Friday, April 19, 2019

Every Day is Christmas by Barbara Miller-Collins

     Christmas is a busy time of the year.  But underlying the hurry scurry is the underlying theme of “love”.  Every day is Christmas to me.  Every day I am reminded of the love of Jesus Christ, His mercy and kindness to me.  My life has been preserved and extended for His purposes.  I survived stage 3B aggressive breast cancer in 1995.  A miracle happened again on December 7, 2018.
      Chris and I were returning from purchasing kitchen cabinets for our rental house.  I was dozing in the passenger seat of our car as we crossed the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers on SR 18 at milepost 34.  It was a dark night at 5:10 p.m. and we were traveling in a solid stream of cars in rush hour traffic going 60 plus mph in our Toyota Camry. 
     A sudden deceleration of speed and then a massive blow sent me flying forward violently and then I slammed backwards.  My eyes flew open to see dimly that we were stopped in a medium strip between two speeding lanes of traffic.  Our car was stopped at the entrance to an exit onto I-82.  The lights from the traffic speeding within feet of us were disorienting.  I was trembling.
     Our seats were now laid back fully with the portion under our backs broken and bent in a 35 degree angle.  They were inoperable.  The back doors would not open.  The rear view mirror had become a flying projectile.  The trunk had been shoved almost into the back seat.  The car frame was bent.  Our rear bumper and muffler were grinding on the pavement as Chris managed to move our car forward to a wider place in the medium strip between the I-82 exit and the busy SR18.  We sat shaking and in shock trying to orient our thoughts as to what to do.  The ¾ ton Chevy Silverado truck that had rear-ended our car at high speed was now stopped beside us.
      I looked up and saw a woman walking down the middle of the medium strip.   She had crossed two lanes of heavy bumper to bumper traffic to reach our car.   “Are you hurt?!” she demanded.  “What is your pain level?” I was incoherent, in shock.  "Give me your hand!”  She demanded.   I gave her my hand.  She prayed an anointing that my body would not suffer any ill effects and would be healed.  She asked God for healing, peace and comfort for me.  I felt the quiet peace cover me and the confusion lifted.  “Give me your hand!” she urgently commanded Chris.  Again, she prayed over him that any ill effects from the accident would be healed.  There were no injuries in the other vehicle.  A state patrolman gave us a ride to the hospital eventually.  X-rays showed no broken bones.  We were in some mild pain.  Chris’ bad knee had hit the dashboard.  The rear-view mirror had hit him in the ear.  My upper spine felt tight and my right knee was sore.  But we did not need pain medicine.
      Assessing what had happened; Chris realized that given the force that had crumpled metal so badly and broken our seats, we were lucky to be alive.  Miraculously, our bodies sustained little damage.  We were no more sore than what we were before the accident.  We were able to resume our daily activities quickly.  No additional medical treatment for injuries has been required in the 4 months since the incident.  Even the big financial loss of our car turned into a blessing.   We were able to replace it with an AWD vehicle before our family arrived for the Christmas holidays and importantly before record breaking heavy winter snows came to Washington State a few months later. 
     Chris and I feel inspired and miraculously blessed by the faith of this unknown disciple who in Christ-like love put her own life selflessly at risk to come and pray for strangers in their time of need.   She truly was Christ-like in her ministry to us. 
    John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.  God is love.  Christmas is love.  Let us love one another even as Jesus Christ loves us.  Let every day be Christmas.  

Friday, March 1, 2019

Giving up for Lent by Lavera Wade

Ash Wednesday is March 6 and I have decided to give up my obsessive habit of checking the news several times a day.  I will admit it has taken me over a month to decide that I can achieve this. 
I grew up in the Methodist church and was not in the habit of observing Lent as a time to give up anything.    I joined Community of Christ in 2011 and that first spring I had words with a friend about of all things how to load the silverware in the dishwasher.  Handles up or down, I believe I was right but did not want to end the friendship over how to load a dishwasher.  So I apologized for showing my frustration and thought nothing more of it.  A month later I found my friend reloading the silverware again her way.  And again I found I had to apologize after expressing my frustration.
After some reflection and because Lent was upon us I decided somewhat impulsively, I am going to give up the need to be right for Lent.  I shared that I was going to try for 40 days to just let anything I disagreed with go.  I was not making promises I would achieve this, and that this was not forever, just forty days.  I did pretty well actually and have each year given up some other habit just for lent and as best I can.  Sometimes I think it would have been a lot easier to give up chocolate.  No self-reflection required with chocolate.
So imagine my surprise when I googled “give up the need to be right”, in preparation for this article and found it is all about control.  As were the habits of the other years.  This year is about the drama, but that is another story.
I am involved in Spiritual Companionship training and learning about discernment.  Much of what I am reading speaks to how we often fail to seek God’s will in our lives, and try to call our own shots.  For me this has led in my past to some really poor choices.  It’s not so much the mistakes that have caused me the most sorrow. It has been the loss of peace and hope, that comes when I do not trust God to lead me in the right direction.  Thinking I can come up with a better idea.   To be honest there wasn’t any thinking just not including God in my life in any meaningful way.
I have learned through the years that God is always willing to work with us, making the best results out of even the most hopeless situation.  But my new journey with God, practicing discernment is to try to seek his will before I make a choice.  Asking God to send his Spirit to guide me.  I now spend time in Spiritual practices, and the prayer of exam, opening my heart so that I may be lead. 
And so I am excited to begin my Lenten journey this year.  I have three books that I am looking forward to reading.  All address learning more about developing a closer relationship with God.  As always I say this is only for forty days.  And I will do the best I can.
Blessings to you in your Lenten journey.   

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Permeability of the Spirit By Brad A. Martell

“Permeability, porousness, works both ways.  You are allowed to move through the woods with new eyes and ears when you let go of your little annoyances and anxieties.”           – Gary Snyder, A Place in Space, 198.

Trudging along the trail, head down staring at only a few feet in front of each boot step, I was weighted down with more than what was in my backpack.  It was raining, cold, and dark in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.  Encased in my Omni-Tech raingear I was armored against the elements.  And encased in my acerbity I was trying to armor myself against the annoyances and anxieties I was carrying in my emotional and spiritual backpack.   
Lori and I were in our first semester of our master’s in environmental education.  I was having an extremely difficult time understanding the experiential learning model at the core of the program.  I was experiencing lots of confusion and struggle as I was not letting myself be open to a new way of learning.  I wanted the same kind of experience I had in college – give me the syllabus, tell me what to read, write, and what will be on the test.  Before my master’s I understood (and was quite happy with) education that fit a certain structure and process.  It was predictable with clearly defined boundaries.  But when I boarded “The Bus” (Audubon Expedition Institute master’s program) I found my footing precarious.  I had not yet grasped the understanding that education was not just “book learning” but it was every encounter, relationship, and experience in my life. 
Going into the backpack, I was so frustrated and anxious about when I was going to get my “assignments” completed that I was fighting against being present, porous, and paying attention to this particular experience with my community, engaged in wholistic learning and being mindful of the woods.  I was wearing a literal and metaphorical shell to protect me from the physical, emotional, and spiritual “elements.”  However, as much as I fought against the moment, there was something that began to soak in and bring me out of my protective shell. 
Wild natural places are where I feel closest to the Spirit.  After a few days I was able to discard the worries and anger I “packed in.”  I was able to sink in place and be present, porous, and paying attention to the wonders of the woods, the fellowship with my community, the peace of the Spirit.  My anxieties diminished and my agitation was soothed.
The day we hiked out there was a light rain, but I didn’t put on my raingear.  The warm rain felt refreshing falling on the bare skin of my face, arms, and legs.  I was practicing permeability, porousness to allow the flow of the Spirit to soak into me.  In that spiritual soaking I was made new. 
What is holding you back from being permeable to the Spirit?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Companioning Program by Carol Ann Reiff

Walking onto the Happy Valley Campground I sensed a spirit of love and welcoming from each of those who were called to serve us and who had been praying for us.  Terry and I remarked that we felt as one with the group from the beginning.  All nervousness about this program fell away.  I think all those who came were just hungry for connection with God from the start.

When the first class by Laurie Gordon ended, I felt like dancing before God!  Laurie, a retired Research Biologist, Spiritual Director and Evangelist in Community of Christ, showed us how God is always beyond our understanding of God.  I was filled with humility and joy.  Her classes were only part of the experience of worship I was blessed to enjoy.

When around 100 voices joined together to sing, I wondered if people were chosen because of their ability to sing.  The worship leader was Katie Harmon-Mclaughlin, a Spiritual Formation Specialist.  I came so needy and I was not let down.  The Spiritual Formation Team taught us many ways to connect with God:  Holy Attention, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Dwelling in the Word, Prayer of Examen and more. 

We walked among the redwoods; hiked the mountain behind us; ate delicious, nutritious food; and visited with old and new friends.  In small covenant discipleship groups, we shared stories of our own journeys and learned how to listen to others.

I came to this experience feeling so flat and in need of uplift.  I’m now so excited to continue on this journey with others and with God.  I believe God has brought me to this place and I feel thankful that God has never let me down on my journey.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Today, I Experienced Jesus’ Kindness. By Gil Martell

I drive special needs school bus for First Student. The morning of November 13, 2018 God’s grace and generosity was expressed through the encounter of two of my students, who are in the Live Skills Program. Life Skills Program is a very basic, how to feed oneself, verbal and non-verbal communication, dressing of self, going to the bathroom, and other minimal skills.

Brian is a student who uses a wheel chair and needs others to help him move it. He has been taught to use his hands to turn the wheels of the chair for only limited distance. Painful, yes, but it is a feeling of independence for him. The morning of November 13th when his sister brought him to the bus, she informed the bus aide and me that Brian was fussy. Brian lacks good speech skills to communicate how he feels and his needs. My bus aide, as she was fastening his chair in, was trying to comfort him with kind words. Brian sobbed loudly and we could tell he was upset with his sister for some reason.

Gloria, whom we picked up earlier, sat close to where Brian’s chair was fastened. She sensed he was upset. Gloria is almost non-verbal, very cognitive delayed, and has weak motor skills. At times Gloria can get very hyper and yells loudly. When she got on my bus earlier before Brian, my bus aide learned Gloria was upset with her brother that morning too.

I let the Special Ed Resource students depart when we arrived at the school. Brian and Gloria waited for a school aide to get them. I ask Gloria if she would like to help me with the bus chair lift, since she and Brian were both still a bit agitated. I showed her which buttons to push on the remote chair lift and she did her best. When Brian was safely lowered and off the lift, Gloria reached over, put her arm around Brian, and leaned her head to his head. That simple gesture of kindness put smiles on their faces. Gloria’s reaching out brought both Brain and herself comfort and healing in that moment. Two of God’s children sharing kindness with each other. I was overwhelmed as I observed the physical act of kindness of Jesus through Gloria and Brian. Yes, all are of Worth and all are called to share Jesus’ kindness.

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I notice power had gone out from me.” 
 -Luke 8:40-48 NRSV

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

“Love one another” By Nancy Sacry

“I want to find ways for us to work together. I know we’re not always going to agree, and I’m okay with that.  But if we have the same goals–of making this world a better world–isn’t it possible for us to find ways to accomplish that together?” Pam Robison

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  1John 4:11-12 NIV

What a mess! Our world seems to become more divisive every day. And yet the thing that give me hope is the community we have formed in our little congregation. To be sure, we don't all agree on everything, nor do we vote the same, nor do we always agree on some of life’s deep questions, but the spirit of God has allowed us to create a community, a family of love and trust.

I cannot do all things myself, I can't fix the bitter rancor and divides that we are daily bombarded with by the media, but I know that because of the love of God we have created a safe haven of love and sanctuary in our congregation. When one hurts, we all hurt. When on grieves, we all grieve. We celebrate the joys of life together. I may not see things your way, but I can take the time to see things through your perspective.

We can create havens of sanctuary in our congregations. We can support people, even when we don't agree with them on everything. I learned a lesson in listening a long time ago with my job. Most people don't care if you truly agree with them, they just want to be heard and affirmed by having someone listen to them. When the Christ in me sees the Christ in you, it changes our heart.

We recently spent hours helping someone who had been judged by the apartment community they lived in.  To be sure there were actions by all parties that were causing the situation to deteriorate, but if we didn't help, the situation would have gotten worse.

Our church community was being judged for helping this person. One of the people came to me and questioned "how could we be so blind? Didn't we know they were just using us?" My response was that God called us to love and value the worth of persons. My thought was even though others had decided this person was not worth helping, God did. That didn't mean we approved of everything this person did, but just that God valued them, and so too did we.

When we build walls of judgement, we keep others out, it’s safer that way, less messy, and certainly makes life easier, but it’s not what we are called to do. Love one another, in doing so we make God visible. Not easy, but part of the journey as disciples.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sharing in Story at the GALA Retreat by Niobe Bender

Over Labor Day weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the GALA retreat held at Camp Red Cliffe in Utah. My experience there was one like no other. It was a wonderful weekend filled with the love and spirit of Christ, laughter, new and old friends, and the grace of fellowship I wouldn’t trade for anything.
One thing that I enjoyed most this weekend was the ample opportunity for sharing in story. Where many indulged in sharing deep and heartfelt stories of struggles faced for simply being true to themselves. There is a certain vulnerability that comes with opening oneself up to a group. I am grateful to have been a part of that vulnerability and to hear and understand the challenges that are faced by many in this community. Even during times that were not specifically dedicated to sharing there seemed to be a raw unfiltered sense of sharing not only of our stories but of ourselves. Talking about being vulnerable, the whole weekend was a chance to be your most authentic self and be accepted for exactly who you are.
I have attended many church camps and events in my life, growing up in Community of Christ. Each one of those has been special in its own way, I’ve always known a deep sense of community and acceptance in those experiences. However GALA embodied something completely new. It seems to me that most people have what I would call a “church self” a side of them that they show in a church setting, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We all have versions of yourself for every part of our lives. Our home life, school and work, family and friends etc. GALA for me was a blending of my church self and my outside self. It was simply permission to be vulnerable in showing my most authentic self and a true genuine acceptance of that self.
Attending this retreat was phenomenal. I was able to meet lots of new friends and share in love, laughter, and acceptance. This wonderful community working towards a goal of acceptance for all,I am proud to now be a part of. I wouldn’t change this experience for anything.