Today I Saw God
Much of my life has been spent connected to the Church. The first time I attended church I did not walk in, I was carried. I was brought by my wise and loving parents, baptized and have been here ever since. Although I have fond memories of a life spent in Sunday school, youth group, worship, fellowship, and ultimately bringing my own kids to be baptized, I have never experienced what I refer to as a “direct and powerful encounter with God”. A burning bush experience if you will. Thankfully, I have lived a life of blessing with minimal trials, none too devastating, at least not compared to some of the struggles I have observed in other people’s lives. I am thankful but, to be honest, I have experienced some envy of people that have stories of direct and powerful encounters with God. I love the Lord and as I grow older I have come to love and trust him more and more. I believe I have been faithful in serving him in many ways in the church and outside the church. I hope I have been an example to others and helped lead people to Christ. Recently, I saw that Floris UMC was having informational meetings to discuss Race and Reconciliation efforts. I wanted to attend but found that my schedule did not allow me to make it to the meetings. As oftentimes happens with the Lord, missing a meeting does not preclude you from participating in his plans. I happened to see a post about an event on this very subject on the Virginia United Methodist Church Facebook page. The Bishop was hosting an event in Annandale, a mere 10 minutes from my house. And, as it happens, my schedule was clear that day. I felt compelled to attend and was joyful and excited about learning more. I signed up and thought that maybe I would see someone from Floris UMC at the event. In fact, there was a good-sized group from Floris UMC that attended, learning about issues around race and our role as Christians in the work of racial reconciliation. What was most exciting for me that day is that I very clearly heard the Lord speaking to me about this issue. I was struck by how clearly I heard him say “this is important to me, I want you to do this work for me”. I could relate to John Wesley’s story of how he felt his heart “strangely warmed” and of the story from Luke about the Road to Emmaus where two men who had encountered the resurrected Jesus asked each other “were not our heart burning in us while he talked with us on the road”. This was a first for me and not only powerful but exciting. I had some nervousness and fear about this issue and what, if anything, was required of me. Suddenly, it was clear and I wasn’t as fearful or nervous. I can’t say that I won’t feel fear or anxiety as this effort moves forward but I have an assurance that God is with me and that I am exactly where I need to be. As I approach the half-century mark, I sometimes think that I have missed opportunities that the Lord had for me, that I got caught up in my life and my plans and that maybe that is why I haven’t felt this way before. I won’t live in regret, that’s not healthy for anyone, but I will work to be more connected to God’s plan, rather than my own. I have come to believe that his way is the only way to experience freedom and blessing and the fullness of life. “There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask "What if I fall? Oh but my darling, What if you fly?" (quote by Erin Hanson)
"Be strong and courageous. The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
I reminded myself of this verse as I started out my very first mission trip Thursday, May 24, 2018. I started out not knowing anyone at all on my mission team and I definitely did not have any construction skills to help rebuild houses in Virginia Beach affected by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. All I knew was that I wanted to serve others and learn from others who I met on this trip. I went in with an open mind and an open heart. I knew God was with me - that's all I needed.
What happened on this trip was nothing short of life-changing. I learned how to install flooring and use power tools. But, most of all, I learned about others on my mission team, the families we were serving, myself and God. My relationship with God deepened during this trip. I prayed relentlessly for God to convey his love through me so that others would be helped. I talked to the owner of one of the houses and it was so nice to relate to her and to form a bond with her. She thanked us so much for our work. When we completed one of the houses, I looked at our work and told myself, "I helped do that." I was in awe of what God did through me. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone and what happened? I grew and expanded to encompass a love for others and God beyond all measure.
God used me to do great things on this trip. I learned a lot about myself, too. I am capable of anything as long as I walk with God and pray for his power and strength to be revealed to me. My drive to serve God at all times was strengthened. I live for him and nothing less. This trip also helped me see that life is not about all the small details that we get stuck in and which make us lose focus on what truly matters. Life is about service, love, grace, forgiveness and letting God transform our lives into beautiful tapestries.
I now want to go on more mission trips and continue my love for serving others, learning from those around me, and listening to how God is speaking to me through his children.
I've identified as a Christian longer than I can remember. I grew up in a Christ-centered family, went to Sunday school and bounced around churches and denominations as I went through college and eventually struck off on my own. Yet, throughout my life as a Christian, I never felt truly at home in my church community. The church I grew up in espoused an elitist, legalistic dogmatic brand of Christianity to which I simply couldn't relate. The church I attended in college consisted of a small faith community composed mostly of elderly members with whom I, as a young college student, had little connection. When I moved to the Northern Virginia area to pursue my graduate studies, I began attending the local mega-church, but found myself lost in the immense crowd of congregants. More than anything, I desperately desired to find a faith community of members who truly cared about others, and took real risks to live Christlike lives.
I found that community home ten years ago when I walked through the doors of Floris United Methodist Church. I was (and, if I'm honest, still am) blown away by the love and generosity shown by the members that comprise the Floris community. I had finally found a community of like-minded believers who truly strove to model Christ's love to those around them; furthermore, I had found a church that wasn't afraid to take risks to spread love and alleviate suffering.
The Floris UMC community is highly active in our own backyard of Northern Virginia, where members work to serve meals to area homeless (FACETs "Hot Meals" Program) and provide tutoring and meals to at-risk youth at a local elementary school. The generosity of the Floris UMC community, however, extends far beyond the reaches of Northern Virginia. In 2000, Floris UMC members and clergy helped found the Child Rescue Centre and Mercy Hospital in Sierra Leone, a ministry that has saved countless lives, driven down infant and maternal mortality rates and served to educate and provide services to over 500 children in one of the poorest countries in the world. If these ministries weren't enough, for as long as I can remember, the Floris UMC clergy have opted to give away the entirety of the offerings collected at Christmas Eve (often totaling several hundred thousand dollars).
To put it simply, the Floris UMC community is deeply special and unique. Unfortunately, the Floris UMC community, like most all brick and mortar churches, has been geographically constrained to those members within driving distance. While I'm highly fortunate to live near Floris UMC and her sister church Restoration Reston, countless others across the globe stand to benefit from entering into the Floris UMC community. That's why I'm incredibly excited be a part of Restoration Worldwide, the first truly virtual Floris UMC campus, which kicks off today. While Floris UMC has live streamed its worship services for years, Restoration Worldwide offers the unique opportunity to break the constraints of physical geography by enabling people from across the world to actually become a part of the Floris UMC community, engage Floris UMC members in online small groups and receive pastoral care from Rev. Ashley Allen, the Restoration Worldwide Minister. And that's just the beginning. We here at Restoration Worldwide plan to roll out new ways for Christ followers across the world to integrate themselves into the Floris UMC community, but we need your help.
- First, give us your feedback. This is an evolving ministry unlike anything we've ever attempted. We need your insight into what works, what doesn't, and what you'd like to see in the future.
- Second, invite your friends and family, however far away, to be a part of our community.
I fell in love with the Floris UMC community ten years ago. The selflessness and compassion of our community stands as a beacon in a dark, hurting world. Please join us as we strive to shine that beacon across the world, to anyone with an internet connection. Come join our community. Welcome to Restoration Worldwide. We're glad you're here.
The post Not Your Parents' Brick & Mortar Church: Welcome to Restoration Worldwide appeared first on Today I Saw God.
Music has been hard for me for the past year or so. I know this seems strange coming from someone whose career is fully entrenched in worship, but at some point it simply stopped bringing me joy and singing started to feel like work. Music the medium from which my very soul and essence were molded no longer brought me alive. I drove to and from work in complete silence and rarely played songs simply for enjoyment while I cooked or cleaned.
This is the second time in my life when this has happened, and I know myself well enough to recognize that this is a cry for help from my soul. I should not be surprised, because last year was the year in which I faced something no one dreams of, yet many experience. My marriage came to an end.
Divorce is terrible. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis likens a divorce to the amputation of both of your legs. Like an amputation, you wake up feeling phantom pains of the parts of you that are now missing. However, rather than limbs, it feels more akin to the removal of part of your soul, your identity and your future. In a world that once felt secure, you suddenly feel completely off balance as your finances, living situation, friendships and identity all change in an instant. In marriage, you open yourself up to trust another human being with your most intimate and vulnerable pieces, so to realize that person is possibly someone else entirely creates a chasm that is incomparable to any other type of grief.
I've spent the last year alone as we worked through the separation. The year prior was spent in very serious spiritual discernment. This decision did not come lightly and followed years of counseling and professional guidance. I would not recommend or wish this outcome on anyone, yet I can say without hesitation that I have learned a tremendous amount about life, relationships, and myself through this journey.
I have learned that you should never judge another family's decisions, because it is very possible that you have no idea what is going on behind closed doors.
I have learned that some couples are able to work through hardship and breaches of trust, so long as both parties are committed to growth and true repentance.
I have learned that I do not have the power to change, fix or save anyone no matter how much I want to.
I've learned that no one knows how to act around grieving people, but really the best thing you can do is simply show up over and over again. Listen -love – repeat.
I am slowly learning the beauty of community and vulnerability. Unfortunately I walked a lonely path for a long time by isolating myself and carrying secrets that felt too shameful to share. However, once I opened myself up to sharing the darker parts of my life, I was able to find a community of women for whom this is also a reality. I found that I can in fact trust others with the darkest parts of myself and that this is what God wants for us. If you are currently harboring pain alone, I beg you to find someone you trust.
The past few years will not make it to my top ten list of favorite years, but I have hope for the next one. My goal for 2018 is to focus on rebuilding my life and becoming the person God intended for me to be. I hope to stop pleasing people and start pleasing God. I will strive to heal and recover from the brokenness I have experienced, and to use it to minister to others. As clich as this sounds, I truly need to spend some time getting to know who I am and learn to love myself.
Divorce feels like a death and I can't say that I feel fully alive yet. However, last week something beautiful happened. Alone in my new apartment, I turned on a gospel station on Spotify. Slowly, I found myself tapping my toes, then singing along, and eventually I was fully dancing to the music in my kitchen. I may not be there yet, but as the music, God, therapy and healthy relationships continue to heal me, I know that soon and very soon I will be alive again.
Mary and Joseph bring their baby boy to the temple in Jerusalem eight days after his birth- around New Years Day on our calendar. This is an expected rite required by the law of Moses. It is at this ceremony that the newborn is given his name. The gospel of Luke tells us,"On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived." (Luke 2:21 NIV).
Names are pretty important. They are usually selected with great care. Often there is an important reason they are chosen. It is very common to name a first born son after his father. In my family we have a Bailey Hendricks Gray IV meaning four generations have named their sons after their father. In my husband's family, his mother is named Angelina. She is named after her paternal grandmother. Each of Angelina's six children named a daughter Angelina. Clearly those children wanted to honor their mother!
So here they were, Mary and Joseph naming their first born son, Jesus. I wonder what that was like for Mary and Joseph. Both had been given clear instructions by the angel. They were told separately – Luke's gospel tells us about Mary's visit and Matthew's tells us about Joseph's visit- to name the child Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew) which means "He saves." When did they first discuss the naming instructions? Was Mary concerned that Joseph would be disappointed? Was Joseph worried what others would think of them breaking with tradition? Would they tell the crowd that angels gave them this name or keep it to themselves?
Surely Mary and Joseph must have wondered, "He saves what? How does he save? When will he save?" It seems none of that was laid out for them, however, it was clear was big things were in store for this little boy. Mary and Joseph being the faithful servants they were did exactly what the angel instructed. They had no idea what was ahead yet they took the next faithful step on this journey of theirs. They named him Jesus/Joshua/He saves.
As I consider another new year, I wonder what surprises might be ahead for me? Will I be as faithful as Mary and Joseph to follow where God leads? Will I take the next faithful step when I have so very little information about where it leads?