Today I Saw God
It is so refreshing to see your newly decorated caps and gowns, photos on the quad and smiling announcements on social media. Whether from high school, college or graduate school, graduation often symbolizes new beginnings and bright futures. However, I also remember a fair share of anxiety around these milestone moments. As we prepare to honor our graduating seniors at Floris United Methodist Church Sunday, June 4, I want to take a minute to address some of the stress and anxiety that so many experience.
Our culture tends to always focus on tomorrow. "What's next?" "Where are you going?" "What are you doing with your life?" This is true of almost any phase, but I can think of no worse time than high school and college for these piercing questions. "Have you chosen your major yet?" "Which college will you go to?" "Are you sure you want to go to a liberal arts school?" "What is your career track?" "Do you have an internship lined up?"
I wish I could tell you that this anxiety-producing conversational style would end after college, but it doesn't. Instead, the questions simply shift a little. "When are you going to settle down?" "Why are you still renting?" "Why aren't you married?" "You know, you are getting a little old. Aren't you worried you won't be able to have children?" People get in such a frenzy over other people's tomorrows that they barely let you enjoy today.
When I was in high school, I hadn't really figured out my future, and this seriously stressed me out. As it turns out, I never really mastered predicting the future, which tells me fortune telling is probably not in my life plan. This is still disappointing. Even in college I had no idea that my chosen career path in education would later come to a screeching halt so I could pursue worship leadership. Slightly older Megan still had no idea what she was doing, and I'm pretty sure I can say the same about my present self.
I see this as a common worry amongst my younger musicians as they fumble about, trying on different titles to see how they feel. Psychologist? Doctor? Musician? Dog walker? CIA operative? However, I'd encourage you to relax a little. It's okay. You're going to be okay. Choosing the wrong school or major freshman year will not ruin your life. It's important to do work, make plans and be responsible, but there is no eleventh commandment that states, "Thou shalt get your life together by eighteen and map out a plan for your entire future by twenty-two." Honestly I don't even think it's possible to have your entire life planned even by forty-two or fifty-two. My experience has taught me that God's will and call on my life might morph and change over time. What is appropriate for me now might not be where God leads me a year from now.
God does not call us to have the perfect plan. Rather, God calls us to abide in him. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love each other. Those are the most important commandments. The right career path will reveal itself to you, but often it is easier to discern God's calling in your life when you are truly in relationship with God. When you start to feel overwhelmed with applications, deadlines and an uncertain future, take a minute and return to God's word. Abide in him and carve out time for prayer and meditation. You never know what door God might open or what answer might be provided in the quiet stillness of prayer or while diving into a Bible study.
It's also important during this stressful time that you remember God's call to love others. Kindness and generosity are forgotten relics when we become hyper-focused on accomplishing our next task or getting from point A to point B. When you're considering blowing off your family gathering because you need one more hour to study, don't. Give yourself a break and actually spend time with your loved ones.
For those of you in high school, you might soon be leaving your childhood home forever. You will revisit, but it will never feel the same as it does right now. Some day you'll miss waking up to breakfast on the weekends or late night chats with your sister. That annoying brother will not have as many opportunities to poke fun at you again, and you'll even miss the "Dad jokes." Hug your mom a few extra times and help your sibling with their homework. This time is precious.
For those of you leaving college, there will never be another time like this in your entire life. Embrace your friends, laugh all night and soak in the experiences. Spend some time lounging on the quad and barbecuing with neighbors on their tiny, beat-up grill with cheap frozen hamburger patties you bought by scamming off your parents' Costco membership. If you are too focused on what's next, you'll miss out on the beauty of this special moment.
So go forth, my darling little graduates. Like so many others in your life, I'm overwhelmingly excited for what the future holds for you. However, I'm just as excited for the experiences you are capturing right now. Hold on to them, enjoy them and forget about tomorrow for a minute so you can truly appreciate today.
An old(er) person who gets called "ma'am" occasionally
I don't like to admit it, but it's true. I don't always enjoy explaining what I do. Don't get me wrong, I love working with Wesley Fellows atFloris United Methodist Church. The main reason I don't like explaining what I do is the same reason I'm so excited to serve in this capacity: fellows programs fill a major gap in the church-at-large's ministry. People assume churches don't have ministries geared toward young women and men soon after they finish college. They assume this not because they're ignorant, but because it's generally true.
So now you might understand my conundrum. If I were to say, "I'm a banker" or "I work in cybersecurity" or even "I'm a pastor," my conversation partner would generally understand my profession. But when asked what I do for a living, my response almost always requires further explanation about both the nature of the work and the ministry I'm helping envision. Once people understand, however, I've discovered that this ministry sells itself. People easily jump on board with their affirmation, prayers and resources because they have all too much awareness of the church's poor track record among young, working professionals.
According to thePew Research Center, nearly 23 percent of American adults identify as "nones" or have no religious affiliation. This percentage jumps to 36 percent among Americans age 18-29. I don't point out these percentages to lament religious demographics or shame my own generation, but I believe they point out the changing landscape into which young Christians enter as they begin their adult lives.
Faithful Christianity in the workplace doesn't look the same as it did 10 years ago and won't look the same in another 10 years. Fellows programs, including Wesley Fellows, try to reach students in this zone and help them start their professional careers with a foundation of faith exercised in community. We want to equip students to be faithful Christians and good workers because we believe those two identities are not mutually exclusive.
You'll hear from me a little more in the coming months, hopefully giving you some insight into what shaping this program takes. But if you want to know more about what I do,please ask me. I promise I won't be discouraged to explain what I do.
Editor's Note: This week 24 high school students and five leaders traveled to Reading, Pennsylvania to repair and transform homes and to strengthen and transform their own faith. The following is a blog post from one of the students, Nick Carper.
This whole week has opened my eyes to some new things. The first thing that surprised me was our resident, Helga. We are serving veterans this week, and Helga's husband served in our military.
My crew is working on Helga'shouse, painting her living room, kitchen, staircase and mudroom. Before we could paint anything, we had to scrape the walls due to some significant water damage. The project is so large that there is actually another crew working on a different part of the house at the same time. Thehouse is pretty small and cramped so fitting two crews inside is quite extraordinary.
Even with an extra 12 people in her home, Helga still found a way to hang out with us. Though our purpose is to serve her in her home, she is stillable to be a servant back to us.
To paint the rooms, we had to move a lot of things around.Helga helped us move books and drop cloths.That moment struck me in a big way. I realized that everyone, no matter their age or ability, can help.
Better yet, Helga joined us for devotions at lunch time and shared her view of the Holy Spirit and how it is alive and well in those of us working on the house. She's around all the time talking to us, which has allowed a strong connection to form.
Overall, being here on this trip has helped improve my faith because I'm surrounded by other believers. The ones in our church, the ones at our camp and the ones we run into all over Reading, Pennsylvania.
[Editor's Note: This week, several high school students from Floris UMC are in Memphis, TN with an organization called Service Over Self (SOS). While in Memphis, they will be doing inner city mission work such as working on homes, serving at soup kitchens and helping out at food banks. This week we are sharing some of the stories from students participating in this trip.]
Today I was woken up at 6:30 by the song Sweet Home Alabama being blasted through the halls. After a breakfast of sausage, potatoes and peppers, I expected to be de-shingling all day like we did yesterday. However, about two hours after we began it began pouring (apparently a normal occurrence in Memphis). Our group, led by Ashley Allen, set out to find Memphis BBQ. We brought along our homeowner and her fourteen year old granddaughter. It was interesting talking to our homeowner about her struggles in life and her faith. A few years ago she broke her knee and her doctor told her she would never walk again. She told us "They didn't know my doctor. You know my doctor? I have Doctor Jesus." When we returned from lunch, we intended to get back to work after a short devotional, but instead we spent the time talking and getting to know each other and our homeowner. I was inspired by the testimonies of both of my leaders. I'm super excited to go to chapel tonight and learn more about how God needs to be greater in our lives and we need to be less.
At our worksite today Casey, David, our leader Taylor and I got on the roof and put shingles on the roof of Mr. Charles' home. We have almost re-shingled half of the side we are currently working on. God gave us beautiful weather today to allow us to get lots of work done on our roof. We had a slight mishap and our tarp leaked and caused some of the drywall in one of the bedrooms to fall through. We didn't foresee this problem, but with God's help we were able to clear the debris and were provided with extra workers form one of the other worksites which allowed us to work on the drywall problem and be able to have the maximum amount of people on our roof to shingle and still have some people to flex and help wherever they were needed.
Today was our half-day, so we ended our work in the community and got to go on a prayer tour and see St. Jude's and the Mississippi River. We also went to Frayser, one of the highest crime rate cities in Tennessee and one of the more poverty stricken communities in Tennessee. With God's help, people have started healing in this community and I hope it continues to grow with our work and with the work of others who come after we leave. God also was with our group today as we went to the Caritas Village Community Center. We had the wonderful opportunity to paint boards to be placed in the community and used as public art to help revitalize the community.
This week my work group has been working to repair Ms. Betty's roof. Ms. Betty only has one kidney and has to go through dialysis every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and is not able to take care of her yard and house very well. It has rained every day, except for today, so we have had to cut our work short. Even though this has caused us not to be able to get a lot done it has provided us with the opportunity to get to know our homeowners. This has benefitted both the homeowners and us. One of the big themes throughout this week is relationship and the rain has blessed us with the opportunity to help and build on those relationships.
Another theme this week is the verse John 3:30 "He must become greater and I must become less." This has really caused me to humble myself. This verse makes me think of everyone here and how they always put service over self and how they are putting themselves and God above them. This verse also makes me think about Ms. Betty in how she has gone through so much, yet she is so thankful for the fact that we are there for her and are willing to do this service for her.
My theme this week is you are a princess (or prince). You are a princess because you are the daughter of the greatest king ever. Also Pastor Terrance talked about how we are all created special and we are all created in God's eyes. Princesses are one of a kind people and they don't take "nothing from nobody". We are all royalty in God's eyes because we are special and created for the purpose of telling others about how we are princesses. So my challenge to those who might read this is for everybody to go out and tell one person every day that they are a prince or princess and tell them why.
My son starts first grade this week; he is excited. He has about 1,000 friends, and I'm not a very good social coordinator so school is really his best chance to socialize and be with everyone. Much to the dismay of his teachers, no matter who you put my son next to in class, he will find a way to strike up a conversation with this person. He loves to talk, and he loves people, so everyone is his friend. Everyone has a chance with him.
I love this about him. I want to bottle this up, preserve it and feed it back to him when he's older in case he loses this trait.
Because I wasn't like this when I was in elementary school. As much as I hate to admit it now, I didn't give every kid a chance. I judged; I looked for opportunities to put myself above other people, and I took those opportunities. I was the classic case of an insecure girl who fought her insecurities by putting others down. My motto was to make sure that there were enough other people for bullies to pick on so they wouldn't pick on me.
I was a bully.
Not the "meet me behind the school" type of bully but a bully all the same. I used my influence to mock and torture girls that I didn't like. If you weren't with me, you were against me, and if you were against me, I made it my mission to make sure you regretted that choice. Year after year, I found girls to make fun of and gossip about to my friends for fear that if I didn't, I would be next.
Did I mention that I was a Girl Scout, an active participant at my church and the teacher's pet?
To the vast majority of adults, I probably didn't appear to be the condescending girl that I actually was. Maybe I did, but no one ever called me on it. I was able to continue bullying year after year, and no one ever told me to stop. It never once occurred to me how miserable I was making life for the girls that were subjected to my torture in school over the years.
But we all grow up some day, don't we? And the thing about living in the same town that you grew up in is that sometimes you run into people you knew from elementary school. Or sometimes they friend you on Facebook, and suddenly you remember all the nasty things you said about a person, and you wonder if they remember those things too. You want so badly to apologize, but you don't know if what you said about the person was to their face or behind their back, and you wonder if bringing it up will only make matters worse.
I think about the girls I probably hurt the most: the girls who would never friend me on Facebook, the ones who wouldn't say "hi" if they saw me on the street, the girls I will never have a chance to apologize to in-person. Perhaps the ones who deserve an apology the most and yet are so far removed from my life that I have no way to find them.
That's where God's forgiveness comes in. But, trust me, that was not really a conversation that was super fun to have:
"Hey God, I think it's time we talk about all those times that I insulted those precious daughters who you love so much and created in your image. I basically made them feel like dirt, and I didn't care. I made fun of them because of the way they looked or the way they dressed or because they weren't smart enough. I didn't think they were good enough, and I made sure others knew it. I think we both know why I did this, but since I'm sharing, how about I go first? I did this because I was scared and didn't think I was good enough. I projected my own insecurities on these poor girls and made them suffer for my problems. And now I'm an adult, and I can't take any of it back, and I can't pretend it didn't happen so I need your forgiveness."
But then God answered: "I forgive you. It's not too late. My children are still being bullied. You can still help them."
And with that, my heart became forever changed, and it aches for the kids who are bullied. Not because I was bullied, but because I bullied, and I know how cruel I was.
Students are back in school. For many, like my son, this is an exciting time when they can connect with friends who they haven't seen all summer. But others are terrified, knowing that their summer break from tormenting is over.
Please talk to your kids about bullying. If you don't know what to say, try reading them this letter from Momastery.com. You might not think you need to worry about your children, as I bet my parents didn't think they needed to worry about me, but talk to them anyway.
Last week, I sat down with my son, and I read him the letter, substituting his name as if I had written it to him. And then we talked about what it looked like to be nice to everyone.
Then he looked at me with his big blue eyes, and I could tell he had something really important to ask me.
"Yes, sweetie? You can ask me anything."
"Can I get some water now?"
Talk to your kids. They will listen. And then they will tell you when they are ready to be done.