Do all the good you can, every day, in every way that you are able.

As you all know, I’ve been sewing pillowcases for charities for a while.  So far since Jan. 1 of 2016, my mother and I have made 400 pillowcases for charities such as the El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo and Albuquerque Ronald McDonald Houses, St. Andrew’s Hospitality House and more recently I made them for Veterans in local nursing homes.  I still have some to deliver, but more than half of them have been distributed to their intended locations.   The more of these I make, the more ideas I have of who these pillowcases can serve.

I have learned several things about this simple, repetitive, project.  One thing is that repetitive action, if productive, is very relaxing, and gives you a feeling of accomplishment.  Spending my time producing something useful is very gratifying.  The other thing I learned is that, small things mean a lot especially to the two ends of the life experience.  Very small kids and older people in nursing homes respond the same way, with delight, when receiving even the smallest gift when it is given personally.  Most institutions will take your donations, have you sign a donor list and send you on your way.  When you get the opportunity to personally give your small gift to individuals, it makes you more connected to the recipient and more likely to want to continue to give more of yourself in the future.  If you are one of those people that like to give anonymously there are lots of opportunities to do that.  But if you want to share the light Jesus put in you and spark that light in someone else, find the thing that lets you make human, one on one contact with someone.   

I had two of the best experiences happen in the past month.  I had been praying for a personal experience of connection with someone who would receive one of my pillowcases.  The first was delivering red, white and blue pillowcases to Veteran’s in nursing homes on Veteran’s Day.  Responses of nursing home residents were as varied as their physical and medical situations.  Some didn’t know I was in the room, most didn’t know what to say and were surprised that a stranger came to give them something.  But the ones that sat up and started telling you stories of their military adventures were really enjoyable.  I knew I sparked a memory in them that was important, and it was important to them that someone heard it.  I was glad to be that person.    

Then on Thanksgiving week, I got to deliver to Ronald McDonald House in Amarillo, Texas.  The coordinator there, Mrs. Jan Plequette, has been my contact person there for 4 years.  She arranged for me to meet the Child Life Specialist at North West Texas Children’s Hospital.  When I got there, the staff picked out a pillowcase that they thought would perfectly fit a particular patient they wanted me to meet.  Her name was Mila.  She was 4 and receiving infusions that day.   I was not allowed to know her illness because of HIPAA regulations, but they put me in a disposable isolation gown and gloves and let me give her this specially chosen pillowcase myself.  This little girl was the brightest piece of sunshine I have ever met.   The nurses there at the hospital said that this little girl keeps them all cheered up.  And she was so sweet I had the best time talking to her.  I wish I could have taken her home with me and kept her for a sister.  I would love to have someone like this in my life on a daily basis.  Her mother was so sweet too.  She said she was happy and grateful that a complete stranger would give her daughter a little gift that made the time they spent there at the hospital more comfortable and a less bland and boring experience.  

That experience was my ideal, the dream I had in my mind all along, coming true.  On Veteran’s Day, after delivering pillowcases all day, we went to the VFW for their fundraiser dinner in Cloudcroft, NM.  There I saw the man I knew as Santa Claus my whole life.  He was the man that worked at our local mall and posed for Christmas pictures.  He has been Santa for every Toys for Tots event, every charitable Christmas project and event in Alamogordo for my entire life.  He was there, eating dinner and had a Vietnam Veteran jacket on.  I had never spoken to him outside of his role as Santa.  As he left, I went to our car, and picked out an extra red, white and blue pillowcase and gave it to him.  I thanked him for his service to our country, as I had with all the veterans in the nursing homes I met that day.  And he thanked me and said he knew I made a lot of old people happy that day, and that’s what is so great about being Santa – so we had a little something in common.  I guess if I had to choose a title, I’d choose “The Pillowcase Fairy”.   I really can’t pull off Santa Jr.   

The marketing director at North West Texas Children’s Hospital said she hoped that my doing this would spark interest in others to do something and hopefully encourage kids to do things that were small random acts of kindness.  That is what I hoped to do with this article.  To tell kids that they are an important part of the world and that their outlook on life, if carried with them through adulthood, can affect the world around them.  At the least, an attitude of giving can affect their own life, and at the most, it can affect all those that have received from them.  It may spark others to pay it forward in their own way.  And every different way you can think of to pay it forward is necessary in some way to someone.  

To all the kids who dream of affecting the world in a big way, do it in a way that you know makes Jesus proud, have him as your partner, and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.


100_3566   Madeleine Fazenbaker is 14 years old and is a wonderfully gifted young lady that lives in New Mexico.  She is very active in her church and her community and truly is a young woman after God’s own heart.  Why pillowcases?  Because when you lay your head on a pillow to rest you can remember this:  “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 One of her favorite scriptures for small acts of kindness:  Hebrews 6:10 –  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

Noise by Leia Williams

On Mondays and Thursdays, I have to sit at a desk that is about half the size of a normal desk. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, since I am about half the size of a normal adult, but it is stacked with stuff that is not mine and already houses an oversized Mac that is not mine either (none of which I can move).

On these two days, I squeeze all of my work materials into a 10×34 inch space. Yep, I measured that sucker.

Adding insult to injury, it is right next to a giant copy machine and a shredder, both of which are used by people from multiple departments. In other words, I am squeezed into a super small space with people standing over me to make copies or leaning over me to shred paper most of the day. It is more than slightly awkward…and you thought you hated Mondays.

My workplace has one additional problem. It is incredibly loud. Oh, heavens the noise! I am a fundraising consultant for a private high school in Indianapolis and I have not been around teenagers regularly since I was one, so I was pretty shocked by the volume at the school. Students are everywhere. They are singing and laughing and talking e v e r y w h e r e.

My productivity level has taken a major hit in this environment. If you know me, you know this makes me crazy.

Jean sits parallel to me. The students love her. They come to see her every day. She is my neighbor and part of the reason our cramped, little neighborhood is filled with very loud children who could be in class.

I don’t remember hanging out with adults when I was in high school, at least not on campus. That would have been lame, possibly even reputation suicide. These students, however, feel incredibly comfortable with Jean; they seek her out for conversation.

She has been very intentional about building relationships with them. The fruit of her intentionality is complete honesty. This rare gift is something most teenagers reserve for their peers. Nevertheless, Jean is privy to conversations about parties, tattoos, and arguments with mom. I am privy to them, too, but only as a result of location.

Each day of school, she has the opportunity to witness to these students and impart wisdom. Every day, she chooses that opportunity no matter how loud or crazy the conversations become. I have had the privilege of listening to her counsel a young woman against getting a tattoo without her mom’s permission. I have also had the privilege of listening to her help a young man find someone who would baptize him. No conversation is off limits. They openly talk about #BlackLivesMatter, abortion, cheating on tests, refugees, student council, and more. When the students want to pray, she will pray with them. When they need someone to stop them from getting into a fight, they come to her.

She is not a teacher. She is not a counselor. She is an administrative assistant, who makes time for students who need words of wisdom. Every day, Jean takes a very average role and transforms it by inviting the divine into the conversations she has with these teenagers.

They talk to her about smashing the patriarchy one day and how sad they are their dads left another. Jean listens. She hears their struggles and concerns. There is no judgement in her tone as she responds, but her words always challenge these students to do what is right.

They pile up their backpacks around her desk and huddle in the floor just to have a few moments of her time. I know they do this, because she truly listens. Her ears have given legitimacy to the words flowing from her mouth.

Soon I will not be stepping over backpacks and students to get to my desk or overhearing the latest teenage drama. Summer is here and the school year is coming to a close. While I am certain my productivity will increase, I will not have a constant reminder that we can participate in ministry and kingdom building regardless of our professional titles.

I don’t know about you, but I need reminders like that. I need people like Jean who invite the divine into every day conversations, people who are willing to bring their callings into the secular and mundane.

Without these reminders, it is far too easy to forget we are called to do the same.


leiawilliamsMy name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames.  I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school. Now, I have served The United Methodist Church for nearly 7 years in fundraising, discipleship, and communications.

3 Things I Would Tell My High School Self by Jake Tatarian

 

I graduate from Seminary in May. It’s a strange thing being on the precipice of the end of my foreseeable future as a student and seeing a future that is not filled with homework assignments and sitting in a classroom, looking at a clock, counting down the time until you can leave. Nearing this crossroads of a major transition in my life, I have found myself looking both backwards at what you’ve accomplished and forward, to a future that is full of boundless opportunity.

Looking back, I can see the personal transformations that I have undertaken and continue to experience, especially in recent years as I feel I have undergone the most radical transformations since I left high school. In light of this, I have decided to write this letter to my high school self: three things my current self would tell my high school self in the hopes that you, too, might find some encouraging message within.

 

  1. Take School Seriously…But Not Too Seriously.

School is important. Your education is important: it lays the foundation for the rest of your life and, in my case, is a prerequisite for beginning the career I want to build. Doing well in school and making sure you do your work not only establishes good work habits during your formative years, but getting good grades allows you to continue on in your education to college and beyond.

However.

School should not consume your life to the point that you never have any fun. Life is meant to be experienced and there are a whole lot of fun things that you can do instead of spending all of your time outside of a classroom with your nose buried in a book. Class time is a serious time for soaking up what the teachers want you to learn, but it’s OK to keep it a little bit light-hearted too. Enjoy it—you’re not a student forever.

 

  1. You Have to be Intentional About Your Friendships

I remember the summer between my high school graduation and the beginning of college and all of the pacts that were made that we would always keep in touch and my friendship with certain people would withstand the inevitable tests of time and distance…and those friendships faded over time. There were never any fights we just quit…talking. Now this is a two-way street, but for your friendships that you want to keep from your high school years, you need to be intentional about maintaining communication and finding time to get together for lunch or to simply hang out and enjoy being in each other’s presence. You spend a lot of time cultivating relationships throughout high school—it would be a shame to lose those because you quit finding time for each other.

 

  1. The Best You is the Real You

Far too many high schoolers spend way too much time trying to be someone they’re not for the sake of popularity or friends. I have news for you, though, that’s very difficult to maintain. Faking an interest in a band or sport, dressing in a fashionable sense where you look cool, but can’t breathe (I’m looking at you, skinny jeans), even picking up on the hip lexicon that all the cool kids are using, but you would be embarrassed to have your parents hear, can become toxic to the real you. Don’t be afraid to let the real you come out of its shell, to let the person God created you to be breathe and experience the world. I’ve found that the more authentic and up front I am about who I am, the easier it is to make friends and foster relationships that are built upon trust much more quickly. Plus, you don’t have the added burden of trying to juggle the masks that you keep in your back pocket depending upon who you’re with at a given moment.

So there you have it. Three things that I would tell my high school self which can be boiled down to this: Throw away the masks, make lots of friends, and enjoy life. There are many wonderful people and experiences to see and God did not mean for our lives to be miserable where we await the day that we might depart this world. So, close your computer screen, go call that person you’ve been meaning to check up on, and plan a get-together to catch up and continue strengthening your friendships.


Picture1.pngJake Tatarian is a soon-to-be seminary graduate and pastor currently living in Oklahoma City. He is a basketball and soccer fan, of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Brighton and Hove Albion, respectively. Jake does not follow baseball, but if pressed for a favorite team, and in keeping with the tradition of this site, he would say his favorite team is the Seattle Mariners.

I Love My Job! by Austin Leeviraphan

I was honored to be invited to write a post for “Bearded Theologians” even though I have a clean shaven chin… but naked face aside, here we go. I, or anyone else for that matter, would never have thought myself to grow up to be someone who would minister to youth. That seems to be the way God’s design usually works though, separate and not dependent on our own plan or ambition. My plan was to go to OU and get my degree in mechanical engineering. I even completed a year of college in that degree field until something changed. You know that feeling you get when you discover your passion, when you feel like you have found your purpose? There is truly something intimate and divinely romantic in discovering the call the Lord of creation has placed on your life. Discovering and discerning my call into ministry started with less than sincere intentions. My freshman year of college I had a crush on a girl who was very involved and enthusiastic about the youth group she had been raised in, and it just happened to be the same church that I had “grown up” in. I say “grown up” because church was never something I was enthusiastic about, and my only memories of youth group was during my 8th grade year when I was forcibly put through confirmation. The youth minister at the time was always so welcoming when he saw me and would text and write me, encouraging me to be involved. I appreciated the invitations, but I just didn’t see what I could tangibly get out of being involved in a church youth group.

Back to that girl I had a crush on, we’ll call her “Sally” for namesake. Sally would have been considered super involved in the church. Sally attended every mission trip, was on the leadership team for the youth group, led Sunday evening worship, and was an officer in the youth choir. In a poor attempt to impress Sally I told her that I was interested in volunteering in the middle school ministry at our church. I never expected that statement to ever materialize into anything… That is until I got a text the morning of October 12th, 2012 at 10:49am. It was from my old youth director, the one who was relentless in his pursuit of getting to know me and minister to me. The text read “What’s up brother!? How are you? I heard you are wanting to help out with youth stuff.” Uggghhhh, what had I gotten myself into this time. Little did I know, this was one of those moments in that seemed completely insignificant in the grand scheme of my life, but the impact it would have on the course of my life is nothing other than divine intervention. I was caught between a rock and hard place on this one, I could have told him I couldn’t help and go against what I told Sally, or I could say yes even though it didn’t sound all that appealing to me at the time… I said yes.

Little did I know that saying yes would significantly alter the trajectory of my life. I start off with just volunteering for Wednesday night small groups and was planning on dropping it after the semester was over, if I could make it that long. Something happened though that caught me completely off guard, I found myself prioritizing Wednesday nights in my life. And then instead of dropping volunteering at the end of the semester, I started volunteering for more. Soon enough I was going to student bible breakfasts on Thursday and Friday mornings, helping out in Sunday School, and I even helped lead a mission trip that summer. One night on that mission trip I was talking with a distraught student about the pain and suffering she had seen in the community we were working in. I prayed with her and afterward she asked me, “Austin, what do you want to do with your life?” I remember at that moment I questioned everything I thought I knew about my future. I was good at math and science, but those were by no means my passion. It hit me like a ton of bricks, being here with these students, pouring out into their lives with the love of Christ, seeing them wrestle with their faith and moving from “knowing about Jesus” to “knowing Jesus”, this was my passion! The Lord was speaking through that student that night, and the next morning I talked with the youth director and senior pastor of our church about wanting to pursue the calling of Youth Ministry in my life.

There are many reasons that I truly love my job as a youth minister, talking with students about our Lord Jesus and how he can change their lives just like he changed mine, I love leading groups of students to places both abroad and nearby on mission trips, I love being a person a student can come to with hard questions and heavy burdens, but most of all I love following the Lords call in my life. I thought I knew what I was supposed to do with my life, but ever since I found out what God’s plan was for my life I couldn’t imagine a day in my life doing something else. God was working in my life with that text message that Friday morning of October 12th. Prevenient Grace is when God’s grace is working in our lives before we even know it. I always had a hard time understanding that concept. But now after being in youth ministry for almost 3 years I am just now seeing the work that God was doing 5 years ago in my life. God is at work in your life right now and you might not even know it, or like me you might be pretty unreceptive of it. But maybe saying yes to that text, that invitation, or that nudge you feel in your heart just might lead you to the passionate life God has designed you for.


Untitled design.pngMy name is Austin Leeviraphan and I was born and raised in Norman, OK. I am the Associate Director of Student Ministries at McFarlin Memorial UMC. I have a bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Oklahoma.

Why Easter? by Rev. Kyle Kiner

Why Easter?

Easter is confusing.  In many ways we are left scratching our head.    

When is Easter?  First, it is not a fixed point in our calendar.  Each year the date of Easter Sunday changes.  Some years we celebrate Easter in March.  Other years it shifts to April as it does this year.  Whether you are in the church or in the secular world, the date of Easter Sunday messes with your life and schedule. It throws you off balance.  The schedule depends upon the moon and scientific terms like vernal equinox.  The spring seasons shift and make us confused.  It is the similar feeling I have toward daylight savings time.  We are left wondering if this is really necessary?!?  Who can do something about it?  A confusing mystery is what we find.  

Why Easter?  Because it does leave us off balance.  It should leave us wondering what is going on.  

Next Easter confuses us because we cannot fully understand unless we learn about a man’s death that happened about two thousand years ago.  The man was not the Easter bunny.  The man was Jesus.  He did not die because of Easter eggs.  This has nothing to do with chocolate.  

The church tells the story and reenacts the story of Jesus.  We remember how he came to Earth.  He taught.  He died an awe-full, terrible death on a cross.  This is confusing.  We don’t understand or fully realize why God would do that to one man he called his Son.  

The sacrifice is completely contrary to what we know and see in our world.  Isn’t it all about me and what I get and what I should become?  Isn’t life all about it my pursuit of happiness?  Why should I care about others?  What did they ever do for me?  

Why Easter?  Easter is a confusing act of redemption.  Easter calls us to hear that we should give ourselves for others.  Jesus gave his life.  He gave his life to show that God wants the world to know the way, the truth and the life.  When we give ourselves to others, we die to our selfish ways.  We die to our greed, our lust, our anger, our self-centered ways.  

Easter is confusing.  

Why Easter?  

Easter is a mystery.  We don’t understand how the man that died came back to life.  

It leaves us speechless to hear that Jesus came back from the dead.  Resurrection is not something that can be proven scientifically.  We can’t understand it rationally.  

Modern medicine has given doctors many ways to make life last longer.   Doctors have ways of bringing people back death when cardiovascular failures happen.  Cancer treatments help to fight and prolong life.  We know of people that have survived.  

Sometimes these treatments work.  Sometimes these do not.  We are confused. We have lots of questions and wonderings.  Why not my husband?  Why can’t my child survive with treatment?    

We find ourselves feeling like the loved ones of Lazarus at the tomb.  We say Lord if you had been here they would not have died.  

Easter is a mystery.  Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  

We celebrate that in Jesus new life is found. New life is here on this earth.  New life is found beyond this life. 

When we believe in Jesus we hold onto that promise that new life is there for us.  Something is happening.  We can see it.  We can feel it.  We place our hope and trust in the miracle of the resurrection.  

This is the glorious mystery of Easter.  

This is why Easter!  God reveals to us something beyond our confusion.  

We can have that peace that is beyond our human understanding.  

This is what we celebrate!  This is our hope!  This is why Easter!  


kyleReverend Kyle Kiner is currently serving as Lead Pastor of Henryetta First United Methodist church. Kyle is married to Jennie and they have two children. He enjoys playing golf and watching premier Star Wars movies in 3D with Rev. Matt Franks.