Wondering Woman 

It’s… Wondering Woman!

It’s Saturday. I have laundry to do, correspondence to send out, books to read and a sermon to write. I also have a head-pounding allergy headache. And what I really want to do is nap. Or garden. 

Mostly I’m just wondering how I’m going to fit everything in my day into my day. Wondering where I’ll find that source with a perfect “pithy quote” for my sermon. Wondering why an antihistamine that worked fine for years stopped working this spring. Wondering why people gotta be so stinky to each other!!

I’m Wondering Woman. And I lost my cape, sword and shield…

Look at my picture closely and you’ll see dirty dishes on the counter. Look even closer and you’ll find cat hair in the corners. (I think I got the cat hork all cleaned up. But you never know.)

Wondering Woman managed to get through the work week with everyone in the household alive and accounted for. I also saw God do big things in the lives of my hospice patients. And I had some gentle moments of encouragement and challenges to growth from people who know me well. 

Yes, I’m Wondering Woman.  Occasionally, (and by that I mean daily), I want to chuck it all in the river and float away, but the Spirit of God compels me. I’m picking up my sword and shield, not to attack, but to defend. Those bullets aimed at my self-confidence are all too Real. 

BAM. 

Another bullet blocked. 

If you’re sermon-writing, care-giving, child-chauffeuring, house-cleaning, or hammock-swinging today, don’t give up. Press on. And fight for the dear ones next to you. 

Now… where did I put that cape?

On mission… soli deo gloria!

Crossposting: Why I Need RevGalBlogPals

Note: This is a reposting and expanded version of a Facebook post on a private page. It retells some of my own story to ordained ministry. (If you’re a regular blog reader, you can move on now…) I share this story because RevGalBlogPals is a small, grassroots 501(c)(3) organization and can use your support.

Why do I need RevGalBlogPals?

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Our book: There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

I was ordained later in life. Even though I originally went to seminary in the 1980s, I did not complete more than a semester of classes. In the conservative congregation where I was leading ministries and worshipping, women didn’t “do” that. I was told that “good Christian women” don’t become pastors. Something inside me yearned and burned. But I didn’t know any women pastors. So I quit.

Fast-forward 20 years. I’m continuing to serve in my local church. I’m reading Gilbert Bilezikian’s Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family. And I meet my first women clergy at a Walk to Emmaus retreat. Privately and individually, they each said to me, “Why aren’t you going to seminary? Why aren’t you a pastor?”

I was thrilled. And terrified.

As I started seminary, I searched online for “women clergy” and found the fledgling RevGal bloggers. I joined their collective voices on-line. They were patient as I found my feet in ministry, asked my clueless questions, and challenged my tightly held assumptions about gender roles in the church, my patriarchal-brewed theologies, and my limited view of the world. They helped me laugh at myself. They freely offered resources. They cheered me on as I was ordained and began chaplaincy training.

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My friends and co-laborers from RevGalBlogPals

While I’ve gained professionally from their blog posts, I’ve also benefited personally. Ministry is at times a lonely calling. The outside voices of criticism frequently drown out the Call of the Spirit. And now there are cultural forces at work that demean women in general, and progressive Christians in particular. I could not do my work without a local group of RevGals who are my sisters in ministry and my friends. We ponder, wonder and cry together. We went to Princeton Seminary’s Engle Preaching Institute and continue to study and learn together. We “found” each other because of RevGals!

There’s something else I’ve learned from being a RevGal. It’s OK to not have my stuff together. It’s OK to mess up. It’s OK to work on caring for and preparing my parishioners for Advent, and not have a stick of decoration up in my own home. It’s OK to cry out to God with my hurts as I listen to others do the same. And it’s more than OK to be intellectually and emotionally honest in my spiritual journey. There’s no “fourth wall” in ministry: I am  Called as I am, warts and bruises and all, to serve God. Nothing miraculous. Just a real woman, serving an amazing God.

img_3176As a monthly supporter of RevGals, I receive back so much more than I can give. I write for the blog. I enjoy the books they write. I use their liturgies in worship. I pray for their families as they pray for mine. And I know, without a doubt, that we are bringing diverse, compassionate voices to a world that so desperately needs them.

Join me in supporting RevGalBlogPals. Together we do make a difference in our devotion and our ministries. And if you have a woman pastor, chaplain or clergy member, send them our way! We will join forces for the greater Good!

I have no words…

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I have
no words
to share
what’s on my heart.
I have only
tears
and prayers,
and the promise
that You, O Lord,
will walk through this valley
with me.

I have
no wisdom
to give
in this place of grief.
I have only
hugs
and tissues,
and the blessing
of knowing Your peace,
as our hearts
are in pieces.

I have
no tears
to cry
because (quite honestly) my well is dry.
I have only
the promise
of the resurrection
and that You, O Lord,
watch our laboring steps
and shower us
with Love.

Rev. Deb Vaughn
June 26, 2016

When less than perfect is… perfect!

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My travels today took me all over suburbia, from the newest neighborhoods with massive custom homes to the post-World War 2 bungalows. In the outer ‘burbs, there are many places where the agricultural community lives side-by-side with modern amenities. Driving on one back road, I chuckled at the sight of a herd of white-faced Herefords grazing in a field next to a large strip mall and posh tennis club.

And then, I saw this barn.

It was barely standing, with holes in the siding and the roof, and piled debris from the building on one side of the structure. (I actually did some fast and furious U-turns in order to go back and take a second look, and snap this picture.)

Directly across the street sat a “perfect” home with a wrap-around porch, vinyl siding, three-car garage and well-tended landscaping. (Even with the dregs of the recent snowstorm piled along the driveway and front walk, you could tell the hedges were clipped to perfection!)

Shack and Chic. Country and City. Cows and Suburbia. Dilapidated and Perfect.  The journeys they find themselves on are all different, and yet the same.

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Working in hospice, I become invested in the lives and needs of my patients. I listen to their stories, their questions, their philosophical reflections. I enjoy photos, listen to music, help write letters, and read Scripture to them. I learn so much. Oh, do I learn!

What you see on the outside can be deceiving. Inside the walls of beautiful homes, there are stories of great joy, worry and regret. Down the hall from a perfectly decorated game room, there is a hospital bed, or a countertop lined with bottles of pills. A camper may sit in the driveway, still covered in snow, the owner only dreaming of a drive to the Florida Keys.

Sometimes the contrast is quite striking. From outward appearances, they want for nothing: gourmet food, 24/7 private duty staff, gracious living with all the amenities. But once the door is closed and there is opportunity to share, there’s a different story. The ache of regrets and missed opportunities colors the few days a family may have.

In another home, you see there are needed repairs. It’s clear that the breadwinner is no longer working. The budget is shot after chemo and surgeries and hospitalizations, and there are grave financial concerns. The bills outlast the income, but laughter and joy color precious moments.

barn croppedOne really can’t tell from the outside what’s really happening on the inside. That family who looks perfect, is not…

And the impossibly dilapidated structure is actually quite beautiful…

And so, my chaplain’s heart stopped to wonder…

Do I see with an open heart and clear eyes what is truly going on behind the scenes? Or am I caught up in appearances and flashy “perfection?”

The bottom line is… we can never truly know what is going on in the human heart. I have learned this, to my embarrassment, when I make an assumption without taking time to really listen and absorb the facts.

Tonight I look around at our warm and inviting home, cats purring the couch beside me and many “creature comforts” at my disposal. Life is not perfect, but it is pretty darn good. May I not take that for granted.

Thanks be to God.

A scattered congregation

  When people first find out I’m a pastor, they always ask about my congregation. I never know what to say…

First off they aren’t “mine.” And secondly, my congregation is unusual. They don’t know each other. They are hospice patients, their families and their friends. Oh, here and there, they discover that they are, possibly reluctantly, part of a special community. But most of the time, they are journeying alone. As their hospice chaplain, I try to offer the common threads of hope, grace, and faith. I keep confidential the questions and fears that they might not bring up with their own clergy. I pray a lot… oh do I pray!!

Sometimes I bring a message of healing. Sometimes my words are full of mourning. And sometimes, I can only sit with those who grieve and wish for a different time, a different place, even a different ending to this life that they are clinging to so desperately. I gently hold a hand, or pat their hair. I anoint them and offer prayers of commendation and peace. And sometimes, many times, I do nothing. I hold silence.

My worship services can be anywhere from four words (may God bless you) to a sermon on end-of-life. Those sermons are difficult, too. I’d love to be able to say to someone “it’s going to be OK.” But most of the time, I know this gentle process of saying goodbye, of leaving life behind, can be so terribly painful and slow. And it’s so very NOT OK.

Every now and then someone in my congregation will burst forth with a hymn. It always startles me. I don’t know why, after all, since we are creatures of worship and praise, known and loved by our amazing Creator!

From day to day, I never know what will happen. Will that be a fresh set of goodbyes? Will it be a thoughtful conversation? Will it be a visit in silence? Or, will it be a firm but polite “no thank you” as their agenda and needs will be handled elsewhere?

As I drive from place to place, I think about these who are nameless, faceless ones to you. You’ll never see a “church directory.” They are still real, questioning, wondering, hoping, hurting people. They represent different faiths, families and zip codes.

They are each one known personally, tenderly, completely by a loving God, just as I am known… If I did not believe that I would not be Called to this congregation. “My” congregation. 

I am blessed to be their pastor. Their chaplain.

“Who I really am, you know me. I am yours, O God!”
– from The Prison Poems of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Refugees and “compassion fatigue”

Because of the nature of my work (hospice chaplain) I must constantly wrestle with “compassion fatigue.” It is far too easy to be disengaged after a day of walking with those who are in an end-of-life scenario. I screw it up all the time…

But here’s my honest reflection on the nature of Calling and serving, of Christ and the “least of these.” It’s published over at RevGalBlogPals. I hope you’ll go read it.

Illustration by Dez Pain form RBGStock.com Used by permission
Illustration by Dez Pain form RBGStock.com Used by permission

Religion that pleases God… must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil. (James 1:27 CEV)

Healing Rain

Healing rain is coming down
It’s coming nearer to this old town
Rich and poor, weak and strong
It’s bringing mercy, it won’t be long

Healing rain is coming down
It’s coming closer to the lost and found
Tears of joy, and tears of shame
Are washed forever in Jesus’ Name.

Lift your heads, let us return
To the mercy seat where time began
And in your eyes, I see the pain
Come soak this dry heart with healing rain

from Healing Rain by Michael W. Smith

I took off my shoes and carried a stool out to the back porch.

It was the first real rainstorm we’ve had in probably a month. The sound of the rain on the leaves and the patio was a soft, inviting hiss.

I soaked it in.

(null)I listened to the birds calling, watched a chipmunk scamper within inches of my toes. The rain dripped off the wisteria and ran down the trellis. Little by little, the stresses of the week washed away. The rain came down harder, and I realized I was soaked from the knees down.

It was time to retreat and get ready for the next part of my day. It was funny that ten minutes in a rain storm did so much to refresh me.

Remembering to stop, pray, breathe, and be thankful got me through the end of one week and prepared me for the beginning of the next. It refreshed my perspective. It released hope. It reminded me why I do the work I do.

My toes got a little wet. But my heart was refreshed.

Blessed be.