Can you remember when God carried you through something very difficult?
Every week, members of New World United Methodist Church come around a table at a local family shelter for an evening of fellowship, prayer and creating art. Residents in the shelter are there for many different reasons – job losses, deaths in the family, fleeing domestic violence, unexpected illnesses or other expenses.
Art brings people together. The act of creating art has a powerful way of bringing about calm, healing and empowerment. We choose to create art with residents of a local shelter because many of the families are in desperate need of space for calm, connection, dignity and love.
Each week we have a different project and a different theme. In the picture, we are creating very special prayer beads, “ebenezer beads.” You might recognize the word “ebenezer” from the hymn “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” My favorite verse goes like this:
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
What in the world is an ebenezer, you ask, and why are we raising one? The Hebrew word literally means “stone of help.” The song is a reference to the book of 1 Samuel:
Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12
In the story, Samuel is raising a special monument in gratitude for God’s faithfulness as the Israelites defeated the powerful Philistines. Samuel wants to make sure that all who come to this place remember what God has done for God’s people. We are called to remember.
In our prayer bead project, each participant was invited to include a few handmade beads made the week before. As they pray with their beads, these special beads serve as a reminder that God will faithfully bring each family through life’s difficult times of transition.
May we all remember that God is faithful.
Prayer: Dear God, we remember the times in our life when you brought us through difficult circumstances and we thank you. We pray for people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. Lead us to be messengers of your mercy, love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness.I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you.Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
2 Timothy 1:3-7
Remember a time you went through something difficult. How did God bring you through that? How can you thank God for God’s faithfulness?
Bless to me, O God, my iPhone and its many applications;
Bless to me, O God, the texting apps that connect me to my loved ones;
Bless to me, O God, the navigation apps that safely guide me where You lead;
Bless to me, O God, the Find my iPhone app that enables me to secretly check on my teenage son’s safe arrival while still allowing him space to grow;
Bless to me, O God, the Tile app that helps me find my keys when I get so busy I misplace them;
Bless to me, O God, meditation apps that promote mindfulness;
Bless to me, O God, Bible apps that give me access to your word when I need it;
Bless to me, O God, the Google app that enables me to look up unfamiliar terms and gain deeper understanding;
Bless to me, O God, camera apps that allow me to capture and remember the beauty of your creation;
and Bless to me, O God, the Do Not Disturb feature that keeps my phone silent as I rest.
-Rev. Erin Sloan Jackson, written at the North Texas 5 Day Academy of Spiritual Formation 2018
Holy and loving God, the one who is rich in mercy,
So often we feel heavy laden with the weight of all that feels wrong in our life. We worry about our future, we worry about the suffering around us, we worry about our health and our finances and our relationships. We carry the load of this stress on our shoulders, often feeling alone in our struggles. Often feeling too proud to ask for help.
Yet you, God, are our burden lifter.
When we feel overwhelmed with stress and worry, when the baggage that comes with living this messy life feels like too much to carry, you gently whisper to us:
“Cast all your anxiety – cast all your cares – on me. I love you, my child, let me share the load.”
We lift up this morning the people who are struggling to hear your whispers of hope.
We pray for our brothers and sisters who are trapped in broken systems of injustice. We pray for our kindred who are mourning the loss of a loved one. We pray for children who have lost their parents, no matter their age. We pray for your whispers of hope and your arms of love to bring comfort and peace.
We do not need to be anxious about anything, but with our prayers we can bring our requests to you and you are faithful to mercifully help us with our burdens.
We pray that through all of our past, present and future suffering, we can remember that you call us to acts of mercy. As you are our burden lifter, you call us as your children to help others in need. Grant us the courage and wisdom to walk boldly and mercifully so that, in all we do, you may be glorified.
We pray this in the name of the One who carried our sins to the cross, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name…
In about 20 hours, our mission team meets at the DFW Airport. We meet at 3:25am to give plenty of time to divide up team supplies and get checked in. We fly to Miami first, the Port Au Prince.
Between now and then, my to do list is long:
- Pack my own luggage
- Pack team supplies
- Make sure Lucas gets to wave at the garbage men (it’s Thursday and he’s 3)
- Remember to take anti-malarial medicine
- Pick up about 8 things from a store – tarps, clothesline, markers, hand sanitizer, a big bag of candy (“bon bons”) to pass out to the kids in Mellier…
- Fill out trip insurance information
- Check in for flight
- Send team email with gate information and remind them to remember their passports
- Go to bank to get cash to pay our Haitian team
- Work up a plan to complete our fundraising
- Greet kids when they get home from school
- Hopefully have a family dinner
- Spend time with Dennis
- Spend time wondering what I may have forgot (might as well add this to list since I’m doing it anyway)
It’s a lot. I’m excited and a little daunted.
So, in the quiet of my home this morning, I start with the most important task I have to do today, I pray (feel free to join in from wherever you are):
Holy and gracious God, we thank you and praise you for this opportunity to travel to Haiti. We know that you are already there. We ask for your safety as we travel, we ask to be made aware of your presence. As we rush to get all of the details completed, calm our spirits and remind us that you have got this all in your hands. We commend this trip to you, we ask for your blessing. May we as your servants share your love with others, and may we receive your love through the hospitality of strangers. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
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:
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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?
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
“Live a Whole Hearted Life”
I have spent too much of the last few years of my life being a bit broken inside. Not necessarily unhappy, but not completely myself either. It’s hard to put in words, but it’s as if I’ve been missing some fullness, some of my more spirited self.
I don’t know that I even realized I was a bit broken until I reached a point of healing and wholeness. My sense of self has returned – I am back. It has sometimes been a rough journey, but I am joyous and thankful to God that I am beautifully whole again.
My prayer and hope for you is that you can find your own place of healing and wholeness. I pray that you can live with your whole heart, that you can choose to soar as your very best self. With God’s help, live your whole hearted life.
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.
Tonight I gave SBUMCSHBS the gift of quiet time with God. We have been studying time, Sabbath and connecting with God a lot this year. We began the hour by centering ourselves, getting the noise out of our heads and putting aside our phones:
Students, journals and pens in hand, quietly rotated through five prayer stations. Each station had a description, Scripture, reflection questions, an activity and a prayer.
They lit a candle and asked for God’s light in the areas of life that needed guidance:
They wrote on a stone as they remembered what God has delivered us from and what He has given us:
They enjoyed grapes and bread as they remembered God’s blessings from the earth:
With water, they were cleansed and made whole and renewed:
And, perhaps most importantly, they
simply rested in quiet meditation:
What a joy to share the gift of quiet time with God!
How do you observe Sabbath time?
What can you do today to quiet yourselves and just be in God’s presence?