This blog originally appeared on Exponent II. Click here to view the original post.
“Those in favour, please show by a raise of hands.”
Counting, recounting, recording.
“Those opposed, please show by a raise of hands.”
Counting, recounting, recording.
“The yeses take it.”
I breathed a sigh of relief–not because my preference was passed but because despite the strong words shared on both sides of the issue being voted on, everyone seemed to be okay. No one stormed out. No one was called unfaithful. The vote was noted, we closed the meeting, put the chairs away and gave one another hugs over doughnuts and over-cooled coffee.
After years of raising my hand to sustain new callings, church officers and to show a vote of thanks, I’ll admit that my first experience voting in a church business meeting was exciting and unnerving. To this point in my religious life, voting in church had largely been a point of formality. The bishop, stake president or general authority read a name and we sustained them. I never saw a contrary vote in my 30 years of attending LDS meetings. I know they exist but they’re certainly rare.
But right here, right now, voting carried some weight. I was putting my own opinions and judgement out in the open. As a member of less than a year, my vote mattered as much as everyone else’s—old, young, convert and lifetime member. And I’ll admit that the thought of conflict seemed suddenly scary. I didn’t want anyone to be hurt and I didn’t want to be wrong.
It was watching this process one year ago that fueled my excitement about being part of a church again. I realized that I didn’t just want to attend, I wanted to have a bit of skin in the game. As I watched my fellow congregants raise their hands for or against motions regarding everything from the election of a pastor to the adoption of a budget, it was exciting and a bit overwhelming to realize that no one person had all the answers. No pastor, no bishop, not even a prophet, could do this alone. Revelation and the inspiration that prompted it was a communal act. Every member was entitled and empowered to a part in it. And I wanted to part of that.
I try to be careful to not draw too many comparisons between my experiences growing up in the LDS faith and my experiences now in Community of Christ. Both continue to teach me to draw deep from the well of faith, to aim for goodness and to practice mercy. But as I raised my hand and voice on a touchy and controversial matter, I wish I could have told my budding Mormon feminist self that there would come a day in my life when conflict and difference of opinion at church would be a sign of involvement rather than disobedience or hardheartedness. God has granted all of us a measure of the Spirit with hands and heart for building Zion. We are best served when we recognize the unique contributions, experiences and opinions of one another and not only dare to do right, but also dare to be vulnerable, mistaken, passionate and even gloriously wrong. We’ll be okay. And then we’ll end with hugs, doughnuts and over-cooled coffee.
I was planning to run a small daytime group in the congregation like I did last year, but I really thought that we needed a change and to start taking a risk and invite others to join us.
The question I had to ask myself was “who/what is within the sphere of influence for ministry and community building fellowship?”
We rent a room every Sunday for our worship in the Lions Village complex in Calgary. The seniors are independent and living in their own apartments. In the past we have sponsored a Christmas meal and Stampede Breakfast for them, but nothing on a regular basis.
Instead of starting a group for our own Community of Christ seniors once a week like we did last year, I decided to discuss with some of the residents from the apartment complex who regularly attend our services if they wanted to join in with us. I asked if they wanted to form a joint committee to start up a weekly gathering in their complex with Community of Christ as the host/sponsor.
The two non-member residents and the apartment complex leaders/administration, at my invitation, met with me last week to discuss their interest. The two ladies (friends of the church who have been attending our services) told their apartment management in this meeting about their positive experience with "the Community of Christ people."
I really did not feel I needed to explain much about us as they did it so well for me. I did tell of our mission statement and habit of reaching out as servants in community everywhere we are located.
During the meeting I could feel the excitement and Holy Spirit as we talked. The building manager wrote up a flyer for us and slipped one under each apartment door last week to advertise our first meeting tomorrow. The Village leaders are making the coffee. I am even being given a key to open the outside door (a big trust they have in me).
This Sunday, one of the residents came to our church services after a meeting with the residence social club last week. The folder she handed me with great excitement contained a page of suggestions that someone had slipped under her door as to what topics/activities they wanted to discuss...one suggestion was “spirituality”.
Some of them suggested they could help lead sessions. One lady said she could lead a meeting on “How to tell your story” as a memoir for their family.
I am not doing this alone, I have a joint committee formed with both groups represented. The individuals will decide in the group the degree of leadership they want and the level of participation they wish to have.
Sometimes sharing helps each of us to see how ideas and efforts made can make such a difference as we reach out in community.
Matthew 13: 1-9 (NRSV)
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
After watching a video (below) about the similarities in gardening and one’s life, the scripture above resonated with us all. In order to have a holistic life you need to tend to the many needs in one’s life. The same as when you plant a garden. Our soil needs to be open to awakening the life within the seed. We are the soil that needs to be open and receptive to new life in our midst.
Like with a harvest, you have to till the soil. You have to cultivate the soil. You have to turn it over, you have to grab the dirt clobs and break them apart. You have to remove root systems and old weeds that threaten to choke out life. You have to be willing to disrupt the soil so that new life might emerge. This is the same in congregational life. We have to be willing to disrupt the soil. Encounters with God and the Holy Spirit can cause disruption. It can be uncomfortable. It can be chaotic, but it can also be transforming.
Learning about the different seeds that you have to plant and what complexities each one has is such a vital part of growth. Where can we plant it so that it might thrive most fully? In this act we abandon the mentality that one size fits all. Are we paying attention to both soil and seed? We must relinquish control and trust. That in the darkness life is forming. Are we willing to wait and trust in what is unseen?
When we tend to our soil it can be a hard and daily task to ensure that life is becoming. This is a practice that never ends, day in and day out to constantly ensure life is thriving. Are we paying attention to what is still needed for growth and are we willing to put in the effort to sustain what is coming alive in front of us?
When it comes time to harvest, we then get to enjoy that life. That life we have planted and tended to. It is a time to celebrate, a time to rejoice. In the end, our final step is rest. Rest is when we renew the soil. We let the nutrients back so that life may be sustained again. We need Sabbath in our spiritual lives. That time with God allows us to feel refreshed.
In each of our lives we have found that we become robotic to our daily tasks, we fall into the wash, rinse, and repeat cycle. But coming to Hills of Peace is the rest we look for, that feeling of being whole as an individual and as a community. We renew those past relationships so that we can thrive in our communities at home.
We have laughed, cried, and found strength in each other. We know that we have learnt more about each other and ourselves, and in the end we carry this part of the mission statement with us: “God, Grant us the courage to risk somethings new.”
Mary Ann, Calgary, AB, Canada
To the Calgary Community of Christ congregation,
I am so grateful to have your pumping machine to provide my milk to my son in the NICU. The MOM Project is an amazing act of concern for both baby and mommy.
You don’t know how you all touched my heart. Maybe for you it’s just a small deed, but for me it’s a reason to build and increase my faith.
Giving birth unexpectedly and seeing my baby so tiny with lots of stuff on his body makes me worry and feel down all the time. I know I have my family, relatives and friends to support me in this part of my life, and now, through the MOM Project, I have one more thing to drive me to be strong and fight my worries and fears.
I don’t know you all but you showed love through this selfless act for us mothers with babies in the NICU. You helped me not only financially, but you also helped me emotionally and spiritually by motivating me to not give up if there are big challenges that come into my life.
I want to thank you all for sharing this project with me.
Amy Isaksen Cartwright
Dear Amy (or Amy Lynne as some family will continue to call you for quite some time),
You made a big decision on the day that you chose to be baptized. You were excited and a little nervous. Your grandfather came and spoke of how his father journeyed from Denmark with your great-grandmother to join the saints out west. Your father performed the ordinance and the patriarchs of your family joined together to confirm you as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all the while sharing stories of faith and sacrifice. On that day you joined your story with theirs.
I remember how you wanted to be so sure that you were wearing all white that you were anxious the gold metal on your hair ties was not acceptable before God. This seemingly insignificant yet scrupulous concern would become a theme throughout your youth and young adult life. You would often feel that there was some inescapable reason that you were not worthy, never good enough. At some points, that little nagging feeling, though you never could place it, would become overwhelming.
You will have the best of friends from church as you grow up. Together you’ll go to dances, make music together and look up at the stars and talk about the wonders of creation. Your baptism day paved the way for you to have this near-idyllic childhood filled with mentors and friends. It won’t always be sunshine and rainbows but you’ll never lack for trustworthy people to lean on in times of need.
You will graduate university, marry in the temple and have children. (This isn’t the point of my letter but they’re beautiful. They will be your whole world and you theirs). You will make mistakes but your relationship with God will drive your life choices. When you feel scared or overwhelmed, you’ll lean on that faith to get through.
This is the harder part of the story—there will come a day when you question if you made the right choice on that baptism day. Your faith will change. A lot. The world will be bigger and brighter and full of more wonder and exciting mysteries, but it will also be less sure, less secure and the answers you once saw laid out before you will now come only one step at a time. It will be painful. It will also be beautiful. You will spend a lot of nights crying into the dark wondering if that God you were so sure was there can actually hear you. Your prayers will change. You will change.
Which is how we get to today. You see, today I took a bigger-than-normal step. I was confirmed into a different church. I know that probably hurts and at your young age, it seems inconceivable that you would ever leave this fold of westward pioneers and I Love to See the Temple. Your faith is so strong and your spirit unbreakable. These are your people and you simply wouldn’t leave them.
They are mine, too. But they are mine in a different way than they were before.
You see, I held on for a long time, wrestling with questions of faith and doubt. Some would say that I lost my faith but I don’t think that’s how faith works. You don’t just accidentally leave it someplace, unable to retrieve it. No, faith doesn’t get lost or die, it changes form. For some, that faith changes form into certainties about God’s (non)existence. For others, it leads them to new forms of spirituality, new religions, new churches or new understandings about their current faith. For me (us), that faith took me outside of walls of the LDS church. For a long time I wondered if it was even worth joining another church. Remember how I said that this new world is both glorious and kind of scary? But with time, I found a new spiritual home, one that I think you will like a lot.
When I joined this new church (it’s called Community of Christ though for your moment in life, it’s known as the RLDS church. Mom and Dad have mentioned it a few times), I was given the option to be rebaptized or confirmed as a new member. I used to think that perhaps you had chosen poorly, that an eight-year-old making eternal covenants to a God so much bigger than your understanding was perhaps a bit foolish. As such, I believed I would probably be rebaptized. But then I thought of you on your baptism day and I imagined this conversation we’re having now and wondered “What would eight-year-old Amy want me to do?”
And so, I chose to honour your choice of baptism as the day that I covenanted my heart to God and to our fellow humans. Today I simply changed which walls hold that heart and which community to align with as I mourn with those who mourn, stand with those who stand in need of comfort and stand as a witness of Christ.
Like great-grandpa Martin and our convert mother, I joined the ranks with those who made a choice to be a pioneer—to leave behind that which we once knew in search of something that beckons to the heart. Despite the love and pride our pioneer ancestors had in their new frontiers and homelands, there was and always will be a soft spot for the home we cannot return to.
Did I tell you that a woman performed this sacrament? It was an incredible feeling. Your children were there. Your husband and friends held your hands. You were fully embraced by this new community of yours. You are happy. You are at peace with God and your fellow humans.
As I bring this letter to a close I just want to tell you thank you for your courage, for your faith and for choosing to be baptized. You made a brave choice and it led us to wonderful people and experiences. The heartache that accompanied can only be expected for people who live with vulnerable hearts. There may be more twists and turns over time but as I’ve learned to trust you, and all the incarnations of you/me, I’ve learned to trust myself right now and perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned to trust the you/me of tomorrow. We will keep walking, one step into the dark at a time. What a lovely adventure awaits us.
Much love and compassion,
Many groups have an outreach activity that involves making prayer shawls to give to others for various reasons. In the Calgary Community of Christ congregation, this activity was presented to us by Evangelist Ted Navey when he moved to Calgary. Ladies in our group were enthused about this opportunity and many shawls have been lovingly made and given over the years to folks for very different reasons: for folks moving away, for soon-to-be graduates, for folks struggling with health concerns, or even just for those experiencing challenging times. As time has gone on, some of our knitters are not able to knit or crochet anymore.
My husband and I live in a condo building. I have come to know a lovely lady who is really a recluse. We were chatting one day when she showed me her efforts to give back to needy folks by knitting beautiful articles (tiny hats for new babies just after they are born, toques, scarves, shawls, or small knee blankets) for folks who may not have family or assistance. There was only one problem: She had no way of distributing these gifts. I was aware of many places that these gifts would be so appreciated, and I knew I could help with this; thus, began our collaborative teamwork. She’d make the articles as she felt comfortable, and I’d help connect her beautiful handiwork with those in need.
Click images to enlarge.
Shortly thereafter, she received some devastating news that sent her into a very heartbreaking state, and I did not see her for awhile. Recently, we happened to run into each other (not really, I believe it was a God moment) in the hallway, and she told me she had some things to give away, but no way to share them herself.
Our little Sunday School children’s class had a project during the Christmas season to collect change to give to a city project called CUPS (Calgary Urban Project Society), a great resource for marginalized families and those in need. Our children's class was going to present their monies, and we'd include some of Hannelore’s talent too.
She was thrilled.
We had another project happening as well…to purchase and donate four breast pumps to be available for new mothers in the Calgary area, who otherwise would not be able to afford one, so that they might be successful in breastfeeding their newborn babies. Someone had an idea that prayer shawls could be added to this gift so that these new families would know that they were not alone on this sometimes-challenging new chapter in their lives.
Wool has been given to Hannelore so that she can make other shawls as she feels secure in her talent and gifts of sharing. We are delighted to find needed homes for her gifts to others, but more importantly, we feel good knowing that we can connect needs with willing hands, letting folks know they are not alone on their own journey while helping Hannelore spread her desire to do such rewarding endeavors in this chapter of her life.
Below is the Blessing Prayer and symbolism of this ministry that fills all of our knitters and the congregation with purposeful sharing. All are blessed because of it.
Prayer Shawl Blessing
May your grace and blessing be upon this shawl – warming, comforting, enfolding, and embracing. May this mantle be a safe haven – a sacred place of security and well-being, sustaining and embracing in good times as well as difficult ones. May those who use this shawl be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace and wrapped in love.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
Symbolism of Colours
Red: energy, strength, power, determination, love, courage
Pink: joy, femininity, friendship
Brown: stability, masculinity
Orange: happiness, success, encouragement, endurance
Gold: illumination, wisdom
Yellow: cheerfulness, energy, joy, confidence
Green: healing, harmony, safety, hope, protection, peace
Blue: stability, trust, loyalty, faith, truth, tranquility
Purple: wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery
White: goodness, purity, innocence, faith, safety, light
I believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us in very powerful and personal ways. It's at those unexpected moments in time that we have the opportunity to grow closer to God as He pulls us into His fold and allows us to write our stories.
In 2014, the Spirit enveloped my heart when I heard a story on the radio about a woman who became a living kidney donor to a total stranger. I immediately began to realize the effect of their testimony as I made a personal run down of all the reasons why I should be a donor too. The right timing makes a huge difference, and the time was now.
I couldn't find a reason why not except for one thing, an incredibly painful surgery, lengthy recovery, and of course, living the rest of your life with only one kidney, and all for the compassion of a complete stranger. Hum..........
I felt the presence of God with me as I pondered the possibilities of His plan for my life, and more importantly, those lives yet to be touched. I couldn't let this go because, it wouldn't let go of me. There was something to this plan, much more than an impulsive thought from a radio story. It was burning in my soul, and it felt like love...like, faith in action. Was it possible that God really wanted to use me as a vehicle to change other lives besides my other professions as an Elder and a nurse? I believed so.
My husband thought I was out of my mind when I told him what I was thinking. We researched the good and the bad of all the possibilities. We talked to doctors and looked online. I read everything I could find, and I simply decided to leave it up to God. Prayer and scriptures are my go-to tools in making tough decisions. By January of 2015 I made the decision to start the process of testing as an altruistic donor through Integris Baptist Medical Center's Nazih Zudih transplant program.
I also made two friends online during my research through the website I originally heard about on the radio. One was the older sister of a boy in need of a kidney. They lived in Houston and were of the Muslim faith. My other friend lived in Bronx, New York and was a transplant candidate. She had a very thick New York accent. Now if that isn't Unity in Diversity, then I don't know what is. I wanted to be a donor for these individuals but for lots of reasons, it just didn't work out. Instead, they became my extended support system, and I became theirs, and we have remained as such still today. I did figure out one thing. I wanted to start a chain of donations. I felt very strongly that this was God's plan. I just didn't know when, where, or who, yet.
By late April I had completed all the testing needed to prove that I was a suitable donor. I hated the idea of surgery, but I really looked forward to watching God's plan unfold. It was sort of like a mystery with a new clue around every corner. Who would it be? While I was still questioning my sanity God's Holy Spirit answered me one night when when my dad and the band we sing and play in were asked to sing in a nearby church that hosted a benefit for a local charity. Unbeknownst to us it was LifeShare, an organ donation program, and the speaker was the parent of a kidney recipient! I felt God's presence stronger than ever! The next step was to place my information into the organ donor data base where my DNA would electronically be matched to potential recipients. Then more blood work and direct matching could determine if we were truly compatible. This was a big deal, and one that my family was secretly hoping I would give up on and forget.
Then one day in late spring of 2015 our family was hit with tragic news. My dad became increasingly weak and was diagnosed with advanced cancer that had metastasized to his liver. At the same time, my husband's dad was diagnosed with end stage Parkinson's and severe debility which forced him to be placed in a nursing home. I couldn't understand why God asked so much of me and led me so far into the donation process only to sideline our families with such devastation. Not only could I not donate to my precious friends, but now I may never get the chance to donate at all.
What I thought was a sideline turned out to be an amazing twist in a plot only God could create. When saints are downtrodden we do what we are called upon to do, turn to the sacraments. The gift of Administration is powerful. In our darkest hour, right before the biopsy, my dad was administered to, and God responded with the craziest diagnosis ever. Yes, my dad, the first man in my life, did indeed have metastatic cancer, a very slow growing, rare, and controllable type that invaded his liver and damaged his heart, and came with a mini set of miracles that involved monthly injections, a huge open heart surgery and a prognosis of many more quality years. Not only did God deliver on his promise of faithfulness to us, but His power went even further than the doctors believed treatment would take my dad. Despite the specialist's prediction of best outcomes, my dad's tumors shrunk by almost half, his blood pressure returned to normal, and his prostate cancer PSA levels (which had nothing to do with his new cancer) dropped by half. He started planning his future once again. One that didn't involve funeral arrangements. Unfortunately, my father-in-law did pass on by early fall. It brought my husband and me closer together as we planned and I helped preside over his services.
I began to realize a revolving theme of someone's parent in need of God's care....and someone's parent in need of a kidney. By the fall I knew it was time. In November while my dad was preparing for surgery, I was matched with a compatible recipient, 1400 miles away!! Her daughter, like myself wanted to save her mom who was so ill, but was not compatible. I was. She was a woman in her 60's, like my parents, and facing a life sentence on dialysis that would likely end in death in a few short years. Her amazing daughter also granted my request to further the chain by donating to a young woman in her early 20's on dialysis. GOD was and is beyond GOOD!
On Sunday while at church, the day before my surgery, I asked for administration, not just for me, but for everyone on my chain. The next morning, I checked in for surgery accompanied by my husband and a waiting room quickly filling with people awaiting their surgical destiny. I prayed a silent prayer for all of us. The night of my surgery on December 7th, I laid in my hospital bed with all kinds of tubes attached, literally feeling like I'd been slammed by a semi-truck, and beside me were both my parents (dad still recovering) and my husband. We were told that my left kidney, which had a plane ticket to Baltimore, had arrived safely and was working well (making urine) in its new body. The next day, on December 8th, my recipient's daughter gave up a kidney for her new recipient. And so, my little chain of two had begun. Two weeks before our scheduled surgeries, my husband finally came around to the acceptance of what I felt led to do (another small miracle). My dad, after his medical ordeal accepted what I wanted to do, and even more so when he learned it was another parent and another daughter who were willing to walk the same tight rope as we were. We needed this experience. We all needed God. We needed to feel Jesus Christ in action. And we all were able to give and receive of God's blessings because of it. The Enduring Principle of Grace and Generosity abounded as well as The Worth of All persons, All are Called, Unity in Diversity, and Sacredness of Creation (for the good things and the difficult). The Blessings of Community between Stillwater, OK and Baltimore, MD (Integris Baptist and John's Hopkins) were both unpredictable and wonderful surprises. Responsible choices were carefully considered during the donor process, and the Continuing Revelation of God's unyielding love for us (His creation) have brought forth unbound joy for several families all because someone believed.
What no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.
1 Corinthians 2:9 NRSV
Writing testimonies is hard. Moving is hard. Having to be a support anchor for your family is hard. Praying and hoping all will go as desired, as it is meant to be is hard. A terrestrial adult-ing life is hard.
But, there are so many joys and blessings that make this hard life so much brighter. To see the beauty around us; to hear the giggles of those finding joy, the prayers of a child; to taste the varieties of foods available to us; to smell the flowers as we run through the fields, the rain as it falls to the dry earth; to give hugs to friends and family we don’t see too often. These are but a few of that which lifts my spirits, gives me a smile when I feeling a bit lonely.
See, our family of 5 had what we call, an “adventurous” summer. The day after school ended in May, my husband was offered a new job in a new location-Washington, D.C. So as our typically busy summer was beginning, we compounded it with packing and figuring out where best to move. Not only was I finalizing plans for Jr/Sr High Camp at the Ozark Campgrounds, but also taking my son to Jr. Camp, sorting through toys, clothes, kitchen items, craft items, etc. Then I directed the Jr/Sr. High Camp. We also had Reunion (a family church camp) and a visit to check out our new home location. With a few weeks left to pack and fix up our house to sell, we tried to find some peace and joy. We went to the park, to the zoo, visited friends, saw family, went to church, prayed.
As the big move from Oklahoma to the Northern Virginia suburbs of D.C. loomed, my anxiety rose. I am a Midwest girl currently living in the big city trying to keep sanity in my family. We are over 18 hours driving distance from family and friends, with few opportunities to visit. Talk about feeling lonely, and out of place!
But, we’ve been here 6 weeks now, and we have found a wonderful new community. We drive into D.C. on Sundays for fellowship and service at the Community of Christ congregation there. It is like walking in at home. There is that sense of peace, love, acceptance, and community I have found at every Community of Christ congregation I have visited. A place where we can find a seat at the table. We may have a new home, and be far from family, but at least we have found a new “surrogate” family. A place where our 3 kids can run and play and not feel awkward. A place to feel comfortable and appreciated.
We greatly miss our previous communities of church families, our previous “tables,” but God moves us to new experiences, to new community at a new table.
Now, I am off to show new wonders, new reasons to smile, to my kids and see where this path of terrestrial life goes that God is leading us on.
May God let the Spirit breathe with you, and lead you towards loving community; an accepting, joyous table; and on the path laid down just for you.
Calgary Spark is a collection of stories told by members and friends of the church alike. Each person's story is helping to shape our community in new ways.