Possessed by Possessions

As I prepared for this week’s Lenten cleanse, I felt the familiar clinching in my chest as I began to choose items to purge. What if I want to use that again? What if I regret getting rid of this? What if I need this some day?

I hesitated at the initial thought of getting rid of household items- and yet research tells us that less stuff actually brings more joy.

I began to look at statistics on American clutter this weekend, and I realized we all seem to hesitate or struggle to purge. I read a compelling article on becomingminimalist.com by Joshua Becker- who provided some astonishing facts about the issue of consumerism in the U.S..  

I learned that the average American home contains 300,000 items (LA Times) and the average size of our homes has tripled in the past 50 years (NPR).

Even with our larger homes, 1 out of 10 of us rent a storage unit for our stuff (New York Times Magazine). In fact, there are over 50,000 storage facilities in the US- five times the number of Starbucks.

We rent storage units because we’ve already filled our homes, and our garages- 25% of us cannot fit cars in our garages due to our stuff and an additional 32% of us can only put one car in our two car garage because of our belongings (U.S. Department of Energy).

In America, we seem to be completely possessed by our possessions. We are only 12% of the global population and yet we use over 60% of the world’s resources. We are pushed into these practices by our culture too.

Did you know that Shopping malls outnumber high schools and 93% of teenage girls rank shopping as their favorite pastime (Affluenza)?

Joshua Becker pointed out that statistics show women will spend more than 8 years of their lives shopping (The Daily Mail).

After learning these facts about our culture, I had new eyes to look in my cupboards and closets. I boxed up underused items over the weekend. I realized, clearing out my shelves allows me to live and love my everyday life, instead of longing for what was or what might be.

Goodbye to the margarita glasses- instead of keeping a set of six stemmed cocktail vessels that I haven’t used since graduate school- I boxed them up- so that my shelves have plenty of room for sippy cups and lunch boxes in the next few years.

Farewell to the party supplies and excess platters I imagined I might use for some elaborate grown up party with the friends I might meet in the next few years- instead, I need enough room to welcome the Christmas plates my children will decorate at school.

This week, I boxed up and hauled out the housewares that represented what might be or what once was- so that I can embrace this beautiful chapter of kid tea parties, close friends over- whispering in our living room after baby bed time, and the simplicity of our life just as it is- not as it might be in the future.  

Goodbye: boxes and bags #17-22. Already, I sense the relief of letting go, and the peace that can come with gestures of simplification.

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Confessions of an Allergy Mom

Del Monte

Tonight, I’m headed to a Chili Cook-off at my church.

My secret recipe has been simmering in the crockpot all day. This year, I aim to win the taste contest. I’ve been secretly campaigning all month- whispering to church members “mine will be the black bean chili in the black crockpot”.

But I will head to this youth group fundraiser alone tonight. My son and husband will stay behind- not because I don’t want them there- in fact- I will miss their precious votes for my chili- but because even a chili cook-offs pose a threat to our little guy.

We recently learned that Del Monte canned tomatoes contain sesame oil. A small ingredient meant to enhance the taste of these tomatoes- and yet- those few drops of oil could send my son to the E.R.

Even if he only tried my chili at the event tonight- a small kiss from a loving church member with sesame oil on their breath would swell his face and possibly affect his breathing. Or, an embrace from someone using essential oils or face cream that contains sesame oil (a very common, hidden ingredient in many beauty products) could cover his body in welts.

This is the new normal for our household. Before venturing out to potlucks or parties- we have to ask the question: will someone use Del Monte tomatoes? Or bring hummus? Or will there be bread from a bakery that might have cross contamination with sesame seeds? Even Campbell’s chicken noodle soup has added sesame to their ingredients this fall.

Tonight, Felix won’t miss the chili cook-off. Instead, he and his dad will make loops around the kitchen- racing shopping carts and Tonka trucks. They will stack all of his blocks as high as possible- just so Felix can crash them down.

But tonight makes me think of the many Friday evenings ahead- when Felix will be invited to social gatherings or fun events- and we will have to consider the risks, the potential exposures, and we may have to curb his enthusiasm in favor of his protection.

This is the reality for allergy families. Tonight, my heart breaks a little bit- because I can already imagine the day I will have to explain to Felix that the BBQ may not be safe because of sesame seed buns, or the friend’s birthday party won’t work because they are going out to Asian food… or that he cannot participate in the chili taste tests because someone may have used Del Monte tomatoes…

I am grateful that Felix is a healthy, energized, vibrant boy. I have no doubt he will savor every ounce of life ahead of him. I believe that a world without sesame is still a fun and exciting world.

And yet, a part of me will always worry about his allergy. I will always flinch as he continues to explore the world- hoping he is safe, hoping he never has an anaphylactic reaction again… these are the confessions of an allergy mom….

 

A Letter to My Son After a Mass Shooting

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Dearest Felix,

It’s been 48 hours since the deadliest mass shooting in US history. As your mom, I want to shield you from this reality. I never want you to know about such violence, such tragedy.

But also, as your mom – I need to be the one to talk to you about this.

Sometimes – unbelievable tragedy breaks out in the world and we do not know why.
Sometimes – one’s own pain and anguish translates into mass destruction like this.
When this happens in the world – you will see fear emerge. We start to fear the other; we fear what we do not know; we fear public places and political leaders-and most of all we fear our neighbors.

I do not know how we find security again after such a horrific event, but I do know that only love can overcome hate, only light can overcome darkness.

My dear child, as you grow and learn and experience the world- I pray that you remember to know and love your neighbor: your gay neighbor, your Muslim neighbor, your black neighbor, your Asian neighbor, your homeless neighbor, your mentally ill neighbor, your NRA member Neighbor, your green party neighbor, and everything in between.

By know your neighbor – I mean learn his mother’s name. Understand what he loves, and what he fears. Figure out where his passion is and what hardships he’s faced.
Remember that all of your neighbors are human beings as well – trying desperately to navigate in this broken world.

Remember that we are all in this together, and that we belong to one another.

Never forget the vulnerability and tenderness within your neighbors.

Always remember that every person you meet is made in the image of God – therefore they are an opportunity to know more about goodness and grace.

Knowing and loving your neighbor will not stop tragedy in the world – but it can stop your fear. It can stop the temptation to draw lines between insider and outsider, good and evil, sameness and otherness – and this will begin to heal the world.

I love you with all my heart, darling. And each of your neighbors has a mother that loves them too. Or they don’t – all the more reason to show them compassion.

I long for you to be safe, secure, confident, courageous, but most of all compassionate because the world desperately needs your loving heart.

When the dark times come – remember my voice. Remember how much you are loved. Remember that every human being deserves the same love. Be that love in the world, because that is where the healing begins.

I believe you will be someone who can make a difference. The bright light of your soul gives me hope and times like this.

Love, Mama

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A Lesson on Love

Allergy

+John 13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

 My son finally likes food. It’s been a battle against avocado and his first taste of green beans. He’s cried through mouthfuls of applesauce and pureed carrots. But finally: he eats.

He loves bananas and pears and prunes. He loves cereal and sweet potato and even mango.

We are giving him spoonful after spoonful of food at home.

14 days ago-Felix took a little bite of hummus, and immediately- his lips puffed up with blisters. His tongue swelled so large it could not fit into his mouth anymore. He couldn’t swallow. He vomited over and over. His body became bright red with white welts everywhere.

He was losing consciousness as we drove to the ER. My husband shouted at me: ‘Felix is dying!’

He had an allergic reaction. He went into anaphylactic shock.

As we drove, I started to pray: “why can’t I trade places with him! This should be me! God- let this be me not him! Let me suffer, not him!”

But we can’t do that for one another, can we? We cannot suffer for one another or die for one another or trade places with one another. No matter how much we love someone- and I love Felix with ALL my heart- we cannot trade places. Instead, to really love someone through their suffering- we must be present. We must endure together.

I remember wiping off Felix’s sweaty forehead and patting dry his soaked onesie in the emergency room. It is the only thing I could do. That is all any of us can really do for each other. It’s our only choice when the going gets rough.

Last Saturday- as Felix struggled to breathe- I pleaded with God “let this be me!” But we cannot take each other’s suffering.

And yet, sometimes that is what we attribute to Christ. Sometimes, we get caught up celebrating Christ’s sacrifice. But is that the best way Christ loved?

Maybe we get it wrong. Maybe our focus on Christ’s sacrifice is not the part we are called to mimic. Maybe it’s something different.

In this pre-resurrection scripture, Christ told his disciples to love as he has loved them already: by sticking close to one another through difficult times, standing by one another in the darkest, loneliest, most isolating moments, being community with one another even when it feels like the world is falling apart.

I learned 14 days ago that we cannot sacrifice for one another or take each other’s place in suffering- if we could, I would have been the one with the swollen tongue trying to breathe. Even the deepest love can only be shown by showing up, standing by, holding each other close, and enduring together.

When I hear the words of Christ’s final commandment to love as he loved, I hear this message in a new way these days. Loving one another as Christ loved is not promising to sacrifice ourselves in each other’s place- because we can’t. Instead, it’s standing by one another, enduring together, and most of all- allowing others in to our most vulnerable moments- being community together. This is how Christ loved, I hope we all seek to do the same.

Paved With Good Intentions: Our Experience with an Accidental Puppy

Ozzie 1

A few weeks ago, Andrew and I ended up with an accidental puppy named Ozzie.

And tonight, after many tears and agonizing pro/con lists, I dropped him off to his new forever home.

We learned so much from this experience: about choices, about preparation, about the difference between falling in love and acting out the VERB of love. These are a few reflections on the past few weeks.

It all started when we attended a charity auction one night. Beautiful decorations and elaborate signature cocktails filled the reception hall. Hundreds of auction baskets lined the room. Over our 4-course meal, a live auction took place.

All of the “who’s who” from Canton seemed to be in attendance. This was the sort of auction where a hayride could sell for $7,500 at the end of bidding wars.

Mid-auction, a 12 week old Cairn Terrier came to the platform. Before the bidding, this adorable puppy went from table to table- charming each person he met with his huge, sympathetic eyes and frizzy coat.

The auctioneer held up this sweet dog and said “Let’s open it up at $500!” and for some reason, I raised my number.

In a room full of people spending $3000 on home cooked meals and $10,000 on tickets to Disney World that they would never use… the bidding stopped completely. Not one single paddle in the air, not one counter bid.

10 minutes later, Andrew and I were in the car with our accidental puppy on the way home-without a clue about how to care for him.

With new ministry positions, a new home, a new routine still under construction- Ozzie wasn’t the best idea.

But, for the next few weeks, we stumbled through our puppy trial-by-fire. This delightful, bright creature kept us up late at night and woke us up early every morning.

He ate a hole in our rug, he peed on every surface of our floor, he punctured the skin all over our fingers and feet- and he tortured our cats.

At the same time, he charmed all of our neighbors, he licked our noses, and he wagged his tail with exuberance every time we walked into a room.

Every day was an adventure with Ozzie.

One morning, he crawled out from under our porch with a mummified rat in his mouth- there were visible tufts of hair and little claws still intact on it’s blackened, shriveled body- I could have puked.

A few nights ago- I introduced Ozzie to my beloved Oliver (our 3-legged cat). Ozzie knocked him to the ground and peed on him- I could have screamed.

We both loved and feared this little dog. But as the days with Ozzie went on- we started to realize that we did not have the time, the skills, or the insight to help him thrive. It wasn’t the right season in our lives for this.

We realized that the most compassionate action we could take was to find him a home that would invest deeply in his development- and it wasn’t ours. So tonight, Ozzie is meeting his new mom – and he will flourish with her.

But Ozzie taught me a few lessons in his short weeks with us that I will always remember:

1)      Never make a bid on an auction item you are not prepared to take home

2)      Starting your day with a 6am walk guarantees more energy and productivity

3)      Make a point to meet your neighbors- even if you do not have a dog to start the introduction

4)      In all relationships, be prepared to take responsibility, time and energy to help the one you love to thrive

5)      Set boundaries- even if it’s not someone peeing on your carpet or chewing your fingers, it’s important to be confident in your ability to say ‘no’

Finally, Ozzie taught me that Andrew and I loved taking care of another soul together. We learned that with the right circumstance, in the right time- we will be great collaborators and communicators about how to nurture and sustain a growing household, puppies and children alike.

Even as I write this, I miss the sound of his sharp toenails on our wood floors. I miss the smell of his puppy belly. I miss the routine of a late night walk. But I will remember the lessons he taught me, the gift he gave us through his hope-filled spirit, and the place in our hearts that we discovered through him- with more room to love, to nurture and to grow.

Thank you, Ozzie.

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Goodbye Y’all (a final sermon for Lindenwood)

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This is it- my last Sunday at Lindenwood- and how could I possibly begin to say goodbye?

 How do you say goodbye well?

  It’s only been 3.5 years, but for me, it’s been my entire life in ministry. My first call, the place where I was ordained, the place where I took risks, where I grew, where I made mistakes, where I learned, where you all gave me the space to explore ministry.

 This is our 170th Sunday together. For 170 Sundays, I have been your pastor, and you have been my congregation.

 I saw this time as a gift, a privilege, a true calling from the holy spirit. I owe you so much of my heart, so much gratitude, so much appreciation.

 And Y’all have taught me so much, and I realize that now as I’m fixing to leave. I came as a Yankee, but you taught me that I might could become a southern belle with a little effort.

 Y’all taught me that even a few drops of cold rain is plenty a reason to close church, the pharmacy, sell out of bread and milk- and spend the whole day at home catching up on Netflix. Thank you.

 Y’all taught me important phrases like y’all, fixing to, might could, bless your heart, getting my picture made, kiss my grits, madder than a wet hen…

 But more than those “Southernisms”, you have taught me to baptize, to keep vigil at the bedside of someone on hospice or at the hospital, you have taught me to pray out loud, you have taught me how to design worship, how to preach, how to climb up onto the roof of a Habitat for Humanity house, how to bless a baby, how to marry a loving couple, how to say farewell to someone in a funeral, how to grieve with a family, and how to love a room full of 400 people more than I thought I ever could…

 This has been a journey of teaching, of loving, of learning, of growing, and most of all- bringing glory to Christ in all that we do. So how do you say goodbye well?

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 That’s how we did it, anyway.

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 I remember my first adult goodbye so well. It was a cold spring. My family gathered around the hospital bed keeping vigil, telling stories, sharing memories, listening to music. The food tasted like rubber, the neon lights offered little warmth, but none of that mattered. My family spent the afternoon in the Cheyanne Wyoming Memorial hospital with my grandfather. We were creating a safe, sacred space for him to let go.

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 We all made sure to whisper these words to him that afternoon.

 For some of us, we had no idea what we had to apologize for…

 Well, I had one little thing… I remembered a moment from 10 years before this, when I was an angst-y 8th grader- writing angst-y things in my little journal. I would criticize classmates and critique teachers. And one Thanksgiving, my grandfather accidently picked up this journal and peeked in by mistake.

 I was mortified. I didn’t want him to see me like that. I didn’t want him to see my harsh words written down.

 10 years later, gathered around his hospital bed- we had shared so many more memories and inspiring conversations and family Thanksgivings- I doubt he ever remembered my 13-year-old girl journal- but it didn’t matter- I whispered: I’m sorry.

 Many of us in the family didn’t know what we meant exactly with those words “I forgive you.” But just like ‘I’m sorry,’ they needed to be said. Maybe my grandfather experienced his own private angst for not showing up for some odd ballet performance, or not writing the perfect Christmas card, or….

 Whatever could have been troubling him, we wanted to release it- so we all whispered “I forgive you.”

 And finally, we all said “I love you.” Over and over again, we said “I love you.”

 We did this because it was time to say goodbye, it was time to make sure that our adoration and respect was understood, and believed, and communicated.

 In those final hours, we listened to sacred music. Alleluias and Praise to the Lord’s rang out. I remember when one of my favorite songs began to play in that hospital room as we all gathered. It was an arrangement of a beautiful sacred spiritual by Moses Hogan:

Lord I want to be more Holy, in my heart, in my heart,

Lord I want to be more Holy in my heart.

In my heart, in my heart,

Lord I want to be more Holy in my heart.

I sang along as the song played. It was like the anthem for all of us. I remember singing that song so clearly because that afternoon, as we said goodbye to my grandfather, it was a holy moment, a sacred, peaceful, holy goodbye.

And then I look out at all of you here today, and it almost feels the same.

When I think back to that song: Lord I want to be more holy, in my heart, in my heart, Lord I want to be more holy in my heart…

It reminds me that this was our biggest task together at Lindenwood. We all had the privilege and the honor of seeking holiness together, of trying to be more faithful, more loving, more compassionate and gospel-oriented together.

In the same way that we gathered that afternoon in the hospital room, we are all here today to say a goodbye.

I chose Paul’s letter to the Philippians for this morning, partly because it is a scripture for the 2nd week of Advent (well, last year anyway), but mostly because I couldn’t have composed a better letter myself. Our brother Paul wrote this letter generations ago, but I wanted to borrow his words and recite them to all of you today:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

 Theologians agree Paul’s letter to the Philippians was a friendship letter- it expresses the deep love and connection between Paul and this community. This letter is sustained and rooted in their shared memories- Paul recalls with joy all that they have shared together and endured together.

Paul has 4 main points throughout the letter to the Philippians:

1)      he expresses gratitude that they have shared the gospel together;

2)      he expresses his love for this community;

3)      he tells them he hopes their love will overflow;

4)      and finally, he tells them he hopes they will discern what is truly valuable and good. 

This letter holds the longest expression of thanksgiving and love to any community that Paul writes to. There is a special intimacy and love reflected in this letter that goes beyond any of his other writings. The church in Philippi was one of the first churches in Europe, and Paul has a particular connection and respect for this church, because it’s where he felt he did some of his best work.

He writes to them knowing that he will not be with the church in Philippi for the duration of their good ministry, instead, he says, he will pray for the church until the day of Christ arrives.

Today, I can relate Paul’s situation and sentiment in this letter. I want to share a message of friendship with each of you because of our deep love and connection that is sustained and rooted in shared memories and joy. I want to express the same message Paul writes:

1)      my gratitude that we have shared the gospel together;

2)      my love for this community;

3)      my hope that your love will overflow;

4)      and finally, my hope that you will discern what is truly valuable and good. 

And, just like the church in Philippi was one of the first churches in Europe for Paul, you, Lindenwood, are my first church. Because of this, there is a special intimacy and love from me, for you.

Finally, Paul writes knowing that he will not be with the church in Philippi for the duration of their ministry- and I will not be with you all as you do your best ministry ahead.

So how can we say goodbye?

Let me say to you the goodbye I learned at the bedside of someone I loved: I’m sorry, I forgive you, I love you.

I am sure there are those here who I offended, or hurt, or disappointed, or worse. But today, as we go our separate ways, it feels vitally important and appropriate for me to say: whatever has been said or left unsaid that caused upset: I am sorry.

And, I forgive you. Just like ‘I’m sorry,’ these words need to be said.  I leave with no grudges or unresolved relationships. I am sure there are those here who think we might have had a past concern, or issue, or conflict. Whatever could be troubling you, I want to release it- so believe me when I say “I forgive you.”

 And finally, the most important message of all: I love you. I do. I love this entire church for all my relationships, my memories, my joy, my laughter, all that we have shared, all that we created, all that we witnessed together.

Lindenwood, on this final Sunday, may this be my lasting word of good news: we can say goodbye well. Even the apostles and prophets before all of us knew how to depart well. And this is an opportunity for us to do the same. I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

  And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Amen.

What if The Church Shut Down?

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Everybody’s talking about it. The U.S. government shut down this week. My conservative friends are outraged. My liberal friends are outraged. My moderate friends are outraged. Safe to say- we are all outraged by this.

I am decidedly not a political person. I don’t follow politics closely. I probably should. But on days like today, and weeks like this week- I am so glad I invest very little in all of it.

But here’s what I do know: when you work for an organization that is responsible for taking care of the least of these, guiding the masses to a more just and ordered existence, and living in to your call as a leader and a steward of other people’s resources—you cannot shut down.

This could be the government. This could be The Church.

In The Church, there are times when I feel so convicted about actions being taken ‘in the name of The Church’ that I believe we should shut down. When Westboro Baptist pickets funerals, or preachers spew hate from the pulpit, or “Christians” tear down their neighbors because of our differences in: gender, race, sexuality, or abilities- I desperately want to suggest that we close up shop and SHUT DOWN simply based on my principals and beliefs.

And in The Church- there are times when I am so outraged when I see fellow church leaders sabotaging our work for wholeness, holiness, grace, and mercy- that I want to point fingers, I want to blame. I want to protest.

But at the end of the day- before I let myself get lost in the shallow, bitter conflicts of being the Church in a broken world- I try to remember our purpose.

The church is simply a human-made, flawed structure. And even with its flaws and weaknesses, at the heart of the church, we are called to create spaces of grace. The church aims to provide services to all people, food for the hungry, shelter for the needy, justice for the meek, and safety for the least of these.

I believe in the mission of the Church too much to allow my own convictions and personal grievances to shut it down. I am not willing to compromise all the services and lifelines the church offers even when the actions and inactions of the church embarrass me, devastate me and make me want to rise up in protest.

I read a letter written by a little girl who lost the opportunity to go to a National Park on a school field trip this week because of the government shut down. Her letter suggested that congress and the president try to sit down and negotiate a resolution to their conflict the way she and her classmates do in the 3rd grade. 

My prayer is the same.

If I could say one thing to all those in this conflict:

From one leader in a human-made, flawed structure to others:  Please, get back to work.

Millennials and the Church Touch

The Church Touch

I felt so popular in the last few weeks. I am a Millennial. I go to church. I care about the church. I serve the church.

Recently, the internet has exploded with reflections and thoughts about my generation and the church. It all started with an article that Evangelical Writer Rachel Held Evans wrote on the CNN Belief Blog called “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church”, which you can read here.

202,000 facebook users shared her post. She wrote about what the church should become to attract people in our generation (loosely categorized as the generation after Gen X, folks born in the 80s and 90s). Rachel suggests that the church should focus on being authentic and open, intellectual and holy, but most of all: attentive to the desires and trends of the Millennials.

Brett McCracken wrote a response to Rachel’s essay in the Washington Post On Faith blog, which you can read here.

Thousands of facebook users reposed his article too. He suggests that Millennials do not have it all figured out, and the church should actually stand up to us and our demanding, self-centered ways.

Both articles are well written, thoughtful, and equally worthy of consideration.

And on my little blog, in my own little way, this is what I would add to the conversation of Millennials and The Church: we need each other.

The Church needs young, fast-paced, energetic leaders who can start the church twitter page and preach the good news of acceptance, grace, and open doors. We can bring new eyes to the sanctuaries and grand foyers and parables that just might enliven our faith exploration in The Church.

But as a Millennial, the biggest gift the church has given me came in the form of touch. Real touch. The week my grandmother died, facebook messages and texts came in by the dozens, but I needed that warm, grandmotherly hug from Dot Williams when I showed up at Lindenwood. I needed to hold the hand-written note from Lucy and Ralph Black that shared honest words of encouragement. The Church touched me.

When a man shot crowds of people in Aurora, Colorado last summer, I needed to turn off the constant commentary and catastrophizing on the news and experience the touch of the quiet, holy space of our prayer room in the church. I longed for the timeless sacred walls to wrap around me and give me a place to weep, to pray and to just be. Through the prayer room, the church touched me.

When me and my fellow Millennials engage in friendly, yet fierce digital competitions of showcasing our prestigious jobs, or seemingly superhuman fertility, or picture perfect weddings, or beautiful McMansion homes—one upping each other and comparing ourselves to one another in our Instagram posts and personal blogs… I have needed the church to show me images of the kingdom: people old and young, vulnerable, struggling, humble and collaborative. Inside our doors- the artificial ‘competitions’ fade away and I get to sing “It Is Well” with my fellow seeking, broken, evolving, willing, and raw brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how the church touches me.

Millennials might help the church stay relevant and prophetic and global… but for me- one Millennial seeking wholeness in this fragmented world- I love the Church Touch.

The church helps me step outside of the instant, distant, technologically clogged world of the Millennials. But more than this- at its best- the church reaches in, past my cheerful facebook posts and guarded tweets, past my fast paced façade and ambitious tendencies- and the Church touches my spirit.

Yes, the church needs us Millennials. But I know, deep down, I sure need The Church touch.

What Is Your Mustard Seed?

(The Lindenwood Youth, Rev. Andrew and Rev. Sarah at Bethany Hills)

Keynote, CYF Bethany Hills Camp: Secrets of the Kingdom, Preached: June 8, 2012

+Matthew 13: 31-32 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field, it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make their nests in its branches.

Today is our last day at Bethany Hills for this year. We’ve entered our last hours of CYF conference on this holy ground.

This is a place of wonder. The hours I have spent at Bethany Hills with all of you over the past week will stay with me forever. All of my memories are filled with joy.

I’ll remember David Kenny clobbering my husband Andrew with shaving cream and covering his head during our backyard games.

I’ll remember Erin Aulfinger praising her friend TJ Hunt for his fun attitude and loving, Christ-like personality.

I’ll remember Carolyn Mallet leading us in prayerful singing of “They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love”.

I’ll remember fighting all of you for the last of the chicken nuggets.

I’ll remember the sweet sounds of the serenading last night.

I’ve seen each of you lift up your friends with praises about their hearts of ministry. I’ve watched you get lost in the joy and freedom of your youth. It has been an honor to walk with you through this week of camp. After this week of worshipping and studying God’s word and building the kingdom within this community, we’ve come to the final lesson.

All week, we’ve been on a journey through the secrets of the kingdom. First, we explored the language of the kingdom in bold, raw, prayer. Then we wrapped our minds around the generosity of the kingdom through the parable of the landowner.  Then, we adjusted our lens as we look for Christ in the world, and we realized through the parable of the sheep and the goats that when we serve the least of these, we find Christ within them.

Today’s parable talks about the sacredness of a tiny, black seed that grows into a wild and powerful bush and we are reminded that God works through the smallest beginnings to reveal the kingdom here.

Everything that is good and compassionate and love filled and Christ-like begins with a tiny gesture, and these small beginnings blossom into God’s beautiful plan.

I want to leave you today with one question: what is your mustard seed?

We are about to go back to our busy lives across Tennessee, but before we leave this sacred ground, I hope all of you will take some time to reflect on the seeds of hope and ministry that God has created in you. Because all of God’s good ministry and mission begins with a tiny mustard seed.

This week at camp, we’ve seen Andrew in his element with all of you. He loves working with youth, this is his most authentic ministry. But it all started with a few small gestures when Andrew was growing up.

Now, let me you tell an embarrassing story about my husband…

When Andrew was a little boy, he encouraged his mom every single day as she pursued her dreams. They grew up in Lancaster Pennsylvania, and for the first few years of Andrew’s life, his mom stayed at home to raise him and his little brother. But, when Andrew turned 7 years old, his mom decided she was ready to pursue a career. She decided to go to law school. Every single day of this journey was a grand gesture. She was keeping the house together, she was raising two young boys, and, she was driving 2 hours each way every single day to her law school so that she could attend class.

Andrew recognized the stress and the exhaustion of his mom, and he decided to bring a little daily ritual into her routine. Every single day, when she would leave the house for law school, Andrew would dart out of the house in his pajamas and run down the driveway after her car and shout:

May the Force Be With You, Mom!

Andrew’s encouraging spirit and ministry all began at age 7 with this little gesture. This was Andrew’s mustard seed.

And now, Andrew continues his ministry of encouragement and building people up.

So, again, on this last day before you head back into your world, I urge you to think about this: What is Your mustard seed?

I remember my mustard seed moment. I was five years old. I was monkeying around one night as a babysitter watched me and my brother.  Just as she turned her head, I climbed up on to the kitchen counters and slipped off, shattering my arm into pieces. I went into emergency surgery that night. I spent the next year of my life in surgery after surgery, hospital room after hospital room.

But every single day, this sweet, gentle nun would visit me. She made me feel better. She prayed with me. She encouraged me. She was the first woman minister I had ever met. As I watched her, I started to wonder if I too, could do ministry when I grew up.

One afternoon, after a particularly inspiring visit with my nun friend, I turned to my mom and I said:

How much to nuns make?

That was my mustard seed.

No matter how it comes to you or when you start to realize it, each and every one of you has a call from God to bloom and grow and provide a tall and sturdy ministry here in this fragile world. But what will it be? How will you serve? What will you offer? Again, I invite you to ask yourself this question: what is your mustard seed?

May 23rd marked one year since Joplin was bruised and beaten by a tornado. When the tornado hit, camera crews and news channels and reporters swarmed the streets, capturing images of houses torn apart, trucks turned over and families huddling in shelters. Anderson Cooper highlighted the damage in a broadcast. Newspapers splashed photos of this event on their Sunday Morning centerfold. And our very own disaster relief organization showed up to serve as well. Week of Compassion is known for building sustainable, long term recovery programs in places devastated by disaster.

The Executive Director of Week of Compassion, Amy Gopp, describes pulling in to the parking lot of First Christian Church, Joplin, last May after the tornado. She greeted two faithful ministers on that gravel driveway, and I imagine their ministry in Joplin began with small, simple gesture like cooking a meal. I imagine them making a pot of soup chicken noodle soup for the volunteers.

I imagine ladle after ladle, that soup nourished the relief workers, the displaced families, and the local churches who rallied to help Joplin. Ladle after ladle of that chicken noodle soup, Week of Compassion and First Christian Church nursed Joplin back to a place of strength.

The news crews and Anderson Cooper and every reporter in sight slowly started to back away from Joplin. We were on to the next big story and the centerfolds in the newspapers reflected the immediate story of the week. But Week of Compassion remained in Joplin.

As the months went on, I know soup ladles were replaced with wreaths that First Christian Church hung on the FEMA trailer doors. The ladles turned in to food pantries and clothes closets for families in need. Those ladles turned in to long term relationships with Disciples Volunteering and Joplin, Missouri. Youth groups and Mission Trips continue to gather in Joplin to dig through debris and rubble so that hope may be resurrected there.

That first act of ministry in Joplin from Week of Compassion when Amy Gopp arrived was a mustard seed. And their first small gesture of ministry  from Amy Gopp and the ministers of Joplin grew and spread into a ministry that will bring grace and hospitality and relief to our brothers and sisters in Joplin every single day until Joplin is thriving again.

Today is the day I invite all of you to pray through this question: what is your mustard seed?

I have seen so many of your gifts. You lead worship with passion and thoughtfulness. You build the beloved community without reservation. You study God’s word with the faithfulness of all good leaders. You have generous spirits and compassionate hearts and wisdom beyond your years. As you spend your final hours here at Bethany Hills, take a moment to yourself. Listen to God. Pray for your call in this world to be revealed.

And never stop asking the question: what is MY mustard seed. Because this is how God’s kingdom breaks forth among us. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Sarah Taylor Peck. All Rights Reserved.

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