In The Garden

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When I was a child Easter meant getting a basket full chocolates, jelly beans and other treats. It meant the entire family went to mass that day and a leg of lamb awaited us for dinner. The reason for Easter, celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus was an abstract idea for me. The treats in the basket were far more tangible.

My journey to understanding was a winding and varied journey. I found I was angry with God for many reasons. In the midst of my anger I still sought God but on my own terms.

I have read through the Gospels and the accounts of Jesus’ final days a few times. The moment in the garden, when he prays for this cup to be taken from him. That perhaps there could be another way, but alas there is not.

This moment is most relatable for me. The reality that he faces in this, of the inevitable to come and the desire for it to be otherwise is all too real. He seeks out God, wrestles with him even.

A reflection of my own journey to faith.

Cut to Easter Sunday almost nine years ago. I sat in service at my sister’s church. I had been attending with her for months, the word of God sinking into my heart. The pastor spoke about our need for Jesus, how the cross bridges the divide between hope and despair. When he invited us to pray to welcome Jesus into our hearts, I prayed. I prayed earnestly and submissively. Then I stood and came forward.

Again and again I back to Christ in the garden. His prayers pleading for there to be some other way. Then prayers for strength and of submission. How often have I pleaded with God, struggled to understand that it’s not my own strength but through His am I able to do anything? When I reflect on my ongoing journey, I see many moments in my garden with the Lord. I foresee many more as I go forward.

It is here in the garden where we see our Savior at his most vulnerable. His need for support from his friends, to seek comfort from his Father. It is here that Easter became tangible for me. In the garden, facing all that lie before him.

He faced it so that my sins were covered. He took on my punishment and died in order to rise again. Bringing with him the promise of eternal life. While I reflect on his prayer in the garden, I will also celebrate the Resurrection.

Journey to Faith

Linda001

 

Recently, I read John Krakauer’s , “Into the Wild.” The true story of a young man named Chris McCandless who was found dead in the Alaskan wilderness. I had seen the film based on the book years ago, and I have to say it has never left me. The story of a young man figuring out this world. What it means to be alive and how to go about that in this often sterile world.

This story touched me so deeply because I identified with the struggle. I too ran away from everything and everyone I knew. When I was nineteen, blundering my way through my first semester of community college I decided to move to Phoenix, Az. I had no connections there, no plans. I just wanted to get out of Miami. All I knew was that I felt suffocated and something had to change.

The differences between Chris and I are rather evident. All I wanted was to leave and figure out my life. While Chris seemingly desired to cut all ties to his past. Afterall he did not tell his parents of his plans, burned the cash he had with him, leaving his car behind when he could no longer drive it.My family knew where I was, I was reachable. I had no notion to simply wander as Chris did. We were both wandering though, I was still sleepwalking in my life. Wandering in my own way.

Where we were similar was the search. The desire for an authentic life. The need to get away from it all. I hid from the world by immersing myself with television, Chris immersed himself in nature.

For me, it was a search for God. As if I were challenging Him to follow me out there or to meet me out there in the desert. But what I had not known was that God was with me all along. In the end, it was I who would journey back to the place I had left in the first place.

The thing about running away, is that no matter where I had gone, I could never run from myself. I had to meet God in his terms and not my own. My time in Arizona lead me back to Him. First returning to the church of my childhood, the Catholic church. Then attending services from time to time with my roommate at her familes’ place of worship. Planting seeds for this journey of faith. Seeds that would grow to fruition upon my return to Miami.

Chris’ journey ended in the Alaskan wilderness, dying slowly after unknowingly injesting moldy potato seeds which caused his body to reject any form of nutrition *. An unforseen tragedy. We will never know where Chris was in his spiritual journey. If perhaps he was ready to come out of hiding, to stop running.

I too died, though mine is a spiritual death. As I had to in order to become new. Chris McCandless’ story will always have a place in my heart. A reminder of the cost and reward such journeys can pay out.

*From page 192, ebook version of Into The Wild.

Photo Credit: Erica Rodriguez of Mua Loa Photography Inc. @mualoaphotog on Twitter.

What Does Communion Mean To You

What is it about communion that can both draw us and at times force us to step back. Almost every church has their version of having communion. Some denominations have it every Sunday such as my church and others every month or even every few months. I grew up in the Catholic faith where every Mass communion is blessed and taken. As a child, when I took my first communion I did not fully comprehend what it was I was doing. All I knew was that it was part of our faith, that the wafer in my hands was in fact the body of Christ and the wine ( offered to those older than myself) was the blood of Christ. I can now confess that I never did believe in this transfiguration.

For years, this lack of belief in the aspect of being Catholic lead to a questioning of my faith in Jesus. I wanted to believe in Him, longed to in fact but often felt myself a fraud. How could I long for Jesus but not believe in transfiguration? Was I the only fraud continuing to take communion or were there other doubters? I felt obligated to stand up at service and come forward, to avoid answering uncomfortable questions from my mom as to why I had not. Taking it at the end of every service became routine. It was something that we did on the way out the door. I did not take into consideration what communion was meant to be for me. For all of us.

When I converted from Catholicism, not taking communion at the end of every service was still new to me. It had become so ingrained in that this is how services were supposed to go. For a time after my conversion I was wrestling with some heavy things. Fighting against spiritual battles and feeling all alone. Feeling as if I was not worthy to have communion with Him. Forgetting I had been MADE worthy already. That the act of communion is Him meeting us where we are at, right at that moment. It is to remember the sacrifice He made for us, for me.

Slowly, these trials began to subside. Just as they did, things began to change at my church. We were a satellite campus of a larger church and had just gotten a new pastor. He wanted to do communion differently. No more would we be using the pre-made cups of juice with a wafer on top. From now on our campus would use a loaves of bread  and a glass of juice. Tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it into the glass of juice. Later when we were launched as a church plant, it was decided to have communion every Sunday. This was an adjustment for many of us but something that we as a church family came together on.

As we came together each week to partake of this family meal, my relationship with communion changed. Part of it had to do with having the responsibility of purchasing the elements. Setting up a table to with loaves of bread and glasses of juice each week. It is rather interesting how God uses the things of our past. My grandfather was heavily involved in the Catholic church as a lay minister. He brought communion to those in nursing homes and the homebound, unable to attend mass to receive it. This thread of connection between the two of us has become evident in my own life. Each Sunday I am the one ( for the most part) to purchase loaves of bread fresh from the grocery store bakery.

At the end of service our pastor calls up those who want to partake to come forward. There are no ushers and sometimes the lines are rather bunched and unorganized looking. But I rather like this aspect of how we do communion. It is not perfect or meant to be perfect.

Those who partake come forward and take a piece of bread the server holding it whispers “His body broken for you.” Some take small pieces and others larger. As someone once said to me, they took a larger piece because they needed more of Him that day. For He is truly the bread of life. That piece of bread is then dipped into a cup of grape juice, the server whispers, “ His blood spilled for you.”

Those times when I get to serve, I make eye contact with each and every person coming forward. If I know their name I try to remember to include say it to them as they take their bread and dip it into the cup of grape juice. Another lesson I have had is that the elements are not what matters. It is our hearts, our seeking of Jesus, of this moment of remembrance. If the bread is a different type or the juice a different brand than normal, this does not matter. Communion is not about the elements, it is about our heart for Jesus as we take it. To contemplate and reflect. Perhaps to confess and seek prayer. A time too to praise Him for what he has done.

This is where I am at with communion. It is where God has met me. It no longer a routine thing to tick off the list of things to do. I no longer feel obligated to take part every Sunday. It is not that I do not need to remember what Jesus has done on the cross. When I do come forward and receive it is with a heart full of remembrance. That is what matters most.

I think of my grandfather bringing communion to those who were unable to attend Mass. Our delivery systems and faith are rather different but the same Jesus meets us there. Feeding that spiritual hunger. Filling us from the inside. He is enough. He is all we need. That is what communion means to me. That we do it in remembrance of the sacrifice made for me on the cross. It is about being cared for and feed by my Lord.

His body broken for me. His body broken for you.

His blood spilled for me. His blood spilled for you.

Luke 22: 17-20

And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among ourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes”. And he took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”. And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.C

Thankfulness

There are times life can be hard. So hard that it can be hard to see the blessings in our lives. Even amidst the hardships.

However looking at what is good, to be thankful can help you grow as person. Maybe it sounds corny, or cliche’ to you. Taking the time to reflect on things that you have, the people in your life who love you can change your outlook on life. It can grow your relationship with God.

This is what happened to me. A few years ago I was at a point where I took everything for granted and then things changed on me. I had to make a choice, either turn to God or walk away. By turning to Him, I was grown and stretched in so many ways. I was being shown how much I needed Him.

I began a document on  to list all the things I should be thankful about in life. A document I still update today. Sometimes the list goes on and on. Other days it takes time for me to see how I can be thankful in hardship. Writing, journaling always helps me to regain the right attitude in life.

I learned to appreciate so many things and people in my life. I have learned to step back and have a different perspective on things. It reminds me to not take things for granted. A needed reminder at times.

This is what thankfulness looks like to me.

What does thankfulness look like in your life?

Strength Not From Myself

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I do not handle stress well.

I have been anxious and angry lately. Circumstances are not where I want them to be. A lot of is not new but at times it is hard to wait on God. To even be still.

I tend to keep moving. To keep busy until I exhaust myself.

I do not always run to God as I should. Instead I revert to old habits. Habits that I find some kind of immediate comfort. Habits can be destructive.

All this does is run me down. I do not eat as well or exercise. My sleep is not as restful. I feel jittery and out of sorts. In other words, the complete opposite of who I usually am.

Resentment builds up in me. And yet I do not seek God as I should.
Because I do not want to hear what I already know.
I cannot do this on my own.

He is there, waiting to take on my burdens as I push him aside. As if I am a proud toddler, declaring “I can do it!” Even when I do not want to. When all I long to do is hide from my life. To not feel or face things in my life.

As much as I would like it to, life does not stop. There is work, family, friends who have their own struggles.

God is patient with me in these times. Placing people in my life who love over me. Who show me His grace again and again. I am so grateful to be placed in community and relationships who care for me.

He is my comfort. He is my strength. And I forget that. I believe that my problems or struggles are not worthy of His time.

That is when I need to stop. To stop and be still. To listen to my breath. To be still and wait on God.

For His plans for me are vast and pure. All that is asked of me is to trust and rest in Him.

Matthew 11:30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

When do you find yourself seeking something other than God in times of stress?

photo credit: blessed app

Growing In Friendships

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Cancer walk with Dienne & Ana

Friendship has not always been easy for me. Real,in depth messy friendship. The kind where weeks can go past without talking and the conversation naturally picks up. Where you are loved well and they tell you if you are being an ass.

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It takes being open and willing to love. Love is rather messy isn’t it?
It means hurting when they hurt. It means being disappointed at times.

They are the ones who know right away that all is not right in your world before anyone else. Where all you need to do to start off a fit of giggles is one look.

Not every friendship is meant to last a lifetime . They have their season and then our lives change. Others, are those forever friends. The ones you look at to figure who will be Blanche, Dorothy or Rose in a real world version of Golden Girls.

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I have been blessed in my friendships. I have learned so much about how to love through them. I don’t know who I would be without the amazing women in my life. We need these types of nitty, gritty friendships in our lives.

Opening myself to these friendships has not always been easy but it has been entirely worth it.

Which of your friends do you envision sitting alongside you when you are old and grey?

The Church and Singles

Last month I wrote about praying for the singles in church. You can read about this here. Today I want talk about to serve singles. Recent polls have indicated that there are more singles in the church today than ever before. This means the idea of how to minister to us changes.

We are getting married later in life or not at all. We are living in a different age where marriage, at least in this part of our 1% privileged world, is not a necessity for survival. We no longer live in the world of Jane Austen, where marriage was for the Bennett girl’s very survival.

So often, in American churches marriage itself it lauded as the epitome of the Christian life. In reality, while marriage is A good thing, it is not the thing. In the Bible we are constantly reminded that things of this world shall fall away. This also includes marriage.

Idolizing either state single or married can be dangerous.

So many singles feel left out or marginalized as the emphasis is often placed on the marriages in the church. As I stated in my previous post, marriage is a good thing, however there are times where their can be a mentality that one group needs more attention over another.

Whether this is an oversight or simply the culture of a church needs to be evaluated. It is often as simple as changing the phrase of a sentence. Or acknowledging that singleness is not easy without the usual platitudes. Perhaps too just checking in with someone to see how they are doing, with our lives, seeking a mate or not seeking a mate.

I am no expert and I do not believe there is a one size fits all ministry. Is there ever? What follows is what I have experienced. First we are a diverse group of people. We vary in age, life experience and walk with Christ. Lumping all singles into one ministry just won’t work.

For example, when I checked out a Young Adult group for a few months the dynamic just did not work for me. Many of those who were attending were rather new to the faith and as a consequence I did not get much out of the small group time. Not to mention the always underlying tension of people checking out the other sex. This made me uncomfortable and I felt as if I had to perform somehow.

That particular ministry is helping a lot of people grow in their faith and build strong relationships but in the end it just wasn’t for me. 

What I realized is that I do not like being designated into a certain group because of my (or lack of) marital status. I don’t think we need several small ministries to address the growing number of singles in the church.
As we are supposed to be one family, essentially creating another congregation for singles just isn’t the answer . There is a reason for kids ministry, students ministry and even college ministry. Those are times of life in which people grow out of or graduate.

Singleness is not something one grows out of or graduates. As some may not get married and because they haven’t and by default feel less than. Or are excluded from serving in certain ways because somehow not being married excludes them doing so. This has not been my personal experience but it is a complaint I have heard from others.

This is one way to not serve the singles in the church. Excluding them from serving the church because they are not married. When something is set out as for the marrieds only you are sending the message that the singles are not as holy or qualified. That in fact Jesus isn’t enough. This is a lie that can cause more hardship for us than is perhaps realized.

I would say that while there may be times for certain aspects of singles ministry to be separate, it does not need to be an utter and complete disconnect from the rest of the congregation.Every church is different and the needs of each congregation vary.

In my experience as a single in church I have been cared for, never told I could not do this or that due to my marital status. However, a lot of my fellow singles have not been as cared for, or been told they could not serve because of their martial status.

By investing in singles as whole people who are lost and in need of Jesus is what matters most than any program or event.