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?
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
I’m totally biased, but I kinda think my husband Dennis is a super genius. (You don’t read these posts, do you, hon? Don’t want a statement like that to go to your head.) On his blog, blog.trainforpurpose.com,my husband wrote an inspiring post based on his time at TEDxAustin. I will now attempt to interact with his post “Learn this to change the world: Big Solutions REQUIRE a really big question first.”
An introduction from Dennis:
I attended TEDxAustin this past weekend, and I really enjoyed and was inspired by all the people that came on the stage and how powerfully they we changing the world for the better. They say TED is about celebrating and spreading ideas, but I was struck by how much all of the speakers on the stage had DONE. just check out this speakers list :http://tedxaustin.com/TEDxAustin-2012-Program.pdf
A world record holder in free diving, Someone training dozens of doctors in Iraq, A recognized and awarded Musician and conductor, An accomplished photographer, Successful and energized urban renewal activist. These speakers had done a lot.
I was also struck by something else, the similar process they went through to get to where they were. I am going to try to distill what I heard down to a few points that seemed to recur frequently during their “Life in 18 min” talks.
First, See the bigger problem
Almost every speaker had a more or less common problem, experience and took a different or second look at it. And they saw something larger than what they were dealing with.
Michael McDaniel who looked beyond the news of Katrina and the sad pictures of the first few days and weeks and saw a huge injustice in the way people who had lost their homes were being housed.
David R. Dow who handles death row cases, looked beyond the problem of the trial and appeal process and said literally “how can I make this problem bigger?” and started to see the amazingly similar backgrounds and stories that make up the most common back story for 80% of the people currently on death row.
Chris Bliss, Who looked beyond the “10 commandments public display” controversy to find a truly mind boggling lack of the celebration of the bill of rights.
Taryn Davis, who saw beyond her own pain and loss to see that there is an entire generation of people, just like her, that did not have support, and even google could not figure out where to point them.
Luis von Ahn, who we saw pre-recorded, took a look at the success of his captcha technology and looked beyond that to see the tremendous amount of time that was being wasted daily on a global scale.
Jeremy Courtney, who looked beyond the one sad father that wanted him to help find his child a lifesaving surgery in America, to see the massive epidemic that was going on in Iraq.
So step one is to take a point of view that sees something bigger. It was often not sought out, but something that these speakers found themselves in. Some of them were people who had trained for years to be in the field, but the vast majority were people pursuing something else, and when they encountered a problem, took enough time to see the bigger problem behind it.
See the bigger problem. So, if I am going to take step one to heart, I’ve gotta tell you that the big problem I see is too many broken people in youth ministry. The people aren’t broken so much as they are abused by a system that will let them work with at best one day off a week, pay them poorly, criticize what they do and expect more than can be done. I have more than a few friends who are talented, smart people full of love for Christ and young people that essentially got beat up by their churches. It’s frustrating to hear about people leaving the church because members of the church or senior pastors think it is okay to dump on them. No youth worker is perfect, no youth worker will ever be perfect. But unlike ordained clergy, there is no system or set of standards in place to protect youth workers from losing their jobs unexpectedly, from working crazy hours, from being criticized, from neglecting their own care.
Obviously this varies for every church. I’ve seen churches with incredibly healthy ministries and healthy relationships between the student ministry staff & pastor as well as staff & congregation. I get the sense that where there is ministry health it is directly related to the leadership of the church.
Step 2, Ask a really crazy bold question
I have written before about the power of questions. I have seen firsthand how powerfully the world can shift if you earnestly seek an answer to a good enough question.
Jeremy asked, how can I do something that will make sure that every child in Iraq that needs a lifesaving surgery can get it?
Taryn asked how she could help all the military widows reclaim their lives and identity and look forward to waking up?
David asked, What can we do as a society to prevent murder in the first place?
Michael asked, How can we provide descent emergency shelter that can be deployed anywhere it is needed in time to meet the need?
And most boldly of all was Luis, who asked the very powerful question, in the 10s on average that someone takes to do a captcha, can we get them to do something useful at the same time? The emphasis is mine. The genius of and thinking is really apparent there.
And what is amazing is that every person on the stage was well on their way to providing a definitive answer to these crazy questions. But they could not be where they were if they had not responded to seeing a bigger problem, by asking what must have seemed at the time to be an impossible question.
So be sure to ask yourself a question that will solve a problem in the most _________way possible.
(pick one or two here) Audacious, Impossible, Resolute, Passionate, Just, Permanent, Life-changing, Bold, Crazy, Immediate, Unexpected, Complete, Fearless, Imaginative, Powerful
We all solve problems every day, often we don’t look beyond the face of the problem presented, and if we do, we only use that insight into the bigger world to just solve our problem better. To live into a bigger destiny, you need to take those moments of insight into the bigger problems of the world, and make your problem bigger, ask a bigger question.
My big questions. The word that rolls around in my head the most is ADVOCACY. As in, who is an advocate for youth workers in the church? Who is standing up for them? How can I be a voice that reconciles the conflict between youth workers and their churches? How can I communicate what is reasonable to expect from a person in youth ministry?
Step 3, You ARE the leader, Take action, Now
If you are going to ask the big questions, you also need to “get comfortable with the fact you will be a leader” that aspect was mentioned multiple times, by Chris regarding his monumental project for the bill of rights, Jason Roberts when talking about his projects in Oak Cliff, By Michael and by Jeremy. They might not have felt comfortable being the leader, they might not have had the experience to do this on paper, but they all leaned into the discomfort and looked around and saw that they were the leader that was needed.
Chris even mentioned a point where he was looked around the room, and found himself staring in the mirror, and how he knew at that point, if it was going to get done.. It was going to be him.
And then he took the leap, and so did the others. They made the commitment. They took the plunge and jumped, not into the know, but into the compelling unknown.
One of the speakers quoted W.H. Murray
The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.
I don’t believe I can improve on those words.
Whatever you are wrestling with starting today. Begin it now.
Hmmm. So here I am. A reluctant leader? Or am I even by myself here with these questions?
Are great organizations like Simply Youth Ministry’s Simply Soul Care and We Love Our Youth Worker the only voices out there? Who else is standing up for the youth worker and setting standards for youth workers and churches?
Anyone wrestling with these questions besides me?
And does anyone else dare to ask their own big questions?