Wednesday, November 09, 2011

I'm so excited....and I just can't hide it! (#Explo11)

I’m excited.  Yeah…if you know me, you know that it doesn’t actually take a whole lot for me to be excited!  I tend to run pretty optimistic about things, but today my excitement is warranted, I’m sure of it!  J  I am in Saint Louis preparing for Exploration2011, an event that the General Board for Higher Education and Ministry directs for young people to explore a call to ministry, specifically ordained ministry, in the United Methodist Church.  The Design Team has reassembled for the event, after starting work on it a year and a half ago, and as we met tonight and shared our prayer requests and expectations for the weekend, I was awash with excitement about all that God has done, is doing, and will do in the lives of the people who will be here and those whom they will serve.  We talk so frequently about the challenges in the church and in the world and hypothesize on how we are going to see our way forward.  I’m convinced that what we will see this weekend is a glimpse of the way forward.  We have young people who are gifted, called, and have a passion to serve in the world.  Hundreds of them have committed to being available to God this weekend to spend time in intentional discernment.  I’m praying, and asking for the prayers of anyone who reads this, that God will continue to draw them deeper into relationship and that out of the overflow of that vital relationship would result a passion to serve God in making disciples for the transformation of the world. 
So forgive me if I’m pretty excited!  I don’t think that it gets better than this!
PS  You can follow the Twitter feed of #Explo11 here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Praying for Exploration 2011

A year and a half ago, I was asked to serve on a Design Team for Exploration 2011.  I quickly said yes, as I was excited to be a part of an experience that will be a “spiritual marker” for some who attend.  Exploration is an “event” (though it seems shallow to call it that—it is more than an “event,” it is potentially an encounter with the Living God in discerning what may be a call to ministry) for people aged 18-26 to explore what it means to be called to ministry, specially related to ordination as a deacon or elder in the United Methodist Church.  Representatives from the 13 United Methodist Seminaries will be there, along with leaders who can articulate various important aspects of ministry. 

I attended Exploration 1996, which seems like a lifetime ago.  It was the first time that I understood what ordination was and was particularly interested in the new order of the deacon (which I would be ordained as in 2010).  I honestly don’t remember many of the details that happened at the event, but I do know that I left that “event” being confident that God had called me to something, even if I didn’t know all of the details.  I look back on that time and realize that it truly was a “spiritual marker” of sorts, as much for setting aside the time to go, but also for verbalizing to others that I had a call to ministry.  (I wrote more in detail about that here). 

Exploration is a time to set aside the other things on the schedule to listen:  to others who are sensing a call to ministry, to the equipping opportunities for ministry, but most importantly to listen to God.  This fall, on 11/11/11, hundreds will gather in St. Louis, and even as the final preparations are approaching, I would love to invite you to pray with me.  The things that I’m praying for in the days ahead are:
  • People registering—that God would bring people who are open to the work that God may want to do in their lives
  • Speakers and workshop leaders—that they would articulate what it means to live out one’s call to ministry
  • Churches and Campus Ministries who are “sending” people—that they would nurture the call of ministry well before Exploration and upon return home

The theme for this year is “Passion and Possibilities” and we are eagerly anticipating all that God will do in the lives of those in attendance.  I work with college students in campus ministry, in fact, 8 of my students will be joining me in St. Louis this year.  They are full of both passion and possibilities.  I am excited for all that God has in store in the days ahead.  And I’m grateful for your prayers joining in for this “event.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Google+ and College Students

I have been on Google+ for almost a week now and it's been fascinating for me to watch how it is evolving in my "circles," namely the United Methodist Church online world, campus ministry people, and my college students. I scored an invite first from a recent grad, but couldn't figure out how to accept the invite and then a fellow young UMC clergy sent me an invite which I did figure out how to accept! Within a day, I found people that I knew (in real life and in the digital world) and other people found me. It was fascinating to watch how quickly people popped up on Google+. I was actually an early adopter of Facebook (when I started, it was before it was public, as some Southwestern students lobbyed the FB folks for a network. I believe we got one in early 2006.) and a fairly early Twitter adopter. I got pulled in to Facebook by my students and I got pulled into Twitter by UMC young clergy colleagues, and I got pulled into Google+ from people that I followed on Twitter. We'll see how things take off with G+, but here are a few observations that I've made:
  • I have been surprised at how many of my college students have already gotten on G+. It seems that with the exception of a couple, most of my students did not jump on board with Twitter. In the last year, a dozen or so (that are in my world) have begun tweeting, but I already have that many students that have signed up for G+. This gives me great hope that all of the collaborative potential that I see for G+ might actually be able to be used!
  • I think that people really are gravitating toward the idea of selective disclosure of themselves, ie., the various ways that that they can reveal their online selves by posts going to particular circles. Facebook certainly has that ability, but one must be pretty savvy and disciplined to sort people, add to lists, etc., etc., in order for it to live up to it's potential.
  • I'm hoping that G+ stays away from the online games and such that has been the legacy of Facebook. I know that there is a certain kind of community in online gaming, but I don't want another Farmville request! I'm not interested! :-)
  • I "follow" many of the same people in FB, Twitter, and G+ and right now, everyone seems to be posting all three places. I'm wondering if that will change with time..if we will figure out where the best audience is for which type of communication and connect there. I'm sure that this will evolve as we figure it out, and I'm curious how it will develop.
  • I'm not a Mac devotee and I was pleasantly surprised that the G+ app was on Android first! It is awesome! I can definitely see how I would use G+ different on my phone and I like what I see!
Anyway...almost a week in and I'm encouraged that Google+ could actually do what FB and email haven't been able to do in my ministry: make communication with my students a little easier (they don't get on FB to "communicate"--it is for entertainment, and many don't read email at all or very frequently!). That remains to be could just be that it's the shiny new thing, but it looks promising!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Not Alone

It seems, at times, that we are alone. The situations in our lives have played out and we think we know the ending. I'm assuming that's how Mary Magdalene felt as she stood weeping outside the tomb. Alone and disappointed. And then...he was there. Jesus appeared...looking somewhat different than she remembered, or expected. And likewise, the disciples felt abandoned and alone inside their locked doors and self-induced seclusion. And yet, Jesus appeared, twice, to his beloved disciples to remind them that they are not alone. Slowly, at least some of the disciples begin to emerge from their seclusion and they return to their pre-Jesus lives as fishermen.

READ: John 21:1-13

Finally…Simon Peter worked up the courage, either out of confidence, hope, or boredom to go fishing! But even as that first day back on the water drew to a close, they yielded no catch. A long, probably uncomfortable, questioning night that thankfully came to an end with daybreak. They heard a fatherly voice from the shore: “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They didn’t know who it was, but it was a voice that seemed to understand something about them. Then, the voice gave them advice…the advice that they didn’t even know that they needed. The voice told them to put their nets out to the right side of the boat. They were in the right waters, but were approaching it the wrong way. When they obeyed and saw how much fish they caught, the Person behind the voice was revealed. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved knew it first! It was Jesus! And true to form, the impulsive Peter jumped into the water to get to his Lord first of all!

Jesus was there…on the shore all along. I even wonder if he was there the day before in their frustration of a day without a catch. Was he there waiting and hoping that they would notice him? Was he there ready to offer advice, if only they would ask? And then, that second morning, he spoke, only they didn’t know it was him. It was after they obeyed his voice, and saw that it was trustworthy, did they see that he was actually there all along.

Are there times when you are discouraged? Do you think that you’re fishing in the right waters, but things aren’t yielding the result that you’re expecting, that you’re praying for, that you know should happen? Is it possible that Jesus is there, all along?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mission Accomplished!

In the last several years, we have started making a “time capsule” of sorts in the “mascot” of our mission trips, Al Buho (a.k.a. our plastic owl decoy that is a coveted White Elephant gift at our Christmas parties). This year our note from our trip to the Dominican Republic sums it up well:

Mission Field: Anywhere from Kansas to the DR
Mission: To Be the Hands and Feet of God, Serving His People

We assembled at Wichita airport, packed and ready to begin our journey. Each of us had our own concerns, excitements, expectations, but only one goal—to let God’s will be done. For most of the team, the language barrier was a huge challenge we’ve overcome. Though we were plagued with sickness and injury, we never lost sight of our mission. We taught lessons in schools, sang songs, did crafts, played with the kids, loved the kids, visited people in their homes, lead youth group, were a part of church services, and shared God’s love with all whom we met. It didn’t matter what happened before or after, we gave our all to put a smile on every face we came across. We had come to be a blessing, but in return, have been blessed by leaps and bounds. As individuals, we’ve grown in our own different ways. As a team, we have grown to become a family, striving for excellence in all that we do. Our mission in the mission field has been completed, but our mission for God never ends. Armed with our own stories, as testimonies of God’s goodness, we are ready to further God’s kingdom, by being His hands and feet, wherever we go from here.
Our mission trip reminded us of the power of God at work in the world around us…not that we were bringing God’s power…the Holy Spirit had already done that, but we became aware of the work that is being done in a part of the world far from us, in many ways. We experienced significant ministry within our group, as one of our members was hospitalized with Dengue Fever. We witnessed God’s healing in his life as he was released in time to travel home with us, and we experienced the power of prayer, as we kept vigil for him during a particularly dangerous time for him. And we came away with a reminder that God calls us to be in mission wherever we are. Thanks be to God...and mission accomplished!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Campus Ministry Blog-a-thon

My friend, Guy Chmieleski, the campus pastor at Belmont in Nashville, is hosting a blog-a-thon at his blog, He has a series of posts from various people related to campus ministry from around the nation that he is posting between today and Thursday, June 9. He even asked me to write one of the articles. The series is called "Soul Care for the College Pastor" and has a great line up. Read the articles, chime in and pass them on. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Imagine No Malaria

I was listening to NPR yesterday and heard a snippet from a story that they were doing about polio and how it is nearly eradicated. Now, don’t forget “nearly eradicated” fits pretty well along the lines that “close is only good in horseshoes and hand-grenades.” Nearly eradicated means that the world is not done yet with the disease and until every case is gone, the disease still rages. I’m thankful that polio will “soon” be eradicated, but I soberly realize that there are many other preventable diseases that are also on our list. Take malaria for example.

The website for Imagine No Malaria puts it this way

This is a Fight We Must Win, Because…

…every 45 seconds, a child in Africa dies of malaria.

…malaria claims more than 1 million lives each year.

…infants, children and pregnant women are at greatest risk.

…90 percent of malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

And…did I mention that Malaria can be eradicated and thus, is preventable? I am so proud that the United Methodist Church has joined with other organizations and people who are working to eliminate malaria by 2015. Something that has caught my eye is the Imagine No Malaria initiative and the House Party idea. They suggest having a get-together that is aimed at educating people in our circle of friends about malaria and giving them an opportunity to donate toward the cause of education, prevention and treatment of malaria. This is a great opportunity for Campus Ministries or Sunday School classes to be involved with! There are lots of ideas, resources, and other help on the website. I’m going to talk to some students soon and see how we can participate. I hope that you’ll join me.

When Normal is Exhilirating

I wrote this yesterday about my day. I've been thinking a lot about recognizing God's presence in the midst of life, rather than seeing God's presence after the fact. Yesterday was a good day.

There are many days in ministry that are difficult: institutions are cumbersome, resistance is inevitable, and people are messy. And there are days when ministry is exhilarating: systems work well, creativity is abundant and people use their gifts to God’s glory. Today has been one of the later. It is exciting to watch the college students with whom I’ve been blessed to work discover and live out their faith. Here is a snippet from my day:

  • I woke up feeling rather cranky. In fact, I said out loud (to myself) before I left my house: “Ashlee, why are you so grumpy? Get over whatever your problem is.” (I hope that others have similar habits of talking to themselves. I don’t usually say things out loud to myself, but I was in a foul mood this morning for absolutely no good reason.)
  • I got an email first thing this morning from a student who was so excited to tell me some things that God had been doing in her life that she wanted to meet with me. I sought her out this morning soon after I got in my office. She shared with me some experiences that she and some other students had over the weekend in worship and prayer together. She spoke about some things that I've prayed about over the last several years for my campus and I began to see in her testimony of God’s faithfulness in answering prayer. She’s facilitating a prayer forum online for our campus and I’m excited to see where it goes.
  • I actually got some work done in my office! Go figure!
  • I went to our monthly “Family Meeting” for Discipleship and continue to be blown away by the gifts that my students have. I felt absolutely irrelevant and it was wonderful! Oh sure, I've spent the time with them and they all know what their jobs are. God has matured them in ways that they are powerful leaders and it was incredibly freeing to see the maturity that was exhibited in this group of 13 leaders to the team of 40 others. A visiting religious studies fellow who is in his second year even commented on the maturity that he had witnessed in one of the students in the year and a half that he has been here.

And that was all before noon! The rest of the day, I went to meetings, met with students, and answered emails and my work seemed more connected to God’s mission in the world than usual. It’s easy, especially this time of year, for us to get focused on challenges, problems, and messes that we have to clean up. But let’s not forget that when our work is focused on the Kingdom of God, even our challenges have a new meaning. Today was a day when the veil was thin...when I saw the Kingdom of God in front of my very eyes. The reason it was so notable for me was because while I'm good at seeing God's presence in the "big" days/moments/experiences, it's much harder in the "normal" days. (I wrote about this at the beginning of January.) Thankfully, I think that today was one of those "best days" that I was hoping for more of! Our lives as Christians include many "big" days, but mostly they're just "normal" days when we learn to tune our hearts and minds to God's voice. I can't believe it, but today I'm thankful for "normal."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Keeping it Simple

Last summer I invested in a touch screen cell phone that made viewing the internet on my phone significantly faster to navigate, not to mention the internet looked much better than on my previous smart phone. I knew that with a touch screen, I would be giving up the ability to text as quickly, but it wasn’t so bad when I turned my phone “landscape” instead of its normal “portrait.” However, about two months ago, my phone stopped automatically turning “landscape” when I turned it sideways. I supposed that some internal sensor was somehow malfunctioning and then made a mental note to stop by the Sprint store next time I was near one. It was a major inconvenience at first, as texting was significantly easier when the letters were bigger as they were when it was turned sideways, but eventually I just got used to it being different. I accommodated pretty quickly to the inconvenience and soon forgot that my phone was even broken. I would remember every now and then, especially when I wanted to view a picture or video, as the viewing size was about half as big in the standard viewing position. But most of the time, I…managed.

I finally made it into the Sprint store and prepared myself for the wait while they fixed the mystery problem. I was just taking a look at the Samsung Tablet, when the tech came up to me and told me that it was fixed. All they had to do was turn the auto-rotate setting back on in the Settings menu, as somehow, I must have inadvertently turned it off. So, for the last two months, while I had been too busy to go to a store, and then too forgetful to ask anyone else who might know more about phones, and then too accustomed to it not working like it should, the solution to the problem was only three clicks on my phone screen.

Isn’t this how things often are for us? The simplest solution is usually the correct one (like when your computer won’t turn on, plug it in and let it charge—it’s probably just a dead battery). I was prepared for them to open up my phone and replace “the internal sensor” (I’m assuming that there is such a thing?!). But, that would have been both a waste of time and supplies AND more than what needed to be done (and it wouldn’t have fixed the problem, anyway). But isn’t this what we do sometimes? We are experiencing a difficulty so we say that God’s leading us in a different direction, when sometimes it’s not that complicated…we just need to be patient or learn the lesson that we experience when we encounter challenges. We dream up all of these explanations like God is probably calling us to do something else, or giving us a test, but the answer may just be that we need to be patient, or faithful to what we know at this point, or simply, to love others.

And even if we do remember that the simplest answer might be the correct one, sometimes we never quite get around to trying out that simple answer. Instead, we get used to limping along in life. We have a vague recollection every now and then that something isn’t quite like it should be, or like we’d like it to be, or like we know that God wants it to be in our life. Instead, we’ve figured out how to just get along and maybe even learned some good lessons about perseverance in the meantime. But, the reality is that we often allow stuff to get in the way of living a life of abundance that Jesus talks about! Sometimes that “stuff” is busyness, sometimes fear, sometimes it is doubt or insecurity, but sometimes it is just that we’ve become so acclimated to our concessions in life. We see glimpses of a desire that God has placed in our lives, but we know that doing something different will “rock the boat.” The “merry-go-round” is in motion and slowing it down to do something different could result in us being able to do something else that is more in keeping with what God is calling us to do, or, it could result in some scraped knees, or worse—some broken bones! But oh, when we jump…when we give up our grasp on safety, or predictability, or even preference, we open ourselves up to God showing us new ways to trust, new levels of spiritual maturity, and even new gifts to explore. May we have the courage to break out of our ruts and live the abundant life to which God has called us. May we know that sometimes it's best to not know how things are going to end, and may we trust God to be there no matter what the end result is.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Best Days

Each January, I spend a little time looking back to the year behind and ahead to what is on the horizon. Last year I wrote about my desire to grow in patience this year. I believe that indeed, patience did grow in me this year. I remember hearing someone say once, “Don’t pray for patience—that’s one prayer that God always answers. He tests you and you’ll need patience.” Well, in many ways, this year was full of many challenging days and was a year that was hard for a variety of reasons. In fact, I’m sorta glad to see it go. Nothing major, just a period of challenge on which I was acutely focused.

Yesterday I was listening to Garrison Keillor question his guests on his radio program, “Prairie Home Companion.” He asked them, “What was your best day of 2010.” His guests had all be selected, presumably for having a wonderful year and were really quick to answer the question. But as I was thinking about my own answer to the question, I struggled a bit, presumably due to the challenges of this year. I sometimes feel like I live life so “fast” that I often miss out on the sacramental moments like being able to recognize a “best day” while it’s happening. Part of it is probably my personality—I see “trees” instead of the “forest” most of the time. I get stuck in details—starting this, finishing that, anticipating problems so as to subvert them, etc. I have a hard time pulling away from the perspective of the tree in order to see the beauty of the landscape that lies both behind me and ahead. I know this about myself, so most days I practice the Daily Examen of reflecting back to where I experienced Christ most keenly in my day and where I felt most distant from God. But even still, last year felt like a blur. In my Garrison Keillor-inspired extraction from the trees, I am able to see the landscape and see some of the best days of my 2010.

I had several “best days” as I took a couple of vacations with friends last summer. We laughed, told stories of the “good old days” and encouraged one another through current struggles. Relationships are absolutely priceless. They are what matters most. And my best days are days that remember that.

Another “best day” for me involves my family. Also last summer, my niece, who is more like a sister (or even a daughter to me) got married! It was an incredible day, as the man she married is a kind and wise partner for her, but also because our family (under the leadership of Megan) and many friends of Megan and Brian, “threw” the wedding for them, from decorations, to food, to flowers. It was an inspiring time of bearing witness to their vows they made to one another as we supported them as they covenanted with God in marriage. I still get a little teary.

I had other days that fell into the “best day” category, but they were much more about the daily-ness of life. They were days when I knew contentment, when I felt love and belonging, when I had assurance that the work that I am doing with college students makes a difference in the Kingdom. It’s these days, without the splash of big events, that I actually desire more of in the coming year.

In July, I was sitting in a Chinese Restaurant in Nashville, eating dinner with a friend who I’ve known my entire life and I got a fortune cookie: “Your fondest dream will come true within the year.” Well, obviously I don’t usually put much stock into fortune cookies, but this one was one of those rare times when I thought there actually might be a little bit of a sacramental moment in the fortune cookie. I don’t honestly know what my “fondest dream” is, but as I look ahead to 2011, I want to live in the sense of hope and expectation that I experienced during the season of Advent. I lean forward into a year where I am living in the abundance of God’s grace, not thinking about the next problem to solve or item to remove from my to-do list.

So, this fortune that I got that day last summer has reminded me to dream. Sadly, in my seeing the trees, I forget that. I’ve seen lots of evidence of God’s faithfulness through the last year, and I’m excited to see what happens in the coming year. Here’s to 2011, a year full of “best days!”