Another Prayer for New Beginnings

As we embark on THE YEAR OF PRAYER, we wanted to offer this prayer for our new journey and all the other new journeys starting this time of year. We have offered prayers before for new beginnings, but because we are all constantly beginning again, we offer this one as well.

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Dear Spirit of Creation,

Here I am again. Starting over, beginning anew. Each new journey is different, and each new journey leaves many possible paths untraveled.

Let me be reminded of why I chose this new beginning, let me bask in the hope of this new start.

I ask that this new start be filled with fresh ideas and steady support, with the excitement of newness and the wisdom of experience.

Spirit of Ever-Renewing Creation, create with me this new beginning and let it be blessed and a blessing for others.

Amen

Like all the prayers on this site, this prayer is just a beginning, so everyone is welcome to modify it, customize it, and re-create to better fit their own journey and beliefs. If you would like to share you re-creations, we welcome you to do so in the comment section, or to submit your reworking of this prayer or your own prayer.   

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An Interpretation of Accepting Acceptance

Today’s guest post is by Jenica Brittingham who is an English Literature and Theatre teacher originally from Normal, IL and currently living and working in Shanghai, China. Jenica shares wisdom on accepting our choices, coming to terms with different cultures, and living our dreams.

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For the last five years, I have been living in a foreign country.  Now this isn’t just ANY foreign country, but China, a land of a different language, different morals, beliefs, religion, but mostly, culture.  Anyone who has seen me or even talked to me about my experiences would know that on a general basis, I have not been a fan.

Most days, I will rant about the inconsiderate individual, a strange, and sometimes gross custom or stereotype (like spitting in the street or defecating in a trash bin, which yes, a large part of the population does do), but some days, I will have a moment of pure wonder as I glance outside the window of a taxi at a city, like any other, that is full of people with traditions, and on the occasion, magic.

While it can be difficult to find among the blaring horns of drivers and among some of the locals arguing (or possibly laughing, I can’t always tell) about the price of something, that magic can still be discovered, usually on a warm spring night, much like this one, when the air is somewhat clean, the lights of the city are shining like a beacon, and just a few stars are visible about the skyline of the city. It’s moments like these that create a sense of contemplation, moments that bring me back to my thoughts overall.

While living in China, I have had the privilege of teaching some amazing students who have reignited and re-inspired my passion for theatre and performing, causing me to actively pursue and perform in plays and musicals once again.  As I am nearing the end of my five year stint, I am faced with questions and options.  As I am preparing to leave, I am faced with the possibility of once again being a “leading lady” in a musical theater production, something I haven’t gotten to be since I was 17!  So, I must decide if this rekindled passion is enough to convince me to stay in a “world” and culture I have not always gotten along with, or if I should let go of my new-found community and family and start a new journey of self-discovery.

While facing this dilemma, I am reminded of my grandmother Dorothy, who taught me to always follow my hear, my passion, and to always believe in myself.  She was always one of my biggest fans and I continue to take her words of wisdom to heart.  However, the trouble is while living in China, I have constantly doubted myself and have consistently struggled to continually believe in myself.  So the question is, should I return to America where I have more confidence and self-esteem for myself in general, or should I remain a bit longer to continue to fight and strive for my passion?

Either way, I both win and lose a little, which doesn’t seem to bother me.  What does seem to give me pause is the thought of having to make a decision overall, and then accepting my choice, as well as embracing it full on without looking back or having any regrets.

Having now written down all these thoughts, I find I am not any closer to making a decision.  Still, having it truly out in the universe (or at least out on the internet), I am finding that I am accepting that a decision is going to ultimately have to be made. So, thank you China for your obscure five years and the potential few months more that may still occur.  You have been both a challenge and a blessing, but don’t tell anyone I said that!

Lessons Learned from Starting Over

Today we a proud to feature a post from our writing intern, Nermine Mohamed.

I was never afraid of change or starting over. I love beginnings; the fresh, blank page ready to be filled, the glowing eyes, the perky heart, anticipation of what the new road holds for me, the chance to do it again and to do it differently, the hope and faith in a better tomorrow. I live with the “start over” button always ready to be pressed at a whim, on a hunch or simply out of boredom. I don’t settle or compromise in how I want to live my life, so I’ve hopped between different jobs, changed careers, learned new things, with different people coming in and out of my life, and I, personally, have changed quite a few times in the process. But with each new experience, I felt I’m getting a tiny bit closer to finding who I am, what I want to do, and the person I want to become.

Almost four months ago, I’ve decided I need a drastic start over, so I packed my bags and moved to a different continent and started school. Away from the life I’m used to and the people I love, I began to look at starting over differently. I’ve learned a lot about myself; my flaws, my strengths.

I’ve also learned that starting over can be hard and exhausting. Some days I go to bed weary and beaten up by everything that’s not working, by everything I thought would happen but did not. I ache from the bumps in the road, the disappointments, the losses, and I yearn for any sign to assure me that this is the right track. That’s why starting over means doing it every single day. With every morning, I must start over and I should never give up.

Starting over has also taught me to appreciate not only what lies ahead, but also what I’ve left behind; the little things I’ve always taken for granted, the family and friends who always have my back, the people with whom I’ll probably never cross paths again. Everything matters and every person I left behind was a part of shaping who I am now. Starting over means appreciating the “here” and the “now”, and the moments that led me here. I means telling people how much they mean to me, as I might not have another chance.

I’ve realized how blessed I am, and how I should be thankful every moment of every day, for all the second chances God has given me, for the new experiences and the new people coming into my life. It is important to be thankful for the hard times when the world was tight and doors were closed, and for how suddenly everything change and how generous and unexpected God’s blessings are. But mostly I have learned to be thankful for the little hints that appear every once and awhile that assure me that it’s going to be alright, that it’s all worth it, that starting over was the right decision.

A Prayer for Starting Over

Here is a prayer for those of us who are starting over now, or who know someone who is. Feel free to make any adjustments to the prayer as you and your faith deem necessary, and feel free to send us your prayers too!

Dear Spirit of Wisdom,

Starting over is really hard.
I had a dream, a plan, a hope, a relationship,
but not it is gone–now I must begin again to find my own way.

In these confusing times let me find wisdom,
in my faith, in those who support me, and in myself.

As I struggle to press forward,
help me find strength and perseverance.

As I am healing the wounds of loss,
let me find comfort and care.

This journey is fresh and new,
and so I pray to find some joy,
in starting over.

Amen.

The Ritual Of The Top Ten

We would be remiss to end this month of exploring the ever-evolving ritual of the “Top Ten”. As 2014 comes to an end we all want to look back at what the year has held. We have selected ten posts, not because they are the best, or the most popular, but because they have represented some important moments from 2014. Even though we have only selected ten, we have been honored by every post and every comment. We hope each of you has found lots of wisdom, love …and even a little lint on your spiritual journey this year. Happy reading and Happy New Year!

  1. A Prayer for New Beginnings— A prayer for anyone starting a new journey
  2. Millennials Strike Back with Professions of Love— A post from Jenni Taylor about the value of Millennials
  3. Ferguson: We Are Praying— A spiritual reaction to the racism in Ferguson and across the USA
  4. Fear Vs Self Worth— A post about bullying by a former Miss Arab America and a notMyKid volunteer
  5. The Choice of Leaving Syria–A post about one woman’s choice to leave her home in Syria.
  6. For the Love of ElephantsJenni Taylor thoughts on justice for all of God’s creatures 
  7. It’s Your Church Too— Patrick Cousins,a campus minister at Saint Louis University, writes about LGBTQ justice
  8. Secular Spirituality: Is That a Thing?–Hailey Kaufman’s eloquent post on atheism and spirituality
  9. Strength To Endure–a reflection on sexism and strength after the shootings in Santa Barbara by Autumn Elizabeth 
  10. Fear and Hunger for Justice–Hafsa Mansoor writes about fear and justice as a Muslim

January Wisdom Round-Up

Dear Searching Sophia’s Pockets Community,

As we come to the end of our month of beginnings, we wanted to round-up some of the high points of the month and offer all of you a chance to share your high points as well. Check out any of the posts below that you missed from Searching Sophia’s Pockets in January. Here’s to beginnings, and of course wisdom, love ..and lint!

We hope you enjoyed the wisdom we shared this month and feel free to add important posts, news articles, photos, or just joys from your world in the comments section.

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

Autumn and Jenni

P.S. We also look forward to hearing what you have to say about next month’s theme, Love, so get your submissions in now!

The Beginning of Wisdom: A Feminist’s Journey to the Basics

As we look toward next month’s theme of love, Jenni has written some words that discuss the beginning of her journey with feminism and the way love is a vital part of that journey.

By: Jenni Taylor

I became a feminist when I was ten years old reading the bible, and came across a verse that said women shouldn’t speak in church. I became a feminist the very moment in fifth grade when I was told I would bleed for a living and this was part of God’s creation. I became a feminist when sex was explained to me as a means of reproduction and I knew I didn’t want any part of it.

I was as angry and butch as you can get for a ten year old. The word “feminist” hadn’t even entered my vocabulary yet, but it was fitting right in.

While my anger came from a good place, a place of wanting justice, a place of wanting right to be right and wrong to be wrong, it was still anger, and the majority of it had nothing to do with justice but with a deep misunderstanding and feeling of betrayal. So much of my angry feminism began because of scripture, scripture from a religion I fully embraced, and now my world was crumbling to pieces.

This crumbling took place for a long time. It continued when a boy I liked refused to date me after a heated discussion of why husbands being the head of the household was bull crap and I would damn well do what I pleased. It continued when I decided I couldn’t be a missionary like I wanted to be because of that silly verse about women being silent. It continued as my boobs grew and my vagina began its monthly production of horror and I couldn’t understand why in the world God would make me a woman if it was only so I would suffer.

I stayed angry for a long time. But when the anger finally left, it wasn’t because of deep theology, or turning away from my faith, or even a book I read. The anger left because of a man and a picture.

I was at camp, and I had disrupted enough “women and the Bible” discussions for my counselor to take me straight to the head pastor for a talking to. I knew it wasn’t going to go well. It would be another man telling me about the blessings of being a woman and how I just need to trust God with my questions and blah blah blah.

Instead, the pastor listened to my lengthy monologue citing biblical texts, famous speakers, and anything else relevant I could get my hands on when I was 14 years old to explain why God was unfair.

The pastor listened, and then picked up a picture from his desk. It was a picture of his wife.  “I love my wife,” he said. “I would die for this woman. If I love her, why would I stop her from doing anything that makes her happy?”

This answer didn’t fix the worlds problems, or even answer any of my questions and complaints. But the simplicity and sincerity in his voice stuck with me.  He loved her.

Love. Is. Bigger.

Love made every single one of my issues seem so small. Did I need a man to love me? Hell no. Did I need to believe in a God who loved me? A thousand times yes.

The theology and the arguments become minuscule if you can wrap your mind around a love that encompasses the universe. The moment I decided to believe in a God who loves me, the anger began to fade and I was left with a much stronger feminism- a feminism that stopped complaining about injustice and began to fight injustice with the same love I believed in.  Love was the beginning of wisdom.

Some people think being a Christian feminist is an oxymoron.

I say, any kind of feminist with love is one that makes absolute sense.

Teaching and Beginnings: The Jägermeister and his Sidekick

Today we are honored to share another guest post from Laura Beth Eschbacher, a freelance English teacher and translator living in Kleinbottwar, Germany.  While recounting the beginning of her work as an English teacher, she gives us wisdom about friendship, life, and the ways we can celebrate beginnings and endings.

Just over a year ago, I began my first corporate teaching assignment at an automotive garage supply company near Stuttgart. I remember I dressed very professionally that morning and nervously made my first 1.5 hour commute by bus, train, and then by foot through the snow and gray sludge to their office building. There were two students in the group: a round-bellied, jolly German sales director with kind eyes and grown children; and a handsome, thirty-something jokester sales manager from Macedonia with a 5-year-old son and a wife who likes to shop.

Over time, I would discover that they were coworkers and best friends – the Black Forest Jägermeister and his comedic, fast-talking sidekick, both very professional and both very bad at English.

As we wrestled with grammar over the next year, my own teaching skills improved and I got to know them better. We fought the never ending battle of simple past versus present perfect: “Did you go hunting in Sweden, or have you gone?” In the Marketing chapter, I walked them downstairs to the storefront and we discussed the underlying messages of cardboard cut-out pinup girls holding radiator fluid and showcasing the latest windshield wipers. In the Sales chapter, they taught me about gross and net profits while I corrected their if-clauses: “If we hadn’t met this year’s target turnover, we wouldn’t have had such a big Christmas party.”

I learned that both are devoted family men. I learned that they look out for each other; if the sidekick forgets a name at a company event, the hunter comes to his rescue. If they go out to dinner with a customer, the hunter tries the food first to make sure it is pork-free for his Muslim buddy. If a coworker is chatting aimlessly away to one of them, the other walks past and says, “Don’t forget our important meeting in five minutes,” offering a perfectly rational excuse to interrupt the conversation.

Last Friday, on our one year anniversary as teacher and students, the sidekick broke the news to me that he was promoted within the company and is moving up to Düsseldorf in two weeks. “We have one more class, and you can say to me goodbye.” I asked them who will finish each other’s sentences in the future. The hunter replied gracefully that the promotion was a good opportunity and that he was happy for his sidekick, but he would now need a new colleague… and a new friend.

After a year of this group refusing to see any teacher other than me, we are now unsure whether they will continue the course.

I’ve heard from other teachers that you never forget your first students. These two fun-loving salesmen were my first corporate class. They were the providers of many a humorous Tweet quoting non-native speaker mistakes. They were an inseparable pair of best friends who thought I was a great teacher before I even thought I was a teacher. If they are starting new chapters now, perhaps it’s time I began one, too.

When You’re Not Looking

By: Jenni Taylor

Every so often I put on my headphones, jump on a crowded bus, and head a few miles away to tutor a young girl in English. They live in one of the hundreds of thousands of high rises bursting out of the concrete on every street corner, reaching up through the pollution to find the rare sunlight filtering through the smog. I know the route well- walk, bus, walk, elevator, do my job, and repeat steps to go home.

This time the parents were heading out to see the opera, and the young girl was left with her grandparents as babysitters. The old gentleman’s eyes met mine as I greeted him in Chinese, unsure of their background. He responded in English, and proceeded to offer me slippers in clear, slow, and intensely polite English. Though surprised at his perfect accent, I briefly thanked him and turned my focus to the girl for the next hour. I was here for a job, after all.

As we ended, the grandparents came back into the room to see me off and begin cooking dinner for the girl. The man gently stopped me again to chat.I had no interest. I wanted to go home. It was cold and while the bus ride was short, it was always crowded and uncomfortable.

The silliest part of all of it was that I had planned on going home to continue reading a book on recent Chinese history, a book that was changing my perception of China on every page. Each chapter made me feel like I knew less and less, and made me more eager to learn.

The older gentlemen spoke slowly and softly. He asked me where I was from. “Chicago, ah, I have been there twice,” he said. “The Sears Tower, the highest building. The cold wind from the lake biting into your skin.” It wasn’t what I had expected to hear. He went on to tell me that he used to work for a foreign service radio in Beijing in the 1970s, and was an English teacher for several years at a well-known Chinese university. The conversation didn’t last long, but nevertheless I felt humbled.

I had closed my eyes to the world around me and had almost tuned out this poetic, experienced grandfather who simply wanted to chat with me. I had become hardened after failed attempts at friendships with the Chinese and had decided to learn everything from books rather than people. I had stopped looking for relationships, and had almost missed one right in front of me.

It’s a small, insignificant story, but it reminded me to keep my eyes open at all times. With the new year just beginning, it is such a small step to resolve to look for the good in others, to be open to wonder, to go slowly and see what there is to see under the more obvious layers.

My very simple resolution is to stay awake. I’m ready to find something beautiful.

Beginning My Journey as a Youth Mentor

Today’s guest post if from Brendan Tedford. In addition to his work life, Brendan volunteers as a leader of a youth group for 6th-12th graders at Webster Groves Christian Church in Saint Louis, Missouri. Today Brendan shares some words of wisdom he gained as he has started his journey as a youth mentor.

I wanted to write a few words about what it means to begin my journey as I become a Youth Leader. I sat with it for a while not knowing what I was going to say about it. I am currently one of the youth leaders over at Webster Groves Christian Church in St. Louis, MO. We are a group made of youth from 3 different churches. I used to be a youth in the group from 2002-2007, during my time in the 6th-12th grades. Then, in the fall of 2012, I came back to begin a new journey as a mentor.

Only a few months later, in the spring of 2013, the Associate Minister of Webster Groves Christian Church announced that she was leaving to work at another church. Not too long after that the Associate Minister of one of the other churches that made up our group announced that he was leaving as was another one of the other adult mentors.

Suddenly it was just me, the lone mentor, for the upcoming fall, in which I had a total of 10 youth. When I heard about the changes in mentors, I was speechless. For the first time I was nervous about being a mentor. The journey seemed to have changed a lot.

The first thing that I thought was “How do I make this easier for these youth, and how do I help them?” It was a little unnerving having to figure out what the fall was going to look like for these youth.

I prayed only once through the entire process of starting this difficult year because everything just fell into place after my prayer. I guess you could say that my prayers were heard. I had to construct a new team of mentors and we had to construct a new program, it wasn’t the easiest thing but we did it. I did it because I love these youth & that helps guide me because I want to make this the best thing I could ever make it for them.

Whenever people ask me about how I can work with teenagers or something similar to that effect, my response is, I don’t feel like an adult half of the time anyway…I feel like an older brother to these kids and I love them as if they were my own younger brothers and sisters. It wasn’t too long ago that I was a teenager myself since I am only 25 now. I believe that having been a youth in this group and being only 8 years older than most of them, helps me connect to them.

Being a mentor and teaching faith is not an easy thing for me to do, it wasn’t easy to begin and it certainly wasn’t easy to begin this year. It has been quite a journey, but someone once told me to never ignore my own faith journey as I help these youth, because, in a lot of ways, I’m walking the journey with them.