Here I Am, Lord. Send Me.

Here I am, Lord / Is it I, Lord? / I have heard you calling in the night / I will go, Lord / Where you lead me / I will hold your people in my heart.

Starting almost a year ago, I’ve been on a path of discernment. I’ve been trying to figure out what God is calling me to in the next chapter of my life, with an eye towards whether I am being called into a path towards ordination in the United Methodist Church. In this blog I’ve talked about discernment, about finding the breadcrumbs here and there and everywhere along the trail, about the times the Holy Spirit pokes me to get my attention, or gives me experiences of affirmation, and even the first steps along the path towards ordination.

This past weekend I took another. Publicly, I have declared myself to be a candidate for ordination as an Elder in the UMC.

If after about 15 months of signals I’m still feeling led in this direction, I think it’s time to make a decision and say, Yep, that’s probably right. In fact, I’ve spent prayer time over the past couple of months reflecting on all the green lights I’ve been seeing, and asking Jesus instead for disconfirming evidence: if this isn’t right, show me now! (And then crickets chirped, and tumbleweeds drifted through…nothing happened.)

In the spring, I was accepted into Asbury Theological Seminary–another piece of doors being opened for me, in fact. Asbury requires four reference letters; one of my four letter-writers told me he was slammed at work and couldn’t get to it for a couple of weeks. But then days later, I got the email saying I had been accepted. I assumed he had found the time and sent it in–but no, come to find out, he hadn’t…Asbury accepted me with only three letters, and apparently, a big enough nudge from the Spirit. I am humbled by that.

My brother Glenn had sage advice, as always: “Go take a class. You’ll know soon enough if you’re supposed to be doing this.” In May I started my first two seminary classes, one online, and one “intensive” in-person class that met at the end of June. I met some wonderful people and had a great experience, including more affirmation…I texted Glenn, “I hate it when you’re right.”

In early July I attended a discernment weekend sponsored by the Virginia Conference. At one point in the weekend we reflected on Matthew 4. We did a lectio divina exercise, in which we read the scripture several times, pausing to listen for what word or phrase God draws to us, or what else we hear. On reading the story of Jesus calling his disciples to go and become fishers of men, what I heard was, “Let’s go fishing.”

On Saturday, I transmitted my Statement of Call to our congregation’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee, which is the first time all this has been public within the church. On Sunday, as the 11am service was wrapping up, Pastor Don called me up front and announced that I had put my name forward…so yeah, it’s a thing now.

I’ve begun to be more public in telling people about this, and almost unanimously, the reaction has been some form of, “Yeah? That doesn’t surprise me. What took you so long?” Why am I always the last to figure things out??

To be perfectly honest I’m a little…nervous? Scared? Intimidated by the prospect of all that’s ahead of me? And I was certainly a little bit of that standing with Don Sunday morning. Oddly enough, the people called “Methodists” have a very methodical process that this will entail. This is a long road ahead: on my current pace, it’ll be about six years to get my M.Div. But I’m also taking steps to make myself available if called sooner: I’ve completed my first interview with the local Alexandria District Committee on Ministry, and they passed me on to the next stage, mentoring with another pastor. In seeking our church’s SPRC recommendation, I put myself in a position to be approved at the charge conference next month, and in line to become a certified candidate this winter…and eligible for assignment as a part-time student pastor thereafter. Yes, while working full-time. Yes, while taking five graduate courses a year.

Pray for me. But all the more, pray for Mary: she’s entering into this wonderfully supportively, but also (like me) with very, very little idea of what we’re getting into. This really is a step in faith for us both. 

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good, and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

 

Another Gibbs-Slap

I’ve written before about how sometimes the Spirit has to flick me behind the ear, or Gibbs-slap me, or use a two-by-four, or otherwise get my attention, because hey, I’m not always the quickest on the up-take. Had another one of those experiences recently.

I think it was a couple of Fridays ago; I walked into Michelle’s office to visit, and plopped down in a chair. She started telling me that since one of our offices will be involved in managing any early-retirement process for our whole Division, they have a list of all those who are or could be eligible. List One is all those who are of sufficient age and years worked that they could retire immediately, but haven’t. List Two is all those who are over 50 and who have at least 25 years in, and who therefore can be offered an immediate early-retirement package. List Three is all those who will move onto List Two in the next three years.

She told me I’m on List Two. At that, the Spirit started pinging me: “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Wow. I’d been in some discussions about the possibility of early retirements being offered, but I hadn’t really, really considered that I could be eligible. As you know, since mid-2017 I’ve been pondering what “next” will look like, and meeting with financial planners and finding out that, basically, if I can keep my benefits into retirement, I can pretty much do whatever I want from that point. Or, to be more accurate, whatever I’m called to do, without worrying about money and insurance and etc. So there’s something appealing in the idea.

Still, very quickly I went to, “There’s no way I’ll be offered this. They’ll get enough people in List One, or in other positions on List Two, that they won’t offer it to me.” But all I kept hearing was, “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Obviously, I have no idea what may, or may not, be on offer for early-retirement this year. But there’s times when, wow, wouldn’t it be wonderful?

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

All right then, Jesus. You got my attention. Your move.

Progress? Oh Yes!

Last time I mentioned that the two of us have started a new diet, and that it felt like a playful nudge from the Lord after we’d made our plans for Lent. So how’s that coming?

Surprisingly, well! We had to fight through the first week or so, occasionally feeling hungry and deprived, but then something amazing happened. I’m needing less food, less often; I’m not hungry in between; and feel more alert, more energetic, than before! Oh, and I’ve lost about 5 pounds.

It’s really amusing to watch this process unfold from a couple of perspectives. One, I had never before imagined how many places to eat are just carbs: out goes just about everything at a mall food court, for instance. (Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, Popeyes, the candy shoppe…)  And two, the up-side of doing this is better than I had feared, if that makes sense: I had expected to languish in horrible hunger, and be cranky from undereating, and in fact the reverse is true. It’s amazing what happens when you get past what’s on easy offer and see what truly can be!

And how much like our faith life is that? How much easier is it to live in what the “easy” offer is–to go to church now and then, couple times a year, to live off the “carbs” of this world. And when someone tells us there’s something better, we recoil: we *like* our Cinnabon and fries and full-strength Coke. We can’t imagine that doing without those things opens up a wonderful new world for us. And yet it’s true–in this diet, and in a deeper, more honest relationship with Jesus.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Amen to that! If only we could not only hear it, but believe it!