Yesterday was my eldest son’s first day of Kindergarten. We started the day with energy and excitement as he embarked on this new season of independence (and just a couple of tears from his momma). Before he got on his bus for the first time, I took a moment to remind him that he was a kind and brave little kid and could do ALL things through Christ who strengthens us (even joining the Space Force-which is currently on the aspirational bucket list for him).
I often make mistakes as a parent, but if I can encourage my child to remember that the light of Christ dwells in him, to be used for good in the world, then I will have done something right in my call as a momma.
This week has been full of parental reflections about God and my own life as a parent at both home and in our ministry context.
On Sunday at Street Church, we took time to talk through the “I AM” statements that Jesus used to identify himself as the human representation of God in the flesh, according to the gospel of John. In our reading for the service, we focused on John 6:35; 41-51 where Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life.”
We pondered as a congregation, What does it mean to know Jesus through the revelation of these mysterious statements that Jesus makes about himself in connection with/to/as God?
In worship, we participated in a craft activity that outlined our hand and we wrote out in each of the finger spaces the “I Am” statements that Jesus uses to describe the love and character of God.
“I Am the good shepherd (John 10:11,14);”
“I Am the living bread that came down from heaven (John 6:51);
We took time to discuss the ways that God, the great “I AM,” can be accessed right from the palm of our hand and in our hearts through the offering and sacrifice of Jesus which made that access even possible. All of the traits of our loving God who guides us, feeds us, and offers the true living source comes alive when we start a relationship with Jesus through worship and even when we receive the Grace offered at the Lord’s Table during Holy Communion.
As we reflected on the complexity of God’s many forms in both the representations of Father, Son and Spirit in the Holy Trinity (I got some doozy questions this week asking about that one!) we also talked about how the personal descriptions that Jesus uses around “I Am” also tells us something about how God feels about us.
I asked our group to then write beside each finger “I am” affirmations about themselves. If we believe that God and Jesus are healer and nurturer, then I invited our people to think about five positive things that God would say about them, like a loving parent would say to their kids.
The sanctuary, generally full of lively conversation during this part of the service, suddenly went silent.
“I’m OK, I guess.” One said…
“OK?” I replied, “I think you’re more than OK…”
“Well…..I guess I like to care for plants? I am a …”
“PLANT NURTURER” I responded! “Caring for the least!”
‘OK,’ I thought to myself…this was going to take baby steps.
I was shocked that our discussion had grown so quiet. Then it occurred to me that our people do not think in terms of positive affirmations about themselves. Oftentimes they dwell in the shame of their past and the labels that have been put on them. Things that have been said so often that now they believe them. The sad part is, that some of them do not recognize themselves as a child of God. A child who is cherished, loved, and adored for who they were created to be.
Many times in this work, I have questioned why God called me, a suburban (now Kindergarten) Mom to this ministry. For lack of a better term, I do not find myself to have much “street cred” when I came into this work. Yet many times I find that my “mothering” crosses over with my Pastoral “shepherding” and looks awfully similar to God’s mothering love in the flesh through the acts of Jesus. In my week of ministering to the people of Street Church, I have been amazed at how God has reminded me that mothering doesn’t stop at home. It is also a precious gift that I have been given to affirm all of God’s precious children with the nurturing Spirit of Christ.
On Monday, for example, I got to witness our friend Marvin take a big step towards independence. He overcame his anxiety around figuring out public transportation on his own to get to our leadership meeting. When he arrived, it was like the prodigal son had returned home! I shouted his praises and how proud I was of this accomplishment which would be small to some, but huge for our population!
Marvin’s smile lit up the room! That same day, I accompanied him to an interview with FOODE where I watched him take our interview skill building session to a new level when he answered his questions, calmed his anxiety and ultimately was offered a new job (with a pay raise!) and some additional potential for opportunities to learn more culinary skills. It was a GOOD day!
I joke that I am a one-woman “hype” squad for Marvin. Since I know his history, I am often pumping him up and telling him how much I believe in him. I know he needs it. After the interview, he shared with me that he was disconnected from his mother due to some tragic memory issues and wished that she could “see that he was making something of himself.” He wanted her to be proud of him. I reminded him that we were there and God was there rooting him on to encourage him so he could continue to tell the story of how God has helped him through this time.
“I Am the good shepherd (John 10:11,14)”; Thank you God for the ways that continue to lead us to new opportunities when we follow you!
Tuesday took a downward shift, when I took someone who has been serving on our team to turn themselves into jail. This person has shared a lot about their struggles with abandonment and has a traumatic story that they wrestle to overcome. As this person’s Pastor, I acknowledged the bravery to walk in and offered to take them to jail if it would be helpful. I wanted to be a non-anxious presence and support this person in this really difficult moment not knowing what would be next. We got some food and took time to reflect on what was happening and make a plan to move forward.
I realized in our conversation that this person didn’t often hear that they were worthy of a different path. They didn’t believe it, either. Their shame and need to survive has caused them to build up barriers and defend at all costs, for the sake of self preservation. This person uses their “rap sheet” as if trying to scare me away, testing to see if I will stick around even as they unveil all of their history. I don’t and I won’t. All I can continue to do is point them towards Jesus, the One who will never give up on us. The One who will continue to search for His lost sheep, like a shepherd who won’t sleep until the last one comes home.
“I Am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51); Thank you God for the ways that you feed us even in the desert times of our Spirit. Help us to find spiritual satiation in you, alone.
This ministry of Street Church reminds me that the root of our transformation has to start with accepting and knowing God’s precious parental love for us.
It is a love that tells us that we are created in God’s image and seen in God’s eyes as “good.”
A love that affirms our worth and tells us that we are kind, brave, and capable of doing anything that we put our minds to. It holds us close, like a child sitting on a loving parents lap.
Yet it is also a love that we often do not feel worthy of and a grace that we struggle to accept.
With the power of Christ that abides in us, we hold the key to true spiritual transformation in our acknowledgement that the grace and compassion offered on the cross, through Jesus, is offered for every neighbor, stranger, and outcast too. It is here, it is alive and it is the bread of life, offered for you.
Thanks be to God.
Would you Pray with me? Loving and nurturing God. Thank you for the ways that you show up in our world and affirm through your love who you are and how you see us as your children. Help us to remember that love and grace in our hearts as we show up in the world. Thank you for reminding us everyday that we are beloved and that we are enough, just as we are. Amen.
We hope you will join us for Dinner Church being hosted tomorrow August 12th and 26th at the Caroline St. Entrance of Fredericksburg Baptist Church on the corner of Amelia St. and Caroline St.
We will host a baked potato bar dinner service from 5:00-6:00 PM and it is open to all who want to serve and be in relationship with our community. We are always looking for servers, musicians, and helpers who want to show up at 4:00 or stay after and clean up.
This ministry will be hosted weekly on Thursdays starting in September with more opportunities to serve and get invovled!