Growth

Going through mundane motions of everyday life can be dull at times, but sometimes those mundane actions can have an affect on people. A few months into my year of service at Project PLASE I have a firm grasp on the daily life of the shelter and the clients. Unlike some other shelters, Project PLASE does not kick out the clients during the day time, allowing the clients to feel at home. This really allows me to get to know some of the clients, and their daily routine.  From the outside looking in, it appears to be repetitive life, mostly watching television in the ‘day room’, walking outside for a smoke break, and going to an occasional doctors appointment.

About a month ago, my supervisor began to assign me the task of putting up a weekly word, which would be taped all over the hallway. Every Monday I would choose a word and then proceed to spend too much time picking out a different font and clipart that fit well with the word. Although I enjoy trying to get as creative with clipart as I can, I honestly thought it was the type of thing the clients would gloss over and mostly just ignore. I thought this because this is something that I would do. Last week, one of the clients that I have gotten to know, walks up and mentions that next week the word of the week should be ‘growth’, because she and others have a lot of growing to do. It took me back for a second. Over a month of putting up these words, thinking I was just taping up a piece of paper on the wall, I realized that what I was doing was having an affect on people, brightening somebody’s week, or potentially slightly changing a person’s repetitive lifestyle.

Although it is cliche, it’s important to understand how the simplest actions can have a large impact on other people. Whether it be smiling at a stranger or choosing an appropriate word of the week, we are all confronted with easy choices that can make somebody’s day. These sentiments are things that I have been told by my parents, teachers and other adult figures throughout my upbringing. Although I understood and heard them, I don’t think I ever took their advice to heart. It wasn’t until I experienced one of my simple actions first hand affect somebody, that this sentiment was instilled in me. This cliche is something that I will begin to carry with me for the future.

Advent

Advent has always been a special part of Christmas for me. Ironically it was a tradition I never associated with the Episcopal church. Instead it is a tradition rooted in my childhood. It wasn’t till much later in life did I realize how odd it was for a family of Baptist to celebrate it or for my dad to include it in every church he pastored at Christmas celebrations. To me Advent was normal-it has always been a part of my Christmas.

Growing up, every night the four of us would sit at the dining table next to our lit up Christmas tree and we would light the candles, sing a Christmas song, read a Christmas book, and pick out our favorite Christmas ornaments (we have the greatest tree because of our ornaments-from Star Wars to homemade ones we have names for such as Furby Gone Bad to historical figures such as Queen Elizabeth 1.). We did it every night, including the nights we had the church staff over for a Christmas Party.

I remember as a child loving to watch the candle lights as I listened to the Christmas story and as we talked about Advent and Christmas. I loved experiencing it at church and weaving it into the celebrations there. When I was in Kindergarten when we did projects on the holidays, in all the places where we were supposed to put things like “Christmas Tree” (example: “At Christmas we set up ____”). I put “Advent Candles.”

These days, I mainly celebrate Advent in the Episcopal church. This is only my 2nd Christmas celebrating Advent with the Episcopalians-my first since being confirmed. The thing I love most about Advent as an Episcopalian is it’s a tradition that, for me, is well rooted in my Baptist roots, but it easily flows into my new Episcopalian traditions. It is a familiar tradition. It’s a piece of my past I can include in my present and bring with me into the future traditions.

As we prepare for the coming of Christ, may we light the way and cast off darkness. Let us light our candles and remember the baby that came into the world to be the light of the world.

The Journey Called Discernment

I should start this blog post by saying that I have been discerning the call to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. I’ve emailed the Bishop of my home diocese to begin discussing that process. In September, I had an experience that confirmed what others saw in me. At a funeral for someone close to a friend of mine, I felt an overwhelming need to comfort those in grief and to be a vessel of God’s love for others. Not necessarily as in just a friend to others, but a vessel of God’s love in the ordained ministry sense. It’s a hard feeling to describe. It was like God validated something that I had been unsure about and something I had been doubting about myself. Right before I started my service year, I learned that there are people in my life who have seen this call in me before I did. I doubted this because I had a very specific scenario in my head of what the Call would be like. I pictured God opening up the skies, sending a beam of light down upon my face and saying, “Suz, you are Called.” I had heard stories of other ordained or discerning folks talk about their stories, and they all seemed pretty dramatic and wonderful. It made me worried that I wasn’t getting any signal from God like that. And yet, God still called me in God’s own way and I knew it when I felt it.

This feeling led me to think about what this Call is supposed to be – calling me to ordained ministry – what does that mean? What does God want me to do with my Call? This is where the discernment process started for me.

At the beginning of my service year, I felt open to what God wanted me to do. I felt comfortable and confident that everything would be fine. After my “official” Call, I felt God working on my heart. Around the time of our Fall Retreat at the end of October, I felt God opening up my heart and working on things that needed to be worked on. It felt unsettling, but temporary. I had, again, been doubting my ability to fulfil this Call, and then we watched Moana as a part of this retreat. I was reminded that God equips the Called. (Moana wasn’t sure she had all the skills to make the journey, but the Ocean provided. I could write a whole blog post about that alone.) If God is calling me to this ministry, I will be given the tools I will need. What I felt was almost like God opening me up and strengthening things about me, and forcing me to reflect on certain aspects about myself. A cleansing of sorts. God is really good at that. God takes things/people that need work, and God makes them new. It feels like this is part of discernment. Through this journey, God works on our hearts and makes us into a new creation so we are equipped to live into what God is calling us to do. I don’t know everything about discernment, but this is just what I’ve learned so far. I’m still learning.

I’m also learning that discernment is a journey. It is not necessarily a space you travel between Point A and Point B and then finish. It continues. As Christians, we are always asking what we can do next. How can we better ourselves and how can we best use our gifts to glorify God? From what I understand, this is also a part of discernment. With that being said, discernment has had its ebbs and flows. There have been high points and low points for me. Sometimes I have short stretches of doubt where I question why I’m even pursuing this and if I’m even qualified. I compare myself too much. Sometimes it seems like everyone has all the answers but me. Whenever this happens, God sends me something to remind me that all is well and that I’m on the right path. Last week, I walked out of a particularly challenging spiritual direction meeting. There wasn’t anything wrong with what happened, I just wasn’t feeling hopeful about things. I walked out to my car with a lot on my mind. Then, at the edge of the parking lot against the woods, stood a deer. It was raining and dark outside, but there it was. We made eye contact for a brief moment. I started tearing up and looked down at my keys to get ready to leave. I looked back up for the deer and it had gone. I sat in my car for a few minutes before going home and I cried more. Thank you, Lord! In that moment, I felt God’s peace. These are the little moments that keep me going, and I am so thankful for them. Even in our time of complicated discernment, God does not abandon us.

These are things that I’ve learned so far in my discernment process, and I’m still learning. It’ll be an interesting journey, and I am excited to see where it takes me. It seems that all of the ESC-MD Gileads have their own journeys to walk on, and we have the most wonderful support systems for our personal journeys, and the journey of service and intentional community we are walking on together. I thank God for our spiritual mentors, reflection leaders, and our wonderful Program Director for all of the love and support we have been given. I will speak for myself,  but I am so glad to have my ESC family (alumni included) along with me in this journey of discernment. I have always believed that we are called to be in community with one another, and I am so glad to have mine.