Saturday, June 27, 2015

"Here I am, Lord"

There’s a hymn I love to sing: “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night…”

What have you been hearing?
How are you answering?

(long silent pause…)

I suspect this song’s a favorite with people who’ve begun to answer God’s call in their lives. Do you believe God has some purpose for you? Right now where you are, doing what you’re doing?

The last few months, I’ve been puzzling this question. What’s my purpose? Now, in this community, in this church? Obviously, I’m supposed to preach and teach and all the other things a pastor does. But that’s what any pastor would do. In what ways am I called to share the gift of who I am – not just my faith and seminary training, but my experience… my joys, pains & sorrows… my broken places?

God shapes us through our day-to-day living, through the ways we respond to the people and events in our lives, and through our reflecting back on them. What is God’s expectation for me now? Here? With them and with you?

These are deep questions and some would rather not go deep. But it’s my belief that you can’t know if you’re following God’s lead unless you ask the tough questions once in a while, and wrestle with the answers. So I’ve been wrestling.

What I’ve come up with is that I need to be open to using all the ways life has shaped me – good & bad – to shepherd, lead, or encourage whoever needs to hear these things from me. This might not be advisable – or even possible – for some people, but I’m a 50-something woman, come late to ministry, with no expectations or aspirations to progress in the institution called the Church. That being the case, I might as well be open if that openness might help anther person.

It seems there’s to be a lot less “private” me and a lot more “public” me.

I don’t mean to seem like a saint. I’m not. This is scary stuff. We humans are hardwired with a desire to be known, yes, but also with a need to protect ourselves from perceived threats. Vulnerability is hard for us. We crave it and fear it at the same time. Still, I’m pretty sure this is God’s call for me until further notice. Time to step out of my comfort zone – again.

One thing we don’t realize when we first answer God’s call is that God keeps at it – sometimes tweaking, other times changing our call entirely. Have you experienced this yet? What was it like for you?

“But, God, I’ve already turned my life around for you once (twice, three times).” Having listened to people’s stories, I suspect that after we’ve answered a couple times, we kind of come to expect it.

Clearly, God isn’t finished with us yet.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


“The following message has been prerecorded.” 
Remember when we used to hear that on TV? (Am I dating myself here?!)

During June, I will be in and out for one thing and another. Just to make sure I have something to publish each week, I’m writing a few entries ahead of time. This is one of them.

A dream died yesterday. I’m okay with it having died; it was time. Still, it was a good dream.

It might have ended sooner except for some accidents of fate. What do you think of coincidences? I’ve often agreed with people who said  God works within those moments drawing us closer to God’s way. But when things fall apart, even after that chance happening you thought sure was God-at-work, you might wonder.

Still, when I go to the hospital to visit someone, only to find out he’s been released, I'm glad for him, but I hope some good came out of my trip. That may be God is active within it all. Maybe my talking with that woman in the elevator was more important than I realized. (Still, when the “just-missed-them” thing happens twice in one day, as it did today, I do wonder.)

One possible coincidence is my having chosen Jeremiah 29:11 as this month’s memory verse: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

This verse reminds me that God’s intentions are plans, not dreams. Dreams are ephemeral, meant to be with us only briefly, then gone. Plans, on the other hand, are the objects of continuing effort. They’re the kinds of things God is after doing in our lives, and in the life of the world. Plans that, while they may be nothing like what we envision, are just what we, or somebody else, really need.

This verse gives me something to hold onto when a dream dies, or the work overwhelms me, or the diagnosis of someone I care about turns sour. If I just keep doing my part, I can trust God to keep plugging away whenever any of us leaves an opening.

I remember the poster from high school: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Without going into my philosophy about why we don’t see that truism much anymore, I suggest that God takes all the messes that we – you, me, the whole world – make of our lives, and God creates something good out of it.

I don’t mean to be Pollyanna-ish. We both know that sometimes life just sucks. (Sorry, but it does.) But somehow (read: through faith) I trust. And because of this I can choose to live in hope.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fierce Joy

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my thoughts. 
                             Psalm 139:23

The chaplain at the seminary I attended didn’t usually teach Worship, although she clearly has a passion for it, but the regular Worship instructor was on sabbatical the term I took the class. I’m sure she would have been wonderful as well, but I found Martha Postlethwaite to be fabulous. The sessions were interesting, the discussions, thought-provoking, and the assignments, practical and open to creative interpretation. 

At the end of our time together, we went – class and instructor – to the chapel, where we arranged and sat in a circle of chairs (although as I remember, it was more a bean shape.) I sat with my back to the bank of windows on the west side of the space. Matt, a young man I knew from earlier classes sat on my left. I don’t recall who was on my right, but I didn’t know here well.

I don’t remember all we did - that’s lost to the past - but one piece has stayed with me. Martha asked that each of us in turn face the next one in the circle and tell her about one aspect of her character, something we’d noticed through the weeks that reflects – for us – who she was.

I spent the first third of the exchanges thinking about what to say to the woman on my right, until I told myself, “trust the Spirit,” and was able to focus better. (I remember she hugged me afterward, so I trust it was good.) As we went ‘round the circle, I heard things I would never have thought of, but which rang true for me. There were tears … and laughter.

Then it was Matt’s turn. He had a little speech; it might have been rehearsed he said it so well. But all I remember is that as I looked into his face, he said, “You have this fierce joy about you.” I wish I could remember more, but that’s it. I have a fierce joy.

I’d never thought of such a thing, but I claimed it. Right away it was clear that this was part of what I’d been working toward the last five years or so. Since coming to the seminary… Since saying “enough” to a marriage that had become toxic… As I collected pieces of myself I’d lost or given away through the years in trying to make myself what I thought others wanted me to be.

If someone was asked what word or phrase reflects the person you are, what would they say?
     (Note: This might or might not be your partner or significant other.
      Anyone who sees you as you are and as you could be.)
Is what they'd say something you’d want to claim?
If so, how can you live even more into it?
If not, what are you willing to do differently to change it?

This is important, because we're talking about who we are.
And, despite what they say about old dogs, we can change. We’re expected to!
As long as we draw breath, we can, with God’s grace, redefine who we are.

What defines you?
For me, it has become “fierce joy” (and hope, but that’s another story.)