My church community


I am excited to announce that I will no longer be blogging here, at Arms Wrapped Around the Sun.

Excited, because I have now launched my very own website/blog, at AliciaMMiller.com!

I’m also pleased to announce that Jonalyn Fincher, of Soulation, has graciously hosted me at her blog, Ruby Slippers. There I write about my transition from undergrad to living in East LA—and the life and community I found there.

I hope you continue to follow along and interact with me at my new blog! Please transfer your RSS subscription, here. And if we’re not connected yet, reach out to me on Twitter, @AliciaMMiller!

Also, see what you’ve been missing!
Since the silent switch, I’ve written on “Sharing Secrets
And forecasted my vision for the new blog
Additionally, if you want to know why I’m so excited about being featured on Jonalyn’s blog, read what Soulation means to me, here.

Thanks for following along on my journey thus far. I look forward to the next leg of this trail, and the exciting things to come in the days ahead.

In search of Shalom,

-Alicia

Advertisements

Rest.

I always thought I needed 9 hours of sleep to be rested.

I thought it came from space to breathe, being at home, time to myself.

I thought I needed periodic vacations, occasional stretches of getting away for a few days.

I thought it came from balance. Of time, energy, resources, friendships.

 

But I think I’m realizing that Jesus brings us rest in the mess of life.

When I receive a phone call I think I just don’t have the energy to take.

When I hop from responsibility to responsibility and I feel as if I just don’t have anything more to give.

When painful situations arise, one after another, and I barely have time to seek counsel.

When I’m tempted to check out, numb out, sleep it away.

 

Rest comes from crying out to Jesus.

When I acknowledge his presence, he restores my soul.

He leads me on a path of denying myself, dying to my flesh, losing my life. All for the sake of the Kingdom.

And in the midst of the funk he provides rest. Brevity, comfort, and delight.

 

I thought I had to provide rest for myself. But he brings it to me.

in unexpected affirming words, prayer offerings, gentle shoulder squeezes, bursts of laughter, and

a knowing.

I know it will be a ‘good’ day when I wake up with this song in my head.

I was determined to make this trip my “vacation” even though I would be having a lot of intellectual stimulation, emotional expression, and very little time to relax. After I arrived at the hotel and explored my room, it hit me.

I’m an adult. I’m a woman. I’m an adult woman.

During life group a few weeks ago I had a conversation with a Sister about why the small group for the high school girls is called “Women’s Group”. Are these teenage girls women? What does it mean if we call them that? It made me realize that I have very specific (and different) ideas about what it means to be a woman. In the adult, “grown-up” sense, “woman” carries a strong connotation of responsibility to me. In fact, I don’t think of much else… Growing up I went from a “child” to a “young woman”. While I was in high school, my parents didn’t like to call us “teenagers” because of rebelliousness, you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-ness, and out-of-control-ness that is generally associated with the teenage years. Instead, we were “young women” or “young men” who took responsibility for our actions, controlled our impulses, and were respectful to authority. Lack of “teen years” does create issues but it did make us responsible.

So while I imagine that calling teenagers “women” will inspire them to responsibility and healthy adult life, my Sister pointed out that she doesn’t want her young daughter to think she has the advantages of being an adult woman. An excellent and very valid point! But it really made me think about what those advantages are. I’m still thinking, to be honest. Not because there is a lack of advantages, but because I have such a heavily ingrained mentality that “adult woman” = “responsibility” that it’s harder for me to acknowledge them.

Today as I was sitting in a conference room waiting for the first plenary session to start of the Christians for Biblical Equality Conference, I closed my eyes and took a quick spirit assessment. I immediately became choked up. Being the atypical, unemotional woman that I am, it really surprised me.

There was something powerful going on that I’m still not sure I have an understanding of. But I think it has something to do with feeling safe, feeling relief, feeling seen, valued and affirmed as a woman, and feeling the process of my soul healing from internalized inferiority*.

I felt safe because I was in the presence of like-minded community.
I felt relief because I could be real and honest about my beliefs without being told it’s “unbiblical” or “sinful”.
I felt seen, valued and affirmed as a woman not because of what I do or do not do as a living but because others in the room believe that women are full partners in the Kingdom of God – and not just in a spiritual sense.
I felt my soul healing from the damage I have perpetrated against myself that keeps me from believing life-giving truths about myself and from using the gifts God gave me to their full extent.
I felt more alive.

I told myself that on this trip I want to be present. Present with myself, present with others, present with God. No tuning out, no checking out, no skipping out. Fully present. Relaxing, yes. Mind-numbing, no. Fully present.

So far, so good. I realized that while I had been looking forward to the cable, this means that I won’t be turning on the TV while I’m here. And there are TWO of them in my room (??). I intentionally brought only one book with me, a novel. Purposed to be opened in long periods of transition (aka on flights). I thought my computer might be a distraction, but I hope to use it for times of process, like this one.

I praise God that his Kingdom is so wholly other. It’s so outside of what I can comprehend. There is so much freedom and so much affirmation and so much purpose and so much grace. The boundaries that he does give us provide us with health, life, and ironically, even more freedom.

I love being a part of creation that is being reconciled back to the Creator. Back to the way things were intended. Back to being fully woman, fully human.

——

*internalized inferiority: a deep psychological belief that one is inferior to a privileged group; subscribing to the value system created by those in power who deem themselves superior and others (you) inferior. This can happen to people of color because of the system of racism, as with women because of the system of sexism (and so forth). As I struggle with internalized inferiority as a woman, I also struggle with internalized superiority as a White woman.

I’ve been frustrated with myself that I haven’t been blogging as much as I want to be. The slow-down is partially due to the fact that I’m in a sort of reading/thinking/researching detox. (Okay, I ‘cheated’ this evening and read all of Rachel Held Evan‘s posts on her womanhood project.) I realized recently that my desire to learn is kind of consuming my life. This reality came into focus as I related to a friend who described her thought life as overwhelming. It became more clear as I packed up my belongings and I saw how many boxes of books I own – and how many I hadn’t started or finished. But what made it crystal clear to me was when I began to reflect on my emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is a concept I was introduced to in the context of the co-curricular dimension of higher education. EI is an essential component of my growth as a facilitator. I have to be in tune with what is going on in group settings – where each individual is at as well as where the group is as a whole. But I also have to be in tune with where I am at emotionally to recognize how that will affect the group.

Various definitions:
Emotional intelligence: “the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions”
Emotional intelligence: “an ability, skill or, in the case of the trait EI model, a self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups”
Emotional intelligence: “the innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain emotions”

I googled "emotional intelligence" and found this insightful model. =)

 

Needless to say, as I reflected, I didn’t fare well. This is definitely something I need to work on in my life. Hence, the detox. I’ve realized that my ferver to pursue learning is blocking the ability of other parts of myself to grow. I busy myself in exploring new ideas and forget about exploring myself as a human.

I’ll be continuing the detox for a few more weeks but I also want to add proactive means of exploring myself and my emotional responses. I’m starting with incorporating contemplative/centering prayer into my face-to-Face time, and my goal is to start counseling by the end of the summer.

So that’s that. I’m realizing how much of my life is still driven by fear – of stillness, of what I don’t know, of traveling to the deep. But as a friend reminded me during Life Group, Jesus travels to the deep with me.

This morning began well because I started reading John and concurrently, my notes from Johanian Lit, one of my fav classes at Biola. The way John was taught had sunk deep into my being and pulling out my notes was like rediscovering a treasure box from my childhood. It was a portion of Scripture that has truly become living and active to me; my heart had responded to the Word just as the Word had responded to the desperation of humankind and become flesh.

This week I’ve also been meditating on worship as a response. I wish I could remember who, but at one point in time, someone told me that worshiping with the Body is in part a response from your relationship with God on your own. Coming together with brothers and sisters to worship becomes an outpouring from what you have experienced as an individual. So we don’t just come to the local Church to be filled but to give to God the offerings of our heart, individually and collectively. This is one of my current favorite songs we sing (forgive my rough translation).

“Cansado del camino, (tired of the road)
sediento de Ti, (thirsting for You)
un desierto he cruzado, (I’ve crossed a dessert)
sin fuerzas he quedado, (I have no strength left)
vengo a Ti. (I come to You)

Luché como un soldado, (I fought as a soldier)
y a veces sufrí, (at times I suffered)
y aunque la lucha he ganado, (although I won the fight)
mi armadura he desgastado, (my armor is worn)
vengo a Ti. (I come to you)

Sumérgeme, (submerge me)
en el rio de tu Espíritu, (in the river of Your Spirit)
necesito refrescar este seco corazón, (my heart needs to be refreshed)
sediento de Ti. (thirsting for You)

Sumérgeme (submerge me)”

I am on my 6th week of training for a 5K I plan on running in September. I am amazed at the faithfulness of God that I’ve seen through my body responding to what I ask of it. I haven’t run a full mile since 6th grade. I’ve always had issues with running, partly because I have a form of asthma, but I’ve never enjoyed it – in fact, I’ve hated it. One of my favorite books as a kid was called Cat Running and I adored the protagonist who loved running (and was determined to do so wearing pants, not a skirt). I’ve always wished I could run and would occasionally psych myself up to try to do so, but there’s only so many times you can almost pass out before you give up. Most recently I decided to attempt this 5K because of a friend and her amazing journey of weight loss, pursuit of a healthy lifestyle and her running goal of “1. Start 2. Finish”. As she rallied a community together to run, I found the necessary goal and accountability to try again.

I began with brisk walking around a track. I started to run the corners – and it would take me a whole lap to recover a regular breathing pattern. Less than 6 weeks later, I can run 3/4 of a mile straight, walk a lap, and run an additional 1/2 a mile. This is unfathomable. I did not think I would see this sort of change with my body. I’ve also start weight lifting to try to encourage my muscles to strengthen faster. While most are trying to lose weight during our 6 week BEAST MODE challenge, I’m attempting to pack on 5 pounds of muscle.

I used to dread working out. I was always out of breath. I didn’t feel any better afterwards. I derived no enjoyment from it. But now I look forward to it! It’s still HARD. I still have trouble breathing. But I have slowly watched my body respond. And I’m amazed. I praise God that my body is not static; that it changes and grows with me.

This weekend I was on a retreat with “my church” (aka the local group of believers that I choose to commune with and serve on a regular basis). With four of my favorite youth dozing off in my car, I drove home listening to Lecrae and this song reminded me:

There is something I am just not understanding.

The Church (as my Dad would remind my siblings and I almost every Sunday) is not the building but the people.

Christians – past, present, and future, local and global – collectively make up the Church.

The Church is the body of Jesus. Literally His hands and feet. He is no longer physically present with us but as the Church we bring His presence with us. We continue his work and ministry.

You’ve probably heard the verse that says, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Church makes that happen. We live out the Kingdom now. In the midst of the craziness of sin… and pain… and suffering… and loss.

It doesn’t make much sense for that to be possible. But as I wrote in my last post, there is something powerfully comforting about that.

This weekend as I watched my pastor’s little girl – content as can be – dance and prance around the camp, a friend commented how they love that this little girl marches to the beat of her own drum.

Isn’t that kind of what Christians do? To the world it looks crazy, and to us it feels ridiculous at times, but the simplicity and radical nature of following Jesus can be awfully appealing and astoundingly satisfying.

The Church makes the Kingdom known by the way we live, not just as individuals but more so by the way we live in community.

What I don’t understand is this:

Why do we change the way the Church functions depending on the specific context?

At Biola we have these conversations all the time. “We are not a church.” “We don’t operate as a church.” “It’s okay to do ___ at Biola because we are not a church.” “Stop talking/acting like we’re a church!”

It seems in these moments we are referring to “the church” as the local church, the local congregation.

But if the Church is the people and not the building or congregational name or tax ID number, why do we say it’s okay for us to do ___ because we are not a local church – when in reality we ARE the local Church?

How can we attempt to separate these two?

I would think that the same principles and Kingdom mentality would penetrate the Church wherever we go and whatever we do in whatever setting we’re in. I can see the model of leadership and method of disciplinary action vary.

But…

How can the same person who believes women shouldn’t teach men in the local church be okay with women teaching men in a university setting where both the men and women are a part of the Church?

How can the same person who believes women shouldn’t teach men in the local church be okay with sending single women as missionaries to teach men in other nations in order to bring them into the Church?

The same goes for having different beliefs about men and women in marriage verses men and women in ministry. I don’t understand how one can have different beliefs about the two if ultimately we are all a part of the Church.

I guess what I’m getting down to is this:

It seems that in order to make life easier for ourselves (aka wanting to pick and choose what is comfortable to us) we begin to drawn distinctions between marriage/ministry, local church/missions, local church/parachurch organization, local church/Christian university… to name a few.

But in reality, the Church (the people) isn’t changing –  only the structures/buildings/organizations.

This inconsistency has significant consequences especially for women because of the gifts that they may or may not be able to use to bless and build the Church.

The Church is a part of the crazy-sanity, failure-as-success, love-your-enemies, complex-simplicity, confusing-clarity, upside-down Kingdom. The Kingdom is wholly other than the structures we attempt to govern our lives by. It transcends politics, permeates diversity, and creates a bond stronger than biological family. Our weaknesses become our strengths and those whom the world considers worthless and a bother because of their inability to contribute to society are prized and treasured. We live in full acknowledgement of the brokenness around us while looking back towards what was intended to be and looking forward towards full restoration and redemption – and seeing these processes happen before our very eyes as we hover in between.

Witness the Kingdom. This is the Church.

Shouldn’t a Kingdom reality govern our lives instead of the limits of the structures we create – or even – the limits of our comfortability?

“Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud…” [Proverbs 8:1-3 NIV ©2010]

This last week I attended the English-speaking life group hosted by the part of the body of Christ I commune with on a weekly basis. I’ve been attending this church in Lincoln Heights since August and while I’m involved relationally and in serving, had decided that I would take another step to become more rooted in this community after the holidays. The above passage was what we spent the majority of our time meditating on and discussing in life group this week.

Wisdom stands in the middle of the busiest intersection in town to proclaim her message. One of the women in the life group related this to the corners of Soto and Cesar Chavez, an intersection long known for being the center of Boyle Heights. How fortunate that wisdom is present in the busy and bustling areas of life! No need to remove ourselves completely from community and responsibilities to meditate for sustained periods of time in order to gain wisdom [not to disqualify solitude as being beneficial]. The Holy Spirit pours out wisdom in the midst of stress and confusion.

In pairs, we shared what “intersection” we are at in life and how wisdom has or can meet us there. I’ve certainly been viewing the last 7 months of my life as a transition period, waiting for a nursing job to point me in the next direction I’m headed. The image that comes to mind is one in the book Girl with a Pearl Earring, when Griet stands in the center of an enormous compass in the middle of the marketplace. So how has wisdom met me in this place?

I’ve been fighting the idea that this time is a transition because I want to be able to be fully present and not fall prey to the idea that my life will begin when I start working as a nurse. The Holy Spirit has been feeding me wisdom regarding my identity; in the last 7 months I’ve wrestled a lot with what it means if I don’t pursue nursing, or if I don’t pursue it right away. I’ve come to embrace that this has been a period of healing from feeling burnt out from nursing school and rest from the responsibility one holds when working in a hospital setting.

During my lunch break on Friday I sat by the fountain at Biola with my feet up, reflecting on what I’ve been learning since graduation. I was appreciating the different kind of responsibility I hold working in Multi-Ethnic Programs instead of in a nursing position. And that’s when I had an epiphany.

Stay with me. This will make sense in the end.

As a woman who has been single for the last 5 years, I’ve spent a bit of time getting to know myself. I still feel like I’m acquaintances with myself, not even friends, but I take comfort in knowing that Someone knows me thoroughly and there is grace for what I don’t understand. Okay, but singleness. During this time, I’ve recognized in myself waves of desiring a significant relationship that ebb and flow, lasting a variety of durations for just as many reasons. Some reasons are incredibly selfish and other less so. I’ve come to:

– acknowledge the desires I’m having (selfish or not)
– embrace the fact that desires are a part of my humanity (selfish and not)
– learn from these desires (repent of self-centeredness or affirm pure motives)

Recently the desire for a relationship washed up on the beach of my life a little farther than I anticipated. So as I was reflecting last Friday lunch on the relief I felt from hearing back that I was not chosen for a nursing position because I didn’t feel ready to handle the responsibility yet, I almost choked on my turkey sandwich.

And I realized my heart’s motives behind desiring a relationship this time.

1. I feel slightly overwhelmed that I am ‘alone’ during a period of significant change in my life, and if I were in a relationship I would not be ‘alone’.
2. I am uncomfortable with the responsibility of making decisions all by myself that will considerably impact the direction of my life, and if I were in a relationship I would not have to bear the weight of the responsibility by myself.
3. If I were in a purposeful, serious relationship that was moving towards marriage it would be considered ‘successful’ and would be a distraction from me feeling as if I’ve failed for not finding a nursing job.

Basically, the theme is abdication of responsibility.

There is nothing wrong with seeking wisdom in the advice and input of others. But I don’t think it’s healthy for me to want someone else to share responsibility with me because I’m afraid of ‘failing’.

Dr. Ron Pierce, my Theology of Gender professor, once related a story to my class of a female student who told him that she couldn’t wait to get married so that she wouldn’t have to make any decisions and would just do whatever her husband wanted. At the time, I thought this girl was out of her mind – why would you want someone else to make all decisions for you? But now I can relate to her motives of not wanting to take responsibility more than I wish I did.

As humans, we must take responsibility for ourselves and the decisions we make. And no ‘failure’ is greater than the grace that is waiting.

This afternoon I was reading on my porch, conveniently located just a few blocks south of the intersection of Soto and Cesar Chavez.

“Christian vocation is not so much about career as about a call to the fullness of life – an invitation not to leave the world, but to embrace it. John Neafsey writes that vocation has to do with“the quality of our personhood, the values and attitudes we embody, the integrity and authenticity of our lives.” For Christians, vocation is the invitation to follow Jesus. “Come after me,” he said in Mark (1:17), an invitation to discipleship that – “more than an assent of the heart” – demands, as Ched Myers put it, “an uncompromising break with ‘business as usual.’” We all bring to our vocations experiences, gifts, and relationships. We bring the obstacles and distractions that clutter our lives. We bring who we are and who we are willing to become. We bring the context in which we live and a particular time in history. Vocation is about the totality of how we live the gospel in these times.” -Marie Dennis, Toward the Fullness of Life in Sojourners, February 2011

Wisdom made herself known to me in a momentous way in the current intersection of my life. She called out to me in the midst of struggling with the role my career and my relationship status play in my identity. And she proclaimed the truth that there is fullness of life right now, for who I am, and where I’m at. My vocation is to live out the grace I’ve been given as I grapple with learning about my humanity.