In the never-ending pile of books in my “to be read” pile, I came across a quote recently that spoke volumes to the way I want to live my life. In reading A Testament of Hope, a collection of essays, sermons and speeches by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I found these words:
Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.
Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.
Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
(I now need to find my copy of this book so that I can properly cite the page, etc.)
In the divisive, winner-take-all mindset of our culture, choosing to listen and demonstrate compassion and love is, well, hard.
But why is it so hard for me to love others as a white woman, cisgender, educated, employed and (relatively) healthy? Why do I find myself struggling to be compassionate when I am hurt by someone’s words or actions? The list of reasons are many, and every one of them is selfish.
My Calling is clear – to demonstrate the welcoming, all-encompassing love of God. No strings. No qualifications. I will choose to Love.
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.
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.
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:
Wonder Woman preaches, teaches and sometimes does the laundry…
Sisters of the heart.
Protesting at the Supreme Court
Who us? You don’t want to know.
Supporting my JCC family.
Standing up and speaking up.
“When I grow up, I’m going to be a pastor, too!”
Archbishop of St. Arbucks!
Groovy dude I married.
With beloved daughters
For my sisters… and my cis-ters!
Family love around my neck.
Fear of heights. Confirmed.
Marching on the White House
God is so big and I so small.
The pastors as cleaning crew.
Children of the world.
Protest at the White House
Clergy counter protesting Westboro.
Poignant moment after a patient’s death.
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.
Together! Soli Deo gloria!
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.
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…
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
It’s an adventure… walking by faith and saying to the Divine, “Ok, I am willing.”
Part of me tenses up in fear. I wonder, “Is this like praying for patience, and then getting a boatload of opportunities to practice BEING patient?”
No, I know I’m on a journey. At times, it’s a wilderness wandering, full of sacrifice and drudgery. At times, it’s impossible to know if I’m right/wrong/deceived/inspired. And at times, it is being willing to step into a role that no one else wants. It’s being willing to take on the task that is so full of the unknown that it is anxiety-producing, a place where God has tasked ME with doing the hard work of living out Love, Joy and Peace where others have failed.
Walking in the wild unknown of the Spirit is terrifying. It’s much easier to find a version of Christianity that sets me in lockstep, with black and white lines. But that’s not the contemporary culture we work, play and minister in, is it? For as I read and pray, I acknowledge that I don’t worship a demagogue. I don’t expect a “holy ZAP!” at any moment. That’s not the image of the Divine I know. That’s not the relational, covenantal God of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. That’s not the One who called me to ministry and care of others, in the Church and outside it. That’s absolutely not the God who welcomes, affirms, nurtures and empowers.
The problem is, the picture of the Creator most people know is a familiar, transactional Patriarch. The “3-strikes-and-you’re-out” expectation that is impossible to please. The Divine image that is yelled about by ultra-conservative folks who preach an inaccessible Person, One that only chastises and lists rules. The Holy One who is broken down into 3 easy steps and a book with a video teaching series for your Adult/Youth/Children’s ministries.
It feels overwhelming to walk this authentically wild and unknown road. But yet… I am called to it, in places and way that I don’t yet fully know for sure, but there is no doubt that I do not walk it alone. God is with me. And I have full confidence that nothing is out of God’s touch and God’s help.
I’m challenged by the words of Mary Oliver, longing to live out my “one wild and precious life” in that wild unknown of the Spirit.
I heard TobyMac’s song Beyond Me this afternoon while running errands… And it encouraged me. Perhaps it will help you, too, on your journey. You can listen to it here… Call it a reason to retreat
I got some dreams that are bigger than me
I might be outmatched outsized the underdog in the fight of my life
Is it so crazy to believe…
That you gave me the stars put them out of my reach
Call me to waters a little too deep
Oh I’ve never been so aware of my need
You keep on making me see
It’s way beyond me…
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.
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.