Today I Saw God
Some of the best moments of my life have been marked by the decision to hold hands and pray.
One of the places where I have learned the most about holding hands and praying isThe Lamb Center, a day shelter for homeless and poor individuals in Fairfax. Many of the guests that spend the night at our church when we host the Floris Guest House each year spend their days as guests of The Lamb Center.
At The Lamb Center, we hold hands and pray at least six times a day as a community. We pause, we gather, we join hands and we bow our heads. We talk to God about what has happened so far in our day and what is coming next. We acknowledge how much we need our Heavenly Father and how much we need each other. We say thank you, and we ask for help. No fancy words or rituals, just a moment to say,"We love you too, Lord."
In this community, prayer is a part of the moment-by-moment rhythm of each day, as natural as breathing. If I'm honest, this kind of "praying without ceasing" is a way of living to which I have always aspired personally but have never been able to consistently maintain on my own.
One of my favorite times of prayer at The Lamb Center happened this past summer. In June, after years of waiting and hoping, we celebrated our beautiful, brand new building with an enormous party. Over 400 people wandered through and took tours of the place God built in answer to thousands of prayers. Community leaders spoke, we cut a red ribbon with giant scissors and we took hundreds of pictures. It was a day brimming with joy, laughter and gratitude.
Two years before, we set out to raise $4.5 million to build a more welcoming place of respite for poor and homeless individuals in our community. When the party started that Sunday, we were joyfully celebrating the fact God had already provided $4 million toward our goal through the generosity and prayers of his people, an amount beyond our wildest dreams.
When the party ended, as if all of the above wasn't enough, we found out someone had agreed to pay the final balance on the building. All $4.5 million was provided, and the building is paid in full! Without a mortgage, we will be able to pour all future donations into services for our guests. As we held hands and prayed our closing prayer of gratitude that day, I was not the only one in tears. Truly, a miracle!
So what is the message here? If we hold hands and pray six times a day, God will give us $4.5 million and the desires of our heart?
Not really. But maybe?
Holding hands and praying together is full of hard things like humility, vulnerability,intimacy and expectations. We admit we don't have all the answers and we need help. We acknowledge our lack of control and our reliance on things much bigger than ourselves, both God and the power of community. We let down our guard, and we take off our masks of superiority, pride and independence. We can't see what is coming when we bow our heads and close our eyes. As we widen our circle, we discover some of our hands are a little bit dirty, or sweaty, or freezing cold. Sometimes, holding hands and praying together can be uncomfortable or awkward.
Yet, every single time I hold hands and pray with someone else, I experience the tangible presence of God. I can't always say the same when I pray alone. We reach out our hand and humble our hearts to pray:
- gathered at the table about to share a meal with people we love
- headed out to serve for the day on a mission trip
- preparing to go on stage with fellow cast members
- enjoying coffee in a dear friend's living room
- searching for healing and answers in the face of illness, anger, tragedy or grief
Holy and profound things happen when we hold hands and pray. Healing, forgiveness and transformation happen when we hold hands and pray.
Miracles happen when we hold hands and pray.
Originally published on www.kellyjohnsongracenotes.com.
For the past two years, I have volunteered at the Floris Guest House with many other members of my church family. The Floris Guest House is special to me personally because it is an overlap of two important parts of my life. The guests we serve at the Floris Guest House during the evening hours are often the same guests we serve at The Lamb Center during the day.
The Lamb Center, where I have been volunteering since 2008, is a local day shelter for homeless and poor individuals located in Fairfax City. The Lamb Center is a Christian organization dedicated to providing a place of respite to those in our community who may not have anywhere else to go. The Lamb Center guests have access to breakfast and lunch, as well as showers and laundry services. Dedicated staff and volunteers are there to assist those who visit with accessing other services they might need, such as healthcare, mental health services, job placement and veteran benefits. The Lamb Center offers two Bible studies every day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and the community gathers to pray seven times a day. While Bible study and prayer are always optional, the care given to each individual who walks through the door is offered with the hopes that they will know how very much God loves them.
In the years since I began serving weekly at The Lamb Center, I have been stretched. Initially, I was overwhelmed by my sense of inadequacy in the face of such great need. I was moved and humbled by the stories of the people I met around the Bible study table each week, yet what could I do to help? What did a wealthy suburban mom have to offer someone living in the desperate circumstances many of these folks find themselves in?
Simply put, I have myself to give. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I can offer my friends at the shelter my love, my listening ear, the touch of my hand, a warm hug, a moment of prayer or a kind word. I have my unique life experiences to offerthe losses I have survived, the pain I have felt, the joy of knowing God and the wisdom of following God. I have my love of God's word to share and the knowledge that the promises within are for every single one of us, regardless of our circumstances, our resources or our past.
I have me to offer, a gift no one else can give.
In the years I have spent with my friends at the center, I have received more than I have given. Through my involvement in this holy community, I experience God's presence and I am changed. God takes my willingness to offer myself, and like the story of the loaves and fishes, God multiplies my humble gifts to feed his hungry children. I pour myself out and I am filled. The kingdom of God at work!
My story is true for each one of us. I am lucky to be part of a church that offers so many different opportunities to serve both in the church and in the larger community. We each have unique gifts to give to a hurting world, but we must be willing to leave behind the comfortable and the familiar. Our stories can bring healing to others but only if we are willing to share them.
The Lord says he will guide us always, but first we must say yes!
"If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungryand satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden,like a spring whose waters never fail." Isaiah 58: 10-11.
Learn more about The Lamb Center at TheLambCenter.org.
Recently I shared how one of our ministries, the Floris Guest House, came to be. Earlier this year we finished our third Guest House, where we hosted 40 or so individuals at our church for a week as a part of a greater ecumenical coalition (group of churches) that hosts the homeless from December to the end of March in partnership with FACETS, a local social service agency.
This year, 239 volunteers gave over 1,400 hours to serve our neighbors. In addition to a warm place to sleep, volunteers provided new winter clothing and boots, hot showers, warm meals and games and activities.
When we planned our first year of this program, one of the questions that came up was what we were going to name the program. Since we already had a "hypothermia program" via our partnership with Cornerstones (another local social service agency), we didn't want to confuse the congregation with another hypothermia program.
As a group, we wanted the program to have a stronger feeling of hospitality and warmth than just a normal hypothermia program. Obviously, ensuring that the homeless have a warm place to sleep during the winter months was the priority, but we also wanted to set the tone for how we would interact with our guests.
The term "guests" kept coming up. That's how we wanted to refer to our friends that would be staying with us and that's how FACETS asked us to reference those needing shelter. We ultimately decided the "Guest House" fully encapsulated the tone and intent of our program. A reading from Luke 14:12-14 better explains what the team was thinking when they came up with the name:
"And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, 'When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'"
We knew that this program would not only bless our neighbors, but it would also bless our congregation. As hosts to our guests, our members and volunteers sought to be warm, loving and hospitable. By calling it "Guest House," we set a tone of hospitality that is evident in how people are treated and in the services we provide.
It's been an amazing three years of the Guest House, and I look forward to working with you on next year's program!
The Floris Guest House is a week-long hypothermia shelter held at Floris UMC in partnership with other faith communities and social service agencies. Considering we just finished our third year of the Guest House, I thought it would be nice to share how the program started.
From January 24-31, we hosted approximately 40 guests with the help of 239 volunteers and 1,400 hours of service. I worked with a team of 20 people to plan this year's program. While we took a lot of time to plan a great week, we also had a number of challenges and surprises (like Snowzilla) that volunteers and leaders met with humility and patience.
On to the beginning.
For many years, we provided meals to a hypothermia shelter in Reston every Tuesday from December to the end of March. We still do this today. It's called the North County Hypothermia Program, and we partner with Cornerstones to provide the meals. One day, the leader of this ministry and a few dedicated volunteers came to me and said that they wanted to go deeper by working with another organization that hosts the homeless at church facilities.
Typically speaking, when a person comes to me with a ministry idea, I ask them to do more research and discerning. So I asked all the volunteers from the hypothermia program to consider volunteering for another church that was hosting the homeless that winter. Nine members of Floris UMC, including myself, spent evenings at Fairfax Baptist Church, helping them host during their week. I had a few more members go to another Methodist Church in Fairfax and help there. Soon after, I asked that group of volunteers to write a proposal that I could share with the leadership of the church.
When I asked this group what they thought the impact of this program would be, they gave me the following response:
"This ministry will allow Floris UMC to take the next evolutionary step in growing our individual and collective faith and in serving those in need in Fairfax County. When we decided to build the new building we agreed that we were building it to serve the community, not ourselves. With our abundance of space, hands and hearts, this seems like a prime opportunity to test that belief, our commitment to God and to test each other in what we are willing to do as servants of God."
I also asked how this program aligned with the mission of the church:
"This new ministry will be one HUGE opportunity to expand what we are doing for the homeless in the local community while providing an opportunity for many in the congregation and guests to experience giving in profound and transformative ways."
And finally, they provided scripture from Philippians:
"If therefore, there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."
As you can imagine from reading these few short excerpts of a truly exceptional proposal, I was very pleased to present this to church leadership, who all believed that we should most definitely host a hypothermia shelter.
I'll say that from the time that the members approached me to the time this proposal was approved unanimously, I felt the Holy Spirit moving through the process. It was a truly amazing experience that I was honored to be a part of.