Archive for the ‘Devotional’ Category

7 Soul Care Practices You May Need Today   Leave a comment

I can’t even look today.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even bring myself to look at the newsfeed today. I have seen enough to know that the news cycle is devastating. This morning my sweet husband told me all I needed to know to know that this will be a news cycle filled with heartbreak, pain, theories, hurt, blame, politicizing and brokenness. There will be images of the aftermath, biographies of the deceased. Today’s cycle will be inevitably be followed with posts of division, conspiracy theories, differing political arguments about gun control, violence, mental illness, and more finger pointing. My soul can’t take this today.

Instead, I humbly offer to you 7 soul care practices you might need today:

  1. Avoid the media/your newsfeed for a while. I understand the temptation to try to understand how something so unspeakable could happen. There is a primal need to understand evil and understand threats to our well-being. But taking in too much bad news will inevitably hurt your soul. I am hanging on to these words from Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”
  2. Go for a walk. Take time to enjoy nature and to appreciate the beauty around you. Where do you recognize beauty? Is it the sunshine? flowers? birds? breeze? Take a deep breath and enjoy this, never taking it for granted. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
  3. Consider the goodness of God. When facing evil, it may be tempting to forget the goodness of God. What is it that you know about God to still be true? God is still good, God is still love, God is never leaving nor forsaking you. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
  4. Spend time with a friend or with family. This is a good moment to call a friend to talk to them. Eat a meal together. Just be around people who care about you. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
  5. Give and receive hugs. This would be a good day to give hugs to people. We need physical comfort and care. Be sure to hug your loved ones today. “Let us love one another.”
  6. Pray. Maybe this should be the first one on a list for soul care because prayer is essential for your soul’s wellbeing. Don’t just post that your “thoughts and prayers are with the victims,” spend time quietly devoted to prayer. Pray for peace, pray for comfort, pray for an end to senseless violence. Pray continuously. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
  7. Work for justice and mercy. We might not be able to help in the specific situation today, we do not have the power to undo the evil that has already happened, but we can find small ways to work for justice and mercy in the places around us. “…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

I wish I could end this post with an explanation about why bad things happen to good people. I wish I could explain why evil exists. I just don’t know the answers, but I do know that we will be okay. We can have hope for the future. We need to hang on to that hope today…and we need to love one another.

Who needs to hear a message of hope from you today?

Be blessed,

Erin

Retreated: 2 Things Learned This Week   Leave a comment

This week I retreated to a camp in Glen Rose, Texas, for three days of spiritual retreat. Going on a minimum 3 day spiritual retreat is a requirement for my ordination in the United Methodist Church. I had a lot of flexibility on how the retreat itself would go.

Inspired by the TED Talk I heard from “planet walker” John Francis, I decided to incorporate silence and not using a vehicle as part of my retreat.

Two things I learned in the process:

1. It is relatively easy to be silent when you’re by yourself, but it is a challenge to be around people without feeling pressured to say something. For most of my time away, I was on the camp by myself. I went for a long walks, I hiked through the forest, I spent time creating art and reading. I was quiet.

In the silence, I was able to rest. I was able to just be, just listen. I noticed things I might have overlooked – the smell of dew in the morning, the sound of deer as they scamper away, even the sound of a bird’s wings flapping. I ate when I was hungry and slept when I was tired.

On the few occasions I walked in to town, people were friendly and I felt compelled to speak. The person I talked to the longest, an elderly man in an antique store, seemed lonely. While a vow of silence seems like a noble idea, sometimes small talk is a compassionate act.

2. Sometimes I have to consciously choose to feel safe. One of the hardest parts about being by myself, especially as a petite female, was getting over feeling anxious about possible dangers. I had to let that fear go in order to feel at peace. The fears of unknown dangers, especially while walking alone at night in the dark, cluttered up my thoughts.

Once I made the conscious choice that I was going to feel safe, I could enjoy nature fully. I was able to pray and sing like no one could hear me. It was only then that I could fully experience God’s presence.

I think it’s worth mentioning that living in a culture that feels dangerous even if the dangers are not real makes spirituality more difficult. When I walk alone at night, a part of my brain is constantly on the lookout for possible attacks, alert for sudden movements around the corner. I cannot be the only woman who feels this way. It’s a bit heartbreaking to have to choose to feel safe. My hope is that by mentioning it we can all work together for more peace, working to create a culture of safety. (Maybe you were expecting me to learn something more profound, and I did learn other things – I spent a lot of time reading, studying, writing and creating. There will be more blog posts to come.)

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. ” 2 Timothy 1:7

Flood – A Pastoral Prayer   Leave a comment

Here is my pastoral prayer from worship today:

God of all creation,

In the beginning, your spirit hovered over the face of the waters. There has not been a time when you have abandoned us.

As we sit here now, the Bible stories we learned as children about great floods have gained new meaning in our lives. We are reminded that, throughout history, you have been faithful to bring your people through floods and across deep rivers.

As we sit here in the safety of this sanctuary, in this dry place, we are reminded of the countless people who are now without shelter of their own. Rain down your comfort and peace on those in need. In the months that come, bring healing to the brokenhearted.

We pray that you will bring out the best of humanity, O Lord, through this crisis. May the hearts of all be softened as we look beyond all the trivial issues which have divided us, and reach for ways to care for one another with your great love. Let the softening of hearts begin within us right now.

When we are faced with storms in our own life, whether it be literal storms or the pains of illness, grief, depression, hurt or loneliness, remind us of your faithfulness. You promise that when we pass through the deep waters, you will be with us. Forgive us when we neglect to depend on you.

We praise you that, from the beginning, you have been the source of living water for us. With hope from you we can dance in the storms.

As your people, lead us to acts of mercy and compassion. Help us to make justice roll down like waters, and  righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Well up within us, O Water of Life.

In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.

Finding the Common Ground   Leave a comment

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” -Philippians 4:8

Which side are you on? Would you say you are on the left or on the right?

As I look through my Facebook friends, my community, my congregation, my extended family – there is so much pressure to pick a side on all the issues. Which issue concerns you the most today? Racial violence? Discrimination? Gay marriage? Immigration? Refugee Crisis? Climate change? Poverty? Employment? McGregor vs. Mayweather?

No question, one glance at the news and you know there are plenty of reasons to be up in arms about something. There are sides that are right and sides that are wrong. We view the world through our personal perspective and cannot understand how anyone can be outraged in a way that is different than our own flavor of outrage. Clearly, your side is right and the other side is wrong, right? It’s tough when people you genuinely love, family members even, feel compelled to share opinions that seem so hurtful and wrong to you. It’s crazy making when total lies are passed on as truth, and no one seems to be questioning things.

I don’t know about you, but I’m just tired of feeling like I have to pick sides on issues, and feeling I need to be either outraged or fearful all of the time. There are definitely reasons to be outraged. I feel manipulated by the news, whether it’s fake news or real news. It’s just exhausting.

But what if there is another option? What if we don’t have to be divided about everything?

As a pastor, I serve a wide range of people. I mean a crazy wide range of people. In my congregation, I have gun-carrying NRA members sitting near pacifist gun control advocates, LGBTQ couples and allies sitting next to gay rights opponents, self-identified liberals and conservatives…name a division, it’s in my congregation. I tiptoe through this socio-political minefield as a pastor and pray to bring God’s words of hope and truth in a faithful, God-honoring way. I try to find our common ground as humans and Christ followers in the midst of a media culture that is determined to instill fear, hopelessness and division.

Finding common ground is an uphill battle, friends, but not an unsurmountable one.

What is our common ground? We worship a God of hope. A God who promises to never leave us nor forsake us. A God who brings redemption to oppressed people. As Christ followers, we can know the deep peace, love, and grace that is offered freely to us. As forgiven people, we have the power and freedom to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We can be a people of hope in a culture that really needs it.

We also have a beautiful opportunity to love others through trying to understand their perspectives. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we can bring steps closer to reconciliation by opening our hearts and minds to hearing how God is at work in the hearts and minds of others. We can listen to one another for the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. I’ve found that the more I listen to people who are different, really listen, the more I have to see our common humanity. Divisive “issues” slip away when we see the humanity in others.

Let’s go listen to one another in love.

Blessings,

Erin

  • Who do you need to reach out to in order to understand their struggles better?
  • Who can you invite to coffee/lunch/dinner this week to get to know better?
  • Where do you find hope?

 

Project 365: Day 160 First Day of Unofficial Art Camp   Leave a comment

20140613-234346-85426261.jpg

During the last several months, I have discovered a love for creating art and I have a dream of sharing that love with others. The process of creating art can be relaxing, healing, even a way to connect with God. I would love to lead a ministry someday that encourages people to nurture their creativity.

I often use art and creative expression as part of the senior high Bible study I teach. Even though I have more enthusiasm than artistic talent, I don’t let that hold me back. This summer I thought I’d experiment with leading a mini art camp at my house.

How it worked: I invited just enough students (my friends’ kids) to fit around my kitchen table. I researched ideas from Pinterest and my own art classes, picked up supplies, sketched out a lesson plan. Old shirts were purchased from Goodwill to serve as art smocks, a drop cloth was out down, and voila! Art Camp!

Day One was focused on drawing faces and basic art elements. We created art journals and portfolios.

As a class, we came up with the following rules before we started:

1. We are all artists. (We are made in the image if a great Creator and Artist – Claim it!)
2. Be nice to others.
3. Sharing is what we do.
4. Be nice to yourself. (We tend to be our own harshest critics so those negative thoughts were not allowed at Art Camp!)
5. Everything is an experiment.
6. Be careful.

Pretty good rules to live by, don’t you think?

How could you adapt this idea and use it in your ministry? Who can you ask for help?

Here are pictures from Day One of Art Camp:

20140613-234455-85495811.jpg

20140613-234456-85496647.jpg

20140613-234456-85496256.jpg

20140613-234457-85497962.jpg

20140613-234455-85495420.jpg

20140613-234457-85497055.jpg

20140613-234458-85498613.jpg

20140613-234457-85497516.jpg

Project 365: Day 103 How Not to be *That* Sports Parent   Leave a comment

20140413-222228.jpg

 

We are a sports family.  Between the 3 kids, my husband and myself, we have played soccer, cross country, track, baseball, basketball, football and cheerleading.  As an athlete, a sports mom and also a coach, I spend a lot of time at games and practices, and a lot of time on the sidelines.  Today I even had the special opportunity to watch my niece play in a volleyball tournament in Dallas (my picture of the day.)  What really struck me this weekend were the voices and messages from the parents and fans around me.

For the most part, the parents and other coaches I overhear are supportive and encouraging, but not all of them.  I heard a coach reprimanding his player-son this weekend in a way I would never accept as a way he could coach my child.  I’ve half-joked with other parents that you can always tell who the coach’s kids are because the coach reserves a special tone of voice for yelling at their own kid…although to be fair, usually that same coach’s kid reserves a special tone of voice for talking back to his coach.  Among the fans, there are a handful of parents that say things like “Why did you do that?!” “Are you going to actually play hard this game?” “What were you thinking?!”

I’ve also overheard  plenty of parent-fans openly and loudly criticize the calls of refs, usually just teenagers or volunteers working as a referee for the game.  My brother shared with me that the niece I watched play today has spent time working as a referee, and was really hurt by snide comments fans made about her calls.  My niece is beautiful, smart, talented and an all around lovely young person, so it’s painful to hear about how thoughtless parents/fans could be.

It’s tough to just sit there and hear kids getting berated like that, especially about playing a game.  Sure, it’s tough to watch the kids you love lose a game or play poorly, but that doesn’t mean it is your job to criticize them.  I love sports and I hope that kids grow up loving sports too…but I wonder if how we adults are on the sidelines can kill the joy of sports. I even wonder how many of these vocal critics could play any better if they were on the field. There is a lot to be said for encouragement over criticism.  In fact, I think there are really important lessons here for parents, coaches and youth ministers alike.

To parents and fans:  As an athlete, I can tell you that players know full well when they mess up.  There are plenty of self-critical voices. Critical voices from the crowd or from parents especially do not help.  Here’s an idea on what a parent or fan could say at the end of a bad game or play instead of criticism:

Good: “I am proud of what a good team player you are/of how hard you work.”

Really good: “I loved watching you play!”

Even better, add: “I especially loved when you did [specific play here].”

The message that gets caught here is one of love, no matter what.  Add to this an offer to work on a specific skill in between games, or to somehow spend quality time with the kid, and you’ve got a kid who knows unconditional love.

To the coaches: The best coaches I’ve seen will substitute out a player after a bad play to explain on the sidelines what could be done differently, then put the player back in.  It’s the difference between openly criticizing (ouch!) and patiently redirecting…which may feel like the difference between being scolded/embarrassed versus being taught.  To the parents who are coaches (myself included here), let’s remember to try to treat our own kids like a part of the team – neither giving them special treatment beyond the rest of the team, nor giving them harsher criticism.

To my fellow youth ministers: There are great lessons learned on the playing field for youth ministry.  Our “players,” the members of our youth ministry, need us to come alongside as encouraging voices and coaches, not critics.  They need us to come alongside their lives and not say things like, “what were you thinking??!” “Why did you mess up like that?!” but rather, send messages into their lives that say, “I love watching you grow in your faith!” “I’m proud of who you are becoming.”  “I loved when you did [this specific act of love, grace, mercy].”  When youth mess up, we can quietly pull them aside, coach better behavior and then send them back in.  Correct privately, praise publicly.

What results from this is players (youth) who know unconditional love – that’s what we hope for, right?

Blessings,

Erin

Questions:

How do you handle critical voices?

How can you relate sports and faith?

Who has inspired you as a coach?

How do you encourage others?

 

 

 

 

Project 365: Day 100 Wholeness   Leave a comment

20140410-185437.jpg

I love Whole Foods grocery stores. There isn’t one near my house, so it’s a rare treat. I love walking the aisles surrounded by vibrant colors and aromas of natural, organic, healthy foods, most of which are foreign to me. Chia, flax, collard, gluten-free, vegan super foods with brands like Annie’s and Kathleen’s and Organic Pete’s. It almost feels like shopping in a foreign country’s market.

I’ve been focusing on the word “whole” a lot in my prayer life lately. Having been so broken for the last couple of years has made me appreciate the fullness, the vibrancy of Wholeness. I am so thankful to the God that restores my soul and makes me whole again.

From 1 Thessalonians 5:

“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

Blessings,
Erin

Questions:
Do you have certain words that speak to your heart? What are they?

Project 365: Day 99 A Lent/Passover Bible Study on John 13:1-35   Leave a comment

20140409-210957.jpg

Wednesday night is senior high Bible study night (SBUMCSHBS). Tonight we continued our series on the book of John and Jesus’s last days. Tonight’s lesson was multisensory and went really well, so I thought I would share it with everyone.

Supplies: dish tubs filled with warm water, towels, chairs, hand sanitizer, matzah, kosher grape juice, kosher candy (optional), Kings Hawaiian Sweet Bread loaf (or whatever your church uses typically for communion)

Introduction:
The study begins before anyone enters the room. A sign on the door asks participants to remove their shoes and socks, and to enter and sit quietly.

In silence: One person at a time, leaders guide each person to a chair in front of the water tub. Ceremonially wash and dry each person’s feet. We ended with leaders washing each other’s feet.

Pause.

Then we welcomed everyone to Bible study and reviewed the stories we have been reading (for us it was Jesus raising Lazarus and Mary anointing Jesus’s feet)

We took turns reading parts of John 13. I’m putting the text here, courtesy of Biblegateway.com, with some of the discussion questions interjected:

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

This led to discussion about whether or not Jesus was naked under the towel. Did towels look like we think of today? The good news is we are in the habit of visualizing the stories as we read! (Religious scholars and historians feel free to help us out here. I’m just reporting what we talked about.)

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

At this point we talked about how it was a common practice of hospitality to provide a basin for washing guests’ feet. The actual washing would be done by a slave, not the host, so Jesus’s act had more meaning. How did it feel to have your feet washed?

Jesus Predicts His Betrayal

18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned[a] against me.’[b]

19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

At this point I introduced the matzah and explained it’s history in Jewish tradition. We talked about the significance of unleavened bread to God’s saved people. I also taught about what “kosher” food means. We sampled kosher grape juice with a piece of matzah as we read the next section:

22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

Snap! What just happened? What did it look like when Satan entered Judas?

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

Here we tried the sweet bread so everyone could taste the difference between leavened and unleavened bread.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him,[c] God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The last two verses are our memory verses for next week. Whoever can recite them next week earns a candy prize. To close the lesson we shared our joys and concerns, we prayed, and then everyone got to sample a piece of kosher candy on their way out.

Questions:
How does it feel to have someone serve you?
When have you served others?
How is your foot washing like baptism?
Which character would you be in this story?
What did you think of the foods?
How do you show love to one another?

Project 365: Day 92 My Crazy Idea   Leave a comment

20140402-223225.jpg

I almost forgot to take a picture today. Other than Zumba class with mom, I spent most of my day sitting at a computer working on another scholarship application – which was completely lost when Safari suddenly shut down (grrrrr.)

I’m going to seminary in the Fall and I even got an article posted on Youthworker Movement today about my journey. You can check it out here.

The article mentions the expense of seminary, which is of course why I’m spending any spare hours working on scholarship applications. I also applied for a part time job that I hope will both give me a new type of nonprofit work experience, but also help us prepare for college financially.

What I’d rather be doing is working on turning the above unfinished pieces into art. So this is where I admit to a crazy idea – how about selling the art I make to help pay for seminary? It’s a long shot possibly, but why not? I’m thinking either open up an Etsy shop online, or sit on a corner with a cardboard sign saying “Will Make Art for Seminary Tuition.” (Probably the former, I’ll keep you posted.)

What do you think? Should I do the crazy thing? Anybody want a commissioned piece of art made with much love and gratitude?

Blessings,
Erin

Questions: What would you do if you could get paid to do what you love? Is that the same or different than what you do now?

Project 365: Day 91 Creative time   Leave a comment

20140401-171818.jpg

I got a lot of productive work done today, scholarship essays and other legwork, but I also carved out an hour to go to my happy place, my painting table.

I painted and got my hands sticky with gel medium. I’m working on about 5 mixed media canvases at once, alternating as my heart whispers to me. I would love to create art that inspires others, and I would love to inspire others to create art.

If we are the sons and daughters of a Creative God, and we are made in His image, it only makes sense to me that we can draw closer to Him as we explore our creativity. How do you do this?