This Thanksgiving, I flew from Minneapolis back home to Chicago. I love flying out of Minneapolis, especially out of Terminal 2, because it’s usually a very pleasant experience. This Wednesday was no exception. Terminal 2 is the epitome of Minnesota-nice culture: people are courteous, nobody is rude and pushy, and even the TSA agents smile. Terminal 2 is also where I saw God this week.
Everybody sees God in different ways. Some people see God when they are outside in the beauty of nature. Some people see God in the quiet. I see God when people show love to one another in chaos.
In Terminal 2, on the most stressful traveling day of the year, I saw a lot of love. I saw families reuniting. I saw a barista greeting each person as an individual, despite having tons of customers. I saw strangers chatting and bonding over the shared anticipation of a holiday with loved ones. It was a wonderful way to start my break and I am very thankful that I was able to see God in this way.
This past Wednesday at our Pause worship service, we talked about the process of becoming – a process in which we grow to better understand our identity and who God created us to be. The following story is one of my own experiences of becoming during my time in China – enjoy!
For those of you who don’t know, I’m majoring in Chinese and last year I studied abroad both semesters in Beijing. I had many experiences of becoming during my year in China, but I’m going to focus specifically about how I experienced becoming in my faith and beliefs as a Christian.
Before going to China, my faith life revolved almost entirely around all things Lutheran. We’re talking potlucks in the church basement, lefse bakes, old school German hymns, super chill Midwesterners, and a strong belief in salvation through grace. Lutheranism was what I grew up with and for the most part, it was all that I knew! After two years of being heavily involved with LCM and loving every minute of it, I was in a very comfortable place with my faith – I was confident in what I believed and I didn’t have many questions for God. And then I went to China…
Since I was going to be in China for many many months, I made a conscious effort to seek out a church community. I wanted to make sure that I maintained my relationship with God, and I wanted to find a good ol’ group of Christians to be in community with. After doing some research on the ELCA’s website, I found a partner congregation in Beijing called BICF (Beijing International Christian Fellowship). BICF is a non-denominational church for Beijing’s international community. They had an English service on Sunday mornings and were pretty close to my dorm, so I decided to check it out.
I walked into the worship space (a rented room in an office building) and found an empty clump of chairs towards the back. Since this was an international church, the worshipers were mostly American, British, African, Pacific Islander, etc. There were mostly families and 20-somethings in the congregation. The service started with a worship song led by a contemporary praise band with the lyrics projected onto multiple screens. About halfway through that first song, I looked around the room and noticed more than a few people with their hands in the air, swaying back and forth to the music, really getting into it. I’m not gonna lie, I got the church giggles a lot that morning. Since Lutheran worship services are typically pretty reserved, I felt very out of place in this new worship style. The whole time I kept thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?”
After the service ended, I was getting ready to leave with no intention of going back, when I heard someone call out my name. I turned around to find my next-door neighbor from the dorms, John. John’s from England and as I found out, had been going to BICF for a while. He introduced me to his group of friends and we all ended up going out to lunch. This group was all young working professionals or students like me, all Americans or Brits, and they were all involved in a small group. They were also the first big, friendly community of young people I had found since being in China – everybody was really friendly, welcoming, kind – it was like walking into LCM for the first time as a freshman.
It wasn’t long before I joined one of their weekly small groups. We met every Thursday night for about an hour, and we would follow a Bible study book, reading and discussing certain passages. At first it was great to be back in a weekly routine of faith discussion, something I had really hoped to keep up with after leaving the U.S. But after a few weeks, I started hearing opinions and ideas being expressed that didn’t have much correlation with what I personally believed or had thought much about before, particularly the idea of conversion and salvation through faith alone. There were a couple small group meetings where we prayed for people we knew to find Jesus. Since converting others isn’t something Lutherans really talk much about, I felt very confused and turned off whenever the subject came up in small group or at church services. Every now and then I would get into these long debates with myself about it, thinking over and over about what I actually believed and how to reconcile this difference I had found with my other small group members. My faith had been shaken, my comfortable ideas about God and Christianity thrown out the door. I even had to Skype with Pastor Kate a few times for moral support and to remind me the basics of the Lutheran faith.
After a few months of these sorts of internal debates, I eventually came around to the idea that finding the answers wasn’t so important. I didn’t have to agree with everything my friends believed – we could have differences and it didn’t matter. At the end of the day, we were all just a group of Christians who liked to have active, thoughtful discussions about God. I even got used to and enjoyed some of the different practices they had – even some of the contemporary songs sounded pretty good by the time I left China!
More importantly, this group had given me something that I would’ve never experienced without stepping outside of an ELCA church. They had given me a reason to seriously question my faith, to challenge my ideas about God, to live into those questions we’ll never know the answers to. Like Martin Luther said, “this life is not about being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise.” My experiences with this group led me to get a TON of spiritual exercise – and my faith is stronger than ever because of it. I was able to grow, and I was able to become a little bit more the person God has made me to be.
Next week is Thanksgiving – the one day each year set aside for being with those we love, feasting on delicious food, and giving thanks for what we have. However, Proverbs 15:15 tells us “A happy heart as a continual feast!” Instead of just on Thanksgiving, shouldn’t we be giving thanks to God every day of the year for all that we have to be grateful about? I, personally, have a multitude of things to be thankful for. But, sometimes, in the busyness of day-to-day life, I forget to be grateful for them. Every night before I go to sleep, I try to think of 3 things I’m thankful for that day. Think I’m silly for doing this? Research has shown that people who are grateful tend to be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. So, instead of just being thankful and feasting on Thanksgiving, try being thankful every day of the year. Then your happy heart will have a continual feast!
A problem I always find myself getting caught up in is how to be a faithful sports fan. I’m not talking about how to be true to my team. Over half of my wardrobe is maroon and gold. In my 4 years at the University of Minnesota I have attended hundreds of sporting events, including the Gophers Men’s and Women’s Hockey, Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Football, Volleyball, Baseball, and even Tennis. Never in my years here have I not given my full support to Gopher athletics. I am also an avid fan of the Twins, Vikings, Wild, and Lynx, although I don’t watch nearly as many Pro-sports games as I do at the collegiate level.
What I mean by being a faithful sports fan is being faithful to God, while enjoying sports. I often get so caught up in the heat of the moment that all I can think about is Gopher Hockey. Occasionally, I get so wrapped up in how the Gophers Hockey team is doing that I let it dictate whether it is a good or bad day. If the Gophers Football team is on a loosing stretch, I can’t help but feel a little gloomy.
One thing that a good friend of mine told me was that if we put our faith in anything other than God, we are bound to face disappointment and anger. However, if we put our full faith in God (where it belongs), we will never be disappointed. It took me a while for this to fully sink in. The more I thought about my behaviors as a sports fan, the more I realized that this made sense. When I am fully invested in the outcome of a sporting event, I realized that I am putting my faith in something that is a gamble.
We are also reminded of the FIRST commandment: “Though shalt have no other gods before me”. While I don’t ‘worship’ the Gophers, I have caught myself at times putting sports at the forefront of my life. During the fall semester, my whole schedule revolves around the Gophers football season. I have missed opportunities to spend with friends and family. In hindsight, was I putting sports before other things in my life? Was I putting sports before God?
I am often times faced with the tough question of “how can I be a FAITHFUL sports fan?”. I think the important thing to remember is that God comes first in all things. If I can continue to remind myself that God is what I should put my full faith in, I will never be disappointed. And I should give thanks to God for the opportunity to go to sporting events and enjoy them so much. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” – Colossians 3:17
So go out there and cheer for your team, giving thanks to God all the same for the wonderful gift of sports! And Lord, please give me patience when my friends cheer for the Wisconsin Badgers.
My school year so far has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. On the bright side, I have been doing well in my classes, I finally think I know what I want to major in, and I am having a ton of fun with all my friends. On the not so bright side, I have been going through something I never have dealt with before- a death of a family member. My grandpa passed away on September 30th unexpectedly. The weird thing was about this was that September 30th is my birthday. It gets weirder, he died mid afternoon (they aren’t able to pinpoint the exact time), and I was born twenty years ago at 3:27 p.m. I can’t help but feel comforted in the fact that my grandpa entered heaven around the same time on the same date as I entered God’s Earth. Also, I feel much more connected with my grandpa knowing that God planned it this way and that he was present through it all. To me, this is evidence that God is active in our lives.
I have come to peace with my grandpa’s death and have the closure I need, but I’ve been having a few consistent trains of thought over the past month. Mainly, I just feel overwhelming lucky (just in time for Thanksgiving). I have learned to be so much more appreciative of everything I have over this past month. I feel grateful to have gotten to know all my grandparents and learn from each one of them. I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive, loving family and friends who accept me for who I am. It’s super easy to get caught up in our busy lives and go through the motions but I want to change that in my life. I want to not only continue stating what I am thankful for, but actually act on it. I want to show the people who I love that I love them whenever I can, whether that includes calling my aunt on my walk home from class, writing a letter to my grandma, texting a friend to come over for coffee, or just being completely present in conversation. I encourage you all to not only reflect on what you are grateful for, but more importantly act on it. Doing so will undoubtedly improve each day and will make a relationship with God continue to grow exponentially.
This semester is the start of the end for me. Ok maybe that’s an over-dramatization, it is just my senior year of college, but when peppered with questions like “what are your plans for after college?”, I can’t help the freak out that comes with not knowing. To put this in perspective, I’m the most comfortable about my future when I have a plan. I may have come into college unsure of what I wanted to major in but at least I had a plan to follow. I wanted to continue in Architecture and there were plans for other majors if I had chose to switch. Now looking out at the vast opportunities for life after college I can’ help but to feel a bit overwhelmed and daunted by a future that can’t be planned or foreseen. I realize that a good portion of professionals don’t work in the same field as what they majored in and I’m not really worried about that. I just worry because I keep asking myself “how do I get to a point where I love what I’m doing if I don’t know where to start?”
So instead of dealing with this grappling thus far I’ve run the other way and ignored the problem and that’s not working. Time to try something new; accepting that right now it’s okay to not have the answers. Yes the deadlines for graduate school are quickly approaching with the end of the semester and life continues to move and I have no choice but to move with it. So I’m accepting that I’m confused and unsure about my future as of now. I’m instead going to focus on fully enjoying all of the wonderful things in my life- my friends, my family, my classes- with the knowledge that with some creative wandering, hard work, and passion I will end up where I need to be. Do I still have freak out moments where I can’t help but question where I’m going with my life? Yes, but I don’t let these moments overwhelm me because they’re generally the fault of bad days (and no matter what, I’ll have those once in a while). As I taught one of my Italian friends this last spring, I’m taking “baby steps” towards the only thing that is clear right now, graduation. I may not know where I’m going after that, but I know that with enthusiasm, determination, and the loving support of my family and friends I’ll figure something out, and that’s good enough for now.
(can you tell today was a good day?)
This semester has absolutely been a whirlwind and I’m only half way through it. I’ve been busy juggling all of my commitments – school, work, family time, student groups, volunteering, etc. I’m loving every minute of it and I’m definitely trying to enjoy it and soak it all in because this is my last year of college. I’m officially a senior set to graduate in May, but this is only my 3rd year in college. I’ve worked hard to get to this point and I’m beyond ecstatic to be graduating early, but I’m forced to make “grown-up” decisions sooner than my peers. Instead of deciding what classes I’ll take next year, I have to make decisions about my future plans and career. This is definitely not an easy task, especially for a self-proclaimed planner! One of the reasons I am able to graduate a year early is because I strategically planned every single semester of college and I have the next 7 months completely planned out in my planner. (See what I said? I’m a planner :). ) However, the days and months immediately following my graduation ceremony in May are totally blank. What comes next?
At the beginning of this semester, I was fortunate to get to attend the Mumford & Sons concert. One of their songs, Awake My Soul, definitely speaks to how I’m feeling right now. Here are some of the lyrics:
And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know
My weakness I feel I must finally show
Lend me your hand and we’ll conquer them all
But lend me your heart and I’ll just let you fall
Lend me your eyes I can change what you see
But your soul you must keep, totally free
Awake my soul
This song reminds me that even though I don’t know what comes after graduation, I can trust that God has big plans for me that He will reveal when the right time comes. If I could, I’d plan the rest of my life, so my heart is stumbling and I’m definitely feeling weak because I don’t know what comes next. However, it’s important for me to believe that God knows my future and is holding my hand through it all because with Him by my side, I’ll definitely conquer life after graduation!
How do we find balance in a time in our lives where there is so much going on? On top of classes and homework, we have clubs and jobs and sports and friends, all life giving activities. But how, in all of this action and commitment and stress, do we find time for ourselves? I’ve been struggling with this issue of balance for almost my entire college career and, warning, there is no easy answer. Initially I ignored the problem and only when I felt extremely overwhelmed did I realize that once again my life was really out of balance. I had left no time for self-reflection and questioning and was losing my self in school and my commitments. You’d think that since this has happened more than once, I would catch on and understand that I can’t try to take on everything at once. The problem is, I just can’t seem to help myself. There are so many interesting courses to take, so I take more credits than necessary and there are equally as many great ways to get involved on campus. With that in mind, cutting back on what I’m invested in isn’t a viable option. So instead I’m left with a giant juggling act and I’ve never learned to juggle. With everything in the air, something is guaranteed to fall and that’s okay. One of the biggest helps when you’re stressed out and anxious is to acknowledge that you’re overwhelmed, and that it’s an acceptable feeling. Also you’re not alone, at one point or another, or possibly too consistently, we all feel the same way.
At these points, it’s hard to take time away from everything that seems to be piling up to just take time for ourselves but it’s often what helps the most. Set aside time for a walk, meditation, baking, self reflection, sleep, asking question that probably won’t be answered right away, what ever YOU need. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes every other day, its important to take time do something that helps you find your center and forget, just for a moment during the day, all of the things that stress you out.