The Rock Piles of Ministry: Who Knew?

 

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Behold. A rock pile.

Not just any rock pile. Oh, no! It’s taken years to get this pile of rocks.

There was a decent start to the pile when we moved in 22 years ago. As I dug new garden beds, I’d find rocks and add them. When we added a retaining wall, the landscape crew added to the rock pile. When we did a major remodeling of our home, the builder found even more. And when I installed a simple spiral labyrinth in the back yard, there were incredible amounts of rocks to toss on there, too.

Everyone was glad to have a place to discard the rocks. It was a lot easier than taking them to the landfill. Each contractor looked at me askance (at first) when I said, “if you find large rocks, I want them.” But since it was cheaper to reuse rather than remove them, there were no arguments!

I learned a lot along the way because of these rocks. Patience. Perseverance. Techniques of rock removal (yep! there are some!) Reality checks. And seeing progress and naming it for the hard work it takes.

 

 

Some of these rocks made my new landscaping projects very frustrating. At the start of building the labyrinth, I bent every single hand tool I owned because they were not up to the task of chiseling large rocks out of clay!

So now… those rocks are no longer discards!

It was with a bit of irony that I had to haul loads of these rocks back down the hill to grace the edges of a water feature we just installed this spring. Three wheelbarrows of rocks. (Yes. I counted.) And as I heaved and hauled and placed them, I had to laugh. Here they are. Being put to good use. Finally in their right place.

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It made me ponder a perverse truth about Calling and ministry…

For any of us who battle ourselves, our environments, our churches, our relationships to be finally FINALLY brought to just that right moment of ministry… it’s seems like it will never work. We interview. We candidate. We preach. We study. We try to do our best, battling the odds like rocks in hard clay. We set things aside for another day, making a muddy hillside into a landscaping feature of a retaining wall of cast-off rocks. We try to see the beauty in what we do. We keep adding to the pile. And then… and then!!!!

Those rock piles of ministry are put to use. Those mossy, ignored, strengths that we have set aside in obedience, or sometimes, out of necessity and not by choice, they suddenly become relevant. And they are beautiful, in their right setting, at the right time.

I hear you, friends. I know your sense of relief. And a bit of wonder, too, that though we felt like we were forever gathering moss, perhaps even feeling useless, we will one day see a change!  For now… NOW is the appointed place and time God has for us. There’s stuff to do – even on a rock pile. And greater things are ahead.

And if you are still waiting, like me, marking time on the rock pile with a prayer of fatigue and longing, know this…

You are not a cast-off.

You are not a mistake.

You are not in the way.

You are called… press on!

…for such a time as this…

 

Christmas in the Emergency Department

Not your usual Christmas feast!

I have to be honest. This pastor’s Christmas joy was a little flat this year. But inspire of how I felt, there was a lot of joy in the middle of the mess.

This Advent opened in a true Spirit of anticipation. I was aware of my own sense of waiting and longing. It collapsed around me when, during the week immediately preceding Christmas, I found out that I was not selected for a new ministry opportunity. It stung like hell. It was (and is) heartbreaking, but it is also for the best. Recovering slowly from my disappointment, I discovered I was not really up for the last minute Christmas shopping and planning.

On top of that, our church is facing a challenging financial twist which not only affects our church as a whole, but eliminates the salary for my (very) part-time job. I am serving, for now, in a volunteer capacity.

The usual hilarious disorganization of a Christmas Eve service was compounded by the Choir Director leading despite a bad case of laryngitis, and choir members inexplicably deciding to make other plans and miss the candlelight Christmas Eve service. By the time the service started, I was finally in sync, enjoying the people in our congregation, and our celebration of Love arriving on the Earth in human form.

Just to keep things interesting… In the early hours of Christmas morning, a GI virus and its complications meant that I spent Christmas Day in the ED with one of our beloved daughters. The rest of the family put the turkey dinner and gift-giving on hold.

As I sat with our daughter, watching over her, I had a new appreciation for the staff who work on holidays. I have worked many of them in years past as a chaplain. It is hard to keep your spirits up when you know you are missing your own family’s celebrations. The ED staff, was, to a person, kind, caring and helpful.

But I also thought about the families who had a disappointing Christmas that day. My hospice families who tried to celebrate in the middle of loss. I remembered the families and spouses of those in the military, and first responders. Their Christmas celebrations were impacted, too, and in far greater ways.

Today our daughter is on the mend. We cooked the turkey and all of the accompaniments. The cranberries and stuffing, potatoes and carrots graced the table too. (We won’t talk about my gravy… it was, as per usual, disappointing.) The cookie dough will get baked… eventually. Flights to holiday celebrations are being re-booked for a healthier day.  And all is well.

In the middle of the mess that is life in the ED, I was reminded that the message of the Christ Child is the center of my Faith. In impossible situations, with unlikely companions, despite all odds, God breaks through with another “I love you” and a “Hallelujah!”

I don’t want to make it an annual event, but I am grateful for God’s speaking through the clanging of culture, sickness and politics to declare: 

“Don’t be afraid!
Look! I bring good news to you
wonderful, joyous news for all people.”

Luke 2:10

 

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.