Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grace and Love (and some other stuff)

I have to love others who have a history of not loving me.

I have to love others who've rejected me.

One of the first things a professor said to me that hit me really, really hard was this: "You can't be in ministry unless you love people." and then one step further... "If you don't think people can change, just leave right now".

This seems like it should've been a "duh" kind of thing, but for me, it wasn't. When I first felt God calling me to the kind of ministry I am training and studying to be, I just didn't know about the "hugeness" of it all. I honestly hadn't processed everything that ministry meant. I had (to an extent) - in fact, read this post to see what I mean by that.

God made some big changes in my during 2010. A lot of it was through this. Best. Study. Ever. A lot of it was simply the transition time of my life; after several years in one town moving out of state and attending seminary. God did all this work in me to help prepare me for the ministry to which I am called right now.

I have learned....
1. Coercive power won’t lead to change. You can't force others to do what you want them to do. You can offer wisdom and perspective, but manipulation will do nothing but tear down and rip apart the relationship.

2. Though we can't deserve or earn grace, it's imperative you give it to people anyway. A fellow student at seminary asked in class "But what about the person who continually fails and takes advantage of you? When do you stop offering them grace?" The professors responded with "You take advantage of God every single day." I do worry about lines being crossed and about the importance of boundaries in relationships... of course I worry about those things. But there comes a point when you either decide that's it's more important to be right or more important to have the person who needs the grace in your life. Every day we make choices like this. It's hard to think about getting beaten up all the time. But I think it can be equally hard to not forgive. For in that unforgiveness comes a heart laden with burdens we are not meant to bear. I have had that burdened heart. There isn't much worse I've experienced.

3. This pattern of the rejection I've faced from others in the past has significantly influenced how I treat others today. I assume that people who want to know me only do so because they need something from me. I assume an agenda on their part, rather than trust and simply think they just want to be in a relationship with me. There was quite a bit of trauma from my childhood that caused this in me today. But I've also learned that's why I'm comfortable being a leader, because it allows me a certain amount of emotional distance. Whether or not I've hit a healthy level of this is something I'm still unsure of.

4. I've learned to be better at rolling with the punches, especially to more I work with people who can't. I find myself frusted with these, but knowing full well I can be that way too. I'm working on that.

5. I've learned the process of being called is a holy one. It's scary and frustrating and knee-shaking kind of painful. But it's holy and made me full of awe at God's providence and will at the same time.

6. I've learned that even after you're called, the process of being in ministry is also holy. I've had the privilege of sitting in my office and crying with people who are wounded. I've had the joy of praying with and for an elder starting a new business. I've had the pain of hearing a friend cry on the phone because her daughter needs surgery. I've had the ache for my seminary friends as we've lamented and worked the process of ministering to others on opposite sides of the nation. It's all hard and it's all holy.

7. I've learned that I am blessed beyond all measure and wish I realized that every second of every day.

Happy New Year, everyone. Blessings to you all in 2011.














Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Problem With Being an Adaptor

So last year I took this really long leadership test here: http://www.rightpath.com/ for my Leadership and Administration in the Church class. According to this company, there are 16 different types of leaders, and I (story of my life) am the rarest one: the Adaptor.

The Adaptor leader steps into a situation and adaptors to whatever is needed. If the church is failing at Communication, I'll see it and try to fix it. If they need a better Children's ministry program, I'll build it up and get it going again. If I'm sitting in a meeting where everyone is talking, I'll be quiet (even if I have something to say.) If we need a confrontational leader, I'll be the one to do it.

Some of the other leadership types are: Director, Motivator. Stylish innovator, the Harmonizer... and many others.

When I first took the test, my professor told me he'd never met a true adaptor. There are two parts to the test and usually he could tell from the second part where someone who scored as an adaptor (in part one) actually fell based on the results of part two. But, of course, not me. In his 23 years of administrating the test, he'd never met an adaptor until me. So naturally, I was wondering if I really was one based on his comments. Now that I'm several months into a job where I'm basically the head honcho... I absolutely know it's true.

And I hate it.

So far, a lot of the stuff needed at the church is stuff way outside my "sweet spot". My sweet spot is also stuff that's needed. Eventually. But right not there are more pressing needs I must attend to in order to make it through. But what this is doing to me is causing me to burn out faster than I should, because I am spending a lot more time out of my gifting than I am in my gifting. But I'm still good at the other stuff. So good people want me to keep doing it. 

So right now I'm really struggling to figure out where God's grace is in all of this. While I know there are many aspects of ministry I am not equipped to do, I know there are more I am not called to do. But when I find myself in a culture that lacks commitment and wants to paid staff person to do it, I search for ways to help them understand why I shouldn't do it, and that's not just why I don't want to do it. I firmly believe God wants us to flourish in certain areas of ministry and not all areas. But I find myself pushing against a wall put there long ago by a church that doesn't want to or think they should have to do it themselves.

Is this the death of the lay leader? Sometimes it feels like it is. I am pleading for God's gracious hand to figure out some ways for me to find time, in the midst of simply keeping parts of the ministry surviving in this church, to equip and empower others to do it instead.

God, I pray for a transformation of my heart and theirs. PLease give them the passion to commit. Please give me the spine to say no. Please offer wisdom for me to make this work.

 

Posted via email from stephanienels's posterous

Friday, October 22, 2010

Acceptance

So, I'm about 5 months into my new job. And Wednesday night I was overwhelmed by it. Not so much in the details of the job - i.e., the stuff that needs to get done to make a ministry even happen. I've pretty much got that down now. But I was overwhelmed in the "people side" of all.

I had a lot thrown at me last night from different people and I realized something that's been happened to me since I got here - but it was happening in pieces and I didn't put them all together until this morning, as I was talking with the senior pastor. What's happening... is that everyone is trying to get me on "their" side.

Doesn't seem like such a bad thing. But over and over again as people come to me with ideas and stories and thoughts and feelings, I've realized a couple of very important things: the person who did this job before me made a lot of enemies. And that's not me; it's just not in my nature. So it's almost as if they are reacting to her leadership - they are used to her polarizing issues. I think they are saying to themselves, "I want to get her on my side." The senior pastor experienced a lot of that when he first got here a couple of years ago. He said a lot of people made appointments with him simply to tell him "who to watch out for" So, this is where the ugly side of ministry makes me want to quit. But instead I should be angry with at Satan for urging us keep on indulging in the brokenness and sin in the world.

That said, while there have been many moments of "I soooo don't know what to do in this situation and I feel completely unqualified to deal with this," I also get a lot of affirmation and acceptance from the volunteers I work with (and the senior pastor, who affectionally told me today I was "kicking ass"). I realize a lot of this affirmation is because of the broken relationships the previous person created and it's happened because I'm doing my darndest to repair what was broken.

Last night I was facilitating a bible study where one of the women (not from our church) said, "My husband is supposed to be the one with the last word, not me." (In context, she was telling us about her "role" in the marriage.) She's baptist. And my heart hurt for her that she is being taught that. She isn't being affirmed in who she is and that makes me sick to my stomach. I am so blessed to have a boss/pastor who tells me that I am kicking ass. Who can tell when I'm having a rough time, who seeks out my insight on issues. It is in this place where I am accepted, which I'm pretty sure is what God wants for us all.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Transformation

I realized something today.

I'm not even remotely the same person I was two years ago.

Oh, there are some similarities. I still love movies and music, coffee and chocolate. I still play guitar and love the fall colors. I still laugh at the same stupid jokes and like the same kind of jewelry. But the bitterness, hurt and pain once inside me is gone. And I realized it while listening to this song:



So, yeah. Tears.

I was so afraid this transformation, which I kinda felt as it was happening, would not be permenant. That once I left the bubble of seminary I would go back to the way I was. In a way I assumed that would happen. And maybe it's too early to tell, but I find myself, even when under the most incredible stress and amidst a huge frustration that the bitterness doesn't come.

I'm sorry, but that's HUGE.

So I started thinking about when it happened. When had God done this to me? Was it when I left a job that frustrated me, was it the in the act of following God's call, was it all the crap I worked through in counseling, was it how He gave me real church family that loved me and accepted me so much? Was it all of them combined?

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.


The line that always gets me in verse one is "When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory"

That is my life. I just noticed that my afflictions were conquered by the One I was made to glorify. He smacked my afflictions in the face and said "No more." He restored me in the most beautiful way. It was in my mentor's office week after week as I poured my heart out to her. It was in my education classes, where I sat up front and asked question after question. It was in the writing of papers on my geneology of grace, my family's genogram, an exegetical paper on a passage in Joshua and my thesis. It was in late-night conversations with dear friends and roommates. God's glory eclipsed my afflictions. His glory was bigger than them all... and I am in repair.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about the way He loves us,
whoa how He loves us, whoa how He loves us


Heaven met me. It was sloppy and beautiful, messy and wonderful. But it happened and I am ever so grateful. I am new, different, transformed. His grace is sufficient and I am overwhelmed.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Being Single in the Church

During my time in seminary, I found myself growing frustrated at something the church is pretty good at failing at: ministering to those who are single.

I think most people view a ministry to single people means creating a program where singles can gather together. Okay, that's fine I guess. I've never much cared for these kinds of"programs" and while in St. Louis I avoided my church's "singles ministry" like the plague. And then after a while I noticed how many different sermons I'd hear on marriage (this was after about a year and a half at this church). Most of these sermons were structured to talk about the difficulties of marriage and the blessings, too. That's something I simply can't relate to. While it may be interesting information, it's not relevant to me. And after I realized I'd heard 5 sermons in the last year and a half on marriage, I asked myself, "Have I heard any on being single?" No, I hadn't.

I understand it might not be that easy for a married pastor to do a sermon on being single, but I would like to know why this subject is being avoided so much.

Another thing I've noticed, especially once I passed the age of 30, is that most of the people my age - and the one I connected with - were married. Some with kids, some without. This also became frustrating at family events, where everyone my age spent the entire day talking about their kids. It's really hard for a single person to join in the conversation about the hardships of their kids teething, or getting teased at school, or about how they are developing in school subjects. Family members I once could talk to for hours and hours about things became family members with which I no longer had anything in common. It made me sad, but it also kind of made me angry, truthfully. Why did the conversation always have to be about them and nothing else?

So, back to the sermon thing. As I noticed that I'd never heard a sermon about the perils and blessings of being single (though I heard many about the perils and blessing of marriage) I looked at the people who I considered to be good friends - and almost all were married. There were a blessed handful who invited to do thing with them and their friends - whether it was dinner, art in the park, a concert, etc. But it took a long time for us to get to that point, and even then it was rare for such an invitation to happen, truthfully. It's very common to come to church on Sunday and hear some of your friends talk about what they did on the 4th of July or the dinner they had together the night before. And I don't want to come across of lamenting about "not getting invited" but I do wonder if there isn't some sense of 1.) She's single and I don't know what to do with her. or 2.) I think she will feel uncomfortable around a bunch of couples. And maybe the second is true for some single people, it just doesn't happen to be the case with me. I'm probably far more comfortable with my married couple friends than I ever am in a room full of single church members who've gathered together for Super Bowl Sunday. (The second makes me a little nauseous, actually.)

So it seems that sermons about being single could help, don't you? If married couples aren't sure what to do with us, perhaps a pastor could remind them they they are just people looking to connect - with anyone, regardless of relationships status. And by labeling us single in the first place, it's kind of like putting a large scarlet letter "A" on our chest, so that everyone knows there must be something wrong with us. There are married couples out there that remember what singlehood is like (And thankfully one of them goes to my church now and they always ask me to do things). But I would love to see this kind of attitude come from the leadership in the church - I would love to hear a sermon that reminds congregation members that being single is hard, and that single people need all the support that we can get (from married people in particular!)  just to make it through this life.



Friday, September 03, 2010

Trust


"You are going to have to decide if your unrest is the Spirit not giving you peace or your fear of following God into the unknown." - Friar Tuck

I've heard some say that it's much easier to live with a sovereign Lord because no matter your decision it is the Lord's will. "Nothing happens outside the Lord's will," I hear over and over again. And I believe, I guess. But I also must say I believe it's actually harder to live with, because your trust in him is paramount.

It's hard for me to accept that the Lord's will was for this to happen or for this to happen. Any good reformer will say that it's our sin nature that causes it. So God is responsible for only the good stuff and not the really heinous stuff?

I know where I could be headed with this isn't good. But I do feel, at time, the neccecisity of pointing out the other side of the theological tension here.To ignore it is to ignore one of the greatest gifts God gave us: our minds. But what this post is about (actually, what most of my posts are about) is the heart. The unrest of the heart that kind either be about my own fear or about the Spirit moving.

Whenever I find myself in a situation where I realize how I need to trust God, I am troubled. Troubled because I find it so much easier to not trust him and rather, trust myself. This is a very dangerous place to be as his child, and I'm realizing more and more that's it's even more dangerous when you are in the vocation of ministry.

Two weeks ago I attended our Presbytery latest meeting, where the speaking (Joan Gray) spoke about Sailboat Christianity. She asked us, "Are we rowing the boat ourselves? Or are we allowing the Holy Spirit to blow the boat in whatever direction he sees fit." These are tough question to ask ourselves, because to admit one is to admit you don't trust God. I've had to do some of that (the trusting) of late, especially as I faced a decision - to come to Arizona or choose something else. To choose something else who have been just as much of a leap of faith and choosing to go, but it doesn't always seem like that (to yourselves or maybe even to others).

What I am now looking for is some way to me to measure this. I know it sounds crazy, but i don't know that I truly recognized the depth of my lack if trust in God. Actually, I do think I trust God. I just trust myself more. And what a terrible, awful place to be - in a place where you trust the fallible more than the infallible. Yet I find it much easier to blame the unrest I sometimes feel on the Spirit, rather than just admitting I am afraid.

Father, I pray for your guidance and your guidance alone. Allow me to understand when I'm trusting myself more than you, and not trusting you enough. Stop me cold in my tracks, if need be, if I ever step outside your will. Amen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A New Birth

My blog silence has been rather inexcusable of late. Though I have had some major life changes and am still in the process of settling in and feeling normal again, I also have a healthy perspective that things may never feel normal again.

That said, I think it's simply because I got out of the regular habit of journaling in seminary because I didn't have the time. It is now time to re-discipline myself, and I just haven't done it yet.

I have, however, been thinking a lot about re-birth. In the last two weeks I've been unpacking thing that were in storage for the last two years, placing objects with wonderful memories attached to them around my new home. I've painted many walls, shopped for new furniture, towels, yard supplies, lamps, and curtains. And occasionally I sit down on my sofa and look around at mostly old, familiar things. Things that were gifts, things that once belonged to family members, things I purchased on trips to see family and friends. They are things that reflect me and my life, but they are in a new place. The look the same, but they also kind of don't. And I wondered, "Is this at like what it's like to be re-born?"

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."

In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." John 3: 1-8


I've been a Christ-follower my whole life. I did not have the "conversion moment" that so many talk about. I've just been on a journey [to heaven's own bright king]. I guess you could say I've been in the process of re-birth my whole life. And yet, I'm still me.

The familiar things that now surround me in my new home are not unlike my old self. They still look the same... by themselves. But in a new place, they are altered. So I must ask, what new place am I in right now?

The obvious answer is Arizona. But there is another new place where I reside, and it's in a place of transformation that I never grow tired of talking about. That sometimes wears me down and makes me weary, but never completely knocks me down.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. - 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

This passage often comes to mind when I know I am being pressed, altered, and transformed. So in reading on to the rest of the passage, all of my thoughts about re-birth begin to make sense.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. -2 Corinthians 4:10-12

I am still me, but constantly being changed by the gracious work of our Lord and Savior. But just as sure as I am in a new state, new job and new home, I am also still me. But the beauty of the gospel is that it is never stagnant. How wonderful is that?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Starting Over

I was driving through town the other day, running a few errands. That always take a bit longer when you are getting to know a new city. And this city is kinds of a strange one... it's very spread out with lots of small locally owned places. So a quick glance at signs doesn't necessarily tell me much.

Once again, I am finding myself starting over. Didn't I JUST do this? Having to find new things of nearly everything, like a hairdresser, a mechanic, a bank, a mary kay lady. Blech.(At least I don't have to go church shopping. *Ba-dum-bum*)

"...and he also gave them provisions for their journey. - Gen. 45:21"

I never tire of reminding myself that 'God's work done God's way will never lack God's supply'. The mode I feel I am in right now, though, is "survival". I often feel as though I am moving from deadline to deadline, program to program, event to event, and am unable to work on the theory of building a good support system, of training and equipping those in education, of writing policies and putting some structure in place.

It's as if I am not only starting over in my life, but beginning something completely new in this ministry. I came here not wanting to do that, because I wanted to honor what the previous woman did here, and honor the church's culture, and spend time figuring all that out. But as it seems more clear to me that what was done before didn't work, I am now faced with deciding what to change, how to change it, and when to make that happen. I have a committee of wonderful people looking to me to make those decisions when it feels kind of wrong for me to be the one who does. Not because the Lord hasn't gifted or equipped me. I believe he has. But because I don't know this place the way they do.

My challenge is helping them understand that even though they hired me and I have the expertise and experience they wanted, I cannot be the white knight. I will not make decisions for this church on my own. I don't want to be that leader... the leader that starts over just to start over. The leader that starts over because she thinks she knows what is best.

I don't know what is best for this place. And that may freak some people out. I just need to figure out how to be a leader in the process of starting over, without completely starting over. I need to figure out how to lead adaptively, in a way that not only works, but helps them understand why.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Sweet Moment


This afternoon I had the privilege of being part of a sweet and wonderful pastoral moment.

My new pastor and I were at lunch and were able to stop by a congregation member's new business on the way back to out church. This new business officially opens on Monday, and my pastor wanted to see how things were coming along. Ken (the owner) graciously gave us a tour of his new office (he's an eye doctor). Several of his family members were there setting up displays for eyeglasses and things were still in progress.

After talking with Ken about this new endeavor he's undertaking, my pastor asked him if we could prayer together over the building, the business, his family and this new adventure. The three of us stood in the front of the waiting room and prayed together for the Spirit to work and for God's blessing over it all.

These are the kind of pastoral moments I often miss. I'm not naturally wired to think this way, really, and wouldn't have thought to pray with Ken. I am thankful to have a senior pastor who models this and allows me to be part of it. I am in place where my presence and my gifts are not only acknowledged but appreciated and allowed to flourish. It is also a place where coming alongside people is an everyday occurrence; where mentoring and learning are greatly valued. I never thought I would find a place that fit me. And maybe they, after a long time of looking, never thought they would find someone to fit them. But God made that happen.

I am blessed beyond all that I deserve.

Posted via email from stephanienels's posterous

Saturday, June 05, 2010

An Unexamined Life

Now that I am no longer a student, I find myself in this odd time of transition. Where I can't find anything I need (because it's all packed in boxes or suitcases), where I'm not really sure what to do with my time because there isn't something else really pressing due next week, and where I am seeing people new and differently.

I now live in the desert. It hasn't quite hit me yet, and probably won't until I settle into my new home, which won't be until August. I, once again, have made a major life change just as I did almost two years ago. I left all that is familiar to follow a call I did not completely understand but one I was sure of, and everything changed for me. Here I am in, in the same situation, but far less scared than I was back then. When I think back as to why, it all comes down to one simple thing: assurance.

The Lord always provided for me when I lived in St. Louis. I was going to school (an expensive one) full-time. I had 3 part-time jobs, a lot of amazing friendships, and a lot of craziness in my life. But every difficult moment brought deep joy and a great thirst for a deeper knowledge of my Lord. They say pleasure is opposed to pain, but joy is often born out of trial. What I went through these last two years was truly a trial. If I had to do it all over again I would and I would never want to trade the experience I had at that challenging institution for anything, because the Lord taught me things. People taught me things. I would never want to not have this experience.

Socrates said "the unexamined life is not worth living"... and I did a lot of examining in seminary. I now know this is an area I truly fell short in previously. The next phase of my life will be about continuing to deprogram myself so I continue the examining. Donald Miller said in his newest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, "maybe we were designed to live through something rather than to attain something." I now understand, more than ever, that living through something rightly is not just surviving, but experiencing as it happens, and looking back to ask what it all means. I am a character in God's story, and it's up to me to understand the plot he is writing with me. I may not ever fully understand what just happened to me in the last two years, but I am most certainly going to try.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Trust

A friend of mine recently got married, and she said something very intriguing to me when she described the feelings she had on her wedding day.

She said, "There was this part of me that wasn't ready to let go of my parents, because I never quite had the relationship with my dad that I wanted. I wasn't fully ready to "let go", because I didn't feel the safety of his love. Does that make sense? It does to me, because I know it is backed by research. Children who are secure in their parents love are more likely to feel the safety to spread their wings and leave the nest, because they know their parents will always be right there, cheering them on. "

I had to stop and ponder what that looks like in our relationship with our heavenly father.

As I've come to understand the mistrust I have in people, I've wondered if there is a connection between how I see them (as untrustworthy) and how I see God. How do you really know if you trust God? I feel as though my actions (such as moving my live to St. Louis to go to seminary) show some measure of trust in him and his providence. But is that all I use as my measuring stick?

Last Saturday I was offered a job. In this economy, being fresh out of seminary, that’s a pretty big deal.

Not just because it would mean moving halfway across the United States to a place where I don’t know anyone, in a town full of mostly retired people. But it’s a big deal because this is a job where I’d get to use my degree, use my gifts, in a denomination which I largely respect. But these last few days have been pretty close to hell for me.

Saying no to the only job offer you've had so far is just as much of a step of faith as saying yes to the same job offer. If I say no to the church in Arizona, it could be looked as one of two ways: 1.) That's it's stupid to say no to a job in this economy, that's almost everything you went to seminary for, and is a great opportunity. or 2.) Saying no could also mean that I trust the Lord has something else in mind for me that’s more of what I need right now. What I’m currently doing is putting enough pressure on myself that I might as well believe the world will fall apart if I don’t make the right choice.

However, I feel like it’s just a stupid to take this lightly. It took a long time for my call to be revealed to me. I graduated college without any sense of direction, not knowing at all what I wanted to do fro a living. I just knew I wanted to serve God. The process from then to now has been a process of hurt and hope, damage and restoration, love and grace. But why is taking the next step such a challenge for me right now?

In thinking of the answer to that question, I cannot help but think of Thorton Wilder’s words: "In Love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve.”

My wounded soul doesn’t preclude me from trusting the Lord. At least, I don’t think it does. But what it can do is make cloudy the goodness he has so often extended to me. My wounded soul was born out the hardship and pain, and sometimes that’s so much easier to see than his blessings.

Posted via email from stephanienels's posterous

video

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Belonging to God - Part 2


So I'm leaving tomorrow morning on a flight to Phoenix. I'm packing, thinking about the questions I need to ask while I'm there, wondering what this leg of this crazy journey will bring...

It's a really weird thing to be terrified of what will happen next and still trust that God knows what he is doing (I'll be writing more on this trust later... I've realized what a big issue this is for me right now). This uncertainty grips my heart and seizes nearly every waking moment of my life right now. It's all consuming, unforgettable and just plain hard. When I start to articulate my feelings to those I love so dearly, I realize that whatever happens, happens. If I don't have a job after I graduate, the world will not stop turning. (A friend sent me an email on Tuesday saying just that, reminding me that I told her that when she was going through something similar. Oh, how we easily forget.)

So much of what I am feeling right now plays into my story. The story I've unpacked and unraveled in the last 9 months. It's the story of my past, the story that made me who I am today. The way I think and behave and feel is all connected to what I've already been through.

But it is my story. I cannot change it. I can only seek to live well through it and understand it as best I can. I've learned why I react the way I do when I'm critiqued, I've learned what it means for me to be in process and how to be okay with that, I've learned what it means to be a saint... and so much more I haven't even posted about.

Something you may notice, if you see the labels off the the side of my blog, is the label "Identity" has the largest number of posts. There is a very important part of my story connected to that, which I don't have time to fully write about now. But here's what God has to say about identity:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be q a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices s acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy
. -1 Peter 2: 4-10

I am a people for his own possession. I am uniquely created for something. I belong to God.

As I sat as Osage Lake two weeks ago, in silence (save the birds and the wind) the Lord whispered to my heart and said, "You belong to me." There are so many reasons why this statement is huge - because of what I've already been through in my life and because of my own story. This matters. This is big. I am chosen and precious, I am set as a seal upon his heart, I have been called out of darkness into his light. This is a truth to which I will cling.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Belonging to God - Part 1

I may have a major decision to make in the next two weeks. Or I may not. Bleh.

In my "old" age, I've learned I don't like change very much. I don't like seasons of unrest or uncertainty. These seasons make me feel anxious, worried, and well... downright awful.I struggle to really trust the Lord in these times, when I don't know what he's up to, what the world is up to and what I'm supposed to do.

I'd like to be able to say that I am 100% trusting in him. As my Creator, I am sure he knows what's best for me. I am sure he loves me. But sometimes, when it comes down to the brass tacks, I just freak out. I struggle with trying to figure out what decision will honor him, to do what he wants and I struggle to actually make the stupid decision because I am so worried I will not be in his will. I wrestle with the tension of what my responsibility is and how his sovereignty plays itself out in my life. Yet I realized something very interesting on my long drive back home today. I realizing that what I am learning in the midst of this wrestling is the importance of being bold.

It's hard being in the Reformed faith sometimes, because there is such a big focus on our sinful nature. I understand why this is important, because unless I truly understand the gravity of my sinfulness, I can never fully understand why Jesus had to die on the cross. God's holiness required a payment for my rebellion.. in the form of a perfect sacrifice. The only one who could do that was God himself. That's how big my sin is. That's how big his holiness is. But...

he rose.

I can't stay on Good Friday, dwelling on the great sacrifice he gave me. I shouldn't. I must honor it, be reverent to it, be thankful for it and be in awe of it. But I must not get stuck on Good Friday... because Sunday came, and on that day sin was defeated. My sin was defeated. Your sin was defeated. If I focus on Friday I will miss the party. And that party is what allows me to be bold.

I sin. But I am not a sinner. That's why I can't dwell in a perpetual state of Good Friday. Jesus' death and resurrection defeated the sin in me and gave me a new name: saint. It feels strange to say that sometimes, because I feel like I'm being prideful. But Romans 8 tells me that I am in the Spirit. That's something to rejoice in. That's something that makes me bold.

There's a great old hymn, written in 1838, that beautifully illustrates not only what it means to be bold, but WHY we can be.

Come boldly to a throne of grace,
Ye wretched sinners come;
And lay your load at Jesus' feet,
And plead what he has done.
"How can I come?" Some soul may say,
"I'm lame and cannot walk;
My guilt and sin have stopped my mouth;
I sigh, but dare not talk."

Come boldly to the throne of grace,
Though lost, and blind, and lame;
Jehovah is the sinner's Friend,
And ever was the same.

He makes the dead to hear his voice;
He makes the blind to see;
The sinner lost he came to save,
And set the prisoner free.


Come boldly to the throne of grace,
For Jesus fills the throne;
And those he kills he makes alive;
He hears the sigh or groan.

Poor bankrupt souls, who feel and know
The hell of sin within,
Come boldly to the throne of grace;
The Lord will take you in.


Listen to it here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Word from the Lord

It's my last semester of seminary, so that means job hunting. Yuck.

But I found a job description excited me. So I called the church and talked to the senior pastor. He went to seminary with friends of mine from college. His wife is from Nebraska. He said he would take a look at my profile and resume, so I sent it to him.

Two weeks ago I had a phone interview with him and the search committee. It was intense, but good. Last week I got an email from the senior pastor telling me that they loved my answers, and wanted to talk with me further. He asked me where i was at, what I was feeling, and what the Spirit was telling me. I replied, telling him I enjoyed our conversation as well and that I would love to talk further.

I didn't hear anything for almost a week. Good thing a friend of mine was in town for a visit, or I might have gone mad.

Then, this last Wednesday the pastor called me and said, "We all really liked you, and want to fly you out to meet us."

Yikes.

I set off for Windridge Solitude, a hermitage run by Roman Catholic nuns one hour south of St. Louis. I spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning there. It was blissful, peaceful, divine and sweet. I knew that in going, I would seek answers to the call. Do I belong at this new church? Will I even get a job offer? Should I take it if one is offered? What about the job possibility here? What about those two other jobs I just applied for last week? So many questions... I knew it was possible I would leave without answers. The Lord works the way the Lord works, and it pretty much never ceases to surprise me. video

As I sat by Lake Osage, pondering my questions I realized something very significant I needed to admit to myself. I am afraid. I'm afraid of lots of things. And I don't want my fear to get in the way of a call.

I took a solitude walk on Friday morning. (It rained all day on Thursday so I couldn't do much walking then). The sun was out, bright and shining (rare for St. Louis, that's for sure) and I turned my ipod on to Red Mountain Church and this song came up.

Narrow Little Road
I believe in the love of God
It is an orphan's wildest dream
It is a narrow little road
It is an ever-widening desert stream

Oh I, and I,
I will leave this road
For the narrow

It is portrayed in the bread and wine
Let it fortify my bones
It is more than just a sign
It is the fountain from that desert stone

Oh I, and I,
I will leave this road
For the narrow


I have to be willing to go where I'm afraid to go - where I don't want to go. I have to leave the wide and comforting road I've built for myself, for a narrow road that God built for me.

The Lord gave me another word during my hermitage. But I'll save that for later. I've got church tomorrow. :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Capstone

This is my last semester of seminary. And probably my most challenging and busy.

I'm working 25 a week for the church, and am the TA grader for the head of the education department (which is about 5 more hours a week). I have 10 hours of classes (and not terrible easy classes, either) AND I have to do my capstone.

Capstone is this school's choice for finishing up your master's degree. Some school have you do a thesis paper, which focuses on a single subject encompassing for field of study. CTS has us do a capstone, which involves assembling a portfolio of the last year a half of assignments and re-visiting them. Sometimes that means re-doing the project, sometimes it means reflecting on the assinment in light of experiences since then, or using Wiggin's Facets of Understanding, and perhaps using Bloom's Taxonomy to see the value of an assignment. There are various ways this can work.

Then I write a paper on what my philosophy of education is, and give a presentation during finals week (which includes a time of Q&A from my peers). This is all part of the "capstone" requirement. Thus far, my capstone experience has been somewhat earth-shattering (is it possible for earth-shattering to be "somewhat"? I'm not sure, but I don't want to be over-dramatic).

Because a good portion of it is reflection on your work and yourself, of course, it is intensely personal. And as a by-product of this encompassing so much of my life, it is spilling over into everything else, like work. I'm finding myself asking questions about my very deepest fears and weakness, some of which nearly bring me to my knees in humility and reverence for who God is and in shame for who I am.

I was talking to the staff counselor at my church the other day while we waited for the coffee to brew in our office area. He asked about my semester, interested because he also went to seminary. As I was talking about some of the recent experiences I had, he looked at me and said, "You know, I just forget what some of you are going through. My seminary time was extremely formative and so difficult. I forget that you are going through what I went through 10 years ago." And he simply shook his head, and I could tell he was remembering all that seminary has come to mean to him since then.

Capstone: noun
1.) a stone placed at the top of a building or wall
2.) the best and final thing that somebody achieves, thought of as making their career or life complete

While my capstone is hardly the "final" thing I will achieve, I do see it as the last piece in the puzzle has has turned into my seminary experience. The portfolio I create will be an ongoing resource throughout my life, from here on out, as an educator. Psalm 118 has these beautiful words to say, echoed by Jesus many years later:

This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.

I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;

the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.
(v. 20-25)

I love the fact that after the capstone verse, it says "the Lord has done this" because God knows I can't do it myself. And like the next verse suggests, there will be rejoicing. I too, like David, pray for the Lord to save me and to grant me success. In my learning, my reflection on learning, in my application of this learning, and... well, in finding a job.

I am .01 away from graduating Summa Cum Laude. That isn't the point, I know, but it would feel really nice.

Monday, January 04, 2010

I Celebrate 2009

And with this Christmas wish is missed the point I could convey
If only I could find the words to say
To let You know how much You've touched my life
Because here is where You're finding me,
In the exact same place as New Year's eve
And from a lack of my persistency
We're less than half as close as I want to be


For the last few years, the song "I Celebrate the Day" by Reliant K has haunted me each Christmas. The first verse (lyrics above) broke my heart, because each year I saw myself in those lyrics. Each year I felt as though I was standing in the same place as last year, with no growth in my walk with Christ, no growth in emotional maturity... just no growth period.

I had to write a 10 page final paper for one of my education classes this semester; an analysis on my family genogram and reflecting on how this will affect me as a leader in ministry. Not an easy task, obviously, but as I did all the analysis and reflection I realized something very important: this year, I don't identify with these lyrics.

It's still an amazing song and it still breaks my heart with its truth. But I can say with confidence that I am not in the same place this year as I was last year. God moved me forward in some wonderfully unexpected ways that involve lots of disequilibration, differentiation from my family system, the book of Joshua, and vampires. Weird combination, I know. But I suppose that's why it is so dis-equilibrating. But I've learned how to be okay with that.

All of this is why I am celebrating 2009.

And so this Christmas I'll compare
The things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here
And I, I celebrate the day that You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life