Finding a church home. Again.

It just happened to be baby dedication Sunday at the largest Methodist church in the Atlanta area and I was feeling starkly under-accessorized.

You hear about the southern churches that treat the center aisle like a runway–and I had stumbled into that sanctuary.

Granted, it was baby dedication Sunday and the perfect opportunity for families to show off their coordination–but I was still blown away by the labels and jewelry I saw across the pews.

I should have worn more bracelets.

One of the best parts and hardest parts about starting again in a new city is finding a church.

It’s such a personal, chemical kind of thing.

I have my list of “criteria” and a memory of a feeling in tow each Sunday morning.

When I first moved to Winston-Salem, I searched for years. It was hard and by the time I found REVO (one of my favorite Sunday mornings), I had probably visited 10 churches on some kind of repetition hoping to find my place.

At the end of it all I found REVO on the recommendation of a friend who had attended the same church as me in Boone, N.C.

Then Boston was easier for a perhaps sad reason.

There were very few churches to pick from that were feasible enough for me to get to on a regular basis.

I found Union United Methodist Church on my second try. A lucky Google search, a church in one of my favorite neighborhoods, and a reputation for being socially progressive.

The choir’s rendition of “Love Lifted Me” brought tears that morning and I knew I had to come back.

Atlanta is trickier than Boston in that there are approximately 5,000 churches to learn about or visit. I’ve asked friends. I’ve visited two. And I need to keep learning a lot more.

So far I have been to the uber traditional United Methodist Church and then an equally uber socially liberal United Methodist Church.

I feel like Little Red Riding Hood. I need something in the middle.

This Sunday I visited a “Contemporary Service” and quickly things seemed awry….

It seems like every Sunday has a different little set of challenges on not being 100 percent comfortable or 100 percent what I’m looking for.

While it can be disappointing to not find a church home right away, I’ll never take for granted the huge gift of learning: what exactly I need — what exactly I believe — and what exactly I expect and want in a church.

You don’t really get to be that self-reflective without reason!

If you’re looking for a new church currently here is my modified (ongoing) checklist:

  • – Are you looking for a denomination?
  • – If so, why? This will help clarify for the following questions.
  • – Are there certain belief structures that are sacred to you?
  • – What level of involvement are you looking for?
  • – How long do you plan to be involved? Who else does this affect?
  • – Do you want to be able to do missions? Internationally?
  • – How important is accessibility to the pastoral team?
  • – Are you looking for certain qualifications / degrees / distinctions for the pastoral team?
  • – What type of message do you prefer?
  • – Do you want traditional? Contemporary? A church with varying types of services?
  • – What is the most important part of the service for you? Worship? Message? Fellowship?
  • – Is location a factor?
  • – Do you care how old the church is?
  • – What about the church’s stance on social issues? It’s now easy to search congregations friendly to all types of love.
  • – Do I know anyone at local churches? Or anyone with connections to local churches?

While this list is ever being added to; I found that I’ve really had to meditate on all of my answers. And it helps. You’re focused on what you need.

Until next Sunday, the saga continues — but in the meantime I am thankful for another Sunday in a church. And another Sunday to make sure I know all of my answers to the questions above!

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Why you need to keep a gratitude list.

I like to think that I’m a pretty thankful person on any given day without thinking about it in too much detail.

For the most part I like to think that I take my family and friends, job, apartment, and money to heart.

There are lots of moments that I feel a notable heart surge of thanks when something nice happens.

But, note, “I like to think” a lot of these things. I’m not 100 percent sure though that I consistently meditate on how great they really are.

We’re all busy. On lots of days it’s all you can do to work, cook all of your meals, squeeze in a work out and find time to chat with loved ones. Nevertheless have a moment to sit around in conscious thought about how great life is.

There is a need, though.

Life can be even better if we take some extra time once a week for ourselves. We’re always wanting that quiet 15 minutes, and when you steal it—jotting down your gratitude list can make the other minutes of your week a little more colorful.

I think you’ll find that the reflection on gratitude will affect every aspect of your life and those you share it with.

1. Conscious gratitude results in deeper gratitude.

When you stop to really think about how many and what kinds of good things are happening in your life; the good seems a lot bigger. It’s easy to think “of course, I’m healthy.”

Well, that takes the feel-good out of a blessing.

At times where things go wrong — I think that half of the sadness in the situation is knowing that we didn’t appreciate it when it was going GOOD. We need to fully live in our gratitudes and soak out every last drop.

I am healthy today and that isn’t something that I was promised. It’s not something that will necessarily always be true. I have the strength to go run four miles if I want and I don’t have to stress out about any doctor appointments like some people. I really need to be thankful in that. And also maybe get my butt out from behind my desk and go run.

Nodding your way through life diminishes some of the most important parts.

2. When we keep track of the numerous blessings in our life; the need to bless others is un-ignorable.

The good things we have are privileges to some degree, right?

And with privilege comes a kind of responsibility, right?

By consciously realizing what we have–we can appreciate the need to share the good with others.

On those days we passively feel thankful for what we have it’s easy to feel like all of those things are deserved:

  1. good health
  2. family who supports us
  3. friends who follow through on plans
  4. a stable job and income
  5. work that we feel like matters
  6. a safe home
  7. freedom to practice whatever faith we want
  8. physical ability to go take on that killer work out
  9. opportunities to grow
  10. mentors who care what you can accomplish

And those are just 10 things.

My guess is that at some point in time you haven’t had one or more of those. And in that moment, YOU needed a blessing.

I think by keeping a gratitude list we can reflect on what we’re being given and be thankful. And even more we can see the opportunity to bless other people.

When you’re thankful your friends follow through on plans — it makes you want to be a friend who does the same, am I right?

It makes you realize how important calling your grandparents can be.

And it could give you that kick to respond to a new grad’s email about helping them with the job search.

3. Keeping a gratitude list can change YOUR day.

It’s Monday and a small hiccup in your schedule happens sending some plans into disarray.

Cue “over-reashley.” (Ain’t that a cute nickname? Real love you guys.) I tend to overreact about small things and turn them into GIANT problems. #TheWorldIsEnding.

When you have the perspective of what you HAVE. What is good. What matters. You’re not going to be sweating the slow line at Publix or co-worker who doesn’t understand work process.

By reflecting regularly on a gratitude list — your gratitude WILL affect your attitude.

All of those opportunities at your feet? Maybe by realizing how special they are you’ll start being more proactive about exploring them.

So, what am I doing about it?

I’m going to work on meditating once a week on my blessings. Yes, a perfect opportunity for a beautiful handwritten list.

And then I’ll focus on finding motivation to share in at least one way with others. Sometimes maybe I’ll post about it — but I’ll always try to keep a physical list.

While life is not perfect and there are definite improvement areas; I think my perspective can be even better right this second if I take a little bit more time to breathe in through my nose…close my eyes…smile…and know in how many ways I’m taken care of.

When you figure that part out; you can’t help but share it.

Spoiler alert: My gratitude list is going to be directly relevant to a >>>> prayer list. Which is something I’ll be writing on Sunday. (PS: If you like lists, let’s be best friends.)

Today’s gratitude: The opportunity to pick up an extra shift at work this weekend to help ease some financial stresses.

Today’s pay it forward: Since I’ll have a little extra money, it’s probably a good idea to chip into that co-workers present pool to show how much I really appreciate working with them.

xx.

We call this my “drama tiara.”

I can’t help that I was born with a type-A personality.

Symptoms include overactive planning, over-thinking small details and needing to feel entirely in control at all times.

Sometimes, when the planning is going wrong, I have no control and the small details are overwhelming—my feelings decide to take the reigns.

And I put on my “drama tiara.” Aptly named by either my mother or bff Katie. I can’t remember.

Amen.

I get extremely worked up and everything is just, for lack of a better phrase, well…it’s all going to hell!

Then the second phase of this 3-year-old-style meltdown begins–which is the inability to move on. I have to dwell and sulk and freak out until something magical happens that neither I nor anyone else can forecast that alleviates my anxieties.

I’m, admittedly, kind of a nut job.

This is what I really need to be telling myself…

Over the past year it’s been too easy for me to get into these funks and forget that the thing that makes me feel better is pretty simple.

It’s Jesus.

This past week I’ve been constantly working on finishing SIX final packages for my internship. (Y’all that’s like 60 hours of work, likely.) Not to mention I’ve been working on that whilst saying goodbye to Andy as he moved away from Boston (just goodbye for a week—but in my full drama, I’m acting like it’s goodbye forever) and also packing up my first Boston apartment.

Somebody get me a piece of pie or something.

It’s just moments like tonight on a Saturday night feeling sorry for myself and looking at my to-do list and the empty spot next to me on the couch that I kind of have to pinch myself. And remind myself that I control my feelings — they don’t control me.

So, y’all — maybe some prayers over the next week while I get my life re-situated!?

In the meantime, I’m hanging out on the REVO Church Podcast page. Feel free to join me, :).

^^ That.

25 by 25: Learning the Guitar

This has been both an easy and challenging task.

Easy? I took piano for roughly five years and it came pretty naturally. So, I already understand chord structure and it’s not been an overwhelming thing to memorize finger patterns.

Challenging? Ow. Strings are different on the hands than ivory. Not to mention, I am one slow transitioner. All my songs kind of stutter right now. But I promise once I master one, I’ll post a video.

Regardless of the days or nights that I’ve spent blindly teaching myself and probably annoyed family members and neighbors–it is still so very relaxing. It’s completely been a solace for me while I’ve been sidelined from running. (Still, my leg. What the heck. I’ll save that continuing rant and torture for another day.) Luckily, because of all of the time strumming, I am getting an inkling better.

Something that I’m going to be near expert at soon? Stringing.

Oh, I’m apparently adept at having strings break. So now, after six months, I have strung my guitar no less than 3 times. Hopefully that decreases in the future too.

This is what peace looked like last night:

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Right now (don’t laugh) I was working on an easy song (hello repetitive chord structure) in “Highway Don’t Care.” Oh, yes. Tim McGraw’s new gem. I alternate in between some hymns and personal favorites, Christina Perri (however, her songs are a little more complex than I’ve graduated to yet).

My next one to tackle? I love this Mumford & Sons rendition of one of my favorite songs to sing at church. I haven’t posted many Sunday devotions lately. So, give this a listen. Even if you prefer more mainstream music perhaps you can appreciate Mumford & Sons take on a popular song. Love. I don’t think I’ll be taking on their guitar match any time soon, but perhaps in the spirit of learning I can find an easier tab to play.

When it’s out of your control, all you can do is trust Him.

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There are a couple of situations in my life right now that seem a little unsurmountable. There are a lot of prayers going up. And while I’m trying to just channel a lot of hard faith that things are going to work out the way that they are supposed to—I realized how easily I forgot this bible verse that I held SO dear just six months ago. It goes a little something like this:

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

– Ephesians 3:14-21

Just a little devotion for your Thursday.

Some days it’s easier to say than others, but I believe everything happens for a reason.

Tonight I’m thankful for unexpected the people you didn’t know you needed, who appear right when they could help you the most.

The past few weeks have been some of the most stressful that I think I’ve faced in a long time. Honestly, pardon the French, but May has been a bitch. Name any aspect of general life for a 24-year-old and I can give you a story for how this month had X, Y and Z challenges in every aspect. It’s a huge reason that you’ve not seen much writing on the blog since my race. I’ve tried to sweep the stress under the rug, but based on feedback from close friends, family and even co-workers—it’s confirmed that I’m a terrible actress. Luckily there is a “but” in this equation.

But: it’s just when you’re on the cusp of a breakdown that you find a breakthrough.

What has been arguably the hardest month of 2013 so far, has turned into being one of the most surprising. What I wanted to write off on May 20th as the worst month of the year, I’m now writing off as “the most rewardingly challenging.” See, it’s all about how you word it.

I do know that May is a curve in the path for me. May has been about changes. May has been about letting go. May has been about being vulnerable. Trusting. Enduring. Closing your eyes and hoping for the best. But one nice thing about May is that it has been about unexpected support. Surprising reminders.

It’s been easy in the midst of stress and anxiety to pray about all of these things with one eye open and clenched fists. Sometimes, as an admitted lover of control, it’s hard for me to let things go. And it’s really hard for me to hand things off to God to take care of.

This month, even with as detached as I have sometimes felt from God’s presence, He still managed to coordinate a gigantic relief. Just the time and just the way that I needed it.

Some things happen for perfect reason and at the perfect time and you can’t ask questions, all you can do is appreciate what just happened.

And tonight, I just know that everything happens for a reason. And that’s what gives me the grace to think that June? June is going to be a lot easier because of the sweat that May put me through : )