Today I Saw God
When I was growing up, the calendar in our kitchen was always full of Mom's notes about her volunteer activities. She was active in the PTA for a while as well as multiple nonprofits and regional committees related to causes she was passionate about. My dad's way of supporting her passion usually involved helping to set up or put away chairs at an event or making endless pots of his signature chili beans and cornbread for potlucks and fundraising events. Given their examples of service, it's no surprise that I have held the same value as a high priority in my life.
That said, serving on Floris UMC's Church Council as lay leader was not on my mind at all before I was invited to consider it. I was familiar with what would be required; I had served in other laity leadership roles in my previous Methodist church. What I realized when I was asked to pray about serving is that I was holding a certain idea of the lay leader role based only on those prior experiences. Lay leaders I'd known in past churches were often long-time members, frequently retired folks, who demonstrated consistent discipleship and who sometimes filled in for the pastor when he or she was on vacation. I'm thinking of two of these people right now as I type this. They were and still are people I greatly admire because of their example.
The same examples that make me smile now felt like intimidating, self-imposed pressure in that initial conversation about serving at Floris UMC. "Who am I, as just an ordinary person in midlife, to say I have a life of faith all figured out?" I remember thinking. That, and the fact that I have a wonderful career that involves a bit of travel and family members that periodically need my help as a caregiver, also felt like good reasons to decline. I was concerned to say yes and then let others down. You may be thinking the same about yourself and your life as you read this.
But something happened when I prayed about this. I remembered that service is not about perfection, and it certainly isn't about knowing all of the answers. My belief about leadership, in particular, is that it takes just as much humility as it does confidence because you are guaranteed not to know everything all the time. I also gave myself a bit more credit for the consistency of my existing faith practice even as I considered how serving in the role could add to my spiritual growth. Finally, I thought about one of the reasons I was so attracted to Floris UMC to begin with: a clear passion for making a difference that you can sense in the people and activities. So, after prayer, a thoughtful conversation with our lead pastor, Rev. Tom Berlin, and our Church Council chairperson, Rick Auman, I said yes. I have loved serving as lay leader for nearly four years now.
It is bittersweet for me to think about my service as lay leader ending this December. It has been a privilege to represent our congregation on Church Council. I know we're encouraged not to be prideful, but do you all realize how extraordinary you are? I've loved seeing people of all ages get commissioned on mission trips, serve as summer camp or Hutchison volunteers, take the next step toward baptism or confirmation or play the all-important role of usher or greeter so our hospitality is on full display for everyone who approaches our campus. I talk about our church and its people all the timejust ask anyone in my circle who doesn't attend here. One of my favorite parts of this role has been seeing people who started as visitors come back and claim Floris UMC as their new church home. When I volunteer at Coffee with the Pastors, I frequently hear new members say it was our warm welcome and our sense of community that played a big role in their decision to join us.
I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask you one question: What comes to mind for you when you think about volunteering in a leadership role at church? Does it make you curious? Nervous? Excited? You might still have concerns about it or questions about what type of opportunity would be a good fit for you. I would love to talk with you about that and want to assure you that having a conversation does not mean you're committing yourself to something. Remember what I said about my own journey: it may take time to discern your next step, and we all have different gifts that could be used in ways that we don't even see yet. It starts with listening.
In fact in the end, it was one of my favorite quotes (below) from Marianne Williamson that reminded me that service is about listening to what you believe God is calling you to and then stepping forward in faith, trusting that he will equip you for the journey. If nothing else, I hope you'll take the time to pray about what God is calling you to in this season of your life. You might just be pleasantly surprised at what you discover.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Christmas is a season of giving as Christians celebrate God's most wondrous gift, Jesus ChristGod with us, born in a manger, a Savior for all the world. In response to what God has given, Floris United Methodist Church (Floris UMC) has a tradition that celebrates Christmas through giving. Using themes such as "Blessed to be a Blessing," or "It's Not Your Birthday," those attending Christmas Eve services at Floris UMC are invited to give generously to an offering that is dispersed locally, domestically and abroad to both do good and advance God's kingdom. Many who participate in this annual offering find it a great source of joy.
Once the offering plate and time has passed, however, the responsible steward may wonder, "Whatever happened with that offering I made on Christmas Eve?" Beyond covering project costs for short-term mission trips, the report below provides a short summary of a specific project made possible and totally funded by the 2014 Haiti portion of the Christmas Eve offering.
Floris UMC began sending short-term mission volunteers to participate in Haiti rebuilding efforts after the devastating earthquake of 2010. Over a three-year recovery period, six different Floris United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams traveled to various parts of Haiti to assist in reconstruction projects identified by the Methodist Church of Haiti (EMH). As rebuilding and disaster relief ended, Floris UMC aligned with the Haiti Partnership to work collaboratively with Haitian partners for sustained community development. With project costs covered by the Christmas Eve offering, Floris UMC sent its first team to Hermitage, a small agrarian and fishing village in the Bainet region of Haiti in March of 2015. There they discovered a need, which future Christmas Eve dollars could readily address.
Viewing access to clean water and basic sanitation as a primary human need and essential cornerstone to further community development, $10,000 of the Christmas Eve offering was used to purchase materials and hire local laborers to build a modernized bathhouse to serve the village church, school and Hermitage community. The sanitary block uses water from a previously completed clean water project that pipes water from one main source to three different communities. The completed bathhouse has four toilets, a shower and two sinks.
Future projects for this community that Christmas Eve dollars may partially fund include the installation of an irrigation system to enhance agricultural development or the establishment of a tilapia farm to increase local job opportunities. Beyond Hermitage projects, any remaining Christmas Eve dollars will be used to cover associated project costs for Floris UMC short-term teams traveling to Haiti to contribute to Hurricane Matthew response efforts.
Learn more about Floris UMC involvement in Haiti or upcoming short-term mission trips.
Editor's Note: In May 2016, a group of Floris UMC adults traveled to South Carolina to assist in rebuilding houses affected by recent floods. The following is a blog submitted by those group members.
When we pulled up to our worksite, it was about 100 degrees outside. We arrived at a small, one-story house that had been victim to a flood that damaged the walls and floors and left the roof barely functional. After looking around a bit, the veteran mission trip members in our group hit the ground running. We rookies followed suit.
Each room in the house had a large pile of furniture in the middle and a fresh coat of paint from the team that came before us. Those of us who were new to construction each took a partner to guide us. Within a few hours, we were carefully painting floorboards, laying engineered wood and installing door handles.
As we were working, I wondered to myself, "Why do we go on mission trips? What if we just raised money instead? Don't the costs of travel and lodging just exacerbate the problem?" I often entertain different perspectives regarding my faith, and I was eager to think and pray about these questions throughout the trip.
On our second day, it started raining in the morning and didn't let up for hours. The water reached about eight inches in the backyard. If the roof wasn't finished that day, the house would flood again and the roof and flooring would be damaged. Tropical Depression Bonnie required the group to work even faster and harder than the day before. I got on the roof for the first time and was very wary of slipping off the edge.
By midday, I and the rest of the roofing team were completely drenched in rain, and we were freezing. We kept working until the homeowner, Mazelle, came to see the progress. She brought her grandson and nephew with her.
Frankly, I was too scared of slipping and falling off the slick ladder to come down. So I just squinted and waved to them from above. I looked over at Mazelle and then back over to the team members giving their best efforts to finish the job.
Seeing her delight in the projects around her house filled me with enthusiasm and clarity. Despite the discomfort, everyone worked joyfully and with great attention to quality, like they would on their own home.
In Galatians 6:2, the Bible reads, "Bear one another's burdens, andso fulfillthe law of Christ." Therein lies the answer to my questions about mission trips.
Relationships and conversations are transformative and bind us to each other and Christ. To place ourselves in the physical space of the afflicted is how we relate to other humans and empathize with their suffering.
And, as a bonus of this particular trip, it is also how we make hilarious new friends, discover the terror of South Carolina toads, try new hobbies, explore Southern cuisine and learn how to install a doorknob.
Editor's Note: Last week seven middle school students and twoleaders traveled to Winchester, Virginia to participate in a Jeremiah Project (JP) mission camp. Students help with a wide range of home repair opportunities, from painting to building wheelchair ramps. The following is a blog post from two of the students, Audrey Kim (A) and Grace Horner (G).
Where did you do good work on this trip?
A: On Thursday, we cleaned some stairs at our homeowner's house with bleach. It was kind of nasty since all the moss that was there started to ooze off and drain down the steps. We also had to do some skirting work on the trailer, and while a lot of us were afraid of what was underneath, the adult leaders on our work group took charge and crawled underneath the trailer.
G: On Tuesday we went to our homeowner's house. We had an original job list to do when we arrived, but we ended up doing much more at our worksite. It wasn't because our homeowner, Mr. Hess, was demanding but rather because he was such a nice and passionate man that it was very easy to say yes to him. We managed to finish the latticework on his desk, weed and mulch his flower beds and paint a flower planter in front of his home. We also push-mowed his entire yard.
Was there something memorable that the homeowner said to you?
G: Mr. Hess had a lot to share with us while we were on the worksite. He shared a lot about his love for trains and also about his wife. One thing he said stuck with me: "Life goes by in an afternoon, and it goes by even quicker when you have someone special to share it with." It was really clear to me that Mr. Hess loved his wife, and while his wife passed away four years ago, he still talked about her as if she were still with us.
Jeremiah Project invites homeowners to a dinner on Thursday night, and Mr. Hess was able to join us. He shared a few words with the camp that night. He said that every time he is able to share stories of his wife, she comes back to life for a few moments. Even though we were only sitting there listening to him, it was really cool to help share that with him.
Where did your faith grow?
A: My faith grew during this trip, especially trusting in not only God but also other people. I received so much support from all the campers, the JP Staff and the adult leaders, which made it easier for me to step out of my comfort zone and do adventurous things.
G: I think I saw my faith really grow after dinner on the last night. I felt that I was in an emotionally vulnerable space because of what Mr. Hess shared with us. I was in a place where I was exactly where I wanted to be. I didn't want to be doing anything else, anywhere else.
During worship, I sang along with all the songs because I knew them so well. And during the message, it felt like our speaker was speaking directly to me. Our topic last night was putting on the helmet of salvation from Ephesians 6:13-17. Even though I have been told my entire life that "Jesus died for my sins," it actually clicked for the first time during worship. It was such a profound moment, and it was so amazing for it to happen at this place where just an hour before, I was splashing around in puddles in the pouring rain.
What was fun about your service?
G: While we did not get to see our own progress day-to-day on one particular worksite, it was amazing to meet the homeowners each day and see how much they appreciated the work we were doing.
The goal of our work wasn't to get pats on the back for what we did, but it gave me such a great feeling when I saw with my own eyes that the work we did was really important.
Editor's Note: This week seven middle school students and twoleaders traveled to Winchester, Virginia to participate in a Jeremiah Project (JP) mission camp. Students help with a wide range of home repair opportunities, from painting to building wheelchair ramps. The following is a blog post from one of the students, Sean Egan.
In Winchester, we worked with our homeowner, Ms. Brown. Her home was in a beautiful place and a quiet neighborhood. It was decorated with many crosses, and she had a lot of pictures of her children, grandchildren and even her great-grandchildren.
At Ms. Brown's home, we painted a wheelchair ramp and removed and replaced the caulk in her bathroom tub. The Jeremiah Project believed that the moldy caulk in her bathroom was becoming dangerous so we were tasked with removing it for Ms. Brown's safety. We had to take putty knives to the existing caulk and remove it. As we were cutting out the old caulk, the unmolded caulk on the inside oozed out.
Ms. Brown was a quiet woman so we didn't really have long conversations. However, I noticed that she used her few words and actions to show how kind she was. For example, when we arrived at her home on the first day, she wasn't there, so we just started working. We worked all day, and then, a few hours before we finished for the day, she arrived. She told us that she was visiting her sister in a home for people with dementia. After she got home, she said hello to us and then called her sister to let her know that she got home safely and that she loves her.
I think God showed through the many selfies we took. Yes, believe it or not, the group took well over 150 selfies with one of the JP junior staff's phones. Taking these selfies helped us bond as a crew on our first day together. They helped us stay loose on our worksite and kept us energized as we took breaks under the hot sun. Having the ability to goof off a little helped us make it through a hard day of work.
Altogether, this trip was a great experience as we worked on Ms. Brown's house with our workgroup to help her live a life that's just a little more comfortable.