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Ten years ago, I experienced a call from God to start a youth group at my home church. I was 18 (would turn 19 by the end of that summer) at the time and I remember thinking, "Am I qualified to do this with no funding and no help?" So, I got some help! I asked a friend of mine who grew up with me at my home church, as well as her husband, to help lead the youth group. They were on board, the families were on board with us being in charge and bringing their kids to youth...now we just had to make them a place that felt like their own.
In my home church, the basement was traditionally the place where youth were placed (when we had a youth group in my junior high days!). So it was only natural that would be their place again. The problem is, at one point between youth groups, it had been designated as a special event and special meeting room. It had been painted a *lovely* brown/yellow and had small, thin, brown vines by some of the windows. It was clearly not a fun space for youth. On top of that, the furniture in the basement was ancient! The pool table was old when I was in junior high and they had purchased the foosball table (that was beat up like all foosball tables become) when I was in youth. We had brown, metal chairs, chipping paint, and old furniture and items stored in this space. It was covered in dust and dirt.
So transformed the space. We cleaned. We swept. We mopped. We moved things around. But there was no funding for paint at the time. We were going to need some nice, comfy seating for the kids, so we had our pastor at the time announce in church that we were looking for someone to bring an old couch up for the youth.
When we asked for volunteers to give us old couches, we envisioned maybe a member or two getting new furniture and needing to give their furniture to a worthy cause. We envisioned soft, comfortable seating. We imagined clean material. Our hopes were too high.
One Sunday, the three of us walked in to our space to find an old, yellow couch. It was a two-toned yellow--one part had only a semi-dirt-covered yellow and the other had a dirt-covered yellow. It was an old sleeper sofa, but you wouldn't have known by looking at it. When you took the cushions off and pulled the bed out, the mattress was maybe an inch thick, still had old sheets on it, and smelled horribly. Even taking the cushions off was an adventure. Dust flew everywhere. And the cushions had been well used. It was clear this had been in someone's storage shed, untouched for decades.
Perhaps what felt like a kind gesture from a well-meaning member was not received as such (and if you're reading this blog and you're the one who donated it--I'm not trying to say you are a bad person--you probably were truly well-meaning and wanted to see the group start). I remember the kids walking in, saying, "Oooohh, a couch!" They ran over to it so they could jump on it, but upon further inspection, they stopped themselves short and said, "GROSS!!! Why is it so old and dirty?" Their faces fell. They felt what we leaders had been feeling--we felt incredibly discouraged. We knew our church was struggling financially--that wasn't what we were upset about. We were upset that someone thought, "I have an old couch that hasn't been used in decades! It's dirty, it's dusty, and I wouldn't sit on it...but they're kids, they won't care." They did care...and so did we. We would have rather had no couch than have felt as though our youth room was a garbage dump for old furniture others would never sit on themselves again.
I've been thinking about this yellow couch lately. I think it's a good, physical representation of the ways we fall short as Christians. If you're going to believe in and follow Christ, you can't do it half way. You can't join a church and say, "Yes, I commit to giving my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness" and then only pray on Sunday with the pastor, only show up to church for Christmas and Easter, only place some spare change in the plate once in a while, show up to no events or activities, and not share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. When you show up halfway, others notice it. When you only put half of yourself into being a disciple, it's like you're trying to skate in flip-flops or you're trying to cook a steak with no heat. It doesn't work. If you truly seek to be a follower of Christ, to give all that you have, you're going to be there 100%. You're going to give it your all, so much so that everything you do, every decision you make, will be based on where you are in your relationship with Christ.
A couple months after the yellow couch arrived, the married youth leaders helping me brought in their old, sectional couch. It was far from perfect, but it was clean, it was comfortable, and it wasn't so new that the youth couldn't enjoy it. It was perfect and was used for years! For those youth leaders, it was a sacrifice to give their old couch--they could have sold it and made some money for their young family. Instead, they chose to give their all to the youth and give their all to God.
We cannot truly say we are living in a relationship with Christ if we are not putting our all into it. Christ is always all-in. Christ wants the relationship with us! It's us who gets to choose whether or not we will go all-in in return. The easy thing to do is to give a "yellow couch" worth of an effort--enough to say you did something, but not enough to truly benefit you. The more difficult thing to do is to follow God in an "old, sectional couch" way--serving others, sacrificing time you could be on social media to pray instead, give an intentional monetary gift to the church or a charity each month, and volunteer at church or community activities where you can share God's love with others. Following Christ is not easy--it's tough. But it's worth it!
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Family is family, in church or in prison
You get what you get, and you don't get to pick 'em
They might smoke like chimneys, but give you their kidneys
Yeah, friends come in handy, but family is family
The above lyrics are the chorus to the song "Family is Family" by Kacey Musgraves. I love her music because it is very real--especially the lyrics of this song! We are born into families that we do not choose. Some families are the picture-perfect families with the big, fancy house in the suburbs, the two car garage, the cat and dog, and the 2.5 kids. Other families are the ones that live in a smaller home, either brick, wooden, or mobile. They don't have the fancy cars to go into a big garage. Their pets run around their homes, making messes to be cleaned up. And their kids? Well, let's just say they are what we would call, "Hell on wheels!" Stock photos of families (such as the one pictured above), families in television and in movies, are typically portrayed as the first families described above--picture-perfect. Pristine. Put together. It makes us look at our own families and say, "We are all kinds of screwed up!"
This was why, as we near the holiday season, I wanted to do a sermon series on family. It's too easy to look at what a family is "supposed" to be according to the media and Hollywood, compare ourselves to them, and feel as though we have come up short. Even the families in the Bible aren't perfect--proving that our families aren't supposed to be perfect either!
The book of Genesis is, hands down, my favorite soap opera! We've got...
This is far from a picture perfect family!!! In fact, when I hear these stories from the Bible, I often feel comfort and relief because even my family isn't that twisted and messed up! Even though these families are not perfect, notice that God still uses them and all of their imperfections.
So as you prepare to gather around a table or two with your family next week, take comfort knowing that your family doesn't have to be perfect. That cousin that is always in jail? That brother who can't stop stirring the pot and causing drama? That parent-in-law that drives you crazy? Totally normal and yes, God can still use each of them and you in His mission to help all people know they are loved by God.
I hope you take some time to celebrate your perfectly imperfect families this next week! The love that is there in spite of the imperfections is there--don't take it for granted!
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Last Wednesday, I took my dog, Cocoa, outside right after waking up. As I opened the door, the first thing I saw were about 4 baby deer, playing in the yard. They were eating grass, enjoying the cool weather, and the early morning sun. Cocoa was not happy to see these animals in her yard. I opened up the gate to the small fence that I placed up around the covered patio in the backyard. She jumped over the opening, hopped along the concrete steps, and she took off in a sprint toward the deer. As I realized she was moving at a faster-than-normal speed, I quickly tried to get my body over the opening in time to be able to hold on to the leash when she reached its end. I had one foot over and, as I was trying to get my other foot over, she reached the end of her leash. It propelled my body forward and, although I fought to stay upright on both feet, I let my body give in to the momentum pulling me forward and fell, screaming on my way down.
As I laid on the ground, I looked around at my surroundings. Cocoa was still far away, at the end of her leash. The deer were running away from her. No one was driving by the house and my neighbors weren't out to witness me scream and fall. I began to then examine my body--was anything hurting? Yes, but nothing was sprained or broken. I just had some new bruises to add color to my fair skin. Cocoa finally came running up to me and she gave me a look that said, "Mom, why are you on the ground?" She still didn't understand what was going on. I gave her a look that said, "You're lucky you're seven months old and don't realize you're strength."
While I was on the ground, I thought about all the things on my to-do list for the day. I had a run I was supposed to start around 6:30AM. It was a spaghetti lunch day at the church. My brother was coming in to town for lunch and to spend some time with Cocoa in the afternoon. I had youth to go to that night. This was not the time to fall and stay down. There was a lot to get done, a lot of people to see, and an exercise to get in. With no injury, and just a few bruises on my skin (not to mention my ego), I got up and continued on in my day.
I've reflected on this fall a lot since it happened...mainly because by the end of the day Wednesday, the heel of my right foot started hurting a lot from when I fell (and would continue to bother me the rest of the week). I could have chosen, while sitting on the ground Wednesday morning, to sit out on my run, to be frustrated by the fall, to let it be in the back of my mind all day, making me angry that it happened to begin with. I could have complained about it all day long to anyone who would listen. I could have chosen to see the entire day in a negative light because of one incident that started out my day.
The danger in our world today is not what the media or your friends on social media would lead you to believe it is. The danger is not found in our political beliefs, the COVID-19 crisis, or in anyone else the media tells us is "bad." The danger in our world today is all of the negativity we choose to entertain.
Think back on this last week. What did you think about the election results? Were you happy or disappointed? How did you show your feelings about the results? Did you brag about it? Did you spread rumors about the other side? Did you get in an argument with a family member in person or via social media? Prior to the election, I saw many posts from friends voting for Joe Biden that if Biden didn't win, the world would continue to be a bad place. After the election, I saw many posts from friends voting for Donald Trump that our world is doomed now that Biden is president-elect. All of these are constantly negative voices that are on our televisions, on our phone screens, and in our conversations with others. And these are just some examples from this week!! For the last couple of years, we have become a more polarized society and it is because of negativity that we willingly (and sometimes unknowingly) spread.
No matter how you feel about the election, its results, or its candidates, there is another way to deal with an election than with negativity. We can ALL get back up, dust the dirt off of us, and continue on with life. No matter who the president is and no matter who we voted for, God calls us to something higher than this earth. We are not of this world. We live in it now, trying to spread the Good News that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of ALL people and that we ALL can be a part of God's family if we so choose. We say in the Lord's Prayer that we want God's Kingdom to come, God's will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Since we have free will, we are the ones being called to listen for Christ's will, to do Christ's will, and to make this earth more like heaven than it was before we got here. An election does not change that call. We can still reach out to those who do not know Christ loves them. We can still look for those in our community who do not have proper clothing and who go to bed hungry, and try to find ways to help empower them to meet their needs. We can still worship God. We can still read and study our Bibles. We can still pray. We live in a country where those are basic rights that CANNOT be taken away, no matter who is in charge.
I hope you will join me in moving on from the events that happened last week (as well as all the negative words that were said and spread in the lead up to it). Let's get up off the negative ground we all stand on and negative world we live in and get to work. Christ doesn't want us to stay down--Christ wants us to get up, move on, and do the work He has called us to do in this world. So let's go do it!
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Today is the day--election day! In case you didn't know this, I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to politics! The day of the presidential election is, normally, a fun day for me. I follow some last minute polls, try to get my work done in a timely manner, and then I prepare for an evening of switching between CNN and Fox News to watch the results come in. Each channel has a different perspective and it is even more so on election night!
This presidential election feels very different for me, though. While I am, overall, still excited that it is election day, I am worried about what this evening, tomorrow morning, and the rest of the week will bring. Each election has gotten more and more negative. This election, though, there is a real possibility of violence. Walmart has pulled guns off their shelves ahead of election day. I have had a friend cussed out by a parent based on who they did not vote for. I've seen more and more negative posts about both of our main party's nominees. I've heard so many people say, "This is the most important election in our lifetime." I've heard people saying, "If you vote for __________, you are voting for __________, so you must not be a Christian." Fear, anxiety, and polarization is the name of the game. Politics has torn apart friends and family and, I must say, it threatens to tear our country apart.
At the end of the day, there will be a winner and there will be a loser. This is a fact.
Perhaps the potential results stir up those feelings of fear and anxiety. Maybe you are hoping for one outcome and will receive another. But here's some good news...
No matter what happens in this election, Jesus Christ is still King of Kings, Lord of Lords. Jesus Christ is still Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus Christ is still in the business of freely giving grace to each and every person on this earth. Jesus Christ is still in the business of changing and transforming lives, no matter who the president of the United States, the members of Congress, or any other public official that is elected into office.
What would happen if we share this good news today instead of fear, anxiety, or bragging that our person we voted for won? What might the world look like if we chose to focus less on the earthly powers and more on the powers that matter for eternity? Every time we say the Lord's Prayer we ask, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." What if we truly took those words to heart and worked to be Christ's representatives of love, grace, hope, and peace here on this earth? I have a feeling that the walls of polarization that separate us would fall down, the cuss words we throw at family members during political debates would fall away, the name calling and the platform generalizations would all go away. Instead, we'd see a world of people who may disagree, but still respect one another; people who may be angry, but don't use violence to take out their anger on others; people may be upset about the results of an election, but wouldn't let it completely get them down. I hope we can all share the Good News of Jesus Christ today and every day, so that maybe, just maybe, some real healing can come upon our nation and we may truly be united again.
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Pastors are far from perfect. When I received my call from God to be an ordained Elder in The UMC, one of my first thoughts was, "I'm not going to pretend like I am perfect. When I mess up, I will not be afraid to own up to those mistakes." So this is a very public confession of a series of mistakes I have made that I hope will help others.
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone and I must admit I am tired of having to wear masks all the time! It is difficult to have conversations with masks on. It is sometimes difficult to breathe in the heavy, cloth masks. Masks, while a simple thing to wear, are not my favorite accessory! Recently, I have found myself become more "relaxed" when it comes to masks. I would think to myself, "If I stay six feet away, it'll be fine. If I'm in my house and a group of people are there, they've taken the risks and we don't need to wear a mask." It's almost like I had wished away the Coronavirus and just tried to pretend it wasn't happening.
About 10 days ago, I went to church as I always do. When someone would try to speak to me and couldn't hear me through the mask, I'd temporarily take it down so they could hear me. Other than that, I kept the mask on until before service began and put it back on after the service was over. That night, I had the children over at the house for a Halloween party. We didn't wear masks. Again, it was at my house and the kids all went to school together anyway--it can't be that risky, right? Monday, I helped with Children's Choir, even helping in the singing portion. While I wore a mask most of the time, there were times when I was leading singing that I didn't wear a mask. Tuesday morning, I woke up sneezing. I trudged through my strength training workout with a runny nose that wouldn't stop. I took a 4-hour allergy tablet that I hoped would make me feel better and get me through the day. I had Women's Bible Study at 10AM--which I teach without a mask on, but while standing more than 6 feet away. By 11:30AM, I was exhausted, couldn't concentrate, and the runny nose and other symptoms, including some light chills, were back. I went home for the rest of the day to try to sleep off what I assumed was just regular allergies.
That Wednesday morning, just a week ago today, I received a text message informing me that someone I had been around a few days earlier tested positive for COVID. My heart sank. The new list of symptoms for COVID include congestion, runny nose, and fever (which I was lightly running by my standards--I typically sit at about 97 degrees...I was hitting close to 99). I quickly looked up a place I could get a COVID test and made my way to an urgent care in Huntsville. They gave me a rapid flu test and a rapid COVID test. I would have to wait a long 15 minutes to find out my results.
As I awaited my results, I was incredibly nervous. I had been around so many people. I had been too relaxed and I knew it. I couldn't sugar coat this fact. I couldn't rationalize the moments when I had chosen to not wear my mask. I had messed up. And if I tested positive, I had potentially exposed too many individuals and families. It was a huge mistake--I knew better and I shouldn't have made the mistake to begin with.
The doctor came in, we talked about my symptoms, and she delivered the good news--I didn't have COVID and I didn't have the flu! The diagnosis was a sinus infection, but I was still ordered to stay at home for 3-5 days to rest and recover. I remember being relieved, but also feeling incredibly guilty. Too many "what-ifs" were spinning around in my head. I had made a mistake. I could learn from it and move on, or use this as my wake-up call.
On October 23rd, just two days after my urgent care visit, the United States received its highest day of recorded new COVID cases--85,000. It is now clear that the second wave of the virus is here and it's here to stay. It is also, obviously, in Leon County and in Centerville. It has not gone away. As the leader of this church, it is my job to handle crises like these. I could wait until I had to have discussions with leadership regarding the virus, or I could be proactive and push the issue with leaders. I chose to push the issue and meet with leaders at our conveniently, already-planned meeting that Monday, October 26th, to come up with a proactive response to the Coronavirus. Our church's response can be found here.
I know that COVID-19 has now gotten mixed up in discussions involving the elections and which party is doing the right/wrong thing(s). I know that everyone is tired of living this way. I know that masks are uncomfortable. I know we are all tired of staying home and away from others. I know not everyone will be happy with the decisions we have made as church leadership to respond to the pandemic. However, I know God was present in the decision making and I know that God calls us all to care for our neighbor. If caring for our neighbor is doing something as simple as wearing a mask to slow the spread of a virus in the middle of a pandemic, then that is what we will do! I invite you all to join me in practicing showing grace to others, especially in this trying time.
Last but not least, I publicly and sincerely ask for forgiveness for my lapse of judgment and mistakes made in the recent weeks regarding my own actions in not following protocols regarding COVID-19 as well as I should have. It was irresponsible and reckless. There is no excuse. But I will do better from now on and I'm so grateful that luck was on my side and I did not catch the virus and thus expose that virus to so many people.
I will do better and I hope all of you will join me in being better about wearing masks. Wearing masks doesn't prevent us from getting the virus--that risk will always be there. Wearing masks, though, does help slow the spread and prevents the spreading of the virus from person to person. It is the easiest (and probably only) thing we can do in this time to help COVID go away for good. Stay safe, stay well, and keep your masks on!
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This month, we have been talking about stewardship in church. I think it's time I tell my story and how my understanding and practice of giving started, how it's changed, and what it looks like now.
When I was growing up, my parents were probation officers—just two middle class workers who lived paycheck to paycheck. We didn’t have big amounts of money and we didn’t go on big, fancy family vacations—most of our vacations were actually “staycations” and, funny enough, that included trips to Huntsville to the prison museum or to the duck pond or to the Sam Houston Statue. This lack of money presented a challenge at times to my family because all my mom’s family lived out of state. In order to see my grandma, it required a plane ride and tickets were not cheap! We did not take a lot of trips out there! I was aware of my family’s financial situation at a young age and knew that in order to go to school, I was going to have to work hard and try to get as many scholarships as possible.
My parents did not have a lot of money to give to the church. I’m pretty sure their contribution each week they attended was around $20. But let me tell y’all…if there was an event at the church, you best believe my mom was the FIRST person to sign us up. A fundraiser for camp? We’d be the first ones there and the last ones home. A church workday? We’d be up and unhappy about it and at the church by 8AM on a Saturday and we wouldn’t leave until the work was done. I remember my parents saying, “We may not have a bunch of money to give, but we can at least give our time to God.” And that was my first understanding of stewardship. Maybe there wasn’t always enough money to spare, but there would always be a way we could give back to God.
As I grew from a child into a teenager, money still remained a struggle, but compared to so many of our classmates, we were “rich.” But even though we didn’t have a lot, my parents found ways to be generous to others, to give back, and to make sure we knew to be generous too. So by the time I got to college, and found out most of my first two years of college, which would be spent at Blinn, would be covered by scholarships, I of course began to stress about where I’d transfer, how much that would cost, and all the typical things someone worried about money would worry about! I got my call to ministry while at Blinn and felt God calling me to attend Baylor (a place known for being cheap! Ha!). I was grateful that I had half of it covered in scholarship and grants, that I could take out loans for a quarter of it, and that I had an uncle who wanted to invest in me and cover the other quarter of my two years at Baylor so I wouldn’t have to worry about taking out private education loans. At the same time, I applied for the Texas Annual Conference pastoral internship, was accepted into the program, and was assigned to serve a church in Fulshear, Texas for the summer.
Entering into a pastoral intern role at the church that summer, I began to really struggle with what I should do when it comes to tithing. I knew that I was getting money from my internship and that I should tithe. But y’all, that money needed to be saved for school. I felt anxious about giving up even a couple hundred of it to the church! Although I planned to work, and actually had two jobs that first year at Baylor, I was still nervous about money. What if I would need that money I tithed later in the school year and didn’t have enough money to cover basic expenses? Mom and dad were paying for a car, insurance, and my cell phone—I didn’t want to have to ask for more!
This was causing me so much anxiety that I decided to have a conversation with my mentor pastor, Alicia. I asked her what she did about tithing and what I should do, because I was nervous about tithing when I could use that money for school. I remember her nodding her head, taking in the question, and thinking for a moment before saying, “Tithing is a personal thing between you and God—you are going to have to figure that out on your own. But, what I will tell you is what I do when it comes to tithing. I always give my 10%. I’ve been at larger churches where I ask them to withhold it from my check so I never even see it. I believe that is not my money, but God’s. And there have been times when tithing has been hard because I’ve had to help my family, but I’ve always, somehow, someway, even in those difficult times in life been able to come up with the money to tithe—whether it be because of extra weddings or funerals or a generous gift. I believe if you earnestly want to tithe, God will help you find a way to tithe.”
What she told me did not cause any less anxiety in me. If anything, it made it worse. She didn’t want to tell me I had to tithe…but she had this theme of trusting in God. And, when it comes to money, it’s hard for me to trust anyone…so this was a big deal. Was I willing to trust God, write my tithe check out at the end of the summer, and hope I wouldn’t miss that money? Or would I just say, “No, this is my money and it’s a way for me to go to school where I can work hard, graduate, go to seminary and then serve in the church?” Let me just say, I spent a bunch of time in prayer and in agony over it. But by the end of the summer, I ultimately decided to take a deep breath and a leap of faith and write out the tithe check to the church.
From that moment, I made the decision that I would always tithe. Even when it hurt. And let me tell you…there were times in my pastoral internship my last year of seminary when it hurt a lot to give a tithe out of the small amount of money we made. I remember that during the second half of that internship, I seriously considered asking for the tithe to stop coming out—I could really use that extra hundred bucks or so each month! But I didn’t. I pressed on and I kept giving.
I know that tithing may not always be easy for me—I know that one day I may get married, have children, have family I need to help take care of, I may get sick and be unable to work, and any extra money may go to a number of other causes. I know that life happens. And when it does, I will find other ways to serve and give back, just like my parents taught me when we were growing up! But for now, I’m committing to tithing 10% of my income after taxes. It’s at the very top of my budget and the first thing I pay at the beginning of each month. It’s a commitment I choose to make.
Please don’t hear me say I want you to go from giving nothing to 10% out of the blue—again, life happens and I know that’s not possible for many of you. But what I do want to ask of you is to take a look at your budget and consider how much money you may be able to contribute on a regular basis to the church. How many times a week do you and your family eat out? What if you eat out one less meal per week or per month and take that money and give it as your tithe to the church. It may be just 40 or 50 dollars a month, but when you put that across a whole year, that’s you giving 480-600 dollars a year! That’s about a quarter of our budget for Vacation Bible School! It’s amazing how much those small choices and small decisions can add up and work together for something so much bigger than ourselves! If you can't help out financially, take a look at your time--how much time can you give up each week or each month to help serve God?
There are many ways to give and the ways in which we give evolve and change over time. But no matter where we are in our lives, we should always find a way to give back a portion to God in some way, shape, or form, whether it be by giving financially or by giving time. We all have so much to be grateful for and God's only asking for a small portion of it back. It's not to punish us, but to remind us where the gifts in our lives come from and so that our gifts can go and help others. The ability to give is a gift and I hope you join with me in sharing that gift with others!
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Last Monday morning, my alarm went off at 6:15AM. Soon after, Cocoa was licking my face, telling me it was time to get up. I took her out, put her back in, then I got changed into my running clothes. I put on my brand-new pair of running shoes, carefully tying the laces. I grabbed my new Aftershokz headphones, a welcome relief after running with big, clunky headphones for two years! I grabbed my keys and drove over to the school. It was completely dark and there were just a few cars around. The wind was blowing as I stepped out of my car, locked it, and headed toward the gate that would get me onto the black, seven-lane track. My stomach was fluttering. My heart was beating fast. I was a bit scared, nervous, and anxious. After all, this would be my first time in about three months that I was going to be running again. Would I still enjoy running? Would I be slower than I was before? Do my legs remember what to do? Could my mind and body both handle the short intervals of running that I was about to attempt?
Ready or not, it was time to run again. I started my Garmin watch and took off like I used to do, just one leg in front of the other, looking to what is ahead. That first little bit of a running interval was daunting, but when I was finished, I remembered why I love to run. I remembered how I could clear my mind, enjoy the music, and run away from any problems that I knew I'd have to face that day. I remembered the feeling I get after a run, the feeling of a goal completed. I even remembered the feeling of soreness after a good run--I forgot some of those muscles existed!
Today marks seven months since March 13, 2020, when the country started shutting down for Coronavirus. There is still so much we don't know about it. There are still people with long-lasting effects after contracting the virus. Some say it's political and that it will all be over after the election. Others are afraid to go outside because it's now flu season and the virus is still going around. There's frustrations around masks, doctor office protocols, and even sporting event limits. No matter where you stand on the entire Coronavirus situation, one thing is true--your life is not the same as it was seven months ago. The very way of living not just in this country but around the globe has changed drastically. It's hard to believe that over seven months ago, we weren't wearing masks, Zoom meetings were held by big companies that are spread out across the country and world, and you could go to the hospital to visit anyone you wanted without being put on an approved visitor list.
As much as we all want life to go back to "normal," I sometimes wonder if we will really be ready for it. We say we will be, but the way we have lived our lives over the last seven months has made an impact on us. Just like I was nervous getting back to running after just a three month break, I have a feeling that many of us will feel anxiety or fear going back to "normal" once coronavirus ends--whenever that may be! We may feel nervous about going shopping without a mask. We might feel anxious about hugging others or shaking hands again. Some may even feel nervous about going back out at all because we have been safe in our homes, in our bubbles. But one day, we will be back to normal and we will have to face it head on.
In those moments of fear, where we face an old known and a new unknown that we call "normal," we are not alone. We may feel anxious, nervous, or scared--and that's okay. But we can also feel strong, courageous, and filled with God's loving grace as we take a deep breath and take each day of "normal." I have hope that the day will be sooner, rather than later, and I hope that when the day comes when everything is "normal" again, we can be secure in our faith and trust Jesus in those scary moments.
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It's hard to believe that is was just a week ago that I was excited for the first presidential debate. I really do enjoy politics and debates are where you can see certain strategies being used for each candidate. I popped some popcorn, got a nice big glass of water, got wrapped up in my blanket, and sat on my couch as I began to watch the debate. After the first question was asked, it was clear that this would not be a debate. Instead, this debate would be a name-calling battle between three toddlers having a temper-tantrum. Twenty minutes in, I couldn't stand it anymore and had to turn it off.
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Since I have a 5-month-old puppy at the house, I have placed a baby gate in front of the hallway leading to the bedrooms in the parsonage. It is the only way I can ensure that my puppy doesn't sneak away from me and run back into the nicely-carpeted bedrooms without my supervision! Cocoa is not a fan of this gate, as I will often go back to a back bedroom to do something and leave her alone in the living room.
While on vacation this week, Cocoa was a bit spoiled by all the time we got to spend together. So when I went back behind the baby gate without her, she was not happy. She cried, she barked, and, as usual, tried her best to get past the gate. At nearly 30 pounds, she's now strong enough to knock down the gate--and that is what she did. I suddenly heard a loud, clanging noise as the gate fell from the carpeted doorway onto the tile floor in front of it. Then, I heard complete and total silence. No crying, no barking, no paws prancing on the floor. I became worried and called out to her. No response. She didn't even try to get over the gate to get to where I was. I quickly finished what I was doing and went to go check on her. She was sitting on the floor, by the couch, with a fearful look in her eye.
I went to the couch and began to pet her, telling her it was okay and she was not in trouble. She jumped up on the couch, got half her body on my lap, and leaned against me. I could feel her panting. She was scared.
Sometimes I forget that for as much spunk and independence as my dog loves, she is still a baby. She loves to push boundaries. She always wants to be near me. She enjoys exploring the house. She enjoys ripping up my laptop bag as a way of saying she hates when I go to work. She likes to run in the yard. But for all the things she loves to do, she still sometimes pushes too far--like she did with the baby gate--and will get scared and need her mom.
As I pet my puppy, trying to calm her down and tell her it was okay, I began to realize this is often what God does with us. God gives us the freedom and free will to make decisions. We can go where we want, do what we want, and say what we want, whenever we want. We get to press the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable to God. We get to come and go as we please in our relationship with God. But at the end of the day, we are still (and always will be) God's children in need of our loving parent to care for us. In those moments where we are afraid, alone, have made a big mistake, feel worthless, feel abandoned, or feel unwanted, we just want to crawl up into God the Father's lap, give Him a hug, and feel assured, wanted, and loved once again! God never gives up on us, never stops loving us, and is always ready to welcome us with open arms so he can assure us that we are loved and worthy to Him.
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It began as a day like any other. Mom and dad dragging us out of bed. A breakfast of waffles for the three of us. Dad loading us up in the car and then going to pick up our cousin. All of us stuck in the car listening to The Beach Boys, The Cars, or The Beatles (thanks, Dad!). My brothers, my cousin, and I were probably arguing about something silly (sorry, Dad!). We pulled up to the front doors of our elementary school. Always time-conscious, even at a young age, I looked at the clock--it was 7:46.