Here are the testimonies from some of our Wesley students gave as part of the Wesley Sunday service at Tahlequah First United Methodist Church on April 19th, 2020.
I don’t think there is avoiding writing about our current moment. It is not often that there is something that goes on that is not universally felt.
There is tension in the air, a collective dread in the grocery stores and in our own homes. We are being told there is not much else to do but stay home, stay safe. It has made me feel like a head without a body.
Personally, helplessness is not a feeling I like to have. All I ever hope to be for people is useful. So what am I to do? What are we to do, even when it seems the safest to do nothing?
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” – Romans 12:4-5
I do not believe we can be whole on our own. We are all brothers and sisters, and we need each other, especially now. In a time where we have been encouraged to isolate ourselves, it has become more apparent than ever how much I rely on the good people in my life. Thankfully, we have the capabilities today to remain connected to each other, should we choose to be.
Take advantage of our modern blessings.
Reach out to your friends.
Call them, hear their voices.
Video chat with them and see their faces.
Lean on each other, and see that joy has not left us
As a very active, involved college student, being told to suddenly drop everything you were doing, and sit at home can be quite jarring. The last thing I ever thought I would be doing during my last few months as a student would be scrolling through online assignments trapped in my parents’ house.
I thought I was going to be finishing out my last events for the Northeastern Activities Board, an organization I have dedicated most of my time to since I was a freshman, serving my community through volunteering with Big Event, or even just going out to dinner with my friends to celebrate our accomplishments.
Instead, everything I had planned, hoped, and worked for was thrown out the window in a few short days. It was a Wednesday night at the Wesley when we all found out about the Thunder game and players, the first real Coronavirus scare in Oklahoma.
We had been watching a movie with a mission group from West Virginia, whose spring break plans had been suddenly canceled and they needed something to do. We laughed off the craziness of it all, and connected in the small concerns on how our lives as college students would change through all of this. I had no idea that would be the last time I would be with some of my favorite people on campus in a place that has meant so much to me during my time at NSU.
In terms that can only be described as the stages of grief, I’ve felt it all. I was angry. Not really at anyone in particular, but just at the whole fact of it all. I was sad that so many people are hurting in the world, not just college students, but that I had to mourn the loss of getting to properly wrap up a very instrumental part of my life. Confusion in the midst of it all in ways that everything I had planned since the beginning of the year had to disappear and I just had to sit and be okay with it all.
I’ve had a lot of time to think it all over now. I’ve realized a few things; How many times have I prayed for a break? How many times have I asked God, “Please, just let it all slow down for one day so I can rest and catch up?” Now being quarantined for the foreseeable future WAS NOT what I had in mind, but I’m beginning to see the beauty of it.
When again in my life am I going to be surrounded by family with unhindered time to spend with them? I get to work on my classes at my own pace. I’ve grown closer to faculty in my degree and through extracurricular activities by bonding over the challenges of transferring online. I’ve made it a priority to connect with people more on a regular basis than I did when I only got to see them a few minutes a week on campus.
While finding rest in this time has been beneficial to me, I know that this is such a stressful time for everyone. Many people are worried about income, health of themselves and family members, and the many other issues that come in living in a time like this. As a Type-A personality at someone that likes to take charge and “do” I have found comfort in the fact there is nothing I can plan for.
Every day is new and I have to take it as is, there is no way to slack off when you are forced to sit still. My small and probably meaningless advice to you is, enjoy life on a day to day basis as much as you can. Find joy in the stories of people coming together all over the world who are fighting to save lives, find a healthcare professional and tell them thank you. Most importantly, stay inside as much as possible, enjoy your rest, and use this unprecedented time in history while the world is standing still to better yourself, lift up others, and find peace.
We serve a God who will never forsake us or leave us alone, no matter how much it feels like it.
My favorite verse comes from The Great Commission in the book of Matthew, chapter 28 verse 20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
These are strange times. It seems time for the Wesley foundation to reach out to the community to serve as a reminder for all of you.
We are sorry for all of those who are suffering currently to whatever extent it may be.
Everyone has been affected in some way, some more than others, and there seems to be no light at the end of this tunnel. And it is a very long tunnel. Regardless of the situation, just know that we are here to serve at the capacity we are at.
For those in need, we will do what we can within our power to help.
Please, know that you are not alone and that you can reach out to not just us, but whatever resources you may need because they are out there.
We are praying for all those who are affected.
This pandemic has tested human society, the entire world completely. It is at this point in time that we must remember that to overcome this, we must work together to minimize the negative impact. This is a team effort, and to love thy neighbor is of upmost importance in the scenario we find ourselves in. When you wash your hands, avoid large crowds, and practices social distancing with your friends and family, this is a form of loving your neighbor. This is how you look out for one another as well as yourself. This must all be done cohesively.
I can say from my standpoint that it all seems dire, and it seems to be that this is only the beginning. This needs to be said relentlessly; there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The end of this will come and our lives will return. The restaurants and movie theaters will open up again and it will be a day we can rejoice in the return of what we had. We may even be excited to return to class.
So, friends, take this as a moment to realize you are not alone, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and try to use this moment to appreciate the small things. Know that we must cherish what we have because it can easily be taken away by something out of our control. Psalms 91 says “whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadows of the almighty”. Take refuge in the lord. Trust in yourselves and others on this perilous journey. These are strange times, but you are never alone.
For those in need or who want to donate where they can:
A update from our Director, Shana Dry.
I recently went to my first funeral. It was not anyone I knew, I was asked to handle the slide show by my pastor at the church where the funeral was being held. I was very reluctant at first. I took the majority of the day he asked me to answer the request because I was quite anxious to go to my first funeral, something I felt I had been lucky enough to avoid all of my life.
I expected funerals to be like in the movies; very melancholy, dark, gloomy, and maybe even a little ominous. I figured though that it would only be an hour of easy work, I would get paid and the church needed somebody to do it.
Even though it was a relatively small task to press the next button on a keyboard, I figured I could serve my church this way even if it was only a little bit of work.
I swallowed my fear the morning of the funeral, clad in a black shirt and pants as I thought would be the attire of such an event. Upon walking through the doors, I was quite surprised. There was much talking and even a little bit of laughter coming from the attendees of this funeral. People were not wearing black colors, excluding the two pastors and the funeral service director. Within ten minutes of the actual funeral proceeding the atmosphere robbed me of any anxiety I had at that moment. I read the obituary, and the individual (whom will remain unnamed) had written it themselves.
It was a beautiful story of this person reminiscing on their life lived the way they wanted to and the sights they had seen and the experiences they had gotten to enjoy in their long and fruitful time among us. In a single moment, when we were all singing Amazing Grace, one of my favorite religious songs, it dawned on me that while it was a time for mourning of this individuals passing, it was more importantly a celebration of life.
When I left the church and headed home I brought back a lesson with me. I was awarded by god through doing this small favor for my church and stepping out of my comfort zone. I brought back an enlightenment that has further evolved with this question, “before I die I want to what?”.
I still only have vague answers for it, but I know I want to do something suited for me in the same capacity that the individual whose funeral I had attended had done. To quote a small, laminated poster on my math teachers podium in the eighth grade, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’”. Through a quick google search, I found the individual who spoke this quote was Erma Bomback.
So, in the same theme as the boards now posted in Second Century Square, I have a lot of answers. They can all be encapsulated into this; before I die, I simply want to live my life to the fullest. To fulfill this insanely broad answer, I have to graduate college, travel overseas, fulfill my tenure in the army, start a family, and answer my call to serve God’s kingdom in whatever capacity God would have me, the same way unlikely candidates like Moses and Paul did.
I want to do a plethora of things before I die, many I know I want now and will want later. I am sure many of my peers and whoever is reading this feels the same way. I want to look back on my life with a big smile and justify its celebration to myself when I do die.
I can only imagine this is what God intends for us all.
It’s fascinated me for a long time now that every major culture has or had a religion, or at least some sort of spiritual philosophy. Some kind of explanation for why we are here, why the world is the way it is, whether it’s explaining winter by way of the story of Persephone and Hades or that cows are gifts from Iat, the ancient Egyptian goddess of milk (the Egyptians sort of overdid it with the specificity of their pantheon, in this writer’s opinion).
However, it goes beyond the desire for knowing the way the world works.
We as humans have instilled in us a deep need for connection, not just to each other, but to something greater than ourselves. We are vessels, lightning rods of spirituality, if you will, and that is why loneliness can be such a cold weight in our lives. This is the bane of my generation, and it’s a great irony.
The world is more connected now than it has ever been here in the digital age, but as a result is so much smaller, and easier to only see unkindness and a lack of warmth. We are compelled to only present the best version of ourselves, both online and in person. Even myself, right now as I write this, can’t help but to consider this piece being shared on social media and am therefore spending long stretches of time considering every sentence, as to uphold any reputation I might have of being someone who can string together a coherent thought without sounding like a moron.
It is that fear that holds us back, that makes us lonely.
I encourage you to take a look at your life and see if you are allowing fear to get in the way of being who you are in God. I’ll start- I’m not even going to edit this piece, even though sometimes I think faster than I write and this ends with sentences that are long and rambling and hard to follow but that is okay.
Did this blog start like it was going to be a reflection on the consistent presence of spirituality in every culture but ended on a weird rant over individual loneliness?
Yeah, I guess that’s what happened, but here I am.
And here you are, at the end of it.
Look at us, connecting.
Perhaps my point is in need of some summarizing: We’re all messes in some way.
Don’t be afraid of your perceived flaws, learn from then. You’re far from alone. If you want Biblical proof to back that up, trust me, God makes it quite clear that He is always with you (though if you super want specific verses, try Deuteronomy 31:6 and Matthew 28:20, to name a couple).
All right, I’m coming up on 500 words, so I’ll duck out.
Thanks for reading.
When we commit ourselves to draw closer to the Light, the Darkness within us becomes more and more apparent. We are asked to not become overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.
How can we live radiated by Hope and Love when we have also cloaked the world in shadow?
A selfless, altruistic life is a difficult one because it contradicts our natural tendency to put ourselves above others. We cannot possibly travel the road alone. We must forge communities that empower one another to face the darkness together.
Have mercy on your enemies, have mercy on yourself; in remembrance of the countless times when God and fate conspired to have mercy on you.
The Light dwells within us all. No one can stray so far that the flame can be snuffed out. Every second is an opportunity to turn toward loving your neighbor as yourself. But, please, learn what loving yourself looks like first.
Our human systems and structures tell us to look out for #1, that those who matter are the ones who we can benefit from. Be not conformed to those paradigms. Care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.
We are raised with the notion that this world works with us, and leads us to prosperity. This concept is false. We are raised as lambs to the slaughter. Only the most prestigious, wealthy, and educated have the power to rule. We must take control of our fates, one with another.
We find ourselves widowed, in mourning, for the promise of a life that is fair and just. We have the power to see justice served in this blighted world. But we can’t do it alone, and we cannot do it unless we work toward dismantling those systems that bind and snare us.
We find ourselves orphaned, without opportunities to rise, and clamor to stomp on the heads of those who also try in vain to climb the ladder of material wealth and ‘worldly’ success. We must lift one another up, even if that is so very hard to do. Even if we die trying.
We have become strangers to our neighbor, our families, and even foreign to ourselves. We are suspicious of those different than us- who sing hymns of life different than our own. We are called to sing in one accord, a symphony that drowns out the booming sirens of oppression.
Even in the roaring tempest, the Light shines. Even in the pits of darkness, a candle leads us out. Reclaim your glory. Reclaim your worth. Drink not of the poison of what those in power tell you to drink, but from the cup of Living Water, and pour yourself into empty vessels.
Prophecy among your people. Speak those Truths that have the power to dispel the cacophony of those lies you took to heart as a child. Lies that made you feel unworthy. Not good enough. Draw out the Light so that we may burn a path for others to follow.
We are filled with fear, anxiety, and doubt of a bright future. We must rally around hope- a belief that the changes to come bloom out of a desire to see seats are made for everyone who desires to sit at the table.
We must pray earnestly that all the Children of God- not just some, come to desire peace and harmony, and not subjugate the “other”- we pray those shackles of –phobia break, so we may courageously love those who are not like us.
We are called to mend the world, and stitch up the wounds we have caused with our thoughts, words, and actions. All are of sacred worth. All are worthy of mercy, grace, justice, and love.
He said: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do”.
We are forgiven.
We now know what we have done.
It is on us to right our wrongs.
To protect who have no ability to defend themselves.
These are not suggestions.
This is our charge.
This is our command.
I want to remind you that while when two or more are gathered, God is amongst them, our great Creator dwells in the most unlikely places.
In the past months, I’ve struggled to find my place and rhythm in the new phases of my life. From beginning my second year of seminary, to serving my first congregation, to becoming more involved in the spiritual lives of people around me.
It’s easy for me to recognize the Spirit of that living god when I am on the summits of life’s mountains, but it is extremely difficult to find God in the valleys; and I must admit- I’ve had some very deep valleys.
I’m reminded of when I surrendered myself to the call to ministry- I placed on that altar of my mind the notion that I have to accept the grace, mercy, and love of those people who have supported me in the valleys.
Again, I have yet to fully embrace the notion of not being alone in my journey, though I am grateful to those who take their time to constantly remind me what I believe at times is not the case.
One name we give to Christ through the scriptures is “Emmanuel”- “God is with us”.
And I wholeheartedly believe that if God was not with me in my valleys, I would never have made it out of them.
Friends, loved ones, we are all among the children of our Creator and are all of sacred worth and purpose. God is with us on our mountaintops, where the light shines all around us and that divine radiance is warm and inviting- where God’s Holy Spirit nourishes us and allows us to grow and produce good fruit that can be shared by all.
I want to remind you today that we are not alone in the valleys. When we find ourselves in despair- in solitude- in that great dark expanse- remind yourself of Emmanuel; God is With Us.
God is with you in your trials.
God is with you in your withdrawals.
God is with you in those thorns and those seasons of life where you may believe Light cannot pierce through.
We are called to mend this broken world- even if we are broken people who cling so hard to those things that have broken us.
Grace. Mercy. Love. These are the balms that cover a multitude of sins- a salve made of living water that heals, and stitches, and binds together our wounded and broken souls. That we may be better able to reconcile ourselves one with another, and in turn forgive and love ourselves when we do not treat ourselves as we deserve to be.
There is a certain stigma that plagues the church that has been conveyed by the emerging generation. Many would say that this stigma is well-earned and deserved.
Many in my generation have used a plethora of familiar words to describe the church: judgmental, hypocritical, homophobic, racist, hateful, and critical among many other words. Many in my generation have been shunned and ostracized for not having a strong enough faith and being full of sin to the point in which they have turned their back on the church altogether.
I was in that same boat.
I was always a believer in Christ, but not always a follower. I was spiritual, but not religious. I believed but had no one to believe with because I was angry at how my home church had treated people outside of their close-mindedness. I held onto that grudge until it became a crutch to me and my relationship with God. I still remained a believer, but my mind was broken from being told I was not good enough, and I was a sinner.
However, I grew older and went through many spiritual crisis’s, that lead me to try again with myself and God and experiment with different denominations which were most of the time hit or miss. It was not until I went to college that I found United Methodism. I am not saying that it is the answer for everyone, I just learned the doctrine and it spoke to me more than anything else has before.
I tell this story to let everyone know that turning your back on the church is not the answer, and that it is OKAY to be a sinner. A church is out there waiting for you with open arms eager to transform your life. I wore the guilt that I allowed my home church to put on me as I know so many others do, and it took a lot of courage for me to let go and try again.
It payed off however and I know in my heart that it can for you, whoever you may be, as you are caught between the pain of being guilted by your neighbors and the love of God. To all of you feeling that way, I am sorry the church has failed you.
I am sorry that you are feeling this way, but please seek out redemption from guilt.
Be found again.
If nothing else, know this: you are loved, not only by God but by me and the many others who have embraced me as the sinner I am at my own church.
Know that the church is for everyone, not just the saints, it is specifically for the sinners just like Jesus had surrounded himself with so many years ago. It is for sinners just like you and me.
Do not think you are not good enough; do not sell yourself short.
There is plenty of room in God’s kingdom, you just have to let yourself be found again.