Signed by God

Vincent van Gogh’s signature (source)

“Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.”

– From “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

I first heard this quote from Walt Whitman’s work at a Leading Congregations in Mission (LCM) retreat this past weekend, and it immediately captured my attention. I just wanted to share it with everyone I know!

This! This is my God!

I love how this mentality changes every small daily task into an opportunity to encounter the Divine. It’s so painfully obvious that if I’m a child of God, then you must be one too, but it’s too easy to forget that in the daily tasks of life.

Jesus was constantly picking up God’s letters off the street, reading them, loving them, and acknowledging how miraculous they were. That’s the kind of world I want to live in: where everyone celebrates just how miraculous their cashier at Starbucks is or just how much they love their car mechanic.

And everyone is signed by God’s name! Signing a work of art is the last thing an artist does. He or she won’t sign until the work is just as they want it to be. I believe the Creator is like that too. No matter how rough that person looks that you’ve passed on the street a thousand times, God’s signature is there. God is proud of that work and longs for us to marvel at Divine creation.

As a recent college graduate, I myself am guilty of wishing God would more directly communicate with me so that I can be sure I’m doing the right thing or making the right decisions, but now I’m learning that I should just slow down and relish the notes that God is passing me every day through the people I encounter. To love and to cherish others – that will always be the right thing to do!

Why I Follow Jesus…

Re-blogged from: Connect-Engage-Inspire

emma shoesWhen I moved to Washington, DC, it took me a while to get used to all the walking. I desperately missed the convenience of a car. I would joke about forgetting how to drive whenever I was back in my home state of Iowa.

It was frustrating when I had to make the short walk up Massachusetts Avenue, loaded with groceries. It was inconvenient to have to get up even earlier on a Sunday morning so I could walk 35 minutes to church when the car ride would have taken 10. Somehow, I felt like Washington was taking away all of my freedom.

But my bitterness slowly faded, and I grew to love those walks. I loved noticing the subtle changes in the color of the trees lining my way to church. I still laugh at the thought of the old man outside the Catholic church who told me he liked my boots and then proceeded to tell me what seemed like his life story.

I loved adventures into the city just for a day of exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved driving, but I’d begun to value the time spent observing and interacting with things around me rather than watching them zip past in my peripheral vision.

Those 35-minute walks to and from the church became especially valuable. Sometimes I’d even graciously turn down someone’s offer to drive me back so I could walk instead. That time alone each week was perfect for thinking and simply being with God.

The best way I can describe my walk with Jesus is that he is decidedly quiet. Frustrating, yes, but I know why. Naturally, his silence makes me consider what it is that needs to be said. What I need to say.

I’m fairly shy, but slowly I begin to open up, revealing deeper and deeper thoughts. Before long, I’m bubbling with questions, thoughts, and ideas. All the while, he stays quiet, allowing my mind to work through these things as I express them. Sometimes all I need is that listening ear and comforting presence.

He walks with me, but he also makes me stop and look around. Occasionally, I am overcome by the simple beauty of the moment I’m in, whether it’s watching the waves crash at the beach, having a conversation with a stranger, or listening to junior high campers praying for each other.
In these moments of awareness, I know he is there.

I choose to follow Jesus because he is always introducing me to experiences and people who challenge and add to my understanding of our world. I love that choosing to follow Jesus is not an event, but a process. My walk with Jesus never ends and might not always be easy, but that’s what makes it beautiful.

There’s always something to appreciate about the journey.

I Believe

For those of you who don’t know ( quite a few people ) I was ordained to the ministry of priest in the Community of Christ on January 6th. I was called about a year ago, and completed my Temple School classes over the summer before I left to study in Africa. It’s a tall order that still might be intimidating me a little bit, but I’m moving forward.

Before my ordination, I was asked to prepare some kind of statement of belief to share. Have you ever sat down to try to put all those feelings and opinions you have into coherent sentences that will make sense to others? It’s really difficult! I sat in bed for a while to work them out, and here’s what I came up with:

I believe that God, the Creator, knows and cares deeply for every living person. 

I believe that God is continually revealed through the scriptures, through the life of Jesus Christ, through the subtle movements of the Holy Spirit in each person’s life, and through the earnest searching and authentic witness of hearts and minds who long for God’s peace. However, I also believe that we should be humbled in the realization that the knowledge and plans of God extend beyond the limits of human understanding.

I believe that God has a purpose for me, to minister in God’s name and to confidently share God’s love and acceptance with all people, in my own community and beyond. 

I believe that as I allow my faith to direct my life, actions, love, and talents, God will bring rich meaning to my life and will use me to help others to a life of joy, hope, love, and peace in and with God.

Despite all of that, I still don’t believe that belief is limited. I know my own understandings and beliefs are on a slow – but constant – journey of development, and that, I love.

What do you believe? After working through these thoughts and putting them into words, I felt so refreshed, so happy to have something to look at and think Yes! That’s how I feel! Likewise, I felt so humbled to remember how short these words – all words – fall in conveying God to you.

If you feel so inclined, I’d love to hear your own statements of belief. Even if you don’t share, it’s worth thinking about through the week. Your thoughts might not be exactly in line with mine. You might actually completely disagree with me. Maybe you call the Divine by some other name. It doesn’t matter to me.

Faith is beautiful, words are beautiful, and so are you.

Peace be with you.

( originally posted at Gates Ajar / photo source )

Unity in Diversity

South African FlagSince they first came to be, I have loved the Enduring Principles. As I was sitting in the auditorium at World Conference in 2010, I watched these concepts flash across the screen and felt such deep love for the Community of Christ and these principles that we have chosen to uphold. For once, I knew I had a real reason that I belonged to this church beyond the simple fact that it is the church I was born into. The whole experience nearly brought me to tears.

Now, over two years later, I have been blessed with the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa. I have traded my home in Iowa to live here in Durban for a little over four months while studying at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

During one of our first days here, we were guided on a tour of Durban by a man named Sthembiso, a history major who was extremely knowledgeable about the distant past as well as the more recent strides that South Africa has made as a nation.

As we were driving along, I was distracted, looking out the window at my new surroundings. However, my attention was instantly snapped back to Sthembiso when I heard him begin to talk about “unity in diversity.” He used this phrase to describe how South Africans had come together in just a few years following apartheid and had especially impressed the world during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Of course, things here aren’t perfect; they aren’t anywhere. But as I’ve continued to learn and grow in this country, I’ve found that South Africans feel those words in a way that I have never experienced and can’t accurately describe. Unity in diversity has been sewn directly into the fabric that continues to be strengthened in this beautiful nation of numerous ethic groups and eleven officially recognized languages.

This idea is depicted in the Y shape of the colorful South African flag that represents, according to the government, “the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity.” I have continuously been inspired by the people I have met and the passionate ideas they have shared. It is clear that, although not everyone’s visions are the same, there is a strong common desire for this country, their country, to be all that it can be.

These experiences have helped me begin to understand the concept of unity in diversity in a way that I never would have before. Unity in diversity no longer means that it is merely necessary or beneficial to come together despite our differences. For me, it directly affirms this vast diversity of opinions, backgrounds, visions, and dreams as an essential and invaluable part of our community. These very differences enrich our daily interactions as part of our collective and individual journeys with God. After all,”We value our connections and share a strong sense of trust in and belonging with one another—even if we never have met.”

Community with Christ and of Christ is simply not possible without celebrating the world’s expansive, beautiful, and lovingly created diversity. May we continue on the road ahead as a community that is not only united with one another, but is extending hands of invitation from all sides as well.

“Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu


Reblogged from: Gates Ajar

The world teaches us to be cynical.

I was thinking this the other day as I exited Best Buy and began walking past the Tenleytown Metro entrance to cross the street. I looked up to see two young adult girls in matching shirts and just as I realized they were going to try to sell me something – bam – one of them made eye contact with me and there’s no going back now. She advanced, starting to say something to me, and I hurriedly had to mumble “…uh, no, thanks” and pick up my pace.

I scolded myself for looking up and giving them the opportunity to talk to me. If I hadn’t looked up, maybe I wouldn’t have even had to deal with them.

But wait a second…

What am I saying?!

Why was I dreading a conversation with another person? I had no idea what she was going to say to me. Maybe that would have been a really fruitful exchange. Why did I reject her so coldly?

The world has conditioned us to avoid and reject salespeople, yet we patiently wait through 4 or 5 commercial breaks during our favorite shows. Yeah, they probably want something from us, but they’re still people. We do the same thing with the homeless and needy that are everywhere. We pass them on the street. No, I don’t have money for you. We pass them in our neighborhoods. No, I don’t have time for you. We forget about them when we buy that new, expensive gadget. Yeah, this is more important than you.

I just don’t like it when people want something from me, especially if they have nothing to give. But what’s worse, I’m ashamed that I was so unkind to that woman. I’m ashamed, I know it’s wrong, and I keep on doing it again and again.

Earlier that same day, I’d had another run in with a salesperson. I had to go to the photo store to buy more matting board for my final photography project. The sales guy got a pack and asked how many I need. I told him just six, and he started to try to open the shrink wrap that held the pack of ten boards. After trying for about three seconds, he said, “Are you sure you don’t just want the whole pack?” with a sheepish smile.

Oh, why not make this guy’s day a little easier and not have to sound rude? “Sure, ok, whatever,” I exhaled. I had succumbed to the salesman.

“You’ll need them,” he replied confidently. Too confidently.

Yeah, right. Scolding myself again, I began to try to think of other craftsy things that might get rid of them in the future.

I left with my boards and a receipt for $8 more than I had intended to spend. I dropped them in my dorm room and didn’t really think much about them until last night.

At about 1:00 AM, I got a frantic email from one of the girls in my Wednesday night photography class. She apologized for bothering me and asked if I had an extra piece of mat board she could buy. I replied almost immediately with this:

“Hey girl! Don’t even worry about it. The guy at the photo store talked me into buying the bigger pack yesterday. I’m terrible at saying no. You don’t have to buy it from me!”

As my computer made the whoosh sound it makes when I send an email, a thought came suddenly. He’d said that I’d need them.

Of course I know the tattooed sales guy at Embassy Camera couldn’t have foreseen that she was going to email me, but it’s still funny, don’t you think?

You never know what can come of sharing with someone and just hearing them out, no matter what it is they have to say. You don’t necessarily have to buy it, just listening really is enough. But maybe try to really consider what they have to say, even if they’re an overconfident salesman. After all… not many people wanted to listen to those pesky Biblical tax collectors either, and sometimes they did really awesome things!

I don’t know why I gave into buying those extra boards, but I’m sure glad I did. I just hope I can be reminded of this the next time I come upon someone reaching out to me and can respond with better than what the world has taught me.

The Blue Sign

Reblogged from: Gates Ajar

Tonight I decided to go for a run (something I need to make more time for), since it had been such a beautiful, warm day. The Washington, D.C. Community of Christ is conveniently located about 1.5 miles from my university’s campus – the perfect distance for a halfway point. So, as usual, I headed out down Massachusetts Ave.

I think a lot when I run. Actually, I think a lot all the time, but maybe I’m just more conscious of it because I’m trying to make sure I don’t pass out when I have to start going uphill before Wisconsin Ave. I think about people, interactions, regrets, wishes, future plans, questions, and more. Just after I cross Wisconsin, the path starts to go downhill, and soon enough, I can start to make out the illuminated blue sign. Almost there.

When I see that blue sign, I feel more like I’m running home than when I have to turn around and run back to campus. It is home. It’s the same blue sign that welcomes me to my home church in Sioux City, Iowa. The same blue sign that welcomes me to the campgrounds in Onset, Massachusetts. The same blue sign that will welcome me no matter where I wander, even if it’s just waiting for me whenever I decide to wander back. The Community of Christ’s blue sign has become a beacon in my life. It’s always telling me it’s ok. You’re on the right track. You’re almost there. The same words I long to hear pretty much every second of my life.

Tonight, after I reached the church, I stopped to sit on the front steps and breathe for a second. Well, it wasn’t quite just a second. It was starting to get late, probably later I should have been out alone, but I just couldn’t leave. I began to wonder why I was where I was at that very second. After many thoughts, I still couldn’t articulate a perfect answer, but the night sky, illuminated as a deep navy blue by the city lights, caught my eye when I looked up to it for answers.

Blue is a good color for you, God.

There was not a single car on Mass Ave at that moment. A breeze came up and cooled the perspiration on my forehead. All too soon, the loudest motorcycle I’ve ever heard came zipping by along with a few other cars. I laughed.

So you could enjoy that moment, Emma. That’s why you’re here.