Still Called

It is February 27. I am writing this the day after the historic Special Called Session of the General Conference. My mind is struggling to focus on what needs to be accomplished today because I am focused on what the last four days have been. For those who are unaware of what I am referring to, I invite you to reach out to me for there is not enough space in this newsletter to explain. In short, the UMC delegates gathered from around the world to vote on a way to move forward as a unified body while still affirming the Holy Word.

Some of you may have read news articles about the conference. Please know that there are lots of truths as well as untruths that are being circulated. So what is true? The Traditional Plan was voted for by the delegates. The One Church Plan, Connectional Plan, Modified Traditional Plan, and Simple Plan were not approved. A disaffiliation petition passed as did a proposal related to pensions.

What does this mean and how are we affected? Today, February 27, we opened our doors as we always do. Tonight, our youth will meet at their regular time. The sanctuary will be open for our monthly prayer service. This Sunday, we will gather together for Sunday School, worship, and fellowship. The choir will sing. Scripture will be read. And the Word of God will be proclaimed through the sermon. Finally, we will gather around the Lord’s Table as one body. So, basically, friends, nothing has changed for us. We were called to serve God together before the conference and we are still called to serve the same God together after the conference.

But I would be amiss to pretend that many of us are not feeling lots of emotions right now. The headlines want you to think that we have banned LGBT+ people from our churches. That is NOT TRUE. I am saddened to read these comments from both friends and colleagues. No one has been banned from the United Methodist Church. The same rules that applied when each one of us joined this church still apply. The exact same rules. Rules that you said yes to. And that I said yes to. In the UMC, LGBT+ people are not allowed to be ordained clergy nor may they be married by the UMC.

For the past 10 years I have been walking through the ordination process. I have been examined for 10 years by people, many I did not know, who determined if I am worthy of ordination. I had to offer myself to this examination fully and without walls. There were things I desperately wanted to keep private but when you offer yourself up for ordination, you lose your right to privacy in many ways. I had to share very intimate details. I had to allow access to all of my financial history. I had to give information regarding my husband’s history, regardless of how intimate it was. This is the process. These are the rules. Being ordained is very difficult and humbling. I have watched as people, both heterosexual and homosexual, have been turned down for various reasons. I’ve watched their hearts break because they are trying to follow their calling but being told “no”. And then God does what God does. He makes a new thing. He takes these people who have been told “no” and given them eyes to see where he really wants them to minister. And a new thing grows from what was ashes.

I have cried a lot the past four days over the hateful words from all sides of the conference. What I saw was not a witness for Jesus Christ. What I saw from all sides was hate-filled and volatile. And I pray for it to stop. Because there is a world out there full of needs and hurts and fears who need us to stop fighting and start being the disciples we claim to be. Our personal convictions may differ but they should not define us. This church recognizes everyone’s self-worth, gifts, and beauty as children of God. Love does not mean we must always agree. Somehow that has come to be the meaning for our world today and it is wrong. We can love recklessly while disagreeing. Jesus did it all the time and showed us the beauty in it.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this has come at the beginning of Lent, for we are definitely in the wilderness as people called Methodist. As we engage on this journey through the Lenten wilderness, we must make a careful examination of ourselves. Are we making kings of our ideologies, obstructions out of our theologies, and temples out of our screwed-up notions of who’s in and who’s out? Are we in the way or are we making room for The Way? Perhaps we’re afraid that if we get out of the way, the God might just show up and prove us all wrong? That happened once – over 2000 years ago on a cross on Golgotha.

Friends, I don’t know what is next for the United Methodist Church. I do know what is next for Arcadia UMC. We are going to continue to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We are going to love with accountability, serve with compassion, be merciful without enabling, and point to Jesus at all costs.

“This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is.” — Rachel Held Evans Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

Serving Him Together, Pastor Janean

I am a child of God

Over the past few days, I have experienced a wave of emotions due to the announcement of the defeat of two constitutional amendments in the United Methodist Church.

The first proposed amendment was for gender justice, which would have given a voice to women and girls around the world.  The new paragraph in the Book of Discipline would have read: “Men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.” In addition, it also would have stated that the church should “seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.”

The second proposed amendment would have changed the wording in our Book of Disciple’s paragraph 4 to add the words “gender,” “ability,” “age,” and “marital status” to the protected groups as those included in the church. Essentially, we would be saying that none of these groups of people could be discriminated against in the church.

And yet, these two amendments failed to pass a 2/3 majority vote around the globe and in our own conference.

Men and women around the world who have been chosen as voting delegates by their churches, some ordained in the church as elders and deacons, some as laity, boldly claimed that women and girls are still not embraced and affirmed as equal worth within this body of believers. This group of voters failed to claim that the United Methodist Church should never discriminate against people due to their gender, their ability, their age or their marital status.

For this, I grieve.

I grieve because as members of the United Methodist Church in the United States of America, we should be the first to stand in the trenches for the women and girls around the world who are still deemed second-class citizens, at best, and just property, at worst. But our own delegates could not affirm the equality and worth even here in this great nation. If we can’t affirm this, what does that say about us?

I know that many read these two amendments with fear and distrust, certain there was some underlying scheme hidden within to further enhance some issue they disagree with. But that simply wasn’t the case. If you read the Book of Discipline’s first seven articles, you will find that women and girls are excluded from protection. Why? Because women and girls are not viewed as equal worth in many of the countries around the world. The Book of Discipline is the unifying church constitution. It’s what makes the Methodist Church “United”. It’s why we are called a connectional church. But here in the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences, we couldn’t even agree that women are equal and should be free from discrimination. 

We failed.

Having spent time in Africa last year, I met with several ministers of the UMC in the country of Tanzania. They were all men. And they all had a sense of suspicion around this group of American women clergy who were visiting. They were welcoming and friendly but also kept us at arm’s length. I dare say for some, we were the first women they had ever heard preach. And preach we did. We shared the Gospel… the very same Gospel that they share. And yet, women are still not included as equal and worthy. So, I grieve. 

But while I grieve, I also know that I must acknowledge that not every Annual Conference failed women and girls, young and old, married or single, of all races, and all abilities. For that reason, I will stand alongside the Annual Conferences who unanimously affirmed women and girls — Finland, the Philippines, Mozambique, and South Africa.

Yes, women have been ordained in the United Methodist Church for 60+ years. But there are still many many churches here in the United States that simply will not accept women in the pulpit. There are still many United Methodists who verbally assault women who preach. Some people like to misuse Scripture as a way to marginalize women. Yet they conveniently forget that Jesus himself chose Mary Magdalene as the first apostle, revealing himself to her after the resurrection and giving her the commandment to “go and tell the others”. Women have been used throughout the pages of Scripture to proclaim God’s Word. Sarah, Deborah, Hannah, Ruth, Mary, Joanna, Susanna, Priscilla, Phoebe. And God continues to use women and girls today.

No vote. No debate. No paragraph in a book that is barely followed will ever define me. My definition comes from the ordination that I received at my baptism. I am a child of the one true God. As a deacon, my calling is to Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice. I take that very seriously. I will fight for the marginalized around the world, including the women and girls who continue to be abused, raped, sold, and persecuted. I will speak for the women who feel they cannot speak in the United Methodist Church around the globe and close to home.

For the ones who have been told God does not hear them or see them as worthy, I pray.

For the ones whose churches won’t allow women to preach… or even speak out loud, I pray.

For the ones who have had their cries ignored by the church, I pray.

And for the men and women who have affirmed these anti-Christian behaviors, I pray.

I am a woman.

I am a minister.

I am a deacon.

I am a mother.

I am a wife.

I am a daughter.

I am a sister.

I am a disciple.

I am worthy.

I am made in the image of God…. and so, my dear sister, are you.

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Stephanie is my little friend with the big heart. – Tarime, TZ

Slow Down

  Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? 
       Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? 
    But you say, ‘I can’t help it. 
       I’m addicted to alien gods. I can’t quit.’   — Jeremiah 2:25 

When I read this today, I couldn’t help but flinch a little. It was as if God were speaking to me directly. “Slow down.” It has been a stretch of busyness and stress – all of my own doing. Saying “no” is something I urge others to do but often fail to do myself. So, here I am, slowing down.

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It was actually a forced time of rest – sort of. I’m taking a train today and have five hours of uninterrupted rest, relaxation, and prayer. I’ve never taken the train for a long distance before. It’s sort of like stepping back in time (minus the complimentary wifi, of course). I couldn’t help but let my imagination go when I first boarded. The conductor bellowed “all aboard” and folks were carrying their luggage (yes, actually carrying it because they didn’t have wheels). People were hugging each other good-bye right beside the train and then waving one final time as we pulled away from the station. I imagined how train rides must have been in the days when people dressed up to travel. Women in their fitted, floor length dresses and white gloves. Men in their suits and hats. It must have been quite the spectacle.

I’m a little jealous that those times are gone. Things seemed so much more relaxed during those days. Not the rush, rush, rush that defines our 24 hours. People were more respectful of each other, more caring and empathetic. Front porches were used for sitting and talking instead of just a place to walk across going to and from our cars. People waved at each other when passing by. The offer of assistance was always on the tip of every tongue. And the churches were always full. At least, that’s how it’s always been described to me.

But that’s not our story today. We are busy people, with lives that seem abundantly important. We stay connected electronically, letting our hundreds of “friends” know our every important minute. We voice our opinions and throw words of venom as we hide behind our glowing little screens. The dust builds up on our porches as we close the doors tightly to shut the world out. We no longer spend time talking with each other. We don’t go to church. We shut out community and the idea of real fellowship makes us pull the covers back over our heads. And we are all guilty of it at one time or another.

But God says, “slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?”

That’s really the question, isn’t it? What are you after anyway? I wonder that myself, sometimes – when I get so busy “doing” that I stop “being”. As I watch the world fly by while sitting on this train, I can’t help but wonder all of that and more. I know my calling but am I really fulfilling it? Am I doing all that I can to serve God in the way He called me? I don’t think I am.

John Wesley said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.” That’s a tough statement. Honestly, there are other things that I fear. Other things that I worry about. And they are selfish things. Things that do not matter because they in no way lead others to Jesus Christ. So why do we get so wrapped up in the busyness of life and our own self-importance? Because it’s easier to have an illusion of control rather than the reality of surrender. It’s easier to say ‘yes’ to our own wants rather than saying ‘yes’ to God and His commands.

So for today, I’m slowing down. I’m taking a train ride that forces me to be still, take in the beauty of God’s creation, listen to the conversations around me, and act on His behalf. For today, that which I’m after is “my Lord and my God.”

What if?

I am sitting here putting finishing touches on the candlelight communion service for Christmas Eve. So much work has gone into the planning and writing. But now the house is quiet, the rain has stopped and a thought so haunting has found its way into my head once again. It stirs my heart every Christmas for the past few years.

What would I have seen and heard on that night if I had been there?

Would I have heard the breath of heaven or simply the wind rustling the leaves? What about the angels? Would I have heard them or just the yammering of those in the streets? Would I have seen the star in the sky or just two kids who were poor and tired? Would I have felt the peace on earth, or just the oppressiveness of a busy town? Would I have understood that God was with us, or would the holiness of that moment just pass me by?

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The story of the nativity is more than just a beautiful tale to be told at Christmas. It’s one that should cause our hearts to stand still as we begin to comprehend exactly what God has done. But is that even possible? Can we really comprehend this idea that He humbled Himself to be with us, to be Emmanuel? For each of us, we have to take a moment and think about what it must have been like on that night so long ago.

I believe that for everyone who was present that night, the scene was entirely different. No two people experienced it in the same way. God is like that, you know. He presents Himself to each of us and then leaves it up to us to see Him as we choose. There’s a song that sort of describes it perfectly. “Some may call it foolish and impossible but for every heart it rescues it’s a miracle.” Isn’t that true? What some call impossible, others call a miracle. I wonder, what would I have called it on that night?

Let’s be honest, there weren’t a lot of people who saw and experienced what took place that night. It’s not that the opportunity wasn’t there. No, they just chose to not see or hear. The choirs of angels who were singing were drowned out by the crowds coming in. No one was looking up at the sky to see that amazing star because they were too busy looking ahead at their own plans. No one noticed Mary and Joseph because they were too busy thinking of their own needs. No one noticed the peace that transformed the earth because they were fighting wars of their own making.

It’s easy for us to read the verses in Scripture and say we would have been the ones to have opened the door or noticed the star. We would have felt the divine presence had we been there at Bethlehem that night. “I would have seen,” you might say to yourself. “I would have known who He was. I would have known it was the Christ child.” Really? Would you?

Ask yourself – what you have seen and heard this Christmas season.

What did you see? When you went out to shop for gifts did you just see long lines of people or did you see the pains of life in their eyes? Pains from worry about money or fear about health. When you opened your news app did you see violence and chaos, or did you see that lost sheep without a shepherd. 

What did you hear?

Did you hear only the blast of irritating music everywhere you went, or did you hear the silent sighs of the brokenhearted? Did you hear the bickering of the parents and children or the pleading of a family for a savior to intervene? More often than not what you see and what you hear is not the reality. It’s not based on any one event. It’s actually based on you. If you did in fact hear the cry from those in pain, the pleading of the broken, if you saw the sheep without a shepherd, then, and only then, might you have noticed all that took place in Bethlehem that night so long ago. But, if you didn’t see the lonely, broken, lost, and needy this season, then you probably would have been with all the others who were present but missed it all.

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you're lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left his throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight
Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping - Casting Crowns

*illustration by Brett Blair

There’s Only One Label…

I had a client recently who found himself in crisis mode. He had been living dangerously close the edge for a couple of years and he finally reached a point of jump or surrender. He had experimented with sexual fantasies involving multiple partners, self 512px-Hello_my_name_is_sticker.svg_-300x214medication through alcohol, theft, abuse, lying and many other self-destructive behaviors. He could not maintain a job for longer than three or four months because his mood swings would not allow him stability. He isolated himself from family and friends and essentially shut himself off from the world’s acceptable behaviors. He was a mess in a thousand different ways. So, late one afternoon, he took himself to a hospital because he knew he had finally reached that moment — that very moment where something had to change. He knew that if he didn’t surrender, he would die before the day was over.

When I saw him a few weeks later, after he was released from inpatient care, he was ecstatic. He said, “finally I know who I am! I am bipolar with extreme anxiety and antisocial disorder. I have impulse control issues but the doctors promise that I can recover from all of this if I do what they say.” For this young man, getting this diagnosis was an answer to prayers he didn’t know he needed to pray. His struggles throughout his life were enormous and they crippled everything he tried to do. The relief on his face was enough to say to me that this man was ready to truly treat his disease so he could live the life he was meant to live. And the labels he had been given, while heavy, were labels he would embrace rather than run from.

So why do I tell you about this man (whom, by the way, gave me permission to use his story)? Because we have become a society of labels. Every single day on social media or out with friends I hear at least one person refer to themselves as a label. They are constantly saying they are ADD, OCD, introverted, bipolar, the list goes on and on. We joke about it and make light of it but the truth is, there is nothing funny about having a mental disorder.

Every week I see clients who are clinging to life in ways most of us can never fully understand. Their entire life is often full of chaos and confusion. Many never successfully graduated from high school because they were unable to calm their minds enough to focus. A few have trouble leaving their homes because their anxiety of disorder is so great that they feel their life is literally at risk. One young lady confessed to me that she has never been able to read a book from start to end that longer than the children’s chapter books because her focus is so limited. Without treatment and constant support, these folks experience life in a way most of us cannot fathom. It is debilitating on many levels.

As a clinician, I always cringe when I see these “tests” on social media that claim to diagnosis you. Let me be clear – no ten question test on Facebook that asks you what your favorite animal is or whether you prefer loud music over soft music can diagnose you with a mental disorder. Those tests are good for one thing – making fun of those people who truly suffer from a disorder. Think about it like this, would you say you had cancer without a diagnosis? What about diabetes? Would you ever claim to be a amputee if you had all of your limbs? Of course not. It would be disrespectful and hurtful. But yet, we don’t hesitate to say things like, “I’m convinced I have ADD because I can’t ever get anything finished” or “I like a clean house because I’m OCD.”

Stop it!

The truth is you likely aren’t getting things accomplished because you don’t set priorities well or you have not learned to say ‘no’ and stick with a calendar. That is not ADD or ADHD. I have a girlfriend who was able to sit through the entire Twilight movie franchise in one setting but swears she has ADD. It’s not possible! Folks with untreated ADD cannot sit for 10 hours focusing on one thing. Their minds operate differently and they begin to wonder, thus, losing focus and …well…attention.

So, what is ADD or ADHD? Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder are mental disorders often requiring both cognitive behavioral treatment and medication. The criteria to be diagnosed with either of these is multifaceted and very specific. There are four criteria that must be met plus six or more specific criteria in hyperactivity/impulsivity and/or inattention that also must be met.

OCD or Obsessive Control Disorder is another mental disorder that can leave a person feeling debilitated and overwhelmed. Folks with this diagnosis feel that their impulses and obsessions are absolutely true and not, necessarily in their minds. To receive a diagnosis of OCD, the person’s obsession are defined by meeting two specific criteria, their impulses meet two specific criteria plus they must meet an additional four criteria. Just because you like a clean house or neat cabinet does not mean you have OCD. It just means that you like to have things neat and orderly. It’s called ‘being organized’. That’s not a mental disorder.

It’s actually quite difficult to be truly diagnosed with these or any other of the mental disorders and the diagnosis can follow you for years. Health insurance premiums are often impacted and securing a good life insurance policy is very difficult. The reason is that folks with mental disorders are among the leading groups who commit suicide. Why? Because having a mental disorder such as ADD, OCD, bipolar, addiction, depression, anxiety… when untreated or undertreated, they leave the individual feeling worthless and without hope. Their minds are so consumed with the chaos that they see no alternative. And yet, everyday, society makes fun of these groups, belittling their diseases.

I could go on and on about disorders people claim to have because they think it’s funny or maybe even use it as an excuse. The majority of the folks who constantly talk about having this disorder or that disorder do not.  If you know someone who constantly talks about his or her labels, they are probably hiding behind insecurities too deep to even recognize. Someone who is secure in who they are and WHOSE they are will not lean on labels. Instead they will see their gifts and weaknesses for what they are, opportunities to grow. Love these folks but don’t encourage the talk. Give them grace but don’t agree with their self labeling. And if it’s you who lives in this way, I invite you to walk in the shoes of my client. How would you feel if your entire life had been like one constant tornado, constantly spinning without any control. You could never hold down a steady job, your family turned their backs on you, and friends rarely came around. You never knew when you would crash or what the destruction would be. You just knew that you were in the vortex and couldn’t get out. Then imagine all of those around you making fun of that. It’s not so funny anymore, is it?

If you want to wear a label, how about wearing the one Jesus Christ gave you when He died on the cross for you? Redeemed. Saved. Loved. Forgiven. Child of God.

But to all who have received him–those who believe in his name–he has given the right to become God’s children … (John 1:12)

Those are labels that we need to be talking about and holding on to with both hands. Just image what this world would look like if we stopped using all other labels but those to describe ourselves and others. When others see you, when they see your social media posts or talk to you in person, do they see a self-diagnosed man or woman who screams of insecurity or do they see a follower of Jesus Christ who is bold and courageous in their faith?

“I’mperfect”

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Recently IMG_4067a girlfriend made an off the cuff statement that just won’t leave my mind. We were talking about our husbands and she said that her husband had hugged her that morning and said, “I just love you so much.” She replied, “there is no way you can love someone this fat.” We all giggled and nodded our understanding. But quite honestly, I felt a pain rush through me unlike anything I have felt in a long while.

I stewed on it for a while. What was it about that statement that was making me uncomfortable. I could completely relate to her statement because I’ve said the very same thing to my husband. And honestly believed it.

The past couple of nights I’ve actually had tossed and turned a bit because I kept thinking about it. I mean, it’s not like many of us don’t think it. Wait. That’s it. We think it but don’t usually say it. We equate our physical appearance – our IMperfections with the worthiness of love.

There is not a single day that I go through where I am not constantly reminded that thinner is better. Or that more youthful skin is the key to happiness. Facebook is over run with weight loss programs, younger skin treatments, before and after pictures and “thinspiration.” Television ads for national weight loss programs are on at least once an hour, if not more. Magazines show airbrushed pictures, the newest night creams, and the latest weight loss fad. And none of those things even begin to touch the intimate conversations between friends about our consistent weight struggles or fears of growing older. Now before folks get upset with me, let me clarify right now that I am not against healthy living. I do believe 1 Corinthians 6:19 – it states that the body is a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells. Verse 20 goes on to say, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” For that reason, I believe it is our obligation to take care of the body which we have been given by God. So for anyone reading this who is currently living a healthy lifestyle, I applaud you for the hard work as long as that work is not because of self-loathing and a desire to be loved.

My point is that we have allowed ourselves to measure our worth on the number of the scale reading. That’s what hurts me. I am so ashamed that I have said to my husband that he can’t possibly love me because of my outward appearance. The truth is, I don’t fully love me because of my outward appearance so I place that “truth” on him and…ultimately, on my heavenly Father.

As a minister, I preach on God’s love every week in one form or another. I encourage others to look beyond themselves and their brokenness in order to see a perfect love that has been offered to them through Jesus Christ. I speak on redemption and grace. I offer scripture after scripture proving the love that is so abundantly available to them. And yet, I carry this dark secret that says none of that applies to me.

Yesterday, a precious young girl gave our scripture reading. She is beautiful in every way. I thought of Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, for a I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And when I looked I her, I just wanted to protect her from all the junk of society. I want her to always feel free and beautiful, not because of a societal definition but because she is made in His image!

A couple of years ago I read a book called God Loves Ugly. It’s a powerful book by Christa Black. She writes about her struggles with physical acceptance and how it overshadowed any possibility of spiritual acceptance. We are just so tied to this idea of physical appearance equates to lovability. But not God. 1 Samuel 16:7b “God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”

You see the depths of my heart and love me anyway.

We work so hard with loving others through kindness, support, grace, forgiveness. But we work equally as hard at not loving ourselves. We chastise our friends when they put themselves down but we put on a badge of honor at disrespecting ourselves. What we are actually doing is telling God, “you must have gotten it all wrong when you created me.” In no scenario is that true and yet we accept that “truth” every single day.

I often think about how God sees me. Obviously, according to 1 Samuel, He does not see me in the way I see me. How much does it hurt Him when I say things that are hurtful about me? Or when you say things that are hurtful about you? He focuses on my heart not on my hair style or my waist circumference. While we can pick out the things about us that we are not – “I’m not thin enough. I’m not tall enough. I’m not petite enough. I’m not cute enough. I’m not __________ enough. I’m not perfect.” God sees what I am – “I am a child of God. I am made in His image. I am loved so much that He gave His only son for me. I’m perfect.”

I have dedicated my life to serving God through serving others. He has called me to speak His truth to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Mark 12:29-31 says it like this: Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. Ouch.

I cannot possibly fulfill my calling to love others if I do not love myself. Just realizing the full impact of my failure takes my very breath away. Forgive me, O Lord, for not seeing your image rather than my own. Forgive me for seeing myself as imperfect rather than saying I’m perfect.

My new truth comes from the International Children’s Bible version of Psalm 139:14 – “I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way. What you have done is wonderful. I know this very well.”

Another Chapter Begins…

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…Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “ God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind. (Isaiah 40:27-31 MSG).

I just reread my New Year’s blog from 2014. How depressing!! But let’s be honest, I had a right to be a little depressed. It had been a rotten 2013 and the start of 2014 had not been much better. As I reflect over all of 2014, it’s a combination of praises and prayers. What I have found, however, is that I don’t cheer the fact that a difficult year has passed. In fact, each new year is a bit sad to me because it means that another year has rapidly gone by. Those seconds tend to speed up. It’s a wonder that I can even catch my breath.

So, what was my 2014 like? Some of said it’s like a well-written tragedy. I don’t know about that but it was definitely full of heartache and excitement. It started out with me sitting in the hospital. I think it was day 15 when the “ball dropped.” My husband had been very sick and there were moments when we didn’t know if he would pull through. The following week, I lost my job. I can tell you that at that moment, I broke. I felt like God must have lost track of me somewhere along the way because I was drowning and it didn’t seem that He would ever throw a life-preserver. The next several months would prove challenging, to say the least. Paying bills required a bit of creativity and we spent more than a few sleepless nights worrying about our next meal.

In the spring, I was honored to serve as Lay Director of the Purchase Area Walk to Emmaus. If you don’t know what that is, shoot me a message. It’s a huge privilege to serve God in such a compacity. While in that role, I was humbled by the hearts of all of the folks I served with. Unfortunately, satan was pretty aggressive, trying constantly to shake my foundation throughout that time period. Verbal attacks, cold shoulders, hurt feelings. They all did abound. In the end, God’s shield provided me with the armor I needed to survive.

During this same time, I started a private counseling practice. I was invited to share office space with two Christian women whom I respect. What a difference an atmosphere makes! While the process of building clients has been an extremely slow one, the benefits of where I am located and who I am located with outweighs any of the negative. I strongly believe that God opened that door and has made it possible to be there each and every month since.

By the summer of 2014, I felt like things were looking up. My husband had just been granted reinstatement of his medical license. I thought for certain that it was only a matter of a few weeks and he would practicing medicine again. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like that. After more “no” responses than I count, his depression set in. This placed an urgency on me to “make things happen.” Who was I kidding? The more I tried to control the situation, the more desperate I felt our situation had become. Finally, one evening, I surrendered myself. I knew I could no more control the outcome than Allen could. I looked at myself and asked God to light a path because I was completely lost. I had been spinning for more time than I care to admit and it was time to stop. The next day, I received my answer.

In July 2014, I would be asked to serve as minister of two local churches. This would mean an official step from laity to clergy. I knew God had designed my life so that this very moment could happen. Saying “yes” was much more difficult than I thought it would be. But ultimately, I did say “yes”. The rapid changes that took place in my life have left me breathless at times. There was no easing into the role. These two churches were without a minister. Their previous leader had already begun his new appointment in another district so I couldn’t “pick his brain” as I would have liked. Instead, I jumped in and prayed God wouldn’t let me sink.

During that same time, I began an internship at a local hospital as chaplain in their CPE program. Let me just say right off the bat that this is something I never want to do again but believe that every minister should have to do at least once. Let me explain. Hospital visits are more than just a quick visit where you talk about the weather, offer a quick prayer and get the heck out of dodge before your next text message comes through. If any minister who hasn’t been through a unit of CPE says he or she knows how to make hospital visits, I’d be leary. Anyone can go in an offer a quick prayer just to check it off the list. But a true pastoral care visit means listening without checking your watch. It means loving without worrying what germs you might get. It means putting yourself in the middle of the visit so that you have self-awareness in your situation. I hated every minute of this internship because it was hard on me emotionally, spiritually and mentally. But I thank God that He opened that door so that I can better serve Him in those moments when people need pastoral care rather than a fly by visit. This prepared me for some very difficult moments that would I face in the next few weeks.

Barely two months into my new ministry, my world would be utterly changed and, quite honestly, my heart would forever be broken. My best friend would tragically lose her life in a motorcycle accident. She was only 39 years old. God would see to it that I served as the minister of her funeral. From that moment on, I have only blogged once – to tell the story of her good-bye. I lost my voice when she passed and I have not asked God to give it back. Writing this has been more difficult than I thought but I know it needed to be written.

Since that day in the fall of 2014, I have struggled with some things internally. I have felt, at times, very distant from the One I serve. That distance is only because I placed it there. I don’t blame God for her loss. In fact, I praise God for granting me a life with her in it. I am just not where I once was in my walk. The beauty of that is that God never leaves us regardless if we choose to go it alone for a while. He never stops loving us. He never stops fighting for us. He never stops lighting our path to find our way back home to Him. It’s always a choice on our part to not have a close relationship with God.

My family and I moved to Ballard County in November. For anyone who really knows me, you probably are finding it rather funny to think of me living in the middle of farm lands. Trust me, it’s been a culture shock. From no cell service to wildlife in the front yard, I have to rethink my way of living. But I know that God has provided this home in this place for a very specific reason. We are still getting settled in our new place. It’s never a good idea to move in the middle of the holidays. Just too hectic! But once we finally get everything unboxed and placed where it should be, it will be nice to relax in the solitude of home.

Just as I started this year, I am ending this year sitting in the hospital. This time, I am there because my mom is recovering from surgery. She’s having a tough time of it. The past six weeks have been difficult on her body and spirit. So, just as I asked during this time last year, I’ll ask it this year – please pray for healing. I am very blessed to have experienced all that I have in the past year…. and in my life. I have been given a storyline and asked to author the text of my life. I could choose to write a story of tragedy. I could choose to write a story of fiction. But I don’t like those genres. I believe that nonfiction can be quite exciting and full of hope. As I look forward to the year 2015 I anticipate chapters of laughter and tears. I believe there will be mysteries and how-to’s. And I believe that through it all, God will light each step toward my next chapter. I began this with a quote from Isaiah. I love how it says, “Don’t you know anything? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.” Yes! God does last. He is the perseverance when we run out of strength. He is the breath when we fill breathless. He is the light in a world full of darkness. Because of that, I don’t have to worry about figuring out what my next chapter is. I don’t have to fear walking around in the darkness of this life because God continues to shine a light – His Light – so I can see into those dark corners of uncerntainty. Would I like to know what’s next? Maybe. But that’s not how it works. He gives us just enough light to see our next step…to write our next sentence…

It’s 2015. God, I’m ready to start the next chapter…

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Lukewarm is NOT okay!

I have a confession to make…and it’s probably one the hardest confessions I have ever had to own up to. 

I am a lukewarm Christian.

Up until about an hour ago I was pretty sure that my faith was strong. There’s always a need to grow and mature in the faith but I felt pretty solid about where I was. Then I had lunch…

Have you ever just known that something pretty amazing was about to happen? I’ve had the feeling a couple of times. I had it today, as well. My husband had been invited to lunch by a longtime friend and they invited me to join them after I finished my morning appointments. On my way to the restaurant I found myself getting excited. I just sort of knew that it was going to be an amazing hour. Understand that I did not really know this man very well at all. We are “friends” on social media because of the relationship between he and my husband but that’s it. Still…I knew it was going to be a good lunch.

If you think about most lunch “dates” with friends, the time is spent talking about children, work, funny situations, etc. Not this one! We talked about Jesus Christ. And it wasn’t like any conversation I have ever had before about Christ. It was as if Jesus himself was sitting with us and telling us stories about His life. Scripture was quoted but not like we usually quote scripture. It was quoted like we do when we are relaying a conversation. It was real. It was direct. It was in-your-face. 

Too often we refrain from showing too much passion for Jesus. I don’t know why but we do. I’ve written about that before, actually. But not this man. Nope. Not only did he not refrain, he invited others to be prayed for. Our server was so humbled when he asked her what she would like for us to pray for in her life that she had a difficult time speaking at first. Then the smile that took over her face brought tears to my eyes. I can’t help but wonder if that was the first time that little girl has had a prayer said specifically for her. 

He leads a church in Georgia. It sounds like a piece of heaven. People of all walks of life coming together for the entire purpose of serving God while serving others. The more I listened to him talk the more I realized that I am a lukewarm Christian. Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ with my whole body, mind, and spirit. And yes, I share the Good News each week to my people. But what am I really doing? Am I feeding the orphans and widows? Am I going up to perfect strangers and asking them what is on their hearts that needs praying for? Am I sharing the Gospel in all walks of life? NO! I’m not. I am doing exactly what I said I didn’t want to do – I’m going through the motions. When I accepted the appointment to the two churches, I had such great ideas. But then my fears took over. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointment. Fear of the unknown. Those fears have held me back from doing what God expects me to do. I have been called to make disciples for Jesus Christ and I am failing….because I’m a lukewarm Christian. 

For the past hour I have replayed today’s events in my mind over and over. I realize that I have an opportunity to change, not lives, but souls. The Lord ha73cce639efcec0bc3942281a0ebdeb0as entrusted to me His words and His grace. He expects me to make each person I meet feel loved by Jesus Christ and ministers to others. Honestly, I don’t know what is next in this journey but I am certain that the lamp posts on my feet will illuminate my next step (Psalm 119:105). I’m not going to lie and say that I’m not scared. I am. Because each time God opens my eyes, my world gets crazy rocked. I refuse to be lukewarm any longer. 

Lord, please forgive my complacency in my life toward you. You trusted me with your Word and I have failed you. I ask you now to give me strength, wisdom and, most importantly, courage to fulfill the calling you placed upon my life. Amen.

… but I need it!

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I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)

“I wish I were thinner.”
“I want a new car.”
“I need a vacation.”

We’ve all done it. We’ve wished, wanted and desired things or situations that we were certain would make our lives better. Most likely, that wouldn’t happen but our struggle with being unhappy clouded the sound judgement that we were drowning in a sea of discontentment. Goodness, I’ve been there for sure! Wanting more. Thinking I needed more. I even tried to bargain with God to get more. But in the end, even when I ended up with what I thought I wanted, I was still supremely discontent and unhappy.

Why?

Because I was seeking something to fill the void that could only be filled with God.

You might be reading this and thinking to yourself, “yeah, sure, that sounds great and all but you don’t know what it’s like to really be in need.” Actually, I do. I’ve been there. I’m there NOW! I’m not talking about the kind of need that says you have to cut back to one new outfit a week. I’m talking about the kind of need that says, “if we aren’t careful, in a couple of months we will have a hard time getting food to eat.” That’s some serious need!

The fact is, any one of us could probably argue that those needs, and even some wants, could lead us to happiness. Unfortunately, that argument will always be lost because things don’t make people happy. We have to find happiness within us in spite of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.

So, where to find our happiness?

It took me a while to figure this one out. For so long, I stayed in this perpetual funk. One lousy situation after another seemed to confirm that happiness was entirely out of my reach. There were definitely days that getting out of bed was not my first choice. Instead, I would come up with about 10 reasons why I should just bury my head under my blankets and skip the day altogether. Unfortunately, if I did that, I would have missed out on blessings that God was giving me. When I stopped focusing so much on what I wanted, and focused on what God wanted to do in and through me, something amazing happened. I was content. And happy.

In fact, happiness is an external indication of internal contentment.

Talk about a slap in the face! I had been wishing, wanting and coveting things that were supposed to bring happiness for so long and it always seemed to be out of reach. And yet, happiness was there all the time; I just chose to not accept it. It took me a bit to fully embrace that, primarily because I didn’t want to accept that I was the cause of all my pain and misery. No one likes to face that reality. Sure, I could easily blame others but the bottom line is that I allowed situations to define my emotions. I allowed others to infect my heart and I did it willingly, it seemed.

Once I realized that God had already given me all I needed, I learned how to embrace life exactly as it was. Don’t get me wrong, I have cried many a tear. I have tossed and turned more nights then I can count. And I have gone through several containers of concealer trying to cover up those dark circles but I’m not unhappy anymore. I am relatively content. There is still a sliver of concern about the immediate future. But I can admit it and acknowledge that the worry I am experiencing is my human weakness. I don’t like it and I pray to God to take it away. You see, God wants me to place all my worries in His hands so that my internal contentment will shine through as external happiness. He has great plans for me and if I spend too much time on my own lists of things I want, wish for and desire, I will miss out on His perfect plan for my life. I don’t know about you but I think it’s pretty exciting that God would take the time plan out my life. Guess what? He did the same thing for you!

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he spoke about being content in our lives. I can relate so intimately to this scripture because I have lived it. I am living it. My reality is not what I had planned for my life. I can assure you that! I am an educated, disciplined woman and yet my family’s everyday struggles can be overwhelming at times. My husband and I laugh just so we won’t cry. But spending the energy to push against our reality is fruitless. All that does is cause more pain, heartache and hopelessness. When that happens, Satan wins.

What if we learned to embrace our reality?

I know for me it was like I could breathe for the first time. It isn’t easy to let go of this false sense of security we call control. But truly accepting my reality allowed me to hear God’s voice in the midst of the chaos. I had been drowning Him out because I was so certain I knew what was best. But when we learn to be content in our present, God will indeed give us strength for our future.

I am pretty certain that my turbulence is not over with just yet. And I bet a few more tears fall. But I am able to place a genuine smile on my face and allow my external happiness to shine because my internal contentment is firmly in place. I still get disappointments and fears. Being without a job is a scary place to be. But God continues to provide for me and my family as long as I continue to give Him all the glory, even through gritted teeth. I may not like the lot I’m in but I love the One who is by my side.

It’s A Long Story…

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Holy God, I know YOU are the God hope. Yet, in this moment I do not feel filled with the joy and peace YOU offer to me. In this moment hope is distant in my heart. Right now, Holy God, I cry out and acknowledge that I need YOU. I need YOUR hope in my heart and I need YOUR filling. Please help me to do my part to trust YOU. Help me to trust YOU to give me the hope and the joy and the peace that your Holy Spirit brings. Increase my faith so that I can trust YOU fully with all the question marks in my life. FIll me by the power of YOUR Holy Spirit now. I don’t want to just survive or just get by… I want to overflow! YOUR Holy Spirit is the only one who has the power to pour the peace and joy YOU offer into my weary soul. I trust YOU today with all the circumstances of my life. Thank you that I can come to YOU, my God of Hope! Thank you that YOU offer peace to my heart. It is YOUR gift to me and I desperately need it.

Life is filled with so many distractions and disappointments that often rob me of that peace. Your word says that YOU will keep my heart in peace as I trust in YOU for strength and discernment and wisdom in every area of my life. Active, conscious trusting keeps my thoughts focused on YOU. Thank you that YOUR peace will be the result! Holy God, please help me today to focus on YOU in all the details of my life, inviting YOU into each circumstance, conversation and activity. Grow my trust in YOU. Keep me today in YOUR perfect peace for I have very little of my own. In YOU I place my trust today! Amen.

That prayer was written by a dear friend of mine, Deb Webb. She wrote it several months ago and I have it hanging on my wall. I haven’t read it in awhile but today it caught my eye. As I read it, I realized that I was breathing every single word of that prayer. My shoulders dropped and my eyes filled up – I had allowed life to rob me of God’s joy and peace. How in the world had this happened?

If you haven’t been following my posts on Facebook, allow me to fill you in. 2013 was a pretty rotten year. 2012 wasn’t great either but 2013 was one for the record books. My husband lost his medical license for an undetermined amount of time. This led to him closing his practice. I took a job at a mental health facility that turned out to be less then ideal but another business wooed me away. Unfortunately, my salary as a counselor could not sustain us in our former lifestyle. We ended up losing our home, our two cars, other possessions and downsized to a historic rental home. Luckily the owners of the home are friends of ours so they made the transition much smoother then it could have been. My husband was not able to find a full-time job because no one would hire a doctor – over qualified was the common response. Things became tighter and tighter. In December, he became very sick. It started as the flu then into pneumonia. Finally he was admitted to the hospital where he almost died and ended up spending 17 days – 15 in the ICU! When you end up friending your nurses on Facebook, you know you have been there too long. (As a side note – the Lourdes Hospital ICU nurses and other staff are priceless). After finally getting well enough to come home (on oxygen), I find out that I’m losing my job…. in two days! That is definitely the cliff note version but you get the point. It was a rotten year. This year has not started much better. All of this leads me back to that prayer. I have lost the joy and peace that God has given me. I think it’s time that I find it.

Today, I began packing up my office. I realized that I really hate boxes. I used to love boxes because that meant that I was moving. Moving represented new opportunities. New surroundings. Excitement. But now all that is gone. Now, boxes represent another chapter that has closed. I don’t want to close anymore chapters in my life. Not right now. I want to continue in my story with a dull, boring storyline about nothing at all. But instead, I’m packing yet again. Only this time I have no idea where I’m moving to. Yes, I hate boxes. Now, if I were wearing the mask that I used to wear, I would be saying something about God opening an even better door and not looking back..blah blah blah. But I took that mask off two years ago and will not put it back on. I’m sad. Period.

So many people over the past month in particular have reached out to me regarding my posts on Facebook. I have had people I do not even know contact me to offer me words of prayer and love. They have prayed for my husband and his health. They have prayed for his career to be returned to him. They have prayed for strength for all of us. I’m quite certain that those prayers are what carry us both through each and every day. We have a son who is beyond amazing. As many changes as that child has experienced, he never complains or acts out. He just shows compassion and love. He’s kind of amazing, like I said. For him, I am determined to show little sadness. But in the stillness of the night, as I sit here listening to the rhythm of my husband’s breathing, I allow myself to feel all the emotions that are lurking inside. I feel every question mark in my life and the lack of answers can be suffocating. So now I turn to this prayer. I turn to the words that so accurately address all that I am feeling. I realize that if I’m feeling it, God is too. I tell my clients that tears are God’s salve. I really do believe that. So I allow them to fall and hopefully pour some peace into my weary soul. I know that God has not caused any of the heartache we have felt. He doesn’t hurt us or punish us. But He does allow us to experience pain so that we will fully acknowledge the He alone can heal that pain. Honestly, I have no idea what tomorrow is going to bring. I know it will be difficult as I say good-bye to folks I genuinely love and adore. But I will hold up my head as I close that chapter and wait anxiously for the next adventure in this crazy story called “My Life.”

…Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “ God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind. (Isaiah 40:27-31 MSG).