I was 23.
Nearly a year of wonderings and wanderings after graduating from college.
I was ready.
Ready to spread my wings and fly,
ready to take a chance.
In 2007 I graduated with a degree in music. In my young, naivete I thought I would immediately be hired in full-time music ministry and that church job offers would simply flood in as soon as I walked across the stage with my diploma.
(I was wrong, by the way).
That summer I travelled to India for a two-month long mission trip. In many ways, that trip changed my life. My first time overseas, my first time fully immersed in an eastern culture, and the first time I really caught a glimpse of life abroad serving a God who isn’t American. A God of all nations.
I returned home more sick than I’ve ever been in my life, and still had no job and no direction for my life.
The difficult months that followed shook me to my core: extreme culture shock, depression, meandering and wanderings… but then in April of 2008, everything changed. You see, when I returned from India, my team spent several days in Bangkok, Thailand debriefing. I had a distant feeling in my heart, a feeling that I would return to Thailand one day.
Ten years ago, in April 2008, I interviewed for a Music Teacher position in Bangkok, Thailand. A few weeks later, I boarded a small airplane with 2 large suitcases (and a very heavy carry on) and moved to the other side of the world.
I didn’t know a single soul.
But that decision – that chance. It changed my life forever.
The friendships forged during that year forever changed me, the students I taught showed me what compassion looked like with hands and feet, and living in another culture taught me how to be empathetic.
That chapter of my life opened up doors for me to later serve in full-time Worship ministry, and the relationships there inspired me to pursue seminary. Many of the co-teachers I taught with are still my friends today.
The thing about taking chances is this: when the Holy Spirit of God prompts us to take steps of faith, or “chances” in our human thinking, the greater chance to take is to ignore that prompting and taking the wider, easier path.
This weekend is one of those weekends that will forever be etched into my memory; forever tucked away into my heart.
I was practically born in the nursery here at First Baptist Church of Medford, Oregon. My story, as the stories of many others, is weaved into FBC, and our stories make the story of this church. But the beauty of it all is that none of this is about us, it is all about Him.
My calling to ministry came at a young age, and a dream was born in the halls of my middle school as I began being a ministry leader at age 13. This weekend I got a chance to look into the kind, yet more wrinkled eyes of my dear youth pastor from those years, and as I told him, “I think of you guys all the time”, he kindly smiled and said, “Meridith, I pray for you”. Nothing else mattered at that moment. It was humbling, and gave me strength.
This weekend FBC Celebrated 125 years of ministry, and it made me grateful for those who have gone before me, and paved the way, and gave me an even greater understanding of my place and calling here at First Baptist Church.
I had the honor of meeting Dr. Haddon Robinson, a former Associate Pastor of FBC in the 50’s, and he later went on to be a Professor, and author books on the subject and topic of preaching. And let me tell you, he did not disappoint, He knows what he’s doing. At first glance, this elderly man of perhaps 80, or so, gives no spectacular impression. He is someone’s grandfather, some woman’s husband. But as he slowly, step by step climbed the steps on Saturday night, and then again on Sunday morning, the audience was captivated. You could have heard a pin drop in the building, and you couldn’t help but lean in and closely listen to every word he spoke, filled with wisdom of a long life lived serving the Lord.
“Habakkuk 2:4b “But the just shall live by his faith”, and in the faithfulness of God.” He repeated.
Another theme of the evening was a short paragraph read that a woman wrote in the 1920’s, reflecting on where the church had been, and what was to come. It spoke of the fact that things had not been done perfectly, but by God’s grace the church would continue, and that they would perceive even greater opportunities for the future. How timely those words were. There were individuals in that building that night who needed to be reminded: we must forgive.
Many things spoke to me that night, I wish I could tell you about all of them. Even Sunday morning. I confidently walked onto the stage as a prayer was being prayed, and I fully knew that I needed to proceed with the confidence that God has placed me here, at this church, for his purposes. I knew full well as I glanced over the faces of closed eyes, that some of the people in this building had come with preconceived ideas of how our church was in the past, and how it was now, especially in regards to worship and music. I knew that many had doubts in their minds that a woman could be standing on stage, guitar in hand, and be leading this congregation in worship. But, I pushed the doubts and questions aside, and prayed that God would fill me with his Spirit and with the words he wanted me to speak.
I educated those on worship, in an interesting way yesterday. If you were there, you probably had no idea what was running through my mind, but as I began to exercise within my calling and skills, I had no more fear.
I was struck, as I looked at the words of some of the old hymns or songs sung in the 20’s and 30’s, as we had several worship folders from that time, preserved. It is profound thinking that those before us sang the same words and prayers that we sing even today. This was the heart of what I prayed people would see on Sunday. That we can look at the past, honor those who have paved the way for us, but to also function in the current culture, and find a profound humility that our God is unchanging, and we can sing those timeless things to him, even know.
I teared up as I looked out and saw how people sang with their whole hearts. “Oh, praise Him, Oh, praise Him! He is Holy! He is Holy!”, right after singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”. It was beautiful to see voices being lifted up to our God, and hands raised in surrender and agreement with words of truth. In that moment, I knew my job was done. People were worshipping, and they didn’t, by any means, need me to do that. It was beautiful. My heart was touched, and it was reaffirmed in my heart that: this isn’t about me (even though there were a NUMBER of things trying to distract me and cause me to be selfish about MY title, and MY position, God humbled me really quickly about that!).
Here are a few pictures, and a partial video of the song we did. I love the words: “Scars and struggles on the way, but with joy our hearts can say, yes our hearts can say. Never once did we ever walk alone, never once did you leave us on our own, You are faithful, God You are faithful…”
I’m sure there will be more to share about this weekend, but for now, that’s what I got!
Each day, I find myself surrounded by holy moments. Not because I work at a church. Actually I think that’s the opposite reason I experience these moments. It’s in working out things. Talking to people. Expressing pain. Expressing beauty. Expressing love, care and concern in whatever way I can.
I love passing along verses to people. Especially lately verses that have been so convicting in my own heart and life, I just know I have to share them with others because they’ve impacted me so greatly. I don’t do it to tell them they need to change, I just throw it out there, because I know it’s changed me.
I experience God in many ways, one of them is in running. Another is in creation and the beauty of all that is around me. And another, just as of lately, has been in people. Now I don’t consider myself a total “people person”, but lately there have been many precious conversations that have caused me to just gently be reminded that God is here. With me. Holding my hand. Wiping my tears. Giving me dreams again. He’s here. He uses other people to sometimes show me things I’ve never thought of before.
Lately I’ve been taking prayer walks. During the day, especially since it’s been so nice lately. Walking around the apartments near the church and just praying fervently. That our church would learn and see how to have compassion and love for these people… these broken people who are so different from us. Who live with their boyfriends or girlfriends, who have many children. Who have many tattoos. Who smell bad. Who cuss us out. Who want nothing to do with church. GOD… how can we love these people???? Our church has been put in this location for a reason. Why are we not broken over wanting to see these people in church and praying for their salvation?
When I read the gospels, I see this picture of Jesus and I wonder… what would he do, now? What would he think of our high walls, gates, and beautiful clothing? What would he think that we are shutting the world out of our “holy” place?
Met with a friend yesterday who goes with a group of people to narcotics anonymous weekly. She said that meeting is more spiritual to her than any other church service she’s been to. Because it’s real.
They are all around us.
In a smile, a warm touch, a friend, an enemy, in working through our bitterness.