Saint Serra, Funfetti, and Life Journeys

Thanks to Pope Francis this past week, Junípero Serra (1713-1784) has been canonized as a Patron Saint of Vocations and Callings. Indeed, the Franciscan priest worked hard as a professor in Spain, an administrator in Mexico, and an evangelist in California. He was very dedicated to bringing Catholicism and agriculture to the indigenous California population. Serra was known to flagellate himself with an iron chain, because he grieved being a sinner. To remain humble, he sometimes wore an undergarment made with broken wire bits. It was Serra’s evangelizing zeal that Pope Francis admires. But similar to other colonization stories, the suffering of the indigenous population under Serra’s watch is hard to understand. What can we learn from Serra that inspires our life journeys, our vocations?

Mission at Carmel's garden courtyard
Carmel Mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, is where St. Serra is buried. (photo by CSB)

Have you heard of the Camino de Real? Serra’s vision and administration were instrumental in its formation along the California coastline. This Royal Road or King’s Highway was a pathway that connected each mission to each other by a day’s journey of 30 miles. Beginning at age 55, Serra founded the first nine of the 21 missions that stretched from San Diego to San Francisco.

Imagine a California traveler journeying down a rocky path in the 1700s. It is the rainy season. He is cold and wet, hungry and thirsty, riding his mule for hours. Suddenly, in the darkness, he sees some flickering lights and hurries toward them. He knocks on the large mission door and is welcomed inside. Here is a place to rest, eat and drink, find encouragement and information–until he must travel again.

With a little faith we can stretch the Camino de Real into a metaphor for our life journeys. We’re on God’s road; his time table. The journey is sometimes easy, but often difficult. We press on.

rocky pathway
The path is often rocky and difficult. (photo by CSB)

I once heard poet Luci Shaw use the Camino de Real as a symbol for  journaling. She suggested that daily, reflective writing can be mission respite from our work.  It can refresh, encourage, and reveal insights we do not understand until we write them down.  I have found this helpful, but journaling isn’t for every one. We each must discover what aids us best in traveling from one day to the next.

Recently, I found writer D.L. Mayfield, a woman in her thirties, who struggles with her vocation. She’s different from St. Serra, who seemed to dive confidently into his vocation. Mayfield writes that she didn’t feel “called” to minister to the poor as much as she felt dragged.  I love her honest writing. She admits that she often feels helpless and overwhelmed by the hurts of others. She wonders if making Funfetti cakes for sad neighbors really is meaningful. But then she writes:

“…I feel like God said: you keep baking cakes. Some of the most unrecognized ministries are my favorites. Like, the ministry of playing yu-gi-oh cards with awkward adolescent boys. The ministry of bringing white styrofoam containers of Pad Thai to people whose baby is very, very sick. The ministry of picking up empty chip wrappers at the park. The ministry of sending postcards. The ministry of sitting in silence with someone in the psych ward. The ministry of gardening flowers….The ministry of noticing beauty everywhere–in fabrics, in people, in art–and in the wilderness.

“The older I get, I realize now that the ministries I once thought so trivial I now think are the most radical. I spent the last year being stripped of anything that

D.L. Mayfield
D.L. Mayfield (photo from her blog “Living in an Upside-Down Kingdom”)

would make me feel lovely to God, and I came out a different person. Because I discovered that he always loved me anyways. I’m not Joan of Arc, it turns out. I’m just somebody who likes to bake cakes.” (Check her out at www.dlmayfield.com)

With Mayfield, I can relate to small tasks transforming from trivial to radical. Water turns into wine. Our work, our life journeys, the very essence of ourselves, matter to the One who keeps us. Because we know we are accepted and loved there is no need for barbed wire garments or flagellation. Our best works are done in response to the love that does not fail.

Pacific Ocean view near Carmel, California
California Highway 1 near Carmel Mission (photo by CSB)

 

I discovered that he always loved me anyways. –D.L. Mayfield

When Friends Let You Down

A teary eye shows rejection
Rejection hurts. (photo by CSB)

A friend recently mentioned she had a selling party and only one guest showed up. Her comment triggered a story I heard from another friend. He had a birthday party as a young boy, and no one came. There were legitimate reasons: the weather was bad, and he lived in a rural area. But he was devastated. Friends let him down.

Then I remembered my cookie exchange party from years ago. I was new to the neighborhood and thought the exchange would be a fun venue to get to know people. Sure it was a busy season, but if we each baked one kind of cookie, we could sort, share and save time. Out of the 10 invited bakers, no one came. But, so they could get the goodies, three people delivered cookies ahead of time. I dutifully redistributed these cookies so each contributor received a fair share. Here’s the baffling part. I knew two of the bakers, but the third one had rung our doorbell and anonymously given my husband the cookies.

That left a dilemma—who deserved that final cookie tray? I tried to track down the rightful owner by phone calls, and I even knocked on a few doors with cookies in hand. “They look delicious; but they are not ours.” I never discovered the cookie owner.

It’s a slightly amusing story, but rejection, even from a flopped cookie party, is painful. We each experience that feeling of being excluded, because imperfect people let us down. (I certainly failed the person who never got her cookies!)

Desperate toddler wants something
Please don’t reject me; give me what I want! (photo by CSB)

Recently, a person I have loved for a long time deflated me. Because of recent circumstances this individual jettisoned long-held commitments and passions. This chameleon transformation hurt. Someone I respected turned out to be quite self-focused. During our recent talk, I realized that as long as I gave attention to lengthy one-sided conversations this person was happy. But as I listened, I kept longing for, “And how are you doing?”

I tried talking this out with The Talker. You know, “caring enough to confront.” But my fumbling attempt flew right over the person’s understanding. We went down a rabbit hole, and there was miscommunication. I decided it was better just to listen. Ouch!

After sharing this experience with a wise woman, she told me some people don’t have the “capacity” to meet our expectations. She said she often refers to the instruction of Psalms 62:5: “My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from him.”

I like the thought of waiting for God, of making him the center of expectation when friends let me down. After all, he has a good track record. Proverb 18:24 say he is a friend that sticks closer than any sibling. God knows what total rejection is all about. He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14), and yet he declares he will never leave us nor abandon us (Matthew 28:20; Deuteronomy 31:8). There is no rejection in that. I feel better already!

“War Room” Movie–Those Kendrick Brothers

That movie, War Room, by those Kendrick Brothers, has been sky-high in box office ratings since it opened a few weeks ago! This Cinderella success has some reviewers scratching their heads.  After all, many of them gave the movie a thumbs down. Surprise! Ninety percent of audiences are loving it and spreading the word.

Is this a war room?
Is this a war room? Photo courtesy of Kendrick Brothers Productions.

The “war room” is a closet where elderly Miss Clara (aka Karen Abercrombie) has learned to do spiritual battle for loved ones through praying. Miss Clara now wants to pass on what she knows about the weapons of prayer to a new generation. Enters realtor Elizabeth Jordan (aka Priscilla Shirer, better known as Bible teacher/speaker and daughter of well-known Dallas preacher Dr. Tony Evans). Elizabeth is in a troubled marriage with husband Tony (T.C. Stallings). The plot wraps around whether prayer can save this couple’s relationship.

If you believe in prayer then you do not have trouble accepting the premise that God can turn a marriage around in remarkable ways. If you don’t believe, then the thought of miracles entering messed-up lives is an unacceptable premise. In fairness to frowning movie critics, Christian lives are often messier works-in-progress than the movie portrays. But this is not true all the time. Miracles do happen through prayers; lives are transformed by Jesus every day.

"War Room" movie's Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) shares powerful secrets with realtor Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer).
War Room’s Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) mentors realtor Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla Shirer). Photo courtesy of Kendrick Brothers Productions.
Alena Pitts jumps rope with T.C. Stallings in "War Room"
Alena Pitts jumps rope with T.C. Stallings in War Room. Photo courtesy of Kendrick Brothers Productions.

My vote for War Room is thumbs up. Why not go and be cheered by a movie where a marriage is saved and enjoy the subplot of a daddy entering a jump rope competition with his daughter?

After judging the film for yourself, take the obvious challenge and spend time praying in your closet for our world and the people who matter to you. You will experience answers—sometimes yes, sometimes no, and sometimes maybe/wait.

Here’s an observation the media is not picking up on given their hunger for news about racial tensions:

Alex (left) and Steve Kendrick
Alex (left) and Steve Kendrick

Steve and Alex Kendrick are southern white men who respect all races and see God’s potential in each person no matter the color of skin. Every movie they have made shows this conviction in subtle and not so subtle ways. Now THAT is something to encourage.  (The movie’s timing and theme about prayer seem odd (providential?) given the fact that this summer Charleston believers forgave the racist who attended a church meeting and murdered nine praying people.)

The Kendrick brothers started making a movie with prayer and a $20,000 budget at Sherwood Baptist Church, Albany, Georgia, in 2003. They produced the movie Flywheel, using church members as actors. Initially, they envisioned showing the film at their local theater, and maybe throughout Georgia. God did a little more with their prayers and talents. In 2011, their older brother Shannon, formerly an IBM software engineer, joined them. With War Room, their church is no longer directly involved with the movie ventures, however, the Kendrick families still worship at Sherwood.

I look forward to observing what this brother trio does with “slightly” more profit from War Room. Whatever the work, it will be covered in prayer. Find out more about the Kendrick brothers here: https://kendrickbrothers.com/about/history. Having seen each of their films I recommend them for a good popcorn-eating evening:

Flywheel (2003)

Facing the Giants (2006)

Fireproof (2008)

Courageous (2011)

War Room (2015)