What is an angel? I recently had a lengthy conversation with my Lenten small group about what an angel is, and wanted to share some thoughts.
Growing up, I always pictured an angel as a glowing figure clothed in white, with a glittering halo around their head, floating up in the clouds as they delivered God’s message. If you asked me for an example of an angel, I would probably just list Gabriel, the angel that tells Mary that she will become pregnant. I might have also mentioned the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but I hadn’t thought much farther about angels than that.
We talked about how angels are messengers, and help people to understand God’s will. This description fits the angel Gabriel, as well as Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life” but what if this is expanded beyond the bible, into our lives? Are there still angels today? I like the way that we talked about it in our small group. With this definition, there is nothing about wings or halos, which allows us to expand our understanding of angels to people that we meet in our lives.
There are so many people that I talk to, whether it be for a moment, or for hours, that help me to gain some clarity on the events in my life. I also have people who are by my side through the toughest times who have given me strength and helped me to see the light through the tunnel. I believe that these people are angels. They don’t need to be in a white cloak or shimmering, I can tell through their actions.
I am immensely grateful that God has blessed me with these angels in my life, and hope that I can be as instrumental in the lives of others.
The words of Francesca Battistelli’s song “Angel By Your Side” come to mind as I reflect on the angel’s I encounter daily:
“I’ll be the angel by your side
I will get you through the night
I’ll be the strength you can’t provide on your own
‘Cause when you’re down and out of time
And you think you’ve lost the fight
Let me be the angel
The angel by your side”
College is a time in which we choose our identity; or so society tells us. After all one of the first questions a student is asked is ‘what are you studying?’ The reason for this being that the answer to this question is meant to indicate what you want to do with your life. And for the longest time, this question and my answer to this question infuriated me. Because aren’t I more than my major?
The answer to this question for me is that I am an Electrical Engineering student. But I am also a musical theater lover, which doesn’t quite go along with Electrical Engineering. But alas I am a musical theater lover and have been completely enamored with Broadway since I saw my first Broadway show when I was eleven. But I have a ‘problem’ in which my skill level and passion level are completely disproportionate as shown in the figure below.
For the longest time I have been upset with God because why would he give me something that I was so passionate about but no skill. I felt like a kid being paraded through a candy or a toy story and being told to look but not touch.
I was reminded of this fact this past January when over break I went to New York City with my Mom. One of the things that we did was a tour about Broadway, walking around and learning about the theaters and their history, which I just loved! But at one point during this someone asked, “so do you study theater?” and my mom answered for me, “No, it is just a hobby.”
And although these words were 100% true and meant in no maliciousness, I kind of felt like I had just been punched in the gut. Because a hobby is something that is off to the side. It is separate and not as important as your ‘real life.’ But musical theater is my passion. So then once again I found myself asking, while smiling and nodding, “Why God Why?” (and yes that is a reference to a song from the musical Miss Saigon).
And it wasn’t until last week at Pause and reflecting since then that I realized why. A hobby isn’t a little thing, it is our passions, and what we choose to do outside of what we have to do. If anything they define us more than anything else. God gave me the mind of an engineer (after all not many people use graphs in their blogs). But God also gave me something to love, something to be passionate about, and something that gives me joy. And for that I thank him.
So let’s start with the back story: I was blessed last semester by the introduction of a new coworker to my store. She was only with us for 8 months, but in that time she became a very big, positive part of our Starbucks family. She transferred away last week and her absence was instantly felt, but one coworker formed the perfect description of her while discussing how we missed her: “She’s the ‘goodest’ person I know. Everything in her is good, all the way through.”
This idea of being ‘good all the way through’ has been on my mind a lot lately. Especially in this time of Lent when we’ve been talking about this 180 turn. Turning 180 degrees, looking to God, and looking at ourselves. Examining who we are, who we strive to be, or what’s getting in the way of us being that person we want to be? What can we siphon out or factor into our lives to help us live out that good person inside us?
Well…tonight at Pause when everybody broke into stations and music began, my contemplation on this ‘good all the way through’ thing took a turn. As I picked up a matchbook to light a candle,I realized that Take Oh Take Me As I Am, was being played on the piano. It hit me with memories of LCM friends that are now, maybe forever, far away. So I lit my candle, the thought of blessed friends on my mind, and I looked around. I looked at all the people around me that have come to mean so much. The group of students that has grown so much- full of people that are willing to love from the inside- out, be vulnerable, be honest. Students, new and old, making honest and brave attempts to form intentional relationships with new people….this is where I see God. I was struck, sitting there, as I realized that I was surrounded by GOOD. So. Much. Good. All the way through.
So this is one of the best things I’ve seen in this 180 Lenten turn around- my immense gratitude for the group of people around me, for the space that has been created for us in this church, and for the realization of all the goodness that lives in the people around me.
So it’s getting to be the middle of the semester, about the time I start to get stressed. Between schoolwork, planning for summer, figuring out living situations for next year, applying to scholarships, and all the other hustle and bustle of being a student, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed. Just a tad. Or a lot.
At pause this week, Pastor Kate asked us to think about what things were separating us from God and from the person God made us to be. And I realized that I worry about a lot of things. And that this worrying is keeping me from living my life in the fullest, like God intended. My home pastor once described worrying as a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere. Which is how I’m feeling right now. Worrying is keeping me busy. But it isn’t taking me anywhere.
And while I realize this, it’s really hard for me to give up worrying. Believe me, I’ve tried! I try to remember Matthew 6:25-34, the lilies of the field passage.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his ispan of life?28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
But then I get to thinking, that’s fine and good for those lilies, but they don’t have student loans! Or exams! Or papers! Or friendships that need tending! It seems like an unfair comparison.
I guess I don’t actually have an answer to that one. As I say all the time at work, “I’m just a student. I don’t actually know what’s going on.” I do know, though, that I always come back to this one line (maybe because it’s the last one). “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” So for this Lent, I want to make a better effort to turn away from worrying. Because rocking chairs are inefficient forms of transportation.
-Meghan with the H
As another valentine’s day has come and gone I spent the weekend thinking of what the holiday really means to me. As a child it was by far my favorite day of the school year. I would spend hours decorating my special valentine’s box with glitter glue and delicate shades of pink and purple. Of course I can’t forget about the hours of deliberation that were also spent on choosing the perfect valentines and what candy would accompany your card! Now as college students the only exciting parts of Valentine’s Day are the care packages we hope to receive from our mom’s back home. Whether or not you have a significant other may also change your view on the holiday however this year I came to a new realization for me. Although I feel like it is an extremely over commercialized holiday, and that you should celebrate the love you have for others every day, there is an important lesson to be learned. On Thursday I happened to stumble upon one of my favorite verses in the bible. Roman’s 12:9 says “let love be genuine.” This simple phrase could not be a more perfect reminder of the true meaning of Valentine’s Day to me. It is a day to remember how although the dimension of love can change, there is a underlying quality of love being genuine. Whether you celebrated with the love of your life, your best friend, a new friend, a family member, or your favorite girls I bet you exerted a form of genuine love. God reminds us that every relationship we encounter in life should be rooted in a love that is genuine and from the heart. I hope you all had a wonderful valentine’s day and can continue to build relationships grounded in genuine love.
Over the course of the past week, I’ve somehow managed to realize a few new things about my faith. Last Wednesday, we got to celebrate a particular faith story, wonderful music, and newfound faces. It was the first time this year that I felt like the Lord was strongly present. We sang, we talked, we laughed, and we prayed. On Saturday, a bunch of us LCM’ers all went to Pastor Kate’s wedding and also laughed, cried, and enjoyed a heck of a lot of good company (and some Spanish candy hearts!!!).
With Valentine’s Day here and present, I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships. I mean we all do it, right?! I constantly think about my friends in relationships and how much I want to find someone who gets me too. I wonder when God will tell the guy to just hurry up and make it happen, and everything will reveal itself magically. I want the whole dress-up, mushy Valentine’s date, flowers and chocolates in hand, and the other in the one that I’m supposed to be with. But sadly, today is Valentine’s Day and there isn’t that one special date to have dinner with. It’s hard. And when I speak for myself, I’m assuming I’m speaking for a lot of other people as well. It’s hard to look for that trust in God and for that constant remembrance of His plan when you feel as if you’re the one that has been forgotten about.
After Pastor Kate’s wedding on Saturday, I really realized that waiting for God and turning to God is the best thing I can do. I would rather wait for a while longer to find the one that shares my passion for faith and for God than to date somebody now who doesn’t feel the same. I know He has a plan for me and has plans for me to meet the best guy I could ever dream of. And the most important thing I can do is wait patiently with my eyes and ears open to all new experiences, situations and people. Maybe then I will finally find exactly who I’m looking for, and a whole lot more love to give. For right now, my faith will guide me and I’ll continue to keep on loving all those I can.
+1 John 4:7-12
We often speak of Lenten practices or traditions such as Shrove Tuesday, the imposition of ashes, or the popular question “what are you giving up for lent”? As a kid growing up, I was the Lutheran in a neighborhood where my friends down the street all went to Catholic school and without fail every Lent constantly talked about what they were giving up. It always struck me as odd and it still does. Not that it’s a bad practice, it’s just that I’ve never really understood it. I think it must be for the same reason I don’t particularly care for Valentine’s day. The thought being, you shouldn’t need a day to tell someone you love them, it should be a daily affirmation. Similarly, these forty days of Lent are an important and powerful time in the liturgical year but we shouldn’t limit ourselves to forty days but instead embrace all 365. Instead of giving up something, I have found myself thinking “What might I take on for lent”?
I wasn’t really sure what that “taking on” might look like until last night. I had the privilege to join a delegation from Grace, meeting at a church near the state capitol as a part of the larger group ISAIAH, which brings together people of faith to promote equity and justice during the legislative session. There were many inspiring words from faith leaders of many traditions, including our own Pastor Dan. A fitting way to start Lent it seemed, for then it hit me. Amidst the stories of struggle and calls to action, I was reminded of the story of my freshman year roommate Vang. I would like share with you a bit of his story here.
Vang grew up in the son of Hmong refugees in the projects on the East side of St. Paul. Not the projects of New York or Harlem or Chicago but right here in St. Paul, Minnesota. Vang and I were roommates my first year of college and became good friends. I have never met anyone as deeply passionate about the power of education both in his own life but more importantly how that gift can work for good in the lives of others. Vang dedicated his studies to math and education and I watched him put in long hours to help others realize their own potential and work towards success. Through our many conversations, Vang told me that his passion for the power of education came from his childhood. He told me stories of how his parents came to this country, refugees from the secret war, in order that their children might have a better life.
Of how his older brother was involved in a gang and one day some members of another gang pulled up in a car in front of Vang’s house looking for his brother. They asked Vang if he had seen his brother that day and knew where he was. Vang said no. They replied that they would kill him if they saw him or his brother again, flashed a gun and took off. Vang then told me that he loved his older brother but feared that his younger siblings might end up in that lifestyle as well and that is why he worked tirelessly to instill the value of education in them and many others in his community.
Vang is now a successful student teacher in the area, having already given so much to the community he loves and has set himself up to be able to give back even more in the years to come. While his story is one of struggle and perseverance that serves as a shining model, it is also a strong reminder. A reminder that no child should have to grow up among gangs or bullets or threats, living in the projects, having to worry about their safety while trying to get an education. No parent should have to lie awake at night, worrying if their child will make it home from their pickup basketball game with friends down the street.
And so it is Vang and his struggle, and his story that I seek to take on for Lent.
I challenge you in this time of reflection to think about what or whom you might reflect on, or take on if you will, for lent and hopefully turn it into a daily practice. Naturally, the liturgical calendar does not line up nicely with the school calendar and it is a busy time for all of us, but in the spirit of Luther, it’s not about our actions but our faith. Faith that amidst brokenness, stories can be told and love can be found and grown. Love which lays the foundation these forty days, of the house which in the face of sorrow and strife proclaims from floor to rafter
All are welcome
All are welcome
All are welcome in this place
May the peace that passes all understanding be with you and guide you this Lenten season and always.
“…Success is a very hideous thing. Its false resemblance to merit deceives men. For the masses, success has almost the same profile as supremacy.”
Winter Break gives us a chance to spend time with family and friends, it gives us free time and the space to reflect on our lives without the constant pressure that classes put on us, which can greatly alter our perspectives. I myself have had a fair amount of free time over these past few weeks and one of the things that I have done was start to re-read my favorite novel, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. And while I was reading it a line struck me that never had in my multiple readings of it in the past, “success is a very hideous thing.”
It struck me because now that I am no longer surrounded by the immediate pressure of success, in the form of grades on tests, and finding a job I am able to see what an ugly thing it is. It reminds me that our lives are not, and should not, be measured in quantitative terms (which is difficult for an engineering student to admit) through test scores or salaries, but instead through our passions, and our relationships with people. This is not at all different from the message that Jesus tells in the Bible, treat others as you would like to be treated, don’t focus on numbers but instead on being your genuine self; because success is a very hideous thing.
*Victor Hugo’s explanation of success goes on for a couple paragraphs and is in Book 1, Chapter 12 (the ebook can be easily found online).