Baby Steps

Lead me through the darkness / Lead me through the unknown / Oh, lead me, Holy Ghost. (MercyMe, “Ghost”)

I’ve written before about my very much ongoing efforts at discernment, to determine if perhaps I am being called into ordained ministry after five decades on this planet. I guess it’s time for an update.

Over the past couple of months I’ve started private mentoring and counselling sessions with my pastor, to try to gain insight into what’s going on. They’ve been very helpful sessions, which have explained some things and given me other things to think about.

At this point, it seems to me, that there’s enough “there” that I need additional help in working through the prospective call. And so I have taken the first steps down that path, by submitting my name (and the first bits of paperwork) to begin the formal process of discernment in the United Methodist Church.

When I hit Send on that email, I had a sense of reassurance, that this was the right thing to do. My first hurdle will be the District Committee on Ministry interview, which could be later in the spring; they will either pass me along and assign me a mentor to undergo the discernment exercises, or tell me I’m not ready. I find myself hoping to be passed along to the next stage. We’ll see.

If I were to go through with this, it could be another decade (!) before ordination. Lots of work to do between now and then, and that’s a bit intimidating. But it hasn’t scared me off yet. On to the next stage.

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Our Growing Community

Tonight we brought our sister in Christ, LaRae, down off the mountain from her Emmaus weekend. She walked with 27 other women on E-184 and, as with every other such weekend, had just the most tremendous experience of God’s love in new ways that she had never experienced before. Some thoughts came to mind today at different times.

First, when we were seeing all the pilgrims looking so happy and radiant, it really brought joy to my heart. And that’s not just a saying: I mean it brought a touch of the divine, a moment of connection of heaven and earth, and I found myself tearing up a little because they were getting to experience it too. All I wanted to do was shout praises for what Christ was working in their lives.

Later, we welcomed LaRae into the Sydenstricker community of Emmaus with her Fourth Day Dinner. I remember my own, two springs ago, and I think there were perhaps 8 to 10 people around the table–some of them not even from our church. Instead, tonight there were 21 folks gathered. There is a wonderful new energy about our Emmaus community that is simply so refreshing to see, and rewarding to experience.

LaRae is already talking to her husband about his walking on the men’s weekend this spring, the one I’ll be teaming on for the first time. And there were a couple of other names tossed out as men who need an invitation. Who knows, perhaps we can get out to a couple dozen before long!

De Colores!

Breadcrumbs, Part III

Much to his annoyance, a thought popped into his mind. It was very clear and very distinct, and he had now come to recognize these thoughts for what they were. His instinct was to resist them. (Douglas Adams)

Since September, I’ve been sharing some of the walk I’ve been on, trying to grow my discernment skills. I am in little doubt that I am being called into a deeper relationship with Christ; what I’m still struggling with is, what, exactly, is that supposed to look like? I’ve been doing a lot of reading and conversing on the topic, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far. In no particular order:

  • Absolutely, every one of us has a calling. We are all called to do some work to the glory of God. Some are called to be budget analysts, some are called to be nonprofit execs…and some are called into ordained ministry. None is “better” or “higher” than another. And they may not be permanent: it’s where God is calling us to be now. The key thing is to discern what it is, and then to respond.
  • Yes, we are all called to a deeper relationship with Christ. Some of the keys for whether a calling is to an ordained role, versus a more-committed lay member, are the extent to which people turn to you for spiritual guidance, or look to you to be a leader in spiritual matters.
  • It isn’t just about a given skill set. Sure, I can string words together and speak the English goodly. But as Paul wrote, “I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but [if I] didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) Yes, I can ride a bike: it doesn’t mean I should become a pro cyclist and enter the Tour de France.
  • Sometimes what’s obscure to us is brilliantly, painfully obvious to others around us.
  • I still struggle with what Walter F. Kerr called “delusions of adequacy.” Or, as the inimitable Zaphod Beeblebrox put it, “Hey, I’m just this guy, y’know?” Why should it be that the God of all Creation would be asking me to do anything special?
  • Sometimes the answer is just as simple as, “when you can’t do anything else, preach.” In other words, when your thoughts are nothing but about bringing about the Kingdom…

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.

The Lord Will Provide

This coming weekend is a Chrysalis weekend, C-97. Just a year ago, my daughter and godson were getting ready for an amazing experience of Christ on their own weekend. Now they’re both part of the team putting on another weekend so 16 more teens can get an intimate view of God’s love in their lives up on the Mountain.

Last Friday, I get a text from her. Um, I may have forgotten to tell you, but Michael from church is going, and I agreed to sponsor him. Wait: Michael, from church, is YOUR sponsee? So now I’ve got a week to arrange everything for him to go? Uff! Yeah, that definitely hadn’t been communicated to me.

We go by a pay-it-forward rule, so the pilgrims walking don’t pay for the weekend, the sponsors do. Now, I readily admit, that isn’t a show-stopper for me. I confess to being blessed to where having to scramble to find $200 to pay to sponsor someone for the weekend won’t break the bank. But still, yeah, I was mildly annoyed that she had made the commitment and hadn’t asked me about it…right as we’re paying off Christmas. Uff! Mind you, that’s on top of her own teaming fee, which I also think was $200 that I had to pay recently.

One day later, I’m bringing in the mail, and there’s a letter from our mortgage company. Didn’t look like the usual mail from them, or even a sales brochure for taking on even more debt, so I opened it. They had done the annual recalculation of our escrow account, and for the first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r, we were actually over in our account this year. So here’s a check for $363 in overpaid escrows.

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Here I am mere hours away from harrumphing about having to pay for ANOTHER fee, and now I have an absolutely unexpected windfall that not only allows us to sponsor Michael, but almost entirely covers my little teamer’s fee as well.

The Lord really does provide.

In fact, he promised it back in the very beginning: Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14).

On the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided. And even BEFORE we get to the Mountain, it will be provided! And in such abundance as to pay for TWO people to make the trip!

O me of little faith. I’ve heard it said, you can’t out-give God. He’s bound and determined to prove it to me, it seems. This is another holy moment, another holy lesson for me, in a life that keeps needing reminders of God’s absolutely, completely, unending grace.mountain

Journaling

This is a post partly about journaling, and partly about practicing listening to God.

For my birthday recently, a brother in Christ gave me a lovely leather-bound journal with one of his favorite scriptures embossed on the cover: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13). That’s the straw that broke this camel’s back, and I’ll be starting on a course of journaling now.

This has to be at least the third time in recent weeks that the topic of journaling has come up in an encouraging way: in other conversations, in podcasts I listen to, I’ve been getting The Nudge that perhaps this is something I ought to do. And so when Tim presented me with this book, well…call me simple, but I finally took the hint and listened to what God was saying.

To do journaling will be a different experience for me. I’ve kept a “journal” before, but it was more of a diary–more of a recounting of the day and what happened, and less a reflection time. This kind of journaling would be different, more of a spiritual exploration than describing my days, and so I would need to approach it differently. As I head into it, I need to set out some of my ground rules (and I’d welcome others that you might have from your own experiences, dear reader!), often around what would be different:

  • I give myself permission to be incomplete, rough, unfinished. The writer in me–nay, the perfectionist in me–thinks, ponders, casts and recasts, until the final words that come out are just so. But this is to be an unpolished set of reflections, not something ready to turn into a blog post or an essay. It can be the partial, not the whole. And that’s OK.
  • I give myself permission to not write. When I was keeping my other journal I would feel guilty if I hadn’t summarized each day, regardless of whether I felt like it. This time, I need to let God move me. He might do so every day, every other day, or not for awhile, or several times in a day. And that’s OK.
  • I give myself permission to be vulnerable. That one’s harder. I didn’t tend to be very expressive in my diaries, and I don’t think that same style will work here. And that’s OK.

What other things do I need to bear in mind when I start journaling?

Get Over Yourself

Each of us, I suspect, has something that consistently sets us off. There’s something that, whenever it happens, is most likely to bring out the worst in each of us. And when it’s over, we’re left feeling confused–what the heck was that about?–and maybe more than a little guilty. Let me share this story, and see if it rings a bell with anyone.

We’re in the midst of renovating our kids’ bathroom upstairs and the main-level powder room. In an effort to save some money, I agreed with the contractors that I’d undertake some of the work myself. I’ll handle the painting. I’ll install the new towel bars and shower curtain rod. And I’ll swap out the bathroom ceiling fans, one in each room.

Shouldn’t be too hard to swap out a ceiling fan, I thought. Alas. I started on the first one and it became an exercise in frustration. Removing the old fan was a stubborn exercise, as it had become so dust-encrusted that getting to the screws that held it in was nearly impossible, and then learning that the screws were rusted, and stripping as I tried to get it out, made it even worse. Finally it was out, but what was billed as a fan that didn’t need any wallboard trimming was anything but, as I had to saw away another inch of my ceiling to get it in. Now how do I attach the exhaust port to the vent pipe? That’s about when I dropped the fan, and broke the exhaust port…which meant I’m heading back to Home Depot for another one, just before closing time. And trying to screw in the metal housing around the fan became the ultimate straw: the screws just would not go into the wood well, and quickly I found I had stripped those too.

All the while, at each stumbling block, at each frustration, something is screaming at me that I’m SUCH a failure. I manage Federal budgets worth billions of dollars, I have a master’s degree…and I can’t get a simple ceiling fan out? I can’t install a ceiling fan without breaking it, and ruining the screws? Now I’m going to have to call in A Guy to do this right, and it’ll cost me, both dollars and humiliation as he sees my inadequacies. There is NO way I’m going to pay for this! This isn’t rocket science, it’s pretty basic home remodeling…and I’m a failure!
statue

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. (Isaiah 41:10)

In retrospect after each such occurrence, I’m always amazed, and yeah, a little convicted by my response. There’s so much wrong with how I approached it. I was already apprehensive when I started, and then each little defeat magnified for me. I started to listen to the voices that tell me I’m not good enough, the same ones that try to tell us we’re never good enough for Jesus. And I certainly didn’t take the problem to Jesus.

It started again a few nights later when I went to work on the other one. This one, too, started to be frustrating from the get-go. This fan’s mounting box wasn’t attached to the rest of the house in the same way that the first one was, at all: it looks like it was attached from the outside, not the inside, and then the ceiling drywall was installed over it. So I’d have to hack apart more of the ceiling to get at it.

This time, I stopped. This time, I said, “It’s not worth it.” This time, I didn’t listen to the voices. This time, my evening didn’t end in frustration.

My bride is always perceptive about these sorts of things. She asked later, “Do you suppose God was trying to get your attention?” Yes, I think he was. I think he wanted me to get over myself: to get past whatever I think I should be able to do, and to recognize what gifts he has, and hasn’t, given me…and to learn a little more humility, to ask for help.

The handyman comes next week to install the new fan.