Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sharing Our Stories- The Good, the Bad, and the 2016

Two days ago, I was sitting at the Pittsburgh airport, waiting for my plane to arrive. However, I was about two hours early before my plane would depart. Luckily, I my books with me to pass the time. Out of the five books in my bookbag, I chose Karen Scheib’s “Pastoral Care: Telling the Stories of Our Lives”. This book is required for my January Term intensive course, Pastoral Care within the Congregational setting. While I am not finished quite yet, I would recommend it as so far it is a good and interesting read.

Gradually, more people arrived at the gate. During this time, three women sat down to my right. Two of the women were either friends or related and the third woman was a stranger to them. While I was engaged in my book, I listened to how the three women engaged in conversation with each other. They shared different stories about where they were coming from, where they were going, what they were going to do once they reached their destination, and everything else in between.

The encounter made me smile. First, because of the irony of the fact that I am reading a book on how to provide pastoral care by telling and listening to the stories we have. And second, because I was witnessing the true power of sharing our stories with new people.

We are embarking on a new year. Through social media and face to face encounters, people have told me that they cannot wait for 2016 to be over. It seems for many, this year has been harmful, painful, or just disappointing. I cannot deny that many events this past have not fit this description.

At the same time, it is hard for me to truly generalize this entire year as terrible. I had moments that I hope to never relive again. But I also have moments that I hope I get to experience again as well.

I experienced my first job at working in a grocery store.

I survived two more semesters of Seminary and completed many classes:
History of Christianity I, Theology II, Ministry of Pastoral Care, Spiritual Life and Leadership, Educational Ministry, Ministry in the LGBTQIA Community, and Christian Ethics.

I became the 2016 Camp Staff Director at Christmount for the entire summer.

I crashed my car in the middle of downtown Dallas and thus bought my own car for the first time.

I took on the ministry intern position at Ridglea Christian Church and have gradually experienced new forms of leading in ministry.

I have traveled and visited friends and even had my best friend visit me in Texas.

I have begun the process of struggling financially as I become more and more like an adult.

I have witnessed the country’s greatest mistake to occur within our modern era.

There are many stories, both good and not so good, that are present within each of these major year events.

And I am sure each of you have had moments and experiences this past year that were good and terrible as well.

For all those who had moments that were just horrible for them, I do hope you never have to relive those moments again.

And for all those who had experiences that gave them meaning, enjoyment, and love, may you get to experience those experiences again!

But what does this have to do with our overall stories?

Well, 2016 is a part of our continuing story. Both the good stories and the not so good stories.

Often, we try to hide the not so good stories and pretend they are not our own. These stories may be embarrassing for us. They might be damaging to our health. They might be viewed as unworthy to be shared.

No matter what your reason may be, I am truly sorry if you feel you cannot share your stories with others.

I am a believer that sharing stories with others can be a healing event. It is within sharing our stories that we share who we are with another. It requires vulnerability and within that vulnerability, we can see the harm within a person and our own souls.

It is my hope that no matter how many terrible events that have happened this year, we can still share these stories with others. There is truth in the phrase, “misery enjoys company”. We are not born to live in isolation. We are not meant to live without sharing our stories.

My hope for you, is if you have a story, from this year or another, that you feel you cannot share, find a good friend, family member, or even counselor to share your story with. Someone you can trust and know they are listening to you and will love you after the story if finished being told.

And for everyone else, my hope for you is that you take the time to listen to the stories that need to be listened to. You never know what a difference you are making when you sit down and listen to someone who needs their story to be heard.

Happy New Year Everyone.

May you embrace and share the stories you have, for they are worth embracing and sharing.
May you embrace and listen to the stories others have, for they are worth being embraced and listened to.
May you remember you are loved and your Ruah is always with you,


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ten Years Ago, My Life Changed

This is a Personal Letter to my home church, Wake Forest Christian Church. As they celebrate their 11th Anniversary, I reflect on how ten years ago, I joined Wake Forest. As I reflect, I wanted to express a personal thank you to this church that had affected my life while also providing testimony that churches can provide a great place for people to grow and cause great change for anyone. Thus, I hope my testimony is an encouragement to current churches that YOU have the power to either create a space filled with love and welcome or a space filled with exclusion and hate. I hope for anyone in religious or church leadership reading this testimony, you choose the former.

Out of the many lessons that I am learning and will continue to learn throughout my life is that everything is subject to change.

Many changes have occurred throughout my life, both positive and negative. However, one of the biggest positive changes, that occurred Ten Years ago, was when I officially became a member of Wake Forest Christian Church, joined the Disciples of Christ Church, and was baptized as a Christian.

So many people today are surprised when I inform them that I was not raised within the Christian Church. In fact, I wasn’t raised in any religious setting growing up. The closest I came to organized religion was when I was under 5 years old and I would play in my Aunt’s Methodist Church basement.

But even then, I did not know anything about God or Jesus or what the church was all about. I do not regret my non-religious upbringing. I do not believe that one must have a religious upbringing to have a good and moral life. My mother and father raised me to be respectful to all people, not matter who they were or where they came from.

So I’m sure you must be wondering how come I started to attend church?

I have my Mom to thank for that.

In 2005, my Mom was searching for a new teaching position outside of the town we were living in PA. She looked in several different places, but one of those places was at an Elementary School in Wake Forest, North Carolina. I still remember the short visit we had down to North Carolina and how much I hoped we would not move down there. However, my Mom was hired and she accepted the position and by August of that same year, I was now a resident of North Carolina.

Several months had passed. I was still adjusting to the move. It was the Sunday after Easter. My Mom knocked on my door and announced, “We’re going to Church”. Barely awake, I replied, “What?” At the time, I did not understand what would cause my Mom to suddenly explain that we were not going to church.

However, hindsight always makes the picture much clearer. A few months before this announcement, my Aunt Sissy had passed away after a year of battling with Lung Cancer. It greatly affected my Mom and I know she was wrapped with guilt for moving away from her family. I can imagine that my Mom was seeking a religious community to provide care and support during her own process of grieving.

But why Wake Forest Christian Church?

Well, my Mom worked at Forest Pines Elementary. Another teacher who worked there was Leah Eubanks, the wife of Jamie Eubanks, Minister at Wake Forest Christian Church. My Mom and Leah quickly became friends and through personal invitation, my Mom wanted to try out Wake Forest Christian Church.

I barely remember the visit itself. The main things I remember was how small and intimate the church was. I also remember how warm and welcoming the church members were as well. There was maybe 15 people there or less. Thus, it was perfect for me to not get overly crowded for my first church experience.

As I am currently studying to be a minister, I have learned that churches cannot stop at just welcoming new people. Church’s must make people feel wanted in the community and loved all the same. That is how I felt at Wake Forest. I remember two members, Albert and Susan Coffey, visiting our home and offering us a pastry dessert. I remember how each Sunday as we returned to the church, different people kept asking me about my life and wanted to get to know me better. Jennifer Friedley and her children quickly became close friends to me and my family. Emily Currin and Carol Hanson always made feel warm and welcomed when I saw them. Anne and Carl Flick were always so kind and generous to not just me but to everyone. Jamie and Leah treated me like I was one of their children. The list of people who were a part of the church around that time may be small, their loving actions are continuous. And as more members and visitors came to Wake Forest, the more love and support I received from everyone in the church.

On November 19, 2006, after several months of being a part of this wonderful church community, I made the decision that had greatly affected my life. I wanted to join the Disciples of Christ Church and be baptized as a Christian.

I joined that day and after church services, got baptized at a fellow Disciples church, Hillyer Memorial Christian Church (Wake Forest didn’t have a baptistry).

The change that occurred that day was not sudden or miraculous. I did not see a blinding light and heard the name of Christ like Paul did. My quiet and timid personality did not suddenly change into an evangelizing extrovert.

However, the change that occurred that day was a continuous process. The change that occurred led me down the path of becoming a leader within my home church. That change eventually got me introduced to the wonderful ministry of Camp Caroline and Christmount. That change got me interested in religious studies and eventually pursue becoming a ministry.

If it was not for that moment ten years ago, I do not know what kind of person I would be or where I would have ended up, if anywhere else in life.

Joining Wake Forest Christian Church was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I ever made for my life.

So I want to thank you, Wake Forest Christian Church, for not only continuing to be my Home Church after so many years of being away from home, but for being so warm and welcoming to me and for wanting to hear my story and encourage me to grow into the person I am today.

I love each and every one of you and I celebrate another year of wonderful ministry that has occurred from this small, and yet incredibly amazing church!

Peace and Prayers always be with you and again…Thank You!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Where is the Hope Now?

I am not a political person. Never have been and most likely never will be, but even I paid close attention to the election of our new President for I knew our future would be made no matter who won.

But last night…last night was brutal. As I watched how the United States map slowly turned red, a fear crept into my heart and I fought terrifying tears from falling from my eyes. A fear that undeniably came true.

And so many people surrounding me share my fears and still are incredibly fearful for our future.

And the worst part about all of this is where is the hope?

I find myself struggling to find hope in the midst of these fears.

However, as a Christian, I have to wonder…where was the hope for the Jewish people in the midst of persecution throughout the Hebrew Bible? Where was the hope for the early Christians in the midst of persecutions from the Roman Empire? Where was the hope when Jesus, died on the cross, and only a few heard and saw his resurrection?

And as an American, where was the hope for the Native Americans when the Europeans and later identified Americans took over their homes? Where was the hope for the African American slaves and persecutions of African Americans under Jim Crow and Racism? Where was the hope for women when submission and being dominated was all they could do to get by? Where was the hope for gay men, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, asexual, and questioning people when even the police would raid and terrorize them in their sacred homes? Where was the hope for all differently abled people when they were locked up instead of receiving the love and support that all people truly need?

The truth is hard for us to admit, but there was none. They had no hope. Those were terrible times to be living in and there was no light at the end of those tunnels. We know now that there was hope for their future, because we are their future, but at the time, they did not know that.

I know many people, both Christian and non-Christians, are really scared of the future we have in store. I share your fears with you.

And there is nothing wrong with our fears. Our fears come from a real and horrible reality. But we do have a choice what to do with our fears.

Our fears can paralyze us, cause us to do nothing because why try in the midst of no hope.
And our fears can embolize us, keep standing strong and do all we can in the midst of no hope.

So…this is what I want to encourage to you…do not give up. Do not give in to the paralyzing impulse of your fears. Instead embrace the embolizing impulse of our fears. And within that embolization, we will find our hope.

Our hope does not lie in the president of the United States. Hope lives within you and our ability to not give up and to press on and encourage each other and support each other is going to get us through these troubles.

So, my friends, we will get through this. We have hope.
Will you join me in not giving up and fighting harder for those who need our help?

May the Love and Peace and Stability of our Ruahs be with us and everyone we meet, 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Human Knots

Very recently, I was in a car wreak while traveling back to Texas for my second year of seminary. I won’t lie and say it was alright. It was an horrible experience. Things could have been much worse. I could have been injured severely. Others could have been injured severely. But the near experience of almost causing harm to others or myself is still traumatic.

However, as traumatic as the experience was, I am discovering that the aftermath is much worse. There is so much that needs to be done from what had happened. Insurances need to be notified. Car supplies need to be collected. New forms of transportation need to be discovered. Mental and emotional stability needs to be re balanced.

And that is only from the accident itself.

There are plenty of other stresses that need to be addressed. Such as finding a job…without easy transportation. Or preparing for the school semester. Or even small things like groceries or household supplies. And then there are money expenses from all different fronts.

Throughout all of these stresses, I feel like a combination of several tangled knots that keep getting more and more knotted.

Have you ever feel that way?

You know you have a problem and you try to fix the problem, but it’s either hard or difficult because you got several other knots to try and untangle.

In many ways, humans are a web of knots from all the stress that either we put on ourselves or the stress that others of the world put on us.

And the main tragedy of it all is that we don’t know how to untangle our knots or know how to untangle the knots of others.

It’s a problem I struggle with all the time.

This past summer, I was Camp Staff Director at Christmount. During one camp, I had a camper come up to me and ask if I could untangle her bracelet for her. The entire bracelet was a huge mess of knots, but I told her I would try.

I must have spent several hours untangling her bracelet but I eventually untangled each knot so it was back to how it was in the beginning.

Many people who had tried to untangle the bracelet before me asked how I did it. I told them I took my time. I didn’t see the entire mess of knots and try to fix the whole thing, but untangled one knot at a time.

I feel like many people try to untangle all of their problems all at once and think that will solve all of their problems. I see it all the time during New Years. Almost everyone tries to solve all of their problems through a New Year’s Resolution. Somehow, through that resolution, all of the problems they had the previous year will be resolved by making promises to themselves which they more than likely cannot keep.

It is true that a lot of our problems have some kind of connection to the other problems we have in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we have to solve all the problems at the same time. Sometimes, we need to give a problem the attention it deserves so it can be resolved properly.

And problems can’t be solved properly when they are being rushed. The impulse to try and get a problem out of our lives is extremely human. I do it a lot because I am impatient and having a problem in your life is extremely uncomfortable.

But have you ever noticed that when you try to quickly untangle a knot, you either don’t get the knot untangled or worse, you create more knots?

I notice that the frustration of realizing you can’t quickly untangle knot results in either giving up on untangling the knots, trying to cut the entire string to get rid of the knots, or continuously creating more and more knots.

Giving up on the knots won’t solve the problems we have. As much as it would be easy to pretend they are not there, the knots don’t disappear when we give up on them. They are still present and tangled.

Cutting the knots off the string also won’t solve the problem. When we cut the string, we are ripping out an entire piece of who you are or a relationship you had that was special to you. Cutting the string can sometimes do more damage than having the mess of knots.

And of course continually creating more and more knots won’t solve the problem.

Only when we take the time to solve each knot can the entire string be resolved.

And yes, it will take time. It will sometimes take years to untangle several of our knots. It will take years to help untangle the knots of others.

Many times we want a quick fix and a quick fix does not always exist, especially when we have several other knots connected to the knot we are trying to fix.

True healing can only be solved when we don’t run away from the knots. When we don’t try to cause more harm to ourselves or to others. And when we are impatient with the process.

So I hope you realize it is okay that you have human knots. We all have them and don’t feel like you have to quickly untangle your knots. Take the time to untangle each knot. And don’t be afraid to get help from others in trying to untangle your knots.

Yes, our knots are scary. Yes, our knots make us uncomfortable.

But there is hope. You are loved and God lives in you through your Ruah, helping you untangle your knots so you may be in balance with your life.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday the 13th is a Good Day

Happy Friday the 13th Everyone! Oh wait…is this day happy?

I mean, growing up, I was led to believe that any day that the 13th of the month fell on a Friday, bad luck will happen. And the weird thing was that tons of people have claimed that this day was bad luck for them. So naturally, as a child, I was weary of this day and all the terrible things that might happen to me.

It’s interesting how we give power to certain things to control our lives.

For example, have you ever just listened avoided a song because it brings out uncomfortable emotions within you? We give the song an uncomfortable power that forces us to avoid it and everything connected to it.

It’s the same with Friday the 13th. We perceive this day as a bad omen. A day when terrible things will happen to us.

But is it the day that causes bad things to happen?....or is it ourselves?

I have come to learn that the most powerful thing we possess is our minds. Our minds have the power to be our greatest ally. Or sometimes, our minds have the power to be our greatest enemy. It's within our minds that we see and experience the world in either the light or the darkness. And through the power of our minds, we are able to alter the reality that we perceive to be truth.

We can see a man and a woman crying in church and our minds can perceive different scenarios.
Perhaps they are crying because they have finally been accepted in the church? Or perhaps they are crying because the message from the Pastor was hurtful to them?

We can choose to see the negative side of things or the positive side of things.

I believe that too many people choose to perceive that Friday the 13th is a day of negativity. They choose to believe that bad things will happen to them and as a result, bad things occur.

For the past several years, I have perceived Friday the 13th as a positive day. A day that good things can happen. And you know what, I have had no bad lucks on the past Friday the 13ths in many years. I may not have had miracles or amazing life changes on these days. But they were still positive days and I am thankful for that.

So how can we make the change to see the world from a negative light and see it in a more colorful light?

It’s very easy in the morning to wake up and first thing we say is, “Today is going to suck”. But how do we know the day is going to suck?

I don’t believe that anyone truly sees the future. We can guess and we can have assumptions that are close, but we can truly never know what the future has in store for us.

The future has surprised me on more than one occasion and it’s through these surprises that I know that I can truly never know the future.

So how do I know its going to be a bad day? I don’t.

How do I know its going to be a good day? I don’t.

The definitions of good and bad are not as cut and dry as we were led to believe.

For example, a woman worked all day in a high stress job. She’s been on her feet for several hours and she hasn’t had a chance to take a break. She gets home at the end of the day and comes home to a loving spouse and a maybe a child or a pet.

Was this a good day or a bad day?

You can say it was bad because of the stress from her job. Or you can say it was good because in the end, she came home to be with the people she loved.

In all honestly, its really not up to us to determine the quality of another person’s day. The only person who can do that is the person living through the experience of the day.

However, it is my hope that for all of us who choose to see and experience the negative sides of our days, we can make the decision to see the day in a more positive light.

You’d be surprised just how much your day will be better once you step out of the shadows.

Things wont’ become easier, but there is a good chance you will be happier.

As a wonderful Minister and a positive role model always says, “It’s the Best Day Ever!” (Rev. Allison Lanza).

So Happy Friday the 13th Everyone! May it be “the Best Day Ever!” and may you be fully embrace your Ruah while celebrating the positive energy that is all around us!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hope in a Bitter World

A while back, I was having lunch with a good friend of mine from seminary. For a good four hours or more, we discussed our lives and delved into some really deep conversations. Near the end of our conversation, he made a comment that has stuck with me for a while.

“You have an old soul Kevin that has yet to become embittered by the world”

I am unaware of what exactly would lead him to make such a remark, but it made me think about the validity of his comment for a long time.

It is true. I would classify myself as an old soul. I am not drawn so easily into the social active life that so many of my peers and the newer generations are into these days. I prefer silent meditations and simply enjoy the little things and moments in life.

Though my old soul persona may make me “boring” in the eyes of many, I see it more as that I prefer to walk a more quiet and softly lit path. I do not need to rush on my path. My path and I are friends and I am content with this relationship that I have with the path. As I wrote in my “Embrace Your Story” post, you should always be okay with the true self that you are and not an identity that someone else has chosen for you. Thus, I am happy with my old soul persona.

Now, the part about me not becoming embittered by the world leaves me a bit unsettled.

It is also true that while I am a realist, deep down in my soul, I choose to see the positive and cling to the hope that lives in our world. I have classified myself as a Realistic Optimist. I am not so moved by the answer, “Everything is going to be alright”, because in our world, everything doesn’t turn out alright.

Life is messy. As one of my Seminary Professors has stated, no one makes it through this world without some brokenness and that speaks so much truth. However, what we do with our brokenness and the brokenness of others is what concerns me.

For my own brokenness, I choose to hold on to a small light of hope. I cannot speak to the nature of what this hope looks like in the future because I do not know. I do not know if I will see my mother again. But I choose to give my life for her, instead of becoming bitter over her death.

How easy would it be to become bitter after facing a trauma in your life? I would imagine that it is an easy chose to make and many people choose to make it. Of course, bitterness is not a single shade. It can take many forms: Revenge, Isolation, Depression, Violence, and even Suicide.

With these different kinds of bitterness, why would anyone want to choose them? The answer is simple. When you become bitter, you no longer have to feel.

In the middle of a heartbreaking conversation I was having with three really close seminary friends, a very true statement was brought up: “Feelings are gross”

Emotions are so terrible to bear a lot of the time. I often wonder why God gave us emotions at all if they sometimes cause us too much heartache. But perhaps the answer lies within the question.

If we believe in a God that loves us and cares for us with all of God’s heart, then the fact that God gave us emotions must mean something. What this would mean, I’m not entirely sure, but I would like to ponder a guess.

Emotions are what make us alive. God breathed life into us. This is why we have our Ruah. We are creatures that are meant to be alive, through the bad and the good. To become embittered would allow us to forget our Ruah; to become dead spirits walking around in empty bodies.

Think about it. Have you ever seen someone who has become so embittered by the world actually live? They may be alive by scientific criteria, but by spiritual criteria, they are not living anymore.

For this reason, I have chosen to not become embittered by the world. I choose life, not death.

I invite you all to make the same decision as I have. I can’t force any of you to make that decision. Only you can make it, but I promise that it is a decision that will give you peace and wholeness instead of degradation and turmoil.

But of course, how can I say that choosing not to become bitter will make things better?

I can’t promise that life won’t be messy anymore. I can’t promise that you will be safe from the dangerous and pain and sufferings of this world. We all have brokenness and none of us are immune.

As Rob Bell once said, “We come from the dust, we are fragile”.

However, my solution is not one that mends the brokenness or shields the ones who have not yet seen trauma. My solution is that of comfort and care.

It is a common belief that we must walk alone on this path we call life. While sometimes, there are problems that we can only fix on our own, that does not mean we avoid forming a community that supports us, that gives us care and comfort whenever we need a shoulder to cry on.

In my Religious Studies Senior Seminary course, I studied and presented how community involvement in the grieving process is so important for those who suffer from grief. In my presentation, I researched the Jewish practice of Sitting Shiva, the seven day mourning practice after the burial. Within this mourning period, the family or individual is embraced and comforted by the entire community. Sometimes, they simply sit together. Sometimes, they talk together. Many times, they eat together and worship together and pray together. During these difficult times, the community is there to offer support in whatever way the person in grief needs.

I find a lot of comfort in knowing that we are not alone in this journey.

Emotions may be tough to deal with. We sometimes don’t know what to do with them and want them to go away. I find that if we surround ourselves with a community that loves us and cares about us and takes the time to listen to us, then the emotions are not as hard to bear and will become tolerable for us to continue. Loving Communities helps us to not choose to be bitter, but instead choose hope.

Thus, I would like to take a moment to thank all the different communities that have been there for me in different capacities and different moments of my life thus far: My Family; Mary Taylor; The Graffiti Monkeys; The Friedleys; The Eubanks; Wake Forest Christian Church; First Christian Church of Wilson; St. Paul’s Christian Church; Barton College; Camp Caroline; Christmount; RCYW; Brite Divinity School; Seminary Squad; And everyone else who has been a part of my life, no matter how small or short.

As my spiritual mentor once and forever sang: “Give yourself to love, if love is what your after and open up your heart to the tears of laughter…”.

Remember that you are loved and to always remember and love your Ruah