Embracing Change

Change — something that I have never particularly been fond of. I’m a creature of habit and love the sense of security that comes with it. I am also very analytical, so when it comes to making a decision, my brain flies wild trying to factor in way too many things. Propagating potential outcomes way too far out for any accuracy — and continually converging to the realization that there are too many unknown variables!!

A few years ago on a LCM retreat, I don’t remember exactly who, but someone mentioned this phrase, and it has stuck with me ever since:

There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.

I have been coming to terms with the fact that in order for me to grow, I need to step outsize of my comfortable Minnesota undergraduate life and into a very exciting but scarily unknown California graduate life. I have explored lots of the possible factors (taken graduate courses, performed research, explored the city, visited the campus, met with students and faculty) but I am still hesitant to make it final. To sign the acceptance letter (yikes!). To move to California (so far away!) for 5+ years (really long time!). To pursue a Ph.D (really difficult!). It’s overwhelming to think too much about.

Through my endless self-doubts and stressful decision making process, I still have had a great sense of comfort and support. And what ever happens tomorrow, a month or a year from now, I know that I will always have a little bit of my comfort zone with me where ever I go. God has brought such an amazing support system into my life (LCM, friends, family) that I know will be with me every step of the way — and words cannot express my gratefulness for that. Even in times of great change, I know that I can trust in the Lord to be that sense of security as I venture into the unknown.

The Prayer of Good Courage from Mountain Vespers (Kent Gustavson) has been a wonderful blessing to me to remember this:

Oh God you have called us | To ventures where we cannot see the end | By paths never yet taken | Through perils unknown | Give us good courage | Not knowing where we go | To know that your hand is leading us | Wherever we might go | Amen


Angel By Your Side

What is an angel?  I recently had a lengthy conversation with my Lenten small group about what an angel is, and wanted to share some thoughts.

Growing up, I always pictured an angel as a glowing figure clothed in white, with a glittering halo around their head, floating up in the clouds as they delivered God’s message.  If you asked me for an example of an angel, I would probably just list Gabriel, the angel that tells Mary that she will become pregnant.  I might have also mentioned the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but I hadn’t thought much farther about angels than that.

We talked about how angels are messengers, and help people to understand God’s will.  This description fits the angel Gabriel, as well as Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life” but what if this is expanded beyond the bible, into our lives?  Are there still angels today?  I like the way that we talked about it in our small group.  With this definition, there is nothing about wings or halos, which allows us to expand our understanding of angels to people that we meet in our lives.

There are so many people that I talk to, whether it be for a moment, or for hours, that help me to gain some clarity on the events in my life.  I also have people who are by my side through the toughest times who have given me strength and helped me to see the light through the tunnel.  I believe that these people are angels.  They don’t need to be in a white cloak or shimmering, I can tell through their actions.

I am immensely grateful that God has blessed me with these angels in my life, and hope that I can be as instrumental in the lives of others.

The words of Francesca Battistelli’s song “Angel By Your Side” come to mind as I reflect on the angel’s I encounter daily:

“I’ll be the angel by your side
I will get you through the night
I’ll be the strength you can’t provide on your own
‘Cause when you’re down and out of time
And you think you’ve lost the fight
Let me be the angel
The angel by your side”


~Sara Sneed

Do Not Worry

I am a planner.  I love having a schedule planned out in advance, and knowing exactly what is going on.  Last year I had an internship lined up by mid November for the summer, and loved knowing that I had a plan for the summer.  Now here I am, a year later, ready to be done with classes and frequently thinking ahead to next summer and the excitement and uncertainty it is bringing.  If only I knew where I would be working, I could start figuring out where I’ll be living once my lease is up, and I could begin planning my life, right?  It’s so much easier to think about being done with classes and starting “real life” when there’s a stressful week with many tests and homeworks.  There’s just plenty to worry about, and I really start to get stressed out.  It’s times like this that I think about this passage:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? … Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For … indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

It’s hard to know exactly how to apply it to my life, but I tried to teach it to my 6th and 7th grade pre-confirmation class this weekend.  I don’t know if they got as much out of it as I did, but I was reminded to stay focused on today.  If I’m constantly planning my next step, I’m never going to take the time to enjoy the fantastic opportunities and experiences I have right in front of me now.  I like to think that once I’m done with college, I will spend more time to enjoy the little things in life, but I’m realizing more and more (especially after a busy summer internship) that it’s something that I have to work harder to achieve, and it’s definitely a goal for the rest of the year: to enjoy the random conversations I have with my roommates, to go out to coffee with an old friend, and to not be constantly thinking about what there is to get done next.

-Sara Sneed

God, present in others

Twice in this past year, around the end of each semester, my mom has had surgery.  Neither has been particularly serious, but each has presented its own challenges in recovery.

I’ve become quite familiar with feeling helpless as I’ve waited alone in the waiting room, and as I watch her trying to overcome the weakness that follows any surgery.  Being an only child, I have felt particularly responsible for being there for her, but often there’s nothing I can do but to be there along the journey with her.

In the past months, I’ve often felt overwhelmed, trying to balance life at school and life at home, but there have been so many people who have been there to help us through these tough times and for that I am incredibly thankful.  For a while, we had more food than we knew what to do with, because it seemed like a neighbor or friend would come over at least once a day with a meal.  When I had to go somewhere, someone would always offer to come over and keep my mom company, and people just keep checking up on us.

It’s been a good lesson to me, a stubborn, independent person, that I don’t have to go about life alone, especially the tough parts.  God shows up all the time in the people I know, in little ways that they might not even notice are that important: offering to sit with me in the waiting room, listening as I recount my rough days, and by praying for us.  But these little things make a world of a difference.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for all of the people you have placed in my life.  The way you show up through them continues to surprise and amaze me.  Help me to remember that I don’t have to face life alone, that you are always on my side, and you’re always sending help.

Sara Sneed


This weekend, I saw God in one of the last places I would have expected.  It wasn’t at the shopping mall, or in STSS.  I saw God while I was at work!  Crazy, right?

Maybe I should begin by explaining where I work.  I am an usher at Ted Mann Concert Hall, and I work at a lot of performances though the school of music as well as private renters.  This weekend, the U of M music theater put on a performance of the Opera “Parables”.  Parables is geared toward addressing the issues of racial and religious intolerance, and working to shed light on how we can be more tolerant of those around us.  The three main religions that were targeted in this opera were Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

One of the key ideas that was brought forward through this musical masterpiece was that religious tolerance can only be achieved when we take the “triumph” out of faith.  I was trying to decide what this meant exactly, because it was the first time I had heard it.  Herschel Garfein explained in a Q&A session after the performance that people often believe that their religion is right and everyone else is wrong.  In this regard, everyone believes that the whole world will be proven that their God is the “right” God and that everyone will convert to their faith.  Through this belief, it is hard to see another religion as equal, thus exemplifying intolerance.

There was also a powerful moment in the opera when the choirs representing each religion all said the name of “God” in their language, in unison.  This, along with many other pieces of symbolism went to show that we all believe in the same God, but told through a different story (or in this case, song).

I was fortunate enough to work during 3 performances of this production, and each time I saw it I took something new from it.  It is clear to me that religious intolerance exists everywhere, but it takes everyone to put an end to it.  God was most definitely present through the mouths of all of the performers, just as God was present in all the audience members who the message was passed on to.  I hope that the message this opera conveys continues to resonate on this campus long after the melodies can no longer be heard.

Joe Carlson

Falling out of tree pose

I never thought I’d be a person that would be into yoga. For starters, I’m terribly inflexible (the sit and reach in gym class was the bane of my existence) and on top of that, my brain doesn’t have a mute button. Great combination for yoga, right? Prior to finding my current studio, I’d go to classes, expect to feel enlightened, and then spend the class feeling frustrated with myself for my lack of yoga skill…and for getting frustrated with myself in a yoga class.

After almost a year of 60-minute classes in a 105* room, I finally get why so many people adore yoga. In the past month though, my practice morphed from something physical into a practice that is physical, mental, and emotional. All of this is because of one pose—tree pose—done in a dark room with my eyes closed.

Tree pose is a standing posture in which you balance on one leg, put the sole of your other foot on your lower calf or inner thigh, and then hold your hands with palms touching either at heart center or raised above your head. With your eyes open, tree pose is a posture that involves some balance but is pretty easy to do. When you close your eyes, however, everything changes. No matter how steady you think you are, you will begin to lose your balance and fall out of the posture within a few seconds. That, my friends, is really frustrating. It also is the reason why the teacher does it.

Off the mat, frustration happens all the time in our lives. We go in to situations with expectations for ourselves or others and then when those expectations aren’t met, we feel one of two things: surprise (when the outcome is better than our expectations) or more commonly, disappointment.

We can’t stop frustration from happening, but we can change our reaction to it. Much like falling out of tree pose with your eyes closed in a yoga class, we can choose to fall more gently in our everyday lives. We can choose to accept the fact that we fell as just that—a fact—instead of as a judgment against ourselves or against others. We can also choose to try again, knowing that we will fall again, but that next time, we will balance a little bit longer and fall a little more gently.

By bringing a peaceful response to our frustration, we free up space to be more loving of ourselves and those around us. As we enter Holy Week, remember Jesus’ ultimate peaceful response to frustration—giving his life for our sins—and look for ways that you can respond more peacefully in your own life.

Thoughts, comments, and discussion are always welcome.


Loaves and Fishes

I have always known that poverty is prevalent in many large cities, but it is a very eye opening experience to see how close to home it really can be.  This past Wednesday, I traveled with Andrew, Mark, and Hannah to the Holy Rosary Church where a monthly community meal is held.  We were there to help serve food and provide assistance wherever we were needed.  The number of volunteering staff was slightly lower than they had expected, but they all welcomed us in as one of their own.

Until last Wednesday night, I hadn’t really experienced the face of Minneapolis that was before me.  Perhaps I had limited my image of the city to just the U of M campus and uptown Minneapolis.  Maybe I thought that poverty only existed in Denver or Chicago.  Whatever had been my source of unawareness was now gone.  There are people within our closest communities who are not as fortunate, who may not be able to eat a hot meal every night.  It becomes too easy to think about problems dealing with hunger in other countries and overlook those who are in our own neighborhoods.

It is also clear that some people have trouble asking others for help when it is most needed.  I will agree that I am guilty of this more often than I am willing to admit.  It becomes hard to know what is truly the best course of action to deal with hunger in our community, because we don’t always know who is in need, or how we can help them.  When it comes to hunger, I am often reminded of Matthew 25:35.  It reads; “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”  This shows us how important it is that we must help those who are in need, and how any small amount of love you give to someone can have a profound impact on their life.

Joe Carlson

Be Still and Know that I am God

Today, Ash Wednesday, starts the season of Lent.  

Growing up, I had no idea what Lent was.  In middle school, many of my friends were giving things up, and I thought it sounded like a fun challenge, so I gave up chocolate.  I always messed up once or twice at the beginning – not because I wanted chocolate that badly, but simply because I wasn’t in the practice of not eating it.  Looking back, I missed the memo that generally people give things up to spend more time with God.

As I have gotten older I have begun to realize this importance of Lent.  I no longer challenge myself to give something up, just to say I did.  This year, I’m not planning on giving anything up…except a little time.  This Lent, I am going to challenge myself to pray for 10 minutes a day.  In the grand scheme of things, that’s not that long, but between now and Easter, that will add up to seven and a half hours.  For someone who easily forgets to make time for God when there’s homeworks due, and tests to study for, and robots to build, and fundraisers to plan, I’m sure that this will prove to be more difficult than anticipated.  But like giving up chocolate, I hope that after a while, it will become a habit, that will hopefully even go beyond this season of Lent.

Hopefully you, too, will find some time in the coming weeks to slow down in the midst of your crazy life and have some time to just be.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)


Sara Sneed

My Faith: The Truest Expression of Who I Am

My faith is grounded in grace, humbled by brokenness, bound in conscience, and justice seeking.  Through the grace of Jesus Christ, I am free of guilt and shame, and unbounded by religious authority or institutional judgment.  I strive toward actions that reflect my love for God and the neighbor.

My faith is humbled by brokenness because my spirit has been broken.  In the past, I have felt lonely, depressed, and isolated from the Body, unable to reconcile external messages with internal feelings; actions with values.  True reconciliation demands that confession accompany grace: both are necessary.  When grace becomes tenuous, religion becomes binding, shameful, and oppressive.  I have been there.

My faith is bound in conscience.  I respect intellectual boundaries and the process by which people understand spirituality.  Who am I to presume to have the only answer? I have found my answer.  Others must find theirs.  I cannot, in good conscience, impose my interpretation, understanding, or reasoning on them.  Discussion of faith should be enriching and enlightening. By engaging in open and authentic conversation with others, by culturing friendships, I am able to reflect upon my own faith in bound conscience.  I aspire to welcome everyone, to love all, because each individual, each conscience, is a unique patch on the quilt of humanity.  I do not proselytize, because each person is already part of the quilt: I can help them realize its beauty by simply being.

My faith is justice seeking.  As an extension of accepting grace, I am called to fight injustice and oppression.  Just as Jesus stands with the poor, the hungry, the lonely, and the weary, so He is also most present in my life when I do the same.

I believe above all that God is grace, that Jesus was broken for all, and that He chose me in conscience despite all injustice.  I live with hope because there is redemption.  The human conscience is beautiful.  Injustice wanes at the dawn.  And by grace, what was broken is made whole.


Asking for Help

Twice a week, I tutor on the West Bank.  I tend to see God the most when I tutor, and sometimes, I think He drops hints for me.

A week ago, I was helping a kid with math homework.  He had a word problem, and after he found the solution, he had to write a paragraph about how he solved this problem. (Example: “First I multiplied this times that to find the volume.  Then I….”)

So after we solved the word problem, he started writing his paragraph.  And this was how he started it:  “First, I read the problem.  Then, I asked for help.”

Classic example of ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’, right?  But you have to admire his honesty.  He was unashamed to admit that he had gotten help.  But most importantly, he was honest enough with himself to realize that he needed help in the first place.

I’ve always had trouble asking for help.  But as I’ve gotten to college I feel like it’s only gotten worse.  It’s like I want to prove that I can be an adult.  I want to do things on my own because I’m not a kid anymore, and I don’t want anyone to think that I am.

This should probably end with some resolution to ask for help more or something like that.  But I won’t, in part because I don’t think I’m ready for such resolution.  So maybe that’s a place to start.