Get Ready: Easter is Coming

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In two short days it will be Holy Week. This means that as Christians, these are the final days of lent which lead us to Easter. Far too often we make a mad dash for Easter Sunday, but this year I’d like to encourage you to slow down. Why you may ask? Easter can’t happen without the days leading up, and we need those days to prepare our hearts and minds too.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, as we remember  Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. For those of us that go to church this Sunday morning, will wave palm branches, and sing Hosanna. We’ll be caught up in the joy of the day and not think much about the journey that Jesus is about to begin. Those closest to Jesus, the disciples, are clueless about what is going to happen to their beloved friend and teacher, despite his many warnings and we’re not all that different. Despite all of our flaws and failings, Jesus knowingly and willingly continues down this road that will lead to his death. With all the hosannas and waves of our palm branches, we tend not to think about the meaning of this day or the week ahead.

As we read through the Gospels on Holy Monday and Tuesday we’re being prepared for what’s to come.  Jesus will be anointed at Bethany, foreshadowing what will happen to him in death. Jesus will again warn his discipes, and us as the readers, of what is coming.  On of his friends will betray him and set the final course of events into action. As if all of this wasn’t enough, another friend will come to deny he ever knew him, his friend and swore he’d never deny and would defend. Thursday will come, and church attendance will go down drastically, before it’s great spike on Easter Sunday.

Thursday is Maundy, or Commandment, Thursday. We often skip up and call this day Monday Thirsday or some funny derivation, because we’re  clueless to what this word preceding Thirsday is. It’s word coming from Middle English, Old French (mandé), and Latin (mandatum) which essentially means commandment.  It was this day that Jesus washed the disciples feet, gave the commandment to love one another, and to remember him in gathering together by sharing the Lord’s Supper. Throughout the year we celebrate this meal, and forget about its humble beginnings. A shared meal with friends made sacred with the sharing of bread and wine  on the eve of the worst day in Jesus’ human life.

img_0668We now come to Friday, that we call Good Friday. It is on this day we remember with solemn hearts the sacrifice that Jesus, makes for us out of God’s great love for each of us. On this day we take time to be humbled, sometimes to the point if tears, of the great sacrifice Jesus makes for us. We slow down and realize that the story of Christianity isn’t just about a cute baby in a stable or just about resurrection. It is on this day that we remember that the story is about life, AND death, AND new life. 

Let us prepare our hearts and minds for the joy of the Easter Sunday, even when it may be a solemn journey along the way.

Peace Be With You

Evenings in the Parker family can be a mix of sweet and chaotic, but on your average Wednesday chaotic seems a little more accurate of a description. I rush from work eager to see my daughter and I’m greeted with squeals and hugs. Sometime after that delightful greeting, I encounter this rage-filled demonic being toddler who is angry with me over God knows what. My great sin could that I buckled her car seat rather than allowing her to do it, I used the keys to drive the car rather than let her hold them, or I dared to make dinner without allowing her to help with every step of the process. Whatever the case may be, there is great angst between pick-up and dinner being set on the table. If I’m lucky there are other sweet moments before bed, but there are nights there is a long wait for bedtime.

Last Wednesday evening was a night with more delightful moments than I could have expected from my two year old. I expected things to be like most nights in which VHP gets her plate first and begins inhaling her food before my husband and I can sit down to the table to eat as a family. Instead our little big girl was nibbling at her food trying to wait for us to come to the table. Once my husband and I sat down we began to eat our meal, because we were starving. Instead of digging in too, VHP fussed at us adults. “No eat yet, pray,” she declared. My gracious, us adults completely forgot to bless the meal and she kept us in check! My husband asked her if she wanted to say the prayer and she agreed.

“Dear God. Thank you soup. Amen.”

Her prayer was much simpler than her first mealtime prayer and much more to the point than her friend Elle’s, but it was enough to convey thanks for the soup her daddy made.

The fact that she at two reminded us to bless the meal melted my heart, but it turns out she was not finished. Shortly after dinner I was taking on kitchen clean-up and it was my husband handling bedtime. We were all getting bedtime hugs and kisses, which turned into us receiving a few bise (French for kisses on the cheek). Next came more toddler of fun like high fives and fist bumps.When I thought we were finally done, VHP came back for more bise. Or so I thought. She asked for my husbands hand and then said what we thought was “bise” again. But my husband realized she was saying “peace”.

Suddenly it hit me that my daughter was passing the peace to my husband like we do on Sunday mornings at church. He responded as if the custom at church by saying, “and also with you” and gave her the biggest hug. Before I could catch my breath, it was my turn to receive the Peace of Christ from my daughter. She turned to me and said “peace to you”.  My heart was and still is so full. The adults at our church have no idea that by passing the peace to our little girl how much they have taught her. Since she was a baby in worship members have greeted her during the passing of the peace, and still do. VHP has been paying attention more than we knew, and is taking what she learns in church out into the world with her.

Raising a Child of Faith – Public Prayer

Last month I shared about my daughter’s first prayer on her own. Today I’d like to share another Raising a Child of Faith story about a girl I’ll refer to as Elle. Her mom is a dear friend of mine from our time together in seminary, and though distance may separate us, I’m glad she’s on this parenting journey with me. Our daughters were born just 4 days apart, and I love hearing what they’re experiencing at almost the exact same time. Both of our girls are learning about their faith, and today I’ll share a story about Elle, her mom, and her impactful  prayer.

Each year Elle’s daddy has to take a trip out of town for a conference for a few days. Elle’s parents are quite the team, but this trip means that my friend is flying solo in mommy land (shout out to you single parents, you’re rock stars for doing this around the clock). Thankfully a dear church members takes Elle and her mommy out at least once for a special date while daddy is gone. For the 2016 conference, dinner with this member became even more meaningful when the mundane became the sacred at dinner.

For some people praying out loud before a meal in a public restaurant is uncomfortable experience. For Elle and her family, it’s the norm. Maybe it’s because her daddy is a pastor, but public prayer is the norm none the less. On this particular night, the adults followed their usual plan and said the prayer before the meal. For Elle this wasn’t good enough, and responded with “more pray.” Her request isn’t abnormal at home to pray more, but this time it was at a local Cracker Barrel. She felt the need to pray more for their meal.

This might not seem like that big of a deal to some, but Elle is only two years old. It’s only been in recent weeks that she has been the one to say the prayer at meals or bedtime, rather than her parents. On this particular night it was also the first that she said the prayer while dining out in public. She said:
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Elle’s prayer was so simple, yet so sweet and just what needs to be said at a meal. What I love about Elle’s prayer is that her prayer wasn’t just special to her mom, myself, or those that know her. Apparently one of the servers heard her prayer, and slipped her mommy this note:IMG_0570
You never know the difference you’re making in the life of your child and those that you may encounter. If you’re ever called upon to say the mealtime prayer, may I recommend Elle’s prayer? Go forth and be the salt of the earth.

Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it! Also, if you have a Raising a Child of Faith story you’d like to share on HebrewDawn, please be sure to send me a note (hello at hebrewdawn.com).

“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matthew 5:14 (NRSV)

Raising a Child of Faith

Many say that they are trying to raise a child, but my husband and I routinely say that we are trying to raise a person. Our goal is not to have an 18 year old that is still dependent on us, but a person ready to make it in the world on their own. Granted as a mom you kind of want to be needed, but at the end of the day I want my daughter to be able to stand on her own two feet. Faith is something that has been very important to my husband and I, and nurturing our daughter in her Christian Faith is part of raising a person for us. We’re not always sure that we have it right, but last night gave us a glimmer that we might be on the right track.

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I’ll share more about what happened last night shortly, but here are some of the things we do to raise our daughter in our faith. As I’ve shared before, we do our best to make it to church each week, and keep her in worship with us. There are weeks that she may drive us crazy with how chatty and wiggly she can be, but that’s also expected for her. We always make sure to bring a variety of toys or quiet activities to keep her entertained and step out of the sanctuary when she gets to be too noisy. Thankfully we can still hear the service in the parlor or hallway outside the sanctuary, so we don’t feel like we’re missing out on too much. No matter how noise our little girl may have been, we always make it back into the sanctuary for communion, as that’s become one of her favorite parts of the service. Slowly but surely she is understanding the rhythm of the service and applying what she understands. Just the other week I noticed that she had bowed her head when the pastor said it was time for the prayer for confession. She didn’t know that this was a prayer she could keep her eyes open for, but she did what she understood she should do for a prayer. Another thing that we do to help grow our daughter’s faith is making prayer a daily part of our life. We have a long established bedtime routine that begins with a story, is followed by a prayer, and ends with a song and kisses. Now that VHP is talking, she helps to name whom or what she would like to pray about. Most nights her cousin and friends from school are top of the list, along with other family member, and mommy and daddy are rarely left off. Sometimes we get some interesting additions, like the potty or swim class. No matter the prayer requests she names, we honor them and add them to the list. It’s been really cute to see how the list has grown over the months, and to hear what matters to her from one day to the next.

Last night we had my mother-in-law over to celebrate her birthday with a special dinner. Like many meals, but especially birthday dinner, we began the meal with prayer. We asked VHP if she’d like to do the prayer and she said yes. I started with the usual “Dear God,” and here is what she said:

Thank you [for] LKG.

Thank you [for] Meghan.

Thank you [for] Jason.

Amen.

LKG is her cousin, Meghan is her aunt, and Jason is her uncle. I was stunned. My little girl at the mere age of two had said her first prayer on her own, and the first person she wanted to pray for was her cousin. Not to be forgotten was her aunt and uncle.

We may not be perfect at this parenting thing. I might not be perfect at teaching her all things I want about being a Christian. But I think we may be onto something with prayer.

When Things Aren’t What You Expect

Today is the fourth and final part in my series on calling.  If you missed the first three you can catch up by reading  Part IPart II, and Part III.

So where were we?

In December of 2009 I began my first full-time position in the church, and I was excited to take this next step in my journey through ministry. It was while working here over the next 18 months that I completed my clinical pastoral education (on top of working), planned a wedding, got married, and survived my first foot surgery. It was while working with the middle and high school students that I was able to give the all time that I had wanted to give youth (that I knew they needed). It was while working at this church that I began to question my call to parrish (church) ministry and my time spent in seminary.

Through months of discernment, tears, and tough conversations with my husband and mentors, I realized that my calling wasn’t exactly what I thought it was or should be. My call wasn’t cookie cutter like my seminary classmates. My call wasn’t that I should be confined to the four walls of a church.  I wasn’t completely sure how it would all shake out, but I knew I needed to do something different. In May of 2011 I resigned from my position at the church to begin something new. In those moments I was afraid that my seminary degree was a waste if I wasn’t working in a church, but had to trust what would happen next.

Over the next few years I spent time doing work similar and unlike anything I ever had before. I briefly went back to teaching at the preschool I had worked at through college and my first semester of seminary. I loved working with the children, but the LOW salary wasn’t something I could live with long-term. Hats off to those making a career in early childhood, because you survive on pennies! In January of 2012, I began a new chapter for myself. I moved into the not-for–profit sector where I realized that all my education and career experience wasn’t for naught. I might not use my biblical and theological (seminary) training in my day-to-day work, but the other skills (public speaking, conflict resolution, listening and caring, etc.) I gained were invaluable. In my personal time, I was able to give back to my church using my biblical and theological training through teaching and leading small groups.

Throughout all of this, I continued through the ordination process of the PCUSA. I did everything I needed to do to get ordained, EXCEPT the last two steps (getting certified ready to receive a call and finding a call). Many move from one step to the next without a pause, but I personally wouldn’t allow myself to get certified until I knew exactly and where God was calling me to serve. For FIVE years I continued in this process of trying to understand where and how God was calling me to serve. Through this period of discernment, my husband and I bought our “forever home” and started a family thus establishing roots firmly near our family.

In October of this year, I finally withdrew from the candidacy process for ordination. I did this not because I no longer believe God was calling me to serve. I came to realize that I was not in a place my life that I was ready to pick up and move for the chance to be ordained. You see, in the Presbyterian church, you have to have a call (a JOB) to be ordained to. Though I know the work I’m currently doing professionally and as a volunteer IS where God is calling me to be, it’s not the kind for ordination. I don’t know if or when this will change, but I knew it wasn’t fair to the committee waiting on me and my paperwork. I cried writing that letter of resignation, but I know that this isn’t the end.

I hope to share more in the future about all of this, but I’ll end for now sharing some things that I’ve come to realize.

  1.  Questioning my call was by no fault of the congregations I had worked with previously.
  2. This career journey and change did not reverse whether or not God had called me to serve.
  3. Questioning and discernment was and is not uncommon for many people of faith.

I’m excited to see what God has in store for me in the future.

I’m excited and grateful for where I am now, the people I work with, and the people I get to volunteer with at my church.

Being called by God is not one size fits all. God uses those around you to speak to you and guide you where you need to be in a given moment. As much as you may try to run or hide from where God is calling you, you cannot get away from the Almighty. You’ll never know what’s around the corner, but it’s usually better than you’d expect.

Importance of Being with You

Almost every Sunday at 10:15 am, my heart is overflowing with gratefulness. This overflow is in response to a God that is so good, and for a community that my family is blessed to be a part of. I know that for many church may not be where you find community, but it’s a great place to find it.  Each week my daughter is excited to walk through the doors, to see the people she loves, to sing, take communion, and play with her friends. It’s through being in community with these great people that my heart is full of joy each week.

Community is what nurtures us in the good times, lifts us up when times are tough, and journeys alongside us through the mundane. Most weeks can seem commonplace, but I’m learning eachweek  something  special is happening for my daughter. Recently I’ve noticed that VHP is learning and understanding what it means to worship. Most of the time, she remains for most if not all of the service. Typically we bring a few activities (coloring, non-noise making toys, etc.) to keep her noise-level down during the quieter times of the service (sermons in particular). Honestly, it has taken the patience of those around her (my husband and I included), but also the words of encouragement from other people. They let us know that they enjoy seeing her in worship, hearing her little voice participate in the service, and they know what it’s like to have a little on in worship. Our littler person now LOVES to pass the peace (greet those around us and shake hands). She loves to sing and dancing to the music. She loves to go forward for the children’s message, learn from watching the big kids. And she longs for the moment we go forward to take communion.

VHP as Mary, a shepherd, and an angel

If it weren’t for this community, my daughter would not have had the opportunity to play with some of her favorite friends on a Saturday morning of this week. If it weren’t for this community, my daughter would not have had the opportunity to explore the Christmas story, act it out, and attempt to be a one lady Christmas pageant. If it weren’t for this community, two year olds would simply be other toddlers in worship rather than having something special to do on Christmas pageant Sunday. If it weren’t for this community, I would not have met my husband. If it weren’t for this community, I would not have some of the friendships that make adulting better.I recognize that not everyone has this kind of community, and may long for this. I also know that community can be different for everyone, in particular church may not be where you find it. What I would encourage each of us, is to find community where you are and to help create it around you. Life is better spent with other people, supporting and encouraging one another. It was once shared with me, that the Chinese characer for person represents two people supporting each other. I believe that this imagery is VERY fitting, whether or not it is true. We live in a society that likes us to think it’s better to do it all ourselves, and to pride ourselves how independent we can be. That’s great and all, but being together is where I’d rather be.

Calling – Time to Get Smart

Today is Part III in my series on calling.  If you missed the first two you can catch up by reading  Part I and Part II.

By application time for seminary, I had my heart set on attending Duke Divinity School, was highly considering Wesley Theological Seminary, and applied to Union Theological Seminary & Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now named Union Presbyterian Seminary). In thinking about each school I thought Duke would provide the academically rigorous environment that I was looking for in a master’s program. In digging deeper about each school, I believed Wesley would provide the social justice minded environment I was looking for in a program. In wrapping up my evaluations on all three schools, I thought Union would be a descent compromise, but not the place for me.

As I kept praying about where I was called to go and writing all the essays that the application process required, I began to have a change of heart. I began to question whether or not Duke would be the right place for me, especially if it was going to cost me $100,000 in tuition, books, room and board. I began to question if Union wasn’t so bad after all. They did require that their M.Div. students take both Biblical Greek and Hebrew prior to taking New and Old Testament. I began to wonder if Wesley was the right place if they didn’t require their M.Div. students to take Biblical Greek and Hebrew prior to taking Old and New Testament courses. After all this praying, wondering, and questioning, I knew where I was called to go.

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I realized despite my own desire to run the other way, God was calling me to attend Union Presbyterian Seminary. I’m so glad I didn’t follow my desire to run the other way of my calling and listened, because Union was truly the right place for me. This was the academically rigorous environment I was looking for in school. This was the social justice minded group that I needed. This was the place that I needed to grow in ways I didn’t know that I could. I was reminded in this whole process of how stubborn I can be, that there is always more to the plan than I realize, and that God really wants what is best for us. I’m thankful I wasn’t stubborn, because the time I spent (and still spend) at Union and the relationships I formed nurture me today.

During my first semester of seminary I realized that getting ordained in the United Methodist Church was not for me. I spent time learning more about different denominations, visiting churches AGAIN, and finally found my new church home. By January of 2007 I began regularly attending Three Chopt Presbyterian Church (TCPC), joined in May of that year, and soon began the ordination process for the PCUSA. The summer I joined TCPC, I became the youth director there as well. In this role, I had the opportunity to professionally do what I had done as a volunteer for so long. I had the privilege of working with many great middle and high schoolers, great volunteers, and under a wonderful head of staff. Through my work at TCPC I grew a lot, was challenged in various ways, dealt with difficult people, nurtured young people through their tough and joyous times, and realized that I was doing what I was called to do.

Three years of seminary came and went very fast. During that time I made great friends, learned from excellent professors, grew a deeper love for languages (as if that was possible), and was ready for life to work in the church. By the fall after graduation, I came to the realization that I could no longer continue making my part-time work at TCPC. I -really need a full-time job to support myself, my career, and continue growing professionally. So began the process of juggling my current job, applying and interviewing for new positions, and discerning where was it I should go. By November of that year, I had to say goodbye to a group of people I loved working with, prepare for a new job, became engaged, and many decisions to make.

Check back next week for more!

Calling – Finding my home of faith

Today is Part II in my series on calling.  If you missed last week’s post, check it out here

Now, where were we…I took the plunge and visited D’s church. I was really skeptical about going, but I’m so glad that I did! I quickly learned that there were a couple people I knew from school there, and many other people that I was eager to get to know and they me. This was nothing like the sunday school experience at my dad’s church, or the Japanese church that my mom and I ran from over the summer.  

Over the fall semester of my Junior year of high school I began attending D’s church regularly, and by November I signed up for my first youth retreat. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as this whole experience was really new to me. Yes, I had gone to church with family and friends growing up, but being a part of a church and going away on a trip with my church was another story. Thankfully some great folks in my youth group took me under their wings, I met some great people at the retreat, and my heart was opened in more ways to the grace and love of God. 

Over the next two years I became very involved at the church, developed friendships that remain today, and came to love and adore our youth pastors, our children’s ministers, our pastor, and our pastor’s wife.  To this day these individuals mean the world to me, and have helped me to be who I am today. By the start of college, I remember our youth pastor asking D, S, and I to lead a girls’ Bible study for our youth group. At first we all thought he was crazy for asking, but he was clearly on to something. Our youth group was growing, it had more girls than boys, and the girls needed the support of young ladies older than them. I personally didn’t think I was equipped to be a part of this leadership team, but yet again he knew what he was talking about. My faith grew through doing this, I was forced to study the Bible extra, learned a lot, and continue enjoying doing things just like this to this day. 

Through college I remained involved at my church. I got baptized my junior of college, though I’m not sure what took me so long. I guess accepting being a member of the local church and church universal was something I didn’t take lightly.  During college I also became very invovled in one of the campus ministries at VCU. Through this ministry, I was given the experience to lead more small groups, and grow deeper in my faith. It was also during this time that I also began to learn about my Japanese great-grandmother’s Christian faith.  The story of her and her faith is for another day, but she is a woman who is a guide for me.  At yet another retreat, big things happened in my life.  During my fourth year of college (I took the five year path due to classes) that I accepted the call to go to seminary. I wasn’t sure all that this “yes” would have in store for me, but I knew the first step was to say “yes God”. 

Deciding where to go to seminary wasn’t as hard as I expected, but I definitely didn’t go where I thought I would. My pastor went to Duke and encouraged me to consider going there. Everyone else on staff (or previously on staff) at my church went to Union Theological Seminary, whether it was to get their Master of Divinity or Master of Arts in Christian Edcuation. My dad also encouraged me to consider Union, because we had family that studied there as well. In typical Crystal fashion, I didn’t think Union would be the place for me, but I think it was due to the fact that that this was where the most people wanted me to go. Along this journey, I’ve also learned that God sure has a funny way of taking you places that you least expect.

Check back next week to see read what unfolds next…