Back to Writing

When my beloved and I decided that we were going to do this thing, we were going to move across country and make a life together, I knew that I wouldn’t be in full time ministry anymore.

I would leave the church I was serving to an unknown future. I hoped that there would be opportunities for ministry and there has. I’ve been so very lucky. Thus far, we’ve moved twice and ministry opportunities have appeared. I was blessed to serve as an interim pastor in a lovely little church in Pennsylvania and then when we moved to Kansas I got lucky again. I was thrilled to continue my work as an interim with a twist. I got to partner with a wonderful church on the brink of a huge transition as their consultant. I loved every single moment of both of these opportunities so much so that I kinda sorta stopped writing.

When my beloved and I started this adventure two years ago, he encouraged me to think of this time as a sabbatical. I didn’t need to work, he said. I could write the book that I’ve dreamed of writing for years and years.

I loved him for saying it and put my butt in the chair each and every day to write. Or at least, I would attempt to write. I would also get frustrated and confused and wonder if I had anything worthwhile to say. I’d distract myself with building a platform and then by taking another gander at the proposal I might send to a publisher that maybe might publish this labor of love. I’d write an essay here and there. I even published a few of them. I published more than a few actually. And then, I somehow stopped working on the book.

I got excited about other things. I just plain old stopped writing. I made a whole bunch of excuses to myself and never breathed a word about it to anyone else. I didn’t dare. I was too embarrassed.

Well, that’s all over. I declare my shame. I confess my vulnerability and share the news that I started writing again. It was just one day last week that I sat down to write but I wrote nearly two thousand words and I want to keep going. So, today, I’m in an airport trying to write even more words and pausing for only a moment to ask for your help.

Here’s the thing about writing that anyone who attempts to pen sermons, liturgies, poems, essays or books will say: it’s hard work. What’s more: it’s really lonely. It’s easy to get stuck in your head and think that none of it matters but the thing about using words is that there is always something important to say. That’s why writers feel called to write. It’s why I want to write. I feel like I have something worth saying and I’ll admit that I’m a bit shy about sharing that whole idea right now but even so, I could really use a cheerleader or two.

This is where I need your help. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter or even if you simply add a comment here on my blog, I would love to hear words of encouragement. I’d love your support as I try to put these words on a page and step back into writing in the hope that I might get to publish this labor of love.

It would mean the world to me.

What I’m Up to Now

Holy threads are hard to see. They are as invisible and hidden as God. Even when we can see threads stitched through the fabric of our existence, they are often jumbled and knotted. We try to pick up those threads but we cannot untangle them from all of the rest.

The poet William Stafford observes, there is a thread. There is a thread that you follow that can be hard to see and harder still to explain. And yet, even when it feels like it might all unravel, it feels important. It feels like there is something happening and so you can’t help but wonder. I’ve felt like this for a very long time.

If you’ve been following along with my adventures in the kitchen, you know already that I’ve tried many things. I got married and ministry changed. I would no longer be a local church pastor. I’m still holding onto this hope. It hasn’t yet gone away. It is still where I hope God will lead me when we finally stop moving every three years, but until then ministry will look different. And it already has.

I had this idea about somehow ministering to the military community. I began to get some training and tried to imagine doing this thing I had no idea. I went for some more training where I was asked to assert this purpose of the thing I was doing. I couldn’t do it. My heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t an entrepreneur. Or at least, I didn’t see myself defined by the enterpreneurial model of my training. I felt more called to the local church then ever. And so, I let that idea go. From there, I found myself as an interim pastor and then as a consultant. I’ve found myself to be a writer and even been published by some small miracle. You might also know that I’m working on a book. That project is ever in the background as I try to understand my ministry in this time.

Years ago, when I was interviewing for what would become my first call, the search committee googled me. In that internet search, they found two postings to my college alumni notes. The first bubbled with enthusiasm upon finding my first job at a place that felt every bit as exciting as the art studio where I spent most of my college years. The second was more sullen and downtrodden. I was disenchanted, only one year later, with that same job and was instead applying to seminary. They wanted to know if my feelings toward their church would be as dramatic. They’d already had a rotating door of associates and they wanted every assurance of security they could get. It was, however, the wrong question. What they should have and could have asked me was how I was discerning my call at that time.

Frederick Buchner writes that the “place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I was still looking for that place and the truth of the matter is that it is never one place that God calls us.

God continues to work through our lives so that that call changes as we learn of new hungers and discover things that we never, ever thought that could make us glad. There is a holy thread of gladness that I’ve struggled to name but one that I’ve felt the power of in coffee shops and living rooms. I’ve been blessed — as a pastor —  to listen to all of those little stories that are being carried around that seem so insignificant. But, I listen. I listen and I share my gratitude for these gifts. I assure those that have entrusted these stories with me that they matter. Because they do. That holy thread has woven through the words I’ve tried to write and the interim ministry I’ve tried to do and it’s led me to this place where I am embracing the many years of spiritual direction I’ve received and stepping into the role of director.

img_1648You may have seen on Facebook that I sent a letter off in the mail to San Francisco Theological Seminary. In January, I spent the whole month in rainy California where I officially began a program in spiritual direction and began to pull all of these threads together.

I do not dare to suggest that this is the last place that God is calling me but it is where God is calling me now. There are holy threads that I hope to hold. There are stories I want to cherish. There is something about the art of listening that compels me and draws me near. It is with this hope and this faith that I share HOLY THREADS.

I stumble over the words when I am asked what I’m doing right now. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to say that I’m doing the hustle {cue music} as MaryAnn McKibben Dana suggests. (I don’t think she really says that, anyway.) But, the truth is: I am learning a new form of ministry. I am embracing this art form of spiritual direction as one of the many ways that I try to be true to my calling. It is, of course, because it is my calling that the words get jumbled. It’s hard to talk about this new thing. It’s hard to feel confident or even capable while still being a student even though I am certain that this is what I should be doing right now. If you’re curious about this new practice or might know of someone that might be looking for a directee, I hope you’ll check out my new site.

 

Everything is New

Last week, I had an interview with a church seeking an interim pastor. I knew what would happen even before that meeting. I knew it because it’s what always happens. As I sat there talking to these faith-filled, hopeful people, I came to love them. It wasn’t even a slow progression. It basically walloped me from the moment I said “hello” on the church’s steps.

Love is where ministry starts. It has to start with love because there is no way that we can say and do hard things without love. So I’m glad it’s there and I’m grateful for the people who have shown me this love both as a pastor and a fellow disciple. So it happened again. They told me their story and I loved them even more. My smile broadened. My cheeks hurt as I got in my car to drive home. But, it was then that I was able to admit something to myself that I hadn’t allowed myself to believe yet.

I couldn’t believe it because I could only hear that question that I didn’t know how to answer: So, what are you doing with yourself now? It’s a question that has been asked all summer by friends and family. Ever since people found out that my husband and I were moving to Kansas, they’ve wanted to know what church I’ll be serving and where. And then, when I told them that it wasn’t likely that I would get to serve a church in the very short time that we’d be here, they’ve furrowed their brows and asked: So what are you going to do then?

I haven’t felt like I had an answer to this question. I have really, really wanted an answer to this question but I haven’t had one. I wasn’t sure.

And then, I met with this church to talk about their past and present. I dared to imagine how I could be their interim pastor and realize that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it. They are lovely people and I really wanted to help them. I knew I could help them but sitting in my car on the drive home was the first time I asked myself what I wanted from these four months. What was it that I wanted? What was it that I needed?

The first thought was honestly that this summer sucked. It was a good time with my dear friend Corey and I’m so glad to have strengthen our bond these many years after college, but it was also the first three months of my married life. And I was in Pennsylvania while he was in Kansas. I’m not going to sugarcoat this. It sucked. We’ve done long distance and the military will probably require us to do it again but we chose it this time. I chose it because I wanted to have something on my resume for a year. That sounds callous, but it’s true. Just as callous and true as it felt to withdraw my name from this lovely congregation’s search for an interim pastor, but that is what I did yesterday. And it is right. It is good.

Over a year ago, I blogged about starting over again. I’ve started and restarted and tried to understand what God is calling me to now when everything is so new. I’ve been at this a year and still everything feels so new.

The apostle imagines this is a blessing to the church in Corinth, saying unto them, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, CEB). I am a bit uncertain about the blessing bit but new things have arrived. That much is true. New things continue to surprise me. I am not choosing a pulpit but I am choosing my marriage.

I don’t know if I’ll get this time again but if we can swing it, I want to be around on weekends. I don’t want to be away from him in his downtime. I want to be here. I’m choosing  that, but I’m choosing much more than that as anyone that has ever asked me “So what are you doing now?” knows well. I am trying to be a new creation in this new season of life. I  am choosing my marriage but not just my marriage.

img_1648I’m choosing writing. I’m trying to carve out time for the writing process even daring to wade into the National Novel Writing Month tomorrow. I won’t be writing a novel. I’ll be continuing to write this memoir of my own grief and loss that keeps changing every time I sit down to write it. There are other things I’m writing too and much more that I would like to write.

I’m choosing a new path in spiritual direction. I am honored to have been accepted just last month to the San Francisco Theological Seminary to delve into their certificate program in spiritual direction. I start in January. The check is in the mail.  I’m nervous and excited but that is how it is with new things. And right now, everything feels new.

I’m choosing new things — wonderful things — but everything is so very new.

 

Called to the Local Church

This morning, while on the second retreat as part of the Beyond the Call: Entreprenuerial Ministry, I offered this testimony. It is a truth that I struggled to say out loud. It is a truth I struggled to admit to myself because I’m not the quitting type, but I am in the thick of the discernment. I’m trying to figure out the right path in this new arena of (im)possible things and what I’m finding again and again is something I already knew to be true: I am called to a local church pastor. I’ve been afraid that it is not possible. Loving my future husband has meant big changes in my career but it hasn’t removed the fundamental truth that I’m a local church pastor. Finding this courage and faith within myself, I offered this testimony this morning. In doing so, I’m clarifying my call. I’m quitting this entreprenuerial thing and recommitting myself to the ministry to which I’ve always been called.

Here is how I tried to reveal this truth this morning.

I keep going back.

I keep going back to this one moment in my first call where I was sitting in a coffee shop with a young mother of three encouraging her to believe the crazy, impossible hope that she wasn’t alone. It’s what the church is all about. I made an impassioned speech that boils down to this: this is what we do as the body of Christ. We carry that great commission straight on through to this very moment only to say, just as Christ did, “You are not alone. I am with you to the end of the age.”
She was quiet before she challenged me with this question: “Who does that for you?”

I keep going back to that story with that mother of three and her frustrating question because for the very first time in my entire professional career, I get to have church. I get to have a group of people that are ready and eager to be there for me. I get to have church because I’m in the Army now.

I’m not serving a local church. I left my second call and moved all of the way across the country to begin my new life with my future husband, the Captain in the U.S. Army, where I get to be part of a community. It’s not church — not really — but in many ways it is.

And I’m not willing to give that up. I’m not willing to give up the possibly of having that community within the military because there might be ministry to do. There’s ministry to be done. Of that, I have no doubt. There are progressive people in the military that are hungry for something — but I don’t need to be their salvation. I don’t. I don’t need to be the leader or the entrepreneur or even the first follower. Somebody else can do that work.

Because I keep coming back to that conversation with that mother of three. She hit it. I need community but there’s more than that. Something I didn’t really know until I helped out a colleague out a few weeks ago. A member of his church was dying. He’s on medial leave. He couldn’t go. I got that call — and as my fiancé told me — there was a light in me that couldn’t be put out. That light shined so brightly because I got to do what I loved most.

And what I love most is church. It’s where my passion is. It’s where my heart is. What I told that mother of three is what I most believe because I am a local church pastor.

I am called to serve the broken, bruised and beaten people that make up the body of Christ. It’s my greatest task — my very calling — to remind each and one of those people who dare to proclaim the impossible truth that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior that there is abundant life ahead. I don’t care how many people might say that the church is dying. That’s a crappy story and will only come true if we continue to say it over and over again. But, go ahead. Tell your sob story. Because what I’ve got is hope. What I’ve got is faith. What I’ve got is unending enthusiasm for something as simple and boring and radical as pastoral ministry.

I keep going back to this: I was made to be a local church pastor proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

I don’t quite know what this means. It’s interesting to me that those that heard these words assumed that I’m still in this entreprenuerial thing. It wasn’t clear that this kind of work just isn’t in me. I only know that I’m actually supposed to be rolling up my sleeves not building a new ministry, but helping existing congregations renew and revive.

It’s this work that gets me most excited. It is my passion.

That Reverberation in My Soul

A true call — that which is a true reflection of one’s vocation which Frederick Buechner so well surmised to be the “place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” — must be a call where the totality of your deep gladness reverberates.

As much as I can say this, it’s hard to know what this means. It’s a line that appeared in the letter that I sent last week to a congregation who was ready and willing to call me as their next pastor but I had to say no. I had to say no because that reverberation just wasn’t there. I didn’t feel it. I wasn’t connected to it and I really didn’t want to be taking a job just to have a job.

reflections-887648_1280Because a true call is much more than a job. I have loved each and every church that I have served but my place in ministry in those communities never expressed the totality of my call. I’m not sure there is any one place that could ever speak to that possibility. For it has never been one place or one people but so many places and so many people.

My call has always included a call to family and a call to friendship — and now, it includes still another call. Now, I find myself answering the call to be a partner in marriage. We are only just engaged but we’ve moved across the country so that there is some part of me that already feels the weight of the vows to keep my promise to him in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live. To live into both my ordination vows and the promise of this relationship means that I sometimes I have to say no.

I had to say no this time. Maybe because I’m new at this and a little too overprotective of our relationship and its success. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. But, this is the first time that I’ve had to make such a choice. It’s the first time I’ve had to consider how a job might impact my relationship — and I had to say no for the sake of my relationship. Because this time, it felt like I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t be the pastor I wanted to be and still be the partner that my deep gladness requires.

Saying no has sent me back to the United Church of Christ’s Ordained Minister’s Code and the Marks of Faithful and Effective Ministry for some language about how that whole call might reverberate within my soul. It has made me wonder about all of the places that I hear the echoes of call. Those places of deep gladness I find in writing, in social justice and in community. That deep gladness that surprises and delights me in answering the call to preach and teach, to share in the work of creating meaningful, lasting traditions and to listen with my whole heart to the stories that are shared with me. The Ordained Minister’s Code doesn’t want me to miss the fact that there are some commitments I need to make to my self and my family, but it’s the last line that I most need to hear. That which says: Relying on the grace of God, I will lead a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called.

There is deep hunger in the world. It’s a hunger I feel in the church I could have served, a hunger I encounter reading the news in the morning and a hunger I feel within myself each time I try to find my words with pen and paper. There are so many things to be done. There are so many things that I could do — but I can’t do it all and I don’t want to do it just to have a job. I want to do this work because it expresses every part of my call so that I’m always leading a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called. I want that reverberation deep within my soul now and always.

That Hope is Stronger

I found myself today in one of those online conversations with a bunch of other clergy. I had asked for wisdom or a prayer. Or something else entirely. I’m still not sure what I put out there into the interwebs. To that posting, I got some feedback that I needed and some that frustrated me.

I edited my reply not once but three times before I hit send to the powers on Facebook. The first version was snippy. The next edit was evasive. And the third concluded with these words that I made into an image on Canva. (Because obviously that’s what one would do when procrastinating on writing a sermon.) LET'S NOTI don’t know where the hell they came from but they speak to me. They offer a truth that I’m trying to hold onto as I consider all that’s ahead in my vocation. I have so much hope tangled up and strangled by doubts, fears and concerns. I can only hope that my hope is stronger.

Maybe you’re praying the same thing today.

For you, for me, for the whole freakin’ world, may it be so.

Pegged as a Radical Feminist

I preached a sermon recently in which I was pegged as a radical feminist. Not just a feminist but the radical kind. The kind that no doubt burns bras and hates men. This comment was made to me with grave concern. So he said: I should be aware of how I come across. I should be careful of how I am perceived especially when I find myself in the midst of search and call.

FeminismWhen this careful advice was offered to me, I was initially pissed off. I held my own in the conversation. I tried to be as open and honest as I could while a piece of me was rolling on the floor laughing.

For you see, I am not a radical feminist. Not by my own definition anyway. If you happen to think that feminism is the radical notion that women are people, then you have got me pegged. I’m far left of that.

I want to believe that we can exist in a world where these labels don’t matter. But, as much as I want to believe that’s possible, I know that there are still some places where I’m a radical feminist because I use feminine pronouns for God. That was the problem with this sermon. I dared to talk about God as if she had hips that swayed and boobs that bounced as she walked through the garden. Ok, I didn’t take it that far but I could have — and I’ve been spoiled by pastoring congregations that are disappointed when I haven’t gone that far. There may not be many of these churches, but the last church I served wanted more social justice. They were impatient and frustrated when I didn’t give them more. There were some that thought I was weak or even conservative because I wanted to find some balance between the extremes.

I waited a long time for this particular call. They weren’t perfect — and I wasn’t their perfect pastor. But I waited for them because I wanted to serve a church where I wouldn’t have to worry so much about feminine pronouns. I wanted a church where I could be authentic. I wanted to be real. I wanted to be who and what I am and be able to tell the real story of my faith without having to change the words. I waited two long years in search and call before I found this church who wouldn’t be afraid that their pastor was a feminist. They actually kinda liked that about me. And it’s something I really liked about them.

On my morning run, I wondered if this was a mistake. Maybe I should listen to the wise counsel of this caring person. I wondered this because earlier this week I had sent an email to someone pretty important in the church world asking for some guidance with Beyond Acronyms. I haven’t heard back — and perhaps that is my fault. Because it wasn’t a very professional email. It was one of those rambley emails with a heavy dose of my own self deprecating humor. Perhaps not the right tone, but then I remembered what led me to be called to my last church: I want to be my most authentic self. I don’t want to have to manipulate my tone and humor all of the time. I want to try to live into the amazing possibility that I might be enough just as I am. I am not perfect and I’m not trying to be — but I am my self. I am not trying to hide anything.

I’m trying to be my most authentic self.