Somebody Fired The Starting Gun

So let me tell you a bit about the beginning of my week last week.

Sunday night: a close friend reached out to me about his relationship with one of his adult children. Things had been awkward lately, with unspoken feelings piling up and spilling into behaviors that finally came to a head, and text messages started flying. I spent time helping him craft messages that conveyed love in the midst of the hurt, and helping him think through how to approach the topic so his own feelings are heard, but which preserves the underlying relationship.

Monday: another brother in Christ shared that he has been “down the deep dark hole that leads to nowhere,” in a black depression lately, such that he hasn’t seen seen in years. A familiar tale of trying to keep all the plates spinning at work, at home, with family, with friends, with everybody, and not being able to do so. Marriage, kids, job…sometimes all the facets of our lives collide at once.

Tuesday: a family member has started on a new life opportunity that has her away from home for the first time in awhile, and her start of the program was marred by anxiety attacks. She was quite upset with herself, because if she can’t get them under control she can’t finish her program and take the next step she wants to take. And so the texts I received were panicked: “Help me!”

startinggun

By Wednesday, it felt like someone had blown the whistle to start the race of my pastoral time, and I was still back at the bench getting my laces tied. All of a sudden, out of the woodwork came these people I love experiencing their own crises. I know enough to know that my role is not to solve the problems: I know I can’t do that. Instead, my role is to walk alongside, to encourage, to pray for, to connect them with resources that are trained to do more than I can. And in each of the cases last week, that’s how I tried to act: the ministry of presence, of sharing genuine concern and love. And in each of the cases, I felt inadequate, unsure, a little floundering myself. I can only pray they received each some sort of peace, some sort of help, despite my inadequacies.

Nonetheless, this is the path I’m called to follow. This is the world I will inhabit: sudden panicked texts and painful situations needing help, and more. I know I don’t know enough yet about pastoral counseling, and for the missteps I know I’m going to make in my early pastoral career, right up front, let me beg forgiveness.

And at the same time, let me declare the love that’s out there and available. If, as one mentor put it, “as you go deeper into this, the world will respond to that call [that I’ve been given],” then I celebrate this as affirming what God is already at work and doing. And I know I can’t do this…but He can. So come, Holy Spirit. Fill me, use me, let your words and Christ’s love be what people hear and see, not my own shortcomings.

Let’s go.

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Not *That* Way

I’ve previously written about hearing the news that our Division at work was potentially going to offer early retirement, and how almost immediately I felt pricked by that–“You paying attention now?”

I learned this week that while that is true, my boss has made the ruling that no one on her staff will be offered early retirement (because then she’ll lose the position and can’t replace us).

OK, so I’m a little disappointed and perplexed. I really thought I was supposed to pay attention to that. And so while I did think at the time the likelihood of actually being offered early-out was slim, I did feel it was a nudge.

So quite clearly now, that door is closed to me. And we all know what that means: God’s opened another one, and is standing next to it patiently tapping his foot, waiting for me to get around to noticing it. In all likelihood, it won’t be as grand a door, or as easy an exit as early retirement would have been. But maybe that’ll be the point. I just don’t know.

Give me a revelation, show me what to do
Cause I’ve been trying to find my way, I haven’t got a clue
Tell me should I stay here, or do I need to move
Give me a revelation, I’ve got nothing without You

–Third Day, Revelation

Well That Was Different…Gulp!

I had a slightly different set of experiences Saturday night. Pastor Don had invited me to preach in his place at the Saturday night service, since he was going to be at a conference in Charlottesville that day and not getting back in time. Sure, I can do that. It was supposed to be bowling night, but hey, I can get there late. Then our teammate Ken announced he would be travelling this weekend and could we pre-bowl. God was starting to move things out of the way for this night. Little did I know why.

Whenever in the past I’ve been asked to take part of a weekend, I’ve always picked my own scripture and theme: I’ve never tried to work off the same as the pastor has for the rest of the services on a weekend. But this time, I tried doing just that, because it was the concluding sermon on a series he’d been doing on “renewal.” It didn’t feel right to have had the Saturday night service attendees get four out of the five topics covered, and then just leave them hanging on the last night.

So I checked out the scripture, Matthew 18–the whole chapter–and was floored. It’s just so rich, so full of things to preach on–hey, Don, where were you going with this? He explained that he was preaching on the Kingdom of God and how it’s already present with us…didn’t really say much more. So I went off and came up with a sermon to try to follow that headline lead. I was working on my usual path, of coming up with rough notes and lines to take that would be the basis for my text, when I kept getting a nudge. “Just go with an outline. Don’t write it all out.” Gulp. OK, I’ll try.

Saturday came and by midafternoon the promised “wintry mix” was materializing. Sleet, snow, rain, we had it all…I kept waiting for the message from the school district that they were closing campuses for the night: since the church follows the school’s lead, we would then be cancelling services. But no message came, and so off I went.

You can imagine my surprise to see Pastor Don was there when I walked in! The weather had cancelled his conference, he explained. But he came out to hear me preach–wouldn’t hear of taking it back. Gulp, take two. I’ve had the luxury of preaching without a professional present for years…and one whose topic I was trying to work off of, who has the “textbook answer” already ready to go for tomorrow morning! Gulp, again! To add to the nerves, my Emmaus brother Charley and his wife–one of Mary’s Emmaus sisters, Kathy–decided to come check me out. Gulp, once more!

In the end, I did pretty decently. Not the best I’ve ever done, but also not the weakest. The technique of just using major outline headings worked pretty well: I can’t think of something I missed saying as a result.

But all the more, Charley and Kathy were very complimentary, and I had someone else ask the regular question on her way out the door (“Are you going into ministry?” To which for the first time I equivocated: “It’s not an immediate plan…”). But the report card from Pastor Don was all smiles. “You’re a preacher,” he said. “No doubt in my mind.”

Gulp.

Who’s In Charge? (Hint: Ain’t You.)

As I mentioned last time, my daughter and godson have the chance to walk on Chrysalis weekend C-94. In fact, we all drove up last night, and so they’re 24 hours in on their adventure with God. I’m so excited for them!

I’ve found myself thinking about them a lot today. I’ve been wondering how various events have gone; I’ve been thinking a lot about how powerful my own Emmaus weekend was last spring, and I’ve been really, really wanting the kids to have that kind of amazing experience of God’s love that I had.

And then it hit me: that’s what I wanted to have happen. It’s not my weekend; it’s not even the kids’ weekend. It’s God’s. The way he came into my heart that weekend–well, that might not happen for either of them. Because the way he touched my heart–to reassure me of his unending love–might not be the same way either my daughter or my godson need to be touched.

I was busted. I had dropped off the kids, but I hadn’t let go: I was still trying in my heart to stage-manage their experiences, to tell God what I wanted to have happen for them today and this weekend. How the Spirit and Jesus show up in their worlds isn’t for me to prescribe, and if I tried to make it into my own weekend, it would fail. It’s one more lesson in the (seemingly never-ending) course of learning to let go, and to place the whole thing, not just the parts I want to give up, in God’s hands.

Come, Holy Spirit; come, Lord Jesus. Come into the C-94 weekend and fill the hearts of your children. You alone know what it is each heart needs, and you alone are capable of binding their wounds and restoring them to what you would have them be. I quit trying to manage the weekend on your behalf; I let go and I let you come into their lives as fully and as much as you know you need to. You know what will most powerfully affect each life up there on the mountain, and I know in your own time you will make yourself known as each one needs you. Forgive me my arrogance, and let me pray for them all in your mercy. Amen.

New Year, New Opportunities!

I love the cartoon that shows someone making a list of New Year’s resolutions: “1. Gain weight. 2. Keep smoking. 3. Make lists. 4. Set reasonable goals.” I think that person went 4-for-4!

Already in 2017 I’ll have a couple of new opportunities to help bring about the Kingdom, and I’m looking forward to them. This weekend I’ll start teaching a new class at our church, intended for young adults who are either new to the church or who are reengaging with church after awhile. Called “Navigators,” it’ll be a chance for folks to explore Christianity–not a Christianity 101 class, but more of a 102 or maybe a 151 class, basic enough to make sure no one’s overwhelmed but engaged enough with where people are in their walk to make sure we’re covering what’s relevant. Sunday mornings at 9:45…come on by!

The other happens the following weekend: I’m fortunate to be able to have my daughter and my godson both walk at Chrysalis weekend C-94. As you may recall, in the spring I took part in an Emmaus weekend; Chrysalis is the teen version. I’ve been getting more and more excited for them as it draws near: I remember the incredible power of the weekend in revealing God’s love and in the work his Spirit still can do through me, and I’m praying they’ll be able to enjoy it similarly. Stay tuned!

But in the end, this is what a new year needs to look like: new opportunities to engage with Jesus, to be open to where he may be leading in building his kingdom. I’ve never taught a class before; I’m nervous about it, but also looking forward to it. In the same way, I’m excited for the kids to walk and to have powerful experiences of Christ, and to strengthen themselves as part of the Kingdom.

How are you opening yourself to hearing where Jesus needs you this year? How are you making yourself available to the Spirit to build the kingdom here and now?