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So far Lauren Smith has created 72 blog entries.

Two Hours Late

by Faith Hoyt

After a year and a half working as an intern at a job that requires frequent travel, I have begun to consider myself a bit of an expert at flying. I still over pack and stress about getting to the airport on time (even when I’m over two hours early); however, I keep my boarding pass in my phone’s Apple Wallet, and I sometimes get so lost in thought that I don’t realize the plane is landing until the engines reverse thrust. Let’s say I’m halfway to expert.

I recently learned that my expertise at traveling isn’t foolproof and that seemingly mean people can show you kindness beyond what you could ever expect or deserve.

It all started on a Monday around 3:30 pm. My co-worker dropped me off at the airport with two hours to spare until my departure. The Reno airport has a small terminal and usually the TSA lines are short, but my policy is that I’d rather work while waiting at the gate than risk missing my flight.

I hadn’t looked at my boarding pass that morning. I knew I had seen 4:55 p.m. as the departure time and planned my day accordingly.

When I got to the airline kiosk to check in my two over-packed bags, I got an error message after typing in my confirmation code. “That’s odd,”I thought. “I’ll try scanning the boarding pass on my phone.” This also produced an error message, along with a directive to go see an airline assistant. It seemed strange, but I didn’t stress—it hadto be the machine. Once at the counter, I handed over my phone to a tall blonde woman. The woman at the counter took my phone without looking at me and asked for my photo ID in a less-than-welcoming tone. I produced my ID and a sheepish smile.

The woman frowned at her screen. Then she looked up at me and broke through my thoughts with a startling statement: “Your plane just took off.”

No.

For a half second, I stood there in disbelief, but the customer service agent’s serious look helped reality quickly sink in. My calm and confidence disappeared in an instant. I heard myself pathetically beg the woman for her help.

“Oh please! Is there anything you can do for me? Please, help me! I can’t believe I did this!”

Other than to inform me that I’d missed my flight, the woman said not a word. Her gaze stayed fixed on her screen in complete silence. I stood on the other side of her screen and braced myself as wave after anxious wave of emotion threatened my ability to keep my mouth shut to let her work. “She looks mean,” I thought. I imagined her turning me away coldly or demanding that I produce my credit card to buy a last-minute seat on a late-night flight.

As I watched her busily type away, my confidence shattered. Ms. Travel Expert had just missed her first flight. The4:55 p.m. time on the boarding pass was for an old flight that I’d failed to remove from my Apple Wallet. There was a rental car to pick up, an important meeting scheduled for the next morning, and projects to complete—and I’d missed a flight I’d booked over two months in advance because of carelessness. I stood there trying to brace myself for what I was sure would be a disheartening outcome.

Then, at last, the silence was broken. The woman at the counter looked up from her screen a second time—this time to inform me that there was one last seat left on the last flight to my destination that day. It departed in two hours, and she had waived the $164 fee.

I felt overcome. She quickly attached the baggage tags to my luggage and placed them on the conveyer belt, and then she handed me a new boarding pass. I’m pretty sure I thanked her five times in the process.

As she handed me the boarding pass, I asked her for her name. “It’s Laura,” she told me. “Thank you, Laura,” I said. “You just saved my day.” Then she smiled at me for the first time and told me to take it easy.

I walked away, feeling waves of relief wash over me. Each wave of relief was followed by awe at the realization that this seemingly grumpy, stern woman had just shown me incredible grace and kindness.

I walked to gate B1, sat down, and thanked God that grace came so unexpectedly. It was an answer to a prayer I hadn’t even prayed. It was the most incredible timing. And, in the face of my own judgments about the woman who helped me, it didn’t feel deserved.

I resolved to play “judge” less. (I also resolved to never brag about my travel prowess.) And I spent the next two hours smiling in gratitude.

Faith Hoyt is communication intern for the Pacific Union Conference. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, and attends the Heavenly Valley church in South Lake Tahoe. 

2019-03-11T10:46:48-07:00March 11th, 2019|Living God's Love|

When Everyone Is Super

by Becky De Oliveira

My brother grew up under my rule. By both birth order and temperament, I ran the show, and my rules were exacting. My ambition was to be the military dictator of a small banana-producing island republic that I would rule with a gentle—but nonetheless iron—fist.

I practiced my skills on my brother with variable results. A generally laid-back and happy person, he went along with most of my schemes, but his very personality was sometimes a source of tension. He simply failed to take things seriously enough. If we were putting on a circus, for instance, he would wander in circles with his arms spread out—flying like Dumbo when his designated task was contortion. When the job was to constructan Indian village from woven grass, my brother would languish after just a few minutes, well before we’d even finished the outer wall that would protect the village from hostile neighboring tribes.

One summer when I was perhaps seven and he was about four, I organized a Regional Dog Show in the basement—the region in question being, apparently, our house. We had no actual dogs, so we used stuffed toys. I built pedestals for my dogs and arranged them first in alphabetical order and then from largest to smallest when I disliked the visual effect alphabetical order created. There was a dachshund, a Scottish terrier, a poodle, and a couple of others. I brushed each one carefully to make sure it looked its best. Bows were placed on heads. Tails were in some cases braided. The dogs were sprayed with my father’s Old Spice cologne. My brother, in spite of my constant nagging, seemed unable to get his dogs together. “Where are your dogs?” I banged away every two minutes or so. “The show is about to start!” This, I said, as if the time were dictated by an unseen authority figure.

At the last moment, my brother delivered his single entry. It was not a dog. It was what I will loosely term a “Valentines animal”—one of those stuffed toys that are roughly similar to an animal but not to any specific type and that are red and white and covered with hearts. This is not a color scheme or pattern that the careful observer will find replicated in nature. Obviously I was annoyed at his flagrant disregard for the dignity of the occasion, but I was also secretly pleased that my domination of the dog show was assured. There would be no last-minute upset, no appearance of a formerly unknown and splendid dog to steal my thunder.

Of course I hadn’t counted on my mother—the designated judge—and her boundless treachery. After a cursory stroll along the aisle, she took her place under the specially created banner stating “Regional Dog Show Champion” spelled out in glittery bubble letters and announced that the championship would go to the Valentine animal, which, if memory serves me correctly, did not even have a name. “What?” I shrieked, rising to my feet in protest and stamping one fuzzy-slippered foot on the orange shag carpet of our basement. “Forget the mangy look of the thing and the fact that it’s lying on its side. That’s not even a dog. How can something win a dog showwhen it’s not even a dog?”

Mom’s a little hazy on the details—the dog show has not featured as dominantly in her memory as it has in mine—but her explanation is that she was “probably” trying to make my brother feel better. “You were older,” she said, “and so you were better at everything. You rigged all the games and contests so that they played to your skills!”

The real truth is that she liked that “dog.” She found its appearance in an otherwise stilted and rather boring dog show refreshing.My brother’s flagrant action in tossing a shabby non-dog into the midst of this sterile environment was actually a work of—sort of—genius. It doesn’t always matter how hard you tried or how much you cared. Think of how many people have become famous for spectacularly bad performances on televised talent shows. How many famous paintings are denounced by critics who claim they “could have been painted by my cat?”

There are many complaints that children and young people are praised too much for “achievements” they haven’t earned. Everyone has to be a winner, people complain. This leads to narcissism and a sense of entitlement, with kids expecting gold stars for everything they do and responding poorly to critical feedback. This compulsion to put everyone at the same level, critics argue, creates an artificially flat society where those of genuine merit are not distinguished, while the mediocre is elevated to a level it doesn’t deserve. In the animated film The Incredibles,not only are the superheroes forced to pretend to be ordinary people but the villain, angry that some people should be super while he is ordinary, contrives to render the concept of “super” meaningless by providing the means for everyoneto be super. “And when everyone’s super,” he sneers darkly, “no one will be.”

But I kind of think everyone really issuper in their own way. Why not point that out, reward it? Every time I notice something special in another person and tell them about it, I feel this electric thrill that is better even than hearing that I am special. I can do a good thing in the world just by showing up and paying attention. Anne Lamott quotes this from the Jewish Theological Seminary, “A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be part of a great meaning.” The meaning comes when you see with fresh eyes and new appreciation for everything and everyone.

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2019-03-01T16:33:01-07:00March 4th, 2019|Living God's Love|

When Following Him Looks Different

by Darla Lauterbach-Reeves

Over the years, I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories of people who have been shunned for their marriage issues, the smell of smoke on their clothes, their food choices, Sabbath activities, and church attire. They have been excluded from churches, Bible study groups, family get-togethers, and schools, and they’ve felt unloved, judged, unacceptable, rejected—the polar opposite of how Jesus would have treated them. They have left, never to return again.

Here are a few questions that come to mind: How do you love your neighbor? What about those who believe differently from you? Do you believe Jesus died for them? Do you believe your rules will save you? Do you believe Jesus wants them in His kingdom? Do you think your actions or lack thereof will save you? Are you leaning into Jesus and His love for others?

In our church, when we hear the word obediencewe tend to immediately think of the Sabbath— those who are not honoring the seventh-day Sabbath are being disobedient to God. But what if they find Jesus elsewhere? And what about other kinds of disobedience? For instance, what about judging those people? Isn’t that disobedience? What if God is calling you to forgive and you just refuse? What if you covet someone’s marriage or singleness? Or if He’s calling you to love your enemies and you just can’t go there. Isn’t that being disobedient? We allfall short (Romans 3:23), and there’s no shortage of ways to do it.

In the same way that we may judge someone by the color of their skin or by their clothes, neighborhood, food choices, jewelry, or even hairstyle, we also judge people by the church they attend. I met the love of Jesus outside of my home church and have returned to share what I learned from those who do not go there. Praise His name—since I’ve returned, I’ve found more and more people hungry for this love.

We all need more Jesus.

I love the Sabbath; I came back for it. However, do we worship the Sabbath or do we worship Him? As humans, we tend to worship creations over the Creator. We want something tangible to hang onto, such as our children, marriages, friends, careers, accomplishments, even doctrine. Anything to feel like we’ve got what we need. I have been guilty of this for sure. What we need most is Jesus. The rest are gifts given to us byHim to raise, enjoy, love, and study, but not to be exalted higher than their Creator. As Jesus Himself said, “The Sabbath day was made for man. Man was not made for the Sabbath day. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath day” (Mark 2:27-28, NIRV).

I feel that if He were sitting in my living room, He would say, “Following Me doesn’t mean doing things the way they’ve always been done, just because.” There are so many Adventists who worship the day that sets us apart over the One who died to do so. I think this hurts His heart. I can also hear Him saying, “I don’t want you worshipping the day I made any more than the animals I made. Worship the One who made them.” When Jesus comes first, how we treat and love others (all others) is evident. How would Jesus treat that particular person?

Would you flat out refuse to set foot in church on a Sunday to worship our God in heaven with others? If so, what does that mean? Who are youworshipping? Do you think Jesus would be more likely to flip tables over in a church of people worshipping on the “wrong” day or people worshipping the day over Him? He knows our hearts and why we do what we do. Public worship is an honor and a privilege that many in this world aren’t allowed to do on any day.

As much as I hope my daughters are ingrained with a reverence for and knowledge of the Sabbath, my ultimate goal is that they find and cling to Jesus for themselves. No matter how, why, or where they find Him, my deepest desire is that they do. God works in mysterious ways. His thoughts and ways are not ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). He is bigger.

May they sense the joy, freedom, and strength in Christ over the shame, fear, and insecurity of any religion that lacks unconditional love. Because Godis love. In the last days, God will call His people out. Leave conviction to the One with whom they have a relationship. If that relationship is solid, they will hear His voice.

John 10:27-30 says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand” (NLT).

I claim this! I pray for a personal relationship with Jesus in my girls’ lives. That is my deepest desire because when that’s in place, they willhear His voice and no one can snatch them from His hand. No one. Nothing.

 

Darla Lauterbach-Reeves was raised in the church, but it wasn’t until her marriage fell apart that she came to truly know her Greatest Love—Jesus—in whom she found the relationship she had always craved. She is the author of the forthcoming book He Loves Me THAT Much? 

2019-02-26T15:07:18-07:00February 25th, 2019|Living God's Love|

What I Like About…My Faith

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery

My father, the late George E. Vandeman, wrote a pivotal book in the 1980s titled What I Like About….In it, he described how seven different denominations/religions positively impacted the world and contributed to the faith community to which I belong—the Seventh-day Adventist church. He talked with the leaders of each church and discovered all there is to “like” about them. Later, Doug Wead, a speechwriter and senior advisor to President George H. W. Bush, said, “When we passed the book out at a White House prayer breakfast, everyone turned to two chapters—the one about their faith and then the one about the Adventists.”

I inherited my faith from my parents. Born into an Adventist family, I was the youngest child and only girl, with a preacher father, a homemaker mother, and three older brothers. Baptized at age 12 by my dad in a small church in Spencerville, Maryland, I had the innocent, passionate faith of a child. It would be years before I realized I had to make my faith my own. I couldn’t rely on my parents’ faith to see me through.

In my freshman year of college, I took a class that changed my life—Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ, taught by Morris Venden, a pastor and teacher for whom I had the greatest respect. I started reading The Desire of Ages, which has turned out to be my favorite Ellen White book, along with my Bible. I fell in love with Jesus for the very first time as a young adult. As I developed my own personal relationship with Him, I looked forward to spending time each morning reading, studying, and praying before I started my day. This was the beginning of making my faith my own.

Then life happened, as life always does. The ups and downs of it. The mountaintops and the dark valleys. Illness and death of loved ones. Marriage and a child. Raising that child to have a faith of his own. The joy of watching him get married and have children of his own. The innocent joy and laughter of my adorable granddaughters. The pain of watching a spouse suffer illness. The devastation over a job loss. The gratitude for a new job. A journey through depression. The tears and the happiness of life as it is happening, right now. Living in the moment, viewing the highs and lows through the filter of faith.

What do I like about my faith? I re-read Dad’s book. In the last chapter, he says it so well:

There are good reasons why so many earnest Christians are looking towards the Adventists. They believe this group has gathered together gems of light, the truths championed through the years by all denominations—the neglected truths of the centuries. First of all, the faith in Christ of the Lutherans. And then the baptism by immersion of the Baptists. The interest in Christian growth and Spirit-filled living of the Methodists and Charismatics. The respect for morality of the Catholics. The Sabbath championed by our Jewish ancestors and cherished by Jesus and the apostles. All of these truths, you see, Adventists united into one body of belief (p. 103).

He goes on to describe how Adventists believe the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We have a lifestyle that reflects our body-mind-spirit connection, and I believe it with my heart and soul. I like how we got our name—from our anchor beliefs in the Sabbath and the Second Coming. I like that we believe truth is progressive. If we have indeed gathered together all these “gems of light” and the truths championed by other denominations—the “neglected truths” of centuries past—and if we truly do believe we are led by the Holy Spirit into new truth, then that’s a wonderful thing to love about us! Here’s what I personally love about my faith and what I’ve been blessed to experience for myself:

I belong to a faith community that cares.When I was down, they comforted me. When I was sick, they visited me. So many men and women from my past (and present) have had such a profound impact on my life—their personal friendship or their writings and witness have encouraged and inspired me. They’ve demonstrated the caring faith that I’ve come to rely on.  From Pastor Morrie Venden to Marilyn Cotton, Dr. William Johnsson to Miriam Wood, Dr. Jan Paulsen to Dr. Joan Coggin, Pastor Bill Loveless to my own dear parents, and so many others, I’ve had so many godly people show me the way to a caring, vibrant faith.

I belong to a faith community that prays.I cannot count the times my pastor, friends, co-workers, and family have told me that they’ve been praying for me by name. It means everything to know that when I’m too overwhelmed to pray, the prayers of my community are lifting my name up in prayer.

I belong to a faith community thatloves.Whether they drop off a bag of food from Trader Joe’s after the death of my dad, or are the first to celebrate the birth of my grandchild with me, or ask how I’m doing on a regular basis, or leave a loaf of my favorite bread and an audio book on my front porch, or write a note or e-mail of encouragement for no apparent reason, or go with me to sing and take baby clothes and toys to the local women’s shelter—my faith community knows how to live God’s love in a meaningful way.

What do I like about my faith? All the same things Dad liked…and so much more!

Connie Vandeman Jeffery has had a long career in media and is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference.

2019-02-15T10:41:33-07:00February 18th, 2019|Living God's Love|

The Other Box

by Alexandria Tristen Martin

50% Puerto Rican

50% Filipino
100% Human [Unboxed]

I love being mixed.

The fact that I was born into two distinct and incredibly vibrant cultures is truly a great privilege. Not only have I been able to relate and connect to so many different people due to my ethnic combination, but I also feel I’ve gained a unique perspective on life.

Growing up, I’ve always had to check the “other” box when it came to defining my ethnicity. I used to find the fact that there was no realbox for me profoundly frustrating. No one wants to be defined as “other.”

As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that there’s something truly beautiful about not having a box. Without a box, I’m free to define myself as I choose. Since I don’t have one dominant culture, I’ve been able to truly create my own with the two different halves I am a part of. Being mixed has given me an ethnic fluidity that has allowed me the freedom to not only choose different parts of my culture to embrace but also to choose how I define myself as a whole.

Plenty of individuals have felt the need to tell me that I’m not really Filipino or Puerto Rican since I’m only half. I’ve also been called a “mutt” and been told that I’m “not enough” since I’m not full. I could have allowed these comments to define me (and consequently expressed here how I’ve been the victim of name-calling and segregation due to being mixed and not “pure”), but instead I chose a different perspective.

Recently, I feel like there’s been a lot of focus on labels. Everyone has to be politically correct, and it’s impossible to call anyone anything without offending someone. However, I’ve come to the realization that instead of focusing on what everyone around us is doing and saying, maybe we should stop listening to them and choose to define ourselves. Mixed, black, white, whatever—it doesn’t really matter because people are going to label regardless.

My ethnic diversity has helped me realize that, in the end, we are the only ones who have the power to define who we truly are—whether there is a box for us to check or not.

 

Alexandria Tristen Martin is a registered nurse at AdventHealth Orlando in Orlando, Florida.

2019-02-10T10:53:29-07:00February 11th, 2019|Living God's Love|

A Bit of Blue Sky

by Becky De Oliveira

Into the Void is the story of British mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates on a fateful ascent of a peak in the Andes mountain range by a new route. They made it to the top without serious incident, but they ran into trouble on the way down when Joe first broke his leg and then fell through a cornice and was left dangling over a crevasse—still attached by rope to his partner, who held on for as long as he could. Eventually it became clear that he could not pull Joe up and that Joe’s weight would eventually pull them both down—and they’d both die, either from the fall or from hypothermia or dehydration.

Simon made the devastating and difficult decision to cut the rope, save himself, and let his partner fall into the crevasse. Joe was lucky enough to land on a ledge several meters below the opening of the crevasse and made several attempts to climb the slick walls and free himself. But with a broken leg, he couldn’t get out the usual way, and for a while he despaired, certain that he would die. Against intuition and good sense, Joe decided that he didn’t want to just sit on the ledge waiting for death. If he couldn’t climb up and out of the crevasse, he’d descend farther down into it. Anything to keep moving. So he went down instead of up—away from the light. And inexplicably, he found a crack that revealed a bit of blue sky. He dug his way out and climbed into the sunshine on the edge of the mountain.

So he was out of the crevasse, but still nowhere close to being safe. He had miles and thousands of vertical feet to descend over perilous conditions back to the campsite—a site he had no way of knowing would still be there even if by some miracle he reached it. He had no water. And a broken leg. But what else to do? He got moving. First he constructed a makeshift splint for his leg. Then he proceeded to set small goals for himself. He’d select a spot and decide that he only had to make it that far; he could give up when he reached that place. Upon arriving at the spot, he’d collapse, often delirious and hallucinating, often falling into a sort of unconsciousness.

And every time, a voice inside his head woke him up. “Get up!” it shrieked, forcing him to select yet another spot, to go just that one bit farther. Over and over again he struggled to his feet, each time convinced this would be the last. But the voice didn’t give up. It carried him all the way to the campsite where, miraculously, he found Simon—who had been very nearly ready to pack up and begin the two-day trek back to civilization, convinced his friend and partner was dead. A couple of things clearly helped Joe survive: doing just a little at a time—breaking a seemingly impossible task into small doable chunks—and trying things that were not particularly rational or intuitive. What did he have to lose?

What do you have to lose by taking a risk in the way you approach your life and your work? Especially if you’re attempting something that is at best very difficult and at worst theoretically impossible?

Maybe sometimes this is the upside to an impossible task: It forces you into a situation in which you have nothing to lose. With nothing to lose, maybe you can come up with a better plan. Whatever you may be facing in your life right now—and I can almost guarantee that you have at least one huge problem that keeps you awake at night—try coming at it from another angle. Trying giving it to God. His will be that voice that urges you on, that moves you in the direction of solutions and answers. Look around you for that tiny crack in your tomb of despair, that sliver of blue sky leading you home.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2019-02-04T18:54:14-07:00February 4th, 2019|Living God's Love|

To Be Filled With Peace

by Becky De Oliveira

A young woman in her 20s—a friend of the family—sent me a text message last week, asking what my “secret” is. “You’re the most peace-filled person I know,” she wrote. This made me smile—a quiet, enigmatic smile because that is the kind of person I am. I exude calm. People confuse this with peace. I’m reminded again of how prone human beings are to mistake affect for substance.

Because I’m not particularly calm, let alone peaceful, I don’t know what my secret is. If what people want to know is how toseemcalm, like I do, my best advice would be to follow these rules: 1) Always be a little tired, 2) Be middle-aged, 3) Constantly be preoccupied, thinking about, if possible, something complicated that you read earlier or one of the many unsolvable problems you face.

As for achieving an actualstate of peace, I’m not sure. Mine come and go. My default state is one of a mild panic over all the things that might go wrong—this hour, this day, this week, over the course of this complex and sometimes frightening lifespan. I worry about how much I weigh, about what will happen if one day I have to quit running, about whether I’ve made any mistakes in my work, about falling behind on the coursework I need to finish to earn my PhD. I worry that once I have the degree I’ll be unable to find a job in my field, that I’ll be too old, that I’ve already missed the boat, professionally, personally. I worry about my parents and their health and my husband’s parents and their health. I worry that I lack the personal mettle—let’s call it grit—to see my life through effectively. What if I manage to let everyone down? My kids have to get through college and find lives that they love. I have to help them do this. What if I can’t continue to come up with the money? People complain about my husband—a pastor—often enough that I worry about his job. Is he in the right place? Are we in the right place? Are we of any use at all or would everyone be better off without us?

I worry about where we would go if we left. What if people there complained even more? What if there is simply nowhere in the world for someone like me? I’ve stopped social media because I’m so tired of the constant arguing and posturing—other people’s, my own. I would like to be a person who actually has a life of substance, not just a life that looks OK in nicely cropped photographs. I’m tired of noise. I crave silence.

A few minutes later, my friend sent another text, asking what I was like when I was her age—specifically, “How was your relationship with God?”

Easy. It was non-existent. I never thought about God. I went to church maybe a handful of times during any given year, usually late and only for the social benefits. I seemed calm then too. Probably peace-filled. That’s just my personality. It’s the way I look. Nothing to do with being spiritual.

“Wow,” she answered. “And you married a pastor.”

That is an accurate statement. That is what I did. And if anything has made me more spiritual over the years, it might be that. Not so much that people expect it of me, though they certainly do. It’s more that people talk to me about spiritual things more often, and so I end up thinking about them more than I might if left to my own devices.

I wish that the life of faith were easier, but I suspect there is a good reason it is not. Finding meaning, discovering how you can fulfill your purpose on earth, learning how to trust God to see you through endless worries about problems, is really the work of a lifetime. I use the word “work” quite intentionally. When I remember that, I also remember that perhaps I am not such a disaster after all. Maybe I am only progressing just as I am supposed to. That gives me a feeling that seems like it might be approaching peace.

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2019-01-29T11:44:37-07:00January 29th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Needing Space

by Faith Hoyt

Recently I got to meet up with a friend from college who I luckily manage to see several times a year. She is one of those rare friends who will hop in her car and drive a couple of hours just so we can spend a fraction of that time together. She’s fun company, and our visits are always an education for me. My friend has a good eye for design, a good ear for music, and good taste in plant-based restaurants. She’s also an avid follower on conversations about social justice issues, and I love to listen to her quick and energetic commentary on politics and pop culture.

Our recent visit was one of those trips where, because of schedules, we had about an hour to catch up. (This time I had returned the favor by doing the driving.) The moment we met up at the coffee shop in her town, we dove into conversation. By the time we sat down, drinks in hand, to officially start our visit, we were already halfway into a discussion about mental health. She told me about the anxiety she’s experiencing and that she’s considering finding a counselor. I told her I thought it was a good idea and that I wished I’d had one in college when I was still learning how to manage stress. We shared about our goals. It seemed like a fitting New Year’sconversation.

About halfway through our visit, my friend mentioned that she’d felt guilt about not going to church. I realized that, for perhaps the first time ever, she was candidly sharing with me about her faith experience. We don’t talk very often about religious things; though it’s something I enjoy discussing, I’d always had the impression that with her it was a topic best saved for later. I wanted to honor our friendship by respecting her decisions. I also wanted to understand where she was coming from. I decided to ask her a direct question: “Where are you at with God?”

I’m sure I could have phrased that question better. I’m grateful it came out of my mouth sounding open and sincere, as my heart intended. All I wanted in that moment was to understand the things I had sensed from her for a while.

My friend responded to my question with equal directness: “I’m taking a break from that.” As she answered my question, I suddenly pictured the cover of the book I had sent her for Christmas—a devotional book with a collection of Bible promises. “Good grief,” I thought, “I picked the last thing in the world she wants right now.”

It took me a second to find that neutral place in my heart that does the listening and not the judging. (Good practice for me.) I’ve only known my friend for a couple of years and can’t assume I know anything about the journey that led her to this point. I sat there for a time working to keep my focus on the things she was saying instead of the thoughts in my head that competed for attention. I kept thinking, “She is looking for peace in her life—and walking away from the only source of peace that I know.”

I asked her another direct question: “Where do you find your peace?” Suddenly conscious that I was sounding like a journalist, I decided it would be my last question. She thought about it for a second. Then she told me how music and colors gave her a sense of peace. I listened to her with my full attention. She elaborated a little more, and then the conversation shifted. Soon we were sharing animatedly on a different topic. We took a selfie and sent it to another friend of ours. We sipped our drinks. The hour passed by so quickly.

When we parted ways that evening, I replayed the conversation in my mind. Had I been careful to not make her feel judged? Had I shown her that I’m here as a supportive friend? Had I kept my foot out of my mouth? I’ve heard a lot of thoughtful criticism about Christians who poorly represent God’s love. The criticism reminds me that discussing religion doesn’t excuse us from the need to show tact and thoughtfulness—and love!

I’m grateful that our conversation helped me understand a little better where my friend is coming from and reminded me of the things I need to consider the next time she, or anyone, expresses where they are in their journey. Yes, I’m sad to know that my friend is stepping away from the One I’m wanting to run towards. But I need to remember it’s my privilege to love my friend and encourage her no matter her life’s direction. It’s my opportunity to pray for her as she continues to navigate this part of her journey. It’s my place to show her unconditional friendship, regardless of whether she and I will ever share devotional books.

Right now, where religion is concerned, my friend is needing space. If she’s ever ready to talk about God again, I’m here for that too.

 

Faith Hoyt is communication intern for the Pacific Union Conference. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, and attends the Heavenly Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Lake Tahoe.

2019-01-22T11:18:32-07:00January 23rd, 2019|Living God's Love|

The Best Therapy

by Shelley Leonor

“You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives” (James 4:2-3, NIV).

After giving birth to my firstborn, I struggled. I loved my baby girl. I loved my life. But I struggled. I no longer had the freedom to hang out with friends until late into the night or run off on trips at a moment’s notice. I was frustrated and sad despite how amazing my life was. I used one of those little coupons my husband’s employer provided—Anonymous Counseling—because of course I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t perfect. As a pastor’s wife I didn’t want anyone to think less of me. I was always afraid of running into someone I knew—or that the counselor might even know my husband. I had only six coupons, each worth 50 minutes of time. I went about once a week, always hating the thought of being “discovered.” Always wondering whether the counseling was even helping. But I went.

And 18 years later, I found myself thinking about going again, even though I wasn’t too sure it would help. And then there’s the co-pay of $15 (I am SO cheap!), which I just can’t justify spending on myself. So, I waited and I prayed.

And recently, my prayer was answered in an unexpected way. I happened to pick up a booklet last month that taught me something I had somehow missed in life. I’m now reading it for the sixth time. I’d like to share it with you in the form of the metaphor of a counseling office/coffee shop (just a parable that got stuck in my mind). Imagine with me:

I wake up feeling refreshed one morning and find a “magic” tunnel has opened up in my house. Instead of freaking out, I find myself drawn to it. It seems peaceful and lovely. I decide to check it out. At the end of the tunnel is a private waiting room with no other customers. No risk of being discovered and no fear. No need for a voucher—this place is free and I’m the only customer. The proprietors somehow know me and understand me. There’s no time limit. I can sit there and talk as long as I like. The counselor knows me more than I know myself. He (she?) even knows my favorite beverage and ushers me into a trendy coffee shop-type room and we sit in my favorite type of seating, which changes from hammock to fluffy beanbag to massage chair and back again—heaven! The counselor orders my favorite drink (chai). It turns out this particular chai has been proven by every independent researcher to be super healthy. And no calories. Zero guilt! The mug is beautiful—and good for free refills for the rest of my life (as many times as I’d like each day). As I leave the office the receptionist tells me to please come again in the morning. They are open 24/7. I return to my room feeling refreshed and ready to face anything.

The next morning I wake up late and only have a few minutes to enjoy my favorite beverage in such a perfect environment. I’m sad, thinking I would love to stay much longer. My counselor offers to wake me up in the morning so I’ll have enough time to relax at the coffee shop. I agree to this on the condition that I awake feeling rested (vs. shocked awake by a horrible alarm). The next morning I wake up feeling like I’m coming to after an hour-long massage. I really want my chai and quickly walk through the tunnel, knowing my counselor will be thrilled to see me again.

I learn this coffee shop was built during the 9 months I was in my mother’s womb. Its grand opening just happened to be the day I was born. The day I was baptized, the mug was created especially for me. I drank from it that one time, said thanks, and left—feeling grateful as a new teenager for the cool opportunity. But somehow I missed the most important thing about my new mug—that it was refillable. I thought it was just a one-time offer. After all these years, I’ve discovered something that has been available to me (free of charge) all along. What a waste! How could I have missed that message?

And not only is it free and unlimited, but I can always access my coffee shop no matter where I am! Apparently, mine is not the only shop on the planet. There are custom-built shops all over the world—one for each human. Most sit empty just waiting for their customer to arrive and take advantage of all they have to offer. Knowing this makes me realize I don’t want to hide anymore. When someone asks me to pray for them I agree, but I also tell them about their own coffee shop with their own favorite beverage. Some believe me and check it out. Others think I’m crazy. I’m sad, but I keep praying that they will check it out sometime (sooner rather than later). I know the struggles they’re facing—and I know the “power” that comes from having my mug filled each and every morning. That mug is something I need more than food. How could I have thought that drinking this beverage just once when I turned 13 was enough? How did I not realize it was refillable?

So, if it isn’t obvious enough, I’ll make it more explicit: This coffee shop with the amazing chai? It’s the Holy Spirit. He’s available 24/7 for each of us any time we need Him. I hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity He offers every day.

 Please note this is in no way saying there isn’t a time or a place for God’s “earthly counselors.” And if you’d like the nuts and bolts of how to approach engaging with the Holy Spirit, here they are:

1. Praying daily asking God to prepare your heart to receive the Spirit.

2. Praying using promises from the Bible to make believing easy (e.g., Luke 11:13).

 

Shelley Leonor lives in Riverside, California. She’s a member of La Sierra University church and is a graduate from the occupational therapy department at Loma Linda University. She has two amazing children and is a recent chai addict!

2019-01-20T14:00:34-07:00January 16th, 2019|Living God's Love|

A Clean Heart

by Becky De Oliveira

My family has a long-standing New Year’s Day tradition: We climb something. It used to be Mount Si, just outside the town of North Bend, Washington, near where both my parents grew up. When I lived in Michigan, we’d climb Tower Hill—the largest of the sand dunes at Warren Dunes State Park—and, if it happened to be a clear day, gaze at the faint skyline of Chicago on the other side of Lake Michigan. The last couple of years we’ve deviated from tradition somewhat and have simply walked rather than climbed. This New Year’s Day, my brother and I walked across Evergreen Point Bridge in Seattle (and back). It was a quiet morning punctuated occasionally by a single sports car revving its engine as it zoomed effortlessly across the empty bridge.

Climbing, hiking, walking, running—these all feel like wholesome ways to begin the year. They show intentionality, a commitment to exercise and fresh air, to the maintenance of the body. Given that I also ran my usual route in the morning, took a second walk with my oldest son later in the day, and puttered around grocery stores and a cinema, I managed to accumulate more than 45,000 steps over the course of the day. The tracking device I have recently taken to wearing on my arm tells me I travelled 23.1 miles. It gives me other information: my heart rate throughout the day, the number of calories I burned, the number of flights of stairs I climbed, and something called VO2 max, which measures cardiorespiratory fitness and is apparently a determinant of life expectancy.

My family and I are not the only people who tend to focus on the physical when it comes to approaching a new year. Gym memberships spike during the month of January. Many people join dieting programs like Weight Watchers. Resolutions often involve a commitment to changing the body in some way—taking up a new activity such as running, losing a certain amount of weight, vowing to drink more water or floss every day. Many people wear Fitbits or Apple watches or other devices, such as the one I wear, that give them tangible feedback regarding their success. Unless I’m faced with a particularly unusual day, such as one where I have to catch an early and long flight, there is no reason I can’t achieve my exercise goals; they are, after all, set by me in the first place. I decide what I’d like to do in a given day, considering all the other commitments I typically have, and choose a goal that is attainable, if slightly ambitious. The feeling of accomplishment is addictive; one of the main reasons I have gone running early every morning for most of the past 13 years is that I like feeling that I’ve achieved something tangible before 6:30 a.m. Whatever failures the rest of the day may hold, at least I have this one thing.

I’ve never been as careful or attentive to my spiritual well-being, and this year I’ve spent some time considering why that might be and how I might do better without becoming a spiritual Nazi of some kind. (I have in the past been a fitness Nazi and a food Nazi, so I am well aware of my own potential to go to extremes that are appreciated by no one and do little to enhance the quality of my own life.)

What if I had a device attached to my arm that tracked my prayer history or my record of good deeds? I’m not sure what I think about this. It reminds me of certain old-fashioned churches I used to attend in England where congregants were asked to report how many Bible studies they had given in the past week, how many leaflets they had delivered, etc. In my unscientific assessment, I have always had a hunch that there was an inverse correlation between outward expressions of spirituality or religiosity and human kindness. I don’t know that measuring my spirituality—i.e., counting the things I do—would make me a better Christian.

A few years ago, a colleague said, “We measure what we think is important.” I’m not sure this is true. Perhaps we merely measure what we canmeasure—that which is measurable. I suppose an observer, looking at my life, could conclude that what I most value is exercise. It is, after all, virtually the only thing I truly measure on a daily basis. But I absolutely do not consider it to be the most important thing in my life. It’s just an easy thing to measure. It might say something about my current fitness levels, but nothing of any great importance. Wearing it won’t necessarily add an hour to my life.

So I’m not going to measure my Christian growth this year. Instead, I’m vowing to begin each day with this prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, KJV). This also creates the intentionality that I hope makes me more aware of my choices, attitudes, and behaviors, and that will gradually—perhaps in ways I don’t even notice—make me a “better” Christian.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado, studying research methods. She also has several jobs in teaching, writing, editing, graphic design, consulting, and podcasting. She does special projects for the Pacific Union Conference. 

2019-01-09T10:13:59-07:00January 9th, 2019|Blog|