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Transformation

Volunteer Friday #26

Volunteer Friday #26

Every other Friday we take a moment to introduce you to someone in our community who serves in one or more of Watershed's many volunteer areas: GreenHouse/Shed StudentsSunday TeamsCatapultBloc Leading, etc. The featured volunteer will then select someone he/she would like to see highlighted next.

This week, meet Gwen!

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GWEN SAUNDERS

Volunteer Area(s): 

I currently play in the band. In the past, I’ve co-led a Her: Grow Bloc and served as a reading buddy at Shamrock Gardens.

Why did you choose to volunteer in your area? 

Music is how I best process and connect, and the worship is what really drew me to Watershed when I first visited – almost seven years ago! It is a blast to play alongside such a talented and authentic group of people.

I was part of a Her: Grow Bloc for a few years before serving as a Bloc Leader. I experienced firsthand how transformative it can be to have a safe place to connect with other women beyond the surface, and I wanted to share that.

As for being a reading buddy, kids are just fun! Being around them reminds you what's important in life.

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What has been one of your favorite moments as a volunteer? 

Getting to be a part of something bigger than myself.

If you could use only one word to describe our Watershed community, what would it be? 

Gracious.

Describe your perfect day in Charlotte: 

A fall day, when the weather is perfect for a run around the booty loop! 

 

NEXT I'D LIKE WATERSHED TO FEATURE TED ROSENAU BECAUSE... (1) HE IS KNOWN TO WORK RADIOHEAD LEADS INTO WORSHIP SONGS AND (2) HE LITERALLY VOLUNTEERS FOR EVERYTHING!

The Potting Shed: Thermostat vs. Thermometer

The Potting Shed: Thermostat vs. Thermometer

By Kristy Yetman, Child Therapist and GreenHouse Volunteer

I believe for every kid who is about to lose it, there’s a parent who is about to do the same.  Some days are beautiful and others can feel brutal.  There is nothing certain about a day with a kid except that you are certain to not have certainty!

All parents know those scenes:  

  • You’ve almost successfully made it through the checkout line at Target without a meltdown when your child reaches for one of the chocolate bars.
  • You have spent the past three hours at the playground and, after giving the 5-minute warning, everything seems to be going according to plan and you might just make it back to the car without issue... but because his brother took his last goldfish your tired and dirty toddler is now a tired and dirty toddler who is also having a tantrum. 
  • Your child is teary-eyed while sitting at the kitchen table because he’s not understanding the science project instructions and it’s due tomorrow.  

I’m sure you could add your own stories with your kid, at any day, and any moment.  One of the things I work on with parents is to help them pay attention to themselves during these moments and notice what is happening inside of them.  Is my heart beating fast?  Is my jaw clenched?  Am I using physical force?  Am I raising my voice in that frustrated tone?  Am I starting to blame my spouse for what’s happening?  

One of the most valuable things I have learned from the research of Dr. Gary Landreth, and something I share with parents all the time, is the metaphor of being a thermostat verses a thermometer.  A thermometer reacts to the temperature around it.  When the temperature goes up, the thermometer goes up.  Thermostats on the other hand respond to the temperature around them and when the temperature changes a thermostat responds in a way that is helpful to the situation.  

Yes, it is one of those things that seems easier to say than practice. There are definitely skills to learn and practice.  When we are able to recognize what is happening inside of us, though, we are able to interfere with the tendency to let the emotions of others dictate the emotions in us.  Just because your child’s emotional temperature is rising, doesn’t mean that your's has to.  You can respond in ways that help regulate your child’s emotions. In other words, your child’s feelings are not your feelings.  

What’s one of those skills for staying calm?  The easiest thing to do and the easiest thing to forget to do:  breathe.  In through your nose and out through your mouth.  Once, twice, however long it takes for you to feel in control of yourself.  

With a calm body, you can respond with a calm mind.

There are lots of other things you can do too. During The Potting Shed series in GreenHouse, the When Big Emotions Can Cause Big Problems session will explore some of the reasons why kids escalate into those big emotions and how parents can respond in the ways that are most helpful. With a few new techniques – and maybe some crossed fingers – when your child comes back to the shopping cart with a Kit Kat bar, you can help them regulate their emotions and understand that it’s almost time for dinner.


THE POTTING SHED

Our next Potting Shed workshop will be a repeat of the topic When Big Emotions Can Cause Big Problems, taught by Kristy YetmanThis session will be held on Sunday, June 25th, from 9:15-10:45AM. Space is limited to 20 participants and the cost is $15 for GreenHouse volunteers/$20 for non-GreenHouse volunteers.

Read what GreenHouse parents are saying about the first session of When Big Emotions Can Cause Big Problems...

This was worth our time. The content was spot on, interactive, and Kristy provided meaningful practices/nuggets of wisdom. Let's do it again soon.
-Rich Robles, GreenHouse parent of 4

Kristy balanced Q&A and presentation of material really well without getting into too many kid-specific situations. It was perfect. Well done!
-Chris Hartter, GreenHouse parent of 2

POUR OVER: WHEN THE OTHER SHOE DROPS

POUR OVER: WHEN THE OTHER SHOE DROPS

What would each of our staff members share if we had the chance to sit down with you one-on-one over a cup of coffee? What is God doing in our lives, and how are we personally experiencing transformation and awakening? Pour Over is a blog series by our Watershed staff members answering those very questions. Today we'll hear from Abbie Fay, Watershed Office Administrator, GreenHouse Support... and quiet force behind much of what goes on around here!


If you have ever met me in person, you know that I am a woman of few words. I have found in my 27 years of life that being quiet and listening is a lot easier than putting myself out there and talking. That requires vulnerability, something that I have struggled with since childhood. 

I was a shy child, so much so that talking to people was terrifying for me. I remember in 6th grade when my family moved to a new town and started going to a new church. My parents coaxed me into going to the youth group in order to make friends. The problem was that I was so terrified of this new situation and of my peers that I spent every week with my back against a wall, not moving for the entire two hours. It took me a year to get up the courage to actually acknowledge the people who tried to talk to me and begin making friends. This is just one instance in my long history of struggling with communicating and interacting with other people.

Despite my early struggles, I somehow found a way to enjoy life and build relationships. Friends at school, buddies on the ski slopes, and roommates in college... I was put into situations where being vulnerable was made easier by being forced to live with someone, ride the chairlift over and over for hours on end, and do homework together for classes. Opening up to people is a lot easier when you don’t have a choice of who you do life with.

This all changed when I got married and moved to California with my husband. In California, he was the only person I knew, but that was okay because I felt comfortable being vulnerable with him, at least initially. I was looking forward to moving across the country to an exciting new place and starting life with the man that I loved.

But that excitement for this new life didn’t last long. Some issues that we had discussed before we got married, that I didn’t think were a big deal, began to grow and slowly consume our lives. I started to sink into despair as the safety net that I felt I had in my husband slowly fell away. 

All of a sudden I found myself lonely and desperate for someone to talk to. I touched base with my friends and family back home, but I didn’t feel like I could talk about what was really going on in my life with anyone. I had friends in California, but they were surface-level friends, and, even if they were vulnerable with me, I never felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable with them. I engaged enough to make it seem like I had my life together, but aside from that I never put in any effort to help these relationships grow. 

As time went on and things got worse, I began to stop caring about having someone to talk to. Staying home and knitting on a Friday night was a lot easier than going to someone’s house and actually engaging in conversation with them. I slowly isolated myself to the point where I had no desire to spend time with people. I would spend my free time knitting or sewing and thinking about everything that was wrong with my life, and how much I hated everything, especially other people. I began to feel that, as an adult, people only hurt each other, so there was no point in trying to befriend anyone, and there definitely was no point in being vulnerable with anyone, because I would just get hurt in the end. 

I got to the point where I didn’t even feel like a real person. I was just going through the motions, trying to keep everything together, just trying to survive another day. I felt numb, I stopped crying when my husband and I would argue, I became a very angry person when things would not go my way at work, and I stopped knowing how to have fun. I was a shell of a person: lonely, isolated, and miserable. 

This all changed when the proverbial “other shoe” dropped in my marriage, and I crumbled. The problem that we were facing had grown so big that it had consumed our marriage completely and was now slowly killing it. I could not handle it alone anymore, it was too much. I had to talk to someone, anyone, about what was going on. 

The day everything came crashing down, I needed a distraction, so I decided to drive to work, the only other place in that town that felt like home. I ended up talking to a couple of girls who were working at the time, and to my surprise, they were comforting, and supportive, and understanding. They didn’t judge me, they just listened. 

I began to open up to more people, and so did my husband. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who was isolated. We had both isolated ourselves from the outside world, and from each other (which is pretty hard to do in a 500 sq ft apartment!). We both started seeking help. We met with other couples who had gone though what we were going through, we started going to counseling, but I knew I was still isolating myself more than I should. I was still afraid to talk to people about what was going on inside my head and heart.

We moved to Charlotte a year and a half ago, in December 2015. We left California about six months after we started the recovery process for our marriage. My first year in Charlotte was a year of healing. Being in a new place, I was able to see everything that had been going on in my life from a new perspective. I was able to be more vulnerable with my family and my husband’s family about what was going on in our lives. I could feel myself awakening from the numbness that I had fallen into the previous two years. 

This year has been a year of clarity. We are still in counseling, but we can actually see the light at the edge of the woods now, rather than just darkness. I finally feel alive again. I am learning that even though isolating myself is my default, in the long run it does more harm than good. There are actually studies that show that isolation and loneliness can be harmful to a person’s mental, emotional, and even physical well being. We as humans are not meant to live life in complete isolation. 

I am still figuring out what all this means for me. While I would rather spend a Friday night knitting or sewing (and most other nights of the week, honestly!), I am learning to step out of my comfort zone and find ways to form relationships with others, whether it is joining a Bloc, tutoring, or coaching. It is definitely still a learning process for me, and I still struggle with even talking with people at times without feeling super awkward. But I know that I am on the right path. I am growing and transforming right now, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

 

If any of this resonated with you, or if you would just like to talk, please feel free to email me: abbie@watershedcharlotte.com.

POUR OVER: The Next Step

POUR OVER: The Next Step

What would each of our staff members share if we had the chance to sit down with you one-on-one over a cup of coffee? What is God doing in our lives, and how are we personally experiencing transformation and awakening? Pour Over is a blog series by our Watershed staff members answering those very questions. Today we'll hear from Becky Santoro, Watershed's Children's Pastor.


I guess it’s always been there. Always in the background, though. I’d pass a poster with a sign on it or I’d have student in my class who would identify as it. I’d talk about it, try to imagine it, and try to dismiss it. But a few summers ago, the voice got louder and my heart kept saying, “if not you, who?”

So I brought it up over dinner on our tenth wedding anniversary. 

Becoming foster care parents. 

We had just started a full-time business, we had a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, and I had recently transitioned to a full-time position at Watershed. Our house is tiny… 1,000 square feet. We are still paying off student loans, our family lives thousands of miles away. I could list literally 50 more reasons at least about why this just wasn’t the “right time” for us on paper. But he agreed and a few weeks later we decided to take just one step forward. Just one. And we set a rule for ourselves: if at any point we decided “not now” or “no”, we’d give ourselves a ton of grace and turn back. 

Just one step at a time. That’s it.

So we went to an informational class. And we didn’t talk the whole time. And then we sat in the car and we were still silent.

“Well?” I finally said.

“It’s time to take another step, don’t you think?” he said.

“Yep.”

And that’s how the next 10 months went. 

One step.

Then the next one.

It was the classes, the paperwork, the conversations, the inviting of our closest friends to bear witness to the process and give their perspectives, the background checks, and the home inspections.

In all of it, we didn’t move away from that “next step thinking”. Each time we tried to live just in that step… not overthinking or forward planning too much. It allowed us to just be where we were and to stay mentally present. When a new decision needed to be made, we wouldn’t think beyond that one decision.

It was really freeing in a way. Our “next step thinking” took the pressure off knowing all the answers and we found that it allowed us to stay grounded and rooted into what we both felt was best with the knowledge we had at the time. It took six months until we found ourselves fully licensed foster care parents.

Maybe there’s something inside your heart or gut that keeps coming up. It might not make any sense to you on paper and you can easily sweep it under the rug, but in the quiet spaces of your mind, it lives. 

There is so much power that exists in taking just one step… especially when you can figure it out as you go, allowing yourself to take your time and live within each new step fully. Maybe today is the day you finally take that step. Don’t overthink it. Just one step, friends.

Or maybe you’ve taken a step… several, even… but that next step would mean you’d have to let go of something. Perhaps to the known, secure, comfortable way of life, or even a past belief. You’re not sure if you’re ready for that quite yet. Grace upon grace, friends.

On July 21st, 2016, our next step was the final home inspection. Less than a hour later we received the call (side note: If you ever wondered if there was a need for foster care parents here in Charlotte, I believe you just found your answer).

“Baby girl, one year old. Local to Charlotte. Will you take her?”

Our next step was saying yes. 

Literally overnight we became a family of five. Now we’ve been saying yes for 258 days and counting. It has been redemptive, exhausting, transformational, frustrating, beautiful, disruptive, fulfilling, complicated, joyful, and messy all at the same time. But it has also shifted. We no longer have the power to take a “next step.” We’re on the same step with no clear timeline or outcome in sight.

We are waiting.

It’s hard to stay in the “next step thinking” when you don’t have control over it, right? 

Maybe there is something that has you in a holding pattern… you’ve been there for awhile and you feel frozen. It’s out of your control with no “next step” in sight. There may never be if you’re honest.

Or maybe you are faced with taking the next step knowing there is a real possibility that it won’t breathe the outcome you hope for, and you’re wondering if it’s worth the risk.

Or maybe the next step was decided for you.

I’m there too.

We aren’t sure if or when she will leave us. We’re not sure if a day in the future will include us packing her bags for uniting/reuniting with members of her family, or if it will include joining our family permanently. Either way, it will be a celebration. Either way, there will be bittersweet tears. But right now, there is no next step. It’s just the waiting. 

And so I wait on this step and I am trying to learn how to become more self-aware in this season when my mind and soul are weary for answers and outcomes. I try to visualize myself physically planting my feet down and dwelling within this step, JUST within today, in this moment, in this tiny house as a temporary or permanent family of 5.

So… What is God doing in my life, and how am I personally experiencing transformation and awakening? 

He’s teaching me that He’s in the “one steps” with me.

He’s in the waiting and we’re co-creating this story together. 

He's showing me what real living looks like… it’s not in the huge shifts but in the everyday, right-now life.

It’s simple, it’s holy, and it’s hard work to stay put in a moment of time. So I dwell there, with Him. 

These days I’m taking notice of my breath, my habits, and my triggers, trying to become more aware of myself and His presence when I want to jump off of the step or rush ahead to find out how this story will end. And I’m reaching out to my people, the ones standing there with me, reminding me that this story is all of ours, too.

Today, may you take a step forward into your life and discover more of your true self in the process. May it include walking into someone elses brokenness and finding that this was meant for the redemption of your own brokenness as well. May you have people around you who can root for you and remind you that they’re standing on the step with you. 

And may you feel His presence and Spirit in the waiting like you’ve never felt before.

 

P.S. If we actually did sit down for coffee there are five things I could promise you:

  1. There will be smashed goldfish crackers in my coat pocket. 
  2. I’ll have a random sock in my purse.
  3. This will be my 4th cup of coffee.
  4. There'll be snot on my pants… exactly at the height of a 3-year-old.
  5. I won’t do small talk very long. Let’s get right into the heart. 

Now that we've got that out of the way, welcome. Let’s chat.

In case our journey to foster care spurred some questions about the process, maybe your first step is to just click HERE and learn more about it: http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/dss/adopt/howto/Pages/FosterHomeLicensing.aspx 

What Is Justice?

What Is Justice?

From inception Watershed has sought to put justice at the forefront of our mission. Whether embedded into the themes of pop culture artifacts or real life events in our city, nation, and world, justice has become a hot topic. Over the course of the next few weeks Pastor of Justice Cedric Lundy is going to conduct a blog series aimed at unpacking our understanding of justice and why it’s fundamental to our community. 


The dictionary definition of justice is as follows…

“The maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments. The principle or ideal of just dealing or right action.”

Undoubtedly pop culture has shaped our understanding of justice. We have a plethora of television shows movies and comic book heroes who administer justice by pursuing evildoers and holding them accountable for their misdeeds. However, they most often present an incomplete picture of justice. The collateral damage in the form of property damage created during the heroine’s pursuit is usually glossed over. There are some exceptions.

Pixar’s The Incredibles builds a story where the collateral damage develops a major plot point. It leads to a flood of lawsuits that eventually leads to legislation forcing the supers to go into hiding. The movie Hancock starring Will Smith picks up a similar theme. Ever since watching those movies I find myself thinking about the millions dollars in property damage caused by the Avengers, Superman’s final battle with Zod in Man of Steel and not to be out done the Transformers franchise. Point being, we often have an incomplete understanding of what justice truly is evidenced by the popular stories we tell and consume.

On the other hand the Christian scriptures present a complete picture of justice one often easily missed. Many are familiar with Christian traditions where the climactic point in the story is when God banishes evildoers and the unrighteous to eternal punishment and suffering for their crimes.

However it has often left a huge unresolved issue, “What about Earth and all of creation?”

Many of the same Christian traditions would reply by indicating that Earth is destroyed after the saints are relocated to heaven, which only causes people to balk even further. Imagine a story where the heroines only save the inhabitants of Earth and not Earth itself?

You needn’t think too hard if you’ve seen the movie Interstellar. I absolutely love that movie, but I can’t help but wonder if I’d feel slightly different about it if the lasting image or scene from that movie was a dead and desolate Earth with no signs of life instead of a father who has literally crossed space and time to be reunited with his daughter. We get so lost in the image of Cooper boarding a ship to go find Brand all alone on her planet that we’ve all but forgotten that while the remaining humans have managed to escape there is no justice for planet Earth (as I’m writing this it's suddenly occurred to me that it appears they left all the animals there to die as well).

On the contrary, that depiction of the biblical narrative is an incomplete one. The story doesn’t end with Earth destroyed. It ends, or, better put, re-begins, with Earth being renewed. The saints don’t go up to heaven, heaven comes down to Earth. The original vision of heavens and Earth joined together without separation is recast.

In the same way something is missing when super heroes can ride off into the sunset satisfied that they’ve brought the villain to account while the city crumbles literally and financially, there is something missing when we paint the Divine as only concerned with saving souls... and matter does not matter. Assuming we all agree that all matter matters, Christians who promote this incomplete story need to be reminded that the Earth Matters (too!).

The end of the Bible in Revelation is not the only place where we see this picture of Earth being restored and renewed. It is mentioned in the similar language in the prophesies of Isaiah.

“For behold, I create new heaven and a new Earth…”

“They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat.”

“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall ear straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord.”

All that being said, a complete yet simple definition of justice is “putting the wrongs to rights”. In the super hero movies it would look like the Avengers working to help restore and rebuild the cities that were laid waste in their epic battles to defeat their adversaries. In Harry Potter it would be Harry using the Elder Wand quickly to rebuild and restore Hogwarts before snapping it half and tossing it into the Black Lake (that always bothers me when I watch it). 

With the exception of Potter, where it’s as simple as a waving of his wand and everything magically coming back together like new, a scene where we see the process of justice come to completion isn’t a climatic high point. Justice, the real substantial justice that we long for, is long and slow. It doesn’t happen over night. The pains and wrongs of this world didn’t happen over night, so it only makes sense for the real work of justice to be long and slow as well.

When we talk about justice at Watershed, it is with this understanding of justice.

When we look at the Christian scriptures we can’t help but be drawn to this over-arching theme of the Divine creating an entire world worth saving, not just its inhabitants. We see a God who is deeply invested in putting the world to rights. We see a God who is about long, and sometimes painfully slow, justice as He communes with mankind and equips us, the vulnerable ones in this equation, to be a part of bringing justice to His good creation.

Sure, Harry Potter could have used the Elder Wand to repair and restore Hogwarts in an instant, but I have to admit that there is something beautifully communal and healing for all who considered Hogwarts home to pocket their wands and get their hands dirty. There is a new level of ownership they’d all have by forgoing the quick, easy, sanitary way of rebuilding.

In the process, maybe they’d find some semblance of healing themselves as well.

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Reflections

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Reflections

By Cedric Lundy, Pastor of Justice 

How does one celebrate a day like Martin Luther King Jr. Day? It’s the same question some of us ask in regards to other days similar to it: Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day. When it comes to these federal holidays, how each day is observed, if at all, seems to be disconnected from the significance of the person or people being remembered. In the case of MLK Day, a lot of people, myself included, have taken to posting their favorite quote of King’s on social media. Yet, in large part, MLK Day serves to remind me that, while we may think of King fondly, we are still largely confounded by how to break free from the societal systems that keep us segregated.

As a junior in high school I attended an all-boy Catholic School in suburban metro Detroit. Out of the approximately 980 students at the school, 21 of us were Black Americans. It being my first year there, I was informed that school was in session on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but, since I was black, I could take an excused absence. The white students were not given the same exemption.

A few years ago I took a group of middle school students into uptown Charlotte early on a Saturday morning to pass out bag lunches and care packages to the homeless. I had a bad habit of scheduling these service opportunities on road race Saturdays, which can make getting from South Charlotte to uptown like navigating a labyrinth. On this particular day there wasn’t a race to contend with but, instead, a parade. I didn’t even know Charlotte did a MLK Day parade, but given how many black people there were in uptown that early on a Saturday morning, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on. It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that my twelve or so students, all of whom were white, were the only white people to be seen on Tryon Street that morning along the parade route.  

The year the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture opened, my wife Emma and I, along with two friends of ours, went on MLK Day. The place was absolutely mobbed, however Emma and our two friends were the only white people there on a day when all of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools had the day off.

Despite his honored legacy of fighting against racial injustice and inequality (and, less mentioned, his brief foray into fighting against economic injustice and poverty), the fifty years that have passed since King’s death have proven at least one thing: the systems at the foundation of our culture and society and their penchant for keeping us divided from one another based on race and class have not been eradicated, but have merely adapted to the times. While the way we think about people of different races may have changed and become more inclusive, our society and culture have remained steadfast in keeping us excluded from one another and have allowed us to feel more familiar with race-based caricatures than actual people of different racial and cultural backgrounds. 

Our schools are still largely segregated. Our neighborhoods are still largely segregated. Our religious gathering places are largely segregated. Our work places are still largely segregated. While countless hearts have been affected by Dr. King, our societal systems have managed to persist in keeping us largely separated. 

Those of us African Americans who have managed to assimilate into the larger, dominant white society appear to be exceptions to the rule, and our assimilation often comes at a cost. We are often viewed as pariahs by those who consider us sellouts, for in their minds we have taken on the caricatures of white people in order to be accepted. And yet we are keenly aware of moments and places where we are still judged based upon the color of our skin regardless of the content of our character. Likewise, talk to white people who have either been born into a minority community or have made attempts to bridge racial divides by going into minority communities, and many will describesimilar experiences of never truly being accepted as the minority and of being viewed as misguided by their white peers.

I think if he were here today, Dr. King would be encouraged by the softening of our hearts to embrace the other, but discouraged by the resilience of our social systems to keep us separated while allowing just enough exceptions to the rule to make us feel like we are getting somewhere. I think he would challenge us to tap further into our imagination and creativity for how we can overcome together. I think he would continue to make all of us uncomfortable with our contentment with the way things are, calling us instead to press up against the system to finally realize what could be.

The Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect

Here at Watershed we often encourage our volunteers to think big picture when it comes to serving in the community. Transformation (whether it be in an individual or in an entire system) rarely occurs overnight, so, in addition to celebrating little victories, we also ask people to consider the potential “ripple effect” of their efforts over the long haul.

Trusting the ripple effect can be challenging at times. We don’t always get to see the impact of our actions, and it takes real faith to believe that our efforts are meaningful even when we don’t have the immediate, tangible evidence to prove it. However, every now and then we do get to catch glimpses.

Natalie’s story begins as the result of a ripple.

“I had some wonderful volunteer tutors when I was a student in CMS,” Natalie remembers. “So I was thankful that I was going to have a chance to pay that forward!”

Two years ago Natalie Smith began volunteering at Walter G. Byers School through Watershed’s Catapult Initiative. She started off at Byers the same way most Catapult volunteers do: she tutored an elementary school student for 30-45 minutes each week. As she continued to show up to the school every Wednesday, she started to get to know a few of the staff members. One of those staff members was the school librarian.

“By the end of the school year I found myself helping out with the first book fair that the school had been able to put on in a number of years,” Natalie recalled. “During that week I was able to meet a number of teachers, and when End-of-Grade Tests (EOGs) came around, they asked if I would help proctor.”

Natalie had no idea when she signed up to help proctor EOGs that she would be paired with a teacher she had so much in common with.

“I was paired with the art teacher, Mrs. Barnes, to administer EOGs,” she said. “Through conversation we realized she actually used to work at the fabric store that my family now owns! We bonded over our shared interest in creativity.”

The chance pairing of the two during testing seemed more like more than just a mere coincidence. The conversations Natalie and Mrs. Barnes had during EOG week stuck with the art teacher, and ripples continued to spread when she approached Natalie with a request. 

“Mrs. Barnes actually approached me with the idea of selling the kids’ art work at our store. She had previously sold a few pieces at another store to earn some extra money for supplies for her classroom, but [that store] was closing and she was hoping we could sell a few pieces here and there.” 

The proposition seemed fantastic to Natalie, but she thought she could take it a step further.

“When she brought me all of the artwork she had, I knew I could do more than just sell a few pieces,” Natalie said.

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Natalie turned 26 on November 19th, and about a month before her birthday she began inviting her circle of family and friends to celebrate with her… by purchasing artwork from her favorite elementary school students. Soon her Facebook and Instagram pages were filled with pictures of hand-drawn elephants, owls, cherry trees, and monsters. Her goal was to sell 26 pieces and give all of the proceeds back to the art department at the school. 

“My weekly involvement at Byers has been a beautiful silver lining [in a difficult 2016],” Natalie said. “The greatest birthday present I could think of was convincing the people who love me to give back to the teachers and students who have filled my heart with joy every single week.”

Natalie’s special fondness for Byers probably would have been motivation enough for her to dedicate her birthday to supporting the school, but, on top of her love for the community, she also just so happens to know a little more than the average person about how important artistic and creative opportunities can be for a child.

“I spent years studying the emotional benefits of creative outlets for children and strongly believe that creativity is necessary for any child, but even more so for children who are in high stress situations outside of school,” Natalie explained. “Some low-income schools in CMS have lost their art programs completely due to budget cuts, while the rest are left with extremely limited resources. I want to make sure that the students at Byers are given opportunities to lean into their creative strengths and become producers and admirers of beautiful work.”

When the ripple effects of so many passions and experiences collide at once, there’s no denying that something special is in store. 

“Weaving together my love for students, creativity, and lending a hand to our local schools was such a gift for my heart,” said Natalie.

Not surprisingly, Natalie reached her goal of selling 26 pieces of art, raising $775 for the art department at Byers in the process. All of the money went towards purchasing new art supplies so students can embrace their creative passions and talents more fully.

More than a decade ago Natalie was a CMS student who appreciated the time volunteers spent with her at school. Today she is a 26-year-old woman with a passion for paying it forward to some of her youngest neighbors in Charlotte.

As the ripples continue to spread, it’s anyone’s guess how the students impacted by Natalie’s generosity will grow and go on to touch the lives of others.

Even though her birthday campaign has ended, Natalie still has artwork for sale! All pieces are $15 and proceeds go directly to Byers School. Email natalie.dixon19@gmail.com if you're interested in purchasing any of the pieces below. For more information about how you can get involved with Catapult, Watershed's school partnership initiative, email cedric@watershedcharlotte.com.

 

POUR OVER: Emmanuel + Two Pink Lines

POUR OVER: Emmanuel + Two Pink Lines

What would each of our staff members share if we had the chance to sit down with you one-on-one over a cup of coffee? What is God doing in our lives, and how are we personally experiencing transformation and awakening? Pour Over is a blog series by our Watershed staff members answering those very questions. Today we invite you to sit down with Austin Smith, Watershed's Pastor of Operations & Creativity. 


How do you get to the core of who you are and uncover the thing that wakes you up and gets you out of bed every morning? What kind of questions would it take to unearth the thing deep inside of you that is really steering the ship? 

Over the past few years I have started to try to ask these kinds of questions. Not because I am necessarily on a quest to find out who I am and what I was born to do, but because I am curious. You see, these past few years have been a sort of awakening for me. It’s almost as if I was asleep for a long long time and finally I stopped dreaming and opened my eyes to reality. The natural progression of waking up would be, then, to get out of bed and to start exploring. That place is where I find myself these days. 

As I’m writing this, we are almost halfway through December and deep into the Christmas season. I’m not too much of a Christmas music fan (especially before Thanksgiving) but there is one “Christmas phrase” that has become intensely meaningful to me: God with us.  

There’s this scene in the early part of the book of Matthew where the stage is being set for Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph are engaged and she finds out she’s pregnant. Two pink lines that undoubtedly meant divorce for them. Verse 19 even says that “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Instead, Joseph has a life-altering dream in which an angel appears to him and tells him that Mary is going to give birth to the Divine. That his name will be Jesus and that he will be called Emmanuel, God with us. 

For a long time, that was a really nice, almost moving story. That changed when I had my son. That really nice story of God entering into humanity as a baby came to life when I saw the helplessness of my infant. I’m not aware of a more humble position to be than to exit a womb and come into this world naked and completely unable to care for yourself. And in a very real way, we have this picture of God doing that in Jesus. 

Here is where these two thoughts collide for me: in the Christmas narrative of “God with us”, I see and feel a motive from the Divine. 

The idea of somehow getting a glimpse into the nature and purpose of God is exhilarating. If somehow I got the chance to sit down with God and ask “What gets you out of bed in the morning?”, I think at least part of the answer would include this: "being with you."

For someone like me, this is comforting, but, if I can be honest, also a little terrifying. I am a doer. A task-driven person. I like to-do lists, goals, reviews, action plans and anything that moves me towards more productivity and efficiency. “God with me” isn’t exactly the action plan I’m looking for. Sounds a lot more like a passive statement than an active one. 

A few months ago I began to adopt a meditation practice. It started with an app called Headspace that focuses solely on breath work and sensation awareness. From there I started to use guided meditations with all different kinds of focuses. That’s when it clicked for me. Sitting on my couch at 5:30 in the morning, in the dark, with headphones on, I tasted what it was like just to BE. There is something other-worldly about the ability to just be. It seems to export me out of my current reality, culture and life style into a different place. 

As I spent more and more time in this passive "being" space, I noticed something interesting happening: I began to see the motivations and desires of my active life with greater clarity and definition. I began to understand what's really driving me.

Here’s a glimpse what gets me out of bed in the morning these days: 

I have a wife who is a little over half-way into the process of bringing another life into this world. And she needs me. She needs me to be strong and gentle. Caring and decisive. Aware of her needs as well as my own.

I have a second child coming into the world in a few months. And I’m not ready. I’m not the kind of person I want to be for him yet. I want to be a better dad. A better husband. A better provider. A better listener. A better man. I’m aware that there will always be more to do, but everything within me wants to have it all put together and in place before he gets here. 

I see projects on the horizon that scare me to life. Projects that are well beyond my perceived abilities, and definitely outside the realm of anything I’ve ever experienced before. The uncharted waters of the future give me life.

For the first time in a long time, all of my family (dad, mom, brother, sister and their families) are living in the same area. And there are massive opportunities to experience relationship with them unlike any other relationship I could have. The pursuit of relational worth with them gives me great amounts of drive.

So how can you pick away at the question of what drives you? How do you get to that place?

There aren’t too many things that give me life more than uncovering the deeper parts of others and of myself, and if you and I ever get to sit down over a real cup of coffee, I hope we can do just that. But for the sake of this post, let me suggest three things that might help: 

  1. Ask the question. Over and over and over again. What drives you? What wakes you up in the morning? You and I will continue to change, and the ability to change in light of who we are is imperative.
  2. Can you wrestle with the idea that God might want to just BE with you? Can you, before you try to tackle the endless list of how to live a Christian life or how to be a good person or how to understand right theology, just be with God?
  3. Can you sit alone with yourself? Can you listen and be aware of what is happening in you internally? And will you be brave enough to deal with what you find?

Merry Christmas, and may you experience "God with us" in a tangible, personal way this holiday season. 

11 Things I Love About Malawi

11 Things I Love About Malawi

September marked Watershed's eleventh year as a community! To celebrate, each month until next September we’re bringing you a list of ELEVEN things someone in our community is passionate about. In addition to picking up some interesting new knowledge, we hope this series will help you get to know a handful of the incredible people who call Watershed home!


December’s ELEVEN list comes from Steve Cook, long-time Watershedder and founder of Equitas, a non-profit which provides opportunity through education for vulnerable children in the developing world. 

In 2006, Steve was reading an email and saw something in the sidebar that caught his attention: there are 27 million slaves in the world today. He clicked on the link and read an article about human trafficking in the world, and how there are more slaves today than there were when slavery was legal. Steve was then faced with a decision. He could close the article, go about his normal everyday life, and pretend he didn’t know anything about this, or choose to act on this knowledge and do something about it. He chose the latter and has never been the same.

Equitas is one of Watershed's global justice partners, and we're so proud of what Steve and his supporters have been able to accomplish in the name of love. Today Steve gives us a taste of why he fell in love with Malawi, the country in Africa where Equitas recently built a school. Who knows, maybe after reading Steve's ELEVEN list you'll feel drawn to this special place too...

11 Things I Love About Malawi

1) The smiles. Malawi culture is one of the friendliest I’ve experienced in the world. It matters not where you are - on the street in a bustling city or in the most rural area of the country - if you greet a stranger with a wave and smile, you will consistently receive a wave and smile in return.

2) The singing. Music is an integral part of life in Malawi. From sunrise to sunset, women and children can be heard carrying beautiful melodies while cooking, fetching water from a well, or working around the home. And when the choir comes together, it’s a wonderful array of full harmonies sung by men with booming bass and tenor, and women rounding out the sound with higher voices. You’ll also hear the occasional high-pitched trill.

3) The dancing. When a group comes together for a performance, singing is always accompanied by dancing. One of the highlights of my visits to Gadi Village is when the church choir performs. I join the men and boys in the back rows and try my best to keep up with their fast footwork. The inevitably end up laughing very hard at my attempts.

4) The meals. In the villages, people sit on bamboo mats on the floors of huts when eating meals. Before and after the meal, a basin of hot water with a cup inside is passed around, and you pour water over the hands of the person next to you so they can wash up. Food is placed in the center and bowls are passed around. It is an intimate time that always sparks interesting conversation.

5) The climate. Temperatures range from lows in the 60’s during the winter to highs in the 90’s during the summer. Since the country is so close to the equator, it definitely feels warmer during the heat of the day. But it is generally mild and can be very pleasant when there is a breeze.

6) The community. Most homes in villages are small. Rooms serve multiple purposes for eating meals, sleeping, or gathering for family discussions. But the majority of life is shared with family and neighbors in the common areas outside the homes. The open space beneath the shade of a large tree is your “living room." Some of my most cherished times in the villages have been walking through the fields or sitting on the porch of a home with my friends there. I’ve passed hours of a day like this with very few words spoken as we just enjoyed being together.

7) The markets. Loud, fast-paced and colorful, markets (larger ones are often referred to as trading centers) can occupy all corners of a major intersection on a highway or city street. They can be an adventure for your senses as you experience the aroma of searing goat, dried fish, grilled chips, dust, and diesel exhaust all at once. You can find everything from ripe fruits and vegetables to clothes and shoes at these vibrant markets.

8) The stars. Rural Malawi has no electricity. Standing in a village several miles from the nearest city means there is no artificial light. And this means the sky comes alive with galaxies and trillions of stars you could never see otherwise. The U.S. is in the Northwestern Hemisphere, and Malawi is in the Southeastern Hemisphere, so you will see magnificent, unfamiliar star formations. 

9) The wildlife. Visits to a Malawi game reserve can reveal diverse species of animals. Elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, crocodile, zebra, cape buffalo, a large variety of antelope from the smaller bushbuck to the massive sable, warthog, baboons, and numerous smaller animals such as mongoose or porcupine. They even introduced a pride of lions from South Africa to a reserve this year.

10) The energy. The children in a village never slow down. At all times of day they can be seen running, laughing, jumping rope, playing football (boys) or netball (girls), dancing, or simply smiling. It never ceases to amaze me how much joy can be gleaned from life despite abject poverty and the harshest of living conditions.

11) The sunsets. With no large buildings to block your view, sunsets in rural Malawi can overwhelm your soul. It is delightful to watch the immense sky morph through its magical hues of yellow, gold, orange, red, and maroon before settling into its midnight blue and finally, darkness. It makes your heart feel light.

Thanks for sharing your passion with us, Steve! We're so grateful for your heart and are inspired by what has transpired in your life since clicking that link 10 years ago. We love partnering with Equitas and we cherish the opportunity to connect with such a special place on the other side of the world!

Do you have an interesting 11 list you'd like us to consider? We'd love to hear your idea! Tell us about it here.

Resources We Love

Resources We Love

Here at Watershed one of our core values is TRANSFORMATION: creating space and giving permission for the pursuit of a renovated mind, heart, and life. Jesus was constantly challenging those around him to think and live differently, and one of the many ways we foster that kind of growth in our community is by encouraging people to wrestle with resources we find to be stretching, thought-provoking... and sometimes even a little disruptive! 

Over the years we've found that a thoughtfully written book or an engaging podcast can prove to be massively beneficial in lending language to spiritual experiences which are hard to define and giving someone a new sense of spiritual imagination when he or she is stuck in a rut. Even better, these types of resources can be engaged alone or in community, making them valuable for all types of settings.

When our Blocs are considering what to focus conversation on, we provide leaders with a list of resources we feel are conducive to transformative dialogue. We've recently reformatted this guide into a page on our website, and we'd like to make it available to everyone in our community to look through! If you're looking for some fresh content, take a look at what's currently trending in our community. Happy reading and listening!

GreenHouse Training Day

GreenHouse Training Day

GreenHouse exists to plant seeds and cultivate hearts through the lens of Jesus. It’s our hope that by the time a child leaves 5th grade they have a firm sense that God created them, that His spirit is everywhere, that we are connected to Him and others, and that justice is the heartbeat of humanity.

In order to plant these deep roots of identity, awareness, connection, and justice it takes a special group of volunteers who know how vital GreenHouse is to the growth of our littlest Watershedders!

To say that Children’s Director Becky Santoro loves her team of GreenHouse Volunteer Leaders would be an understatement! Gathering together a few Saturdays ago for a training and celebration, the team kicked off with an epic lip-sync battle (Jimmy Fallon would be so proud) and ended with pizza and a healthy competition of who knows which child developmental phase the best.

Sprinkled throughout the three hours were conversations of the new and continuing initiatives in GreenHouse. The time also allowed for reflection about how the way we viewed God as children has shaped us as adults today.... and our hopes of what a future GreenHouse graduate would say when faced with the same question one day.

When 30+ people take 3 hours out of a Saturday to learn and grow together we know we are in for an epic year. Thank you volunteers for all you have done and continue to do for our community’s children!

To learn more about GreenHouse, Watershed's Sunday morning experience for kids ages six weeks through 5th grade, email Becky.

 

The Donald and the D-Word

The Donald and the D-Word

By Ashley Sullivan

Over the weekend a video emerged depicting one of our Presidential candidates shamelessly dehumanizing a person who represents half of his constituents: women. This widely circulated video of Donald Trump and Billy Bush is obviously obnoxious and obscene, but what some people may not realize is that for many women it’s more than just an annoyance. For those who have experienced sexual abuse, harassment, exploitation, or trauma, it can be a psychological trigger for distress.

Concrete data on violence and harassment towards women is surprisingly difficult to nail down. The statistical consensus on incidence suggests that around 1 in 5 women have been victims of attempted or completed rape, and nearly 1 out of every 2 women have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetimes. When it comes to harassment, a survey conducted last year found that as many as 1 in 3 women (ages 18-34) reported experiences of sexual harassment at work.

These numbers are already disturbing, but researchers agree that an enormous amount of assault and harassment cases likely go unreported, pushing the statistics into even more alarming territory. Why are such a startling number of women experiencing harassment and abuse? And what is stopping women from reporting these traumatic experiences and seeking justice for their mistreatment?

I can’t help but wonder if the answers to these questions have something to do with Trump’s apology for he and Bush’s lewd behavior. Because this is all just harmless “locker-room banter,” right? Isn’t it just another run-of-the-mill case of “boys will be boys”?

Nobody’s really getting hurt here, are they?

If viewing the video triggered an intense emotional response for you, I want you to know that it did for me too. I also want you to know that, sadly, my instinctive reaction to that intense response was to immediately question its validity.

Should I really be this upset? Am I blowing this out of proportion? Am I just being… dramatic?

AND THERE IT IS, THE D-WORD.

One of the most devastating results of our culture’s proclivity to excuse or downplay the kind of misogynistic behavior displayed by Trump and Bush is that it often leaves women wondering whether the problem is truly rooted in the actions of their abusers… or if it is simply rooted in their own “overblown” emotional responses to the abuse. How many of the reasons cited for underreporting sexual violence and harassment could be healed if women truly believed that their voices would be taken seriously when they spoke up? How many instances of abuse would never occur in the first place if we challenged the notion that objectifying women is somehow acceptable (even in private, exclusively male conversations) and instead created a new cultural norm committed to honoring the Imago Dei in both women and in men?

Additionally, preserving the notion that “locker-room banter” is acceptable is not only irresponsible and dangerous for women; it’s insulting to our brothers. Do we really believe that men are somehow less free to embody expressions of gentleness, deference, and self-control? What sort of distorted and diluted version of masculinity offers up cheap escape hatches like “boys will be boys” when a woman’s Divinely-imprinted heart, mind, body, and soul are at the risk of violation? What twisted identity constructs are we normalizing and perpetuating by writing off certain behaviors as simply “expected functions” of the male persona?

Men, I know you’re better than this, and I personally refuse to hold you to a standard any lower than the one I know you are capable of rising to. Let this essay also stand as my personal refusal to hold myself back from what I am capable of as a woman: speaking loudly and unashamedly against something I recognize as wrong.

To my sisters who are suffering this week as a result of viewing the video: you are justified in your pain and in your anger. This video is not just a political annoyance; it is a trigger for trauma. And if you’re reeling from that, I want you to know that you aren’t alone. You have a right to fully feel your pain and to lament it.

A few months ago Cedric, my dear friend and co-worker here at Watershed, wrote a brilliant post entitled “It Isn’t Too Late to Ask.” I can’t think of a better response in a moment like this than the advice in that post.

Men, it isn’t too late to ask the women in your lives how they’re really feeling this week. It isn’t too late to sit quietly and offer wide-open, compassionate, non-judgmental, curious space for our voices to be heard.

Ladies, we can also give this tender gift to one another… and to our brothers. The negative effects of “locker-room banter” extend to men’s souls as well. Asking to hear each other’s stories might just be the most redemptive thing any of us could do.

All week long this verse from Genesis 50 has been reverberating in my heart: “Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.”

Nothing can fully erase the pain of past trauma, and I personally do not believe that God ordains abuse in anyone’s life. But if we view this video as a springboard for vulnerable conversation, if we are able to see it as an invitation from the Spirit to increase our compassion and love for one another, then I do believe it can be transformed into something good.

To explore this topic further, we recommend listening to Woman, a recent podcast by The Liturgists.

4 Reasons Why 'It's a Sin Issue, Not a Skin Issue' is a Dangerous Oversimplification

4 Reasons Why 'It's a Sin Issue, Not a Skin Issue' is a Dangerous Oversimplification

By Cedric Lundy, Pastor of Justice & Leadership

Benjamin Watson, NFL Tight End for the New Orleans Saints at the time, said it in the wake of the protests and riots in Ferguson. Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney said it when asked about the issues leading to football players taking a stance of protest during the playing of the National Anthem before games. I’ve seen many people echo the sentiment on social media.

“It’s not a skin issue it’s a sin issue.”

As a fellow Christian I must profess that this declaration of racism in America boiling down to a sin issue is a dangerous oversimplification. Before I get in to why, it would be useful to give a brief explanation of how sin has been widely understood or preached in America.

About 150 years ago the gospel was truncated into a message of turning from sin and going to heaven one day. Its key features were repentance and sin management. Over the last hundred years this version of the gospel eventually became obsessed with sexual purity. Noticeably absent was an ethic of breaking down the dividing wall of hostility and becoming one man in Christ (Ephesians 2.14-16).

Sin is a Symptom of Idolatry—The main failure of sin management, beyond creating legalists, is it only addresses the symptom, not the cause, of our individual and corporate obstacles to achieving harmony in life. To create an idol is to “make a good thing a God thing”. When we elevate our culture over and above another’s as superior, we are in fact suggesting that God approves of our culture over and above anyone else’s. It can become very easy to reject racial hatred while still believing your culture and its norms are somehow inherently better or more godly. The recent protest by pro football players during the National Anthem has exposed the idolatry of Christian Nationalism. Only idolatry would permit Christians to be more bothered by the perceived offense shown to the symbolism of a piece of woven cloth than the systemic dehumanization of others for any reason - race, gender, or otherwise.

Racism was used to Justify Colonialism— In 1452 Pope Nicholas V issued a Papal Bull statement on behalf of King Alfonso V of Portugal that said the following… “We grant you by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property [...] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.” The history and legacy of racism in the United States is not simply a byproduct of individuals being marred by sin. Racism’s enduring legacy is European Colonialism, which used the authority of the Church to justify the annihilation and subjugation of other people groups who were indigenous to the lands the Church and the State sought to claim as divinely theirs (originally Portugal and Spain, but primarily England and France).

Denial of Implicit Racial Bias— One of the main obstacles preventing us from making progress in our fight against racism in America is our continued denial of implicit racial bias. We tend to make racism a binary issue and thus struggle to acknowledge or make room for anything besides racial supremacy and being “colorblind”. A lot of people fear that acknowledging they operate with subconscious biases based on race will put them in the category of being a racist. Therefore they work hard to deny the existence of implicit racial bias. So what’s the difference between implicit racial bias and racial supremacy/hatred? Racial bias says, "this is what ____ people are like, therefore I need to be more fearful and suspicious of them." Racial supremacy/hatred says, "_____ people are inferior, therefore I need to keep them in their place and exterminate them if they step out of line." We have no problem condemning the actions of a supremacist like Dylan Roof, but many struggle to condemn the biases that would lead a law enforcement officer, regardless of his/her color, to be more likely to use excessive and or lethal force with a black suspect than they would be with a white suspect.

Racism is a Corporate Issue, Not an Individual Issue—Years ago I led a group of students on a mission trip to urban Baltimore. I’ll never forget the responses of two students after a talk on racial inequality and injustice. One of my boys replied, “I don’t think like that.” He wanted to make sure everyone knew that he wasn’t a racist. Immediately after him one of my girls declared, “Oh my gosh! It totally makes sense now!” She talked about looks she noticed our group was getting when we were in a Wendy’s during our travel day. “I’ve never been looked at like that in my life. I couldn’t figure out why they looked at us like that. It totally makes sense now. They didn’t like seeing an all-white youth group being led by a black youth pastor.” I took that opportunity to point out to my kids, “Whether you think like that or not, you are affected by others who do whenever you all are with me.” Unfortunately, due the truncated gospel, we neglect addressing implicit racial bias and institutional racism beyond proselytizing, prayer and repentance, only to hold the vomit of racism and racial bias in our collective mouths. The racial divide in any form is only addressed from the pulpit when lamenting the explicitly racial carnage of supremacists (or condemning racial trauma expressing itself in destructive rioting.)

I recognize that most people who make this declaration of racism being “a sin issue, not a skin issue” have good intentions. They rightly infer simple legislation can’t establish racial harmony. However, it is dangerous for the church and its relevance in society to continue to infer racism will only be made better by personal sin management. We must address the deeper complex implications of racism being an issue of idolatry. Otherwise the church will continue in it’s legacy of being complicit in the persistence of the racial divide.

 

99th Percentile

99th Percentile

Catapult is Watershed's local justice initiative committed to building supportive and encouraging partnerships with nearby schools. 

The 2016-2017 school year has begun and tutoring is fully underway at both of Watershed's CMS partner schools, Walter G. Byers and Shamrock Gardens Elementary. We're convinced that the 30-45 minutes our tutors spend with students each week is a worthwhile investment... but don't just take our word for it! We invited Shamrock Gardens Principal Sarah Reeves back to the Watershed stage last month, and she had some encouraging things to share about the impact of Catapult tutors on her Shamrock scholars last year (video below). 

Principal Reeves highlighted one success story about an English as a Second Language (ESL) scholar. This particular student and his tutor struggled to connect initially due to a challenging language barrier, but with consistency and effort a special relationship was formed. By the end of the school year, that young scholar's reading level had surpassed the 99th percentile in the state, and this year he's been placed in an advanced academic class. His reading level grew four years in the short time he was paired with his Catapult tutor! Principal Reeves attributed part of his growth and success to having a caring adult who showed up each week to invest in his education. 

If you aren't already involved with Catapult, it isn't too late to play a part! Here are some ways you can join Watershed's efforts to support students and educators in our city's schools:

  • Tutoring: Spend 30-45 minutes each week tutoring an elementary-aged student and building a special friendship! No education experience required, schools provide the tutoring material. We’ll work with you to set up a day and time that fits your schedule. Click here to express interest. Byers and Shamrock
  • Mentoring: Help out with Girls on the Run or Right Moves for Youth. Click here to learn more about each program and express interest. Byers Only
  • Staff Support: Become a Staff Pal to an educator, or join an email list to receive information about helping out at staff appreciation events throughout the year. Click here to learn more and get involved. Byers Only

If you have further questions, email Cedric, Watershed's Pastor of Justice & Leadership: cedric@watershedcharlotte.com

It's Time

It's Time

It’s time... To step up. To be a part of the solution. To offer your greatest asset, yourself, and your most valuable commodity, your time.

It’s time... To give 60 of the 10,080 minutes in your week. Less than 1% of your week... to impact 100% of theirs.

It’s time... To let your excuses rest. To increase our presence. To experience the transformation that giving of self can catalyze.

It’s your time. It’s our time. It’s about time.

It’s time.

We’re excited to kick off our EIGHTH YEAR of Catapult, Watershed’s effort to support local schools through tutoring, mentoring, and staff appreciation! This year we’re continuing partnerships with two Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools: Walter G. Byers and Shamrock Gardens Elementary. Want to join this movement of people from our community? Here's how you can get involved:

Tutoring: Spend 30-45 minutes each week tutoring an elementary-aged student and building a special friendship! No education experience required, schools provide the tutoring material. We’ll work with you to set up a day and time that fits your schedule. Click here to express interest. Byers and Shamrock

Mentoring: Help out with Girls on the Run or Right Moves for Youth. Days and times TBD. Click here to learn more about each program and express interest. Byers Only

Staff Support: Become a Staff Pal to an educator, or join an email list to receive information about helping out at staff appreciation events throughout the year. Click here to learn more and get involved. Byers Only

Mother Teresa famously said, "Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you." In the wake of tension and injustice, people often wonder, "What can I possibly do?" Let's take Mother Teresa's words to heart. Let's show the next generation (and those who teach them) that we care, and let's make space for our own hearts to experience transformation in the process. 

There's no better time than now.

Join us?

#itstimecatapult

Pursuing God: Thoughts on Music & Spirituality

Pursuing God: Thoughts on Music & Spirituality

By Austin Smith, Watershed Worship and Creativity Pastor

Hi! My name is Austin Smith and I’m the Worship and Creativity Pastor at Watershed. One of my roles is to oversee our Sunday morning experiences and the different elements that go into them. I’ve been leading worship and doing music in churches since I was in high school (so, like, two years ago) and I’ve been asked a plethora of questions regarding what I do. I thought exploring some of the questions I get most often would be a great way to converse about this topic.

Why music in a church?

We don’t really have much of a choice.

This entire conversation is about God. This big Other that man has been grappling to understand since the dawn of time. And at every generational, sociological turn, just when we think we’ve finally figured God out, we realize again that we are falling woefully short. So what does it mean for us to continue a pursuit that has frustrated many a spiritual and intellectual giant?

Music enters this picture with, arguably, better hands and tools for processing the conversation.

In the 1997 movie Contact, Jodie Foster plays an astronomer character who has found what she believes to be extra-terrestrial life. This finding leads her on an explorative space journey to the edge of some celestial other-world. She describes it as a celestial event and then, at a loss for words, exclaims, “They should’ve sent a poet!"

In many ways, this is the same reason we still sing in church. It’s not so that we can better explain God or our interactions with him, but so that we can marvel in the mystery that shrouds this entire conversation. Music gives us a way to experience God when words fall short. We use combinations of emotive melodies and instrumentation to evoke deeper parts of our response systems. We employ the use of mystical metaphors to give space where space is due while still attempting to wrap ourselves around God. This dance often leads us not into a place of knowing, but of unknowing.

What do you think about the music in our church?

Much of what I just described holds true for us at Watershed. We use music as a tool to more fully understand our experience with God. We realize that there are many avenues to experience God, so we do not presume that music somehow holds the key to unlocking any great mystery about what an encounter with God looks like. We do, however, think that there is something extremely powerful about a group of people coming together and singing together and listening to music together. For better or worse, there are things we do as a group that we simply cannot do as individuals, and one of those things is experiencing music in a corporate way. At Watershed we value this idea that everything is more complete when we experience it both as an individual and as a group.

Where do you think we’re headed?

We could probably have a big conversation about genre, style and particulars when it comes to the music at Watershed, but for the sake of time sincerity, those are secondary in my mind. When I think about where we are headed, I think about two avenues: honesty and quality.

So much of what we all experience in our everyday lives isn’t honest, often to the point that we’ve become largely skeptical of almost everything. I hope that as a church we can embody some sense of honesty with the music that we sing. We won’t get it right every time, but it has been my experience that when honest music is engaged, it changes the musician and the listener.

If the music isn’t good it doesn’t matter what it says or what it’s supposed to do, it won’t accomplish anything. That being said, good music is an unbelievably subjective statement. Everyone has a different opinion about what type of music is good and what type of music is bad. In this sense we try, as best we can, to move towards what moves people. We try to make informed decisions about what it is that stirs people’s souls and moves them into deeper parts of themselves and into deeper relationship with God.

What can I do to engage music in a meaningful, spiritual way?

The first thing that science will tell you about music is that for it to have any sort of positive effect, you must like it. I know it sounds simple, but go find the music that you really like. Not something that you think you’re supposed to like because your friend group, society, or family tells you to. If it’s Justin Bieber and Beyonce, then so be it. You have to find something or someone you really enjoy.

Secondly, if you want music to be something that changes you, you have to make time for it. You can’t just listen to it on occasion while you’re doing other things and expect some sort of transformational experience. Take a few minutes each day and just sit and listen. Close your eyes and take in the intricacies of the music and lyrics. Allow yourself to notice the experience as well as what the experience is doing to you and for you.

Lastly, I would encourage you to move towards music as a group practice, whether that be at church, or at a venue in town. Like I said before, there is something about a shared experience that is quite unlike anything we can experience as individuals. That shared experience has personally been one of the driving forces in my own life and in the lives of many others.

It is a joy to spend time with many of you on a Sunday morning for an hour or so and share this communal musical experience, and I hope that you will continue to join in as we allow music to pull us further up and further in.

Check out what we've been singing together recently at Watershed and take a peek at what's coming up next on our Playlist page!

A Place Where the Ground Can Hold Us

A Place Where the Ground Can Hold Us

By Becky Santoro, Watershed Children's Pastor

On Sunday I shared my stories of a childhood place I call my Green Pastures (named after Psalm 23). My Green Pastures was a place where I was so intricately connected to my soul and to God’s presence. I talked freely to Him and danced with Him in the wind. It was my magical place. My secret place. My safe place. Until one day…

I lost my child-like eyes.

If you weren’t in the audience, it may be helpful to stop reading and listen HERE for some context before your continue on. 

My hope is that, as a community, our lives can be an attempt to regain child-like eyes in a messy, broken world. To turn cul-de-sacs into places of worship and to physically be the Green Pastures in the injustice you see around you.

Some days are harder to see Green Pastures than others, but it’s the best place I have known where to be planted. Come with me. Spend your days catching glimpses of the softness of His spirit within your everyday moments and be reminded that God can meet you anywhere.

Even in the getting older. 

Even in the pain. 

Even in the anger. 

Even in the injustice.

Even in the mundane. 

Even in the transition. 

Even in the brokenness. 

Even in the deep grief.

These things can swallow you up and disillusion you, can’t they? They can make you turn everything into a cul-de-sac or they can ground you and root you into real living… where you notice the Green Pastures in the simple things around you and you find chances to be a part of creating the Green Pastures for others. It can make you rise up from the ashes and be a part of heaven on earth. The here and not yet.

What I’ve come to realize is when I stand on my broken Green Pastures filled with grief or when I embody Green Pastures for others, it allows me to carry someone’s grief-stricken heart inside my own.

When I don’t rush past the pain, I am able to be a guide because I’ve honored and walked on that Green Pastures before.

 I chose to sit down.

 That allows my heart to break all over again.

And I’ll do this again and again as many times as I can…as long as I have this breath.

This is real living.

Find your real and metaphorical Green Pastures. Embody it for others. And sit down in your broken ones. Grief is holy ground. Your Shepherd is safe.

Your stories will become the most sacred place and holy ground for others along the way if you bring them to the light. It is the fertile soil of a Green Pastures.

And above all, I hope you know deep in your soul…

You are not forgotten. 


 PS - What I didn’t know is that the exact DAY I sat down and wrote the first draft of my talk… my mom had written about my Green Pastures 25 years earlier in her journal. May 17th. She sent me pictures of the diary recently and I almost fell out of my chair. Reading her words now as a mom myself and after just putting pen to paper to these memories is beautiful and priceless to me.

May 17th, 1991

Dear Becky,

Last night you took me to the “Green Pastures”…this silly cul-de-sac in our neighborhood. At this time of your life, you are showing me that you share my intensity for life and for the Lord. A part of me wishes you won’t have to experience the intense pain that you will ultimately have to feel. But, I know that you’ll feel the joy in your life just as intensely and I believe that its God’s way of making it up to us. I pray you will always have such a fierce devotion for God… You talk to God about everything. Thank you for that.

So, I’m not surprised that you find “Green Pastures.” You need them as much as I do. A place of rest and peace- a time of reflection on God and His beauty, a “hiding place.” It’s so comforting there, you’ll bring others. Some of these others will love it as you do- most will fail to see its merit. It’ll break your heart that they’re missing out- that they can’t see the value. But, oh little one, allow no one to steal your vision! Hold onto your Green Pastures! Experience it to its fullest. Eat and lay down satisfied as the Psalms say. I’ll go with you. I understand. Thank God, there’s you. I love you, Mom.

 

 

Nate George's Sermons

Nate George's Sermons

On November 18, 2015, our Watershed community suffered a great loss. Our dear friend and former Children's Pastor, Nate George, passed away after complications stemming from a heart condition he'd had since birth. Nate and his wife, Lauren, have been an instrumental part of this community for many years and there is no way to measure the impact they've had here. Everyone who knew Nate was better for it and Lauren is a precious soul who radiates God's joy and grace.

We are so thankful to have been Nate's church home during his years in Charlotte. As a member of our staff, Nate not only directed GreenHouse, but he also spoke several times from stage. Nate was a gifted speaker and we are incredibly grateful that we were able to capture his messages.

Below you'll find a listing of all of the sermons Nate preached while he was at Watershed. To the many who loved and adored him, we pray that these recordings will bring you peace, joy, and sweet gratitude for someone we were so lucky to call our own.

We love you, Nate, and we miss you terribly. But we trust that you are at peace and we know your legacy here on Earth reaches further than we could ever begin to imagine.

To save Nate's messages, click the download button in the bottom right-hand corner of each podcast. 

Spring Baptism 2016

Spring Baptism 2016

Sometimes religion can feel abstract or intangible, but when we hear someone's story it puts flesh on the theoretical and animates concepts that may have previously seemed inaccessible or dry. Baptism is a declaration of resurrection in real-time. The symbolic dunking in the presence of community has less to do with theories and dogma and much more to do with tasting real Transformation and feeling drawn to relinquish old patterns of living as a result. Baptism proclaims that resurrection is not only something that happened... but that it's something that HAPPENS.

On May 22nd Watershed baptized six of our community members. May their stories of hope and renewal remind you that you, too, are endlessly pursued by Love!

Interested in participating in our next Baptism? Check out our Baptism FAQ's or fill out a Baptism Interest Form


Kristen 

I found Watershed about a year or so after my divorce. Through the experience of having my marriage end, I was starting to develop a much clearer picture of my true self. However, I also arrived wounded and somewhat lost due to a lack of support from some people who I thought would be there for me through the pain. Going to church, and especially joining and sharing in a community, wasn’t fully comfortable. I felt ashamed to say I was divorced. I felt like I didn't fit in with early 30-somethings who were all settled, married, and having children. 

Watershed was the first place I felt something new start to grow. I felt I could be who I was and let people know my circumstances without judgement. It felt so good to be able to do so. Over time, the embarrassment, guilt and self-consciousness that once occupied parts of my life started to dissipate. And, ultimately, it became the space where Christ started to grow inside of me. In our most recent series, I’ve started dealing with the idea of truly forgiving myself.

More and more, awareness of God's presence started to grow in my life. I started being drawn to this community: I decided to go through Preface...  I joined a bloc... I started engaging the Bible... I invited others to Watershed.. I became a tutor at Byers... I volunteer as a greeter... I’m friends with the leader of the band (I’ve never really had “church” friends!). When I traveled for work, I stayed connected through podcasts and the Watershed app. I've gone to church for most of my life (except for college/early 20's), but often I wasn’t fully present and certainly was never a full-fledged part of a church community.  

Coming into a greater intimacy with God has been both freeing and challenging. There’s a happiness and peace that I have started to experience. I’ve been given permission to be myself. But it’s also challenging me to look at others and myself differently to remain open-minded and compassionate toward others in the same way.

When I was a child I was baptized, but I love the fact that as an adult I have a choice, kind of like renewing your vows in a marriage: even though you did it once I'm re-confirming this is my choice. It’s my choice to seek God, community and a life with Christ that I want to continue being intentional with. I am also moved to be able to have my grandfather be a part of this with me, as he and my grandmother are the clear spiritual leaders of our family and have probably had the most impact throughout my life in keeping me close to God.


Bonnie 

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. I went to church religiously every Sunday as a child and teenager. My father is a Baptist Deacon and my mother was raised Catholic, so God and Christ were important to our family. When I was seven I prayed to accept Jesus so that God would forgive me of my sins and I could go to heaven.  As a child, often you haven’t developed enough to ask questions about things. But as I grew into adulthood, things changed. To the extent that for the past 13 years, the idea of God, church and religion wasn’t as simple as I remembered it. In fact, it became rather confusing and less than compelling.

And so I drifted into a life that was more about me than it was about God. I lost track of what it meant be “Christian” anymore.  My views about life also changed. In some sense… I felt lost.

I think I arrived at Watershed longing to be closer to God. However, I didn’t feel that my life was “good enough." Preface helped me realize God’s expectation of me wasn’t perfection. I started recognizing that getting closer to God was more about understanding that He was already here… with me and in me... in the first place.  I realized that part of what Jesus was inviting us to do was to see God in everything. If you focus on seeing, the being will come.

My life just before arriving to Watershed, I think, was marked by quite a bit of stress and anger. I felt out of sync, as though there should be more to what I was experiencing in life. I embraced the belief that more success, money and experiences would somehow satisfy me in the deeper places of my life. What I’ve realized is that because God loves me and is close to me, my life is already meaningful. And that I am OK being by myself, sitting in the quiet, sensing that I’m a part of something larger than myself.  

I’m getting baptized because I’m awake to everything I just described after being asleep for the better part of the last 13 years. My hope is to continue to grow and to learn and follow in the steps of Christ. The more Christ teaches me about God, the more I realize how impossible it is to ever understand his immensity. But I want a deeper, more awake, more vulnerable and stronger relationship with God. And I want my life to matter such that the change and peace I’ve discovered and experienced, others can begin to experience too.  


Greg 

My first experience with Watershed was in 2005 through a Watershed-sponsored event called Movies in the Park.  I remember meeting Matt at a local coffee shop to talk about Watershed’s view of life, God and Christianity. Watershed was in its first year and meeting in Actor’s Theatre in Uptown back then. I decided to get involved. I attended on Sundays, joined a bloc, served and led in various capacities. I even led Watershed’s ROVE Bloc for a while.    

From the beginning Watershed spent time and energy attempting to help hurting people. I was drawn to get involved with some of the pursuits to make things better for people, whether in West Virginia through Habitat for Humanity or building homes in Mexico. I like doing things with my hands and I love being outdoors. These are some of the ways I feel most connected to God, so those were very meaningful experiences for me.

Life took me in a different direction several years ago, but Watershed has always been a place marker for a true season of growth. I learned things about myself and my relationship with God that were building blocks for my life with Christ today.   

These days I’m part of a church within the community where I live in South Carolina. It’s a church I really love and it’s a community that’s really starting feel like home. However, recently I became aware that when I was baptized as a child it was a decision that was more driven by my parents than by my own convictions or relationship with God. I’ve been reflecting on this for a while and decided that, as an adult, I wanted to embrace this for myself. I wanted to mark this moment in my life because of how truly loved and accepted by God I am.

Because so much of my journey was informed and instigated during my season at Watershed and because God used this community and the people here to impact my life, when I made this decision I felt drawn to return here for baptism.  

I want to be baptized because, after looking back over my life, I’ve noticed that God has consistently been present with me, patiently growing me and walking with me even during those less than desirable times of life. I want to be baptized because I want to continue identifying with Jesus, building community and being a part of helping others connect to the God who has been so vital to me personally. And what makes this really special for me is being baptized surrounded by so many people in a place that has always felt like home. 


Carole 

Since childhood my spiritual life has definitely ebbed and flowed. It really flowed as a kid. I grew up in a church that was right up the hill from my parents house. I was very involved in our youth group at every level. It was a really enjoyable experience and I feel fortunate to have grown up with a church and church community so close to my home.

I think a lot of the ebbing had to do with being an unaware college kid, allowing myself to be influenced by people and situations that were not the safest or healthiest. I hate to say it but it was kind of like a "sex, drugs, and rock & roll" phase of my life... when I really lost touch with God. It's like my love for Him was always there but I was clouded by bad decisions and toxic relationships. In college, I remember sometimes searching for a church or attending some random Bible study but nothing ever stuck.  It wasn't until I moved to Charlotte that my life really changed.

I had just moved here and didn't know a soul so I started going out and drinking as a way of fitting in. And so, unfortunately (and in an odd way, fortunately), I was out one night drinking and I chose to drive home intoxicated. However, I didn’t make it home. Instead, I was pulled over and arrested for Driving Under the Influence.  

I don’t know how others handle something like this, but for me it was a horrible, embarrassing, humiliating experience. It left me emotionally drained and emptied. Thank goodness I didn’t injure anyone or myself. But that night in 2013, everything changed for me.

There was a sense that I always knew ABOUT God before that event, and that I even felt he was often near. But that experience (as painful and demoralizing as it was) also woke me up to the desire to know God in deeper more meaningful ways. I longed to know God loved me even when I was unable to love and forgive myself for what I had done.

Then, in 2015, Tracy (a friend and co-worker) invited me to come to Watershed. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but over time I got involved in a bloc, started contributing to GreenHouse, and started really searching into deeper parts of myself. At Watershed I entered into a pursuit of following Christ in the process. I started feeling God's love me more and more. I started noticing that parts of my story and life became easier to describe and more redemptive to tell. The pursuit of Christ has had and continues to have a huge impact on my life. I think I've always had a love for God and have always known I need Him. But I think the more I forgive myself for my actions and let God in the closer I feel to Him.

I’ve only really been focusing my life this way for a little over a year, but today I feel more alive, content and in tune with who I am and who I want to become. I still have insecurities of course, but the more I’ve moved through this, the more the insecurities go away. I used to spend a lot of my time in other people’s shadows, feeling like I had to measure up in order to be liked. In my pursuit of Christ, it feels like I've come out of the shadows. And I believe I did because God used the worst moment of my life to open this sort of door. It feels like He pushed me out of the shadow. “I feel like He was like, "no kid, enough of this, you need to shine! You need to become who you were designed to BE. Not this other person you’ve been all these years."  

So I want to be baptized today, because this is the moment in my life when I’ve hit the reset button. I want the metaphorical death of old Carole to know a new, more alive, more real, more transformed Carole! The one Jesus keeps reminding me is real.  And I want this to be the way I live from this day forward. 


amanda & ryan

AMANDA

Church has always been a part of my life. I was raised Catholic and attended mass most Sundays with my family. Those early experiences with religion and spirituality were satisfying and gave me a strong value foundation that I still use to navigate life.

However, upon entering college, I found myself searching for a more personal expression of my faith. I wanted a deeper intimacy with God and unfortunately just attending mass didn’t provide that relationship I was searching for. During my senior year of undergrad, a friend reached out and helped me start exploring my personal relationship with God. My friend attended non-denominational church. It was a bit of a struggle with the change from the Catholic Church, but I started spending time sifting through the Bible and talking to God on a daily basis, attempting to learn more about my faith on a personal level. I only attended my friend’s church a handful of times before I left Florida for grad school in North Carolina.   

Upon arriving to North Carolina,  I chose to return to my Catholic expression as often as I could. But ultimately, I struggled finding traction with God.

Then, last Christmas, my fiancé Ryan (who was unaccustomed to religion) started expressing an interest in finding a church. This was fueling for me personally because I saw it as a way for us bring faith into our lives. Ryan and I started to search together and the craving grew for my life with God to develop into more than just ritual. I wanted it to be a part of the fabric of my day-to-day life and I yearned for a life where Ryan and I could share faith. I wanted God be present to both of us.

Ryan and I found Watershed in January with a mere google search. They had just begun the Stogies and Stilettos series which seemed perfect for a newly engaged couple like ourselves. Watershed has been instrumental for me and for Ryan. It many ways, it’s become like a home where we’ve felt the freedom to explore and embrace God in a deeply personal way. We jumped right into Preface with only a few weeks under our belt and we started exploring our faith together within our group and at home. Embracing God has changed me. Christ has helped me look at myself and the world through a different set of eyes. It’s created a sacred space for Ryan and I in our relationship that is ours individually... but one that we also share with each other.  

Our pursuit of God has helped us experience a faith more spiritually and emotionally entwined. It’s expanded our love and commitment to each other. It’s given our relationship more meaning and significance.  

Baptism for me is has been about the start of something new that I want, always, moving forward in my life. I want my life and our marriage to be a picture of God’s compassion, mercy, justice and peace. For my life and my family to be a picture of the good news that Jesus embodied. I want to be able to give our children this way of knowing God, this type of community, this type of relationship and this type of faith. I hope to continue to grow and become more of who God longs for me to be. I want make a difference both in our Watershed community, the community of Charlotte, and the world. I want my faith to be an outward expression of God’s love and invitation to others.    

I'm getting baptized because of how personal my life with God has become. It’s a relationship that has become real, alive and true. I am so happy to experience this with my fiancé Ryan by my side!

 

RYAN

I grew up in Sarasota, Florida, in a family and with parents who were the most generous, loving parents I could ever ask for. I’ve never known what it’s like to NOT be loved by my mom and dad. I have a very high opinion of them both. Interestingly though, our family was relatively non-religious. Conversations about God, church or religion just never really came up. So my experience with religion and spirituality has been, to put it simply, absent.

All this started shifting for me over the past couple of years. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment where God came into my life but the biggest influencer in all this has been fiancé, Amanda. Amanda grew up with her own understanding of God and would often ask me to attend church with her. I was always open minded about going, but just never truly felt comfortable at the churches we tried.  After spending Christmas with her family and attending church on Christmas Eve I expressed to her that I wanted to attend more frequently so I could gain some traction and understand more about what I was doing there.

Amanda had the idea of searching for the type of church where it would be safe for both of us to explore this in our own way and also together. We found Watershed through a Google search. It was close to home and so we decided to attend. That first Sunday was the first time I walked into a church without feeling anxious or apprehensive. It felt right. It felt good. In the way that Watershed has helped me make sense of myself and God, there seemed to be less obstacles in experiencing a presence and connection with God, something I’ve noticed growing stronger.

Recently, Matt asked me the question:  “Has the idea, conversation about, or pursuit of Christ had some sort of impact or influence in you starting to feel closer or more in sync with God?”

It took me a few days to organize my thoughts about this. But, since really diving into my own spirituality I've definitely felt a connection with Christ and have been thinking about life in many ways that are different than before.

I’ve noticed caring more deeply for the people I love in my life. I’ve noticed this also in terms of the people I’ve met here in the Watershed community or people I work with or the people I desire to help in more outreaching ways through the schools Watershed works with. And I am certain it all comes from this new relationship I've just started with Christ. This is still all very new to me and I'm extremely excited about it all. I'm still learning to embrace everything in my own way but I feel like I’m growing everyday.  

I’m drawn to the idea of baptism. Baptism for me has become this milestone where my resolve and bond with Christ and God are strengthened more and more. In my heart and mind my baptism is a powerful and emotional moment of celebration in my life because of the traction I’m experiencing in the beginning stages of my relationship with Christ and God. I do not want to put my life before Christ to rest, I want to explore and add more layers of love and spirituality to it with Christ and God.  And I look forward to doing it here in this community.  

 

Thanks to Liz Croby & Bill Thomas for taking the photos shown above!

Guatemala Week: Day 5

Guatemala Week: Day 5

This post concludes GUATEMALA WEEK on our Watershed social media channels (Facebook & Instagram) and blog! Throughout the week we’ve featured content written by participants from Watershed’s trip to Guatemala last month to visit our global partners, EducateBV. You can read each full-length post and view pictures we've posted here on the blog.

By Josh Banning

For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed being involved in the local non-profit community, whether that was through holding executive positions within a non-profit, attending fund raisers, tutoring kids, etc. I’ve also learned a lot going to Watershed for a little more than a year and have read some powerful books. When I heard about the opportunity to go to Guatemala, although hesitant at first, I had a feeling it would turn out to be powerful in some undeterminable way.

Shortly after arriving in Guatemala, we were already off to deliver a food basket in the village. As we walked, Mark and Gina graciously provided background and context for this community of houses made of block and sheet metal. The parents and children waved with curious smiles as we walked by while Mark and Gina greeted them by name.

   
  
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The differences in our two worlds were apparent immediately: a life of abundance compared to a life of scarcity and essentials. Upon completion of the tour Mark pulled us all together for a small orientation at the school.

  In our orientation Mark stated there were two underlying messages for this experience. The first one was to “Love All, Worship One.” The phrase is written on all their shirts and is the basic mission of what they do. The second message was to hold your expectations at bay and attempt to truly connect with the culture. For the most part, they seemed like easy rules to live by for the week.

The first full day of our trip we walked over to meet an amazing group of Guatemalan individuals who have started a new church in the village called the Salvation of Refuge. Primarily we were there as labor to help them level land and begin building the church, and as soon as we came in we were just that. All of us grabbed post-hole diggers and worked our way down the line of columns.

Almost immediately I noticed some issues with the foundational layout of the church, but I remembered that I wasn’t there to change their way of doing things. I already had my job digging holes and I could tell they were appreciative of our help. However, as the morning went on I decided I couldn’t just stand there, so I attempted to discuss the foundational layout with the men in charge before we broke for lunch.

When we returned after our lunch break, the pastor approached me with curiosity. He said his team reviewed what we had discussed and they also saw the errors in their layout. Despite the language barriers we utilized our collective knowledge to lay out a sustainable structure for their vision. Through engagement and mutual understanding, our role morphed into something greater.

That evening the pastor and his congregation of twenty joined us for dinner. They poured their passion for their church and community into each one of us and expressed appreciation for the knowledge and labor we provided.

We are a part of that tremendous passion now. I’ve seen pictures of the church since that day… (cue lump in throat).

The second day of our trip was largely the same for the men of the group. The overall team built a kitchen for a family in need. It was a very basic layout and it took us only a handful of hours. Again, it was rewarding being amongst the community and visually seeing how our efforts will help this family out, but something started getting under my skin…

In a place of such poverty, how does a beautiful school with perfectly trimmed grass not come off as the knight and shining armor? The epitome of wealth and prosperity? Privilege providing handouts to the under-privileged? How is the school correcting the broken foundational structures of poverty?

So of course… I asked Mark.

His response was simple: We don’t need to martyr ourselves of external possessions just to help out those in need. The school is a symbol. It’s a symbol of hope, it’s a symbol of change, and every dollar is utilized to reinforce that mission.

Each morning we watched the school children come in at 8am, but on the third day of our trip we were able to witness the kids on a typical school day. As we helped out in English class through various games, each interaction attempt was met with the biggest smiles of joy and appreciation from the kids. After three periods with that age group, we moved on to help out with the pre-kindergarten kids. We started with soccer and other games, but quickly moved on the big surprise, a slip and slide. All the kids were overjoyed, as well as some of the adults of the group! I was able to catch a video of Mark playing with the kids and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier person in my life. Every single heart was exploding that day, and that’s when it really hit me…

Mentally I completely understood the services DeepStream provides: education, a health clinic, labor and support when needed. To participate in an act of service in the face of injustice is one thing, but to provide those services because they are a byproduct of the extreme love you are living in is another. Everything started to make so much more sense. The Schmidt family consistently works from a source of extreme love, and every single task they take on flows out of that.

Wednesday night came and, as they do each week, Mark and Gina hosted a dinner for a group of the teens. The way the students engaged with all of us, you could feel their excitement for the future, their appreciation for the school, and their sense of hope for the community and themselves. Their souls weren’t defeated because of the poverty they were placed in, that wasn’t what affected them most. It wasn’t a factor of the have and have not’s. It was a factor of believing in your true self and connecting out of love.

As we ended our last day the message was clear:

Love All. Worship One.

Every person we met and talked to shared the same common traits: Hope, love and appreciation. That’s exactly what that school and the Schmidt family emanated.

I’ll never forget those smiles, the warmth in the hugs, and the love that was shared in Guatemala. The whole experience was a show on how to live out a place of love. We all don’t need to move to Guatemala, because those opportunities are around us every day. We all have been given opportunities others haven’t and we have the ability to do our part.

But first, we need to make sure our focus is right. It’s not about what you’re doing, it’s about where it’s coming from. Once you connect with the true source, boy is it powerful. Then we can be the wheat within the weeds and some of our broken foundational structures can truly be addressed.

Thank you, Watershed.

Interested in learning more or joining our next trip to Guatemala? Email info@watershedcharlotte.com!