Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lamenting in Love

This sermon for Ash Wednesday had been percolating for quite some time and when it was time to put pen to paper, it flowed freely, as did my tears.  It took a few times reading through it for the tears to finally stop, yet even as I preached it this evening, the lament was there. Prayers for all who find themselves lamenting this night, and as we enter into Lent. May you feel God's presence as you cry out to God. 

"Lamenting in Love"
A sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 

As many of y’all might know, the past couple of weeks in certain parts of the world have been weeks full of festivals – days and nights full of parades and parties, fancy balls and full cups of beverages, festivities full of indulging -in food, in friends, in fun, in drinks, and in dancing. In Louisiana (and Mobile, and many other parts of the South), we call it Mardi Gras – complete with crawfish, red beans and rice, and King’s Cake. This same celebration is called “Carnival” in Brazil, I recently learned something new regarding the celebrations there. Much like our American celebrations of Mardi Gras, Brazilians say Carnival is about dropping your inhibitions and letting your emotions out – in fact, there is a phrase for this – soltar a franga - or, “to release the inner chicken.” As one reporter said while standing in the streets of Rio, “you know this chicken – it’s the one inside you that makes you moonwalk at a wedding party when you don’t know how – that chicken. And the chickens are certainly coming out here – every few yards someone’s selling ice-cold cans of beer to help lure out those chickens.” 
Soltar a franga
– releasing the inner chicken. In these past few days of festival – nights of excitement and entertainment, the time before tonight when we begin the somber and sobering journey through Lent, encouragement has been abounding in allowing people to let loose and be their true selves; as they Laissez les bons temps rouler, or let the good times roll. To let the inner chicken come out in all its glory. I love this idea – that there’s a designated time and space for the encouragement for you to call out that inner chicken, the one that sometimes hears no more than yes, or doesn’t always believe that you can indeed (or even need to) do the moonwalk at your cousin’s wedding. I love this inner chicken idea, and yet I wonder – what happens to the chicken for the rest of the year?

Now, let me just reassure you – there’s no hidden rubber chickens at any point in this worship service, nor will there be a space for us all to imitate chickens, and for sure, there is no chicken dance.

But as we enter this season of Lent – as we begin this journey other than our own – I want to explore what might be a few different chickens we have hiding in our souls – specifically, the sad chicken.

Here at NBPC in the Psalms Bible study class, we’ve been slowly working our way through the abundant book, looking at the many types of psalms represented – hymns of praise and thanksgiving, the wisdom psalms and royal psalms and a few weeks ago, we began our season of lament. I gave full warning to the crew, beginning on day 1 of the class, and day 1 of the lamenting, because we were in a for quite of few weeks where we would be hearing more the morose and somber voice of the Psalmist over the joyful shouts of Halle-you know what. I warned them it was going to be weeks of what some might consider “Debbie downer” moments: moments full of affliction, of grief, of sorrow, deep sadness, and deep anger – all pointed upward – at our God. I told them, we weren’t going to rush through these moments – that we would sit in the muck – sit in the sadness – that we were going to get down and dirty in lamenting to God. I even warned them that if there could have been a way for us to tear our garments, wear sack cloth, and roll in the ashes, I probably would have had us do it. Our sad chickens are going to be given their moment of glory – it is time for them to shine.
We live in a culture that is a “get up and go” one; a culture that doesn’t really allow for expressing sadness or sorrow, as it is seen as weak. We live in a culture that, dare I say, preaches the “suck it up buttercup” mentality over the “feel your feelings and share them” one. Our culture seems to think it is ok to publicly express your disappointments, and you should do so on social media, frequently, so that you can share what you know with others, especially if these disappointments involve places of business with awful service or dirty floors or strong feelings for your government or politicians. 

But, dare to name publicly a disappointment with God? A frustration or anger? Whew. You’re starting a fight. You become an unfaithful follower. You’re labeled doubter. You’re chastised for your lack of faith, lack of understanding, and lack of love for the Lord. You might find yourself struggling in the shame swamp – overcome with guilt for even daring to name allowed the wrongs you feel have been done. 

And yet, over and over again in our scripture – in the stories of our prophets – in the words of the psalmist and even in the life of Jesus – lament – sorrow – grief - doubt – anger exist, and they are targeted at God.

In our psalm this evening, you hear the cry of an individual to God for deliverance from a life threatening situation – a cry for restoration and sustenance – a cry for a purging of the past, full of sin and sorrow, of evil and plight. Lament is on these lips of the servant of God.

As we begin this journey with Jesus to the cross – we will see Jesus mourn and we will see him weep at the loss of his dear friend Lazarus. We will taste the betrayal Jesus encounters from a friend in the form of bread at a last supper. We will hear him cry and plead in a garden for Abba, God – to take this enormous burden from him. And we will gather at the foot of a cross, weeping with the men and women who loved Jesus when we see him die. Lament will be a part of this journey with our Savior, and I know, no one will dare say, “suck it up, buttercup.”

I worry that our culture has made sorrow and sadness, lament and anger a taboo topic. I think this mentality of strength being only found in smiles is a lie and has created a generation that associates shame with tears of sorrow and failure with hurt or anger. I think our world becomes less compassionate and less empathetic when we subscribe to a gospel of perfection and “be happy” over the reality of being human. 

To lament to God, is not a sign of a lack of faith nor is it a mark of a “less than” Christian. To lament to God is a sign of love. To lament to God is to open our very selves – our hurt and wounded parts – our vulnerable, messy parts to our Creator, who already knows they are there. To lament to God is to acknowledge all this and not see the imperfection or shame in ourselves, but to invite God in to sit with you in the muck. To lament to God is to give voice – give power and meaning to what is causing you pain – whether it be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. To lament to God is to know you are so loved by your Creator that you can trust God with all of it – the ugliness, the shame, the anger, the deep, deep wounds - to lament to God is a sign of trust and love that our God hears us both on the mountaintop and the dark valley of shadows.

In crying out to God in the midst of our suffering, we’re acknowledging God’s presence in our lives, just as God was present in the lives of the prophets, of the psalmist and in the life of Jesus. In shouting out the hurt and anger to God, we’re recognizing that our God is big enough to take it, to handle it, and to change it. To lament to God is to know that our God loves us so much and that he wants to be involved our messy maze of mortality.

This lent, I invite you to cry out to God. I invite you to let the sad chicken come on out and give voice to the anger – the frustrations – the shame and sorrow that weighs upon your heart. I invite you to a season of lament. A season to share your anger – your frustrations – your sorrows – your hurts.

As my friend in college said it, “let loose the cry ball” – you know – the tightness and tension that hides in your throat from time to time, that becomes painful when you hold it in too tight. I invite you to let yourself cry – and go for the big heavy sobs, not the sniffles in the tissue. Weep and get angry alongside the parents who this very day have lost their children to yet another act of gun violence – cry those tears you didn’t shed when you lost that friend or parent too quickly– get mad that evil is at work in our world and that God’s kingdom isn’t being lived out in God’s good creation.

Shout to God what makes you sad about our world because by doing so you will acknowledge that God hears you, God sees the sadness, and God will do something about it. It’s not a pity party – it’s a sign of honesty and belief that our God remains present in both joy and sorrow – in honor and shame, in laughs and tears.

Lament in love this season of lent knowing that our God is big enough for it – our God can handle it – and as we will see on Easter morning, our God will surprise us as God takes on death, takes on sorrow, hurt and anger.

Lament in love to God knowing and trusting that there might be a time in the future when you’re able to laugh at how God has intervened in your life; how God has breathed new life into something you thought was dead - how God’s healing presence was found and was a balm to wounds you thought would never heal.

Lament in love because our God loves you. And all of you – from the hairs of your head to the dark corners of your inmost being.

Lament in love to God, because it’s an honest part of being in relationship with our God. Lament in love to God because it’s what as children of God we’re invited to do. Amen. 
Parents waiting for news in Parkland, FL, where there was a shooting this afternoon

Monday, January 25, 2016

Reward Cards

This post is an expanded version of the little devotion I put in our weekly email for the youth this week. 

I stumbled upon this cartoon last weekand had to laugh a bit at the thought of loyalty cards for attending church, especially the rewards offered for this particular church. (Dave Walker, the cartoonist, is from the UK, hence the tour of Lamberth Palace with tea as an option of a reward.) 

Unlike school or work, attending church is an option.  (Ok, ok, I can hear some grumbling from youth saying parents make them attend church!  I know my parents had that requirement!) But still, for the most part, you make a decision every Sunday morning or Wednesday night to get in the car and drive to be at church. 

Gathering with other Christians is a part of our being the body of Christ. We know we are made better and stronger in our faith by gathering to read scripture and hear the Word proclaimed. We learn from one another and see a variety of gifts of the body put to use during worship, from the music of the choir, the amazing people who come in super early to turn on lights and unlock doors,  to the folks who make sure we have hot coffee or some sort of nourishment during Sunday School.  Our souls are encouraged by the fellowship we have with one another, sharing stories, praying for one another, or even just laughing at jokes. 

Something sacred happens when the children of God gather together and pray.  Something holy happens when we break bread together and share with one another.  And as far as I know, we don't do it for points to redeem towards some sort of reward, or even for the hot coffee.  And we know there are those "frequent flyer" members of our church - the ones who can be here in under 5 minutes, the ones who seem like they are always here, not because they have to, but because they're willing to be here. I live in awe of these members - it's my job to be here at the church often, and sometimes I feel like these members log more hours than I do! (Totally joking...I might have them beat if we include lock-ins and the likes...)

We gather together because we know where two or more are gathered, God is glorified. We gather together because we know that we honor God in our worship, study, and fellowship. And I hope too, we gather together because it's a bit fun, and enjoyable to see our friends we don't see on a daily basis. 

This past Sunday the preaching text was 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, on the body of Christ needing all parts to be a healthy, functioning body.  If not all the parts show up, we can't do the work that God calls us to do.  I mean, we could try (and we probably do try), but we don't do it to the best of our ability.  

I'm one of those types of people who often needs to be reminded to ask for help, and I stubbornly try to do everything on my own.  It's a struggle for me to reach outside myself and ask others to share their gifts with me, even though I am more than willing to share my gifts with them. But something I have quickly realized in these first months of ministry is that there are people who make up the body of Christ who do things MUCH BETTER than I do.  And they like to do these things.  By sharing the work load, sharing our gifts and talents, and doing what we feel God has called us to do - we do ministry better.  We love God's church and God's people better. And, we tend to not feel over stressed or over worked or overwhelmed. 

So, we keep sharing. We keep gathering together. We keep making the decision to get in our cars and drive to church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. We keep loving our neighbor as our self.  And we don't get any discounts or coupons to use at the next church function, or even a reserved pew.  

But we do get a chance to be changed by God's love, a chance to be challenged by God's Word, and a chance to respond to God's grace.  

As I always say in Children's Moments, I think that is good news. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Comfort and Joy

Family at Service of Ordination
This past week marked six months in my first call here at Westminster Presbyterian Church.  It has been a whirlwind of a time, including: a beyond amazing service of Ordination and lovely Installation service in September, joining Company of New Pastors in October, lock-ins, sermons, retreats, movie nights, kitten parties, and a great Thanksgiving in Texas with the family.  There's also been countless meetings, phone calls, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners (you know we church people love to eat!!) emails answered, and lots of time dreaming of what is to come for this church I have come to love so dearly.
Some of the BEST people I know!
Not a day goes by that I don't recognize how extremely blessed I am to be doing what I love to do - working alongside the children of God to share how we see God at work in our world, learn more about God, ask questions and explore our God, and share the Good News with our world.  These youth I work with are so extremely smart (seriously...I do super big grammar checks for my sermons so I don't get caught!), they're inquisitive, and so fun to be around.  They are also ridiculously talented - I've been to football games, marching band exhibitions, orchestra concerts, and dance recitals and have just been in awe by their talent and passion.  

My name in lights! ( know what I mean...)

Amazing Installation Gift - Milo, the kitty
And not only are the youth amazing, I have some of the best adults here at WPC who hold me, this ministry, this church in prayer and share willingly of their time and resources. I've been welcomed to book clubs, bible studies, brunches and dinners, and even just have been greeted with genuine hospitality and joy. I've been about to preach and confessed to how nervous I was and was gently encouraged by someone saying, "take a breath - you got this!"  I've been trusted and supported to try new things (within the first year!) with prayer services and youth things, and things have not erupted in flames. 

RETREAT! @ Calvin Center in Georgia
God has been good and I feel affirmed to be where I am for this time and place - doing what God has called and created me to do.  (Real talk - it has not always been smooth sailing - remember, all people, even pastors, have bad days...)  

What, you don't hold squid while wearing goggles?
God has been good.  
There is one thing I was aware of but not 100% prepared for in accepting this ordained life: how much I would miss home. Y'all, I cried from the opening chords of the prelude at my ordination service all the way through.  It was this roller coaster of feelings - joy for sure! But also a sense of sorrow.  I was leaving my home, my family and my church family.  Yes, I know I've been away from Texas for over 5 years now, but in  my head and heart, it was a temporary thing.  In the past six months, not only have I been wrestling with this new call and life, but also with a longing for what has been.  

Youth Singers & me at Christmas Cantata
I've been musing about this blog post for quite some time, and recently read another pastor's piece on how he just wants to go home for Christmas.  A combination of reading his piece (you can read it here), leading chapel for some amazing preschoolers on Luke 2, mixed with finding myself teary eyed every time I've entered Hobby Lobby or any other store that does giant Christmas displays,  and a longing to get back into a somewhat regular writing practice has thus lead to this post today.  No tea or sympathy is needed, just a reminder that there is much in our Christmas season that centers around being home, and there are many in the world who are trying to figure out what their "home" looks like, some who have no place to call home, others who are fleeing for safety from homes, or some who are away from home in order to keep others safe.  

Singing with the choir at the Christmas Cantata.
I've been caught multiple times talking about my "home" church, Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church in Richardson, TX, and finally a lovely member kindly reminded me that Westminster is my new home church.  It wasn't done in malice or any kind of contempt - but it was kind of this ah-ha moment for me and caused me to shift my thinking.

Laying on of hands at Ordination at CCPC.
Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church, the church that has nurtured my from a very early age, through my teenage years, through college, and then seminary, will always be my first home church.  It is where I discovered a heart for music and worship.  It is where I felt valued as a church member and child of God, even though I was a small child.  It is where generosity of prayers, cards, and encouragement have sustained me through some seasons of sadness and turmoil.  It will always be the place where my siblings and cousin and I sang 4 part harmony to Christmas carols, and where I fell in love with crunchy ice. Though just a building, the saints of the past and present members have been the ones who have continued to nurture me and helped me to articulate who God is: through many Vacation Bible Schools, through mission trips, through children's and youth choirs, through cups of coffee and doughnuts in the Atrium, through high fives in the hallways, and through sermons delivered.  CCPC (or, Cuh Cuh Puh Cuh) will always hold a special place in my heart. 

In this season of Advent, there has been one story that has kind of stuck with me the past month. It's in Luke 2, when the angel appears to the shepherds and says, "Do not be afraid - for I bring you good news of great joy for all people".  One Christian publishing company (Sparkhouse) made a little cartoon version of this where it shows a shepherd just losing it in fear (his other shepherd buddies have passed out in fear) but this guy - he's crying out, shaking and trembling, and just can't handle himself.  The angel tries to shush him and calm him in various fashions before picking him up like a baby, putting a pacifier in his mouth and rocking him to sleep, while singing a lullaby. Once he soothes him, the chorus of angels show up and everyone is full of joy.

Sometimes, even as adults, we need to be picked up, sung to, rocked, and comforted. Along with the joy of the news of the birth of our Savior comes a cup of comfort for the mysterious and unknown that too has come. 

Along with the joy, comes a cup of comfort.

For those experiencing sadness or fear, the angel comes and reminds us in whom our comfort lies. For those of us experiencing our first Christmas away from home, surrounded by people yet still feeling alone, there is comfort. For those of us who are a bit blue about this Season of Joy, there is comfort. For those of us still feeling the loss of someone dear, there is comfort.  For those of us finding ourselves overwhelmed with fears for the future, there is comfort.  For those of us trying to figure out what "home" looks like for us, there is comfort.  For those of us wandering in the darkness, seeking the light, there is comfort. 

There is comfort and joy coming in the birth of a tiny babe. 
There is good news of great joy for all people.  

Praise be to God, and tidings of comfort and joy to you and yours this Christmas Season. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

What's Up, Buttercup?

Lovely ladies I'm privileged to call friends!

 This past month has been a whirlwind for me with finishing up school, graduating, moving, meetings with presbytery folks, finding a place to live, and ACCEPTING A CALL. 

Yup, that's right. 

Starting in July, I will be the Associate Pastor of Youth and Young Adults at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Snellville, GA (about 30 miles east of Atlanta).

Westminster Presbyterian Church
 I am super excited to be called to this church and get back in the work I love to do. This call process has been such a learning experience - it's a bit like riding a roller coaster at times - there's periods of blissful ignorance as you just cruise along, with no clue what's around the corner, periods of intense motion - both in terms of workload and in terms of emotions - there's really sharp turns that make you a bit queasy, and then there's the end - where you feel elation and a bit of trepidation of what happens when you step out of the car. 

I have degrees!
That's where I am stepping off one roller coaster ride, getting ready to step on to a different one.  I am elated to be joining this church. I have enjoyed working with this APNC from day one - the questions, the conversations- the dreaming and the "real talk".  But too, I find myself a wee bit nervous about it all.  I've been preparing for this call for the past four years (ok, ok, some would probably say much longer...).  And it's here!  I'm excited! They're excited! We're all excited!

And then that nervousness creeps in.  Starting any new job can be a tad scary, and I don't think those of us called to church jobs are immune to that. 

I love the CTS Faculty.

A minister I admire recently preached her last sermon at her church (my home church), and it was entitled, "Tossed and Scorched". The text was from Acts 2, the story of the first day of Pentecost.  It was a reflection of sorts on her ten years with our church as well as reflection on the first church. Her sermon really resonated with me.  There I was, sitting in the pew - thinking about how I was about to just start this job with title "pastor" in it and kind of feeling scared and anxious about the "what ifs":
  What if they don't like me? What if I make a mistake? What if I don't preach a sermon they like? What if I make a total fool out of myself in front of the youth? 

And then, Stacy's sermon reaches out to me and settles those nerves. She reminded us of that first Sunday of the church and what the fire and wind did:

"That brilliant fire and powerful wind transformed everything, and my friends, it still does. That's the point - the point of its tossing and burning among us - to refine us - to make of us the people God can use to build a kingdom and change the world. So when the Spirit leads our church, or when the Spirit leads our lives, we should expect a little heat - a little turbulence - because it's in the tossing that we learn to trust a God bigger than our imagining and it's in the fire of God's love that divine plans - plans bigger than our own - are given birth."

Just like with any new beginning, there's going to be a few bumps. I know I will make mistakes - I'm human.  I'll most likely make a fool out of myself in front of the youth, and it will probably revolve around my astounding knowledge of Disney music or need to tie dye ridiculous amounts of things. And the youth will most likely laugh, shake their heads, and continue to see me as Katy Walters, their new pastor. I'm gonna get tossed and scorched a bit - just like I was at Columbia - at my first church jobs years ago, and even farther back! That's part of the process - it's a good thing. It provides for reflection and hopefully, some learning to take place. 

Aunt Katy with all the nephews and nieces!

So, I'm getting ready to say goodbye to Texas for awhile.  I'm going to (finally) change my driver's license over to the Peach state, as well as the tags on my car. I've got a great apartment and during the month of June, will be getting it set up. I've got a few weeks out at Camp Calvin in the works, and of course, some time at place called Montreat, and then, I'll start working!

The fam in ATL.
I'm so overwhelmingly grateful for all those who have walked alongside me in my time at CTS and especially these past few weeks - thanks for your pep talks and prayers and sweet notes. There have been many times in the past couple of weeks I've just felt overwhelmed and I've had friends answer phone calls, friends who cook an amazing dinner, friends who walk with me to get fro-yo, family members who give me words of encouragement, watch a mindless movie with me or just let me lounge by their pool.  There have been an abundance of hugs of congratulations and so much joy that has been shared.  

I'm excited. 
And nervous. 

For now, I'm going to enjoy these last few days in Texas - soaking up sunshine and probably eating more Tex-Mex than anyone ever should. 

Praise be to God. 

If you would like to hear the Rev. Dr. Stacy Ikard's sermon in full, you can listen here

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Prayer for a Capstone Course

We've had some lovely images from our professors this week.

My final class of seminary has been an intensive course of sorts.  It has been one week long (this week), and also included a few Saturdays in the past months and of course, tomorrow.  Despite the initial whining that came with Saturday class and some early mornings, it has been such a productive time spent with my peers and professors. 

Broyles Leadership Center on my Campus

Here's a bit of the course description:

Imaginative and resilient leaders need imaginative and resilient communities.  Relying on case study methodology and drawing upon students' life experiences and seminary studies with special attention to theologically acute contextual analysis, this course explores ways to develop such communities, especially as those communities are dealing with the significant upheavals and driving trends of twenty-first century western society.  Along the way, we'll have the chance to interact with scholars in the social and natural sciences who research community formation and resilience as well as reflect on our own varied and various strengths in leadership.

There's been a few papers, good worship, and of course, group projects.  (What's seminary without them?)  We've laughed, shared some fears, asked questions (lots of them, as expected), heard from those in the field of ministry, talked with scientists, authors, experts, and each other.  We've visited communities in and around Atlanta that represent ideas of imaginative and resilient communities. 

We've spent time in prayer for our broken world. We've skyped with an alum doing amazing work in Baltimore. We've been practically applying much of what we've soaked up the past few years.  And then, we've laughed some more. 

My group led worship yesterday morning on the second to last day of our seminary journey. We read scripture, we sang (of course!), and we prayed. My friend Bethany shared a prayer with our group that really resonated with me for where I am in this time and place as I seek to discern what is next for me in this call to serve the church. It's been printed out and is hanging in my room for these last few days here at Columbia Theological Seminary - a visual and spiritual reminder that I'm not alone in what comes next. 

God of all creation
God who gives us life and faith
God whose power and grace know no bounds

We come before you today with much gratitude, and with much trepidation

We are grateful that you have brought us to this place in this time to learn to be more faithful servants.
We are grateful that you are equipping the called. 
We are grateful that your Word stands today and always.

And we ask that you forgive our unbelief. 
For even though you called us, you brought us here, you guide us, we find ourselves lacking faith in ourselves, and in you.
Forgive our unbelief, Lord.

Be with us as we step out on faith.
Give us wisdom and courage and hope in you, 
That we may be your servants, imitating Christ, led by your Holy Spirit.

Your love knows no ends, gracious God.
Your joy is boundless.
Your gifts are infinite.

Help us to know your joy, express your love, and use our gifts to your glory...
Now and always. 


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lenten Challenge, 2015

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed a reoccurring theme in my pictures the past few weeks: there's been a ton of food pictures, and mostly fruits and vegetables.  The hashtags* for these posts have included: #eatyoveggies, #lentenchallenge, and #healthyseminarian. 

 (*hashtags defined as a word or an unspaced phrase prefixed with the hash character (or number sign) to form a label, thank you wikipedia)

Banana, Edamame, Spicy Baked Sweet Potato Fries
This has been my Lenten practice this year. Not the food pictures or hashtags, but the incorporation of fruits and vegetables into my daily eating.

You might wonder what in the world possessed me to take on this challenge. It started with a message on our campus from our Healthy Seminarians-Healthy Church Initiative Group:

Lenten “Fruit & Vegetable Tracking” Team Challenge!
Tired of giving up chocolate for Lent? Want a more fruitful way of observing the season? Consider participating in this 40-day challenge. Here is how it works:
• Register to participate 

• Everyone will be randomly placed in teams of four.
• Each week during Lent, everyone will keep track of their fruit and vegetable consumption via the tracking forms e-mailed to you by Karen.
• The team that has the best average* during Lent wins a prize!

Tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella
Why are we doing this? Because most people in the United States do not meet the minimum daily requirements of fruit and vegetable consumption. Adult daily intake should be between 7-11 servings based on age and activity level. However, adults are currently consuming approximately 1 serving of fruit and 1.5 servings of vegetables a day.

* Since we don’t want to promote over consumption, everyone will be given a target number based on age and activity level. Plus, everyone will be able to earn extra points for consuming local and in-season produce. 
I was intrigued by this challenge, and had been wondering what I would do for my Lenten practice this year.  In the past, I've taken on things, such as daily journaling or not eating fast food.  I've never fully succeeded and often ended up walking through Lent with feelings of shame and failure as opposed to focusing on what draws me towards Christ.

I talked with some of my friends and somehow we all convinced each other to do this together.  So, I signed up and sent my age and daily workout goals to Karen, who is the Healthy Seminarians – Healthy Church Initiative Executive Director, and she calculated what my daily goal of fruits and vegetables should be. 

The goal: 9 - 4 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables, daily.  

Complex (kidding!) system of keeping track.
I'm not going to lie, the first couple of weeks were hard. In fact, they kind of sucked. I was constantly thinking of food, and what food I was going to eat, and how to plan out my snacks and what to eat when and where, and when would I find the time to choke down carrots and celery!   

And then, I realized I should be doing what I already love to do - cook - and just see how I could adapt the recipes for some more veggies.  This was a pivotal moment in this Lenten journey - I started enjoying getting these fruits and veggies in.  

Asparagus wrapped in bacon, with Parmesan
 I'm not going to lie, not only have my veggies and fruits been higher, but my bacon intake has risen significantly, as I've wrapped MANY a vegetables in this delicious product.  I also feel like I've been reintroduced to my vegetables and fruits.  Somewhere in my thirty years of living, I forgot the potential and just how tasty the fruits (and vegetables) of the earth are.  

There have been times my meals have been so simple that they seem childish at times, full of color and taste, and kind of fun to eat:

Edamame, grapes, baby peppers, and celery

There have been other times when I've been super impressed by my own ability to follow instructions and create meals that seem almost gourmet by some standards:

Sweet potato hash with kale, bacon, and an egg

I've cooked for others - one of my favorites has been the Vegetable Fried Rice from the Thug Kitchen cookbook.  (I've of course adapted it, and added an egg on top, which seems to be the story of my life.)

Veggie Fried Rice, adapted from Thug Kitchen

I've been more conscious of what I'm eating, at first just in terms getting the fruits and veggies in, but as it has progressed, what is in season, what is sustainable, and what my body needs. There are a few things I've learned while on this Lenten journey I thought I would share:

1. Everything is better when you have a partner or team. 
My roommate is participating in this challenge, and we happen to be on the same team.  It has been so much fun to brainstorm, whine a little bit, share our celebrations, and just have someone who knows what I'm doing and doesn't think it is crazy when at 11:00 pm I am heating up a bowl of mixed veggies for my bedtime snack.  I haven't had a spiritual discipline that has had this kind of partnership involved, where there is a team to encourage one another, and where even encouragement from other teams, all for the sake of reaching our goals.  It has made this journey a sharing experience, and we all know, I'm a sharer. 

Food Deserts according to USDA ERS; yellow star is CTS.
2. Injustice exists in our supermarkets - food deserts are real.
Where I live in Decatur, I have a couple of options on where to spend my money.  If I go to downtown Decatur, there's Baby Kroger, where the produce aisle is the size of the kitchen in our apartment (medium size) and has either very fresh or very old produce.  Then, if I go about three miles north, I'm at the Big Kroger - which has recently been remodeled and now hosts one of the largest organics section out of all my Kroger's. For the most part, this Kroger is super stocked, super clean, and full of super helpful people to meet my needs.  I love this Kroger for so many reasons.  But I struggle, because the Kroger I most often go to is one mile from my home.  And this Kroger is of a different feel and it definitely caters to a different crowd.  There is a barber, beauty shop, and nail salon and some other residences in this Kroger.  I feel loyal to this Kroger, but have noticed a profound difference in their produce and their product placements.  If the saying, "we are what we eat" is a true statement, these stores are catering to their "majority demographic".  Of course if I had the option between a brown and bruised apple and a Little Debbie apple cake, I'm going with Little Debbie.  I've been continually frustrated on this Lenten journey how socioeconomic status have determined for many what diet they should follow. 

Afternoon smoothie with some almond M&M's
3. It is all about balance. 
I'm not going to lie - one of my first thoughts in this challenge was how would I get to eat all those things I love eating - bread - sweets - things that don't always have vegetables.  Well - it's about balance.  I didn't just stop eating all that junk (that I love so dearly). What I did start doing was just negotiating it all - going out to a restaurant?  The occasional times that I eat out, I make the decision to have a side salad with my entree. No lie, there have been times it's been contested what actually fits into those fruit and vegetable categories.  (And no, fried sweet potato fries do not...baked, maybe...) What I have noticed is that I don't want all those things as much. Many of you know I always have my M&M jar - I've still got it!  But I don't just choose the M&M's - I go for the grapes or I go for the carrots with some hummus.  These little steps of incorporating veggies and fruits has made me not want to "waste" my day by just eating maybe not the best kind of foods for you, especially late at night.  I'd heard a rumor that if you change some of your eating habits, you don't crave certain things you did before.  This has proven true - now when I want sugar, I am satisfied with an apple and some almond butter.*
*Confession: I totally made zucchini chocolate chip bread this week that is PHENOMENAL. 
So, once again, negotiating. 

4. I'm more aware of God's good creation.
Anyone who has gone on a walk with me might remember I stop often, especially if there is some sort of bird or puppy or something colorful to look at.  I still do these things. And now, I do these things when I eat.  I've always enjoyed food - I've loved cooking and baking, but there seems to be a deeper understanding when I bite into some perfectly ripe produce. With the start of strawberry season, I sometimes feel like I am eating sunshine- they are just so darn good. Never has Psalm 24:1 seemed more true, "the earth is the Lord's and all it contains". As I wash the produce, I think of all the hands that have worked to get it to my kitchen here in Decatur - those who have planted, have nurtured, picked, boxed, and made it possible for this little bit of sunshine to show up in my kitchen. I'm working towards sustaining a budget where I can buy produce that comes with no guilt - that is supported by fair wages and sustainable practices.  With the nicer weather, our local Farmer's Market is starting back up, and I'm looking forward to meeting the faces of those who call this their vocation.

5. This is a sustainable practice. 
Just as fasting is a spiritual discipline, I've noticed so is eating. I am more aware of what is on my table, of what is going into my body, and how my body feels in participating in this challenge.  Am I going to become a vegetarian? Most likely not.  (See above comment on eggs and bacon.)  What I am is more aware of what I am saying is important in what I purchase.  I've had MORE trips to the grocery store that have had NO processed foods than ones that have.  This is exciting for me!  These small, daily decisions to not only eat a certain way, but also to compost, encourage others in their eating habits, and eat in season are sustainable. While I have been quite motivated by the point system in the challenge, I stopped caring about points a few weeks ago and just love these new eating habits. I love that I open my veggie drawer and see endless possibilities, and not something to fear.  I love that I have tried quite a few new recipes - some which have FAILED and some which have been huge successes.  I'm so proud that at the ripe old age of 30, I eat roasted brussel sprouts like some people eat popcorn. (THEY WERE SO GOOD.  LIKE WRITE HOME TO YOUR MAMA GOOD.) I love that I stop and pause in my busy days to notice the beauty that comes in the mundane, such as the end bits of celery.

Have I had any huge revelations along this journey towards the cross?
Nothing huge - but definitely life changing. How I eat is a reflection of how I see Christ at work in the world. I think Jesus would be behind fair wages for farm workers. I'm pretty certain Jesus would weep that not all his children could enjoy the literal fruits of God's creation. I think Jesus would have some words to say on how our neighborhoods and grocery stores are shaped by economics and not necessarily need. This somewhat simple journey of eating fruits and 
vegetables has been one filled with joy and misery (the day I ate too much kale...)
It has been a journey that has shifted from what is easy and cheap to one that is thoughtful and demands a bit of work.  It has been fun and it has been a bit childlike at times. It's led to many interesting conversations that take me outside my walls of comfort in meaningful ways.

Typical breakfast: avocado toast with tomato

As we move towards the cross this week, here is a reflection shared by the Iona Community from "A Chaos of Uncalculating Love" by George Macleod :

In the temple You threw out the money changers, Lord Christ:
down the steps and out of the door –
and into the vacant aisles came the children
shouting for joy and dancing round.

Too often we are the money changers:
giving short change in spiritual things
to many who seek the true coin:
making the Church an institute
when you want it to be a chaos of uncalculating love.

Drive out from out hearts
our calculated offerings,
our easy responses,
and let child-like faith
flood into us again.
Grant us such abandon, of Your grace alone,
that we too shall be made strong
to go outside the city wall
outside holiness
and die in the bloody mess of another Calvary
that the Church at home may live again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Choose Kind

I recently read a book (for class!) called Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, and it is one of those books I couldn't put down.  There's a variety of characters involved in the story, but it mainly focuses on the life of 10 yr old Augustus, or Auggie, for short. Auggie suffers from a chromosomal disorder which has left him with a face that looks a bit different. Auggie is the unconventional hero, facing bullies, facing discrimination, and facing middle school - all with this grand sense of humor, and wonder. The story allows for insights from his life from his perspective, as well as his sister's, a few of his friends - and yes, even his bully.  I'm not going to tell you the whole story, but I am going to recommend that you take the time to read this book. 

And then, after you have read it and experienced the ups and downs that come with the story, I'm going to invite you to do two things:

1) pass the book on to someone else to read, 


2) choose kind. 

This story has been stuck in my head and heart since I finished it, and I keep thinking, how am I choosing kind?  It's what I'm called to do as a follower of Christ, but I don't think it is too lofty of an expectation for all humankind.  I wish I could say that it is ingrained in every part of my body, mind, and soul, but alas, I'm not that perfect.  Choosing to be kind is something I almost default to, but in all honesty, it is something I continue to seek out and practice.  What does it look like to choose kind?

 This past week I had the privilege to travel to Baltimore for the annual Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.  It was a wonderful time spent with many old friends, and a time, too, of making new friends.  Early into my trip, I had dinner with a man from Sapulpa, OK who was involved in Youth Ministry. He shared a story with us at the dinner table, and I left thinking, "he chose to be kind".  The next morning I rushed to find him midst the hundreds gathered to ask if I could share his story, and with his blessing (and in my own words)- here it is:

He'd been walking around the streets of Baltimore trying to find the perfect place for a meal.  Along his route, he encountered a man in need of many things - in need of shelter, in need of a shower, in need of a life without addiction, but most urgently at this time, in need of a meal.  My new friend said he was on route to lunch, and would be delighted to share a meal with the man.  He shared a story to his new lunch companion about how on an earlier trip he'd found a rockin' restaurant of a certain flavor, and as the two were walking, they happened upon the same kind of flavor of restaurant. They shared a meal together as well as a bit of each other's story, and then parted.  My new friend in his encounter with this man, chose kind.  He stopped to invite a stranger onto his path for an amount of time. He chose to be kind. 

I happened to be the stranger someone was kind to in my time in Baltimore last week.  I was having a frustrating day, which as we all might know, sometimes happens.  I was weary of many things, and struggling to see where I fit in this one environment.  I was on the phone with my mom (which is sometimes the best thing you can do on days like this, in my experience), pacing in front of the local grocery store.  I was explaining to my mom what I was feeling, and made the exasperated comment, "I just don't see how I fit into this world!".  I was speaking not of the world in general, but specifically the formal institutions of the world.  A young man carrying his groceries breezed past me during this moment, and without skipping a beat, turned back to me, and yelled, "Yes, you do!  You belong in this world!" and then kept walking.  Startled, I looked up a bit flabbergasted, and wanted to explain to him I know I belong in this world, but this was a hypothetical world.  

But before I could respond back, he turned again and shouted to me down the dark street, 
"We all have days like this.  You belong."

Y'all, I nearly started weeping then and there. I needed to hear that - from a random stranger on a dimly lit street in a strange city, at that time and place. 

He chose kind. 
Such simple words.
Such easy words to speak to a stranger. 
 Such plain and straightforward words that will remain tattooed on my heart forever. 

"Share with me."
"You belong."
"Choose kind."

Want to learn more about Wonder?  Check out the web page!
Want to publicly Choose Kind? Sign the pledge here!