugh a lot at people who are clumsy or say blonde things, but at what point do those comments become bullying?  Is there a numerical equation for how much is too much, or should you be able to judge how much a person can handle?  Webster defines bully (v.) as "to treat abusively; to affect by means of coercion or force."  "To treat abusively" seems like another hard-to-define phrase, because abuse looks different to people.  I don't think someone who laughs at that girl who walks out of the bathroom with toilet paper on her shoe is abusive, but that could be psychologically damaging to her if everyone laughs especially if it's not the first time.

My definition of bullying is currently unresolved.  I would consider any harmful thing said to another in order to express your superiority (social or physical) is bullying, but maybe there should be another term to define those "lesser" offenses.  I do think that kids having no issue with calling each other names based on their weight, height, religion, or sexual orientation is disturbing, though.  This tormenting (if it's not bullying) seems to be common and maybe just as harmful as bullying.  Instead of using a term like bullying to teach our youth what not to do, maybe we should just use God's own words:

Love one another, as I have loved you.       -John 15:12

No matter if you call if bullying, tormenting, or name-calling, it's not called love, and we are called to love.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Kinda Gone Are We Talkin' Bout Here?

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

This week, we talked about confession in bible study.  It's not an easy topic, so we started at the beginning.  How do we confess? Why do we confess? Is confession beneficial? Confession sometimes removes guilt, and we recognized that we feel better when people have the courage to confess to us, even if we already knew we'd been wronged.  The hardest part of confession and asking forgiveness is not the the utterance, not the courage, but the acceptance of forgiveness.

As children, and victims of abuse, some of my kids have never experienced forgiveness in the way I have.  All week, I've been singing "Amazing Grace" to myself.  I played the original song on the piano several times over the weekend, sang modern versions including "Grace Like Rain" and "My Chains Are Gone", and grace has overflowed in my mind as a general topic. I'm typically hard on myself and have trouble forgiving myself for mistakes, but I never doubt the forgiveness I receive from God.  This is the opposite, I learned, from the kids I work with.  God's grace and mercy are foreign concepts to them, and I can not convince them that God is bigger than any and all sins they can commit.  Paul comes into play every week, but he's a "bible character", so apparently he's an exception.

God's unending love, mercy, and grace have been emphasized so heavily to me that I get it; I understand. Even when others don't forgive me, or I can't bear to forgive myself, God forgives and loves us wholeheartedly.  While I shared this message with a small group of teenagers this evening, they looked perplexed.  Their understanding was this: Sin=death and my personal list of sins=fire and brimstone.  It's a simple equation, but there's one BIG problem.  Jesus is missing.  

I have fallen in love with a line spoken by Jeff Bethke in Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus: "Religion says do, Jesus says done".  If I can accomplish one thing in my two years here, I hope I can help these kids understand that their equation is correct, but if Jesus is added to the equation, death and fire and brimstone are negated.  

The opposite of death is life, but you don't have to delete all sin to delete death, you just have to add Jesus.  I understand our urge for young people to follow the commandments and "do what Jesus would do"(it's ambitious and admirable), but I am sincerely scared for our youth when they are told to fear God so much that they run from Him.  

"My chains are gone; I've been set free".  This is such a powerful message, but for some it's unimaginable.  I hope that we can experience amazing grace together, and be set free.  This is my daily task.  Next time you warn a young person of God's punishment, PLEASE also share the grace and love offered through Jesus Christ.  Murphy Harpst's slogan is "Life and Hope for Children".  Support the ministry by offering life and hope to the children you meet, a life and hope found in Jesus Christ.

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Love Without End, Amen

Driving to Rome the other day, I saw this on a church sign

My first inclination was to shame those people for being religiously intolerant.  In the South, there is a sort of nationalist pride for this great country, our military, and our freedom.  Yet some seem to want the freedom of religion to allow prayer in schools, as long as it is to our God, and NOT Allah.  This pseudo-religious freedom is befuddling to me.  How can you condemn another religion and still be surprised when someone calls you a hypocrite?

Despite my first reaction, I allowed a different thought, instead, to manifest itself.  We are called to love one another above all else and that command should be extended to those of other religions AND those that are intolerant.  If we condemn another for not accepting everyone, are we not disregarding our very own preaching that says to love everyone in spite of their different beliefs? 

Sometimes we find it hard to love people whose history is so foreign to our own, but recently I have found the difficulty in loving those who claim to love and serve the same God as me.  It pains me to see the Christian Church (universal) represented as an intolerant people who cannot see the glory of God in ALL His children.  But the solution to this problem is not hating those who hate, but loving them in spite of their intolerance.  In Romans, we are instructed to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).  

This morning, our Sunday school class talked about pride and how it interrupts our servanthood.  John Ortberg writes, "pride is a form of antilove...Pride moves us to exclude instead of to embrace...Pride moves us to judge rather than to serve."  Many times our service to God and loving Him and his people gets interrupted by our pride and judgment.  We are called to embrace, to love, and to serve.

Jesus told this parable in Luke 18:9-14:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Next time you get the inclination that your place in heaven is higher than another's, remember this parable.  Don't allow your judgment to impede your service or your pride to hinder your love.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.   -1 Cor 13:13

Monday, October 1, 2012

Every Day's a Holiday

Last time I preached at chapel, we talked about the discipline of celebration.  I'm sure many of you have sat in a Sunday morning pew and heard the Joys and Concerns and noticed that there are usually more concerns, because we rarely share the small joys.  We express the miracles and healing, but sometimes we forget to recognize all the little things that make our days worth living.

Yesterday, I chatted with a resident who was having trouble finding something to celebrate.  With a deceased father and an absent mother, she was feeling lost and struggling to find joy in her life.  As a lucky girl with two healthy parents, I couldn't do much comforting, so I tried another technique.  I asked her what her goals were and what she wanted to do someday.  Her only desire is to be reunited with her family.  Recognizing how hard it would be to divert her attention, we tried to think of some little things that made her happy, things she could look forward to.  They're not miracles, but seeing that cute boy at school or chatting with Miss Jerrica helped her crack a smile that had disappeared for a while.  We celebrate the big things, but it's the little things that make each day worth living.

At the end of our service last Thursday, we sang a classic This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!  Sometimes, we miss the little things, like the bird chirping outside the window, the ray of sunlight shining through the clouds, or that stranger that smiles just because.  What we should never fail to miss is that every day is a day that was created and bestowed on us by God.  That is a reason to rejoice, to celebrate.

Blair Holliday, a member of the Duke football team suffered a serious head injury this summer from a wakeboarding accident that ended his football career.  He has shared how thankful he is to be alive and standing on the sidelines, despite the amount of physical therapy in his future.  To support his family, the student body have been buying tanks that say Every Day is a Holliday and raising funds for his medical bills.  What some may not realize is the message that this shirt sends.

The word holiday comes from holy day.  There is so much truth to those shirts, despite the frat star neon lettering.  Every day is holy- a day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in that holy day, or "holiday" if you prefer.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

These Are My People


This weekend, I have spent spending time with close friends and fellow Duke alumni celebrating Homecoming.  I somewhat consider Duke a home-away-from-home, but it's hard to say I feel completely at-home here still.  Things change, and when you're not present for the transition, that change seems drastic.  For example, the furniture in my living room at the Wesley House is no longer the same, the paint in my old room has changed, and there are people living in what I called home that I don't even know.  But that's okay.

Part of the growing process is letting go of those things that seem so important and moving on to the great possibilities that are before us.  While reminiscing at Homecoming, we remember the past and talk a lot about our futures, but what is so beautiful is the present.  At Asbury UMC this morning, I got to share about the ministry of presence and how it has manifested itself in my life.  I shared the story from "Love Is A Beautiful Thing" and was overwhelmed by the response from the church that I called home for four years.  I say the present is beautiful, because had I not moved on from Duke, I wouldn't have that story to share.  I wouldn't have the glow of true joy on my face that comes from seeing God every day in this ministry, and I wouldn't have this adult perspective that I have attained.

Friday, we attended the President's Homecoming Ball, which I cherish among my top Duke social events of the year.  Walking into the gym, it was hot, crowded, and I couldn't hear my friend trying to talk to me 3 feet away.  In undergrad, that was fun.  Not so much now.  Maybe my priorities have changed, but I enjoyed sitting in Nick's house watching football Saturday night more than this fancy cocktail party.

With so many fellow Class of 2012 alumni gracing the campus with their presence, Duke seemed like the home I remembered, but my personal affect was different.  I started to realize that maybe Duke hasn't changed so much, but I have.  These are my people, always have been, and always will be.  The tides have changed, but the ties remain.  I look forward to them visiting my new home in a few weeks.

Wesley break team trip to Atlanta!  S/O to Courtney Murray!

Monday, September 10, 2012

You Know How I Feel

I haven't written recently, because honestly, I didn't want to.  I've had a rough week - not that anything bad has happened - but my spirits just haven't been the highest.  I started wrestling with some of God's reasons for not making this whole missionary/chaplain thing easier.  As much as I wanted to push everyone away, claiming that they couldn't and wouldn't understand, I knew that others had felt pain like mine, even if it wasn't the exact same situation.  

Yesterday began week one of "Lost and Found", our group bible studies in the cottages.  I did not expect every child to be enthusiastic about a bible study, but I was not prepared fully for the welcome party in the boy's cottage that was my first stop.  Apparently, the activity for everyone else was outside, and they were extremely mad that I was taking up what would be their football time.  This was a crisis, the worst-case scenario for them and I was the villain.  Needless to say, I was feeling a little unappreciated and unwelcome.  We suffered together, and I got them to hear me out when I started sharing a story related to sports.

Luckily, a mere two hours later, I met with a group of very intelligent young women with lots of questions that are eager to know more about the bible, God, and faith.  I was sad that our conversation had to be cut short, because I was learning from their perspectives and enjoying their presence.  At the end of our evening, I had heard this repeated struggle from many of them.  Basically, where are you God and why aren't you helping me in this situation that I'm in?  I felt their pain, but I thought my 1 Corinthians reference to one body with many members and how we all suffer together wasn't quite sufficient.  As I flipped through the Psalms for a prayer to offer up, I literally fell into Psalm 22.  By the grace of God, I shared the first five verses to help them realize that their pain had been felt by others, and there is hope for the future.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

When I looked up, there were tears in several eyes, and one girl asked me if I felt what happened in that moment.  Of course, I felt the presence of God, but I was so happy to know that she had felt it too.  The moment was special, beautiful, and when I came close to tears in my frustration, this passage came back to my mind to remind me that others have felt my pain.  "Our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them."  

Deliver me, Oh God, because You know how I feel.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Like the Rain

I never liked the rain until I walked through it with you
Every thunder cloud that came was one more I might not get through
On the darkest day there's always light and now I see it too
But I never liked the rain until I walked through it with you

I know this may hit some of my Oklahoma friends hard as they would appreciate rain and cooler weather SO much right now, but I'm pretty much tired of rain in Cedartown.  It has drizzled/sprinkled/rained nearly every day this past week, and I am ready for some sunshine.  Mostly the rain is calm and peaceful-- no thunderstorms or gusting wind.  But this post is not about the weather, it's about the emotional and spiritual storms and rain showers that we encounter daily.

We've had some rain showers, some thunder claps, but not what I would consider a thunderstorm.  Of course, thunderstorms are nothing once you've experienced tornadoes and hailstorms.  I've shared about the beauty that can be found alongside pain, and I truly believe that I'm learning to bear the rain and thunder, although I can't say I enjoy it.

The wonderful thing about the rain is that others are walking along with you.  Playing in the rain is fun, especially when you can get a little muddy, but it's no fun when you're alone.  Labor Day, we played in the rain.  My lifeguarding training came in handy as I was able to open the pool for the kids, and they enjoyed the rain (so did I).  Don't leave someone out in the rain alone.  There's beauty and enjoyment to be found when we don't run inside, but instead play and sing in the rain!

I never liked the rain until I walked through it with You.

Friday, August 31, 2012


You make me want to roll my windows down and cruise...

So I'm trying to be frugal and do things around the area that are inexpensive, enjoyable, and sustaining. I know many people would disapprove of my sightseeing methods.  I could get my bike out and ride around, but it's so nice to drive a backroad through the Georgia countryside and cruise.

My task for this week is getting times arranged with the cottage leaders to have a weekly bible study.  Originally, I thought, no big deal, I can do the same "study" with all of the groups and just repeat it 5 times a week.  Then, I realized how many questions they have...

Thank you Duke School (elementary/middle school in Durham) for teaching me that teaching is better for the kids and you, if you teach what they're interested in.  I remember in Sunday School how no one wanted to talk and if you asked for questions, you NEVER got a response. I am thrilled that these kids have questions, so we're going to start there.

I have a feeling I'm going to learn a lot in the next few months :)

P.S. Going to be sending out a newsletter in September.  Please let me know if you're interested in receiving a copy via email or mail.  I will post a copy on the blog, but I can also send it to you directly.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Love is a Beautiful Thing

Jesus wept.

I am not a crier and I rarely show emotion.  And when everyone else is struggling, I work extra hard to be strong.  After preaching a message last night on being with each other in our moments of weakness and not trying to eliminate pain, but instead suffering with our brothers and sisters, I cried this evening.

Without all of the details, one of the girls became very upset this evening about a situation regarding her family.  Feeling unloved, isolated, and alone in a world where no one seems to understand, she was at the end of the rope.  As she screamed and staff tried to console her, I was beside myself as I felt her pain.

So...I did the only thing I thought I could do.  I knew that I couldn't be physically with her, so I tried to meet her spiritually.  She couldn't see me, but I sat down on the floor and just started praying.  Tears welled up in my eyes and I was thankful no one was watching me, because I think they would have been really confused at why I was crying.

This was my prayer:

Lord, wrap her in Your arms, Your love, and let her sense Your presence.  Let her know that You have felt her pain, and even if she doesn't stop hurting immediately, that You are there to suffer with her.

Her screams began to subside, and I realized I was witnessing a miracle.  She screamed out again, and with that scream, I felt pain, but I saw beauty and continued to pray.

Lord, help her to know how much these people care about her and that we are here to be with her in this hard time.  Help us to be patient, be with her in her sorrow, and show her Your love.

I realized a transformation in myself.  I didn't pray for healing or for her to stop screaming.  Those words I spoke last night kept coming back to me, like a song on replay.  I've been sharing a Sam Wells quote the past few days with my co-workers: : "If you can't make it happy, make it beautiful."

I guarantee you that many of the situations here can't be happy, but they can be beautiful.  I was truly transformed as I felt the power of God come into that space.  I saw God in her, in the staff, and between them.

LOVE is a beautiful thing!

Monday, August 20, 2012

All My Ex's Live in Texas

It's the small details in the day that make great stories, so here are a few for the day.

I began reading Living Without Enemies, a book co-authored by Samuel Wells and Marcia Owen.  The Duke Wesley had a book group last semester that included discussion with the authors, but due to my work schedule, I was unable to attend.  I got a book, hoping to read along, but truthfully am just now getting to it.  This is one quote that I wanted to share: "the heart of ministry -- and the heart of God -- is about making things beautiful, even when they can't be happy."

I spent the afternoon in the Family cottage.  The name is family, but technically it's just another cottage (no more familial than the others) and is home to around ten teenage boys.  I was pre-warned that today would be difficult, and I'm guessing the idea of ten teenage boys scares most people.  However, today was a walk in the park for me.  Activities in the afternoon included playing basketball, lifting weights, picking weeds, and watching TV.  I like all of these activities myself, and having some companionship made it all the better.  I felt like I was one of the kids, just doing what they do.

Honestly, I felt useless as a staff person, without knowledge, experience, or much training.  So, I just hung out.  It was more "being with" and less "doing for".  I had prepared myself before I came to try to "be with" more and "do for" less, but I always was thinking about my relationship to the kids.  Now, I realize that there is also a power dynamic within the staff.  They are currently cleaning out a room to be my office, but none of the other staff in the cottages have personal offices.  So my lesson today reminded me to "be with" kids AND staff, especially because I am unable to do anything for the other staff.  Obviously, I need a whole lot more than I am able to give.

As I was feeling a little in the way tonight, I had a nice conversation with a young woman on staff who is probably closest to my age.  One of the boys was trying to remember "the song" that someone had mentioned when I said I was from Oklahoma (OOOklahoma, where the wind...).  Because his previous comment on things he knew about Ms. Jerrica included that Oklahoma sits on Texas, her first guess was "All my Ex's Live in Texas".  I laughed and said that currently none of my ex's live in Texas, but I was very pleased by her knowledge of country music.  My trial run in "being with" was well rewarded by this moment and the many other laughs.

I know that every day at Murphy-Harpst may not be as happy as today, but I will try to remember that the heart of ministry is about making things beautiful, even when they can't be happy.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Grow Young (With You)

So I have successfully survived Week 1...

I'm not really sure how much I'm allowed the share about the kids I'm working with, so to be safe, I will NEVER use real names and may alter little details for their protection.  But, I did want to share with you some of the things that happened this week.

Talk with my supervisor and HR before going to Rome to get finger-printed and drug-tested. This sounds routine, and it was.  I'm also quite certain that I passed with flying colors.

"Ever been to Rome, Georgia..."  I HAVE! Check that off the bucket list.

Get the official tour from the CEO and learn some of the Murphy-Harpst history.  Also, meet some of the staff and kids.  Dinner at Bojangles with two other staff and three of the girls.  I have realized that meeting the kids in a smaller setting is better, because I actually remember them.  Hopefully, these opportunities keep coming.

Meeting with the clinical team.  The staff has a holistic approach and these are the cottage leaders that discuss how certain kids are doing, where they're seeking improvement, etc.  Slightly awkward for me, since I barely knew any of the staff, let alone the kids they were talking about.  The afternoon was relaxing and I spent some quality time with my kitty.  I sat outside for a while and met several of the staff as they were leaving.  These quality conversations are the beginnings of some fruitful friendships, I'm certain.  That evening I had dinner with the CEO and his wife at their home, which was a blessing.  Having a personal relationship with fellow staff makes work more enjoyable for everyone.

Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Training-Day One
There are protocols and techniques for intervening in crises, so it's necessary that all staff are educated before they start.  I learned a LOT.  Chapel in the evening.  I was introduced to the kids present and got to worship with them.  One of the older boys told me he was only coming if I was helping lead the songs, so I got roped into standing in front (without microphones luckily).  Next week, I'll be sharing my story.  Right now, I'm trying to think of a creative way of doing that.  It will come, I'm sure.  My next best friend, the IT guy, installed a modem that gives me the power of the world wibe web in my apartment. YAY! (Definitely a highlight)

Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Training-Day Two
Review and testing!  I forgot why I loved middle/high school.  Before college, I was always good at tests.  Apparently I still am.  Yay for being certified and starting rotations next week.  Essentially every day next week, I will be in a different cottage with a different group of kids for eight hours.  Everyone new hire does this when they come on, so I'm thinking I'll make it, but I'm still a little nervous.

I picked up a Subway sandwich for lunch and took my book and blanket to a local park.  The sun felt great, so I laid down and started reading after lunch, enjoying the warmth on my back, the smell of the chlorine in the fountain nearby, and the sound of the kids screaming and playing in the fountain.  Then it got hot...  So I moved under the trees and continued my peaceful afternoon.

Seems like a pretty average week, but I wanted to share the BIG highlight last.  On Thursday, after Chapel, one of the girls asked if we could talk.  I complied (like I always do and will) and we sat on some swings for at least a half-hour as she shared her life, her struggles, and her journey with me.  She asked me why I wanted to work with kids.  Considering that's the question I address in my call story, I offered to share that.  Sharing in front of strangers or a large audience is easier for me and I struggled a little one-on-one, but when I finished, she looked at me with a smile I hadn't seen from her all day.  Maybe, the hope in my story will give her a little hope for hers.

As for my afternoon of rejuvenation, I remembered that not only do I see God in all God's children, but I am refreshed by the reminder of God's presence.  As I sat in the park today, a song came to mind: "I want to grow young with you, too young to ever grow old."

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.                                   -Matthew 18:3

There are so many beautiful things about children.  Their innocence, their curiosity, their hunger, their passion... I could go on and on.  Most of all, they have not formed as many biases and judgments about people and the world.  One boy walked past me and without hesitating said Hi with the biggest grin.  I was talking a few weeks ago about self-fulfilling prophecies and that we can't enjoy something if we don't believe we can or will.  If we walk through life dreading every day, hating our jobs, and expecting relationships to fail; life will be dreadful, our jobs will be terrible, and our relationships will fail.  It isn't always sugar and daisies, but believe that after the rain, the flowers will bloom.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Family Tradition

So I've been without internet for almost 3 full days, which has been a struggle not because I needed to do work or check email, but because I have SOO much that I wanted to share here.  So forgive me for telling this story a few days late, but it's so worth it.

You ever heard of wedding crashers?  The movie, the sport, whatever... This weekend, in the process of moving all my stuff to Georgia, I crashed a family reunion.  If you've seen the movie, this sounds really silly.  Why would anyone crash a family reunion?  Most people spend their lives trying to avoid family reunions.  So here's how it all happened.
My mom is from a combined family of seven kids.  She's the youngest, and her father had been married before, having four children before his wife passed away.  So...growing up, the whole family traveled annually to West, TX (this is a town, not a regional description) to the Hykel family reunion.  Now, my mother has no blood ties to the Hykel family, but her father was considerate enough to take his whole family every year, so that his first four children could see their mother's family.  Although I never met him, I imagine my grandfather was a pretty upright guy from these stories I know about him.

With six children still living, you can imagine how difficult it is to round up all the kids to see each other.  So this year, they got the brilliant idea that they should all meet up in West and go to the family reunion (including my mom and aunt who have a different mother).  Since West is conveniently on my sister's way back to College Station and semi-not-out-of-the-way for my trip to Georgia, we got to come along.  Keep in mind that NO ONE else's children went.  This is where the saga begins.

We arrived at the Czech Inn, which made quite a joke.  Are you at the "check-in" or the "Czech Inn"? The first thing we notice is all of the "No Pets Allowed" signs.  So my mom asks if it's alright if they stay in the car.  Actually, ma'am that's against Texas law and you can be fined if someone reports you.  However, it's a $250 fine if you bring one inside, too.  So, the pets (Duke and Kaiser) stayed in big comfy cages in the car.  Trust me, they're far from mistreated.  Breakfast included kolaches, which I mention because West is a historically Czech community (Czech Inn), and the bakeries have the greatest kolaches I've ever tasted.  Every time we drive through, we stop, and I'm not sure that didn't attract us to making this extra trek.  We ventured back up to Hillsboro for lunch at Braum's and my last real ice cream, before dad and I were given the pets to find a park or something for them to roam. 

We decided to go to the community building where the reunion would be and find a place close.  Now, most community centers are in the middle of a community, but this one was in a field on a rock road with a few houses in the mile-radius.  We found a tree to park under to keep them cool and let Duke out to run around and use the bathroom.  Of course, there are already people at the community building, but dad and I are far removed from being semi-related, so we keep our distance and let them just watch us.  About thirty minutes later, our family arrives.

There are ribs smoking and pitchers of beer being passed around by the adults.  The kids are runnning around the room, while the adults catch up on each other's lives.  Apparently, this side of the family does reunions a little differently.  After meeting the other kids my age, I was invited to play a game of beer pong.  I declined the offer and was prompted to answer that question I had been trying to avoid.  Who are you, and why are you here?  Apparently, my sister and I don't blend well.

"Well, actually I'm not related."  They appear intrigued.  See my mom's half-brother and half-sisters are here and they all used to come when they were kids... Yes, the conversation was officially awkward.  My dad and I found a television with the women's basketball gold medal game and kept to ourselves until we forced my mom to leave.  An exciting day, but hopefully the last family reunion I'll be crashing. 

Main Street, West, TX

Friday, August 10, 2012

One Way Ticket

The train (er, car) is heading Eastbound and I've got a one way ticket...for now.  Every year, about this time I pack up to head to North Carolina (it seems like every year even though it's only been four).  I was finally getting used to the long drive, the good-byes, and the moist eyes.  This time, it's a little different. Without having a set return time or plan to move my boxes of accumulated junk home next summer, I'm having to really say good-bye, not just see ya later.

I may have called Duke my temporary home, but the reality that my home will invite me back as a guest in only a matter of time is a little frightening.  Although my parents don't have any master plans for turning my room into anything but my room, things will never be the same.

But maybe...that's not so bad.

I have said many farewells, and despite the practice, they are far from eloquent.  "Uh, um, I'll see ya" seems to be my particular favorite.  This evening I said goodbye to the local Sonic, the smell of the Thursday cattle sale, and the Oklahoma sunset.  After an hour identifying stars in the night sky, I said goodbye to a friend that has grown closer to me, even as I've traveled further away.

And it hits me...

None of my friendships or family ties are based on distance.  They are part of the growing process.  As we develop and change continually, we grow closer to some and further from others.  As I cherish those that have drifted away, I am so thankful for the change that has brought me closer to others.  Whether my heart is in Oklahoma or Georgia, you will forever be in my heart.  To friends and family, I send my love, as I lie in my bed, drifting off for the last time in this place that will forever be my home.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ready to Roll

Drumroll, please...

2012 US-2 Missionaries have now been commissioned!!  I am exhausted but wanted to share a photo of our class before the ceremony.  It was amazing, and if you missed it, it will be available online for viewing.  I will post the link as soon as it's made available.

 Didn't want you to think we were too serious...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Just Another Day in Paradise

So today was my birthday, and a great day it was!  There are so many ways to celebrate a birthday, and I am lucky enough to have celebrated 23 very unique ways.  From celebrating several times at the pool to my 16th at cheerleading camp, my 18th with a cookout, my 20th in Kenya, and my 23rd in NYC/DC, I can say one thing for certain.  The location and activities change, but what is really important is the people that I get to spend those days with.

Today, I spent it with a new family, my fellow young adult missionaries and Global Ministries staff.  After being sung "Happy Birthday" at least ten times and hearing the words Happy Birthday from nearly everyone in the group, we made it to our hotel in DC.  At dinner, I was presented with a beautiful Statue of Liberty crown (my birthday hat) and a card from the group.  If that wasn't enough, a half dozen pink roses followed, and another card and "Happy Birthday" in French, German, and Arabic.

All of this is to say, that birthdays may be just another day, but spending it with people you love and people who love you makes it just another day in paradise.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


One day you're up high, you're flying through the sky
Got a peaceful mind and everything is all right
Next minute you're face down in it
And then there's just no winning no relief in sight

Some people compare life to a roller coaster with ups and downs.  While some moments take our breath away, others seem like a slow uphill climb.  Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to go to Coney Island, a nice getaway for New Yorkers.  Sadly, the park is on a decline and on a Sunday evening was nearly vacant.  After having a Nathan's Famous Frankfurter and taking a ride on the Wonder Wheel, pictured above, I braved the height of the Soarin' Eagle.  

Although, I refused to ride roller coasters until the age of 14, I have been on many since.  My experience ranges from the famous Texas Giant to the Amazing Hulk at Universal Studios Orlando, as well as all the coasters at Frontier City in Oklahoma.  But, I was intrigued by a coaster that literally made you "fly like an eagle". 

Step 1: Step onto the attraction and be strapped in.
Step 2: Lean forward until laying flat on your belly.
Step 3: Soar through twists and turns like an Eagle, or Superman.

But, even though the small coaster was spectacular and the hot dog far exceeded my expectations, the real joy of the evening was the Wonder Wheel.  I know a lot of people are not fans of Ferris Wheels, which need to be distinguished from merry-go-rounds or carousels, but sitting above Coney Island and the Boardwalk made me smile.  

So whether you feel like your life is full of ups and downs like the roller coaster, or a continuous cycle of ups, downs, forwards, and backwards like the ferris wheel, remember to enjoy the ride.  That's life.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I Wanna Do It All

I've never met a mountain I couldn't climb, and I usually run full steam ahead into challenging situations.  The greatest challenge of my life: getting everything done in such a short amount of time.  One of our training team members said this last week: "I have so many things to do that I'm going to have to live ten years longer than God intends, just to get it all done."  Although I get to that overwhelmed state quite often, I really enjoy all the things I do, and it's been nearly impossible to convince myself to give things up.

I am a consumer of entertainment and recreation, but I also am dearly devoted to my work, whether it be paid or volunteer.  So how do we balance a life of so much to do, so little time, without giving anything up?  If you're thinking it's not possible, I'd like to propose another solution.


Maybe you're familiar with the typical child law enforcement, but have you ever thought of giving yourself a time-out?  I don't mean go sit in the corner and think about what you've done wrong and how to do better next time.  I mean using those time management skills that you practice daily to re-organize your life and do it all.  You can do everything, but maybe not at the same time.

My senior year of high school, I discovered that my childhood love of golf (which I thought was just my enjoyment from hanging out with my dad) was actually legitimate.  It also helped that my dad was still around to coach me.  However, after playing an extra short spring season, I nearly left the game completely for the next four years.  I always talked of how much I wanted to play again, but I didn't have the time.  This summer, I got to play once.  It was SO much fun, but I had other things that prevented my trips to the golf course from being more frequent.

I'm using my high school education to develop this time-out model.  We play sports "in season", so why don't we structure our lives and the things we love into seasons?  I realize if you have kids, you can't just decide to give them up for a season, but your recreation and entertainment can be compartmentalized so that you can do it all, but not all at one time.

Activities such as golf and swimming choose their own season because of their outdoor nature, but think about all the activities you want to do and divide them seasonally.  I realized that the less time I spend wishing I could do something, the more time I have to enjoy the things I am doing.  So instead of wishing you had time to read a book and play golf, or trying to divide your time between the two, take a time-out.  Play golf while the weather permits and keep that book close for a rainy day or a cold night.

I'll be outside the next two months, although there may be a book in my hands at some times.  I hope you enjoy this season and the next, and the longevity of your life provides season after season of enjoyment and activities!

Dance in the rain, Dance in the sun, Dance for a purpose, Dance just for fun.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Just Passin' Through

Sundays just seem to always be beautiful, and despite the concrete jungle that I'm surrounded by, today was no different.  The weather was perfect, and we departed the hotel at 7:30 am to trek up to White Plains, NY to itinerate (fancy word for sharing our call stories with churches).  Metro 2 to Times Square, shuttle to Grand Central Station, and Metro North to White Plains removed us form the busy city atmosphere and we found ourselves surrounded by big buildings, relatively less but still a lot of people, and a little more grass and open space.

Memorial United Methodist Church opened up their home graciously to us, and as we walked out, we sighed saying "Today, we have been truly blessed."  I know that God's true beauty is in diversity and this church was evidence of that splendid beauty.  With love abounding, they allowed us to share our stories, and in return shared some of theirs as well.  The preacher for the day, Mark, shared with me about his childhood in Oklahoma that I easily identified with, another woman shared her similar love of children and work with children with special needs, and another informed me that she enjoyed learning about small town Midwestern me since she was from a rural town in Iowa.

Itineration and sharing at churches, youth groups, and college ministries is one of the parts of missionary work that I'm looking the most forward to.  But, this morning it took on a new meaning.  I realized that in my five minutes of sharing, I had nearly connected to everyone in the congregation in some way.  Whether they compared me to a child or grandchild, shared a passion, or a part of my background, we found a common ground.  Of course, I love this little game of finding shared interests, so on the way back to the city, I decided to do something a little out of my comfort zone.  Obviously, it takes a lot to get out, but I know once I pop that bubble, wonderful things ensue.

Instead of taking the train back to Grand Central, our friend Darlene advised us to get off the train in Harlem and take a bus, avoiding the city and the subway exchanges.  The bus was packed, so as it started to empty, I walked towards the back where some seats were open.  Keep in mind, my bubble popping was not pre-meditated, but I sat down next to a gentleman who looked probably late 40's, early 50's.  Instead of being that good bus rider that stays quiet, I have this urge to strike up conversation.  I understand this is not common, especially in New York, but as we pass a stage with a dance team performing, I whisper, "Man, I should get off here."  Of course, he is forced to respond, and I proceed to ask him how he's doing (therapist-in-the-making).  He tells me that he's just finished a double shift and is facing the possibility of being called back in soon.  I empathize but realize that it's inappropriate to mention my fatigue from staying up too late on the computer and then going to church early this morning (not to mention my delicious lunch that has put me in a food coma).  After a brief silence, he mentions that his weariness also stems from fasting for Ramadan.  Now, as an educated person, I should know that it's Ramadan, but my knowledge of Muslim and Jewish holidays is nearly nonexistent.  I proceed to mention that I'm not from New York (my mother is now shaking her head, but I did have comrades on the bus) and that I'm a missionary.  I proceed to tell about my love of children and where I'm working in the future, which is pretty much what I shared at church.

Before getting off the bus, I tell him how much I admire his discipline of fasting and he responds by complimenting the work that I will be doing.  He reached out his hand, introduced himself, and said "Thanks for sharing."  I didn't know why I spoke to him initially, but from somewhere, these words came: "When I'm in a new city, I feel like you can't get to know it without getting to know the people, and you can't get to know the people without talking to them."  I'm starting to understand John Wesley's heart strangely warmed, because I got this warm and fuzzy feeling from the smile of the man on the bus.  At our evening session, I shared my story, reminding everyone that we are missionaries outside of church, and our stories can be shared anywhere.  Today's experience was real, even if I was just passing through.

God, it's Your world, and I'm just passing through.  Thanks for keeping it real!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Shotgun Girl

Tonight...was a good night.  After a powerful ten days of discussion, our last night at Stony Point is upon us.  Today  we talked about boundaries and how to engage with people and love people, but keep boundaries that protect us, our placement sites, and our partners in ministry.  We spent a chunk of time talking about wellness and how to take care of our physical selves.  Then, we discussed out itineration for Sunday morning, where we have the opportunity to share our call stories with local churches.  I'm excited to be headed to White Plains United Methodist Church with Laura and Love!

So despite all the wonderful things that happened today, tonight was definitely the highlight.  TALENT SHOW!  First off, I must express that the talents range the spectrum, and we have a lot of people who like to dance.  The group took part in the entire talent show, with many talents of teaching and most talents ending in a group dance.  However, the US-2 group, of which I am a part (Side note: there are MI-3, who are international, 3-year missionaries and US-2, who are domestic, 2-year missionaries) decided to re-write the lyrics of the popular song, "Call Me Maybe" to express our call story to ministry and the doubt that some of us still have, maybe.

For those who are reading this because of the title, I recognize there are several types of people in my life who read this very differently.  Some think, being the "country" girl I am, that I am proud of my ability to shoot a shotgun and hope to someday be part of the NRA (which isn't actually true).  Another group may recognize the JaneDear Girls title (Katie) or understand my struggle with motion sickness and the necessity of sitting shotgun.  The last group, of which I am about to explain, would actually be correct in their assumptions.  I like to be in control, and when I'm not driving, I'm usually the co-pilot.  Notice I didn't say I was just along for the ride.  I am passionate about being part of the action, the navigation.  

So, about this song...My good friend, who I've now known for 10 days, came up with this fantastic idea. (Yay Mistead) and I jumped in to help create lyrics.  However, there were five of us in the front seat and everyone added a little something to make this the next big one!  I hope you enjoy the video.  This is a live sneak-peek, but stay tuned as the official music video is coming soon.  Please pass it, along with my blog to your friends.  Stories are made to be shared, so take the wheel and start sharing!

Rain is a Good Thing

I know it's been a few days, but since I have a few minutes between breakfast, doing laundry, and morning devotionals, here's what's on my mind.

I don't like rain.  Never have, and maybe never will.  Surprisingly my community's economy is somewhat dependent on weather and in particular, rain.  Churches praise on Sunday morning when the rain has come, as it rarely does in the summer.  Wednesday, I was once again thankful for the rain like the farmers in Oklahoma.  While we've been at Stony Point for the last 8 days, we have been blessed with a nice place to stay and a beautiful environment in which to worship.  However, the high humidity and lack of air conditioning in the individual sleeping quarters has been far from my favorite part.  After a warm evening and difficulty sleeping, I was so thankful for the rain, and especially the 15 degree decrease in temperature that has continued to keep us cool (and provide me the opportunity to wear a jacket today).

Here's the lesson I've learned from all of this.  At yesterday's morning devotion, we prayed the covenant prayer of the Wesleyan tradition.  In case you're not familiar, here is what it says:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

We reflected on how we have felt called, and I wrestled with the possibility that God sometimes calls us to be empty, suffering, and have nothing.  I feel like I have a purpose, but accepting the possibility of emptiness is quite difficult.  I praise God in the sunlight when I can be active, but I also must be thankful for the rain, even if it doesn't fulfill me.  This morning, think about what things truly bless you, imagine if God had called you into ministry without those things or people, and accept that despite the circumstances, He has a purpose for you.  Whether it be a time of suffering or emptiness, praise God for the ability to be "not my own, but thine".

I hope you enjoy this prayer as much as I did and will make time to reflect on where God has placed you.  By looking through the lens of His purpose, not my own, I feel fulfilled in the emptiness and abundantly blessed with nothing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Words I Couldn't Say

I am a feminist.  I believe my friends in the LGBTQ community will be in heaven beside me.  I believe in a global economy that doesn't capitalize on the poverty of others.  I believe that race does not define a person but allows us to see the diversity and beauty of God.  I believe in breaking chains of oppression.

Most of these views are accepted by my community of faith, but less are accepted in the place that I call home.  From my experience, I will tell you that those who disagree with me are not bad people and do not mean to harm others.  To them, to US ALL, we must extend grace.  These issues have become normative and ignored in lots of communities.  I have never understood how the global economy places entire countries in poverty until today, and quite frankly, I'm appalled.  Are there others who understand and yet allow these systems to persist, or are we all ignorant?

This may be offensive to some, so I must start by saying I am imperfect, am privileged and perpetuate these issues, and still do not have answers to SOO many questions.  This is not meant to be accusatory, but rather informative.  It is not meant to depress, but impress upon you the severity of your actions.  It is not to satisfy you but to make you ask more questions and seek out truth and justice.  Sadly, my summary of today's events cannot convey the entirety of the issues, but we have to start with baby steps.

Global Economy (A Source of Poverty)
Rick facilitated a discussion about the global economy and started out by involving several of us in a skit to portray how we as a country "help" develop countries and aid them in stabilizing their economy. I realize that there is no way to explain this all simply in my blog, so I will give you the summary: buying the cheapest products that were made at an unfair wage is not helping developing countries.  Hopefully, I can someday share with you the knowledge I gained today, but trust me, the way the IMF and World Bank regulate loans, and by association our support of their regulation is creating a giant mission field in developing countries.  While this information is relatively new to me, I will have to find some way of translating this knowledge to you, but I cannot adequately do it now.

Racial Oppression
Since racial tension is present in our everyday lives, it seems more comprehensible, which is why I move on so quickly.  Today we shared our race stories.  Being from a nearly all-white community, I had very little to share about my childhood except that I lived in a state of ignorance.  I must remind you that I do not blame my parents or community, because I believe we are all in the same boat.  How do you learn about racial matters besides direct communication?  Lord knows I wouldn't look to the media for advice.  So, my incorrect use of Oriental instead of Asian, Indian in reference to Native American, and African-American for any Black person is forgiven by my friends, classmates, and even professors, who couldn't imagine that I had never been made aware of these politically correct terms.  In college, I took an interest in the diversity of religions, cultures, and races.  I realized that in American cities, there is a mixture of races and do effective ministry, I needed to know more.  Thanks to Maurice Wallace, Sharon Holland, and the four African-American studies classes I took between them, I walked away not only educated, but better.  I don't believe that the books and lectures is what educated me, though.  Being in community with persons of different racial backgrounds and hearing their stories helped me understand, and the relationships that I formed broke many unjustified stereotypes that I held.  One of the many thoughts that I had today and couldn't escape was this:

How often do we hear derogatory terms or tell racial jokes and laugh because no one around us identifies with the race we are poking at?  Today, it was mentioned that people had said things to a Black man that were offensive, but as a global church, a global community, shouldn't we all take offense to someone criticizing a person created in the image of God?

Sexual Orientation
This little bit is not going to be accepted well.  I know, and I'm okay with it.  I have to admit that the "conservative family values" of Northwest Oklahoma have always taught me that homosexuality is sinful.  Freshman year of college, I even came up with my own understanding to prove I was not just a product of my raising.  Here's what I've learned.  You can not truly come to understand or appreciate an issue until you have been in solidarity with people who are bound by our judgments.  I sit in a mission training with people of mixed sexual orientations.  Hear me when I say that I see God in them.  They are in full communion with God and are not struggling with the issue of sexuality.  They are at peace with God and we must be at peace with them as well.  As a person who does not believe in arranged marriage and instead trusts people to select their own companion, I do not feel it is my place to restrict another's choice of partner.  Because I am heterosexual, I get to choose and I believe everyone else should have that right.

Feminist Me
This may have been the greatest epiphany of my day and after I ask permission, I would like to credit the person who said this about people who don't claim feminism because they don't want to be mistaken as extremists: "We must reclaim the name of feminism and renew its original purpose."  To this I say, I'm a feminist.  After many conversations and debates, I learned much about the perspective of feminism, and I want to share with you the most important part in my opinion.  Sadly, when I say I'm a feminist I must define what I mean, so I'm not misunderstood.  I believe in the equality of genders.  That does not mean only equality for women but men as well.  We got into an intense discussion about the threat of sexual assault.  While the men did not prepare to walk around at night in the city, the women felt strongly about taking safety precautions.  We identified that most of these were taught by parents who wanted us to return safely, and then statistics of sexual violence came into play.  Something like 1 in 3 sexual violence/assault cases are reported and the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the woman being the victim and man the perpetrator.  BUT, this was another idea proposed.  Most sexual assault/rape occurs with a familiar acquaintance of the victim.  And, men are also vulnerable, and even less likely to report because of gender stereotypes.  This is my way of saying that feminism and gender equality is not just about women.

Think about it!  Men are criticized for crying in public, ever being vulnerable, and for letting their wives "wear the pants in the family".  Maybe that seems funny to you, but how in the world do we expect to get equality when we don't at least acknowledge the other side of the coin.  Not saying that the men deserve all the sympathy.  Women's attire, expression of sexuality, and place in the professional world were also discussed prominently.  I don't know if we'll ever reach that goal of equality or if we'd even be satisfied with equality, but I do know that the United States is one of the highest ranked countries, when it comes to gender equality (more equal than most).  It's hard to imagine, but in other countries, women are worse off.  We must strive for equality, not only for ourselves but for the greater community of God.

I know that's a LOT to take in.  If you made it to the end, congratulations, and thank you for journeying with me.  I hope that if some of these points do not align with what you believe, you extend grace to me as I plan to do to you.  We have many issues as a universal church and I would hate to see us divided when it will take all of us to break the chains of oppression and end systematic injustice.  I feel like the only way to make these statements is boldly, so forgive me for not putting it lightly or beating around the bush first.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Christ Alone

I will let this speak for itself.  Click the link at the bottom to listen!

When I fly off this mortal earth
And I’m measured up by depth and girth
The Father says now what’s he worth
May he see Jesus death and birth

Don’t measure me by dollar signs
Or bricks and mortar you may find
By Christ alone will I be found
Worthy of that golden crown
Worthy of that golden crown

The value of this life I’ve lived
How did I love, did I forgive
Where did my treasure truly lay
How did I start and end each day

Don’t measure me by battles won
Or some good deed that I have done
By Christ alone will I be found
Worthy of that golden crown
Worthy of that golden crown

May be a pauper or a king
Have nothing or have everything
The question begs, do you belong
Do you sing a resurrection song

Measured by the master’s hand
On only one truth can we stand
By Christ alone will we be found
Worthy of that golden crown
Worthy of that golden crown

-Eden's Edge
Listen Here!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Unanswered Prayers

If I hadn't said I was going to name this Unanswered Prayers, I think I would have called it Ten Thousand Angels.  Tonight was my opportunity to share my calling story.  Of course, I thought of a million ways to tell it, but this is the one I chose, for now...

My life is a country song.  I know it sounds silly, but if I had to sum it up, that’s how I would describe it.  Boondocks, out in the sticks, or whatever terminology you choose, that’s where I’m from, and I’m proud of it.  Our small town has more churches than restaurants, banks, and gas stations combined with a whopping 2500 residents.  For all of my school days, I knew the majority of children grades K-12, and since my mother was an aide in the Kindergarten classroom, most of them knew me. Most people think my childhood must have been lacking so much, without McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, and the yellow lines on the road (we have them now), but what was never lacking was love.  The community, which was more of an extended family, raised me and we still remind each other that it takes a village to raise a child.

My rural upbringing made me fascinated with country music of all things, and I found comforts in the words of a song that can be so powerful, so encouraging.  In junior high youth, we talked about prayer and how God hears and answers all prayers, but I didn’t see the results from my daily requests.  Garth Brooks, a fellow Oklahoma native, tells a story in one song about a romantic relationship he had always prayed would work out, and looking back is now extremely thankful that “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”.  I realized that some-, actually all the time, God knows what’s best, so I began praying more for peace and acceptance of His will.  Then, last year in a Sunday school class of adults twice my age, I learned more about God’s response to prayers.  It was a revelation to me all the ways in which God answers prayers.  I thought the standard miracles and feelings of peace, comfort and hope were pretty great, but understanding how He uses people to answer prayers and offer peace, comfort, and hope opened my eyes to a calling.  My childhood love of community and family started making more sense.  They were the answers to my prayers, the comfort and reassurance that I sought.  And maybe I could be the answer to someone else’s prayers.  All this time, I had discounted the ways people had helped each other, removing God entirely from those interactions.  Now, I began to see God, even where I least expected Him.  This brings to mind one of my favorite jokes.

There was a Christian lady who lived next door to an atheist. Every day, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear her. He thought to himself, "She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that. Doesn't she know there isn't a God?"

Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying "Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don't you know there is no God?" But she kept on praying.
One day, she ran out of groceries. As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was gonna do. As usual, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, "Humph! I'll fix this."

He went to the grocery store, bought a whole bunch of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the door bell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do. When she opened the door and saw the groceries, she began to praise the Lord with all her heart, jumping, singing and shouting everywhere! The atheist then jumped out of the bushes and told her, "You ol' crazy lady, God didn't buy you those groceries, I bought those groceries!" 
At hearing this, she broke out and started running down the street, shouting and praising the Lord.

When he finally caught her, he asked what her problem was. She said, "I knew the Lord would provide me with some groceries, but I didn't know he was gonna make the devil pay for them!"

God answers prayers, but sometimes in very unconventional ways, even with unwilling persons.  However, imagine the impact God can have on a family or a community through one willing individual.  Participating in something so much larger than myself brings about a fulfillment that cannot be found through any other source.  What I have found through my involvement in the Wesley Fellowship at Duke and social justice work is that once I allow God to fully use me, and am in full communion with Him, the blessings are abundant.  

On a mission trip in Shiprock, NM, I was reflecting with the group on where I see God most present.  During Sunday school that morning, we had been with some children who loved on us and treated us like family when we were only strangers.  This is the space in which I see God and feel closest to Him.  Children are the answers to my prayers; they brighten my day, humble me, and inspire me to be greater.  My passion has always been for children who were victims of abuse and neglect, but now I realize that it’s also my mission.  The children at Murphy-Harpst that I have been sent to be in ministry with have varying family situations, but I know from experience that it takes a village to raise a child.  I am excited to be part of that village and the family that nurtures and supports them.  Participating in God’s mission involves seeking out the space where you can be closest to Him in ministry, and I’m thankful to have found that place that I can call home.

Thank you to those ten thousand angels that have led me to this place.  God is good, all the time!