Today I Saw God
" I think that we humans don't have the capacity to imagine eternity, Mom" said my ninth-grade daughter Joanne. "If we can think of it a little bit, we may live differently."
This short conversation recently grabbed my attention. My daughter's English class had been reading and discussing the book "Dante's Inferno." She was assigned a small group project that explored the different levels of hell as described in the book. When she spoke about her class, she mentioned how she was scared about the conditions of hell portrayed in the book. The most unbearable thing to her was the eternal pain, whether the pain was from a little pinch or painful burning. I agreed with her but also encouraged her to think about the eternal joy on the opposite side: heaven, which is given to us through Jesus.
Lately I have been thinking about this conversation and the word "eternity." Even though I call myself a Christian, l don't usually think about the eternal life while I am living my daily earthbound life. I often live moment by moment and easily forget my final destination.
When I was in fifth grade, my Sunday school teacher taught us about salvation, which leads us to have eternal life in heaven. We learned not only about eternal life in heaven, but also about eternal life in hell. I took it very seriously and started praying everyday for my dad and family who didn't believe in Christ at that time. I was devastated because I loved them so much, and I wanted them to be saved. I brought my best friends to church with me as much as I could because I truly believed in eternal life, whether in heaven or hell.
However, as I got older, having been a Christian for a while, my thoughts about eternal life dulled. The joy of salvation became a phrase instead of a condition in my heart. I can't remember the last time I invited nonbelievers to church or even shared the good news.
I have a reasonable excuse not to do these things often. Because I work at a church, I hardly encounter nonbelievers on a daily basis. Still, I know that is just an excuse. I deceive myself in many ways, making myself believe that I have done my best so far. But I know that is not true.
So, how can I invite people to church so they too have a chance to enjoy eternal life in heaven?
One of ways God showed me recently was through a children's music camp. We all have neighbors, co-workers or friends who don't believe in Christ or who don't know who Christ is. And one way we could introduce them to Christ is by inviting their children to experience a little taste of heaven by singing, playing instruments and learning about other cultures all around the world. An experience like that could show them that God holds the world in his hands.
I pray that Floris UMC's Children's Music Camp in August could be an opportunity to provide a glimpse of eternal life to children who may share their experience with others, just like I did with my friends and family as a child.
I truly know how powerful it is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. I believe that God heard my prayers for my dad when I was young. Though he was not a believer then, he became a strong believer later in his life. I am deeply grateful for my Sunday school teacher who taught me about eternal life.
I would like to invite you to share this good news with the children. I wish as I grew older that I had kept that passion about eternal life in heaven. If I did, I would have lived differently each day. But, it is never too late to help others and yourself.
As a psalmist prays in Psalm 51, I pray, "Restore to me the joy of salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."
When I was growing up, the calendar in our kitchen was always full of Mom's notes about her volunteer activities. She was active in the PTA for a while as well as multiple nonprofits and regional committees related to causes she was passionate about. My dad's way of supporting her passion usually involved helping to set up or put away chairs at an event or making endless pots of his signature chili beans and cornbread for potlucks and fundraising events. Given their examples of service, it's no surprise that I have held the same value as a high priority in my life.
That said, serving on Floris UMC's Church Council as lay leader was not on my mind at all before I was invited to consider it. I was familiar with what would be required; I had served in other laity leadership roles in my previous Methodist church. What I realized when I was asked to pray about serving is that I was holding a certain idea of the lay leader role based only on those prior experiences. Lay leaders I'd known in past churches were often long-time members, frequently retired folks, who demonstrated consistent discipleship and who sometimes filled in for the pastor when he or she was on vacation. I'm thinking of two of these people right now as I type this. They were and still are people I greatly admire because of their example.
The same examples that make me smile now felt like intimidating, self-imposed pressure in that initial conversation about serving at Floris UMC. "Who am I, as just an ordinary person in midlife, to say I have a life of faith all figured out?" I remember thinking. That, and the fact that I have a wonderful career that involves a bit of travel and family members that periodically need my help as a caregiver, also felt like good reasons to decline. I was concerned to say yes and then let others down. You may be thinking the same about yourself and your life as you read this.
But something happened when I prayed about this. I remembered that service is not about perfection, and it certainly isn't about knowing all of the answers. My belief about leadership, in particular, is that it takes just as much humility as it does confidence because you are guaranteed not to know everything all the time. I also gave myself a bit more credit for the consistency of my existing faith practice even as I considered how serving in the role could add to my spiritual growth. Finally, I thought about one of the reasons I was so attracted to Floris UMC to begin with: a clear passion for making a difference that you can sense in the people and activities. So, after prayer, a thoughtful conversation with our lead pastor, Rev. Tom Berlin, and our Church Council chairperson, Rick Auman, I said yes. I have loved serving as lay leader for nearly four years now.
It is bittersweet for me to think about my service as lay leader ending this December. It has been a privilege to represent our congregation on Church Council. I know we're encouraged not to be prideful, but do you all realize how extraordinary you are? I've loved seeing people of all ages get commissioned on mission trips, serve as summer camp or Hutchison volunteers, take the next step toward baptism or confirmation or play the all-important role of usher or greeter so our hospitality is on full display for everyone who approaches our campus. I talk about our church and its people all the timejust ask anyone in my circle who doesn't attend here. One of my favorite parts of this role has been seeing people who started as visitors come back and claim Floris UMC as their new church home. When I volunteer at Coffee with the Pastors, I frequently hear new members say it was our warm welcome and our sense of community that played a big role in their decision to join us.
I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask you one question: What comes to mind for you when you think about volunteering in a leadership role at church? Does it make you curious? Nervous? Excited? You might still have concerns about it or questions about what type of opportunity would be a good fit for you. I would love to talk with you about that and want to assure you that having a conversation does not mean you're committing yourself to something. Remember what I said about my own journey: it may take time to discern your next step, and we all have different gifts that could be used in ways that we don't even see yet. It starts with listening.
In fact in the end, it was one of my favorite quotes (below) from Marianne Williamson that reminded me that service is about listening to what you believe God is calling you to and then stepping forward in faith, trusting that he will equip you for the journey. If nothing else, I hope you'll take the time to pray about what God is calling you to in this season of your life. You might just be pleasantly surprised at what you discover.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
On my morning walk I decided to take a different path to spice things up so I turned into Middleton Farm. As I walked deeper into the neighborhood I saw a monument sitting on top of a small hill. I felt a nudge to walk up and take a look. The monument read "At Rest Bradley" and there at the base of the monument lay a yellow carnation. Just as I had done the day before in Maryland, someone had stopped by this grave and remembered the lives of those memorialized by this monument.
Why does someone do this? Why take flowers and lay them on a gravesite hidden in a development? My own trip to the cemeteries only a few days ago was about honoring the request my father made before he died. His was a tradition of visiting five family cemeteries on Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Christmas. At each grave he would leave either a yellow or a red rose (I took carnations because, let's be honest, roses are expensive!). My trip Friday was for my Dad, in fact, at the end of the trip I added a visit to his gravesite in Arlington.
As I stood there Sunday morning at the gravesite of the Bradley family I realized others were doing the same thing (and with yellow carnations too!). It occurred to me that it may be more than a ritual. Standing over a family grave is an opportunity to reflect on the lives that are woven into the tapestry of my own life. Friday I visited my grandparent's graves, the graves of their parents and their grandparents. I stood before tombstones with dates as far back as 1865. More than a hundred fifty years and six generations were remembered on that journey.
I thought back to Friday afternoon and how I stood there at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church listening to the church bells belt out the hymn How Great Thou Art and how I sang along, "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home what joy my heart shall find. Then I shall bow with humble adoration and then proclaim my God how great thou art." I realize now that the trip to the cemeteries is more than a promise I made to my dad to care for and worry about the graves of our ancestors. It is a reminder of the cloud of witnesses that now enjoy the presence of God. Remembering them is remembering the importance of family and the promise of eternal life. I am honored and humbled to have the privilege to visit the graves of those who came before me and I look forward to the day when I will meet them and hear their stories.
Does it surprise you to look at these two photos, side by side?
The one on the left is among the tiniest of miracles, a cell in the brain. The one on the right is perhaps the grandest of miracles, the universe. Their similarity is striking.It's all a matter of scale and perspective. One wonders if they aren't both the work of the same hand.
Why waste a perfectly good idea, right? As my friend Mary Lou puts it, "God is the ultimate economist and consummate recycler." When we have the ability to look with appropriate perspective, we may see the signature of the designer.
But I wonder if the similarity isn't just in appearance. Often the structure of a thing gives us clues to its function. Perhaps our growing understanding of the operation of the brain cell may shed light on interactions across our universe. Could what's in us help explain what's outside us and help us manage what's between us?
Is it so far-fetched to think that the God of the universe has intentionally planted the answers to our deepestquestions inside us? Is He patiently waiting for us to find them? I, as a student of the human body, find myself both dumb-founded to consider this and excited to think it might be so. Are God's answers hiding in plain view, waiting to be acknowledged?
Certainly the beginning of new life begs us to consider God's hand in itsmidst. Can there be anything more miraculous? Is there any more convincing witness to the hand of a Divine Creator?
Biblical writers certainly had this same awe, even though they had no ultrasound images to confirm their suspicions:
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth. ~ Psalm 139: 13-15
But let's not stop at the miracle of the development of one body. All of us, the Church Universal, are being formed into the body of Christ.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. ~ Ephesians 4:16
If we were designed to be joined and held together and thus to grow in love as we work together, our world today suggests we are far from God's design. Yet, ifGod intends it, surely He has not made this an unsolvable puzzle. Perhaps the model for us as the Body of Christis suggested in the workings of our own individual bodies.
Allow me, if you would, a moment of speculation as I put on my hat as physiologist. Science demonstrates that the human body is so much more than its anatomy more thanthe skin we can see, the muscle we can bulge, the pulse we can touch, and the breath we can take in. Underneath all of these functions are the delicate and highly regulated interactionswhich make them work: organs and organ systems made up of tissues and cells all contributing what's necessary for life.
The key tohealthy life in the human body: cooperation among systems toco-exist while competing for a fixed supply of resources. Their successfulinterdependence is guided by a simple and familiar principle: to each according to its need. This delicate balance is maintained in response to the demands of life.Survival of the fittest is nonsense within the body because each part is necessary for the survival of the whole body.
No two systems in the human body are alike. Each is specialized for an essential task; none "considers" itself above the rest. How could it? What good would the heart be without blood to circulate? What good wouldthe muscles do without limbs to move? What good is our breath if it can't deliver what it inhales and exhales? What good is our skeleton without ligaments to allow it to stand? What good is a brain without means to connect and communicate? What good is sight without vision or sound without hearing?
Is this an echo of the message in First Corinthians?
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. ~1 Cor 12:17-20
Could our bodies hold God's message for our world?
They demonstrate so beautifully and seamlessly the choreography of interdependent partsnegotiating life, giving and responding obediently for the good of the whole.There is no greater and no lesser, no greed and no hoarding, no scarcity and no hunger. The better the parts work together, the more abundant is the life.
Who in the world could have ever thought of that?
If we are to believe that our God is the ultimate economist and consummate recycler who loves all He created, then God wastes not one bit. Each part is necessary and intended for the good of the whole. Each one is essential to the life of the body. Each interaction effects all others. Unique, for sure. Different, for certain. Interdependent, completely. No exceptions.
It is the genius of perfect living balance:I take only what I need, so you will have what you need. Our ultimate survival may depend on it. So simple that anybody can showyou.
It is so refreshing to see your newly decorated caps and gowns, photos on the quad and smiling announcements on social media. Whether from high school, college or graduate school, graduation often symbolizes new beginnings and bright futures. However, I also remember a fair share of anxiety around these milestone moments. As we prepare to honor our graduating seniors at Floris United Methodist Church Sunday, June 4, I want to take a minute to address some of the stress and anxiety that so many experience.
Our culture tends to always focus on tomorrow. "What's next?" "Where are you going?" "What are you doing with your life?" This is true of almost any phase, but I can think of no worse time than high school and college for these piercing questions. "Have you chosen your major yet?" "Which college will you go to?" "Are you sure you want to go to a liberal arts school?" "What is your career track?" "Do you have an internship lined up?"
I wish I could tell you that this anxiety-producing conversational style would end after college, but it doesn't. Instead, the questions simply shift a little. "When are you going to settle down?" "Why are you still renting?" "Why aren't you married?" "You know, you are getting a little old. Aren't you worried you won't be able to have children?" People get in such a frenzy over other people's tomorrows that they barely let you enjoy today.
When I was in high school, I hadn't really figured out my future, and this seriously stressed me out. As it turns out, I never really mastered predicting the future, which tells me fortune telling is probably not in my life plan. This is still disappointing. Even in college I had no idea that my chosen career path in education would later come to a screeching halt so I could pursue worship leadership. Slightly older Megan still had no idea what she was doing, and I'm pretty sure I can say the same about my present self.
I see this as a common worry amongst my younger musicians as they fumble about, trying on different titles to see how they feel. Psychologist? Doctor? Musician? Dog walker? CIA operative? However, I'd encourage you to relax a little. It's okay. You're going to be okay. Choosing the wrong school or major freshman year will not ruin your life. It's important to do work, make plans and be responsible, but there is no eleventh commandment that states, "Thou shalt get your life together by eighteen and map out a plan for your entire future by twenty-two." Honestly I don't even think it's possible to have your entire life planned even by forty-two or fifty-two. My experience has taught me that God's will and call on my life might morph and change over time. What is appropriate for me now might not be where God leads me a year from now.
God does not call us to have the perfect plan. Rather, God calls us to abide in him. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love each other. Those are the most important commandments. The right career path will reveal itself to you, but often it is easier to discern God's calling in your life when you are truly in relationship with God. When you start to feel overwhelmed with applications, deadlines and an uncertain future, take a minute and return to God's word. Abide in him and carve out time for prayer and meditation. You never know what door God might open or what answer might be provided in the quiet stillness of prayer or while diving into a Bible study.
It's also important during this stressful time that you remember God's call to love others. Kindness and generosity are forgotten relics when we become hyper-focused on accomplishing our next task or getting from point A to point B. When you're considering blowing off your family gathering because you need one more hour to study, don't. Give yourself a break and actually spend time with your loved ones.
For those of you in high school, you might soon be leaving your childhood home forever. You will revisit, but it will never feel the same as it does right now. Some day you'll miss waking up to breakfast on the weekends or late night chats with your sister. That annoying brother will not have as many opportunities to poke fun at you again, and you'll even miss the "Dad jokes." Hug your mom a few extra times and help your sibling with their homework. This time is precious.
For those of you leaving college, there will never be another time like this in your entire life. Embrace your friends, laugh all night and soak in the experiences. Spend some time lounging on the quad and barbecuing with neighbors on their tiny, beat-up grill with cheap frozen hamburger patties you bought by scamming off your parents' Costco membership. If you are too focused on what's next, you'll miss out on the beauty of this special moment.
So go forth, my darling little graduates. Like so many others in your life, I'm overwhelmingly excited for what the future holds for you. However, I'm just as excited for the experiences you are capturing right now. Hold on to them, enjoy them and forget about tomorrow for a minute so you can truly appreciate today.
An old(er) person who gets called "ma'am" occasionally