On Haiti and Standing in my Call

This is the second day we’ve been back in the US since our Haiti experience – my first Haiti experience. My heart aches. I don’t know how to put everything I’ve experienced into words or thoughts or even complete sentences.

“How was the trip?!” Well, do you want to know how beautiful the tropical land is? Do you want to know how wonderful the Haiti Outreach Ministries schools are? Do you want to know how mad I am that trash takes over the entire country – covering the roads, grassy areas, and houses? Do you want to know how brave Haitian people are? Do you want to know how infrequent children at the special needs orphanage were changes and how many flies/gnats covered them at all times? Do you want the picture of the mosquito nets that cover the girls’ beds in House of Hope?

I’m feeling too much. I am grumpy towards Americans and their ignorance for the beauty of their clean roads and gas station, for their ignorance to mosquito bites and not being concerned with cholera or typhoid. I am angry at people for making complaints about homework and not sleeping enough and being able to be guaranteed some job after their educations.

However, the trip did serve as a point of clarification for my call. While I am not called to overseas missions, I am called to forming relationships. I am called to providing community when there is none, to “end up with it anyway” (Jen Hatmaker). I am incredibly passionate about women’s ministry: creating places for women to be themselves. To be in each other’s lives. It’s time that we move from 5-10 minute devotions, doing mission work in our separate lives, and gossiping about others during prayer time.

Instead, it is time to move towards real life, real study of the Bible. Tackling hard questions and subjects. Talking about shame and joy and sadness. It’s time to do mission work together, not just putting filling shoeboxes individually. It’s time to eat dinner together, make new friends, and stop closing circles.

I don’t know how all of this was on my mind in Haiti, but it was. Then, precious Dee confirmed it in our “decompression talk” Tuesday morning after we got back. Women of all ages need their cups filled and refilled to be able to pour it out for others.

After all, “Bondye konn bay, men li pa konn separe.” (God gives but doesn’t share.) It’s each one of our jobs to share in the gifts and messages, life and love, and more that God gives us.

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Gifts Not to Be Dismissed

Today, I am grateful for the changing of seasons. In Shauna Niequest’s Savor, she writes that we don’t experience faith in our mind and soul alone. Instead, we have been gifted with bodies and people in order to be able to experience God to the fullest.

savorThis morning I stepped out of my apartment ready to go, when I realized that it was a bit chilly. I ran back inside to grab a sweatshirt. The season change is finally here. Today is the last day of summer, and I was able to experience God’s goodness with my physical body. Not just in my mind, because my mind couldn’t feel the slight chill in the air.

It’s funny how God works when we most need in. He meets us in our most desperate, hopeless place. I’ve been struggling with the transition from my happy place in Winston-Salem this summer to my hard place, Boone. I’ve been waiting to feel God move within my heart and soul, not doing anything to help Him. I actually became indifferent to everything around me because I just knew that He could transform my mind.

However, I realize that for the past several weeks, I have been shutting myself down to any experience I encounter. It’s in the breaking of bread, the sharing of laughs, the breeze in my mountain town, and the hand holding during the sharing of a blessing in which God can work. While mental health and clarity is necessary in everyday function, sometimes my brain is the one that gets me in the most trouble.
When I’ve shut myself down from experiencing Christ in a physical form, I do a lot of damage to myself. I get so consumed in introspection that I’m not able to separate myself from my brain and really focus on the world around me. At this point in my faith, I know that if I look around, I can see God in everything. He created it all.

Bringing awareness to myself in my mind and physical body is a way of turning back on my vision for God. Coming back to the fact that worship happens in ways that include other people during conversation, praise, or weeping, still involves physical movement. There’s something about looking around and seeing His beauty. I see Him in the way a new friend hugs me right away. I see God when I call my mentor for our weekly check-in. I see God when I run back inside to get my sweatshirt on the last day of summer.

Experiencing God physically is an element of our faith that cannot be forgotten. There’s no way that God gave us these things just for the fun of it. Niequest writes, “God created this physical world, and he designed the ways we experience it with our bodies. These are gifts, not to be dismissed.” I don’t want to shut myself down from experiencing God’s presence in simple, physical ways.

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Savoring Summer

It’s no joke that summer has officially ended. I’ve been at Appalachian for three weeks of my senior year and I dove right in: work, homework, and all. However, this post for Blogtember makes me super excited because I got to reflect on summer. And you know what? I spend this summer in Winston-Salem, NC. It seriously may have been one of the best summers of my entire life. I really saw God at work, not only in my own life, but in the town I was living in and the church I was working with.

I’m more than happy to reflect on this summer and share some of my favorite things! (Most of them will be Winston-Salem related, because it’s too true.) If you find yourself in the camel city, check these things out!

The first is a picture of Downtown WS, the Dash, Camel City…whichever you prefer. I am thankful for this city playing such a large role in the discernment of what I want to do in my life and what God is calling me to do. Krankie’s (a DTWS spot) is a coffee shop I frequented at least twice a week, always enjoying an iced chai or fried chicken sandwich. UGH I think I’m drooling thinking about them. But, every Thursday, you could find a group of my friends and I at Foothills Brewing’s Trivia night! Also, Design Archives is another spot I spent much of my time at this summer. They’ve got the most wonderful gifts, trinkets, and special finds.

Now for random: flamingos have been my thing. Nope! I couldn’t actually tell you why. I think I’ve been hiding my love for pink everything and now I’m finally indulging myself. I bought this print and I’m dying to get my hands on this mug!

Centering prayer also caught my attention this summer. Sitting in silence with my Creator is one of the best ways I can spend my time, I believe. Paired with Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday, I caught a little glimpse of Heaven.

Now, two things you must pay attention too: 1) Starbuck’s vanilla iced coffee + cream + extra pump of vanilla. 2) Soma’s Smoothing shorts (I’m absolutely obsessed. I own three pairs!)

Wow. I loved WS. I loved summer. I loved reflecting back on how much fun this summer was. Did you have any fun this summer? Any fun at all?

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Blogtember: September Goals

GET IT, ANNA:

  1. Tour Duke Divinity School – since I’m applying for Duke, it’d probably be pretty beneficial for me to check the place out!
  2. Find a great homework rhythm – getting back into the rhythm of work, spiritual wellness, mental wellness, and school is hard. Having consistent time to work on homework is a critical thing for my well-being!
  3. Finish Searching for Sunday (Rachel Held Evans), Women of the Word (Jen Wilkin), First Women (Kate Anderson Brower), The Irresistible Revolution (Shane Claiborne), and An Altar in the World (Barbara Brown Taylor). – I have started three of these books and (hopefully) intend to use two of them in my div school application essay. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but with all the reading a Com Studies major offers me, pleasure reading isn’t always my top priority.
  4. Join a discipleship community group at Wesley Foundation – Joining a new worship community is hard, but accountability and friendship helps! Fortunately for me, my campus ministry offers groups right after we meet.
  5. Do laundry on Wednesdays! – another critical schedule important for my mental health.
  6. Facetime with my mentor once a week, make it a priority – we usually read books together. With her job in youth ministry, we took the summer off. But having that person to be able to talk to regularly and grow with has been the biggest blessing.
  7. Sit in contemplative prayer at least two-three times a week – “Be still and know” has taken a new meaning of my life. Shoot, prayer has become to take a new definition in my life. Sitting in silence with the presence of God is a form of communication near and dear to my heart right now.
  8. Get next tattoo – I tried to be spontaneous and get the tattoo one day last week, unfortunately I walked out with an appointment…this only happens to me. I’m the least spontaneous person I know!
  9. Meet with UMC District Superintendent about the candidacy process – with accepting my call to ministry, I need a community and district behind me! Meeting with my DS was the best meeting of my week. There’s so much hope in the church right now, and I’m so grateful to be a small part of it.
  10. Throw a game watching party – this could be a great way for me to balance the social wellness of my life as well as everything else! Human interaction is key. Football is just a big ol’ added bonus.
  1. Go to karaoke, once – because who doesn’t love karaoke?
  2. Go to a workout class outside of yoga – double dipping with physical and mental wellness here, people
  1. Study Genesis – I’m craving to get further into the Word. After reading Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin, I have a craving to read the Bible in a different way than I have before. Why not start at the beginning?
  2. Vaccum the apartment on Sundays – with my annoying Type-A personality, if my apartment isn’t clean, I feel behind and befuddled!
  1. Call each grandparent every other week – my family is a huge part of my life, and I should call them more than I should. Simple as that.

What are you going to get done this September?! I love to-do lists. So, for me, this list of goals can function in that way as well. But I have to remember not to limit myself to these things but also it gives me a little bit of direction.

I am so excited about this month!

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Blogtember Day 1

Y’all  – I just found this “blog-tember” challenger on The Life in Between blog and I’ve really been out of the habit of blogging regularly, even though it’s my favorite way of communication and identifying with others! So, here I go, attempting to enter into this #blogtemberchallenge originally posted by Bailey Jean. I’m excited to connect with other bloggers, but also challenge myself! Today is day numero uno: introduction day! Here’s a few things that I think stick out about me.

***

Hey y’all, I’m Anna. I’m a senior at Appalachian State University sIMG_9573tudying Communication Studies with an English minor. I’m currently obsessed with the role of the First Lady in the White House and her role in America. I write, but I hardly ever claim myself as a writer. I’m a type-A extrovert in the truest sense of both of those words. Both You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally are my favorite movies, ever. (I also really dig Nora Ephron. I actually wrote a paper entirely on the two movies in over 10 pages during my freshman year.) I love the idea of southern hospitality – offering people a drink as soon as they come in the door, handwriting thank you notes, and still bringing hostess gifts to a dinner or when visiting friends. I’m a leftie. Gilmore Girls is my favorite TV show, hands down. I’m a
dreamer. “I see said the blind man,” and “You learn something new every day,” come out of my mouth at least three times a day, each. I touch my face when I talk. I’m big on Amaretto Sours or Vodka Cranberries right now. And, most times, I like to push the rules as far as I can. Cheese is my favorite food. I’m a total Maxxinista (and I’m not ashamed). “Grace abounds” is my very favorite phrase right now.

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Centerings at Centenary (Part 1)

Something that I tried to keep up this summer was a journal of centering my heart on God. For me, writing is the best way I can connect with God. Most of the time, I put my pen to paper, converse with the Creator, and reread over it to see that the cry of my heart is what I really needed to clarify as I come before the Lord.

This summer, I was in an internship at Centenary UMC. It was wonderful (as most people can tell from my Facebook page or Instagram). However, I have a lot of entries into my journal that I feel I could share to help each of you better understand exactly what I did this summer and how I felt about it.

I’m loving rereading over these writings of mine and seeing where the Lord has led me and how He continues to work in my life. I’m astounded.

I’m calling these posts/entries “Centerings at Centenary” (“centering” because each time I wrote was a preparation of my heart for quiet time with God). Some I wrote in April and May before I even began my internship. Most were written on a day to day basis in the office. I will post the date that I wrote them originally.

***

April 27, 2016 (Spring semester of junior year)

This semester has not been my favorite semester in Boone thus far. I had 18 credit hours at school, which I handled like a baby; I dropped my campus ministry involvement to focus on my other Christian communities, and in turn, lost quite a few friendships; I also had quite the emotional rollercoaster – I experienced the most depression than I have during the rest of my college career and my anxiety attacks resurfaced.

It’s safe to say that this season I don’t feel that Boone is a safe or happy place for me. Therefore, when I was looking towards summer plans, I decided that I had to get out like a bat out of hell. It would not be good for my emotional or spiritual well-being if I continued through the summer in Boone, with most of my friends gone. I would have just worked at my part time job and binge-watched Netflix.

With the help of a friend, I found an opportunity to explore the call of God in my life. I applied for an internship with the United Methodist Church, being paired with an elder at a church, and being mentored by them. I am extremely happy to say that I have been placed in Winston-Salem, close to home and out of the mountains.

Most people ask what I will be doing. Right now…I have no idea. I am praying that I can befriend my mentor and learn how a large church functions. I can tell you that I am staying with a member of the church all summer and that I am required to participate in theological reflections with other interns in the Conference.

If you know me well, you know that recently I have entertained the thought of applying to Divinity School after I graduate from Appalachian (this time next year), but I want to say that I am not entertaining this thought lightly.

Am I avoiding the real world?

Do I want to stay in school as long as possible to keep responsibilities from surfacing?

Do I have a call on my life that I should just go straight into graduate school?

Could I actually make a difference?

Will Divinity school be the end of me?

Do I just want to say I have another degree?

Could I learn to love better and learn to love God better with further knowledge on the subject?

Depending on the day, my answer to “Are you applying to grad school?” changes.

I struggle so badly with wanting to help make a difference for Christians in this world. I want to love people well and somehow teach others to do the same. I want to be a voice in the changing of the Book of Discipline with things that I feel passionate about.

One person can’t change the world. There’s no bone in my body that believes that. BUT one person can open the conversation and see who feels the same way. Is that my job? Is that what I’m supposed to do?

Or should I just rethink everything I’ve ever thought…stop pursuing the church and the potential of working with one (on the local level or conference level) and just apply to a Communications job because that is what I’ve been learning over the past three years at App State?

For now, I can’t stop pursuing the church. I can’t stop pursuing the fact that I am called to figure this feeling inside me out. And I know that is hard for a lot of people to understand – an intangible God is hard for a lot of us to reckon with. I know that I can’t explore other options until I’ve fully given this one my best effort.

So here I go, jumping into this terribly dark abyss of exploring so many options that life has to offer. I officially start at the church in Winston-Salem on May 23. Now, I am attempting not to wish away the time between now and then.

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Rule 3: Stay in Love with God

This sermon was preached at Centenary UMC’s Roots Revival on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. It was the final sermon to a three-week sermon series on John Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules.

Colossians 2:16-17 (ESV): “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

John 21:15-17 (ESV): “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

This week is the last sermon of our sermon series. For those of you that haven’t been able to join us, we’ve been studying Reuben Job’s “Three Simple Rules.” A book that has been written on the three rules that John Wesley, our Methodist founder, thought that everyone should live by.

Rule #1 was Do No Harm.

Rule #2: Do good.

Now, tonight is rule #3: Stay in love with God. And, personally, I think it’s the hardest rule to implement in my own life.

This might sound strange, but something that I always pick up at the grocery store is yogurt. I became obsessed with yogurt at some point this year and was probably eating two or three yogurts a day.

However, the fad only lasted about two months and now I can’t seem to stop buying yogurt, but it just sits in my fridge until I feel like it is finally excuse enough to throw it away.

It sickens me, to spend that money on something that I don’t ever eat. I could certainly use that money in other spending areas. More importantly, there are so many people that go hungry and I just continue to throw away two or three yogurts every three weeks.

It’s awful. I make the effort to pick out this yogurt, I pay for it, I take it home and take care of it, but I am never intentional about eating it.

Unfortunately, our relationship with God can look the same. We can go to church as often as we want, tithe as much as we can, and keep many Bibles in our household, but if we are not intentional about our own spirituality, then we are not staying in love with God.

The way to keep a relationship with God vital, growing, and alive is to practice spiritual disciplines. John Wesley also called these things ordinances. Just a few of these spiritual practices include public worship of God, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, prayer, searching the Scriptures, bible study, and even fasting.

These are practices that can be involved in our daily or weekly routines. However, we have to be careful that it stays as intentional means of growing with God and doesn’t become just another thing to check off our own to-do lists.

Okay, but before we get involved in the ordinances (or spiritual disciplines), let’s talk about why it’s important to stay in love with God:

In her book, Illuminated Life, Joan Chittister says, “All we have in life is life. Things – the cars, the houses, the educations, the jobs, the money – come and go, turn to dust between our fingers, change and disappear…the secret of life is that it must be developed from the inside out.”

God is something that is so much larger than ourselves. We believe in a God that has been made known through His Son, Jesus, and “companions with us in the Holy Spirit,” writes Reuben Job.

If we are Christians, if we have accepted the mystery of faith and proclaim our title as God’s Redeemed, we have to remember that He created us and saved us, but also continues to redeem us, call us, sustain us, provide for us, and love each one of us.

That’s reason enough to attempt to stay in love with God. As our verses in Colossians says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” We know that we have received the One that was fully human yet fully divine. Now, we have to walk in him.

We have to stay in relationship with Him so that we might abound in thanksgiving just as the scripture begs of us.

One common spiritual discipline that occurs in all of our relationships with God includes worship. One thing that I love about Centenary are the multiple services they offer. On Sundays you might experience traditional worship, a simple worship service, or even a jazz service. On Wednesdays, we get to come to this atmosphere at Roots Revival and enjoy community and communion.

Worship should be a regularly practiced spiritual discipline in our relationships with God. I know, for me, it’s an even more effective discipline if I regularly attend worship services that aren’t at my home church. Getting to worship in different atmospheres with different people and different musical styles is a way to experience God in an entirely different way, while still being connected to a church.

Another common spiritual discipline to stay in love with God is prayer. There are many, many different looks to prayer. You can pray alone, in a “prayer room” or nook, or you can pray alone in your favorite spot outdoors. However, we can also pray together. We pray like we do in worship, together. We can pray together holding hands and being focused on a specific prayer request or event. We can pray as families and as couples and as friends. Prayer is our direct connection to God. Although He already knows the desires of our hearts and minds, it is important that we speak to Him directly. If we intentionally communicate with Him, we are showing that our relationship with Him is one of our priorities.

Sometimes prayer is even sitting silently in God’s presence. We have a centering prayer group here at Centenary that meets every Thursday at 11am. They meet in the youth prayer room on the fourth floor, and we sit in silence as we connect to God and each other through contemplative prayer. I highly suggest you go even once to expand the experience of your prayer life, and I’m sure that Martha would be more than happy to talk with you about it.

Likewise, Bible study is an important common spiritual discipline that we can use to stay in love with God. The Bible is the inspired word of God, therefore, when we read it, we are able to gain knowledge about who God is, who Jesus is, the importance of it all, and how we each can play a role in the Christian faith.

Even the Lord’s Supper, Communion, is a way to stay in love with God. This is one of my favorite spiritual disciplines of them all. I love to hear the preacher tell the story about Jesus, about who He is and what He did for. Us. Tonight, as we celebrate communion, listen to the words Jeremy has to say. Listen intentionally, even if you have participated in this supper thousands of times in your life. Be moved by the Spirit in the room and the Ultimate sacrifice that was made for each and every one of us.

Here’s the cool part about our relationship with God, though: everyone’s looks a little bit different.

Now, there should be a pen and a piece of paper under your chair. I’ll give you a second, but go ahead and get those out.

On this sheet of paper, I want you to write your absolute favorite activity. Whatever it is. Maybe it’s shopping, or fishing, or knitting. Maybe you love to garden or cook or bake. Go ahead, write it down. What is your favorite thing to do?

Okay, so I wrote “asking questions” on my paper.

What did you write? And no, this isn’t a rhetorical question…

Every person’s answer probably looks a little bit different. And I just love that. None of our lives look the same, even though we may have things in common. Just like we may have commonalities in our relationship with God, but each day looks a little bit different for every single one of us.

Because of this, the cool part about staying in love with God is that you can use your favorite activity to stay in love with God.

Asking questions may seem like a little bit of a strange activity, but really it’s a big way where I see God. Sometimes my questions lead me to multiple internet searches about Methodism and John Wesley. Other times, my questions are in a face-to-face conversation when I really get to learn about the friend in front of me.

If your favorite activity is baking, staying in love with God can look like baking cakes for your neighbors and loved ones. You could donate baked goods to food pantries if they need them, or you could even sell baked goods to donate to your favorite cause. One thing that is exceptionally helpful is to help provide healthy baked goods to the HOPE Truck that first started right here at Centenary. They love to include sweets in the lunches kids receive, and you could help by giving of your favorite talent.

Likewise, if you love to fish, maybe you can see God in whatever body of water you’re fishing in. Maybe you see God in the comradery between you and your friends when you’re on fishing excursions. Or seeing God can even just be as minimal as enjoying the silence or sounds of nature while you’re waiting for that catch. Duke Ison spoke during the Sunday School hour about fly fishing and living out his faith on the river. So if you don’t think fishing can be a component in staying in love with God, I hate to tell you that you might be a little bit wrong.

So, with what you’ve written down, how can you stay in love with God?

(Again, this is not a rhetorical question…)

So while things should be pretty different between each of us and our personal connection with God, there should also be some commonalities that may not be the exact same, but the practice is similar.

These things that I have mentioned tonight are just a few ways that we can stay in love with God. If we choose to do these things intentionally, if we are seeking God and His peace, we will find that it’s just like the first time we fell in love with God. It’s harder to stay in love with God if we make Him a part of our to-do lists, if we forget the glory and power and sheer size of Him.

In John 21, Jesus asks Simon Peter if he really loves him. Three times. I can only imagine Peter’s frustration after the first two questions. “Yes, I love you, Lord, of course I love you” he says. And in his mind, “What the heck do you want me to do?” But Jesus answers that: “Feed my sheep.”

In many sermons, I’ve heard the sheep being referred to as other people: it is our job to feed the sheep that are lost and broken, house the sheep that are homeless, and love the sheep that are unloved. But I can’t help but think that we forget to include ourselves in that “sheep” category. Even though, that’s what we are, isn’t it?

We have the Ultimate Shepherd, God. He guides us, comforts us, provides for us, and calls us. We are each just one of many sheep. “Feed my sheep,” the Lord tells Simon Peter. We need to make sure we’re fed.

We have to feed ourselves spiritually to make sure that we stay in love and stay connected to God. These spiritual disciplines are ways to do just that. But, don’t be discouraged if you set time out of your day tomorrow to pray and you don’t feel God move.

I was at New Story UMC last week, and the preacher, Keith, there was telling a story about his childhood. He was picking blackberries for his grandmother at her home in the mountains when he was about ten or so.

He was picking blackberries on a summer day, and of course, he was picking five at a time. He ate four and put one in the bucket. This happens again and again and again. He’s eating four blackberries and then dropping one in the bucket. After what feels like hours, he looked down and noticed that only the bottom of the bucket is covered.

Keith got frustrated because it was hot outside and he thought that he had done enough work to have the bucket filled already. He ran back to his grandmother, “Grandmother, I am just so mad. I’ve been outside all this time and I can’t seem to fill this bucket up!” Of course, being the grandmother that she was, went and brought back a dixie cup to her grandson.

“Keith, take this cup and fill it up.” So Keith ran back to the blackberry bushes and picked really quick. He filled up the cup and ran back to his grandmother. “Dump it in the bucket,” she told him. He dumped the blackberries into the bucket from the Dixie cup.

“Now look at the bucket. What do you see?” Keith looked down and said, “it looks more full!” “That’s right,” his grandmother told him, “now keep doing that until you fill the bucket.”

Keith got really excited because he could see the difference of adding a little bit of blackberries at a time could make in the bucket.

Just like Keith, if we look at our relationships with God, it’s not going to be easy to stay in love with Him in just one go-round. Instead, if we pursue even our smallest efforts to stay in love with God, it will make a big difference in our relationship.

Don’t focus on your bucket as a whole. Instead, remember to fill up your small cup to dump in the big bucket. Practicing different spiritual disciplines can make more of a difference in your relationship with God than you think.

Stay rooted with God.
Feed his sheep, whether it’s you or the friends that surround you.
And remember that staying in love with God takes intentional practice.

O God, You are the One who comforts us, loves us, redeems us, and saves us. You deserve all of the glory and attention we can give you. Help us to stay in love with you, God. Help us to know what practices work in our lives better than others. Encourage us when we feel frustrated. Give us eyes to see you moving even when we don’t feel it. May we find spiritual practices that help us to stay in love with you. Amen.

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In 10 Years…

This story was told during Centenary UMC’s Summer Sunday School Session on Sunday, July 24, 2016. The prompt was: living out your faith in your context.

I hate when people ask me what I plan to do in ten years. It’s just crazy. I have no idea where I’m even going to be this time next year in my life. But, something I do know is that God calls me constantly. And with the help of my internship this summer, I’ve been able to articulate my call better than I ever have before.

It sure as heck isn’t over, but one day this spring, I had an email pop into my inbox that I had never heard of. It was from a Christian Women’s community, a newsletter called “Faith.full.” but Jen Hatmaker’s name was at the top of the page, so naturally I dove in.
Jen Hatmaker is one of my favorite Christian writers. She is based in Austin, TX. Married to a minister. Loves the south. Has been on HGTV. Loves to eat. And tells it like it is

So, again, when her name was in the subject line of this random email, I had to open it.

I started reading and the first part that hit me said: “People crave what they have always craved: to be known and loved, to belong somewhere. Community is such a basic human need. It helps us weather virtually every storm.”

And I couldn’t help but to think how perfectly that applies to my own story. If it weren’t for community, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today.

***

It all started when my parents divorced. I was in fifth grade, and I didn’t have a stable family environment. I remember my dad traveling a lot and my mom’s clinical depression not getting better.

Church was a place where my family (non-blood) came together, weekly, and really loved on each other. When I look back on my younger days at Trinity Memorial, I reflect warmly because each of those people had such a large part of raising me.

This church was a place that I craved to go to. My Granna was a member, but so was my best friend and her family, my youth Sunday School teacher, and my friends that I grew up with. The church wasn’t more than 60-80 people on a good Sunday, but they all felt like good Sundays as Hannah and I sat in the first pew and colored in our children’s bulletins.

As I grew older, I also grew more involved with the church. I considered it my family since my real family was split by divorce and even more strained by mental illness. I was an active participant of the youth group, and even as I entered high school, the church gave me opportunities to be one of the youngest voices in the midst of an older congregation.

I was at home. I even can see the Facebook statuses (thanks to the “Memories of Today” app on Facebook) where I was craving church, or at church, or leaving church…but I loved it. I started digging into the community that surrounded me, making friends with not only my peers, but also the older men and women involved in my home church.

My church pushed me to take on leadership roles. They encouraged me to get involved in worship: leading music, reading scripture, and preaching. It was this very congregation that sparked my love for the church, even during it’s hardest (sometimes most political) seasons.

As I gained experience with my church, I also began to get involved in my Methodist district and conference. I served on the Conference Council of Youth Ministry in a variety of roles: middle school retreat co-chair, youth service fund co-chair, and even president.

I sort of became a Methodist nerd. And I loved it. I loved attending annual conference every year as a voting delegate. I loved hearing about what other Methodist churches are doing in our world. I loved that each year I went to conference, I gained new friends (of all ages) and returning the following year was always a reunion.

Along with this, I became involved in my Piedmont Emmaus/Chrysalis community which also became a safe haven from my family as during these years I had an awful family dynamic. I threw myself into my community, serving behind the scenes at all of our events, attending every worship opportunity that was provided, and was intentionally forming relationships with other Christians my age.

However, then it came time for me to leave my hometown and go off to the college of my dreams. “Go to church the first Sunday,” they said, “you’ll never get out of the habit of going.”

Well, I did go to church that first Sunday with a campus ministry I thought I would love. I ended up not feeling included (they were welcoming but not inclusive, there is a difference) and, therefore, I did not return.

It wasn’t hard to cut church out of my life at that point. I had begun to burn myself out on all of the committees and not ever really feeling like I was a part of worship.

Not to mention that I was having family problems with my step-family. I hated them (and I’m sure the feeling was mutual) and once a preacher told me, “If you don’t love your least liked person, then you will never love Christ,” I was out. Church never had a meaning in my life anymore.

I had left my family, my friends, and my church community at home. I was moving on to bigger and better things. Which led to a life of partying, struggling to pass many classes, and making friends that didn’t really have my back.

It wasn’t until a year and a half later that I realized that these things didn’t actually make my life “bigger and better.” Fortunately, I had a friend, Whitney, from my Piedmont Chrysalis community ask me what was going on. She could tell that I had made a change in my heart and attitude, and I was focusing on things and pushing God outside of my mind.

It was then that I realized how crucial community is for all of us. If it wasn’t for the roots that I put down in my home church, conference, and Chrysalis community, I don’t know that I would’ve come back to the church.

But instead, I had many friends reach out to me with love, asking who I had become and where I had gone.

Once I started rekindling my relationship with Christ, I knew I had to find a different campus ministry. I prayed that God would lead me to a community that would teach me to grow and that would love me.

He never lets us down.

I was led to a community that instantly picked me up, brushed off some of the dirt in my emotional wounds, and set me up to start healing.

These wonderful ladies taught me how to love strangers and how to read and study the Bible.

It was then that I decided to start my own small group at school. One to meet every week, with girls I didn’t know at the beginning. I was able to put my need for community into an action that could benefit others as well. One that constantly uses Jen Hatmaker’s motto: “People crave what they have always craved: to be known and loved, to belong somewhere. Community is such a basic human need. It helps us weather virtually every storm.”

Our little group met January of 2015 and fortunately still meets weekly at my apartment. We love each other, cry on each other’s shoulders, celebrate each joy, and eat as many cookie sundaes as we can.

Something else Jen writes that is written on my soul:

If Jesus’ basic marching orders were 1.) to love God and 2.) to love people, then the fruit of that obedience includes being loved by God and loved by people.

We give and get here. According to Jesus, the love of God and people is the substance of life.

Isn’t it? Nothing can happen — no tragedy, no suffering — that cannot be survived through the love of God and people. This is holy territory: a loyal friend on the other end of the line, a companion on your doorstep holding King Ranch chicken casserole because sometimes that’s all there is to do. When you say to me, “I will see you through this,” I can endure. Between God’s strength and yours, I have enough.

We are not promised a pain-free life but are given the tools to survive: God and people.

It is enough.

The church certainly tries to foster community, bless it. We at least know how essential it is. So we organize Life Groups (see also: Restore Groups, Community Groups, Home Groups, Cell Groups, Youth Groups, Women’s Groups, or — kickin’ it like my Baptists — Sunday school). We try to provide structure for folks to belong, to be known. Sometimes it works like magic and sometimes it so doesn’t. You can lead a horse to water, but sometimes the horse is awkward and weird, you know? I’ve had small groups create friends for life and others that felt a teeny bit like sustained torture.

I guess I prefer something a bit more organic, less program-driven. Instead of waiting around for church to assemble a perfect group dynamic of People Who Can Meet on Tuesdays, maybe just invite some folks over. A shared table is the supreme expression of hospitality in every culture on earth. When your worn-out kitchen table hosts good people and good conversation, when it provides a safe place to break bread and share wine, your house becomes a sanctuary, holy as a cathedral. I’ve left a friend’s table as sanctified and renewed as any church service. If you have a porch, then you have an altar to gather around.

Loneliness can be a prison, but we have keys. You needn’t wait for someone to open the bars. If you can make a pot of chili and use a cell phone, then you can create community. If you want to wait until your house is perfect and you aren’t nervous, then just forget it. This is an imperfect apparatus, thank goodness. It requires people with true faces, courageously being seen. There is no alternative to genuine connection. Sorry. Community has to start somewhere, and that somewhere should be sincere. Otherwise you build a flimsy house of cards. Run the risk analysis and decide if safety is worth the loneliness prison. I suggest it is not.

We have the keys, you guys! They look like tables and couches, beef stew and crusty French bread. They include patio chairs and music, football on the TV and cold beer. They involve a simple e-mail invite for Friday night and burgers on the grill. They say, “Bring your kids and we’ll lock them all in the backyard with Popsicles.” The keys include good questions and good listening around a fire pit; they certainly contain stories and laughter. They don’t require fussing or fluffing, so don’t let anything stop you, because a messy kitchen only tells me someone cares enough to feed me, which is a good key.

Instead of waiting for community, provide it, and you’ll end up with it anyway.

The love of God and people is the whole substance of life. Nothing is more important. This is sacred work and very much counts.

***

I am extremely grateful for Jen Hatmaker’s words.

I am called to foster authentic community. It’s how I intentionally live out my faith each week in an atmosphere that focuses on parties, drugs, academic excellence, and sleeping as much as you can.

I personally prefer to help foster authentic women’s community. While right now, I am focusing that call on just college aged ladies, one day, I would like to expand into an intergenerational community.

“Doing life together” is more than it encompasses. It’s loving each other well, encouraging one another, and helping see each other’s gifts and passions.

I want to lean into God’s call for community to grow together and love each other well, so that we may be effective followers when it comes to loving others.

xo, anna.jpg

 

A Compassionate Heart

Two things I would not have defined myself as before this summer: missional and compassionate.

Missional, in my mind, has always been associated with construction and being out in the hot summer sun attempting to use tools that – to be quite honest – I hate using.

Also, in my mind, compassion is linked to those “missional” people. Or, compassionate people are only those people that have enough drive and conviction to start non-profits and charities. Or they are the people covering Facebook with posts about those in need.

Last time I checked, I don’t do any of those things. Not to mention that I haven’t even volunteered since I started college three, almost four, years ago. Therefore, I never label myself as a compassionate person.

That is until I read Brene Brown’s words:

“The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.”

Now, this is an idea I can get behind. One of my goals in life is to try and accept everyone as they are, where they are. Unconditional love. Mark 12 reminds us that Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 31). This is exactly the type of attitude that makes for a compassionate person.

After weeks and months of a world’s and nation’s heartbreak, I find myself weeping while watching the news. I also find myself shaking my head while scrolling through my Facebook feed when I notice that people are choosing sides and ultimately arguing with others when they seem to be on the same page with different terminology.

Without getting into the politics of it all, my heart breaks. It absolutely shatters.

Even more, the shattering continues when I drive around this town and see people experiencing homelessness or even having to live in low-income housing that isn’t properly taken care of. It also continues on Sunday mornings where church walls become dividers for whatever reason in each church’s specific context.

It saddens me when people don’t recognize cycles of poverty and homelessness. It upsets me when people think that “going out and getting a job” is just that simple for people that can’t get out of the system we’ve blocked them into.

But – overall – it continues to break my heart when a human is surprised that I treat them with respect, dignity, and love. A human. A human made with the same rights as the rest of us but unfortunately was dealt a different set of cards through life.

It’s my goal to help people know that they are loved, regardless of what they’ve done or where they come from. “Loving your neighbor as yourself,” isn’t the easiest attitude adjustment to make.

However, I whole-heartedly believe that it can and will be the driving force for change in our discussions and communities. I believe that loving each other well makes us missional people. If we adopt each other into our tight-knit communities, showing each other that we have each person’s back, then we are being missional on a day to day basis. Being relationship driven can also be considered being a missional person.

Now if this, all of this sparked by Brene’s words, is compassion…

Well, then I guess you could say I’m aiming at becoming a more compassionate person focused on accepting myself and others, showing love to us all.

xo, anna.jpg

Ch-ch-ch-changes

This sermon was preached on June 29, 2016 at Centenary UMC’s Roots Revival in downtown Winston Salem, NC.

Eric Clapton’s “Change the World”

Matthew 14:22-31 (ESV)
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

As some of you know, my name is Anna I’m a senior at Appalachian State University. I’m a communication studies major with an English minor. I love reading. I love to ask questions. Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” is one of my all time favorite songs.

And… I hate being pushed out of my comfort zone.

I was raised in a small town in Randolph county. The smells of chewing tobacco and cow manure are no strangers to me. I graduated high school with 200 people I had known since I entered elementary school, and everyone who attended my home church was basically some form of family member.

My comfort zone was pretty small. I identify really well with Peter in our scripture tonight.

In Matthew 14, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side. This wasn’t unusual. I personally imagine the disciples were bros. They were buddies. They’re kind of like the best friends that do everything together. Well, because they did do everything together.

So, it wasn’t unusual. It wasn’t challenging. It didn’t terrify any one of those twelve disciples to get into the boat with the group. It was a part of their comfort zone.

In verse 25, Jesus walks towards the men. Jesus is walking on the sea. And it is something so strange that the only thing the men can think of is that it must be a ghost. It would have to be!

Instead, they find out that is it their Teacher walking towards them. “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid,” He says.

Then Peter speaks up. And I can’t help but to imagine that he is the cool guy. Or he’s the extroverted class clown. Or the jock that does everything. Maybe he’s just the teacher’s pet. Whatever it is, Peter answers Jesus: Hey, if this is really you. If you are really our teacher and not some ghost, tell me to come.

Immediately, Jesus asks Peter to come.

And for the first couple steps, Peter is all right. He has his eyes on the prize: All I need is to get to Jesus.

But then, he starts looking around. Peter notices the wind and the waves around him. And he begins to be afraid. He starts doubting that Jesus will save him. Sure enough, with Peter’s little faith, he begins to sink. Help! Help! He cries out to his Teacher. Save me!

I told you that I don’t like to get out of my own comfort zone. I like to travel, but I never dream of living anywhere outside of North Carolina.

I’m a middle class girl that came from more privilege than some people get in their lifetimes. I cling to the things I know and love.

So, as I was preparing for my summer, I prayed for an opportunity for God to reveal Himself to me. I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I didn’t know where I thought I’d be.

Let me tell ya, I never thought I would be here. But here I am, your summer college intern. In an area of Winston that – all at the same time – has more money than I’ve ever seen, but also has some of greatest poverty I’ve ever seen.

I am totally out of my comfort zone. Days before I was supposed to move in with my new host family, I was between tears and joy. In that week, I decided to set my eyes on Jesus. He was calling me to step out of my boat in Boone and experience something unlike anything I had ever seen.

For the first week, I was fine. I didn’t feel out of my comfort zone, and I just knew that I was going to be used by the Lord and everything was going to go perfectly.

About three weeks in, I started to doubt. I looked around my environment and felt inadequate to follow Sarah around. I didn’t have the training to deal with racial reconciliation, AIDs support, or food insecurity. I also didn’t have the skills or special ability to stand out amongst the wonderful staff here at Centenary.

Suddenly, I, very much like Peter, looked around and saw the wind. I began to sink. In my mind, I had doubted that God could ever really use someone like me in a context like this. I have become a small fish in a big pond for the first time in my life.

Then, I (again like Peter) called out to God: Help me. Save me. I have no idea what the heck I’m doing. I started to drown.

Fortunately, Jesus extends his hand to me and says: You of little faith! Why would you ever doubt what I can do?

He is truly a God that saves. When I prayed to him about my options this summer, I prayed for an opportunity for me to see Him in a new light.

I had no idea that when you converse with God, it can push you out of your comfort zone beyond your imagination. Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone require you to make changes to your environment, your attitude, and your faith.

Stepping out of my comfort zone this summer was the best thing I could have asked for.

Like I said, changes come along with being pushed outside your comfort zone: sometimes introverts have to step up and engage the first conversation. Sometimes, incredibly social people have to take the time to listen. To-do listers, like myself, have to make changes in their attitudes to stop making to-do lists and allow life to happen.

In the middle of week 5 at Centenary, I whole-heartedly tell you that God pulled me up from sinking in the water. He challenged me to stand tall, make some changes to my attitude, and continue to push myself out of my comfort zone.

This is one of the first times in my life that I trust God with every fiber of my being, attempting to stop myself from making to-do lists, and taking some time to listen to others. And it is beautiful.

It’s been a change that has completely strengthened my faith. Once I realized that God was more than capable and willing to pull me out of my doubts, I changed the way that I felt and believed in God. Once I was able to grasp that He would never let me sink, I knew that I could put all of my faith in Him and He would never let me drown.

After our trials, Peter and I couldn’t help but to worship the One who saved us, gave us hope, and put us back on our feet. With our faith in God completely, it changes how we look at the environment around us.

When I look out now, I don’t only see the wind. I see the wind around me, but more importantly, I see Jesus in front of me. Making the change to push out of my comfort zones, put my faith in Jesus, and change my ways of thinking has been nothing but beneficial in building a stronger relationship with God.

So I ask you…

Where are you in this story with Jesus?

Are you in the boat with your favorite people, sitting comfortably in your daily routine and environment?

Are you Peter, begging Jesus to challenge you?

Are you Peter, in the midst of new things and making changes to your everyday life, suddenly drowning and wondering when Jesus will come save you?

Wherever you are. Know this: Jesus is the Son of God. Reach out to Him and He will love you, challenge you, help you, and save you.

Many of our stories will look like Peter’s: filled with comfort zones, petitions to God and our everyday lives, feeling isolated and afraid as we take the next steps, and utterly grateful that our Creator always picks us up just in the nick of time.

Our comfort zones tend to be a safe haven when we are terrified of change. Fortunately, we know that when we accept change from God, we know that He isn’t changing. His love will never change, but instead we will be changing for the better. For his best purpose for us.

Wherever your story is today: take the next step. Push out of your comfort zone. Embrace all that is a part of it. And thank God for it all.

Amen.

David Bowie’s “Changes”