Today I Saw God
On my morning walk I decided to take a different path to spice things up so I turned into Middleton Farm. As I walked deeper into the neighborhood I saw a monument sitting on top of a small hill. I felt a nudge to walk up and take a look. The monument read "At Rest Bradley" and there at the base of the monument lay a yellow carnation. Just as I had done the day before in Maryland, someone had stopped by this grave and remembered the lives of those memorialized by this monument.
Why does someone do this? Why take flowers and lay them on a gravesite hidden in a development? My own trip to the cemeteries only a few days ago was about honoring the request my father made before he died. His was a tradition of visiting five family cemeteries on Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Christmas. At each grave he would leave either a yellow or a red rose (I took carnations because, let's be honest, roses are expensive!). My trip Friday was for my Dad, in fact, at the end of the trip I added a visit to his gravesite in Arlington.
As I stood there Sunday morning at the gravesite of the Bradley family I realized others were doing the same thing (and with yellow carnations too!). It occurred to me that it may be more than a ritual. Standing over a family grave is an opportunity to reflect on the lives that are woven into the tapestry of my own life. Friday I visited my grandparent's graves, the graves of their parents and their grandparents. I stood before tombstones with dates as far back as 1865. More than a hundred fifty years and six generations were remembered on that journey.
I thought back to Friday afternoon and how I stood there at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church listening to the church bells belt out the hymn How Great Thou Art and how I sang along, "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home what joy my heart shall find. Then I shall bow with humble adoration and then proclaim my God how great thou art." I realize now that the trip to the cemeteries is more than a promise I made to my dad to care for and worry about the graves of our ancestors. It is a reminder of the cloud of witnesses that now enjoy the presence of God. Remembering them is remembering the importance of family and the promise of eternal life. I am honored and humbled to have the privilege to visit the graves of those who came before me and I look forward to the day when I will meet them and hear their stories.
Does it surprise you to look at these two photos, side by side?
The one on the left is among the tiniest of miracles, a cell in the brain. The one on the right is perhaps the grandest of miracles, the universe. Their similarity is striking.It's all a matter of scale and perspective. One wonders if they aren't both the work of the same hand.
Why waste a perfectly good idea, right? As my friend Mary Lou puts it, "God is the ultimate economist and consummate recycler." When we have the ability to look with appropriate perspective, we may see the signature of the designer.
But I wonder if the similarity isn't just in appearance. Often the structure of a thing gives us clues to its function. Perhaps our growing understanding of the operation of the brain cell may shed light on interactions across our universe. Could what's in us help explain what's outside us and help us manage what's between us?
Is it so far-fetched to think that the God of the universe has intentionally planted the answers to our deepestquestions inside us? Is He patiently waiting for us to find them? I, as a student of the human body, find myself both dumb-founded to consider this and excited to think it might be so. Are God's answers hiding in plain view, waiting to be acknowledged?
Certainly the beginning of new life begs us to consider God's hand in itsmidst. Can there be anything more miraculous? Is there any more convincing witness to the hand of a Divine Creator?
Biblical writers certainly had this same awe, even though they had no ultrasound images to confirm their suspicions:
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth. ~ Psalm 139: 13-15
But let's not stop at the miracle of the development of one body. All of us, the Church Universal, are being formed into the body of Christ.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. ~ Ephesians 4:16
If we were designed to be joined and held together and thus to grow in love as we work together, our world today suggests we are far from God's design. Yet, ifGod intends it, surely He has not made this an unsolvable puzzle. Perhaps the model for us as the Body of Christis suggested in the workings of our own individual bodies.
Allow me, if you would, a moment of speculation as I put on my hat as physiologist. Science demonstrates that the human body is so much more than its anatomy more thanthe skin we can see, the muscle we can bulge, the pulse we can touch, and the breath we can take in. Underneath all of these functions are the delicate and highly regulated interactionswhich make them work: organs and organ systems made up of tissues and cells all contributing what's necessary for life.
The key tohealthy life in the human body: cooperation among systems toco-exist while competing for a fixed supply of resources. Their successfulinterdependence is guided by a simple and familiar principle: to each according to its need. This delicate balance is maintained in response to the demands of life.Survival of the fittest is nonsense within the body because each part is necessary for the survival of the whole body.
No two systems in the human body are alike. Each is specialized for an essential task; none "considers" itself above the rest. How could it? What good would the heart be without blood to circulate? What good wouldthe muscles do without limbs to move? What good is our breath if it can't deliver what it inhales and exhales? What good is our skeleton without ligaments to allow it to stand? What good is a brain without means to connect and communicate? What good is sight without vision or sound without hearing?
Is this an echo of the message in First Corinthians?
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. ~1 Cor 12:17-20
Could our bodies hold God's message for our world?
They demonstrate so beautifully and seamlessly the choreography of interdependent partsnegotiating life, giving and responding obediently for the good of the whole.There is no greater and no lesser, no greed and no hoarding, no scarcity and no hunger. The better the parts work together, the more abundant is the life.
Who in the world could have ever thought of that?
If we are to believe that our God is the ultimate economist and consummate recycler who loves all He created, then God wastes not one bit. Each part is necessary and intended for the good of the whole. Each one is essential to the life of the body. Each interaction effects all others. Unique, for sure. Different, for certain. Interdependent, completely. No exceptions.
It is the genius of perfect living balance:I take only what I need, so you will have what you need. Our ultimate survival may depend on it. So simple that anybody can showyou.
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
"Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you." Galatians 5:1
Several years ago, in the midst of a carpool drop-off, a friend said to me in passing, "Someday I want you to tell me why you always seem so content." If I recall correctly, I laughed and said that my kids and husband might disagree with her characterization but that I would love to have coffee and chat more about it. And I said, "The short answer to your question is my faith. My relationship with God is the source of what I think you are noticing in me."
That was several years ago now, but that conversation and our follow-up discussions popped into my mind when I was thinking about the word "freedom" and what Paul might have been talking about in the verse above. Any joy, peace or contentment that my life manifests is the gift of God's love, grace, mercy and presence in my life.
Simply put, although it sounds a bit sappy, God's love sets me free.
When I am plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit, God's love sets me free from:
- comparison and envy
- perfectionism and people pleasing
- competition and the need to be right/better/smarter
- a world with no boundaries to keep me safe
- guilt and shame about the past
- worry and fear about the future
- the sense that everything is my responsibility/fault/job to fix
- loneliness and isolation
- addiction to self and my narcissistic idiosyncrasies
When I abide in him, God's love, grace and forgiveness sets me free to:
- be brave, be me
- create, imagine, explore, dream, risk, try new things
- be vulnerable and authentic in my relationships
- love and serve others well
- find peace through obedience to the ways of Jesus
- be confident and self-assured
- extend grace to myself and others
- forgive myself and others
- make a difference in his kingdom by sharing my unique gifts
Do I always live in this freedom? No. Sometimes I forget that I am God's beloved child. Sometimes I get distracted. Sometimes I get insecure and petty and confused and scared.
But then I remember.
I remember that I am loved beyond all measure. My heavenly father delights in me.
I remember that I belong to God and that he will never, ever leave me alone to figure out life by myself. God has my back.
I remember that I have the mind and spirit of Christ within me at all times. If I listen, God makes me wise.
I remember what Jesus said about focusing on the most important thing: love God with all our heart, soul, mind and spirit and love others well. God loves people through me.
I remember that I am made in God's image. Therefore, when I am abiding in God's power, I am creative, loving, gifted, equipped and sent out by him. When I temporarily forget and act otherwise, through Jesus, I am forgiven and I can try again. And again. And again.
I remember that God wants to partner with me, and with you, in bringing his kingdom down to earth. We get to be on Team Jesus! We can fight for justice, feed the hungry, love the unloved and be light in the darkness. We have the power to change our little corner of the world by being brave and following Jesus to heal our broken world.
When we stay connected to God, we are free!
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com.
I'm still relatively new to Northern Virginia, but in my year of living here, one thing stands out far more than the horrific traffic, the well-educated population and even some of the social and political crises we face on a regular basis. Our busyness requires so much attention for the things we have to do that we have squelched our creative capacities for thinking about the people and communities we could become. Of course, bright lights of imagination and innovation pop up around us all the time. But I think we can all identify with the rut that work days and weeks can become.
In this rut, we rush past our neighbors (if we even know their names to begin with) to get to our cars, become our worst selves as our rage boils over in traffic, work with only the day's end in mind, endure more traffic and come home to more tasks, crises or sheer exhaustion. Our tasks dictate our lives beyond a reasonable measure of responsibility. Do we ever ask, "Does it have to be this way?"
Yes, work is good and necessary. And yes, not everyone has the privilege of asking these kinds of questions. But no matter your career or professional trajectory, Jesus offers something far more meaningful than a monotonous daily grind.
You don't have to quit, retire or get fired to experience the new life Jesus offers. In fact, Jesus offers us the Holy Spirit, whom we can invite into every moment of our lives as God's constant, loving presence. This gift isn't confined to your particular worship community on a given day, but can in fact fuel your imagination for a new routine.
Imagine what could happen if we took Jesus' call to love our neighbors seriously, beginning with those who live right next door. Imagine what could happen if our commutes turned into opportunities to (safely and hands-free) call friends or partners in faith to encourage and stay connected to one another. Imagine what could happen if we saw our co-workers as fellow human beings who experience joy, sorrow, beauty and pain just like we do. Imagine what could happen if home became a rejuvenating place, even as you check items off your to-do list.
My generalizations cannot possibly give you solutions to breaking out of your own rut, but right now, take five minutes and ask that question: "Does it have to be this way?" Like we encourage recent college graduates in Wesley Fellows, you do not have to join a convent or work at a church to take Jesus' call to discipleship seriously in your life. However, you do need to take time to imagine who you want to be and consider what steps you can take to get there. Don't be afraid to unleash your creativity; this God-given gift, expressed in countless different ways, helps us achieve the unimaginable.