What Would *You* Say?

This morning, I picked up two slugs on my way to work. For those not from northern Virginia, “slugging” is the practice whereby a driver (me) picks up two volunteers from a designated place and thereby forms a carpool that can use the carpool lanes in rush hour. There are longstanding rules to slugging: the driver controls the radio station, no money ever changes hands, no smoking or eating…and, the slugs do not talk, out of respect for the fact that this could be the driver’s one and only quiet time of the day.

This morning’s slugs broke the last rule–and it didn’t bother me. Here’s what happened. They clearly knew each other, as they were discussing their weekends before we really ever got out of the parking lot. The man had been to a garden center over the weekend for season-clearance plants, and the woman expressed an interest in doing that…but then allowed as how this might not be the year to do that, as she’s beginning the process of getting divorced and will be moving.

The rest of the drive was spent with the two of them talking about her situation. Evidently there’s a pre-teen child involved, and a trial separation has been underway, and whether her child would need counseling, and her need to find new friends. It didn’t sound like any significant degree of abuse was taking place, which is a relief, but of course there is always emotional trauma in these situations. I was silent, but my heart went out to the family, especially that child. You see, I was 12 myself when my parents separated; it’s not a stretch to say the effects of that lingered another couple of decades, and affected how I related to women throughout college and into my marriage.

So what’s an Associate Pastor to do in that situation? Do I speak up and offer a word? Or maintain silence and just be in prayer for them all? Clearly, from her voice, there is pain about what’s happening; just as clearly, “it’s not my place” comes to mind. If our church had a robust divorced-persons ministry that could be a resource for her, I could have offered that–but we don’t.

What I wound up doing was, when she exited the car downtown, thanking her for coming along for the ride (as is customary), and then adding that I wished her well in her situation. But also left with a nagging feeling–was that enough? I’m supposed to bring healing into the broken; did I fall short?

What do you think?

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Rhythms

Ever notice the rhythms of life and how seasons come and go at different paces?

The spring had been a whirlwind: busy at work, to be sure, but also two classes that were very demanding in terms of the time spent each week. Then there was an Emmaus weekend to team on, and the Virginia Conference‘s Licensing School to attend, all before we bid farewell to May.

June feels different already. My two summer classes don’t feel as oppressive in terms of their demands on my time; last week I could actually sit with Mary and watch episodes of Doctor Who for the first time since January. Yeah, literally that long since I had watched anything for funsies on TV. Sad, right?

In fact, one of the classes, Life of Prayer, is pretty intentionally forcing me to take life at a different pace. One of the books we’re reading. Mark Moore’s The Rhythm of Prayer, actively refuses to be read at one sitting. It’s designed to be a forty-day course in prayer, ushering us through liturgies that slow us, calm us, and allow us to be in connection with God in different ways. And my other class, Church History 1, is doing everything it can to make life simple. We already have the first test’s essay questions available to us, so we can begin taking notes that contribute towards those. Such a difference in tone from last term!

It’s rhythms like this that reassure me of God’s sovereignty. Sure, there are seasons where we’re running flat out and our friends and family are telling us they’re worried because we’re gaining weight or don’t seem able to relax. But then they’re followed by seasons of relative repose, where we can see our way to enjoy a Doctor Who marathon, or drinks out with friends, or even an early evening sitting on the deck listening to the neighborhood kids have a water balloon fight. In those moments God is reminding us, he’s the one in charge, and if we have faith in him to see us through the crazy days, there are quieter ones he will provide for us as well. Ours is a God who truly loves to love on us, if only we join him in the rhythms he has for us.

Mom’s Ailing

I’m having to come to terms with the fact that my mother perhaps has very little time left among us.

About ten days ago, she developed an infection that affected her kidneys, causing them to be ineffective at metabolizing sodium, among other things. This is at least the third such infection in the last 14 months, and it got to the point this week that my sister and I have put her on a do-not-resuscitate, or DNR, order. She’s eating less, and at one point this week refused her medicines. The palliative care nurse practitioner noticed she looked a little sad Tuesday, and asked if Mom felt she was beginning to transition home. She nodded.

Large parts of this, of course, feel like when my dad was ailing ten autumns ago. He went in for open heart surgery, came out of that, developed complications, and slowly sank over the next six weeks: in mid September, he had surgery, and by November 6, he was gone. What feels the same is the slow-motion horror of the train wreck you can see developing and are powerless to stop.

It’s so much different from when Mary’s dad passed this summer, largely unexpectedly. And what feels different from my dad to my mom is that we’ve had 32 years to see this coming. Mom’s Parkinson’s Disease has reached a pretty advanced level, and so it’s entirely foreseen that some complicating factor will start to work on her. Still, it’s not easy seeing her drift away, unable to communicate well, weakening.

And yet, I have to confess to a certain peace about this. Perhaps because it’s been developing for so long, but also perhaps because of what I know. I know, for instance, that I’ve done all I can for mom, and so I really don’t think whether she knows I love her is in question. And all the more, I know there is a restoration of all things that awaits her. There is newness, wholeness, beyond anything we can imagine. Mom will be restored, not only to how she was before the PD afflicted her, but also to what she was always intended to be, in a resurrected body free from everything. This is the promise in Christ: this is the fruit of his resurrection, opening the way for us to follow him into glory. We don’t follow Christ because we get eternal life: we get eternal life because we follow Christ. Makes all the difference in the world.

The medical team hastens to say that the new antibiotics are working better, her numbers are improving, and in any case, it could be some time still, months even, before the end. But for the first time we are talking about an end, which in turn gives me hope for a new beginning. Alleluia...come, Lord Jesus.

 

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)

 

Recovering From Surgery

Thanks for the words of concern and prayers in my recovery from a burst appendix two weeks ago. They’ve all been deeply appreciated. I wanted to pass along a few observations from my convalescence.

  • I really don’t do “recovery” well. I want to be out doing things and when I do, I chafe at getting exhausted. It’s getting a lot better; for awhile I needed a nap every afternoon. Now that’s less the case. I took one yesterday, and then had a hard time falling asleep at night.
  • Saw my surgeon for my second follow-up this morning. I’m healing well, according to him, but not there yet…he wants to see me Monday, and maybe that will be the last time. I’m really ready to be done with this…
  • We definitely have an Enemy, and I’m kinda not surprised he came after me. We go up to the mountain for our Emmaus weekend in eight days, and folks have commented that the Enemy often tries to do something in advance of a weekend. Glad I got to catch that particular spear…
  • It’s amazing to me how much my routines have been upset, and that includes my spiritual ones. I used my commute in each morning as prayer time, and now I’m out of that habit. I have to make time differently for Christ, and that’s been a struggle sometimes.
  • Prayer works. I really did feel bathed in security when I was being wheeled in for surgery, and prayers for healing since then have been answered. The secondary infection that set in has largely disappeared, praise be.
  • The dog really doesn’t understand what’s going on. She’s hurt and perplexed that she can’t stay in the bed with us at night anymore. It’s hard to explain to her that the last thing I need is for her, in the middle of the night, to hit a tender spot or pull on something that doesn’t need tugging on. So we’ve started teleworking together, that seems to let her feel more comfortable.
  • I’d been prohibited from lifting more than 20 pounds until today. Man, I’ll miss that excuse for getting the kids to do things…

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!

Twice In One Day

Tuesday morning I woke up from a dream. I don’t usually remember my dreams: maybe you do, but come the morning I tend to be dimly aware that maybe I was dreaming something, and can never remember the details. Tuesday was different.

In my dream, I was talking with a woman, one of our family’s financial planners. We were talking about plans for the future, most of which I don’t remember now. But where the video recorder in my brain really started was when she started advising me–no, urging me, passionately–that I really need to decide what it is that I’m really supposed to be doing next. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of, You need to be doing something that you really, really want to do. And in my dream, what came to mind was Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations.” That’s the last thing I remember before waking up.

Flash forward about twelve hours: we had finished our office holiday party, and I was talking with our administrative officer in his office about his new Mustang on order, and how good it was that he hadn’t put it off but that he had followed his dream of getting a gorgeous new car. That’s when he said almost the exact same things to me: Don’t wait, life’s too short, if there’s something you really want to do, you should just go for it.

Talk about being hit upside the head with a two-by-four!2x4