Grace Remains

A link to the video of the serve (audio cuts out every now and then, but it’s fun to see it all): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQy_v0WoKcM.

Texts: Psalm 139; Matthew 20:1-16; 1 Peter 4:12-19

At YAV orientation, we sang a lot of music meant to carry with us during our year of service. The song I return to most often is a very simple arrangement of Psalm 139, one of my favorite psalms. As I began preparation for this service, it seemed fitting that the day’s psalm was Psalm 139. This psalm never ceases to remind me that I am fully known, as myself. A line of The Summons, our next hymn, asks “will you love the you you hide if I but call your name?,” and Psalm 139 is the reminder that hiding is pointless—we are known, and we are loved, as we are.

And with this deep comfort of being known comes the reminder that we are called. We weren’t created and then left to figure everything out on our own, despite what we, or at the very least I, sometimes convince ourselves of. We have been called to use the gifts that we were created with to do God’s sacred work. Those gifts, naturally, look different for every person. The children in Worship Play are reading a book called The Day The Crayons Quit, which tells the story of a box of crayons who go on strike. They’re tired of always being used in the same way, or in ways they don’t feel suit them, or of not being used at all. They all write letters to the little boy who uses them expressing their irritation, and Duncan meets the challenge of using his crayons differently so that they feel like their offerings are joyfully received.

And isn’t this what God does with us? We have been given these gifts to use in ways that we find life-giving. And so begins the journey of our lives. Where do we go for our gifts to make a difference? What do we do? Who do we talk to? How do we know if it’s the right thing? In YAV world, we consider these questions to be part of our “discernment conversations,” one of the pillars of the program, but they are questions that everyone asks, and I’ve started to believe that no one truly knows the “right” answer, or even that there isn’t one “right” answer.

Is the “right” thing to do to work in the Radcliffe Room every Sunday morning? Yes, for some people. Or is the “right” thing to do to be a tutor for Community Club? Yes, for some people. Or maybe the right thing to do is to take a year off from whatever “the plan” was and serve for a year as a Young Adult Volunteer. At least three people in DC thought that was the right choice. One of the gifts of this year has been to witness so many people serving God by serving the people of God in so many different ways. I have been around so many people doing God’s sacred work for God’s beloved people, in small, easily overlooked ways.

This year has not been what I expected it to be. I didn’t anticipate a Women’s March, or the opportunity to participate alongside so many of you in the huge variety of protests and marches that have become more and more common in the last six months. I didn’t imagine that my love of singing with others would return after so many years of singing in choirs once I was welcomed into the community that gathers around the piano to sing in the Radcliffe Room every Sunday morning. I didn’t expect the deep pain I would encounter as I listened to those who have made requests from our Benevolence Fund, or the ways that their stories would stay with me. I expected to work hard, but I am surprised time and time again by the ways that this work feels more and more sacred.

Growing up in Alabama, my peers were primarily Southern Baptist, not Presbyterian, and I was always a little impressed at their ability to quote scripture directly. Bible Drills were not an activity in my Sunday School classes, but there are certain verses of scripture that I have memorized during times in life that I needed words to return to. Verses 11 and 12 of Psalm 139 are two of those:

If I say, “surely the darkness shall cover me,”

and the light around me becomes night,”

Even the darkness is not dark to you;

The night is as bright as the day,

For darkness is as light to you.”

I often feel that we live in a world constantly threatening to be covered in darkness. And yet, even the darkness is not dark to God. The night is as bright as the day.

I thought of these verses as I read through the other scriptures for this day, as chosen by the lectionary designed for the Presbyterian church’s college ministry. In the Common English Bible, the 1 Peter passage reads like this: “Don’t be ashamed if you suffer as one who belongs to Christ. Rather, honor God as you bear Christ’s name… Those who suffer because they follow God’s will should commit their lives to a trustworthy creator by doing what is right.” I appreciate this translation for a lot of reasons, but particularly for its use of “Don’t be ashamed.” I am struck by how often our culture teaches us to feel shame for suffering. Surely we’ve all heard it: “If you had a more positive outlook, you wouldn’t feel this way. Just think good thoughts!” Or, “She has such a great life. I don’t understand why she can’t just be happy.”; “If you had just kept your body healthy, you wouldn’t need health insurance!”; “If you had just made better choices, you wouldn’t be homeless!”; “If that man would have just listened to that police officer, he wouldn’t have been shot!”

I don’t believe that God ever intends or wishes that we suffer. Suffering is simply a part of being human—we live in a broken world, and in brokenness there is suffering. But Peter’s words remind me that in our suffering, we still belong to God. And that belonging, belonging that is like no other, is worth honoring.

Lately it has felt easy to get trapped in the darkness of the world. Fear runs rampant, greed is everywhere, hearts are hurting, violence seems to be the go to answer for so many problems. The common goal is to improve our individual lives at the expense of others, to make things “fair” instead of just. I see this illustrated in the parable Jesus tells in the Matthew passage we read today. The landowner finds the number of people he needs for the day, and they agree on a wage. Four more times the he goes to the marketplace, and each time he sends more people seeking work into his vineyard. When it comes time for the day laborers to be paid, he pays those he hired at 5pm the same amount that he pays those he hired the first time he went to the marketplace. I love that the text says that those he hired earliest in the morning “grumbled against the landowner”—I can just imagine it, “Are you for real right now? This guy is not serious. We’ve been working all day. I mean, yeah we agreed on this amount, but we didn’t know the people who only worked for an hour would get the same amount!” And the landowner, rather than ignoring their grumbles, says to one of the laborers, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong…I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

Friend. Friend, he calls this day laborer whose very livelihood is in his hand, I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. I imagine, when hearing this story, not the frustration of the early hires, or even those hired at 9am or at noon. I imagine the anxiety of those who had been standing in the marketplace all day until the landowner hired them at 5pm. Waiting, hoping that someone would hire them. Perhaps these folks had families, had responsibilities that they had to take care. They were waiting and waiting, never giving in and going home even when it seemed as though no one would come. “Surely,” I imagine them thinking, “surely an hours’ worth of work is better than nothing. It won’t be much, but it’s better than nothing.”

I like to imagine their surprise when they are paid the same amount as those who had been working all day. Their gratitude that someone could recognize that they were struggling, that they needed the help of a day’s worth of wages, that they were people, people who needed other people in order to survive, just as we all do. Did they deserve the same amount of pay that the people who had been there since early early in the morning did? I don’t know. If we’re talking about what’s “fair,” then I guess they don’t. But do any of us ever get what we deserve? No, not really.

I feel like I’ve probably told most of you that one of the pieces that brought this year’s YAV community together is movies. Ben and Cody, the other YAVs, felt at the beginning of the year that I was uncultured when it came to movies, and insisted upon my watching such classics as The Sandlot, Air Bud, and all of the Star Wars films. They had great success converting me into a lover of random movies that I missed out on as a child, and it was a great community building activity for a house of mostly introverts. We’ve spent many hours watching movies together, and were excited to be given a movie theater gift card earlier in the spring. We decided to go see Wonder Woman, which I was sure I wouldn’t like, but was willing to try because it seemed like a fun time with the boys.

Imagine my surprise when I fell in love with a superhero movie. We sat in the third row of the theater, and I was completely engrossed in a film all about finding light in a world full of darkness, of recognizing the gifts of others, of living into the gifts that you have been given and have nourished throughout a life. Diana, princess of the Amazons, has never encountered the grey area between good and evil. She is determined to defeat the god of war so that humanity can return to the goodness it was intended to be, convinced that destroying one force could make that difference. As she prepares to leave the island where she grew up, her mother tells her that humanity does not deserve her. And still she goes.

Again and again in this movie, we see Diana offering grace upon grace to those she encounters. When one of the men in the group she’s traveling with suggests that he’s not an asset to the group because of his inability to take a shot in a battle the day before, Diana says gently, “But who will sing for us, Charlie?” Instead of finding his value in his skills in war, she recognizes the piece of him that shines light in the midst of darkness. Wonder Woman is about recognizing that every person is wrapped up in this world of darkness and light. And what we get is not about what we deserve, because it’s not about what we deserve, it’s about what we believe. She tells us, “I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.”

Wonder Woman reminded me of the grace we are given over and over and over again. Grace given to us by a God who knows us completely, whose blessings overflow upon us even in this world of darkness. Grace given to us by a God who calls us to be of the light, shining into a world that can feel so very dark. And isn’t that a thing to celebrate? That even in the midst of the suffering that we all encounter, even in the midst of brokenness, even when we feel lost, like we’ll never be able to take a breath, even then… Grace still remains. We are called to be people of the light, living abundantly in gratitude of that grace. May it be so! Amen.

Homesick

Today is one of the most important Sundays of the year. It’s the first Sunday after the 4th of July and that means it’s the start of Montreat Youth Conference Week 3. 1500 youth and their leaders have rolled through the Montreat gates (or perhaps around. No need to bring back #MakeMontreatGateAgain.), bringing their energy, excitement, and passions with them.

As far back as I can remember, I have been giddy on this day. It’s one I look forward to all year—Montreat is the place in my life that feels most like home, and when I pass through those gates for the week I know that I’m going to be with some of the greatest people I know.

I knew going into this YAV year that I’d miss Montreat this summer, and even that this particular week wouldn’t be easy. But I didn’t expect the deep ache I’d feel knowing that all of my people are in my favorite place and I’m not, an ache that I can’t identify as anything other than homesickness.

Catherine and I started going to Montreat with the youth group when we were practically babies–Catherine still had to take a nap in clubs (she’s still bitter about that). My summers are marked by Youth Conference themes, theme songs, and the normalcy of seeing the same people once a year. Montreat was, and is, home.

Sometimes I think that Montreat is how I, a preacher’s kid who has seen some ugly stuff in church world, made it through life still loving the church. The weeks I spent in that thin place were the weeks that I was reminded that I had pastors, freeing my dad to just be my dad. Those were the weeks that I knew with full certainty that I was surrounded by a group of people who would love me no matter what. As a rising senior in high school, Montreat was the place where I realized how hard it would be to move away from the only home I could remember, and it was with the circle of people that I’d trusted and counted on for so long that I could allow myself to feel the weight and pain of that move. As a graduated senior, I stood in Anderson Auditorium on the last night and was surrounded by people who reminded me that I was never going to be alone as I left home to journey through the sacred mess we call life.

Montreat and the people I associate Montreat with have only become more important as I have gotten older. Sometimes I laughingly tell people that I use summers to recharge from the craziness of the academic year by exhausting myself through youth trips. I leave things like the Montreat Middle School Conference or the High School Conference ready to sleep for days. And yet, I’m energized, ready to take on new passions, and so assured of my place with those I love that the physical exhaustion doesn’t really matter.

It’s been a long time since I have done a summer without at least one trip to Montreat, and I’m not really sure I remember how to do it. I miss it: being reminded to be gentle with pews that are older than my grandmother, the feeling of the freezing cold creek water on my toes, the sound of 1500 youth and adults actually singing together, feeling silly (and not caring!) during energizers, the peace of an early morning run, even the way that your towel never really dries.

More than that, though, I miss sitting on the porch of The Huckleberry with mint chocolate chip ice cream and catching up with my family (the ones I chose and the ones I was given), laughing so hard that I worry my stomach will never feel the same, being reminded that nothing is so horrible that some time with your people can’t make it seem a little better, crying both because of life’s beauty and also it’s brokenness, and simply being in a beautiful place with some beautiful people.

This week, my body is in DC, but my heart is in Montreat. If you need me, I’ll be the one singing Come Thou Fount under her breath, trying desperately hard not to think about what people in Montreat are doing (because, let’s be real, I have the Youth Conference schedule memorized at this point), and reminding herself that not going to Montreat is not the end of the world. For those in Montreat–sing loudly, do Wavin’ Flag with much gusto, drink a lot of coffee from the Drip, enjoy some mint chocolate chip ice cream, and stick your toes in the creek… And know that there’s no where in the world I’d rather be than with you.

Riding the Bus While Female

One of the pieces of being a YAV in DC is that we are completely reliant on public transit unless you choose to bike. The metro is pretty expensive if you ride it a lot, so generally we get around via bus.

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Waiting for the bus during our orientation week.

The bus has become a bit of a sacred space for me. I love the people watching, the glimpse into someone’s morning commute, the space to be quiet, listen to music, and read. I ride the same buses enough that I typically see the same people each week, particularly on Sunday mornings when I get the 6:50am bus to go downtown for Radcliffe Room.

Here’s one of my favorite bus stories. We had spent our Community Friday in Anacostia (southeast DC) and were heading to back home. I was carrying leftover macaroni and cheese from our lunch because it was too good not to take home. As we boarded a pretty full bus, I headed to the back where there were a few seats open. A little girl with a bright pink backpack invited me to sit beside her. I thanked her and said, “I like your backpack!” She looked me a little warily and said, “Thanks. I like your macaroni.” I became fast friends with the little girl and her two sisters during the twenty minutes we were on the bus, and I still think back on that day and laugh.

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This isn’t a bus that I ride, but that is the church where I work in the background!

I love riding the bus, but I have a different experience riding the bus than my housemates do because I am a woman and they are not. I promised myself that my blog wouldn’t just highlight the best parts of my YAV year, so here are two experiences that I’ve had in the last week that have left me feeling anxious and unsettled.

Last Friday, our site coordinator planned an allyship training day for our Community Friday. Cody, Ben Wild, and I took the same bus downtown. I was sitting across from Cody in seats that face the aisle of the bus. There were a surprising number of open seats around us considering it was the 8:30 bus, so it was kind of odd when a man walked up toward where I was sitting and chose not to sit down. Instead, he turned the front of his body towards me and stood over me, his crotch in my face. He stayed like that, uncomfortably close, for almost ten minutes until we reached his stop.

Was he doing anything wrong? Technically, no. Would he have chosen to stand like that if Cody or Ben Wild, both tall white men, had been sitting in my seat? I can’t say for sure, but I am willing to bet that the answer is no.

In our workshop that day, this came up. How do you serve as an ally when someone is clearly uncomfortable because of the actions of someone else when they aren’t technically doing anything wrong? How do you own and use your privilege to be on the side of someone who is being encroached on?

I was uncomfortable last Friday, but I had an experience today that left me anxious and a little afraid.

It’s a rainy, yucky day in DC and I thought about taking the metro to work just for ease. I changed my mind when I got to the bus stop where I would’ve gotten on the metro and the bus I needed to transfer to was already at the stop. Too good to pass up! I never have such good luck!

The bus wasn’t very full, so I went to the seats I love best. They’re elevated and face the aisle. It gives me the chance to really see out of the windows and it doesn’t feel as closed in as the regular seats can feel.

There was a man on the bus who was kind of loud, but not nearly as loud or disruptive as other people I’ve been on the bus with. I really didn’t think anything of him. I was happily in my head, listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and wondering if the rain would let up during my walk to the church.

When we were 8 minutes or so from my stop, the man who had earlier been a little loud stood up and turned toward me. He left his things in the seat where he’d been sitting and started walking slowly toward where I was sitting, staring at me the entire time. There were seats open all around me and he sat down one seat away from the one I was sitting in. He stretched his arms out behind him and as he was lowering them, he pulled on the hood of my raincoat and then left his hand on the window behind my head. I jumped at that point and attempted to move closer to the wall, further from where he was sitting. He moved his hand and as he was doing so, bumped my bag that I had sitting in my lap. I again tried to move closer to the wall, keeping my head down. After another minute or two, he stood up and moved back to his seat.

When we finally reached the stop where I’d be getting off, I chose to walk to the back door instead of walking past the man to go to the front. While waiting for the door to open, an older woman who had been sitting in the back tapped my arm.

“Honey, did you know that man?”

I shook my head.

“Well, I was watching him in case he got stupid. That wasn’t okay.”

I told her that I was grateful to know that she had been watching and left the bus feeling like she’d had my back even if I didn’t know it. I felt like she probably knew the kind of dialogue I had been having in my head: “What are my options right now? Do I get up and move? Where do I move to? The front of the bus where there aren’t many seats and a lot of men are joking around and talking really loudly? Do I go to the emptier back of the bus even though I would have to walk past him? Am I just overreacting? I’m probably just reading too much into it. That’s gotta be it. You know, if the other YAVs were here, I bet this wouldn’t have happened. If I wasn’t by myself, I bet this wouldn’t have happened. If I was a man, this probably wouldn’t be happening.”

I don’t have this kind of experience often, but having two in the span of the week has been a bit much. My disposition while on the bus has shifted. What was once my sacred space where I could live in my head has become a space that I am continually a little anxious. It’ll take me time to be fully comfortable again.

These are types of experiences that I have had that my housemates have not. Riding the bus while female–it’s no joke and it can be really uncomfortable. But one of the cool things about the YAV program is that I have no choice but to work through this discomfort.

Notice the Dust

I’ve always found it funny that we read these words on Ash Wednesday: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” We read these words and then walk up the aisle of the sanctuary in order to have a cross made on our foreheads from the dust of the celebrations of the year before. From dust we were formed, and to dust we shall return.

We wear this dust on our foreheads one time a year. One time a year we acknowledge publicly the harshness, but also the beauty, of life—the celebrations of Easter aren’t the only thing we are charged to remember. We acknowledge our dust as a community one time a year. But what abut the dust we carry with us the other 364 days a year?

We’re all made of the same dust. And the dust that we leave in our tracks is a piece of us. A piece of our souls, our hurts, our sorrows. A piece of our faith.

Do we notice our dust? It isn’t pretty. Sometimes what we leave behind for others isn’t the best of us. It’s the hurt. It’s the fear. It’s the doubt. I like to brush dust off to the side. I like to pretend like my life is spotless, that if I just brush the dust of my own life away, I can go through life with only the joys. But Ash Wednesday reminds me that my dust is God’s dust. I have to deal with dust because it’s as much a part of my life as the joys that I hope shine through.

Of course, my dust isn’t the only dust that matters. How do we handle the dust of others? As children of the one who formed us from the dust, we have been given the responsibility of noticing the dust of others. We can’t pretend that the only thing worth seeing is the light. That doesn’t cut it, and it’s on this day each year that we’re reminded of that.

We have to see the dust, those pieces of our beings and our souls that we leave behind for those we love. We have to notice those pieces, because someone has to notice and sit with the awkwardness and discomfort of those pieces. Someone has to sit with and listen for the voice of God coming to us from the brokenness of our selves. We don’t get a pass because we’re of the same dust.

We’re all broken. We’re all loved. We’re all afraid. We’re all loved. We’re all angry at the wrongs of this world. We’re all loved. We’re all dust. We’re all loved.

From dust you were formed, and to dust you shall return. Notice the dust. Notice the grace. Know you are loved by the one who took up the dust and formed it into you. Listen for the voice of God coming through the dust of others. And never doubt that someone is listening for the voice of God coming through you.

From dust you were formed, and to dust you shall return.

#WhyIMarch

This weekend I was in DC for two historic events: the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States and the Women’s March on Washington. I did not attend the inauguration, but New York Avenue Presbyterian opened its doors to provide hospitality to those who did. I spent several hours there, drinking coffee and chatting with folks. We watched President Trump’s speech together, though some were more excited than others. I walked around downtown with friends to see what was happening in the city: there were protests in Franklin Square that turned violent, the McDonald’s I like to go to had its windows busted out, I observed police in riot gear throwing smoke bombs into crowds of protestors. It was a tense day in DC.

The general air of Friday left me nervous about Saturday, but from the minute I woke up I was surrounded by excitement. The energy was completely different. People were friendly, cheerful, and glad to be together. 16195372_10158022158505648_4129778015161917278_n

The group of us who stayed at New York Avenue walked over to the starting point together. We ended up getting split up, but I was glad to take in the rally and march with a group of YAVs, YAV alums, and my best friend from Maryville who came up to be a part of it.

In the days leading up to the march, I loved following the #WhyIMarch hashtag. Reading those short snippets of someone’s story inspired me to think about the reasons why I was marching. Was it because I was angry about the election? Partly. Was is because I don’t respect Republicans? Absolutely not. Was it because I think the Republican party is horrible? Of course not. I did not march in the Women’s March because I am a democrat. I did not march in the Women’s March because I am “a brainwashed millennial,” like I have been called before.

Here’s why I marched:

  • I marched because human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.
  • I marched because I believe that every person should be treated equally no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, or political party.
  • I marched because Donald Trump’s rhetoric and language he uses when talking about women genuinely causes me fear.
  • I marched because I have been told that I will be a “lady pastor” instead of just a pastor.
  • I marched because I want little girls to know that they can be president and little boys to know that rating a woman on a scale of 1-10 is not acceptable.
  • I marched because the government doesn’t have the right to control my body, nor does any man no matter how famous he may be.
  • I marched because most of the people in my life who raised me, who taught me that I am stronger than I think I am, who love me despite my imperfections, and who stick with me through all of life’s twists and turns are women.
  • I marched because my faith in Jesus Christ taught me that love is an action verb, and that love has no borders. And I can’t truly say I love someone if I’m not going to do everything I can to fight for them.
  • I marched because there have been too many times in my life that I felt I haven’t had a voice and being around 300,000+ women sharing their voices was inspiring.

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I’m done with standing by and hoping that things will get better. My YAV year has taught me that I have a responsibility to be a part of the change, and I’m ready to own that responsibility. That’s #WhyIMarch.

History Has Been Made

I spent today at Mount Vernon with my friend Sarah. We needed to get out of DC for a bit, and in a spurt of spontaneity decided to go to Mount Vernon instead of Arlington Cemetery as we had planned. I thought that escaping the city would mean that I could escape the fog that I’ve been moving in since the election, but even the beauty of the fall didn’t do it.

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On Tuesday morning, I woke up at 3am. I had been looking forward to Election Day for weeks. My love (and/or slight obsession) for politics meant that I’d been preparing for this day for a long time, and I was confident about how the day would go. I was in line to vote at 6:45am and the moment that I was able to fill in the circle beside Hillary Clinton’s name was one of the proudest moments of my life. You see, I have loved Hillary for my whole life. I admire her strength, her willingness to keep going in times of struggle, that she owns up to mistakes and works her hardest to keep moving forward. I admire her (and yes, I do recognize that she is flawed and has made mistakes) and I was so excited to one day tell my children that I voted for our first female president and that I was proud of her.

I spent Tuesday night with DC friends who were as excited about the election as I was. We ate chili and talked about why this night was important to us. I don’t think that any of us thought that it would be a landslide, but we were excited and confident that we would be witnessing history.

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We witnessed history on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, but it was not what we thought we would be watching. As the electoral college votes kept adding up, I found myself more and more in shock. I was shocked that I live in a country where over 49% of people could bring themselves to vote for a racist, sexist, misogynist.

I woke up Wednesday morning in a fog. I felt numb. What had we done? Our next president  is a man who offended each and every one of my closest friends. He is a man who has bragged about sexually assaulting women. He is a man who wants to take away health insurance from those who need it. He is a man who has threatened to ban an entire group of religious people from our country. He is a man who is threatening to build an actual wall. He is a man who is endorsed by the KKK. He is a man who shows no compassion, no love, no grace. He is our next president.

Wednesday was a day of deep grief. This wasn’t because my team didn’t win. I could move past that. This was because I now live in a country where I am afraid for those I love. I am afraid for my LGBTQ friends. I am afraid for my friends who are people of color. I am afraid for my friends who are Muslim, Jewish, or anything other than Christian. I am afraid for the children that I love. I am afraid for all women.

Hillary’s concession speech was aired while I was eating breakfast with Tara and Emily. As we watched her speak, we all cried. Once again, I watched a poised, graceful, qualified woman give us a gift that we as a country did not deserve. I watched her tell little girls that they should never doubt that they are “valuable, and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve” their own dreams, and I wept because we live in a country where we need that reminder. I wept because children are terrified of what they will face. I wept because every statement that Trump made has now been validated. And frankly, I wept because it feels like we have gone back in time to a place where the only people who matter are straight, white, Christian men.

We are a country that is divided. The lines are more visible than they’ve ever been. Of course, they have always been there. The blatant racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia are NOT new. But we now have a president who validates all of those things. So today is not the day to call for unity. I refuse to accept these things. I refuse to move on, to squash my anger and my grief and pretend like nothing has happened. I cannot be true to my faith if I accept these things. I will not give Trump that satisfaction.

The funny thing about this week is that Sunday is still going to come. Sunday’s going to come and the Good News will be proclaimed, and at this point I’m giving thanks that I’m not the one who will have to stand up and proclaim it. But, I work with those who do. On Wednesday afternoon the director of NEXT Church, Jessica Tate, sent out an email to the Strategy Team members to ask what they are thinking about saying to their congregations or what they needed to hear from the church. I wasn’t going to respond as I was on a list of some of the most incredible preachers I’ve ever heard, but as the day went on, I found some words. And maybe someone else needs to hear the same words that I need to hear.

Hear that your value in the eyes of God has not changed.

Hear that your fear is valid and real.

Hear that you are loved.

Feel that you are loved.

Know that you are loved.

With the reassurance of God’s deep and unchanging love, go and be a loving presence in a country that is broken and divided, knowing that your vulnerability and authenticity will allow others to do the same.

 

“Mama, I want some!”

Moving to DC taught me that there has been a constant in my life that has been so present that I never imagined life without it: being around kids A LOT of the time. My life is marked by the kids I babysat, the kids I tell stories about and follow on Facebook (which constantly makes me feel old). Catherine, Michael, and Bryce were my first. Then Susanne and Riley, and Carson and Kaleigh (and later Jackson!). Then Marshall and Walker entered the scene, along with Trevor and Crawford. Even in Arkansas I babysat: Linden and Evie, and Tobin, Vada, and River. In Maryville, Daniel and Asher quickly entered my life. Summers were full of Presbyterian preacher’s kids: Stockton, Anderson, Hannah, Charlie, Caroline, and Thomas! Children are a constant, and I’ve been feeling the hole that not being around kids has left in me.

Last Sunday at New York Avenue Presbyterian, I had the chance to give the children’s sermon and then go to Worship Play with the few kids in worship who weren’t at the all church retreat. It was the most restorative day I’d had in a long time. We read stories about Moses, sang Pharaoh, Pharaoh, and ate fruit snacks. I heard about Halloween costumes and how school was going, and made a fool of myself with dramatic motions during our song and different voices during the Bible stories. It was wonderful, but I knew that it would not be an every Sunday kind of activity.

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The main part of my job on Sunday mornings is working in the Radcliffe Room, a breakfast/hospitality ministry that NYAPC offers each Sunday. Guests can come and get clothes that they need from the clothing closest, some coffee and breakfast, and then have space to hang out and talk to one another or to church members, sing spirituals or hymns, attend a Bible study, or simply rest for a little while. It’s incredible to see every week, but today was different.

This morning, a woman that I hadn’t met before came in with her little girl who is probably around two. I had been told that if a child were to come in, I should go pick a few books from the nursery to give them since we don’t typically have children’s clothing. I went and asked her mother if she would like that, and then tried to find books that I knew were fun. After I had delivered the books, I returned to the stage to keep the women’s clothing area pretty organized and visit with the guests that I’ve come to know, but I was super excited when the mom and toddler came onto the stage. Her mom and I talked a little bit and she told me some of her story. She made a point to tell me that even though she was having to start over from nothing, she knew that keeping God first was the key to feeling like she could make it.

Towards the end of Radcliffe Room, one of NYAPC’s parish associates served communion to the guests. She began by telling a story about the saints of the world, defining saints as “those who let the light of God shine through them.” She spoke about the saints in all of our lives who have shaped and guided us, and I could feel the room settle as we all thought of those people who immediately come to mind. As she spoke the words of institution and prepared to take the plate and cup around to each of the guests, those of us standing around the piano began to sing Let Us Break Bread Together.

The mother and her daughter had moved to sit closer to the piano so that they could sing and hear the music, and while Beth moved around the room and we sang the song, the little girl grew impatient. She had watched attentively while Beth spoke and prayed, and grinned when the music began to play. Her impatience showed itself with her ever louder cry: “Mama, I want some! Mama, I want some!”

Beth served the little girl and her face lit up. She held that piece of bread while she heard the words, “This is the bread of life, for you!,” and gleefully ate it and drank the grape juice out of the little cup that was just her size.

If the saints are those who let the light of God shine through them, then I met a saint this morning: a tiny little girl with a bright pink coat whose shouts of “Mama, I want some!,” would not be ignored.