Today I Saw God
Mary and Joseph bring their baby boy to the temple in Jerusalem eight days after his birth- around New Years Day on our calendar. This is an expected rite required by the law of Moses. It is at this ceremony that the newborn is given his name. The gospel of Luke tells us,"On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived." (Luke 2:21 NIV).
Names are pretty important. They are usually selected with great care. Often there is an important reason they are chosen. It is very common to name a first born son after his father. In my family we have a Bailey Hendricks Gray IV meaning four generations have named their sons after their father. In my husband's family, his mother is named Angelina. She is named after her paternal grandmother. Each of Angelina's six children named a daughter Angelina. Clearly those children wanted to honor their mother!
So here they were, Mary and Joseph naming their first born son, Jesus. I wonder what that was like for Mary and Joseph. Both had been given clear instructions by the angel. They were told separately – Luke's gospel tells us about Mary's visit and Matthew's tells us about Joseph's visit- to name the child Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew) which means "He saves." When did they first discuss the naming instructions? Was Mary concerned that Joseph would be disappointed? Was Joseph worried what others would think of them breaking with tradition? Would they tell the crowd that angels gave them this name or keep it to themselves?
Surely Mary and Joseph must have wondered, "He saves what? How does he save? When will he save?" It seems none of that was laid out for them, however, it was clear was big things were in store for this little boy. Mary and Joseph being the faithful servants they were did exactly what the angel instructed. They had no idea what was ahead yet they took the next faithful step on this journey of theirs. They named him Jesus/Joshua/He saves.
As I consider another new year, I wonder what surprises might be ahead for me? Will I be as faithful as Mary and Joseph to follow where God leads? Will I take the next faithful step when I have so very little information about where it leads?
Today, I did things a little differently. There was no sudden urge to wake up and try to do ten thousand more things that I could not accomplish but would make me anxious anyway. There was no mad dash to put in my contact lenses that give the false perception of perfect sight. I was not rushing past the mirror after my shower; fearfully dreading the steam evaporating too quickly and forcing me to take in the visage of my less than perfect physicality. The frantic search for my body shaper and the rush to heat my flat irons to straighten my naturally curly hair was utterly absent.
Today, I paused to glimpse my full form; one that was shaped by the inconsistencies of self-doubt, overeating, extreme physicality, multiple pregnancies and childbirths, and the stillness of utter exhaustion. I stared at the scars from too tight shapewear that strained to give my bulges of womanhood – excess weight from having a child, losing a child, and having twins, weight fluctuations, and genetics – into a form that somewhat aligned with the requirements of American society. I flopped my "bat wings," as my nanna calls them, knowing they would never lead me into flight. I smirked at the faint remains of my "birth line;" a line that all the women in my family have that is our built-in pregnancy test which runs from the lower abdomen to the sternum and darkens once pregnant. I shake my head at the days when I didn't know what it was or why it existed. I regret many of the stretch marks that were not the result of my children but the result of seeking food as my solace because I didn't have friends who would understand what it was like to be in my skin, in my economy, or in this world as me. I marveled at the stories every inch told of a life imperfectly led and all the potential that lay before me in it.
Our bodies tell such grand stories. They hold so many memories and moments, yet we dismiss them as machines or a necessary evil to be accepted as an "intelligent" species. I have been guilty of being dismissive and cruel to my body, intentionally and unintentionally. I have even gone as far as starving it, poisoning it, cutting it and forcing it to be more like society says it should be. I remember hearing growing up that God made me in His image, that He has known me since before I was born, and that I am part of Him just as He is part of me. So, why do we – no, I – mistreat and dismiss something that is so precious?
While watching The Greatest Showman last week with my daughter for her birthday, these thoughts kept coming to me throughout the movie. It led to my momentary pause of all the things I do to restructure who I am to be what I believe others want me to be. But there is something unapologetically beautiful about all the characters in the movie that I found inspiring and wanted to embody. Yes, I realize it is a prettied up version of P.T. Barnum and his evolution of the circus, but the overriding themes of self-acceptance, contentment in what you have, and the love of diversity really convicted me.
These characters and their story initially rang so true because I too often feel an oddity and out of place, but willing to put it on display because it feels less lonely in the spotlight. I saw elements of myself in Lettie, the Bearded Lady, who has the beautiful voice but the world thinks is a horrific misstep of nature in her size and masculine face. I knew the frustration of Anne and Phillip's love that society disdained but felt so divine. I relate to the fat man who feels much larger than he is. And I humbly accept my similarity to P.T. Barnum who is always trying to prove himself to those who really matter the least, even though it feels like they matter the most.
The wonderful turn of events is, the gift of song, that has brought me to this stage has helped others share their oddity and malformations too. I have witnessed a huddled mass of outsiders that feel rejected, unworthy and unloved make a beautiful rag-tag crew of love, dare I say, a family, in the wreckages of our lives through church and the gift of community there. That is the beauty of God's love – when practiced not just preached – which shows in how we view our bodies and those of others. These shells that some covet and some cover are just temporary shells of the amazing gifts that God has put on this earth to share with one another. Energy is constant, not the human form. We are all connected by that energy to bring joy to each other. To revel in the odd and fantastic. To admire the extreme and bizarre. To embrace the strange and exotic. To love the misshapen and grotesque. We are all, at some point, one or more of these things to everyone else around us. I am so glad God gives us so many chances to see how amazing and beautiful we all are. It is amazing the fantastic and impossible things that can be possible when God brings together those whom the world would think make the unlikeliest team. I am thankful for the creative as well as the stoic, the cheerleaders and the naysayers, the loving and the bigoted, the intelligent and the ignorant, as well as the righteous and the broken. They are all beautiful souls and opportunities of love existing in beautiful bodies of varying mass and construct. How lucky we are to be apart of this circus. And how grateful I am to finally see I am blessed to be part of it all.
Yesterday, I did battle with our coat closet and I won!
Only two of us live in our home right now and yet, for some reason, our reasonably large coat closet was full to overflowing, junk strewn all over the floor. If a guest arrived at our home last week and handed me their coat to hang up, I would have strategically thrown it over the back of a sofa in our living room.
But not anymore! I have conquered the dragon! I am a Shield Maiden of Rohan, Ruler of the Iron Throne, Mother of Dragons! (Insert Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones theme music here.) You are welcome to come on over and hang up your coat!
Perhaps I am being a wee bit dramatic, but my tendency to make mundane tasks into epic battles of will is quite extraordinary.
Here's the thing: I am not without skills and the ability to follow through. I am capable of managing complex, multi-faceted projects, leading groups of people in major fundraising efforts, and starting a growing business. And oh yeah, I wrote a wholeBOOK, for goodness sake!
Yet, I can NOT seem to clean out my bedside table, organize the stacks in the study or mail the boxes I promised to mail to my daughter. Every room in my house has a corner or crevice that hisses at me when I walk by, mocking me and my big plans to finally, someday, conquer the clutter. When my youngest left for college, I made a list of cabinets, closets, shelves and drawers I was going to tackle. She graduates in May and I am STILL talking about it.
BUT yesterday, I emerged from the coat closet with two bags of giveaways, one bag of trash and a sense of equal parts accomplishment and amusement.
Here is what happened differently yesterday: I had two coaching clients cancel because of illness. Instead of filling that unexpected block of time puttering mindlessly on the computer or getting ticked off watching the news, I asked myself these questions- the kinds of questions I often ask my clients:
- How do I want to intentionally, purposefully use this gift of time?
- What would give me a sense of accomplishment right now?
- What do I say is important to me and how does that impact how I choose to spend my minutes and hours?
- Who does God say that I am and do I believe Him?
In light of those questions, I decided to tackle one of the many looming, leering, mocking projects right that minute, no delay, no excuses. I ended up dragging it out over the course of the day, getting distracted by sending photos of myself in reindeer antlers to my children (no, I have no idea why there were reindeer antlers in my coat closet amongst the FIVE HUNDRED pairs of gloves.) It wasn't pretty or terribly efficient, but I got it done.
One tiny little baby dragon vanquished!
Yes, I know I am making way too big of a deal about this. Cleaning out a coat closet isn't hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Grieving a loved one is hard. Losing thirty pounds is hard. Cleaning out a closet is a joke by comparison.
Yet I am finding many of us struggle more with the little things. We rise to the occasion when the crisis comes, but we feel shame over our inability to master the minutiae of daily living We become paralyzed by that habit, task or struggle that keeps us stuck feeling like a failure. The good news is that God is equally present right in the middle of the mundane, and wants to help us. Because I know God loves me, I am learning to have a sense of humor about these kinds of struggles. Shame keeps me stuck, so I must give myself some grace in the places where I am frankly a bit of a mess. Yet, God also wants me to move forward into becoming my best self, so sometimes I need a kick in the butt and the reminder that I am capable of learning and growing. Sometimes, I need to hear something like, "You got this! Get it done! No more excuses."
Which of those do you need today? A little extra dose of grace? Or a pep talk to get off your behind and get back in the game?
Go get that dragon, brave warrior!
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com
It is hard to believe that another year is just hours away from being done. I think for many, 2017 was far from a perfect year, with natural disasters, flawed human choices, and news outlets constantly imparting the state of "crisis" our world is in. Combining this with personal struggles, a lot of my friends are happy to say, "Good riddance," and "Get behind me, Satan." My year was less than stellar, but I know I will try to look ahead to 2018 with more joy and hope than fear.
This optimism seems a bit preemptive, I know, but as a Christ follower, my purpose is to find my fulfillment in helping to improve the lives of others. This upcoming year is one in which I hope to rewrite what those encounter me think of when they think of "Christians." It is the year that I practice what I preach when it comes to loving and guiding my children. It is the year that I will work to uplift those I meet with my actions, not just my words, and when my finances fail, I will offer my support with the gift God has called me to use over and over again–singing.
My prayers for 2018 are that more people act and worship through their year the same way. We are not defined by our skin tone, our political affiliation, religious affiliation, marital status, wealth or lack of any of the aforementioned items. We are defined by how we treat people, in the absence and presence of witnesses-human and divine alike. 2018 is the year I hope trolling dies and people learn to respond with educated and well-thought out responses. It is a year I hope open-mindedness reigns, when we appreciate our differences and acknowledge our similarities. It is a year I look forward to seeing teachers actually embrace an unabridged history-where we stop glossing over uncomfortable truths, accept our past, and use it to heal and prepare our future. It is a year that I will encourage those around me (and myself) to step out of our comfort zones, safe rooms, and personal bubbles to listen to differing perspectives, asking questions and sharing how the dialogue or ideology impacts them instead of hiding behind the most dreaded words, "I'm offended," (which often means shutting down and closing off).
These may be ambitious hopes and prayers, but I work through the One who taught us that we are to invite in the stranger, give drink to the thirsty, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick and clothe the naked (Matt. 25:34-40). In doing for others, we should rejoice in all that God has given us and Jesus taught us to use. We were blessed by Him in all our states to use what we had to make heaven possible on Earth (Matthew 5:1-11). I hope other Christians join me in reclaiming Christ as Christ would want us to; not through persecuting others because they are different, but opening our hearts and minds to all those around us. Let 2018 be the year we understand just because an oppression is not our oppression, it is still an oppression, that a sadness that is not our sadness is still sadness, and that an injustice though not our injustice is still injustice and as a community of Christ is it our duty and responsibility to stand for those are oppressed, weak, sad, alienated, sick and poor. That is what Christ asks of us every year. This is the year, I will continue to pursue being that Christian.
The first email arrived in my inbox on June 20, 2017, from Floris' worship leader, Megan Gumabay as a general distribution email and read in part as follows:
"We have some exciting opportunities for volunteering with our student ministry. Ashley is currently seeking adult leaders for upcoming student mission trips, and she felt praise team members would be great in this role. Please contact Ashley or me if you want to discuss this in further detail with her."
I thought, hey I am pretty busy with my praise team and consulting / handyman work and family, so I just said to myself, someone else will step up.
The 2nd email arrived in my inbox on June 26th, 2017, merely six days later from a close friend in the Emmaus Community, again in a general distribution email, but with a little more urgent feel to it and read in part:
I just received a message from Ashley Allen saying that, sadly, all Floris Youth Mission trips may have to be canceled due to lack of a sufficient number of adult chaperone volunteers."
Again, I ignored the email. Hey, I said this time to myself, I have done more than 17 mission trips, and this trip would be with 6th, 7th and 8th graders what could they possibly do or for that matter, what could I do? I know can handle leading adults and High School age young adults on mission trips as I have done many times, but I'm sure someone else will step up.
The THIRD email arrived in my inbox on June 27th, merely a day later and it was directed to me specifically by our youth director/pastor Ashley Allen:
I hope this finds you well and enjoying the start of the summer!
As you know,mission trip time is fast approaching for student ministries! Unfortunately, we are at risk of having to cancel all of our trips this year.
This reality is painful to even think about. We have not yet had the leaders step forward this year that we need to honor our child protection policy for each of these trips which, as you can imagine is non-negotiable for us. Tim Wells shared your name as someone who is not only a willing servant but also might be available to go on one of these trips.
We are in need of one more male to be a leader on our middle school trip with the Jeremiah Project to Romney, WV.
I would be so grateful for your prayerful consideration of this opportunity. I know that you would be a blessing to our students and that you would also be blessed by serving with them. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Thank you so much!"
OK, OK, OK GODI hear you loud and clear! I need to put aside my pre-judging of what I THINK about leading a team of middle school youth and remember that I am being called to be part of something larger and that only God knows what that is, or will be. I picked up the phone and called Ashley – but only after extracting the splinters in my face from the 2×4 piece of lumber God hit me with and said to her – Yes I would go and lead the middle school youth.
Stepping up to lead this trip was truly difficult for me. I have been actively engaged in mission trips since my first mission trip just three months after Katrina hit in Mississippi in August 2005 and spent Thanksgiving week in Bay St. Louis gutting homes inundated by 20-30 feet of storm surge. Since that first mission trip 12 years prior, I have been on at least 16 more mission trips, including multiple trips where I served as the construction lead or co-lead for high school youth and other adults. Still, I kept thinking what can 6th, 7th, or 8th graders do in a week and how can they possibly be a part of the Body of Christ that I had "labeled" in my mind as only inclusive to older youth and adults. I have a bad habit of pre-judging individuals and work daily to fight this sin. In this particular instance, God had other plans.
I had a chance to present a talk at a recent Walk to Emmaus weekend about what makes up the Body of Christ and this trip to Romney, WV for the Jeremiah Project changed my view on who is the Body of Christ forever.
Let's start with what is the Body of Christ? When we became Christians, we became new persons (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:14-16). We became part of a group of people with a common calling: to belong to Jesus Christ. No matter where we are or what we do or who we are, we are joined together like parts of a new body to reflect in the world the Christ in whose image we are created. This new body, comprised of all Christians, is known as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-20). You and I and all Christians everywhere make up the working parts of that body, the church universal.
The body of Christ is, however, more than the community of Christians everywhere. This term also describes the church fulfilling its mission in the world.
The body of Christ is the community of disciples united by faith in Christ and response to Jesus' call to "Follow me," to be the church wherever they are. The body of Christ continues Christ's ministry in the world today.
The body of Christ shows itself in various forms such as:
- a) a local congregation
- b) an ecumenical mission formed of different faith backgrounds
- c) a family seeking to live in faith
- d) wherever two or three are gathered in Christ's name.
Who makes up the Body of Christ? The church is more than its building, its' organizational structure, and institutions, or its' appointed leaders. Though all of these are important aspects and features, sometimes people mistake these for the church. Instead, the church refers to all the people of God who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, seek to continue Christ's life and ministry wherever they are. The Body of Christ is comprised of both laity and clergy who are meant to support one another and work as a team. We should not expect pastors to carry an entire load of taking the gospel to the world.
Laity is those who serve by being witnesses to the living Christ and carrying the gospel into their homes, workplaces, communities, and institutions that shape the lives of people.
Clergy is those who serve by fostering Christian community, interpreting God's Word, administering the sacraments, and equipping the saints for doing ministry in their world.
Both Laity and clergy are never in competition.
Each individual Christian is an important member of the body of Christ. But it is important for individuals to form groups that can join resources to foster faith and act together to impact society.
In the Bible there is no limitation on the age of whom the Body of Christ is to be comprised.
Jesus was clear in scripture as well, for example, in Matthew 19:14 New International Version (NIV):
14Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
The Christian family is also an expression of the body of Christ. Strong churches need the involvement of families, not just individuals. Families have been called the "domestic church"the place where people's lives are most deeply shaped. The family of faith has always been seen as the foundational setting for Christian education and faith formation.
However, even though I was familiar with what Jesus had preached, I remained stubborn and continued to believe that middle-school youth were not really a part of the Body of Christ.
By now you are probably wondering how that mission trip to West Virginia with the Jeremiah Project turned out? Well, it was held in a 4-H center, but without any air conditioning in the middle of July and every day was at or above 90 degrees! Furthermore, it was REALLY loud with a total of 71 middle school youth at the camp from multiple churches, but going on this mission trip was the best decision I have ever made and forever changed my view of who makes up the Body of Christ and what we can do as part of that Body.
At the Jeremiah Project, they mix up the teams and leaders. I was assigned 5 youth for the week, but no co-leader. Normally, we rotate jobs Monday and Tuesday, with an off day on Wednesday, then work again Thursday and Friday and depart Saturday. Because of my experience in construction, our team was the only team that was assigned to work on one project for Monday and Tuesday while other teams rotated work sites daily. Our work included cutting pickets for railings, digging post holes, pouring footers, building stringers and supports to complete a 20' long ramp for wheelchair access from a deck to a gravel driveway.
We finished our first project on Tuesday. Wednesday night, after we had our team day off to relax, I was called in to the construction leaders' office to help design an urgently needed low rise 8' length of stairs for an elderly woman, 82 years of age, who was on oxygen and used a walker. She has not been able to leave her trailer without assistance more than 12 years due to not having a properly sloped/constructed ramp. Her grandson would have to carry her out of the trailer when she needed to get out to doctors appointments. We could not build the 40' ramp needed due to lack of funds, but we could build something.
I informed my team on Thursday morning that we were going to another location do build stairs/digging holes and framing and was greeted with "Mr. Scott, other teams are painting and landscaping.why can't we do these other jobs?" I said, we do what we are asked to do and serve as requested. We loaded up the van and headed to the home some 40 minutes away. During the trip I explained the project and the urgent need. There was silence for a brief second but immediately followed by grumblings about digging, rock removal, drilling and not being able to paint or landscape, as other teams were doing. When we arrived, we went inside this old trailer and were met by Ms. Emma (not her real name) and her grandson. She was seated in a chair with her oxygen tube and tank nearby. Introductions were given and then discussion started. She shared with us her life history, the medical and structural reasons for her confinement and thanked us for being there.
Then, without hesitation, she told us that 6 months prior she had "died". She remembers being put in the ambulance at the top of her driveway and hearing the medic saying "uh-oh, this is not good". She was clinically dead until resuscitated by the EMTs in route to the hospital — and awoke in Winchester hospital. She shared about her seeing a bright light, feeling warm and not being afraid of death ever again. In fact, she was truly looking forward to reuniting with her husband and other family members who have preceded her in death and are waiting in heaven.
Oh, and then she added that this was the second time she had died.the first time she died had happened six months prior. The entire room became completely silent (which was rare) as we, especially the youth, absorbed what we had just heard had been experienced by Ms Emma.
That day we built the stringers, posts and cut all the treads and the youth worked tirelessly and efficiently. The day ended and I knew we would leave without having finished the project. But I was grateful to know another team would be there tomorrow to finish. We prayed as a team holding hands with Ms Emma.
On the ride back to camp, my team, who earlier that day were begging to paint or landscape asked if I could request from the camp leaders if our team could return to finish the job on Friday. Our request was granted. We returned. We finished.
I am so glad that God hit me with that 2×4 in the face because it is important to remember, we ALL are the Body of Christ. Age and grade do not matter to God, only what we can do for others.
The post The Body of Christ is Everyone, Including Middle Schoolers! appeared first on Today I Saw God.