In the wild unknown of the Spirit


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…

Songwriters: David Arthur Garcia / Toby Mc Keehan
Beyond Me lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

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?

womaninpulpit

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.

img_2456

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!

2015 blogging in review

It’s been a growing year. I had 98 new posts and over 5800 views. While I am grateful for each visit and comment, it was about 1/3 less than in 2014. That kinda surprised me, so I pondered why…

Rules at work about social media

I have always been very careful about what I post and how I talk about my work as a chaplain. Now I have to be extra cautious because my company is anxious about privacy laws. Violation of HIPAA laws is no joke. I would be fired and my company fined. That’s a helluva way to end a ministerial career!

So, I frequently can’t publish the things God is teaching me through m work. In fact, there are about 20 posts still in draft mode because I can’t figure out how to “anonymize” them.

Changes in my home congregation

Our senior pastor is moving into discernment with a new denomination. Our congregation is in a vulnerable place of change and growth. There’s a lot of discussion and (at times) disagreement. At this point, God is leading me and my family to another church (not sure exactly where yet, but I have a good idea).

Things are a little rough around the edges. I don’t want to blog my personal reflection on something and hurt someone. This accounts for 9 posts still in “draft” mode.

Energy and motivation

This human being has had many a night where I would rather veg on the couch and watch NCIS re-runs than write a blog post!! I’m pondering ways to be intentional about blogging (without making it busy work for myself!)  I make no “resolutions” about this — but I will be thinking through what I might do to increase my blogging frequency. It’s a clear fact that if you don’t publish new content, you don’t get visitors to your blog!

A big, huge, heartfelt THANK YOU for reading and following my blog! I write because I hope to share with the world the Light and Joy that God brings into my life.

Deb

And as a bonus… an updated, candid pic of yours truly, gearing up for the Ohio State vs Notre Dame contest in the Fiesta Bowl….

Happy New Year!

May 2016 be a year of encouragement and growth

for you and those you love!

 

 

Holy Week: Walking Towards the Resurrection

It’s Holy Week. One of the busiest times of year for pastors (and chaplains), and one where I so desperately need some strength and rejuvenation!

IMG_7819I was reminded by a Wise Woman to be intentional in my Holy Week activities, busy as I am. I was exhorted to keep the space around my heart and my mind refreshed and clear.

So this afternoon, with laundry piled high (isn’t it always?) and chores to do, I took her advice.

I sat in the chilly spring air, and stared at blue sky, and puffy clouds, and noticed the maple buds swelling.

I watched the chickadees and cardinals go to the feeders, flitting back and forth to the trees and bushes. I listened to a woodpecker drumming on the dead apple tree branch. And I heard the sound of branches creaking in the light breeze.

I breathed deeply. Chores can wait. Books will gather dust. Essays and charting and blog posts even will get done… or not.

IMG_7813What I really needed to do was be IN Creation. To jettison the expectations I put on myself, and to remember… to pray… to reflect on this Lenten journey, soon to be ending with the celebration on Easter morning.

I sat on a bench in the sun, drinking it all in. I walked the labyrinth in the back yard and realized it needed attention. It was time to clean away the deadfall of branches and rake away the leaves. To stop and look around me and see the change coming and relish it. To see the traces of winter, the places where the ground is still hard and cold, and also the places where the grass has begun to grow.

I sense the stirring. I know that the songs of the Resurrection are coming. But first, I wait and walk and wait some more.

IMG_7817I noted this old fencerow on our property. It is part of an old orchard road where, generations ago, the apple trees were planted and the fence strung up to prevent livestock from getting in the orchard. It reminded me that the echoes of generations past gave me life and purpose and fire to keep going, keep growing.

This is the work of the Spirit in my life. She leads, suggests but never presses. She points out the fenceposts and reminds me of the paths of the faithful. She highlights obstacles and suggests a way around it. She breathes life into my tired, cold, wintering-over heart.

And I realize, with a kind of dull and slow awakening, that even in the days where I felt it was pointless, and basically “phoned it in” at work and home, God was working. Through me. In me. In spite of me. From the pile of dead branches to the leaves that blew in across the fence, God has been and always will be at work, behind the scenes, underground, in the coldest, driest, hottest or iciest days.

Joan Chittiister wrote:
“Everywhere I looked, hope existed – but only as some kind of green shoot in the midst of struggle. It was a theological concept, not a spiritual practice. Hope, I began to realize, was not a state of life. It was at best a gift of life.”

IMG_7802Wherever I go, in my next steps and moments, I walk with a little more confidence and faith in the God who walks with me.

In the struggle, there is peace. And there is surely growth.

Walking towards the Resurrection this week – may you experience the encouraging words of the Spirit.

TBTG

Standing on the Promises

It’s an old, old hymn that doesn’t get sung a lot these days. For some reason, I can’t get it out of my mind!
Especially, the last two verses…

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
List’ning every moment to the Spirit’s call,
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

There’s days where serving God just isn’t a lot of fun. It’s painful. It’s sad. It’s frustrating. It’s “long-haul” faithfulness when you pray and pray and nothing happens. And then there are days where you SEE the faithfulness of God unfold, and you wonder why you doubt.

redstoleYesterday I had the opportunity to watch another servant of God receive her ordination recognition. (I phrase it that way because GOD ordained her a long, long time ago. It just took humans a while to get with the program.) I wore my robe and red (Pentecost) stole to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit. I was on the periphery watching God be center stage.

There was a moment when one of the presiders made a comment, perhaps in passing, that touched my heart… “May this also be a time for those of us who are ordained to fully walk in our Calling.”

My first semester in seminary, almost 10 years ago, a wise mentor said almost those exact words to me. She reminded me that God had made the way, that God was directing, that God had the path prepared for me. I just had to walk fully in my Calling.

As a chaplain, I practice active listening, meaning I try to talk less and listen more. (Yes, extroverts can do this!) As a pastor, I strive to do the same thing with God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
List’ning every moment to the Spirit’s call…

I know that as I lead a Communion service, or plan a funeral with a grieving family, or sit with a dying patient, or walk the halls with someone with dementia, or try to study and comprehend the latest research of my craft, that I must keep listening to God. Over and over, I hear the wrong voices judging and “correcting” me.

I stumble a lot as I try to ‘stand’ on God’s promises. Fortunately, I am given Grace to get up and try and try and try again. And to help my brother or sister up to their feet as we stumble along… together.

Thanks be to God!

A HIPAA Farewell

One of the difficulties of being a hospice chaplain is that I hear so many stories that are not told. I can’t tell you the patient’s name, age or gender. I can’t tell you about life experiences, diagnoses or living situation. Because of HIPAA regulations, I am honoring their privacy and the nation’s healthcare policy. I want to write more about the people I journey with each week… but this is all I can say:

In memory...

In memory…

Dear Patient,

I honor your memory.
I listened to your stories, and heard your fears.
I laughed at your relative’s antics and celebrated their accomplishments.
I wondered with you at why you were still alive.

I celebrate your courage.
You trusted the hospice team with helping you cope with your pain and discomfort.
You were honest in giving us feedback.
You accepted help, increasingly, grudgingly, and allowed us to see your independence and your determination.

You touched my heart.
You shared your witticisms, your honest evaluation of life, your worries.
We walked many miles in your questions and memories.
You taught me as I listened.

I know you are at peace.
Even though I know in my heart of hearts
that all of our hospice patients are close to death,
I wasn’t ready.
I didn’t want to accept it.
And yet it was God’s time.
It was the moment you were waiting for, praying for.
I know your family is sad but relieved.
I know we did our best to make your death gentle and peaceful.

I will miss you.
Until the next time —
Deb