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)

 

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David’s Field School

A moment of parental bragging, if you please.

This month our son David has been just northwest of Madrid, doing one of his two field schools for his archaeology program. They’re working on the site of a cantina that was used in the Spanish Civil War, and finding apparently lots of material. As is typical for College Boy, when he’s busy and having fun we don’t hear from him, and that’s been the case much of this month. I’m sure he’ll have stories on his return.

He did send along this video, though: about a week into his program, it was featured on Spanish national network news one night. Click on the link to find the package, and at the 0:32 mark, and again at 1:15, the guy in the white PBR T-shirt digging in the dirt is my son.

So very proud of him for making this step towards what he’s said he wants to do since third grade!

Why Does Everything Have To Be So Hard?

Why does everything have to be so hard?

We’ve just been up to Vermont for a long weekend of helping mom with settling the estate, doing landscaping, and tending to the to-do lists that keep growing. And while it’s a joy to be able to help, each achievement breeds another two to-dos. We spoke with the new financial planner, yes, but that means having to decide on a new annuity. We moved all the piles of sand from around the property, but that meant we didn’t get to clean out the garage very much. And so on.

Please don’t misunderstand. We wouldn’t have traded the weekend for anything (well, except for seeing dad again, but…), and we really did enjoy seeing everyone. It’s just that there’s always Something Else. We go to file the probate paperwork, only to discover there’s another form with another signature that we have to hunt up… Mary really wishes she could just be up there all the time, there’s that much to do.

I read a devotional recently that got me to thinking about why everything has to be so hard. Doesn’t becoming a Christian mean life gets easier? No, actually, it doesn’t. Salvation makes things better eventually, but the One who died a horrible death on a cross would be the first to say, “I never promised it would be easier.”

And that leads me to wonder: what if all our struggles to find ease and comfort, what if all our efforts to just be free of all our burdens, means we miss out on a bigger point?

What if our problems aren’t meant to drive us to solutions, but rather, into the presence of and a deeper relationship with God?

What if our problems aren’t a source of pain and frustration, but a source of even greater faith?

It’s easy, and wrong, to say that “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” It’s wrong because it misses the point: the point of life isn’t to be free of annoyances and frustrations and pain and to-do lists, but instead, to come to know God as provider, as deliverer, as healer…to learn to trust that truth even when we hurt, or it’s not going the way we want it to be.

The whole of the Christian journey is one of abandoning our selves, and with it our own problems and worries, and learning to pursue God in our difficulties, to find He is our relief.

That’s not to diminish the importance of the to-dos. It doesn’t downplay the pain or the frustration. But it does invite us to reframe them, not as something I can achieve, but something with God in which I seek to understand, What is your lesson for me in this, Lord?

This week it’s the estate to-dos. Next week it’s the next year’s budget at work. The week after that, the kids’ school plans for the year. Then after that…?

When will we learn, He is all we actually need?

Mourning

The time to mourn is short that best becomes / The military dead. We lift and fold the flag / Lay bare the coffin with its written tag / And march away. Behind, four others wait / To lift the box, the heaviest of loads. / The anesthetic afternoon benumbs, sickens our senses, forces back our talk. (Karl Shapiro, “Elegy for a Dead Soldier”)

The funeral service for Mary’s dad was only ten days ago. The ground, packed down around his urn’s vault, is still settling, the replaced sod still seeks roots. The summer storms lash the stone marker, the crickets and frogs chirp in the sun, another day, then another day.

We each have begun our own return to what mom calls “the new normal,” back to work, back to the rest of our lives. But we cannot shake how different it feels. The kids and I flew back the next evening; Mary stayed on a little longer, before returning to the office and the to-do lists that don’t involve her father’s estate.

But those to-dos are still top of mind. There’s lots to be done with paperwork and setting up the next stages of mom’s life. There’s a camper trailer to sell (anyone interested in a fifth-wheel?), and a truck (funny story about that I’ll have to tell you sometime), and a John Deere tractor or two, and that’s before we look at the absolute piles and stacks of novels that Dad had around, which won’t be needed anymore. Or his tools, or his clothes, or his Army uniform.

And we begin mourning who could not do so at the time. We begin aching because we no longer have to wear our “the strong one” or “devoted child” masks all the time. We begin feeling the incredible, undescribeable exhaustion that mourning brings, and the reluctance to do much of anything some days. We find ourselves feeling emptiness that we never really thought existed. We keep waiting for Alan Funt to jump out, or Ashton Kutcher to admit we’ve been punk’d, so we can have a good laugh and get back to the way it’s supposed to be. Only it won’t be. There’s no do-over, just like there’s no Easy button for this.

And so we plod on. We make our plans to get back up to see mom in a couple of weeks, because there’s work to be done and quite frankly we want to be there, we want to be a part of it, despite whatever madness may be happening back here at the office with stuff that, really, just isn’t as important anymore.

We will go on. It will get a little easier, each day. It will, eventually, stop being so front-of-mind, so searing, so present. And when it does, it will be fresh cause for mourning.

Henry P. Tarrier, 1943 – 2018

On Tuesday morning, Mary’s dad unexpectedly passed away at home, aged 74. This whole week has been a blur of getting Mary up to Vermont to her family, then the kids and I following. He had wanted a very simple funeral, but as a 31-year veteran of the Army National Guard, received full military honors at his burial. We’re still processing through feelings that are quite raw, and I’ll be sharing more about that as time progresses I’m sure, but today I wanted to share the comments I made at his graveside funeral as a way of honoring the only other man I ever knew as Dad.

I want to thank the members of the United States Army for their service today in honoring Dad and his 31 years in uniform. I’ll let them honor that today; my role today is different, to share a few words about Mike in all his other roles, husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend.

I knew Mike only 28 years, and I got in trouble before I even met him, when I didn’t come out to the house to meet him when I met Mary for our first date. I remember having to go through initiation with him as Mary and I dated, with his brothers Chuck and David grilling me on life, career, politics, everything, as Mike just sat back and watched, wondering if this one will be good enough to be worthy of being part of the family.

Because for Mike, everything began and ended with family. His wife, Sandra, and he were married for over 50 years; their devotion is a model for us all. They were absolutely inseparable, did everything together, which was a hard lesson for Mary when we married, that occasionally a husband may want to do something different than his wife. He loved his girls, and it absolutely broke his heart every time Mary and I left to drive back home to Virginia.

I just want to say a few words about the character of the man that we honor today: eight of them, in fact.

I won’t say Dad was stubborn, but I’ll say he was determined, and he had a very definite sense that there is a right way to do things. He was persistent, he never gave up trying to figure out a fix for something around the house. He worked with his hands, doing simple, honest work; he didn’t have to be a General, he was content with who he was. He was selfless in serving others, which we saw both in his career choice and in how he sacrificed to make sure his family had everything it needed. He had a tremendous heart for others, one that had a quiet depth to it. He might not speak often, but when he did, his words conveyed meaning. There was a genuineness to him that meant what you saw was what you got, there was nothing artificial about him at all. And he was a man of character and integrity, a wholeness that everyone came to understand.

We marked Fathers’ Day yesterday (it’s not right to say we celebrated it, given the circumstances). To become a father is fundamentally a foundational act: you are establishing something you intend to be permanent, to live on forever. Mike lived a whole life, devoted to establishing something permanent, and as he would look around today at everyone gathered here, I believe he would feel he was a success. Who a father is, his values, he hopes will live on after he’s gone. I believe Mike’s will, because of his grandchildren–and it’s with them that I want to close today.

I want the four of you to know, to never doubt, that you were loved by your Grampa, that he was incredibly proud of you. And, everything we’ve talked about here today about him, lives on in you.

  • Naomi, you are persistent. You didn’t give up on college, you went back to classes this year, and I know that made him proud. You are also incredibly genuine. Your Grampa lives in you.
  • Monica, you have such a heart for others, and a quiet depth about you. You have your Grampa’s heart. He lives in you.
  • David, you too are called to work with your hands in simple work, and you are becoming a man of incredible character and integrity. Your Grampa lives in you.
  • And Sarah, I won’t say that you’re stubborn, but I will say you’re determined, and that you also know there’s a right way to do things. And your selfless serving of others is reflected in how you serve the Lord. Your Grampa lives in you.

At our funerals, the stories that are told won’t be about how early we walked, or our grades, or that time we stayed late on that project, or made this incredible Powerpoint…none of the things the world says are important. Instead, the stories that will be told will be about the life we lead, our values, and the legacy we leave behind in our children and grandchildren.

And so, as we commend Mike’s remains to the earth and his soul to his Lord and Saviour, we reflect on the legacy of the man it was our privilege to know and to love, and we celebrate how he lives on.

The Walking Wounded Come to Christ

Two weeks ago tonight, I was part of the team that began welcoming 24 pilgrims to their Emmaus weekend, E-185. Three days later, the Holy Spirit had moved tremendously through us, and every pilgrim had some fantastic stories to share about their weekend. It was SUCH a privilege to be a part of it!

My bride and I sponsored one pilgrim. Adam is a friend of nearly 25 years, who has gone through some serious struggles and upheavals in the last 11 months. When I came off the mountain for my own walk two years ago, I thought about inviting him, and had a distinct sense of “No, not now.” But once his turmoil began last summer, I started to hear the answer change. And he was happy to accept the invitation to the weekend.

This was my first teaming experience, and so in many ways it felt like my own weekend again, this time with more awareness of what’s going on. And it was deeply, deeply moving to see the experiences of the pilgrims as they came to confront the absolutely bottomless love of Jesus, time and again, throughout the weekend. There were grievously hurt men on the weekend. There was brokenness, there was shame, there was the inability to forgive oneself in spades. And over the course of our time together, the rest of the team and I could see people blossom, come out of their shells, and come to understand God’s love, perhaps for the very first time.

One pilgrim commented to me, after a lifetime of being a “Christian,” that this was the first time he really got it, and really could see how much depth there is available in Christ. That alone makes the weekend worthwhile. To have even one soul come to know God’s love more truly than ever before, makes it complete.

We can’t live on mountaintop experiences forever, unfortunately. And so it’s been doubly encouraging to see that the seeds planted on the weekend are taking root in Adam. He has a new energy, and a new commitment to being a genuine follower of Christ, which I pray he’s able to enlarge and deepen as the weeks and months go by.

Imagine. Imagine the possibilities if we could all make that shift in our hearts. What a wonderful place this would be if that could happen.

Burst Appendix

Ten days ago, on a Saturday night, I started to feel a little twinge in the right side of my abdomen. Mind you, this was after working in the yard for a few hours at a charity event, and during bowling night, so I figured, I must have pulled something.

It didn’t get better, and I noticed I lost energy: I came home and slept 12 hours that night, and after church Sunday I slept another 15 hours. Something wasn’t right. Monday I stayed home from work, exhausted, but still not in a lot of pain. Tuesday, though, it wasn’t getting better and I figured I should find out what it was. With one bout of diverticulitis in the family this winter, I thought it could be that, and so went to an ER that could take pictures.

The CT scan showed my appendix had begun to burst. I was taken via ambulance to Mount Vernon hospital just before 1, and by 2:45 I was being wheeled back for surgery.

Things like this–sudden, emergency, literally life-saving surgery–can be a little upsetting. My bride was a little alarmed, but I remember feeling very calm about it. I knew I was in the best hands I could be, the healer above all others, and so I didn’t feel fazed at all.

I think that’s a difference from where I would have been years ago. I think I would have been much more assaulted by the feeling of not being in control, of wanting to research the best possible surgeon, pick a different hospital, etc., etc. Instead, I felt reassured throughout the day, reassured that I was being loved and cared for even beyond the walls of the hospital. I put out a couple of Facebook messages, and brothers and sisters in faith responded with a wall of prayer for me. That felt good, that felt welcomed, and as a result I was able to breathe in the gas in the OR without worrying about what came next.

Recovery has been uneven: discharged after 48 hours, and the first couple of days at home were good. Yesterday my drain showed qualitative and quantitative signs of change, so back to the ER to make sure everything was OK. The CT scan showed no structural problems, but they put me on a stronger set of antibiotics to kill off whatever’s still around inside. Part of the hardest thing to do is…nothing, just to sit around and rest and recover. I don’t “just sit around” well.

But through it all, I am being held, I am being supported, and I do believe healing is available for me. These are incredibly reassuring, and I hold onto them through these next days and weeks.

Always an adventure, huh?