Today I Saw God
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?
Have you ever been surprised by a moment of God's grace? Maybe you haven't been bopped over the head by a tidal wave of undeniable grace, but what about a precious moment? Living with our hearts and eyes open helps prepare the soul for an encounter. I had one recently. It happened so fast; I wasn't prepared. But it was definitely God's grace.
I've been volunteering at Hutchison Elementary School with the PALS program since it's inception nine years ago. (This program matches elementary students with adult mentors once a week.) Five years ago, I began meeting with a young boy named Josue. He was in the fourth grade at the time and is now a freshman at Herndon High School.
After Josue moved on to middle school, I began meeting with his sister, Emily, and his brother, Jonathan. Josue had told them all about "Miss Becky," and they wanted the chance to meet with me too.
Emily is just finishing fifth grade, and Jonathan is moving to third grade next year. I meet with Emily and Jonathan on the same day but at different times. I bring LEGOS, crafts, books, games and drawing supplies throughout the year. I spend 30 minutes with them, and we talk about their life, struggles and joys. Their life is very different from mine in many ways. I feel fortunate to have been with the same family for so many years.
Recently the kids told me their mom works at Potbelly Sandwich Shop in Herndon. In between my meetings with the kids, I have often gone to Potbelly to get a sandwich and read in a booth until it's time to go back to Hutchison. The other day I decided to ask about their mom. I was early so the lunch crowd had not yet arrived, and I was the only one in line.
As I ordered my sandwich, I glanced at each of the workers behind the counter to see if I could spot a family resemblance, but I could not. As my sandwich glided through the toaster, I had to ask, "Is there a Martha who works here?" The woman who was about to put lettuce, tomato and mayo on my sandwich looked up and smiled at me. The woman next to my sandwich maker nodded and said, "That is Martha."
I smiled and said hello. I told her that I meet with her kids each week at Hutchison. And then I experienced that precious grace moment I was talking about: her eyes opened wide, and she said, "You?! You are Miss Becky?!" The recognition in her eyes was priceless. Her English wasn't perfect but she told me her kids' favorite day of the week was Tuesday, the day they get to see Miss Becky.
My heart warmed with her unexpected blessing. Showing up at Hutchison, week after week for nine years could be called obedience. But this meeting, while I was thanking Martha for making me a sandwich, is where God touched us both by a surprising moment of grace.
Submitted by Becky Kendall.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." – Matthew 28: 19-20
I saw God quite unexpectedly during a recent work trip to India. As a South Asia specialist at a Washington D.C.-based think tank, I travel to India fairly frequentlyat least once or twice per year. The preparation for the trips and the trips themselves (usually lasting 2-3 weeks) typically result in me missing a few Sundays of church, which is always disappointing for me.
However, this trip was different, mainly due to a young India woman, Ms. Priya Paul. Priya helped facilitate my visit to Visakhapatnam, located in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. I was in Visakhapatnam to participate in a conference and to learn more about India's fastest growing state (in economic terms) and the important commercial and economic linkages between the U.S. and India. Did you know that one in four people living in Andhra Pradesh have family connections in the U.S.? Amazing, huh? Especially considering Visakhapatnam (or Vizag, for short) is around 8,000 miles from Washington, D.C.!
Priya was a reassuring presence from the start. She met me upon my arrival at the Vizag airport, took me to my hotel and then made sure I was comfortable and able to get to where I needed to be over the next few days. I knew from Priya's last name that she was a Christian, but the topic did not arise immediately. On our second day together, however, we started to talk about our faith and what an important role it played in our lives. Priya asked if I would like to attend church with her on Sunday. The conference ended Saturday evening, and Sunday happened to be my only free day of the entire two-week trip before I headed back to the U.S. I decided going to church with Priya would be a perfect way to spend my last day in India.
Before church, Priya took me to her place of work, a small housing design company called Honeyy Group. She introduced me to her colleagues and showed me around the office. The company started up only a year prior but was doing quite well, and I was happy to meet several of its female employees.
Then we headed off to Priya's church, Christ's Church Vizag One, headed by pastor Ravi Royal. When we arrived at the open-air service, the congregants were singing praises and clapping joyfully along with a drummer, guitarist and keyboardist. During the sermon, Pastor Royal was kind enough to have his wife, Sulochana Royal, translate in English for me. In Andhra Pradesh the predominant language is Telugu.
I learned from Sulochana that Dr. William Carey, a British Christian missionary, translated the Bible into several Indian languages in the early 1800s. Incidentally, he also translated the Hindu classic epic poem, the "Ramayana," into English. I had seen a performance of the "Ramayana" when I lived in India many years ago.
After the service, Pastor Royal and his wife invited me to their home for lunch. I enjoyed getting to know their two young daughters, Nasya and Tiqwah. They both liked attending school. One commented that her favorite subject was Indian history, and the other enjoyed English literature. When I asked who her favorite author was, she immediately responded with Roald Dahl. I shared that my sister, an elementary school teacher, loved Roald Dahl's book, "Matilda," so much that she had named her daughter Matilda, who is now eight years old.
I am so grateful to Priya and Pastor Royal and his family for opening their church and home to me. Instead of another Sunday, missing church due to work responsibilities, I was able to honor my faith and expand my understanding and experience of God by worshiping in another culture.
As part of my career, I have been a student of India for nearly 25 years. It is wonderful to be able to connect my work and faith in a truly meaningful way.
I hope to visit Vizag again soon!
Submitted by Lisa Curtis.
Editor's Note: The Floris Guest House is a program at Floris United Methodist Church (Floris UMC) in Herndon, Virginia. During one week in January, Floris UMC hosts about 40 homeless individuals each night 5 p.m.-7 a.m. Guests receive a hot dinner, breakfast, a place to sleep, a shower and the opportunity to participate in various evening activities. The following post was written by one of the Floris Guest House 2017 volunteers, Susanne Keating.
I have a new friend. (My kids would exclaim, "You always say you have a new friend!") And they are right. I love to meet new people and develop new relationships. Maybe that is why I enjoyed my time at the Floris Guest House.
This year my new friend seemed to know me before we were even introduced. We immediately hit it off and started chatting about the beautiful facilities at Floris UMC and her appreciation for the hospitality shown by our congregation.
When she told me she was originally from Atlanta, I asked if she would help me brainstorm ideas for food to represent the Atlanta Falcons on Super Bowl Sunday. She rattled off a list that included Brunswick stew, peach cobbler, peach sweet tea and more. We debated the merits of frozen peachesI was skeptical!
I confessed that I am not a very confident cook, which is especially embarrassing to me because my grandmother was a home economics teacher. Then my new friend asked me what I like to eat, and we began the first of many "cooking lessons." Over the course of the week I took very detailed notes.
Early on she diagnosed my biggest challenge as a cook: I lack patience. My friend explained each recipe slowly and lovingly while I peppered her with questions. She finally said, "Suzanne, be patient!" With each new recipe she emphasized and even demonstrated the need to slowly stir then "Let it be." She often reminded me of the importance of letting the ingredients take their time to develop the perfect flavor.
Most of her recipes began with her saying, "Of course you start with the Holy Trinity!" Thank goodness I remembered something from my grandmother and was able to knowingly nod my head and say, "Onions, peppers and celerygot it!"
She explained how her cooking had evolved over time to entice her daughters to try new foods. She said she was always " reinventing her dishes" as well as imitating her favorite TV chefs. She had a certain apron that put her in a "Julia Child mode," but she also loved Emeril's signature, "BAM!"
At home I worked on honing my cooking skills (and patience). Each evening she shared bits and pieces of her lifeboth the blessings and the challenges. She treated me to a few serenades with her beautiful singing voice.
On our final day together she arrived with a computer she had received from the Lamb Center. She pulled up her Facebook page, devoted to positive messages and inspirational Bible verses. It turned out that for many years she ran a women's ministry that served several cities in the South, supporting women and their physical and spiritual needs. She scrolled through the many fliers and postings she had created over the past few years.
My friend hopes to continue these programs in the near future. She told me that she thinks God brought us together to help hear her voice. I told her I would pray for her success. So I follow her Facebook page and watch hopefully to see her ministries reach the Women of the D.C. area.
P.S. She even helped me perfect the art of cooking kale. My husband says he would even eat it for breakfast.
Editor's Note: During Floris UMC's February 2017 sermon series, "Unburdened," we asked congregation members to anonymously share their stories of forgiveness. The following is one of those stories.
My life changed in July of 2010. I'd quit my job and uprooted my kids from their school and home to move out to Virginia. I took a call halfway across the county from my husband, who had moved a month ahead of us, that left me reeling. He didn't love me anymore, and my future had suddenly, to me, gone sideways.
I spent the next few years sorting through the pieces of my life. An affair, sex and porn addictions, verbal abuse, financial hardship and loss of my support network left me stripped bare. I couldn't imagine forgiving the other women or my husband. I couldn't bare to face the fact that he seemingly didn't care. I couldn't bare coming to church. I couldn't bare happy people. I couldn't bare couples.
I ran. I got a job. I started to tell my friends and family. I started to get my life back. I started talking to God again. I went to counseling. I fought for my marriage and family. I still hated the other women. I still hated my husband.
Then, with God and my support network, I gradually began to step back into my life. I know God placed people in my life to pull me through the darkest moments. I filed for divorce and began another battle. I still hadn't been able to forgive him, or the women, for the destruction of our family.
When the divorce was final, I made a conscious decision to forgive him. I would mentally remind myself that I chose to love my children, which means I can't hate their father. I felt the peace that passes no understanding when I let go of the hate, the hurt, the disappointment and the desire to control. I talked to one of the women. I looked her in the eye and wished her happiness in her life. Without forgiveness in my heart, I would not have had the strength to do that.
Some days I struggle with my decision to forgive him. I try, sometimes more successfully than others, to give it to God. I know God loves me too much to choose bitterness and hate. I chose forgiveness.