10 years ago… An Ordination Happened!

ordinationhappy
Laughing during the ordination service.

Ten years ago, I was ordained as a minister of the Gospel in a nondenominational church. For many years before that, I was serving in pastoral roles, but was not given the recognition of the title, “pastor.”

Some of us, like yours truly, take a long and winding road to get to ordination, partly because we don’t believe we really are supposed to be in the ministry. Or we believe the people who tell us that we “can’t do that” because of our identity.

What took me so long to become ordained?

I had to believe deep down to my toes that, yes indeed, God Called me. And then I had to speak up and say, “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

My ordination day was shared with my friend Glenn. It was a party! A luau. A day with friends and family that is still, ten years later, very precious to me. Some of the friends have moved to other churches (or I have) and we don’t see much of each other any more. But their affirmation launched me and their prayers and commissioning spurred me onward.

handslaid
Surrounded by prayer and encouragement. (Family not pictured.)

I’m grateful for every opportunity offered to me over the years. Since the 1980s I’ve been active in ministry in many capacities. Directing choirs. Teaching classes. Writing courses, devotional guides, seminars and workshops. Administration. Leading worship. Marrying, baptizing, and burying ’em. Committees and council meetings. Mentoring and commissioning others. Going to seminary. Preaching. Protesting. Praying. Studying. Being an advocate. Standing up for the rights of the under-served and the disenfranchised. Working with like-minded Christian feminists. An ally, mom, wife, sister, and friend. Being a chaplain, counselor and midwife to the close-to-dying.

Each task has been something that, at the time, I did my best work possible. I was up late at night, or working through dinner. It meant a lot of driving, listening, and praying. Many times I messed up, teared up, or wanted to give up. But every time, the Call of the Spirit was louder than my whines.

Funny how that works…

I’ve served in churches, hospitals, out-patient clinics, sidewalks, long-term care facilities and homes. I have handed out tissues, made hard phone calls, and stood up for someone’s rights. Many times, I was the one who could hear the questions behind the words. Other times, I was afraid to be bold and confront the heartache that was as yet unnamed.

Then there’s the unexpected tasks of ministry… Unclogging toilets, sinks and floor drains. Photocopying, collating and stapling. Buying helium balloons. Calling caterers. Dealing with vandalism. Standing up to church bullies. And an infamous run to the thrift store with donated items.

Me and JCfame
Giving the Holy Family a ride to the thrift store donation center.

God called. I answered. Sometimes with tears. Sometimes with laughter. Always with this sense of “Who me? WOW! Yes! Me!”

Other times, God said “no… this Call is not for you.” And there have been tears and questions and a struggle to trust that a “no” from the Holy is a good thing. (I’m still working on that.)

So it’s been ten years… already? And I’m up for whatever God has in store for ten more.

If you’ve read this far, you get a medal. Or maybe a cookie. Thank you for persevering with me in life (and in blogging!)

A montage of ministry pictures from the last ten years:

dance

Here I am, Lord.
At times I’m bruised, confused and little deflated,
Or curious, enchanted and invigorated.
But most of all,
Lord of all,
My heart sings with a song of Alleluia’s
And my clumsy feet still dance with praise!
I can’t imagine doing anything else.
But Holy One,
That’s why we do it.
You.
And me.
Together!
Soli Deo gloria!
Amen.

The Rock Piles of Ministry: Who Knew?

 

DSC_0382

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.

pond

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…

 

The Not-So-Welcome

visitors

There they were. Smack dab in the middle of every “Visitor” space in the entire parking lot. And I, being a visitor, was quite bemused (and just a wee bit annoyed). I parked one street over and hiked back to the building. It was a crisp, fall day and I was grateful the rain from the previous night had ended.

When I got to the lobby, I asked the receptionist, “What’s with all of the Visitor spaces being blocked off? I had to park in the next block!”

She looked sheepish and said, “Oh, our Board of Directors is coming for a site visit. They always park in the visitor spots.”

“They aren’t exactly visitors, are they?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “But they expect to be treated like one.”

Now, I’m in the ministry. (That’s in case you hadn’t picked up on that fact!) We think a lot about how to welcome visitors and encourage them to join in our church’s vision and mission and values. We want there to be an easy entry into worshipping and getting involved.

Sometimes we get it mostly right. And sometimes we create obstacles to making a “visitor” feel welcomed. If it’s all about the insider and the stakeholders, how does a new face become a part of the church family? If it requires a lot of “translating” so that people know what to do without feeling awkward or strange, what are all our plans for, anyway? Why are we clinging to actions which make no sense to an onlooker? What language, music and worship practices do we use? And does it make sense to modern ears? And where is the invitation to join us in our love and relationship with God?

Just musing… and wanting to do a better job. After all, if I believe this life with Jesus is better lived with the care and support of a church family, shouldn’t I try to help others experience it too?

(In case you wondered… the answer is YES!)

 

 

Helping Kids in Honduras

God works in Her mysterious ways. Sometimes even through Facebook!

About a month ago, I read a status update from a friend about an upcoming mission trip to Honduras. She was making an “all call” for financial support for a coworker who was going. Realize that as a pastor and chaplain, I probably get dozens of these letters and requests each year (with a huge uptick in March when high school and college students are trying to go on a summer trip.) The kicker is, of course, that I can’t support them all. This post, however, touched my heart.

Jenny’s blog described the trip she will be taking in July to Honduras. Her tasks will center around the children that their mission team meets. And she came up with a brilliant idea of “filling a suitcase” with art supplies to take with her. Simple. Clear. And definitely needed!

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. They have one of the highest murder rates per capita. And it goes without saying that the public health needs are astronomical. The mission group that Jenny is working with, Luke World Missions, has several outreach programs. One is a medical clinic in El Castano. They also go out to isolated villages and bring primary care to them. Since LWM is a Christian organization, they also organize worship services and special Bible school programs for the children. Jenny estimated that she will be helping with these programs for about 500 children!

So I got in touch with her, and after a conversation with Todd, our lead pastor, Church in Bethesda joined me in supporting her suitcase project. In 3 weeks, we FILLED that suitcase to overflowing!

There were crayons, markers,and sidewalk chalk; (a genius idea – the big pieces will last longer and can be used on the cement block walls.) There were several pads of paper, art supplies boxes, paints, brushes, and a small canvas! In fact, we received so much in donations and so quickly that we closed down the project a week early.

This week I delivered the suitcase to Jenny. She was so excited and grateful. God takes little things and multiplies them. She will be posting updates about her progress and her trip this summer, so stay tuned!

In God’s providential timing, this morning I read in the Washington Post about some of the corruption in Honduras, particularly in their prison system. It brought this project to a deeper sense of poignancy and urgency. If your heartstrings are being tugged on a little, you can read more about what Jenny currently needs for her trip on her blog.

Sermon Illustration

Check this out… It’s the winner of the 2008 Cannes film festival for short story films.

I’m thinking of the story at the well in Bethsaida, or the man Bartimaeus… Blindness comes in many forms. Even those of us who are walking in Jesus have amazing “blind spots” – don’t we??

Jesus had God’s perspective and saw with the spiritual eyes of the heart. Where other people saw blindness, Jesus saw people who knew it was “a beautiful day” but that they “could not see it.”

Paul said,

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. [Ephesians 1:17-19a]

Praying for open eyes and an open heart…
Deb