Where I Am From

From an exercise based on George Ella Lyon’s poem, Where I Am From. This is my version.

Where I Am From

I am from escoba, mapo y Lestoil. I am from Villa Carolina, busy streets, and el palo de aguacate.
I am from Barbies & Nintendo behind barred windows.

I am from Abuela Carmen & Abuelo Felipe, Abuela Amarilys & Titi Nitty. I am from Mami & Papi (without Stephanie yet- though she was already in my heart).
I am from Rocky the dog who didn’t let me play with him, and Xuxa, the childhood idol.

I am from the ‘ay bendito,’ ‘bendición,’ & ‘Dios te bendiga;’ ‘que bochinche’ & ‘ten cuidado.’

I am from the summers in Florida that felt much calmer.

I am from the bacalaitos & alcapurrias.
I’m from the arroz con gandules, chuleta, bistec, & pernil.
I am from the limbel de coco, and the helado in viejo San Juan, walking with my parents – always afraid of the homeless with their sores.
I am from leche con Quik, & mas leche que café.

I am from la iglesia- la Alianza.
I’m from casa de Abulela y San Francis. I’m from the tiendita with Nutella. I am from Carolina, Ponce, & Isabela.

I am from the isla I wanted to leave, the isla I miss — the place where I first heard God.

Called to be Uncomfortable

Everything that I’ve done in my life so far that’s been worth doing initially made me uncomfortable. The magic happens outside of our comfort zones.

Going on mission trips to 2/3 World Countries — uncomfortable. My (ongoing) ordination process with the UMC — uncomfortable. Counseling — uncomfortable. Volunteering in a hospice — uncomfortable. Moving to the ghetto to minister — uncomfortable. Moving to a place where I knew no one — uncomfortable. Going to college, then seminary — uncomfortable. Being vulnerable in my preaching, speaking, etc.  — uncomfortable.  And other random, seemingly minor things which resulted in important relationships, all spawned out of discomfort.  (A lot of these things that are ongoing still may initially make me uncomfortable then ironically result in my feeling the most complete.)

Yes, even Scripture shows it.  I’m always amazed by how much the poor, orphans, widows, and foreigners/aliens are mentioned in the Old Testament (and yes, the poor, etc. are mentioned quite a bit in the New Testament as well), specifically to the people of Israel in the desert.  Wandering in the desert cannot mean the best of conditions or situations, but God consistently called the people to think beyond themselves and their comfort and to care for others — to be concerned with the care of others.   Poverty should make us uncomfortable. Injustice should make us uncomfortable. I love that! It tells us so much about what God is like, and about what habits are important for us.  Praying for our enemies is not comfortable.  Following God’s leading to places we did not plan is not comfortable.

Growth happens outside of your comfort zone. I’m convinced that God calls us to be uncomfortable. I really think we should worry if we are comfortable (which is not the same as content). Comfort is a place that can make stagnation easy.  Discomfort stretches us and provides opportunities to grow.

I’ve been doing this for a few years, where I force myself to do things I don’t want to do.  Or I volunteer for things I don’t want to do as soon as I can, before I change my mind.  Several of the things I mentioned above are products of this challenge.  I can be an over-thinker, so I try to not think about them, as I know I’ll make up good excuses, and just do it.

As the newness of the year is already wearing off, promises to exercise have already been broken by folks I know (I’m still going – pray for me!).  The hope for new habits has been all but lost in the lack of consistency.  As I continue to think about the new year, and try to dream, I’m reminded of  God’s call to be uncomfortable.  It’s causing me to rethink about how I use my time, my money…  To think about risks I need to take.  To challenge myself once again to grow – part of which happens through being uncomfortable.

As someone who’s spent a lot of her life so far coming out of a perceived shell of shyness and self-consciousness, believe me when I tell you, it’s been uncomfortable, but it’s totally been worth it.  Join me- let’s be uncomfortable together.

Esther

A short, New Year, pensive spell

I remember loving “Little Women” when I read it 15 or so years ago.  I’m re-reading it (actually listening on Audible) now, and am taking it in with very different lenses than I had upon first reading.  Certainly the case will be the same 15 years from now.  Maybe it’s the time of year, or I’m just due for an especially pensive spell (‘especially’ because it truly doesn’t take much to get me to some sort of contemplation) but it’s making me think about life.  I won’t bore you with a long post for I’m not a writer.

In a year full of joys and sorrows, community and loneliness, contentment and sadness, fulfillment and frustration, celebration and loss, and much grace, Alcott’s words catch my attention:  “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

Two things.
Life is definitely a journey, though we often hyper-fous on aspects of it — whether past, present, or future.  Looking at it as a whole, or in the sum of its parts is helpful for me.  Furthermore, in this journey we’re all on — of course in different places and times and with different styles of navigation —  gratitude is key, and I’m thankful for many things.  I’m thankful because I’m not in fact alone, I am loved (first by God but also by people in my life); I’ve uncovered a great aspect in my call (i.e. the thing I feel I’ve been made for – where I find contentment); and my cup overflows when it comes to basic needs. All of these make me responsible to help give that to others, especially those who lack in any or all of these; a responsibility that is also a joyous privilege. Also, because God’s grace abounds, we can always turn the ship around.

Second, “[Jesus} came so that [we} could have life—indeed, so that [we] could live life to the fullest” (John 10:10).  No, I’m not a proponent of the prosperity gospel and I do not resemble Joel Osteen.  I’m talking more of what Parker Palmer calls a hidden wholeness, and the fact that God is present, loving, comforting, consoling and transforming in the midst of a life that is quite messy — that Christ has come because God ultimately wants better for us, God’s beloved creation.  This has led me to believe and be hopeful.  This has been exemplified in my life in the fact that God’s dreams and desires for us are better than what we can dream.  The coolest most fulfilling parts of my life so far were God-inspired.  I’m not the biggest dreamer when it comes to me — and to believe and trust that God desires the best fills me with hope.  Obviously, these dreams are not forced upon us, but to trust and obey them brings unspeakable peace.

I leave you with these words as we sail — roughly, smoothly, joyfully, or mournfully — into a new year:

“Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge. It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men and women have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. Such is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge.”  Howard Thurman, from The Growing Edge

-Esther

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Show off, God

In reading Church history and current news, hearing stories, and experiencing things in my several years in ministry, I don’t know how the Church has lasted as long as it has.   That’s not true, I do.  I do because I personally, frequently pray to God that God work despite me.  And thanks be to God, God does.  The Holy Spirit is why the Church has lasted and will continue to live – despite us.

As we prepare to launch a new service at Trinity, this prayer comes to mind.  Not because I don’t think it’ll be awesome.  Not because we don’t have a talented, hard working team.  Not because we haven’t been diligent and worked hard for months to prepare for this launch.  I’m really excited about this new service and I’m really proud of the hard-working Modern Worship team.  Yet, my prayer is that God show off.  I’ve noticed in my own life that God’s dreams are often more audacious and grander than anything I can come up with.  I’ve seen in my own life that God speaks words of healing to people through some of my worst sermons.  I’ve experienced that on days that I feel particularly inadequate God somehow uses me to offer words of encouragement and love.   So, I pray that despite our best efforts, God shows off even more.  The truth is that the best that we can wish for this service (or any ministerial endeavor) is tiny compared to how much God wants us to accomplish transformational things with the help of the Holy Spirit.  The truth is that all of the stuff that’s worthwhile is accomplished by God and not by me.  So my prayer is and will continue to be that God be glorified, and that people come to know God’s transforming love, grace, redemption, and mercy.  God, show off – amen.

-Esther

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God, help me

I still believe that some of the most powerful and profound prayers are the shortest and simplest ones: “God, help me.”  I say this because I often find myself with no other words but ‘God, help me… Help me with ___.’  I also believe that pride is dangerous and easily acquired in our lives. That’s one of the things I often pray for help with.  Pride steals our joy; it steals our feeling of true purpose and worth.  It makes us overly sensitive and defensive, and it facilitates unforgiveness, resentment and unfair and grace-less judgment.  Pride is a thief of all good things.  I’m not claiming this as a new discovery or a brand new insight – simply a personal one.

The conviction of pride (and I almost think that true conviction requires ugly crying) is extremely painful and simultaneously liberating.  The same goes for the confession of pride.  Our ego is our sense of self-esteem and self-importance, and when that gets hurt it’s excruciating and disorienting.  For those who truly seek God and desire to become more and more like Christ, and yet themselves are on a journey  and may have an unhealthy level of ego, uncomfortable ego-checks are necessary.  I say this because I’ve had them (and continue to).  Do not pray for humility unless you’re ready for it.  Who said sanctification/the path of discipleship was easy, anyway?  At the same time, whenever I’m able to identify what my issue is – be it pride or something else – it’s indescribably freeing to let go of that burden .  That usually involves lament, perhaps some embarrassment, and confession – all eventually followed by priceless peace.

I’m continually drawn to Philippians 2:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:1-8)
Pray with me:
…But give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone.  Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Blessed Communion — an All Saints Sunday reflection

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
-Hebrews 12:1-2a

I remember growing up the first thing my parents did, individually, after they exited their room after waking up in the morning was sit in a chair in the living room to pray silently.  Eyes closed.  For about 10-15 minutes.  Then they would go on with the day – prepare breakfast, get dressed for work, etc.  We’ve never spoken about this ritual.  It has never been addressed.  I just noticed.  I didn’t think anything of it at the time.  But now that I’m grown and away from home, I’ve thought about it.  It’s stuck with me.

I grew up in a Puerto Rican, conservative, evangelical household, so the idea of saints to me was pretty foreign.  To me saints were those idols that some people worshiped.  The freakishly holy people that I would never be like – who have paintings made of them that are displayed in churches or on cards or necklaces in homes and around peoples’ necks throughout the world.  It wasn’t until grad school that I realized that those are saints, yes, but those are not the only saints.  It was then when the idea of a great cloud of witnesses became very real.  It was then that I reflected on those individuals who influenced my life and my walk with Christ.  It was then that I realized that I knew plenty of saints.  It was then when Holy Communion became so much more meaningful to me.  And I quickly identified my parents as the primary saints in my life.  Not because they’re perfect by any means – there is no such thing as a perfect person. I haven’t told them this and I think they’d be a little weirded-out by the title – saint.  Yet, they have in many ways taught me what it looks like to love God and to love my neighbor in their quotidian living.

This All Saints Sunday we remembered and gave thanks for those saints who passed on from this earth in the past year.  We remembered and gave thanks for those saints who passed some other time ago – individuals who have touched our lives, influenced our beings, who have been examples of God’s love, and who have contributed to bringing us to where we are right now – for we do not do life alone.  In our remembering and giving thanks for this cloud that surrounds us and promises us that we are never alone – God is with us and has gifted us to be part of a blessed communion.  We are inspired and charged to live holy, righteous lives – not perfect, but ones that journey on the path that follows Jesus.  A road that is often bumpy and that seems solitary at times.  One filled with sorrows and loss, but also filled with comfort and peace.  A road filled with suffering, but also filled with overcoming.  A road of freedom, redemption and reconciliation.  One that is always accompanied by a God who is present and caring, and a fellowship of folks past, present, and future.  All of us stumbling after Jesus in our respective moments in time.  Yet this fellowship goes beyond time and space.  

Today we remember and give thanks, but we are also filled and aware of the hope that accompanies our faith – that we will one day gather with those who we never met or who have gone before – all of us arriving at different times at a place where we will one day be gathered together again to worship our Lord, and to celebrate in a joyous feast.  May we honor those we remember by being aware that we too are saints – people set apart – who show to others, maybe not with words, what it looks like to follow hard after God.

-EstherImage

 

Perspective in Nicaragua

“I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,
because apart from me you can do nothing.”
-John 15:5

I felt physically ill.  The load I was carrying was heavy.  A four-day spiritual retreat for the wives of pastors  (who are part of the ministry Twelve Churches) in León, Nicaragua – the second poorest country in Latin America.  I’d been to Nicaragua before, and to the state of León, specifically.  I knew of its landfill neighborhoods, its drug problems, the countless obstacles that come with extreme poverty and the often oppressive religious culture that affects women in particular.  I wanted there to be transformation, healing, and liberation for them as we discussed the important topics of self-esteem, shame, forgiveness, and God’s grace.  I wanted this retreat to be worthwhile, but I was intimidated by their immense circumstances and my limitations.

The group dynamics were complex.  The context was different.  The topics were heavy. The first day was particularly difficult.  I felt like I was pulling teeth.  I was wondering whether this would end up being of any benefit.  As the week progressed, so did our time together.  Profound conversations took place.  Deep wounds were addressed.  Grace was poured out.  We concluded the retreat with Holy Communion.  There’s nothing like the Lord’s Table – the nourishment, peace, renewal, forgiveness that it offers.  Tears flowed freely.  God was worshiped.  The Spirit moved.  Love was proclaimed and demonstrated.

The perspective I received in Nicaragua is that: ministry is not my job.  Transformation is not my responsibility.  I’m not the one who heals.  God invites me and allows me to join in and be a part of his work.  I choose to participate, or not.  I choose to offer my best or give minimally.  God will do God’s thing with or without me, and most often despite me.  We frequently carry loads that are not ours to bear.  We easily forget – whatever our occupation is – that it is God who works miracles.  God is the one who brings the dead back to life.  God is the one who gives sight to the blind.  God forgives.  God enlightens.  God is the mover and the causer.  God is the giver of all good things.  God is the vine; we are the branches.   Thanks be to God.

-Esther

Two cents on gender equality

I’ve been a Provisional Elder in the United Methodist Church for three whole months now.  It has not taken long to see that gender equality is not a reality; as much as we may want it to be.  Male and female clergy are seen differently – often unequally.  There’s no doubt that we have made huge strides in the right direction. I actually just said I’m a Provisional Elder, for goodness’ sake; the letters R E V go before my name!  I’m an associate pastor at a great church in the Florida conference. Not all women who have received a call from God to pastoral ministry can say that; not all women are allowed to say that, even today.  I’m ever thankful for the women who have come before me and have blazed the messy, painful trail of women in ministry.
But like racial issues, gender issues are still extant issues – In the world, certainly, but also in the church.  What about the Kingdom? All inequality, including gender inequality, is a direct product of the Fall (Genesis 3:16-17); but since the Church is the body that proclaims the present and coming Kingdom of God, the redemption Christ accomplished on the Cross, we are called to dismantle those barriers.  So let’s identify these barriers; let’s call them out; let’s bring the lies to the light; let us proclaim the truth that ‘there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).’  God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.
-Esther

Needed Nutrients

The truly happy person
doesn’t follow wicked advice,
doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.

Instead of doing those things,
these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!

They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
which bears fruit at just the right time
and whose leaves don’t fade.
Whatever they do succeeds.

That’s not true for the wicked!
They are like dust that the wind blows away.

And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of justice—
neither will sinners
in the assembly of the righteous.

The Lord is intimately acquainted
with the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is destroyed.

-Psalm 1 (Common English Bible)

Have you ever felt so lonely that you wonder if God is even around?  Have you ever been so sad that you doubt that God cares about you?  Or have you ever been so angry that you question whether God keeps God’s promises?  Read the Psalms.  The Psalms contain all of these emotions and more; they contain over 100 examples of things you can say to God.  In them I see that God knows us in all our emotions and desires for us to express them.  There is tremendous value in meditating on the Psalms and in all of Scripture.

I like Psalm 1 a lot – it’s a preface to the Psalter and I’d even say to all of Scripture (the Bible).  It talks about the importance of meditating on God’s word.  Years ago I would have taken that instruction as another requirement for pleasing God.  I was under the impression that I needed to do things (and do them right and always) to have God love me.  If I failed at any of these requirements that good Christians are supposed to fulfill – one of them being reading the Bible often – I was overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of failure.  I’ve come to find out that this is not at all what God has in mind when he gives us instruction.  God doesn’t give us a list of things to do for the sake of doing things; God instructs us as one who knows us so well that he knows exactly what we need.  I can immediately tell when I have not been intentional about my time with God – meditating on scripture or spending time in prayer, etc. – because I become a mess.  I feel disjointed and overwhelmed by life and then I start wondering what is missing… and it comes to me!  I am like a tree that is not being watered, and I’m wilting.

Psalm 1 gives a great visual of what we are like when we are meditating on God’s word – something God knows we need – or not.  I find in the Bible my hope, joy, encouragement, and need for growth, but also permission to let God know how I’m feeling, good or bad.  God knows what we need to know and hear; he knows the precise diet we require.  God wants us to be beautiful, green, thriving trees with birds’ nests in them, and the ability to provide a really nice shade; like a tree planted near a stream of water.  God does not want us to wither or wilt and have our leaves fall off; like a tree planted in a desert.  God does not give us instructions for the sake of reprimanding us when we fail (and we will fail – I do all the time), but because God loves us enough to care for us.  By the way,  when you do fail God’s feeling for you will not change!

What is your tree’s current health?  Have you been receiving your needed nutrients?  If you’re not used to reading scripture daily, start by reading a psalm a day.

Esther

Stop, Communicate, and Listen

“Hablando se entiende la gente.” (Translated: People understand each other, speaking.)-Spanish saying

Excuse my use of Ice Ice Baby in the title, but I’ve already lost count of the number of times in ministry I’ve mentioned the above phrase often recited to me by my Mom. Speaking, people understand each other. Why is this such a difficult task? Why is our communication with one another so poor? Individuals who speak the same language and who want the same things can get into great quarrels all because of poor communication – a misunderstanding. This tells me we either don’t express ourselves well and/or we don’t listen well. I identify with this because, like I said, I’ve had my Mom say this to me many times when stressful situations have been resolved through conversation. We seem to underestimate the power of having a conversation. Yes, sometimes we end up needing help speaking – things can escalate to where we need mediation – but better communication is still the goal. And if you really just don’t agree, at least you’re on the same page about that.

Who do you need to speak with?

Let’s pray:
Merciful, reconciling God; help us to use the gift of language for good and not for hurting – that we may communicate well with one another. Help us to listen, be respectful, be humble, courageous and willing to submit – for you have shown us by example all of these things. You have been patient with our failings more than we have been with those of others. May we exemplify good communication to the rest of the world, as that’s what you want. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.