WHOW!

In youth group we start with a check in called “Pow. Wow. How.”

Pow = something that didn’t go well or was difficult
Wow = something that went well that you feel good about
How = how you saw God this week

Last weekend as we were going around sharing, we had a few people at the start of the sharing time who’s Wow was also a How.This prompted one of our youth to say, “it’s really a WHow” (pronunciation still under consideration – “wwwwhhhhooow” or “wuuhoow”). But… the point being that our Wow – the thing that went well – could also be (wait for it…) How we see or experience God!

It is true that in our Pow’s we can experience God. Our Pows are when we can choose to trust in God and lift our sadness, our disappointments, our despair, our grief up to God and we can let go. God is truly there for us in those times if we choose to look for the Spirit.

And… I loved this moment of WHow! It speaks to the pure joy in the love of God. When we have a moment of really feeling, seeing, experiencing or connecting with the Divine/Holy Spirit/God/Yahew, yes… what a Wow moment that can be! When I think back to some of the most powerful moments of my own experiences when God felt so close – I rejoiced and felt in awe and wonder at the world, my own life and this crazy Divine Spirit! That’s what I think of when I think of WHow!

Advent is a season of waiting and looking for the light and hope in the darkness. In this time, I believe we need more moments of WHow more than ever! And no… they can’t be bought! And no, it can’t come from the outcome of “the big game” (full disclosure I’m decked out in my Seahawks gear as I write this). These moments have to come from the experiences within us and around us. May we take time to notice those little moments of Wow and may we dare to look for the Sacred and to How we might find God hiding in those moments.

May we all find our How in the Wow moments of life.
Amen.

this song came on as I finished writing this post:

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A snippet in the life of the church…

Update: Jim Gunstone died peacefully this morning (December 22, 2015). Here’s to a life well lived and to a man who touched so many with his generosity, great big smile and encouraging words! We love you Jim!

Our Music Director, Heidi Blythe often shares little snippets on her Facebook page with the starting line, “Sometimes church looks like this…”. Today’s post is a sharing of a story in the life of the church that a few church members nudged me to post. Heidi, I’m borrowing your starting line. I hope that’s ok.

Sometimes church looks like… youth helping at a work party around the church in honor of one of our church elders, Jim Gunstone.

To elaborate, Jim and his wife Cathy are newer members of the church, but they came in and quickly became at home. They are huge supporters of the church in many ways, and one of those ways is their support for the youth of this church. They come to the Moving Mountains dinners – the youth celebration and auction dinner to raise money for the mission trips. They love youth worship! They are always asking what the youth are up to and just always want to offer ways they can support! Most recently they were enjoying their winnings from the Moving Mountains auction with their stay at Orcas Island. The high school youth were also on Orcas on their mission trip! Jim and Cathy and their kids and granddaughter met up with us at the local swimming hole to see the youth. They let the youth know they were being thought of and held in prayer. And Jim was quick to purchase ice cream for the youth and told me he didn’t want to hear any thank yous! He handed me the money and said, “I don’t want to hear anything more about this!”. But of course… we sent him a thank you card later!
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Jim has a recent diagnosis of cancer.

I knew there would be projects around the house he might like some help with. So I went to him and said, “Jim, let us know how the youth can support you and I’ll make it happen.” He came back the next Sunday to me and said, “Margaret, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like the youth to do and I’d love it if they would help around the church.” … That’s Jim for you!… I knew a work party was being planned for October 24th to do some work around the grounds of the building. I put it out there to the youth and their families and we got a crew together! We had several youth and some of their parents join in with other members of the church on Saturday morning. We raked leaves, hauled big branches, took bags of leaves and emptied them in the trucks, took out big roots and swept the sidewalks. It was a wonderful inter-generational event! Folks in the church got to know the youth better and the youth got to know them better. I posted pictures on Facebook so that Cathy could show Jim (who was in the hospital). It meant a lot to us that we could give back to our church and that we could honor Jim and Cathy who do so much to support the youth. It meant a lot to work together in community with so many different generations.

In my work in youth ministry, it’s clear to me that youth ministry isn’t just about the youth, it’s about the church. UCUCC sees itself as a place where we minister to ALL ages. The church has said YES to our children and youth in tangible and thoughtful ways. The children and youth know that they are loved and cared for by ALL of the church members! THIS is youth ministry! Yes, we have fellowship nights, youth group and retreats and these are all elements of a youth ministry program. It’s where youth get to be together to learn, discuss, reflect and hopefully have real experiences of God and of the Sacred. But, a community also needs it’s elders. We need the wisdom of the ones who have gone before and we need their cheers and celebration to move us forward. So, as a church we strive to not be siloed – to reach across age groups and make meaningful connections.That’s what church is for. It’s one of the few, if not the only, places where 5 generations might be under one roof. Yesterday in church I sat next to a 101 year old woman named Vivette, and we sat together and watched a baby get baptized. That is the church!

So, as Heidi says, sometimes the church looks like the youth giving back to someone who has touched their lives in some meaningful and tangible ways. Sometimes the church looks like many generations coming together to work and give back to our church space. Sometimes, or maybe hopefully always, the church looks like a place where we are all valued, loved, cared for, prayed for, held and affirmed. And sometimes the church looks like Jim buying ice cream for the youth after a long hard day working on trails on a mission trip.

THANK YOU JIM! We are all holding you in our prayers!

youth group photo

cole and mary ellen

con, bob & bryan

lacy, clara, grace and cole in truck

nancy and martha

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September 2015 Events

September Youth News

Back by popular demand are the Mix-Yups! It’s like Mix-Ups but specifically for families of Children and Youth! Parents, do you ever feel like your kids have made all these friends at Sunday School and Youth Group, but you have no idea who all these other grownups are? Now’s your chance to get together and meet other families! You or someone in your family may have participated in a UCUCC “MixUp” but now the whole family gets to join the fun at the NEW youth family MixYup! We help you get together with a few families for a dinner – and then “mix it up” so you can do it again with a whole new crowd the next month!

Sign up now using this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BLMBWHC
Sean Owens from the Youth Board coordinates the groups and will assign everyone to different gatherings for the months of October, November and December (or January if December is too packed).

SIGN UP TODAY! Deadline to sign up is Sunday, September 20th. But the sooner we get everyone signed up, the sooner we can get folks lined up.

Questions? Contact Sean at seanowe@gmail.com or Margaret at mirribarra@ucucc.org

Sunday, September 13: Homecoming Sunday!
This is a celebratory Sunday to welcome everyone back from our summer travels! I hope to see you all there!

Monday, September 14: Youth Board Meeting
This is a reminder that the Youth Board will NOT meet the first Monday of the month due to Labor Day Weekend. Please plan to be at the meeting the following Monday from 7-9pm. If you are interested in joining the youth board, please contact Margaret Irribarra.

Sunday, September 20 & 27: 9am Youth Group Starts Again!
We’ve had a wonderful summer with mission trips, Seabeck camp, hiking, movie night, service day at Catherine’s farm and a Mariner’s game! September 20th we start meeting weekly at 9am again! It will be so wonderful to see you all on a weekly basis again! Youth in grades 6-12 are invited to Youth Group. We will gather for weekly check-in, discussions, activities and more! Please be in touch with Margaret Irribarra if you have any questions.

Sunday, September 20: Cake and Celebration Party for Margaret & Jeremy
Youth and their families are especially invited to a celebration after worship for the recent marriage of Margaret Irribarra and Jeremy Swanson! There will be cake and punch in the lounge along with Margaret and Jeremy so you can give them your best wishes and celebrate this joyous time in their lives. We hope to have a slideshow pictures of from the big day! Thank you to the coordinators – Mary Paananen and Carol Coleman If you’d like to know more about Margaret & Jeremy’s wedding, please visit: Jeremyandmargaret.com

Wednesday, September 30: Teen Feed
Wednesday, September 30th from 5-8:30pm
We need a few folks to take on the grocery shopping and job delegating for this month! Youth, their friends and family are invited to participate in an important ministry to youth and young adults who are homeless. Sign up to help prepare, cook and serve a warm meal! Email Margaret to sign up: mirribarra@ucucc.org

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In a week I wont be in my 20’s anymore, and I think I’m ok with that

They say that Church is one of the few communities that has 5 generations present! And this seems to be somewhat of a rare experience (depending on culture and understanding of “family”). It’s true that church offers this amazing experience where people of all ages (newborn to elders) come together and create community. Each age group has something to offer. And as you move from one stage of life to the next you have role models to look up to, and you aren’t “aged out” for no longer meeting the criteria. You just move forward, all the while being held in community. I am a child of the church and grew up in my church. I watched beloved elders pass on to the spirit world/heaven and I have grown up with friends who are now married and having babies – one just born today in fact! I have seen babies baptized and then 18 years later attended their high school graduation!
I am approaching my 30th birthday. And it’s got me thinking about aging and how we approach this valuable gift of life.

There are many messages out there from our society about getting old: “your 20’s are the best years of your life” “30’s the new 20!” … no wait… “40’s the new 20!” but primarily the message is simply… “DON’T GET OLD!” or at least… “DON’T LOOK OLD”.

In a week, I wont be in my 20’s anymore and I think I’m ok with that. I’ve lived them intentionally and plan on living my 30s intentionally as well. I am grateful to what my 20s were and I’m grateful for the privilege to walk into this next decade. I am annoyed at this notion that my 20s were to have been my best years. I refuse to believe that my 20s were my best years… not that they were bad, but I refuse this notion that somehow I’ve lost the ability, or have simply run out of time to have more great years! And I refuse to believe that somehow my worth drops because of my age! Come on! that’s 30 years of growth, learning, adventures and dare I say, wisdom?!
It does feel though, that 30 is the first milestone birthday (in a long string of milestone birthdays 10, 13, 16, 18, 21)that doesn’t seem to come with any sort of cultural reward – other than a general sense of “You’re old… your best years are behind you”. It’s a fascinating experience walking towards this birthday.

There’s a classic “FRIENDS” episode that shows each characters 30th birthday. In this episode Rachel wakes to her 30th birthday feeling sad and scared that she hasn’t done all she should have by 30. She even maps out a timeline for her life of when to get married and have kids. 30 is told as this final milestone birthday. We all know it’s ok to make the choices that are right for you, but still there’s a cultural undercurrent that says you should be married and having kids by 30.

And while this is a funny episode, I think it’s based on some of these messages that we get from our society. My 20s were great… but man they were tumultuous with a lot of change and a lot of figuring out. There were a lot of “shoulds” that I felt myself combating:
“you should major in…”
“you should get married soon”
“you should go to seminary”
“you should consider…”
“you should think about…”
“you know what you should do…”
And while some of these “shoulds” were verbal, others were just coming from what I saw other people doing and being praised for.

I work with 6th – 12th grade youth and I watch them worry about this narrative: “I need to figure out what I want to do, so that I can pick the right high school that will get me on the right track to go to the right college”… and then, you know the rest … “to get the good job, to meet the right person, get married and have kids”. This is the cycle. This is what our middle school youth are already worrying about. While they are worrying, they also dream. They dream of that independence that adulthood brings. They long for that authenticity, groundedness, freedom, and “put-together-ness” that they see in adults.

When I turned 25 all I wished for was to be 30. They looked so put together. Well I think what I’ve learned in the last 5 years is that every adult is faking it… we’re not all put together. We may know ourselves, we may have responsibilities and we may feel grounded … at times. But we also struggle… because responsibilities are hard, sometimes we lose ourselves and don’t feel grounded. And youth struggle too. I think being a youth today is one of the hardest things. There is too much pressure – from parents, schools, friends, etc… There is just TOO MUCH of everything. This is the nature of humanity. We both have joy and pain.

So why is it that adults yearn for their youth, and youth yearn for adulthood? Is there any way we could just be ourselves and love ourselves right where we’re at?

This is where I turn to my faith and my church. For all the “shoulds” I’ve felt and feel, I look at so many folks in my church who have paved their own path and I am reminded that there is no “one way” to do this life. I think this is our work as people of Faith – to love ourselves right where we’re at and trust in God. I pray that we can move from this fear of aging or yearning for the past days of youth to a place of peace within ourselves. God loves us know matter what age we are. And thank God for the church – the church we never age out of. Thank God for the little babies that remind us of the promise of new life, for the children that remind us of wonder, for the youth who ask questions and strive for change, for the young adults who chart their own paths bravely, for the adults who courageously parent, mentor and care for all, and for the elders who are the keepers of the stories. Together we knit a beautiful cloth of community that we wrap ourselves in when we need to be deeply held in love.

Baby Pic

Lil' Margaret

margaret karthweel

margaret birthday

margaret, mary and grandma

* Written partly in memory of my dear grandma who passed a few weeks ago. She and I had birthdays 3 days apart and always celebrated together! Margaret Rose lived with deep wisdom and a genuine spirit of curiosity for others and never let herself get trapped into feeling “old” or doing what others thought she should do with her life!

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Liminal Space

I was talking with a friend who was on the verge of some good news. They had been told they might have some good news coming their way, but that they would have to wait to know for sure.
I was talking to a young adult who graduated and is now counting down the days to travel to college.
I was talking to a parent who’s child will be transitioning from elementary school to middle school – they’re all ready, but school hasn’t started.
I’ve been caring for my grandmother who was once fiercely independent – living on her own, driving, working (we worked together) and living a vibrant and social life – who is now on the long road of recovery, following a fall and broken femur.

liminal space

Haven’t we all been there? In that time of not where we were, but not yet where we will be next? It can be exhausting living in the tension, anxiety and unsettledness. I remember last year one of the Pastors shared about “Liminal Space”. And as I sat with my friend and listened to both their anxiety and excitement, I was reminded of this “Liminal Space”. I gooogled it to read more about it and found this:

“The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, meaning literally, “threshold.”
A liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing is…
…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be, but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.
– Richard Rohr”
FROM:http://inaliminalspace.com/about/what

WOW! So beautifully true and yet, darnit! Don’t we like to be settled and in control of what’s happening!? For all of us, we have this time, these spaces where we aren’t settled and we are in this space of transition. It can bring feelings of anxiety because we can’t control it and we can’t just jump to where we want to be. This, I think is where a big piece of my faith resides. I have to trust in God during these times because that is the way I can let go and live into this deeply necessary space in life. I especially loved this piece from Rohr: “It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.” How much do I get in the way of myself!? I have a joking life motto “Why make things simple when you can make them complicated?”… it is to remind myself that sometimes I make it too complicated. I don’t need to try to control that. I don’t need to over think this.

I am particularly thinking of all the youth I work with and their families as we begin to see the “back to school” ads and I start to say goodbye to the class of 2014 who are off to college. Each new school year brings this liminal space – the time between summer and the start of school.

May we all remember to trust in God and to let go of the anxiety we may feel. Let us trust in the process and be thankful that God loves us too much to let us stay the same.

Amen.
an image

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Reflections from the past

I was entering my house from a day at school when I heard a message being left on our answering machine. It was my youth minister from church.

…”I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s been a shooting at a high school in Columbine, Colorado. I’m calling folks in the youth group to see if you want to go to a vigil in downtown Seattle”.

It was Tuesday, April 20, 1999. I was in 8th grade (14 years old) and I quickly turned on the news. I will never forget the images I saw, that we all saw. We saw youth, although to my 14 year old eyes, I saw “big” high schoolers, running to their parents, crying! We saw high school students hanging from the windows, trying to escape. We saw images that never needed to be seen again of guns and bodies. And as the days went on we saw security footage and learned more about what had gone on. We learned about the shooters and learned that they had been outcasts. They had been bullied and been excluded.

The recent events have sent me back to that day of coming home and hearing the voice message. I feel as though I am reliving my 14 year old self’s reaction to Columbine and wondering how our youth are processing these events in Connecticut. I have spent the last few days reflecting on Columbine and realizing now how it shaped the way I grew up. As we all know this event will change the way our children will grow up. Although this event had not happened “to me”, I, along with all of us, were affected. I remember the first time we went to our school library being a bit afraid, since that’s where some students were shot and killed in Columbine. I remember there were stories of the shooters asking people if they believed in God, and those that said “yes” were killed. I wondered, ‘would I lie if faced with that situation? or would I have said ‘yes’?, since I did.’

As I stood at that vigil in downtown Seattle, I remember realizing that we had a responsibility to not let people feel so lonely and so angry that it would come to this kind of violence. It was up to all of us to share with each other their worth and make sure everyone knew that they mattered and belonged! And… what I know now as an adult is what my church and my youth minister taught me that day. My youth leader called me to tell me the news and invited me to a prayer vigil. Our youth group and our parents and our youth leaders traveled to this vigil to pray for the victims, AND the shooters. They were ALL in our prayers. My church taught me about forgiveness, hope, prayer and love.

So… fast forward 14 years and now I’m the youth minister at my church. And it’s Friday, December 14th and there I was, I was faced with the same news (only this time it was even younger children) I see my 14 year old self in the youth that I work with and I know what to do. My church taught me about love, prayer, forgiveness, and hope and I was going to help our youth through this the same as my youth minister and church did for me. Amazingly our Christmas Party was scheduled for that day. We played games and laughed! And the last 15 minutes, we held candles that we lit for each other. And we sang “Silent Night”. We opened up the circle to prayers and there were many hopes lifted for all the things that this season brings up: lost loved ones, homelessness, friendships, less stress, celebration of marriage for ALL, prayers for the continued struggles for GLBTQ youth and adults who still can’t tell their families, lost pets and prayers for Newtown, Connecticut victims and for kids who don’t feel safe in public places anymore.

This to me is why youth group and church community matters! We need a place to share our joys and a place to cry and to share our deep struggles. My passion for inclusivity comes from my own story of being bullied and made fun of, from Columbine and the story of the shooters, and from the stories I hear from youth and how they feel like they don’t matter.

I heard on the radio today that there is an epidemic in our culture and it is a “lack of hope”. “It’s a lack of hope in themselves” she said. And I wonder, how can our message that GOD loves all and that because you were born you have WORTH and that you MATTER can reach all our children, teens, young adults, and adults of all ages? This message is one I heard in my faith community and it is one I hope all feel in our church community! It is a message we really can’t hear enough or say enough to those around us – not just our family or friends, but more powerfully to those we don’t know!

We are all struggling to make sense of something senseless. And we move forward in a way we don’t know how, in a world that has shifted. And we “look for the helpers” as Fred Rogers said! And we look to those who are being excluded or bullied, and we stand FOR them and WITH them! Love just won in an election around gay marriage. Let’s let LOVE WIN in all aspects – in health care, in gun control, in media, in our communities, in our families, and within! LET’S LET LOVE WIN!

Picture of me and youth group friends from 8th or 9th grade

Picture of me and youth group friends from 8th or 9th grade

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Grace to risk something big, for the sake of something good.

“may God grant you the grace
never to sell yourself short;
grace to risk something big
for the sake of something good;
grace to remember that the
world is now too dangerous for
anything but truth and too small
for anything but love.”
-adaptation of benediction by William Sloane Coffin Jr.

I think about this benediction that Peter gives quite often. And it speaks to me in particular today. This last week I traveled to New Orleans for a gathering of youth ministers with three of my colleagues from the Pacific NW conference. On the leg from Denver to Seattle, my colleague and I shared in conversation the whole 3 hours. We shared pictures of our family on our phones, we shared about our work and our personal goals and dreams.

There were moments on the trip where I would stop and imagine it was June 2013 and pictured UCUCC’s youth mission trip to Chicago. I grew even more excited about our trip when I pictured the youth of this church sitting in the different seats – chatting, laughing, sleeping, sharing, playing games, etc… There is a different kind of bonding that happens on a trip out of state. It’s exciting and different and fun! And there are moments of uncomfortableness, needing space, missing home, and feeling out of your comfort zone. When out of state, you can’t just decide to leave early and drive home. You learn a lot about yourself when you have to move yourself out of the funk and to the place of being present in the group. Living a bit of this this week, I was reminded of how the youth will go through this same experience on the mission trip – the bonding, the sharing and the needing space, the uncomfortable moments.
…but I gotta say, that I learned a lot about myself on this trip. I learned to recognize when I have hit my “people limit” and when I need time by myself, I learned I know how to tell people that. I learned that I feel very comfortable on a plane and traveling and that I do really trust my abilities to travel well. I learned that I love to laugh and that I’m so grateful my colleagues are the ones I tend to giggle and belly laugh the most with!
We four are forever bonded by the adventures we shared – the mishaps and the successes!

So… why do I think of the benediction? Grace to risk something big, for the sake of something good! Everyone has different comfort levels with traveling and going to a new and different place. And I think it’s a risk that we need to take for the sake of that something good = that connecting, sharing, bonding as a group and learning about ones self more deeply! And to travel for the sake of a mission trip, to open our minds, spirits and hearts to other parts of our country and to meet new people all on this journey of life and faith, what an amazing thing! As Peter and William Sloane Coffin Jr remind us, the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.
The world is small and getting smaller by the moment as it is easier to cross the physical divides via facebook, twitter and more! And there are parts of our world that still have big divides. Our faith journeys are about meeting people along the journey and that’s what our mission trips are about. We are transformed and changed by the experiences and the people we meet along the way. Hopefully lessening those divides. I am excited for our youth group to not sell ourselves short and to risk the fear we may feel about the unknown and the uncomfortable for the sake of that something good… that God will reveal to us when we are ready.
We don’t know how we will be changed, but we have to risk to be changed. And we have to look to God for the clues that show us the way.

“may God grant you the grace
never to sell yourself short;
grace to risk something big
for the sake of something good;
grace to remember that the
world is now too dangerous for
anything but truth
and too small
for anything but love.”
-adaptation of benediction by William Sloane Coffin Jr.

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