Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Gospel According to "The Wesley"

Dear Friends,

Finals have been over about a week now. Many of you have gone home for the summer and are either gearing up for jobs or winding down from the craziness of the school year. Can I just say what a great time I had last week? It was such a joy to have you all in my home. The (co-ed) Ladies Tea Party and the (co-ed) Men’s BBQ were wonderful ways to celebrate the end of our school year. Last Thursday night as I put my boys to bed they were still buzzing from the excitement of a water-balloon fight in the rain with “the Wesley Students.” Thank you for making them feel so special and so included. As I tucked them in, Isaiah looked at me and said, “Mommy, this was the best day ever, when the Wesley Students came over. It was better than a birthday party!” This sweet four year old is still asking if he can have “the Wesley Students” and a water balloon fight for his birthday. I have to explain to him that November and water balloon fights don’t go well together. Anyway, I just want you all to know how special you are to my whole family, how much you are loved, and how deeply you will all be missed. As I share my last “Ramblings” of the school year, please know that I’m only a phone call or text away, and this rambling girl is still going to ramble. You can continue to find me (and all the ramblings I’ve ever written) at http;//

Now For Sami’s Ramblings About Jesus:

The weekend before finals we had our “Fall Retreat in the Spring . . . Again.” I loved it! We all fasted together for 24 hours; we spent time setting our intentions for that separated time, things we were lifting to God and asking Him to intervene in; and we watched all kinds of John Hughes’ movies! The official title of our “Fall Retreat in the Spring . . . Again” was “The Gospel According to John Hughes,” which I thought was pretty good since the last time I asked students to do a fasting retreat with me I made them watch ten hours of Beth Moore videos. I don’t think any of them have had the heart to watch Beth Moore since then! So John Hughes was a bit easier to handle, I think. And during that twenty-four hours I felt like I watched my junior high and high school years playing out before my eyes on the big screen. Who knew hair could be so big, jeans so high wasted, or PG rated movies so inappropriate!? Wow.

Since then I have been thinking of what exactly “the Gospel According to John Hughes” is. Here is what resonates within me: 1) Love changes everything. 2) Authentic community is redemptive. 3) Individuals are bigger than the box others try to put them in. And finally 4) when people change, the world they live in is transformed. As I have pondered these life lessons I realize that they are actually related to four other statements that have been an integral part of my life for the last nine years. Since my first year serving as campus minister our mission at the Wesley has been to put a human face on God’s love, create a safe place for students to meet Jesus, discover who we are in Christ, and take the love of Jesus beyond our own four walls (this one actually came about in my third year or so). I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when God spoke these core values into my heart.

I remember sitting at a computer trying to articulate what the Wesley Foundation meant to me in my very first “official” Wesley e-mail. I was trying to put into words what it did for me as a college student years ago and what I wanted it to do for everyone we would minister to in my tenure. First and foremost it made God’s love real to me like it had never been real before. I knew God loved me because I felt His love through people who took the time to get to know me and celebrate me as an individual instead of trying to make me into someone else. As a student discovering the Wesley Foundation for the first time, I realized that God’s love had a human face, and “He” looked a lot like my campus minister and friends who daily accepted me, encouraged me, and walked with me through graduation. I knew God wanted that legacy to continue, and “Put a human face on God’s love” was born. This Love led me to hear God’s call upon my life and also brought me to the sweet man who has been my husband for almost 15 years. Yes, Love changed everything for me twenty years ago, and I have had the privilege of seeing this Love change lives “for good” for the past nine years.

During one of our first Thursday night Bible studies we looked at what the Kingdom of God was like, trying to understand how it is different from the world we live in. I remember reading the passage from Isaiah that speaks of lions lying down with lambs while a little child leads them. As I stood before the group that night God began to put in my heart a picture of what He intended to do at the Wesley. He began to show me that our ministry was supposed to be a place where everyone could safely come to know Jesus, no matter how different they were. He began to show me that all people are sacred and beloved to Him, even as animals as diverse as lions and lambs are important and needed within creation. As we began to create an atmosphere of safety, where each unique person could be welcomed into our community and offered the unconditional love and hospitality of Jesus Christ, we began to see an openness to a relationship with Jesus in people that had not been there before. We could literally see Jesus transforming lives from the inside out. Authentic community is at the heart of creating a safe place for students to meet Jesus, and such an atmosphere is truly redemptive.

I went to my first (and last) Ichthus my first year as campus minister. It was hot, sweaty, grungy. We stayed in tents, slept in water, pooped in port-a-potties, and picked up trash in the rain. All for the chance to attend an outdoor Christian music festival for three days. During that weekend I spent a lot of time in the worship tent. While I was there God once again began to speak to my heart through a picture. Here’s how I described it in my journal, April 29, 2003:

We went to Ichthus—the big music festival. You gave me a new vision of myself—beautiful! In this vision You (Jesus) are looking at me and I am looking at You—You are so beautiful! And You are smiling—everything about You is smiling—Your eyes, Your inward light, Your Spirit. And then I began to see me—I was beautiful—with a light and confidence radiating from inside, truly beautiful. I realize I was seeing myself looking at You. What I also realize as I write this is that I was seeing what You see! Wow!

After that powerful moment, I began to realize that rarely do any of us ever see ourselves as Christ sees us. We are too caught up in others’ opinions of us, or our own opinions of ourselves. These opinions are rarely grounded in truth and are confining in ways that choke out the life within us. When we discover who we are in Christ we are truly free, joyful, and powerfully beautiful. Often that discovery can be disruptive because suddenly we no longer fit in the neat and tidy boxes others would have us occupy. However, we do begin to enjoy the freedom and abundant life Jesus died to give to us. We become who we were created in Love to be, and we no longer fit in the boxes we used to live in. Over the years it has been so cool to see my students begin to embrace this freedom and live into it. You are all so utterly beautiful to me. Praise God!

The final part of our identity as a campus ministry is bittersweet. When we realized what God was asking of us and gave our hearts to it, our Wesley Foundation was completely transformed. But this new way of being was born from a painful realization that we were doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. Wesley has always been a small community. This is a part of our identity we have struggled with from the time I stepped foot in the doors. During my first couple of years here we began to really try to grow our ministry by doing creative outreaches in our neighborhood and on campus. One day I was walking on campus having a screaming meme with the Lord. In my frustration I prayed to Him, “We are busting our butts trying to grow! Why won’t send us new students?” And with deep tenderness I felt in my spirit these words: “Because if I sent you new people now you would quit reaching out.” The realization that I had been reaching out to campus only because I wanted more numbers, only because I wanted to boost my own ego, hit me square in the eyes. God began to show me that He wanted us to reach out to campus because He loves college students. He wants us to share His love in creative ways because there are people on our campus who will never go to a campus ministry but still need to know He loves them. And so our students unanimously voted to expand our mission to include our vision to “take the love of Jesus beyond our own four walls.” We have faithfully tried to share God’s unconditional love with our campus and community since then. In the years since that change in heart was embraced it is clear to all who know us that reaching out is now one of our core values. I believe that this change in us has impacted our campus. I know of many students who haven’t been formal members of our ministry who have been touched by our ministry. Deep and lasting transformation never happens in a vacuum. When Jesus gets a hold of our lives and does His thing, the world we live in is never quite the same; it too is transformed.

A final message from the films of John Hughes is this: Life is a gift to be enjoyed and lived to the fullest. I love how he weaves this vision of life being worth living through all of his movies. Of course the ultimate goal of life in his stories is a bit misguided. In the big hair 80’s that Hughes’ movies celebrate and glorify, it is one’s first true love that brings saving grace to the desperate world of adolescent angst. Yet as followers of Christ, we know that Jesus is the only One who can really save us and make our lives everything we long for them to be. We know that He really is the only source of true love, authentic community, life beyond the box, and lasting transformation. It has been a joy and privilege for me to come to know Him in just these ways while I have been with you. At our last worship service I encouraged each of you to continue to run with perseverance the life-race marked out for you, leaning on Jesus as you move forward into your next chapters, knowing that I am in your cloud of witnesses madly cheering you on (Hebrews 12:1). But the gift I have just realized in the past week is that these are the things you have done for me. When I arrived here nine years ago, it was hard for me to grasp God’s love for me. It was hard for me to feel safe enough to trust His grace. It was near impossible for me to step outside the box of others’ expectations and be myself. And I was so terrified of upsetting the status quo that there was little chance the world I inhabited could be transformed. Yet in all that time you all have loved me, accepted me, showered me with grace of Jesus, and continually cheered me on. All of you have made my cloud of witnesses so utterly beautiful. Because of your witness to His love for me I am completely undone and so much more His now than when I started. Thank you for that. Your presence in my life has been a precious gift I have enjoyed, one that has made my life full to overflowing. I love you all so much.

One last time, I leave you with this benediction:

Now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.

This is me trusting,


Tuesday, May 03, 2011


When I was in college I stayed with an English professor who out of the kindness of her heart made it a practice to rent out her large attic room to whichever poor, starving student God happened to bring to her doorstep. For the last half of my college career, it was me. In exchange for the next to nothing rent I paid, I received a room, all my meals, and my laundry to boot. Yes, she washed my clothes for me. Karen even packed my lunch for school each day. I cannot begin to tell you what a blessing it was. When I first moved in I discovered that Karen was in remission from cancer of the esophagus. Over the course of the next three years, her cancer would return, and, as a part of the family, I walked with Karen through those painful, final months of her life. I felt like God had placed me there to bring hope and joy to a difficult journey. I attended the weekly healing service hosted by the Episcopal church she attended; I prayed for Karen daily, asking God to bring forth a miracle; and I rubbed her swollen feet at night as both of us laughed through Dave Letterman’s top ten list on TV.

I will never forget the week her brother visited her just a few months before her death. It was truly bittersweet. How clearly I remember the day he left. As I returned home from school, I recall pausing before the back door and bracing myself before my entrance into the house. I knew the morning had been difficult for Karen. I didn’t feel up to it, but I put on my happy face and went on it, greeting Karen with my usual jovial self, hoping to help lift her mood. Karen’s words in response pulled no punches: “Sami,” she said, “it is hard for me to say goodbye to people for the last time when you are so damn cheerful!” I was stunned, but over the years her words have become one of my highest treasures. I have carried her gift of direct honesty into every situation where I sense others are deeply grieving. Because she was so blunt with me, I was able to learn early on how important it is to walk softly on the raw edges of another person’s life. That wisdom has served me well over the years.

But I can honestly say that I’ve never felt what she felt until today. Last night was our last worship service at Wesley for the semester. And for me personally, it was my last, period. I don’t even know how to put into words how I feel. I just know that I am hurting. People who don’t relate to me as the campus minister of the Wesley Foundation have no idea how significant last night was. It’s like they are talking to me as if I am the same person they have always known, but inside I am undone. It just doesn’t seem fair that I am in the midst of letting go of a part of my life that has been central to everything I am for the last nine years, and yet I have to relate to the world outside of this experience as if I am still the same person. I am not.

Yet the best parts of me still are the same. My heart truly is full. More full I would venture to say, than ever before. All of you, my precious students, poured out your love for me last night, in ways I could not have anticipated. I just had no idea. I know so deeply the love I have for you. I am staggered and humbled by, truly in awe of, the love you have for me. Oh my. There are no words. God has truly placed you here to bring hope and joy to a difficult journey. Wow.

John Claypool, a Baptist minister, wrote about the heartrending experience of losing his ten year old daughter to leukemia in his book Tracks of a Fellow Struggler. In it he shares the journey of her diagnosis, remission and relapse, and finally her death. In poignant vulnerability he shares his grief, not from the vantage point of a wise and far-removed pastor advising parishioners on grief, but rather from the perspective of a devastated father who has lost his own beloved child. As he struggles to understand what has happened, he offers a way of moving through the heartache that helps me now as I move through these final days: “Here, in a nutshell, is what it means to understand something as a gift and to handle it with gratitude, a perspective biblical religion puts around all of life. And I am here to testify that this is the only way down from the Mountain of Loss. I do not mean to say that such a perspective makes things easy, for it does not. But at least it makes things bearable when I remember that Laura Lue was a gift, pure and simple, something I neither earned nor deserved nor had a right to. And when I remember that the appropriate response to a gift, even when it is take away, is gratitude, then I am better able to try and thank God that I was ever given her in the first place.”

I choose gratitude. There are, to be frank, numerous other options available to my battered and broken heart. But I have to view them as less than viable options for helping me truly live deeply these last days together. I have to view them as temptations with the power to rob me and those I love of holy moments together, where we celebrate our fun times, reminisce on the good times, and reflect on the meaningful times that changed us forever. Ultimately, more than anything else, I am deeply grateful. I’m so grateful for each one of you, your tender expressions of love, the legacy of Jesus writing Himself all over and through us that we have shared. My time at Wesley, all nine beautiful years of it, has been a gift, full of God’s grace and mercy. Every sweat drop and tear has been worth it. Every struggle and fight to keep Wesley alive and thriving has been well spent. I would give myself all over again for the ministry we have experienced together without question. None of the loving, no matter the cost, has ever been wasted. While my heart grieves the changes that are happening, I honestly thank God that He brought me here to be a “spiritual mother hen” in the first place.

So, my dear, sweet ones, we have a week and a half left in our semester. The time is quickly flying. I don’t want to waste a minute of it. Please come for these final days together. Let us laugh, be silly, and boisterously celebrate life together as we always have done. In the midst of my heartache this is my highest joy.

This is me trusting,