Monday, April 14, 2014

For My Yoke Is Easy And My Burden Is Light

On January 24, 2014 I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a beautiful day, the best decision I have ever made, and my life is changed for the better. That being said, life is not easy but living a life according to my faith and keeping an eternal perspective makes each day exponentially more valuable, worthwhile,and enjoyable.

This past week, I was asked to give a talk during church at the Young Single Adult branch in Schaumburg. Rather than rewrite the talk for the blog, I simply copied and pasted my talk because I am excited to share it with you and I think that rewriting them may detract from some of the original message.



I was asked to speak today on General Conference on something that touched my heart or stood out to me. Since this is the first General Conference I have watched since my baptism, I felt like a kid at a candy store. After each talk I was saying, “That one was great! And that one was great!” And turning to the Sister Missionaries, “Are they all this good?!” Needless to say, I had a really hard time try to pick out what to speak on this morning. But finally made a decision.

Elder David A. Bednar, one of my favorite apostles, spoke on Sunday morning just before our prophet. His talk, “Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease” truly spoke to the questions in my heart addressing such principles as obedience, blessings, afflictions, spiritual growth, faith, and the atonement of Jesus Christ. (Click here to hear, watch or read the full talk.)

In his talk, Elder Bednar uses a pickup truck to explain how carrying a heavy load gives us spiritual traction to press forward with faith in Christ and avoid getting stuck. A man, who had recently bought a new pickup truck decided to go up into the mountains to chop firewood for his family. As he arrived at the site, it began to snow and consequently, his new “super manly” truck…got stuck. Unsure of how to handle the situation as his wheels spun in the slick snow, he decided to get out and chop up the wood. Once he had loaded it all onto the truck bed, he hopped in driver’s seat once more and tried to move the car and it moved! The heavy load of firewood provided enough downward force to provide traction for the truck to get moving again and for the man to return safely home.

A beautiful story, of course. But I think it takes a lot of thought and consideration to realize what that really means for us. A truck bed doesn’t really have a choice to accept or reject a load, but we as children of our Heavenly Father, do have a choice to take on our own individual load and we are blessed with agency so we can choose what that load includes.

Elder Bednar explains, “Our individual load is comprised of demands and opportunities, obligations and privileges, afflictions and blessings, and options and constraints.” It’s hard to know if we are carrying the load we are supposed to carry, or if we are heaping difficulties upon ourselves that our Heavenly Father never meant for us to carry.

How can we tell the difference? Elder Bednar offers two questions to help us prayerfully assess our loads.
  1. Is the load I am carrying producing the spiritual traction that will enable me to press forward with faith in Christ on the straight and narrow path and avoid getting stuck?
  2. Is the load I am carrying creating sufficient spiritual traction so I ultimately can return home to Heavenly Father?

If the answer is no, then perhaps we need to let that particular load go so that we have the ability to pick up the loads that we do need in order to press on and ultimately return home to Heavenly Father.

Now carrying a heavy load, not exactly the most appealing proposition. If you think about how long our lives often feel, and how heavy a weight feels after holding it for a while, carrying a load, spiritual or otherwise throughout our lives on earth can appear rather daunting, or even impossible. But, Elder Bednar carefully explains in two parts why carrying a load is not only possible, but essential.

“Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load,” he says, “But bearing a load is a necessary and essential part of the plan of happiness.” Without it, we would not have that spiritual traction but rather simply spin our wheels, going nowhere. So how can we carry such a heavy load?

The Savior invites us to rely on him entirely, yoking ourselves to him and with him through our baptism. As we pull our load next to Jesus Christ during the journey of mortality, we can experience how His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

In the Book of Mormon, the Lord spoke to Alma and his people when Amulon commanded them to stop praying or else be put to death. The Lord said, “And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs.”

That sounds like a glorious offer – easing the burden? It is! But Elder Bednar emphasized that we should understand how Heavenly Father eases that burden off our backs. In Mosiah we read that, “the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease.” Heavenly Father does not lift off our burdens, but rather makes us stronger, helps us to grow and continue along his path.

Growth, however, is not easy. When I was a kid in elementary school, I got terrible growing pains in my legs. I remember crying at night, not understanding why I hurt. My mother would come into my room and explain to me that my legs were growing so that one day I could be as tall as her, much like a flower grows taller and taller out of the ground. But since was a little girl, and not a flower, the growth would sometimes hurt. But she promised that the pain would end and I would be happy that I made it through my growing pains when I grew up.

She was right. The growth, not enjoyable. But the result, the reward? Very much worth the sleepless nights.

Now there is a difference between something rather passive like enduring growing pains, and the ways in which the Lord strengthens us and encourages us to grow, which are almost always very active, relying heavily on our choices, actions, our agency. Elder Bednar urged us to remember “because our individual load needs to generate spiritual traction, we should be careful to not haul around in our lives so many nice but unnecessary things that we are distracted and diverted from the things that truly matter most.”

If the man in the story with the truck had chosen to load packing peanuts, he would have had a lot of stuff on his truck bed, but it would not have provided the traction he needed to get the truck out of the slick snow. If he had loaded stones onto the truck, sure, he would have gotten the traction to get home to his family, but the stones would have been worthless to his family in terms of providing fire and warmth. But the wood was perfect in that it provided both the weight to get traction under the truck's wheels and the resource to make a fire and keep his family warm.

Making the right choice, choosing to take on various loads and burdens, can be difficult choice. Sometimes we feel alone. I am the only one of my family, coworkers, and college friends who is a member of the church. My family is close and has always been generally comfortable speaking about our faith. But now that I know about and believe in the full Gospel of Jesus Christ, the restored church, the prophet and apostles, conversations sometimes become difficult, and sometimes painful. I find myself wondering if anyone could understand how my heart breaks.

Elder Bednar, in this talk, further clarified what this means, explaining that “the Savior has suffered not just for our sins and iniquities—but also for our physical pains and anguish, our weaknesses and shortcomings, our fears and frustrations, our disappointments and discouragement, our regrets and remorse, our despair and desperation, the injustices and inequities we experience, and the emotional distresses that beset us.”

Jesus Christ understands everything. There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, and no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first.

Before conference, I wrote down five questions. I had full faith that my questions would be answered, in one way or another, but I expected five distinct responses. Instead, one simple command from the first day of conference answered all five succinctly and perfectly. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

I went to bed that night thinking, “Ok God. I’ll keep your commandments. But this feels like it might be a little much for me to handle all at once.” I was nervous about the future and what that meant in terms of the decisions I would have to make in terms of my career, holidays with family, selecting my priorities.

But then when Elder Bednar spoke, it made sense. We can handle the burdens which are put upon our shoulders because Heavenly Father loves us, his son Jesus Christ gave his life for us that he could feel what we feel and know how to support and strengthen us through every trial, both large and small.

I would like to bear my testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ is the true, restored church of Jesus Christ, restored by the prophet Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is true and we are blessed with a living prophet, Thomas S. Monson. And I testify that our Savior and redeemer Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to atone for the sins of all mankind. And I share all this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


If this talk sparked any curiosity about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the Mormon Church), here are the two church websites you can visit for more info online:
Or if you would like to join us on Sundays and check it out for yourself, please join us! Everyone is welcome. Click here to find the church closest to you! 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Someday We'll Find The Rainbow Connection

This morning a friend of mine texted me to tell me he found the Muppets Original Theatrical Soundtrack CD in his car. So lucky me, I immediately got The Rainbow Connection stuck on repeat in my head for the next eight hours. In an attempt to assuage my need to get rid of this earworm, I have written a post dedicated entirely to the strange and stranger myths that have attempted to explain or justify the existence of rainbows throughout history.

That being said, I wasn't too invested in the topic and so a large majority of this information is pulled directly from Wikipedia. Please consider this my citation of everything below. Enjoy!

What Is a Rainbow?

Rainbow said go to war?
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia and is amongst the earliest surviving works of literature. In a Victorian translation of the poem, King Izdubar sees "a mass of colors like the rainbow's hues" that are "linked to divine sanction for war." (Violent rainbows?!) And later on the king sees the "glistening colors of the rainbow rise" in the fountain of life next to the Tree of Immortality.

Rainbows were a bridge to the Norse gods
In Norse mythology there is a burning rainbow bridge (Bifröst) that reaches between the world (midgard) and the realm of the Gods (Asgard). In the Norse compilation called the Prose Edda, the King asks the enthroned figure of High to tell him what exists between heaven and earth and High explains that the gods built a bridge between heaven and earth of three colors that is very strong.

Rainbows = Greek Goddess Iris
Iris is the personification of rainbows and messenger of the Gods in Greek mythology. She links the gods to humanity. She is one of the goddesses of the sea and sky; she travels with the speed of wind from one end of the world to the other and into the depths of the seas and the underworld.

Rainbow Snakes? (Read: Aussies Are Weird)
In Australian Aboriginal mythology, the rainbow snake is the Creator in the Dreaming, which is the infinite period of time that "began with the world's creation and that has no end. People, animals, and Eternal Beings like the Rainbow Serpent are all part of the Dreaming, and everyday life is affected by the Dreaming's immortals," in almost every Australian Aborigine tribe. In these tribes, of which there are over 50, actual rainbows are gigantic, often malevolent, serpents who inhabit the sky or ground. This snake has different names in different tribes, and has both different and similar traits from tribe to tribe. (Wikipedia)

Rainbow = Reminder of No More Noah Length Floods
In the book of Genesis in the Bible, after Noah saved the animals and his family from the great flood, God placed a rainbow in the sky as a covenant with the people that he would never again destroy the earth with a flood.

Rainbows Shoot Lightning
The rainbow as the heavenlyarcher's bow dominates ancient Hindu mythology. Indra, the Hindu god of thunder and war, uses the rainbow to shoot arrows of lightning to kill Asura Crta, a premordial demon-serpent.

Ahh! Rainbows Eat People!
For the Sino-Tibertan language speaking ethnic groups in Burma called Karens, the rainbow is considered as a painted and dangerous demon that eats children.

Rainbow Experience Initiates New Religious Members
The Fang people of Gabon in Africa are initiated into the religion by a "transcendent experience when they arrive at the rainbow's center, for there they can see both the entire circle of the rainbow and of the earth, signaling the success of their vision." The Fang also prohibit their children from looking at the rainbow.

Caution: Rainbows Can Change...Your Gender?
In Bulgarian legends, it is said that if you walk beneath a rainbow, you will change genders: if a man, you'll begin to think like a woman, and if a woman, you'll begin to think like a man. While most Bulgarians don't believe in the superstition, some of them tease each other and joke around.

Pot O' Gold at the End of the Rainbow
In Ireland, a common legend asserts that a "pot of gold" is to be found at the end of a rainbow, for the person lucky enough to find it. This treasure is, however, guarded by a Leprechaun.

Close Your Mouth: You'll Catch a Disease from the Rainbow!
In Amazonian cultures, rainbows have long been associated with malign spirits that cause harm, such as miscarriages and (especially) skin problems. In the Amuesha language of central Peru, certain diseases are called ayona’achartan, meaning "the rainbow hurt my skin". A tradition of closing one's mouth at the sight of a rainbow in order to avoid disease appears to pre-date the Incan empire.

Rainbows Unite Star-Crossed Lovers
In a Chinese folktale, Hsienpo and Yingt'ai are star-crossed lovers who must wait until the rainbow appears to be alone together. Hsienspo is the red in the rainbow and Yingt'ai is the blue.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Be Careful What You Ask For: The Power of Prayer

"Prayer is powerful" sounded like a dumb cliche to me as a kid. I actually disliked the concept because I felt like people were trivializing God. Asking God for something in a prayer and hoping it would happen felt too much like asking Santa for Christmas presents. My parents taught me that even though we exchange gifts during holidays, it is more important to work for and earn things so that you understand their worth and value better.

This logic told me that I shouldn't be able to just ask God for things; I had to work hard enough to earn them. But I also understood that I was human and flawed and incapable of being worthy of pretty much anything God could give my logic had a big hole in it. And being stumped, I continued to pray because there wasn't really any other choice. I asked God for help when I needed it, but all the while I felt guilty that I was asking someone so perfect to help someone so imperfect. I didn't think it was fair for me to ask God for help, because he needed to focus on the people who reeeally needed his help - the homeless, the hungry, the enslaved, the kids' whose parents didn't care and got into trouble, the unemployed, the friendless, etc. etc. etc.

Fortunately as I got older I learned more about the true nature of prayer, little by little. And finally in high school I began to develop a new perspective on prayer. I think it may have been what I heard during youth retreat talks or Sunday sermons or perhaps the Holy Spirit just guided my thoughts with a little more persuasion. However it happened, I am grateful because I began to understand that prayer isn't a greedy little child doing a "gimme gimme" speech, but rather a very honest and raw conversation with our Heavenly Father. And Heavenly Father doesn't have a limit to what he can do. Asking for guidance in my life doesn't take away from the love he can provide to anyone else. Rather, it actually increases his ability to do so by using me as an instrument of his word. (Now it sounds so simple and I wonder why I couldn't figure it out earlier.) So long story short, when I began to pray with the perspective that I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father and he loves me and wants to help me accomplish things that are in my best interest, I no longer felt guilty that I had to ask for help, because I understood that he understood that obviously I need a little a lot of help and it was entirely in his power and his desire to do so.

And as I progressed in my spiritual journey, I began to notice when my prayers were answered. In 2011, I asked for guidance, and he opened my eyes to Philippians 4:13. In 2012, I asked for truth and he introduced me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In 2013, I asked for an opportunity to grow closer to my cousin and now I'm taking care of her kitten until she moves which gives us a chance to hang out and bond. And this morning I asked for the opportunity to share Heavenly Father's love with those around me...and started my week off with this chat with my friend and coworker just ten minutes after getting into the office this morning.

I was actually most surprised that she knew were both the church and temple are! And then it made me happy that she thought of the LDS church in a positive light. And additionally that joining the church strengthened our friendship. And now it looks like I may have the opportunity to share the Gospel with her. Praise be to God!

So moral of the story careful what you ask for. If you lift up your soul in prayer and share with Heavenly Father how you are feeling and the trials you are facing; if you lift up your heart and express gratitude for everything he has given you and ask that your ears and eyes might be opened; if you pray in Christ's name for strength and support; if you are ready to hear His answer...

He will answer you.

Want more information about the power of prayer? Below are several resources with great information and insights, including a printable poster, and article for kids, and several conference talks, including one from our Prophet, President Thomas S. Monson.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Into Marvelous Light I'm Running

As I prepared to go to church this morning, I had a lot of songs running through my head. I knew most of them from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at Drake University where I got to play keyboard in the worship band. One of my favorites showed up in the mix, Marvelous Light. Along with the others that I now have on an Intervarsity playlist on Spotify.

I have not written a blog post for the last year (save the remaining nine days), because I did not know what to write. I was in a time of transition and I was wary that I might post something that I would disagree with only months later. Now that I have my feet on the ground and I'm heading in a definite and positive direction I am excited to begin sharing my thoughts once again.

In my past, especially during this hugely transitional phase, I couldn't see how or more importantly why Heavenly Father was working in my life. I often felt like my life was a giant hedge maze. As if God created this intricate pathway for which only he had the secret map and I was just one of many trying to make it to the end without freaking out. I vaguely remembered the beginning and the end, but after awhile I would feel confused, frustrated, alone and I'd walk in circles, attempt to jump high enough to see over the hedge, and follow other maze goers who looked like they knew what they were doing to no avail. And then finally I would make a tiny bit of progress and celebrate that small accomplishment with all my soul. And then the process would repeat...lost again.

But when I read this passage in Doctrine and Covenants, it made sense and the the feelings and promptings from the Holy Spirit I had begun to feel were confirmed through scripture.

"For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round." D&C 3:2

I know now more than ever that our Heavenly Father is a God of order and that although many times the full plan or reasons for pieces of our lives don't make sense, the big picture is always, always clear. Thanks to modern day prophets and the scriptures, I know why I am here, why we are here. I know how I am supposed to live and what God asks and expects. I know that sometimes I'll make mistakes and sometimes I won't listen, but I know that because I have taken on the covenant of baptism, I have access to the Holy Spirit and can communicate constantly with our Heavenly Father, who helps me through this life and gifts me with blessings as I am ready and ask.

The other side of this coin is what Heavenly Father asks of us. 

"...I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." 1 Nephi 3:7

Heavenly Father asks us to do big things and important things. Even though they usually feel small and trivial, following the commandments and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and of equal if not greater importance, acting upon the words, feelings and thoughts we receive from our loving father, impacts our eternity beyond comprehension.

"Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day." D&C 4:2

This afternoon during our Relief Society meeting, our discussion turned to talking about how we live our lives on earth to be prepared for the day when we leave this life and at peace with the work we have done and the contributions we will leave behind. It is important to live your life as if you will later watch it on TV. I don't think we should live our lives to "look good," but if you can imagine existing in heaven with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, having the full knowledge of the Gospel and all eternal truths, will you want to see the actions you are taking now and the efforts you made, or lack thereof?

Monday, February 18, 2013

How To: Life-Size Clue

How to Create a Life-size Clue Game for a Youth Group

I lead a small youth group in suburban Episcopal church. Since capture the flag, red rover, and dodge ball are out with a group of only 4-6 middle and high school kids, I have to get creative. The latest adventure was turning our parish hall into a life-size Clue board. Here's how I did it.


+ High School students
+ Individuals: 2-6 players
+ Teams: 12 players

Note: If you have a big youth group, have groups of 6 or 12 rotate out each game. Once the kids get the hang of things, the game takes about 20-30 minutes. If they're all learning how to play for the first time, plan on 45 minutes per game.

+ 8-10 rolls of masking tape
+ Church furniture
+ Color-coded costumes
    - Red
    - Blue
    - White
    - Yellow
    - Green
    - Purple
+ Fake weapon suggestions
    - Supersoaker
    - Foam tube


1. Measure the size of your Clue board. Leave a walking path around the edges of the room. Our parish hall gave us enough space to create each space roughly 2.5 square feet so that the "board" was about 35 feet on each side. I didn't measure as we went, but rather marked comfortable steps so that when the kids walked from space to space it wouldn't require huge steps or tiny shuffles.

2. Once you've determined how big your "board" will be, you can begin to put down the tape. I used masking tape, but you could use painters tape or any visible tape that will come up easily. Do not use duct tape!

3. Put down all of the columns first, and then the rows. You'll have a huge grid. It's easier to have the grid first and then pull up the tape for "rooms." That being said, this method wastes lot of tape. I didn't have the time to measure each room then tape, but if you're short on resources and not short on time, you can mark the rooms and then the spaces. My method is detailed below.

(Heads up: This step take a long time! I would suggest banding together a team at least 5-10 people to help you put down tape. I only had two helpers and it took us just under two hours.)

Step One: Mark out the outside of the grid

This is easiest of you have someone hold the end of the tape as you move to the opposite corner. Don't put the tape down until you've reached the corner. Pull the tape taught and lay it on the floor. Walk on the tape to stick it down more securely. If you put the tape down as you walk along the edge, it will be very difficult to make a straight line. I speak from experience...

Step Two: Create Rows

Begin to lay down the rows. You'll be laying down 21 pieces of tape to create 22 rows. I suggest using a partner to lay all the tape (same as laying the border), so you make straight lines. Don't worry if the rows aren't exactly parallel -- no one will notice! If you have a few pairs of folks to help out this part can go relatively quickly.


Step Three: Create Grid

Begin to lay down the tape for the columns. Same process, different direction. You should have 22 columns in total.

This is what the completed grid should look like (22 x 22)

 Step Four: Remove the Tape for the Rooms

You can use this as a visual aid for removing the rooms. It's a modified version of the board game. Rather than adding tape for the starting positions, I placed the costumes as the starting spots. You could also use different colors of construction paper to indicate the starting positions. (You'll just need to add the doors.)

Step Five: Add Furniture to the Rooms

You can use whatever furniture you have available for the rooms. We conveniently had a piano in the parish hall which we put in the Ball Room. We grabbed a few potted plants from the parlor for the Conservatory. A few tables, some books, and comfy chairs filled in most of the other rooms. You could make the Billiard Room a game room with a stack of board games and some pots and pans to make the Kitchen. Get creative!

The Conservatory

The Library

 The Kitchen

The Suspects
(from left: Prof. Plum, Mrs. White, Col. Mustard, Miss Scarlett, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock)

Fun Additions

Over-Sized Dice. Wrap a square cardboard box and draw dots. It's easier to keep track of in the room than a tiny die and it's more fun to throw around! If it's not perfectly square though, the rolls will favor the long side.

Crime Scene. Have someone lay on the floor and outline the body with masking tape to mark the "crime scene". You can even use caution tape to mark off the middle square area.

Weapons. Obviously a revolver and lead pipe are not appropriate to bring into a church, so get creative! Use a super soaker as the revolver, a foam sword for the knife, whatever you deem appropriate. Remember, the characters have to bring the weapon into the room to raise a suspicion before determining their accusations.

Decorations. The more realistic you make the rooms, the cooler the effect. It might be fun to make it a whole event, with lemonade or punch "mocktails," simple hors  d'oeuvre like pigs in a blanket, cheese and crackers, grapes, etc., and classical music playing in the background.

Costumes. Go to Goodwill and get color-coordinated costumes (i.e., red for Miss Scarlet, yellow for Colonel Mustard). I used large button-down shirts ($3/ea.) with silly hats ($1.50/ea.), but you can go more into characters depending on your available resources and budget. If your youth group wants to get into character themselves or if you don't have a budget to use, you can assign characters ahead of time and encourage each person to come in their own created costume.

Making It Easier

The Grid

  • Is it too much work to make the customized grid? Just use a 26 x 26 grid and make each room 4x4. Done.
The Rooms
  • No furniture to use? Just write the room names on construction paper and place them in each room. The kids will still have fun moving around from room to room!
  • Don't want to bring in anything weapon-like in? Draw or write the weapons on pieces of paper. When the kids make their suspicions or accusations, they'll just need to grab the correct piece of paper. No danger involved.

But the most important part of this...HAVE FUN! :-)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Happy Halloween!

I finally had a chance to explore some of the pins I've collected on Pinterest and try out some new ideas. My mom and I organized the joint Junior/Senior Youth Group Halloween Party last Sunday and it was a great hit!

We kicked it off with a "getting to know you" game. Each kid was asked to take as much or as little candy corn out of a bowl as they would like, but they had to wait to eat it. After each kid had their handful of candy, they were asked to count the pieces and then one by one, share a fact about themselves with the group for each candy corn they grabbed out of the bowl.

It was a fantastic way to get the kids to talk about themselves and learn about each other. We had a huge age range at this event, from 9 to 18 years old!!! It was especially neat to see the elementary school students bonding with the high schoolers. A very unique experience for the younger kiddos.

Then it was dinner time. We had apple bagels which are delicious! Apple bagels are my all time favorite lunch from my childhood. They sound a little strange, but trust me, they taste simple and great.

Apple Bagels

  • 3 bagels, sliced
  • 1-2 apples, cored and sliced horizontally into 6 1/4 inch slices
  • 6 American cheese slices
  • Cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit
  2. Place each bagel slice on an ungreased cookie sheet
  3. Place a slice of American cheese on each bagel
  4. Place an apple slice on each piece of cheese
  5. Sprinkle a small amount of cinnamon on each apple slice (emphasis on the small - a little cinnamon goes a long way)
  6. Place the apple bagels in the oven until the cheese begins to melt (you'll see the corners start to curl slightly. You don't want the cheese too gooey!
  7. Let the bagels cool slightly until they are safe to pick up with your hands
  8. Enjoy!

We also had some Halloween themed snacks

The table spread of Blow Pop spiders, Oreo spiders, jello worms, candy corn, and small pumpkins. Yum!

 Close up of the jello spiders. (Click for the recipe)

 Blow Pop spiders, made with 8 cut pipecleaners.

Oreo spiders. I cut pull-apart Twizzlers, opened the oreo, placed 8 small Twizzler pieces inside, and "glued" them shut with a little frosting. Then I added the M&M eyes with a dab of frosting. How cute!

After digging in to the apple bagels and the treats, we played a skeleton scavenger hunt challenge. Two teams were challenged with finding all the pieces of their cut up plastic skeleton we hid around the church. One team had a white skeleton and one team had a green skeleton, to avoid confusion of bones.

Then we had a mummy-making challenge. Each team was given 5 minutes and 3 rolls of toilet paper to make one of their team members into a full-fledged Halloween mummy. It was hilarious to watch and they were very proud of their spooky creations! (I can't post pictures, but you can use your imagination!)

Hope our next joint Junior/Senior Youth Group event is this much fun! They definitely all had a great time. Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Courageous Servant, Bravely Humble

I am so grateful that my priest has given me these opportunities to give the sermon at Trinity. I stress out a lot beforehand while I am preparing, but after lots of prayer, preparation, several drafts, and more prayer, the final product is so rewarding. I am always amazed at how God works in my life and the lives of others. Hearing from congregation members that something I said really touched them is so humbling. And the time that I spend in prayer and thanksgiving before, during, and after the weekends I speak is fantastic. I really enjoy intentionally reveling in God's wonder. I need to do that more often.

Here is the sermon I gave at Trinity. I hope you enjoy it. Once it's posted, you can hear the audio version here.

Courageous, Brave, and Faithful

Do you remember this little sing-song? "Here the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. Close the doors, listen to them pray, open the doors and they all run away!"

Now as a kid, I learned that last part was not true, especially for those with kids at the 10am service which was followed by coffee hour. It felt some Sundays like were were stuck in coffee hour forever. 

But that's because my parents are part of the Trinity family. They have friends that they want to talk to, catch up with, ask how they are doing, see how things are going. They are part of this community.

Community is essential to our faith as Christians. We break bread together. We sing together. We pray together. We worship together. We talk about our Christian family around the world. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even Jesus had companionship and community during his time on earth through the twelve disciples. And Trinity Episcopal Church is more than 130 North West Street. It is the people who come here and worship and the people who go out into the community to serve.

And God requires us to have the courage to step up to the plate and serve each other. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to be a friend to the friendless. And when you see someone in need, to help them whether or not it is convenient for you.

I personally have a hard time keeping that last one. I make a lot of excuses for why I don't have time or why I can't help. I often joke and say, "I wish there were more hours in the day," when really I should be saying, "I wish I used my time more wisely."

Every so often, God finds a way to share with me exactly where I stand. Which is usually not quite where he wants and needs me to be. This time, I got that message from the most unlikely of places.

I have the opportunity to sponsor a little girl in Honduras named Angela Nicoll Escoto Salgado. She is part of a program called Compassion International which serves children in extreme poverty around the world. She is 11 years old and lives with her single mother and grandmother. In addition to being raised in a single parent home in extreme poverty, Nicoll has a handicap. She is crippled in one foot and one hand. A single parent home, a severe handicap, and extreme poverty have molded one of the most encouraging girls I have had the chance to communicate with.

In addition to monetary sponsorship, we are pen pals, writing back and forth every couple months or so. I received a letter from her last week which literally brought me to tears. Even when I tried to tell my mom about it I got choked up. I'd like to share the translation with you.

God bless you, Emily. I hope you are well and your family, too. I want to tell you this, my dream is to be a pastor because this way, I can teach everyone that they should receive the word of God and that they are given a marvelous, marvelous gift of Jesus Christ our Savior. If I don't become a pastor, I will serve God another way, but I will serve him. Another one of my dreams is to be a doctor so I can help those who are sick, like my Grandmother. She has diabetes. I want to help cure this disease. And I know that God is our best doctor. I say goodbye to you with kisses and hugs. God bless you. Thank you for being my sponsor. Can I ask you a question? Have you accepted God?

Talk about humbling experiences.

This, out of the mouth of an 11 year old girl. She is facing extreme circumstances that I think would give her every right to complain, but instead she tells me about her dreams to serve God, heal the sick, and teach about the gift of eternal life.

It takes bravery to face seemingly hopeless situations and trust in God. And it takes courage to help someone when you are nervous, unsure, or are putting something at risk.

Like in today's Gospel (Mark 7:24-37), I'd like to point out that no one asked for help for themselves. This wasn't about someone touching Jesus' robe and being healed or someone begging to be cured. Mark tells us about a mother who leaves her possessed daughter at home while she pleads with Jesus for healing on her behalf and of friends who bring their deaf friend with a speech impediment to Jesus and ask for him to just lay his hands on him.

I think that takes courage. She risked a "no." She risked leaving her daughter at home while she sought after Jesus. They risked public humiliation. They risked traveling to Jesus with their deaf, mute friend.

But just as God requires us to be his hands and feet, he also needs us to humble ourselves to receive help and healing. It may be extreme such as in recovering from addiction or support when tragedy strikes. Or it could be much smaller. Those are the times when I find it most difficult to ask for support or help. I don't like admitting that I don't have it all together. I don't like letting people know that I can't do it on my own. I fear that I will seem weak or inadequate or dumb. But those are the times when we need to have the courage to humble ourselves and ask for prayer, for help, for healing.

You see, our God is a living God! He is alive and very much present in our lives. We hear about these ancient miracles and it is really easy to think "that was then, but this is now." And that just. isn't. true.

God is here.
 God is present.
He is listening, and you just need to ask.

But you have to believe that God is listening when you ask, waiting as you seek, and behind that door when you knock. Just as faith without works is nothing, so are our pleas without faith.

When the woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter, he replied seemingly harshly stating, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." I learned something interesting while preparing for this sermon. A biblical scholar named John Dummelow explains the passage like this:

"In this passage, 'children' refers to the Jews whom Jesus was focusing his mission on at this time. And Rabbis often spoke of the Gentiles as 'dogs.' So the statement is speaking of how the Word of God should go first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. But here, here Jesus says not 'dogs' as the Gentiles do, but the exact translation is 'little dogs' such as household, or favorite dogs, giving the passage a different meaning. The woman catches this expression and responds cleverly that if the Gentiles are household dogs, then it is only right that they should be fed with the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
Yes, the woman responded cleverly, but without faith in Jesus' power to heal, her confidence would have been broken by a "no." And the men who brought their friend had unwavering faith that Jesus could heal him as they begged him to just lay his hands on him.

We should not let the pressure of this world allow us to swipe away the inconvenient needs of others. We need to humble ourselves and ask our Christian family for help and prayer when we are overwhelmed by life and in need of healing. And above all, trust in our Lord God to guide us, always and everywhere.

Mark writes, "They were astounded beyond measure, saying 'He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

This isn't just a story about what happened. It is a story about what happens when we have faith in our God, when we have the courage to serve, and when we humble ourselves to be served.