A story about a ring… and God

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Over 120 RestoWomen gathered last weekend in Middleburg to consider what it means to be mature and secure children of God.  Kristen Terry led us through scripture, brain science and attachment theories to help us better understand how we view God as our parent and how we can rest secure as His children.  On Friday night, Kristen guided us through an exercise recalling a memory involving a happy child.  In small groups, we shared how those memories led us to consider what God might be saying to us.  There were over 120 different stories, different memories, and different revelations about what it means to be a child of God over the weekend.

The recurring thread in my own story was challenging me to examine my constrained view of God and the way I constrain myself in approaching Him.  How do I limit what I believe God can do, or what He cares about, or even how He cares for me?  In my notes on Friday evening I reflected, “God is not contained within the box I have created for Him.  He is surprising.”  The words I associated with my memory were free, unleashed, or unchained.

On Saturday, as Kristen encouraged us to think about our relationships to others and our ability to develop trust, I really struggled with the word distrust.  Distrust can imply a sense of suspicion and that didn’t seem fitting for the way I approach God.  There have been big moments in my life when I have felt fully and completely trusting of my heavenly Father.  And yet, day-to-day, am I a child of God that is fully trusting?  Am I a child that climbs into the lap of my Father to tell him what I need?  Am I “letting God love me?” as Kristen asked us on Sunday. 

No sooner had Kristen finished her final talk when I looked down and fiddled with the ring on my right hand.  It is antique ring that belonged to my husband’s grandmother, gifted to me by my mother-in-law.  I have cherished this gift and have loved wearing a reminder of the generations before me.  As I looked down I noticed a dark hole where the antique diamond had sat just days earlier.  My heart dropped and I quickly tried to remember the last time I had seen the ring intact.  I mentally began to rewind my movements.  I had sat in a least 5 different chairs, I had walked to and from my room, I had scraped my plate into the trash in the dining hall after dinner, I had walked along the river and skipped rocks Saturday afternoon.  There was no way I could retrace my steps of the previous two days.  I leaned to the friend sitting next me and pointed to my ring.  “Dear Jesus,” she said as grabbed my hand “help us find the diamond.”  I snickered.  Really?  I am not asking God to help me find a diamond.  Surely we could pray for bigger things.  Just moments earlier as we prayed together, I had prayed BIG prayers.  I had prayed for emotional healing and wholeness for the women in the room.  Surely God has better things to do.  I showed Liz the ring and she too stopped to pray, but again the skeptic in me stopped her, “we have already prayed Liz, but thanks!” I quipped.

I scurried back to my room during the break to check under the bed and in the bathroom.  Nothing.  I headed back in time for eucharist and scanned the gravel path as I walked.  Nothing.  After eucharist ended we started to say our goodbyes.  As we filed out of the Stone Barn, I scooted down one of the rows of chairs and something caught my eye—the size of a crumb. There it was.  Tiny and sparkling and right in front of a chair I had been sitting in on Saturday morning.  The relief as I scooped up the little diamond and clutched it in my palm was not in finding what I had lost, but it was in confirmation of the truth I had been seeking all weekend— that sometimes God truly is surprising.  That sometimes He loves us in ways that are small and seemingly insignificant.  Those questions I had jotted in my booklet all weekend— Can I trust Him?  Can I let Him love me?  Yes. yes.

As we were leaving, I shared the story with Kristen.  She grabbed her folder and began to read something that she hadn’t had time to share during the session.  This is what she read:

Praying for Abundance

A slave feels reluctant to pray; they feel they have no right to ask, and so their prayers are modest and respectful. They spend more time asking forgiveness than they do praying for abundance.

An orphan is not reluctant to pray; they feel desperate. But their prayers feel more like begging than anything else.

But not sons; sons know who they are.

Mine were just home for Christmas; all three of them. They are young men now, out making their way in the world. And as is fitting to their stage in life, they are living on limited means. But when they come home, they get to feast. The refrigerator and pantry is theirs to pillage and they don’t have to ask permission. When we go out to dinner, there is no question that dad will take care of the bill. For they are sons—they get to live under their father’s blessing; they get to drink from the abundance of my house (Ps. 36:8).

And when the holidays were over and they packed up and left, they took with them my best shoes, my best sunglasses, some of my favorite books, climbing gear, and cigars—with my absolute pleasure and blessing. Luke was the last to go; he was hoping to pillage some of my travel gear for an upcoming trip. I said, “You are my son—everything I have is yours. Plunder as you will.”

This is how sons get to live; this is how a father feels toward his sons.  – John Eldridge

The truth is I was praying like a slave, reluctantly, trying to be modest and respectful.  How appropriate that one of the words I associated with my memory was unchained. 

When I got home I recounted the story to my family about the lost diamond, the prayer of a few friends, and the way God answered that prayer.  My child looked me in the eyes and, as children do, exclaimed, “God probably really loves you.”  Indeed He does. unnamed

~Hannah Royal

Exiles, Come Home: a midweek homily

Two weeks ago David Griffin spoke on Isaiah 54:1-10 at our mid-week eucharist

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It is not for nothing that book of Isaiah has earned the nickname “The Fifth Gospel.” Although it begins with warnings of judgment, the book concludes with some of the most encouraging promises of redemption that we find in the Old Testament. Indeed, our passage today is the Servant Song that comes right after the famous suffering servant of chapter 53; chapter 54 is the message of hope after the servant’s great suffering in the last chapter. That message is: God remembers his promises, so he wants you who are exiles and strangers to him to come home and dwell with him.

From chapter 40 on, Isaiah is addressing the exiled people of Judah. Because of Judah’s chasing after other gods and failure to do justice to the oppressed, God allowed the Babylonian armies to conquer his chosen people. As a result, the enemy deported a large chunk of Judah’s population to live in Babylon. All that to say, the nation of Judah finds itself trapped in a foreign land, longing for the land that God had promised to his people. They’re wondering: has God forgotten us? Can we really worship God outside of Jerusalem, the holy city where his Temple was destroyed?

Then, after the Persians take over, King Cyrus announces that all exiles can return to their foreign lands. From Chapter 40 onward, Isaiah exclaims: don’t despair! This is really happening! Don’t feel defeated and helpless, for the Lord is restoring your fortunes! Come home, all you exiles, strangers in a foreign land, displaced by war!

The imagery used here is stunning. The people of Judah in exile are compared to a barren woman, for God’s people has been reduced to a remnant of what they once were. But in just a little while the barren woman (Judah) will soon have children in abundance. You’re going to need a much bigger tent for all the kids you’ll be having!

Don’t be afraid, says Isaiah, who then compares Judah to a divorced woman, covered in shame and feeling abandoned. My absence was only temporary, says the Lord God. I am your husband, and I will always keep my vows. My momentary anger is nothing compared to my everlasting love for you! And I swear from this day forth that it will never happen again. Come home to me!

Our reading from Galatians today quotes this passage, but Paul creatively applies it now to Jesus. In the New Testament, of course, Jesus is the Suffering Servant, Israel in exile. So Paul connects the barren one to Sarah to suggest that the church fulfills the many children promised in Isaiah and, spiritually speaking, the children of the promise God made to Sarah. And because God’s people are his children by promise, they are not his children by virtue of doing the works of the law. No, they inherit the promise by faith in Jesus, in whom all God’s promises are made good. So now God’s family can encompass all the nations of the earth, and not just ethnic Israel.

And so, Isaiah speaks to us here by way of Jesus. And the overall message is: you who are far off, estranged from God and his family, the door is wide open! Come home from your exile away from the Lord Jesus, your husband, redeemer, and friend.

And for those of us already a part of God’s church, God always commands those who used to be strangers, foreigners, aliens, to welcome those who are currently displaced and estranged from their homeland—and not just spiritually, but concretely. We have a warning from Isaiah, for Israel was originally sent into exile for failing to do justice to foreigners, the homeless, the oppressed. So let us open our arms wide to displaced people from among the nations, as visible testimony to what Jesus has done for us.

Let us now lift up our prayers to God after a moment of silence.

O God and Father of all, who sent your Son to preach good news to those who are far off and those who are near:

Seek us out in those moments of loneliness and despair. When we are feeling alienated from you or from other people, let the prophet’s words dwell in us richly, to remind us that our apparent exile has come to an end, though we may not see how that may be now. We thank you and praise you for being our faithful husband, our holy redeemer, and our friend who has sworn everlasting love toward us.

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer

Let us stretch out the tent of our church, so that people from all over North Arlington, and from the world over, my find their home. Bless our missions in West Asia, Bolivia, and Cambodia; refresh the workers there, give justice to the poor there, and may your saving Gospel be preached to all in those places who haven’t heard it. We pray you also bless our upcoming church plants, so that the stranger doesn’t need to come, but home may to go to the stranger.

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer.

Finally, Lord, open our hears to those who are exiles and refugees in the most concrete sense of those words. Remind us of your great love for us, so that we may be moved to great compassion for the suffering stranger. Guide your church in all wisdom and mercy so that she may speak up for the outsider with the words of comfort like those you speak to your people through your prophets and apostles.

Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayer

~ David Griffin

54 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.

“This is like the days of Noah[a] to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

 

Surprises in Cambodia: team reflections #4

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Several days ago, as I was preparing for a workshop session that I would be facilitating on the Khmer Pastors’ retreat, Liz reminded me to leave room to be surprised. She was right. The Holy Spirit so often surprises me in the midst of the mundane, and I operate best when I assume a posture of openness and flexibility to those surprises.

And so, on my final day in Phnom Penh, I sat in Brown’s Coffee (basically the Cambodian Northside Social) and reflected on my time, making special note of the ways God had surprised me. I wanted to share a few of these surprises with the Resto community that has so faithfully prayed for us. And as you read, who knows? Perhaps God will surprise you too – with a gentle nudge to pray for Cambodia, with a desire for greater involvement in outreach, or with a word or image that particularly speaks to your life here in Arlington.

Surprise 1: Loving Cambodia. I have traveled widely, and I am always interested in experiencing new places and cultures. I expected the same from Cambodia: interest, novelty, enjoyment. But instead, I fell in love. Before I even stepped on the plane, as I sifted through the English-Khmer Bible to prepare materials for the trip, the beautiful script resonated deeply with me. With Google Translate as my linguistic assistant, I began decoding numerals, days of the week, and punctuation. Did you know that Khmer is not a tonal language? That it’s derived from Sanscrit and Pali (the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism)? That the main row of characters are the consonants, and the little notations above and below are the vowel sounds? That there are no spaces between words? Like this:

ការអធិស្ឋានល្ងាច

That’s Khmer for evening prayer. Beautiful, right?

20170128_171533My love for Cambodia started with its script and continued through Phnom Penh and Kep. Walking the vibrant, friendly streets; riding tuk-tuks (moto taxis) around town; watching people grill squid and chip ice and boil cockles in the market; eating glutinous sesame rice cooked over coals in banana peels;  women waist-deep in the ocean pulling in their crab traps; monkeys crossing the streets; strangely translated restaurant names (“The Slimming Foods and Puppies House”); I loved it all. I was surprised. God gave me joy where I expected mere interest.

Surprise 2: God speaks loudly in silence. For the first part of our trip, we supported a team from Christ Church Austin as they conducted a silent retreat for members of the international congregation of the Anglican church in Phnom Penh (Church of Christ Our Peace).  It is a strange thing to facilitate a silent retreat; there is no verbal feedback mechanism by which you can evaluate people’s level of engagement with the material. As we moved quietly behind the scenes – arranging meals, setting up tables, preparing the liturgy – the participants silently disappeared to who knows where, doing who knows what.

On the final morning, the retreatants broke their silence with a 1-2 minute reflection on what they had experienced. Each person had received a helpful image, word, scripture, or answer from God. One man, an IT consultant, had composed a stunning poem about the strength of God’s goodness. One woman, a burned-out aid worker, had been reassured of God’s fatherly care by the sight of a baby monkey on its father’s back. Another woman described lying on the roof of our hotel under the stars one night, singing praises to the heavens. Others described powerful moments of healing and hope and comfort.

God speaks in silence. He fills whatever empty spaces we create for him. He comes to us in our rest and our surrender.

Surprise 3: Long-term, gradual, incremental work does add up!  So often, I am hardened and skeptical about good work being done in the world. I know how complex global problems are and how fraught with setbacks and unintended consequences their solutions can be. I begin to doubt that sustainable transformation is really possible. And yet that is precisely the story of International Justice Mission (IJM) in Cambodia, where they have combatted sex trafficking for over a decade. Again and again, I heard people talk about the remarkable transformation that IJM has brought to Cambodia. Though sex trafficking still exists, it’s now an acknowledged societal problem, one that the Cambodian government, police, and courts are increasingly well equipped to tackle on their own. And some communities have been completely transformed. We visited one village that used to be a center of child prostitution and walked down an infamous street once lined with child brothels, where children as young as 5 could be bought and sold. Now, thanks to tireless work by IJM and by Agape International Mission (AIM) over many years, children in that town are being protected, rehabilitated, educated, and equipped for a productive life outside the sex trade. Those brothels are now schools, training centers, churches – places of healing and flourishing. Change is possible. God’s light can penetrate even the darkest corners of humanity.

Surprise 4: Immigrants are immigrants. In that same community where we witnessed such incredible transformation of the child sex trade, we also witnessed the sad reality of immigrant communities everywhere: marginalization and disdain. This community was home to many Vietnamese immigrants, widely mistrusted and disliked by ethnic Khmer. These Vietnamese are highly vulnerable to sex trafficking and exploitative labor practices. They are linguistically isolated from Khmer schools and society. They are poor. They are different.

It was a surreal moment to witness the difficulties facing this immigrant community while hearing news about the increased vulnerability of immigrant communities back home. Immigrants everywhere are vulnerable, and I’m thankful for the protective and healing work that AIM is doing in this particular community. May we all be so courageous, standing with the most vulnerable among us and working tirelessly for their protection.

Surprise 5: Worship and prayer are universal languages. My moments of deepest joy came in worship and prayer. As Liz Gray wrote in our final email update, “God gave us a ‘thin space’ to intercede,” and he truly did. Whether praying blessing in English over rural Khmer pastors; praying for healing with individuals we’d never spoken to on the silent retreat; or praying the words of the liturgy simultaneously in multiple languages; God’s presence in our prayers was palpable and transcended language barriers. Similarly, we were gifted with momentary glimpses of heaven as we sang 1990s praise songs simultaneously, exuberantly, in Khmer and English.

Surprise 6: There is only one Jesus. This should seem obvious. But because I’m interested in other religions and cultures, and because I firmly believe “all truth is God’s truth,” and because I can find redemptive threads in almost any cultural narrative, sometimes I lose sight of the absolute uniqueness of Jesus. I wrote an earlier blog post on one of my many moments realizing this in Cambodia.

Another such moment came during a painful visit to the Killing Fields on our final day. The Killing Fields are one of many designated places of remembrance of the tragedy of Pol Pot’s regime. There, inmates from Tuol Sleng prison (a place of horrific torture which we visited earlier in our trip) were brought to be killed and dumped in mass graves. Bits of bone and fragments of clothing still litter the ground, brought to the surface with every rain.  The earth still takes the shape of what were once mass graves, rising and falling in unnatural mounds. Several massive trees of significance are marked: the tree against which children were killed, and the tree from which loudspeakers were hung to blare revolutionary music to cover the screams.

Along the path through the fields is another tree, dedicated by Buddhist monks several years ago. It is just a young sapling, protected by a fence but drooping sadly nonetheless, bearing a sign: “Tree of Hope and Peace.”  It was at this tree that I had another moment of gratitude for the uniqueness of Jesus. This little sapling of hope and peace looked so flimsy and ineffective against the monstrous trees of torture nearby. But Jesus himself is our hope and peace. Not a flimsy, symbolic, wishful-thinking sort of hope and peace, but a robust, embodied one. Because he lived and suffered as a human like us, he is compassionately with us in our pain. He does not explain away the pain of existence or seek to escape it, as Buddhism teaches; he fully embraces it in his suffering, dying, human body. And because he rose again, we have a confident assurance that there is powerful healing, redemption, and restoration waiting in the wings just beyond our pain.

As I stood there, I remembered another tree of hope and peace from Revelation 22:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life . . .. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

And in the midst of a place of enormous suffering and deep darkness, with a hopelessly inept tree before me, I prayed the only thing I could think to pray, echoing some of the last words of that same chapter of Revelation: Come, Lord Jesus!

~Amy Rowe

Kept “in the midst of it” – the homily from last Wednesday’s Eucharist

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Readings: Psalm 121; Isa. 49:1-7; Gal 2:15-21; Mark 6:13-29

Today* marks the 6th day of the new administration under Trump. It is the second day of the annual audit at my office.And we’re in the midst of the sometimes dreary days of midwinter; although, today offers a welcome (warm and bright) reprieve.

As we begin let’s first pause to take in the scene, a panorama of your landscape: what day is today…for you? What are you “in the midst of”? Where are your relationships feeling the squeeze? What pressures are you navigating at work or at home? Perhaps your 3 weeks into sleepless nights with a baby or 3 days into potty-training a toddler. You may need to call the plumber because of a shower leak (which just happened to me this morning). Or you’re facing a big deadline or meeting. On the other hand, maybe you’re having a day of reprieve and your face is turned toward the warmth of the sunshine.

Take a moment.  Steady.  *  Scan the landscape.  *  Click.  *  Take a snapshot in your mind’s eye.

It is “in the midst of it” –from that landscape– that the steady-ing hand of the Lord keeps us! Let’s join the Psalmist to notice God’s keeping power at work.

The writer of Psalm 121 captures these promises. We are kept people–no matter the circumstances or uncertainties; no matter what day it is. Six times the Psalmist speaks of the Lord’s keeping power.

He keeps us from being struck by the sun or the moon—by those things totally outside our control. We can’t control the power of the sun (though we might try with sunblock) or the pull of the moon on our tides. Those pressures that abound in our worlds, but cannot be managed by good habits or positive thinking or even brilliant resistance or protesting. There are so many things out of our control. Our good Father steadies not only our environment, but our hearts–our very life.

He is the Keeper. It’s the title given to the Lord in the psalm. He has the power to do it, to keep us from faltering in our faith. And God does it very well—even through the night—He hides us. In those places where our energy is spent and we have nothing left, where our best ideas have run out, where we’re sick, and at the end of the day, when we’re tired.

He also keeps us in the places where we have great hope and expectation for the future. In places of joy, we still need our good Father’s keeping power, to guard our hearts and minds. So, our appetites and attentions don’t wander. So, our orientation remains one of trust and submission to the wisdom of the Spirit and obedience to God’s good laws. He keeps us from ALL evil.

To help us understand our sense of this word “keep,” I took a peek at the etymology of the word (as any former English Major worth their salt would do). Interestingly, keep was also used as a noun in the middle ages, referring to the innermost stronghold or central tower of a castle.” This calls to mind a sense of protection, preservation, and provision for our hearts and minds–our most vulnerable places. This “inner keeping” orients us, so we can lift our eyes to the hills, that secure spot, where our help comes from…

It’s in these days here, at the beginning of 2017, “in the midst of it”, when we face very real places of chagrin and uncertainty. And yet Christ… We are kept, established, held secure through Christ. God the Father, in His great promises to Israel, foretold of his keeping of Christ, who in His resurrection, demonstrated that even with the destruction of our bodies—John’s head on a platter—our hope would not be at an end. We are kept for eternal life…Isaiah’s prophecy continues from the end of our reading to speak of Israel’s restoration:

Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land…”
Isaiah 46:8

We are in that day of salvation now. Christ has been given to us. He has given a new convent to those who fear God. He is both our strength and our song. He is our keeper.

In our liturgy, one of the blessings we receive after corporate confession, our priest says:

Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in
eternal life. Amen.

Indeed, may he strengthen and keep us by His tender mercies today and always…

Invitation to pray:

Father God, we need your safe keeping. As your children, fear of what we face can taunt our hearts. But you are our steadfast help to keep our feet firm.

As we lift our eyes, we look to you, the one who made the heaven and the earth. Help us. Keep us. Steady our stance. Turn your face towards us.  May we experience your covering and keeping power “in the midst.”

Keep those suffering and in need of your healing touch.

Keep those in need of your protection and wisdom.

Keep us from all evil. Keep our life—hidden with Christ in God.

~ Erica Chapman

*Homily: 7/37 

Ascension Day

Songs_of_Innocence_and_of_Experience,_copy_F,_object_38_-HOLY_THURSDAY-And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,  and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11 ESV)

Forty days after Easter we remember Christ’s ascension into heaven – with his promise that he would send the Holy Spirit. And so today marks the end of Eastertide, we extinguish the paschal candle and  we wait in eager anticipation to celebrate Pentecost on May 24.

As I thought about the ascension and looked for poetry that would help me pray, I came across the William Blake poem ‘Holy Thursday’ (from his Songs of Innocence and Experience) which tied in so well with  this season where we are exploring the ‘Justice and generosity of God’. An expressive reminder that we are in the ‘now and the not yet’ of the Kingdom of God.

And so today, we pray with gratitude and expectation this collect (BCP, 226)

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ
ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things:
Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his
promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end
of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory
everlasting. Amen.

 

~Liz

 

 

Making Space

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My gas tank light flashed on.  Ugh, I heaved. What an apropos picture for what I feel like right now.  The morning was still dark and I was driving to meet with three seventh grade girls whom I was supposed to be “mentoring.”  But I felt out of gas. Runnin’ on empty.  Like I had nothing to give.  I should NOT be doing this!  What in the world do I have to offer them?  I feel like I’m barely holding it together and they’re supposed to look up to me? Yikes.  I pulled into the parking lot and saw one of their moms pulling out.  Another whammy to myself: not even on time.  The mini-van slowed and the mom rolled down her window.

“Caitlin, hi! How are you?”

“Uhhh.. great,” I faltered.  This particular mom had actually mentored me for the last several years.  She must be thinking ‘why am I letting my daughter be influenced by this girl?’  “Grace,” I spit out before I would think the better of it. “I’m actually feeling like I don’t have much to give.  Like, I am a mess.  And..” I trailed off.

Grace smiled.  She has one of those reassuring smiles, one that serves as a reminder that everything will be a-okay. “Oh, Caitlin, what a perfect place to be in… for you’re aware that it’s not really about you offering YOUR wisdom or joy, but offering a place for the Lord to work.  You’re making yourself available, and that’s all that’s necessary.”

Ah ha. Right. So I didn’t feel adequate.  Well, that’s not the point.  Or maybe in part, it is exactly the point. HE’S adequate. And He’s in me.  So in I went and we had cinnamon crunch bagels and talked about middle school life.

Later, I walked out with those three darling girls and realized how refreshed I was.  There was a mysterious exchange that had taken place in that last hour.  My weakness, His strength.  My crumbs, His bread of Life.  And honestly it was a gift to be with them and to realize, hey, it is not about me right now.  Self-forgetfulness can be a relief.

I think back to the many women who have been involved in my life over the years.  Each of them lovely, each of them wise.  But what was most impactful to me was their availability, the space they created in their lives to allow me to join.  I remember sometimes jumping in the car and going grocery shopping with one of them.  She invited me to just come alongside her amidst her to-do list.  In my highschool years, I would often meet with a mentor, now a dear, dear friend, at Panera.  We’d order cinnamon crunch bagels.  I know she offered me a lot of wisdom, but what I remember most is just that she was there. She kept showing up every week at Panera.

In the beginning, God created time and space.  And I think He grants us the ability to create specific time and spaces in our own lives.  Creating time and space to walk alongside of other people – whether we are the “mentee” or “mentor” – is an invitation for us to do what Jesus did: invest in relationships… make disciples. He knew we needed one another, knew that we weren’t made to do life on our own.  Our retreat speaker Dale Keuhne’s words come to mind: “human flourishing requires a constellation of relationships.”  Those words have swirled around in my mind for months.  A constellation of relationships… what could that look like for us at Restoration as we consider investing in one another?  Maybe it’s much simpler than we make it out to be.  Maybe it’s about just showing up.

Please join us to discuss the topic of mentoring at the next Women’s Unscripted. This is a chance to hear from different women’s stories, gain practical tools for being and/or finding a mentor, and learn about new avenues to get to know other women at Restoration.  7:30 pm on Tuesday, March 24 (NEXT TUESDAY) in the Fellowship Hall.  Hope to see all Restoration women – and their friends there. All welcome.

~Caitlin Staples for the Women Unscripted Team

 

#restocambo part 2

unnamedThe second installment in our series of ‘Cambodia reflections’ 

During my recent trip to Cambodia God worked in my life in ways that were not apparent to me.

We did many activities, one that stuck out to me and made me think was the prayer walk. Walking around Phnom Penh in the red light district, you could feel the evil lurking about. Knowing that this part of town was a place where prostitution, trafficking and abuse was more apparent, I was concerned but curious.

When we started the walk, immediately I saw a man and a woman. As the woman tried to get up, the man continued to hit her so she could not move. After a few whacks, the woman sat down “obediently”. The feeling of anger and sadness overwhelmed me. As I watched this happen, I noticed that my watching eyes turned into glares. It was all I could do not to run up to where they were sitting and yell at him. Tell him how wrong he was. That’s what I wanted to do, but I was there to pray, and let God take the lead.

This visual stayed in my mind and heart during the whole walk. We passed by children, and women standing at the steps of bars on side streets. A caucasian man searching the premise with evil intent. There was nothing I could do, except let God take the lead and trust in him. Trust that he will protect, and that he has a plan for everyone. This may have been the hardest experience of the entire trip, but the best and most significant part at the same time. This experience drew me closer to God, and I truly realized that I need to let him take the lead, and that’s what I want.

~Julie Kenyon

Gaps and Growth on Ascension Thursday

ascensionOn Sunday, I talked about acknowledging gaps in our faith, including our knowledge.  When I woke up this morning, I realized I had gaps in my understanding of the Ascension.   Today is the day that the church celebrates Jesus’s ascension into heaven, and while I’ve studied this before, it’s not the easiest concept to wrap our minds around.  So I spent a little time digging, and what I found was really encouraging to me.

We’re all familiar with the concept.  We say it each week in the creed: “On the third day he rose again, he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”  But this idea provokes some significant questions in us:  Why did Jesus go back to heaven?  Why, after this amazing victory over his enemies and death itself, would he go away to a place where we could no longer see him?

The apostles had a similar question in Acts 1:1-11.  They assumed Jesus would establish his kingdom here, now that he had risen from the dead.  But instead, he proceeded to float into the air and vanish from sight.  Kind of a let down, right?  But Jesus had already told them this was going to happen and that it was going to be for their benefit and ours.  He said in John 16:7 that “… it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.”

So, let me get this straight: the guy who is amazing to be with and does awesome miracles is about to disappear, and instead we get the Holy Spirit, whom we can’t see?  And this is supposed to be to our advantage?

One thing to keep in mind is that God works in ways that are often counterintuitive to us and that we don’t always understand.  But we can try to at least get a sense for why God might do things the way he does.  And I think one key to understanding why Jesus had to ascend is to think about God’s presence in the world.  At the beginning, his Spirit was present in an intimate way with his creation (Gen. 1:2).  It was normal for him to communicate directly with humans (Gen. 3:8a).  But after sin entered the world, this intimacy was broken.

Only after a long period did God establish his temple where humanity could experience his presence.  This was a gift, but it was limited by the fact that you had to go to a specific place on the planet, and even then, only certain people were allowed.  Then Jesus came as the true temple, the place where God’s presence could be encountered.  This was a huge leap forward, because not only could you talk to him, he accepted anyone, saint/sinner, Jew/Gentile.  But still – and here’s the important thing to note – access to God was limited to a particular place, namely, wherever Jesus happened to be.

But because Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out his Spirit on the earth, what we have now is a return to his original intent for his presence in the world.  Now God, by his Spirit, can relate to the whole world in an intimate way, and he does so on the terms set by Jesus, terms where we relate to God based on our identity as sons and daughters reconciled to him by Christ’s work.  No longer do we need to go to a specific place, accessible only by those who have the wherewithal to go there, financial or otherwise.  The God revealed by Christ is accessible anywhere, any time, by his Spirit.

I’ve said before that we’re right to desire more intimacy with God, because he has plans to bring us into greater intimacy with him (Rev. 22:4).  But in the meantime, while it can be difficult to walk by faith and not by sight, it’s really important for us to keep in mind that things are better than they once were.  You and I can live in the D.C. area, of all places, and have direct access to the God who made us.

I’m excited to be alive during this period when we can relate to God in this way.  I’m excited to encounter him in the various places I find myself today.  This is one example of how acknowledging a gap in my understanding has caused my relationship with God to grow.  I hope that coming to a deeper understanding of the Ascension might help you grow closer to God today, and I hope that you’ll continue to grow closer to him the more you understand the story of his love for the world.

-Clay

 

Worlds apart?

Our Thursday in I was full.  Full of everything that a day can be filled with.  We were tourists in a new place looking to explore with a purpose.  This sent us to an afternoon prayer walk.  We walked and walked and stopped for lunch and Turkish coffee.  We walked some more and stopped for Starbucks.  We kept walking and took group pictures by the sea.  We cried, we laughed, we basked in the sunshine.  While we walked and stopped and did all of these touristy things, we prayed for those around us.  We prayed for this land, this new place and these new people that have gotten stuck in all of our hearts.

2014 05 Turkey 131At the end of the afternoon, we stood atop  the ancient Acropolis.  We prayed over the city from the highest point to close our work for the day and put our prayers back in God’s hands.  As we prayed, two young girls loitered around us timidly asking for spare change.  They stared at our focused circle with cocked heads and wide eyes not  understanding our words.

At one point, Nadia wandered out of our circle toward the girls, oblivious to their presence.  As she meticulously removed gravel from her shoes, Nadia eventually noticed the local girls who were now shifting their curious gazes between her and our circle.

The girls looked as if they were about Nadia’s age yet they appeared to have come from opposite ends of the world.  The two  girls were alone with disheveled hair and clothes so covered in dust that the true colors were indistinguishable.  Next to them was Nadia in her brightly colored dress.  Nadia knows God’s love for her and the brokenness of this world.  Who knows what these two girls have been surrounded by as they have grown up?

As we began singing;

Every fear; has no place; at the sound of your great name

The enemy; he has to leave; at the sound of your great name…

I was struck by the girls’ wonder and curiosity with our actions and deeds.  They were intrigued by us and grateful for our generosity.  They saw our love for one another and for them.

What if all strangers that we met had a childlike curiosity for the gospel and our worship?  What if the girls could miraculously understand our words?  What if they encountered other workers with similar prayer and worship patterns – would their intrigue grow? Would they start asking questions?

Liz B. and the I crew

Feb 21-23, 2014 the AWESOME women’s retreat

February is always a long month.  I guess it is the shortest month, if you’re counting days, but for me, it never feels like the shortest month.  The excitement of the holidays is long past and I’m ready to shed my winter coat.  I’m tired of the early darkness and spring break is too many weeks away.

What is the solution to this February drag? The Restoration Women’s Retreat!

noname

Last February, I was stuck in my traditional February rut and the ladies of Restoration helped to pull me out of it.  Our weekend of learning and hanging out was so rejuvenating for me.

I wrote in my journal during the weekend, “It’s amazing when I can really see God at work in my life – during the most frustrating and chaotic season, he has sent me inspiration and guidance.”  That inspiration and guidance came in the form of lessons and wonderful friendships that were forged at the Women’s Retreat 2013.

During the Women’s Retreat in February 2014 we will hear our own Connally Gilliam speak.  There will be plenty of time to chat by the fire, time for getting cozy and relaxed with a book, and opportunities to be adventurous in the Pennsylvania outdoors.  Most importantly, it will be a weekend surrounded by some of the most wonderful people.  What is better than that?

Join us! February 21-23, 2014 at the Capital Retreat Center in Waynesboro, PA

You can sign up here or here …do it today!

Liz Baar

 

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