Tuesday, April 29, 2014

When Way Opens: Having the Faith to Say “Yes” to the Movement of the Spirit

ESR student Katie Heape delivered the following message during ESR Worship on April 24, 2014:

            Good morning F(f)riends. It is such a joy to be speaking today in Worship.  As I have been thinking about what I would speak on today, I have been reflecting a great deal on these past two years at ESR.  What a blessing this experience has been and continues to be for me.   I am quite humbled and moved when I look around the room at all these faces, all of you who have been such a blessing in my life.  I cannot thank you enough for being such an important part of my spiritual journey.  As I look back on my life, I can see how Spirit has been moving, how I have been led from place to place, person to person, experience to experience to get me to this place.  I would like to share with you some of the road upon which I have traveled.
            I played alone for hours in the late evening under the illuminated carport, lost in the freedom of play, exploration and pure joy.  Within this place, I could go anywhere I pleased with no worries, no fears and no limits to where my imagination could take me.  As I leaned my scrawny six-year-old body against one of the posts holding up the roof of the carport, I looked out at the vastly beautiful deep black star-filled sky above the cornfield next door.  As I got lost in the breathtaking swirls of vivid dancing stars, I felt as though only the sky and I existed and the notion of time had completely vanished.  And then a sweet stillness came over my entire being.  I began to sing improvisational hymns into the mystery of the great beyond as the peace of the Spirit warmly embraced my soul.  I met my Creator face to face and in that moment, I fell in love with the limitless mystery of God.  That bliss, that stillness and that peace I would seek and not find for another twenty years.

            Over the next several years, the institutionalized church became something which I wanted no part of.  I had seen the ugly undersides of Christianity and I began to question God.  When my sister told me she had become an atheist, the little bit of faith I had left dissipated.  I had lost hope in ever finding the God that I had seen in the stars.  Maybe, that hadn't even been real at all, I thought.
            In 2010, I graduated college with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Interior Design.  After graduation, my goal was to move to Chicago and work as an Interior Designer in the big city.  All my thought was bent on achieving this dream but I had to stay in Cincinnati one more year and work to save some money before I could make the move.  No one was hiring interior designers in Cincinnati at the time so I took a good paying administrative position.  “Only one year”, I told myself, “and then my life really begins.”  In my pursuit towards becoming a big city interior designer as soon as possible, I looked for an additional part time job for extra income.  My friend Allison told me of an open administrative position at her Quaker Meeting, Cincinnati Friends.  My skin crawled at the idea of working for the institutionalized church which by this time I had come to severely distrust, but I decided to interview so that I could get to Chicago that much faster. 
            During the interview, I was very uncomfortable.  I felt as though I had nothing in common with these church goers.  My walls were sky high as I tried to be on my best behavior around people who I felt were probably much better people than I was.  These were good people.  I did not belong here, I thought.  At the end of the interview, they posed a concern that in the past their office assistants had also been attenders of the meeting and due to confidentiality reasons they were happy to find someone outside of their Meeting's circle.  I laughed at this as I told them that they would never have to worry about me attending the Meeting.  I was done with church!  I was done with God!
            I began working at Cincinnati Friends Meeting in June 2011.  During the first week of that job, I could not help but notice how well suited the minister, Donne Hayden, was for her position there.  She reached out to the people of her congregation and would talk with them and visit with them as though she had all the time in the world.  She LOVED them and they LOVED her.  This struck me hard because this completely contradicted the hypocrisy of the church that I had witnessed for so long.  My heart slowly began to open to the possibility that maybe there is a loving God.  As time went on, Donne and I became very close.
            My second encounter with God occurred when I was 26.  In my full-time position, I had been working for a man who treated his employees very poorly and after a year of working with him, I had lost all desire to stay.  As the environment in the office became more and more hostile, I prayed and prayed that I might be able to leave.  Finally the day came that I quit my job.  As my boss was yelling at me for the last time, I felt as though I was being lifted out of my office chair and out of the front door.  I walked out elated.  I drove home to an empty house and I sat down reflecting on the almost out of body experience I had just had.  I took a seat on the couch and began to pray.  “Why God?  Why?  Why have you helped me?  Why?  What is this all for?  Why have you done this for me?  Why?  Why?”  With hands in the air, I tried to understand why a God would choose to help me.   “Why me?  Why am I important?  Why are you God?  What is the point of all this?”  As I sat there in prayer asking my very honest questions, I began to see a figure clothed in a white robe.  As I looked closer I could see that it was Jesus.  I had never been a believer in Jesus so even in this vision I looked for God who was there but in the background somehow.  Then Jesus in his sweetness and light reached out his hands and radiant beams of light started to pour out from them.  They were beams of love pouring out to me and then, they spread out into the whole world.  It was so beautiful and overwhelming this great love for every single being.  As I sat there sobbing and overtaken by what I had just seen, I immediately realized why God cared about me.  The answer was simple, LOVE.  I had finally come home to love.
            From that moment, all of my plans, my goals, my desires were seemingly unimportant.  I felt that my life was no longer my own, that I had released all of my fears to my loving Creator who I trusted would guide me to where I needed to go.  I no longer cared about going to Chicago and becoming a big city interior designer.  I knew in an instant that God had bigger plans for me than I could ever imagine for myself.  I began to regularly attend the Meeting at Cincinnati Friends.  

As Donne and I talked over those next months, I could feel a leading towards ministry rising in me.  I applied at ESR and was accepted.  Although I was incredibly excited about the opportunity to come to seminary, I was so scared to leave my home, my family, my Meeting that I had come so quickly to love.  I prayed and prayed that my fears would not overcome me.  One day, when I was leaving for work at the Meetinghouse, I had picked up a CD by Sara Groves called “Conversations.”  I had several CD's by her but this one I had not heard yet so I picked it up to listen to in the car on my drive to work.  As I was driving and searching through the tracks, I landed on a song called “Painting Pictures of Egypt.”  Interesting title, I thought.  As I began to listen to the words, my heart stopped.  It was as though she wrote the song for me for this very moment when I needed them the most.

I don't want to leave here, I don't want to stay. It feels like pinching to me either way. And the places I long for the most are the places where I've been. They are calling out to me like a long lost friend.  And the place I was wasn't perfect but I had found a way to live.  And it wasn't milk or honey
but then neither is this.  I've been painting pictures of Egypt, leaving out what it lacks.  The future feels so hard and I want to go back.  But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I've learned.  Those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned.  The past is so tangible, I know it by heart.  Familiar things are never easy go discard.  I was dying for some freedom, but now I hesitate to go.  I am caught between the Promise and the things I know.

I felt God smiling at me and loving me with all my fear and all my doubts.  I would be OK, I have God's love and support.
            The decision to come to seminary is the best decision I have ever made.  I am learning so much here and I am so thankful that I said “Yes” to God.  As I continue to say “Yes” to God, I continue to see my world expand beyond my understanding.  Each time Way Opens and I step through the door, I come back to the child under the carport admiring the boundless mysteries of God.  I cannot possibly count all the many blessings that have come from the moments when I have stepped out in faith and surrendered to the One who Loves each and every one of us.  God has a plan bigger and better than the plan we have for ourselves.

            As each of us continues on our journey in faith, as we wrap up this year of seminary, as some of us may be leaving for new spirit-filled adventures, may we always remember how much God loves us.  May we always hold on to the faith that God will support us in our ministry and may we always remember to trust that God's plan is perfect, boundless, mysterious and so worth taking the leap for.

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