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Care-full Compliments

When I was a kid I was pretty motivated to try to new things, to take on leadership roles, and to have the favor and approval of the teachers. Yes, I wanted to be praised by my teachers. I was that kid. I wanted the adults that I admired to be proud of me. I wanted their validation.

I think as children, we all want that to some degree. We want someone older and wiser to see our talent and potential and for them to approve of us. Maybe even be impressed.

 

As an adult in my late twenties I have had a difficult time putting my finger on why being showered with compliments by older adults has not set well with me. A “great job” or a congratulatory remark are wonderful and needed to make us feel like we are doing well and our work or contributions are appreciated. But an over selling of compliments feels belittling.

When people are in leadership roles it is so important to lift others up, letting them know that we see and appreciate their gifts. And if we have a platform and the power to provide opportunities to help our people share their skills, then we should certainly step aside and share the limelight. And then tell them they’re doing great.

That being said we need to be aware of the danger of falling into two pitfalls:

  1. Constantly complimenting or showering with compliments gets awkward really quickly. It can be hard enough to learn how to graciously accept a compliment, but several in a row can be uncomfortable. Why? Because sometimes it can feel disingenuous, and even condescending. Go back to when you were a child and wanted validation from the adults and leaders around you. It felt good and helped you develop your strengths. Now, as an adult, not only have you gained more confidence, the fact that you have a job pertaining to your skills or a degree (or multiple degrees) is more than enough validation of your talents. Who are we to assume that we are so important that their confidence and self-worth hinges on our validation of their talents? Now let me pause here and say that I know as a well-intentioned leader who falls into this trap too often that this is not the mindset. I find myself over-doing it with compliments all the time, because I want to be someone’s cheerleader. I want that person to keep up the good work. We want those around us to feel supported (because we want support too, and we know how important it is.) And we should support them! But let’s be careful that we aren’t overdoing it. The people around us don’t need our approval to be amazing; they already are. And it’s okay if they know it. They shouldn’t have to feign ignorance or being embarrassed just so that we feel like they need us to help them feel confident. One can be confident and also humble and grateful for support. Don’t over sell it. Just show up and congratulate. They’re not helpless.

 

2. Taking credit for someone else’s success as if we “discovered” them is stealing what doesn’t belong to us. If we’re constantly talking about how we “gave” someone an opportunity while disguising it under how thrilled we are to see their talents shine, we need to stop and assess what’s going on. Why are we telling others about this story? Is it to brag on that person? Why are we including the detail about how we “noticed” that person? What does that add to the story? Why do we want our listener to know that we were the ones who acknowledged that person’s talent? Why are we inserting ourselves into a story that supposedly isn’t about us? Often times, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We’re talking about a great experience within our lives where someone shared their gifts and talents when maybe they had never had an opportunity to do so before. That’s a great story to tell! But then we slip in details here and there about how we were the ones who noticed them, then we asked them, then we spent hours working with them, then we found the perfect opportunity for them… And suddenly the story is not about the other person, but about us. Sometimes minor details are necessary to get the whole picture. So here’s an example of a self-centered version of the story, and a more selfless version:

Option A:

“Our company needed someone to take on a presentation for a big client. We had a small group of people on our team that always did the presentations, and they do a great job. But some of our talented people fly under the radar who might have some strengths they could bring to the table. I noticed Haley always takes good notes when I speak at our meetings, she asks me great questions, and she shares great research with me. I thought she had a lot of potential, so why don’t I ask her? She was very excited to that I gave her this opportunity, and she knocked it out of the park! I’m very impressed, she exceeded all of my expectations.”

Option B:

“Our company needed someone… Haley always takes good notes, asks great questions, and she does her research. She had so much potential, so I asked her to do the presentation. She was very excited, and of course she knocked it out of the park! It was great to have her skills be recognized by so many people in our company and with our clients.”

In the second narrative the word “I” was only used once, and it was just to share an essential detail of the story. Otherwise, the story was focused on Haley’s competence and not on the boss’s discovery and validation of her. While we may not be purposefully looking to take credit for someone else’s success, this could be a hidden motivation in inserting ourselves in the story. If we’re getting notoriety for helping someone, we’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

ground group growth hands
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When we are supporting others, let’s be careful and care-full with our compliments. The people around us aren’t some sad baby bird who are just waiting for us to swoop in, save them, and help them fly. Typically, we don’t think of them in that way; at least not consciously. But we have to caution ourselves that our leadership habits reflect that we see these people as our peers and colleagues, not our good little students who need a gold star or pat on the head. Let’s support them without being condescending and let’s help them without taking any credit. There’s so much talent out there and enough room for all of us to share and enjoy it.

Waiting on My Real Life to Begin

Scrubs is my favorite show (at least I think so…The Office is an extremely close second.) One of those heart-string-pulling episodes is when one of the patients named Elaine comes in needing a heart transplant. The main character, JD, is caring for her as her doctor. He likes her company, her pluck, and her zest for life. Unfortunately, Elaine doesn’t survive as her heart gives out. As they are trying to resuscitate her, JD, who is known for a vivid imagination, envisions her singing “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” by Colin Hays in a ball gown.

“Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
I’ll stand on the bow, feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me
And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don’t you understand
I already have a plan
I’m waiting for my real life to begin”

At the end of the song, she disappears and her body reappears on the bed as the doctors stop life-saving efforts and the sound of her flat line cuts into the silence.

woman wearing blue denim jacket putting her right arm on her cheek
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Scrubs can make me laugh and cry in the same episode. And this happens in almost every episode. That show makes me feel like I can face anything, so it makes sense that this song would come to mind when I need some strength.

I’m at the edge of everything changing, and my future is unknown. I always feel like I’m waiting for something to click in my life, to feel settled and right. I’m used to having a plan about what’s coming next; right now I have no plan.

I posted a while ago about continually feeling like I was in a liminal space (a place of transition, uncertainty, and waiting), even though I was supposed to be getting settled. Now that I find myself in a place of transition again, that makes perfect sense; I was never meant to be settled where I am now. I was in a liminal space that was always meant to be just that.

I just don’t know what that means now. I don’t know what it’s meant to lead to. I’m stepping off the edge of solid ground, and I sure hope that something catches me. Maybe I’ll settle there? I’d like to think so. But we’ll see. I’m waiting on my real life to begin. I’ve been waiting for a long time now. It’s time.

Sunday Prayer

One of the congregants really liked this prayer I wrote for Sunday morning, and she asked for a copy of it. It’s very simple, but I tried to make it broad to cover most things that people would be experiencing in their personal lives that they might be carrying with them when they come to church. I typically get all of my liturgy ready for Sunday prepared by Thursday, but I always save the pastoral prayer for Sunday morning so that it’s fresh and I can include any current events that might have occurred around the world that week. I also feel as if the Spirit is moving on Sunday mornings when I have less time to prepare; I have to go by the instinct the Spirit gives me instead of composing some verbose masterpiece. So here’s this past Sunday’s pastoral prayer.

Sunday Prayer 2-10-19

Rev. Glory Cumbow

Loving God, thank you for the ways you love us and cherish us. Thank you for showing up when we need a friend. Thank you for the moments of quiet peace, the song of the birds, the warm cup of coffee, and the smile from someone who cares. Thank you for these gifts. Please heal our hearts of our hurts, our grudges, our guilt, our shame, our rage, our prejudices, and our despair. Please forgive us when we use our actions and our words to harm others. Please quiet our minds of anxieties, dis-ease, fear, and doubt. Heal our bodies of sickness, diseases, and disorders. Help us to extend our hands in friendship, open our home sin hospitality, give of our means in generosity, and open our hearts to acceptance and inclusion. God, we hear you speak. We know that your words will not change us unless we are willing to change. God, help us to be willing to rise up and do the work. Give us the strength and guidance to be made more like your Son each and every day. It’s in his name we ask these things. Amen.

Knowing Who I Am

I just read an article entitled “I’m 40 Years Old, and I Don’t Know Who I Am”

I realize that at 28, I can relate to this quandary. In this article Michelle Matthews answers questions she found on Google to help her figure out who she was: what are her values, interests, temperament, activities, life mission, and strengths. I appreciated reading and hearing her unique voice come through in this piece. By the end she seems to feel a bit more oriented about herself. So I am going to attempt this exercise to see if I feel a bit more clued in to who I am and where I’m at.

Values

I value good, strong, deep conversation over delicious food and drinks. Now, this might sound like an “interest”, but hear me out. I value this because this is how I have made deep, lasting friendships, have felt the safest and warmest in my life, and have broken down barriers with people who I thought I didn’t like and couldn’t be friends with. I value the vulnerable heart to hearts that happen over fellowship.

That being said, I realize that over time I am less of a social butterfly. Socially, I thrive in small groups and shrivel up in crowds. I have also pared down large friend circles into a smaller crowd of people that I can count on. I say all of that to say that I value mutual friendships, friendships where both parties are willing to rise up and meet one another. I value the friendships where I can be a safe place, and they can be mine. We can share without judgment, apologize when we mess up, and show our ugly side and still find a way to nurture a friendship. These are rare, but I find them and hold onto them.

I value learning from others, being pushed out of my comfort zone, hearing an opinion that makes me take a good hard look in the mirror, and hearing perspectives from cultures and worldviews that aren’t my own. Human relationships that cross barriers and help us become better people are what changes the world. I value this, and still have much to grow in this area.

These values are all the tangled human relationships that point us to God. I value a relationship with God, even if that relationship gets complicated and messy some (all) times.

 

Interests

Books all day, everyday. One of my selfish desires in life is to be well-read. I’d like to think I’m getting there.

The arts. I miss acting and choir. I miss performing and being part of an artistic group where I can make friends, feel connected, and create something beautiful to give to the wider community. I ache for this. Maybe one day I can be a part of another creative outlet.

Writing. I have always been a writer. Here’s hoping publishing is just around the corner.

Travel. I am not well-traveled yet, but it’s my other selfish desire. Andy and I take short day trips and weekend trips locally pretty often. We can usually only afford a bigger trip once a year. Maybe once we’re both in our 30’s and have established our careers a bit more we’ll see some more of the world.

 

Temperament

Oof. I struggle here. I used to be outgoing and optimistic. I used to be positive and hopeful and trusting and a wide-eyed dreamer. Now I feel reserved, sometimes struggling with hope in the world, yet ambitious. I don’t know if I like that about myself. I don’t want to go back to the naive individual I was. I want to retain some of the wisdom and street smarts I have. Maintaining hope, while being realistic is something I think we all struggle with. I’m still navigating this one.

But I still have an explorer part of me who finds some wonder in discovery. So I’ll hold onto that.

 

Activities

I think some of those things have been addressed in interests? Getting out of the house on the weekends, even if it’s just to the lighthouse 5 miles away or visiting a new city an hour or two away. I’ve started different types of journaling, which has been helpful. I’ve needed to find ways of journaling that works for me, and daily entries aren’t cutting it. So I journal when I travel, I reflect on the month, I write down books I read and places I see, and I do some art. Kind of journal free-styling. I go for walks on the beach about 5 times a week. Sometimes I walk on the side walk down the street if it’s dark since there aren’t any lights on the beach. I see concerts and plays and go to art museums. So I try to get my body moving and take in some sort of small travel or cultural thing weekly.

 

Life Mission

We’re supposed to have one of these?! Well, I’m behind. I mean I could default as a pastor and say that it’s to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, but that’s not just for a pastor right? That’s for all Christians.

I think my life mission might be to learn and share the perspectives of others so that the world feels a little smaller and we feel more connected. I want my writing and my life’s work to foster healthy conversation, uplift silenced voices, and tell stories that show just how human we all are. It’s so easy to “other” people, and then they seem less like people. I want to try to combat that and create some empathy. Again, I have some room to grow here myself.

 

Strengths

I think I’m pretty good at empathetic listening. I have practiced this a lot. I try to stay away from giving unsolicited advice (but you know…it still slips out once in a while.) I want to hear people and share in whatever it is they’re feeling.

I think I’m a good speaker and storyteller. I’m pretty comfortable speaking in front of others and feel pretty natural doing it. But I like crafting a sermon or presentation and delivering it. And I weave in narratives as well.

I think I’m a good teacher. I love sharing information, asking the probing questions, re-framing a question or concept for someone to understand better, watching the “aha!” moments, and having the people I’m teaching surprise me with a response and teach me something.

 

 

I encourage you to do this exercise. It really is orienting and eye-opening. If you’re feeling a bit lost, maybe this will help you find some pieces of yourself again. You’re someone worth knowing and loving, even, and especially, by yourself.

When You’re Stuck

I am waiting on news. And decisions. And opportunities. And emails. And phone calls. And for this cough to go away.

In the mean time, my mind is tapped out. I’m struggling to journal, to read, to write, to create. I have projects in the works that have come to a stand still.

I can’t move forward. I am stuck.

I have had all these plans that I do not have the mental capacity to complete at the moment. I have a stack of books that I don’t have the energy to read.

To take a scripture out of context:

Isaiah 40:31

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint. 

 

In Sunday school this past Sunday we talked about the word “hope” in scripture. Yakhal “to wait”, or Qavah “to wait with tension” in Hebrew. Waiting or tense expectations. Elpis in Greek. Hoping in scripture means waiting for God, sometimes expectation with tension and anticipation, and waiting with hope based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Often this means there’s nothing to indicate that things will get better, but choosing to wait for God to act and move anyway. We learned this from a great resource:  The Bible Project “Hope”

Hope is waiting for God to act without any evidence that circumstances will improve. Now to put the scripture back into context:

Isaiah 40:1-2, 6-11, 21-23, 28-31

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

God’s people had been exiled by Babylon, and this is the first message of hope in what is known as Second Isaiah. This is the transitional portion of the book of Isaiah when the end of the exile is near and the prophetic message is one of a brighter future. After such misery and suffering in exile, the people of Israel felt defeated and perhaps forgotten. But the prophet’s job was to speak God’s words of judgement, followed by renewal, forgiveness and restoration. They had endured the judgment, but restoration was coming. There was a political shift occurring, and this created unease as it always does. There’s no way to know if things would get worse, or if things could possibly be worse than they were. But the prophet was bringing a message of hope, of waiting with tense expectation, that the everlasting God was moving and had not forgotten them. It didn’t look good right then in that moment, but the prophet was inviting them to just wait and see what God would do.

round analog clock
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There are no revelations happening to me right now to help inspire me, move me forward, and break out of my slump. I keep looking, praying, and waiting.

Maybe you’re waiting for something, too. Maybe you need a word or a message, but there aren’t any prophets appearing in your wilderness. I’m right there with you.

I will choose to hope and to wait. There’s no evidence pointing toward a clear path to a brighter future. But I’ll lean into the expectation that God renews those that wait.

A Place Where I Belong

Coming home for Thanksgiving is always a welcomed breath of fresh air. Escaping on vacation time to just enjoy family, cool temperatures, bright leaves, good food, good books, reuniting with friends, and peaceful naps renews my soul.

Sometimes skirting around family tensions and disagreements can be tough. We can’t talk politics. Sometimes there’s some sadness when family members grow older and decline in health. Sometimes it’s hard talking about struggles when everyone wants to hear good news.

Despite any of the complications that come with being at home, I know I belong here. I am loved here. I have a place here.

Old memories from childhood and high school come flooding back when driving down roads that are forever ingrained in my mind. I pass streets where I don’t drive down, but I know them well. They are where I used to hang out or where friends used to live. When I was a kid, I was angsty and searching for an identity, and love, and self-worth. With all of the teenage anxiety aside, things were much simpler back then. My heart was a little sweeter, a little lighter in those days.

Endearing memories from college flash in my mind. I remember being young and free, exploring newfound agency and quality education. I remember late nights with friends, laughing until the wee hours of the morning, spending hours solving all of the world’s problems, not getting enough sleep, feeling safe, invincible, and accepted, and having time to do the things I loved, like singing in choir and acting in plays. I remember dreaming big, and I take some pride in achieving many of those dreams already. I remember the friends who I still hold dear in my heart, even if there are some I haven’t seen in four or five years.

I smile at the colorful leaves on the ground and some that are still clinging to the trees. I love the hay bales, cows, tractors, barns, and rolling Appalachian hills. I am warmed by neighbors and grocery cashiers who know people by name.

I probably won’t ever move back to the Tri-Cities again; at least not for a very long time. But this is still my home, and I still belong here.

Knowing that there is somewhere I belong helps me know my worth. I should feel like I belong wherever I live; I should always feel like I have a place and a voice. Who I am as a person, as an individual, should always matter much more than what I do and how I function. I am worth being loved for who I am, not what I can do for others, not what I can offer, and not how I perform tasks. I am not a means to an end, but I am an end in and of myself.

I am all the more determined to belong and make my own home.

Vocation and Spirituality

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. -John 15:16

I spent the last several years of my life thinking, “Just get through this season and you’ll be one step closer to being a pastor.”

When I was trying to squeeze in all the rest of my college credits, I kept telling myself that it’s just what I needed to get to seminary. But my spiritual development was through the roof. I had grown and changed so much during college when I was doing my studies, being a part of theatrical productions, going to chapel, hearing impressive lecturers…I wasn’t a minister yet, but it all felt like holy work. I felt like everyday I was learning so much about God, faith, the Bible, and my Christian vocation. I was also attending what became my home church. I felt so loved and welcomed. I loved singing in choir and being a part of worship each week. My faith was flourishing, even though I wasn’t ordained yet.

My first job as a youth director was toxic, and I missed my home church so badly. I really struggled, and it almost stopped me from applying to seminary. I quit this job for an even worse one, but it saved my faith.

When I was taking my year off from school and I was working in the miserable call-center position, I kept telling myself that life would be better soon. I would be applying to seminary, and then I could leave everything behind to pursue my career. I was fighting depression for the first time and I had no idea how to navigate it. But I had a small book of devotionals that had been published by a local church written by the church members. I clung to them, reading them on my work breaks. They stopped me from breaking down at work each day and helped sustain my faith. I was amazed at how beautiful and theological insightful these devotions were. None of the people writing them were pastors, just Sunday church goers. These brief daily devotions felt personal and loving. I also went back to singing in the choir at my home church. I was so excited for Sundays. They truly felt like a worshipful sabbath.

When I began working for nonprofits I was awaiting my acceptance letter from seminary. I was looking forward to the future. But in the mean time, I loved my job. I worked with children in after school programs. It paid very little, but I genuinely loved it. I had a fun, fulfilling job and I was attending my home church where my spirit was refreshed.

people standing inside church
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The acceptance letter came, and it felt like all my dreams were going to come true. Andy and I whisked away to Atlanta. I’ve waxed long about my seminary experiences before, so I will only hit one highlight:

After years of serving as a youth director and loving the work, my own spiritual development halted. And then it fell to pieces after a bad experience with a church that had given up on their youth group and many of their outreach ministries. I almost gave up on pastoring, which meant I would have no idea what was coming next. Maybe campus ministry.

Healing occurred when doing CPE and attending church for worship purposes. I could find satisfaction in my work while feeding my soul.

Now, as I have become the pastor I had longed to be, it has finally sunk in that my spiritual life and my Christian vocation are not the same as my profession. Ordained ministry is my job, my career, my calling. But my calling as a Christian to love and serve the Lord goes beyond what job I have, and it is what I choose to do in my time away from work. I am applying to volunteer my time to crisis hotlines. I send monthly offerings to causes I believe in. I write and call leaders to fight for what I believe in. I find other outlets to hear sermons, read books, study scripture, and read devotionals to foster my own spiritual life. What I do in my job to preach the Gospel, promote service and justice, teach the Bible, and love people are an important part of my Christian ministry. But what I do outside of my job are what are going to sustain me spiritually.

Like the church members who wrote the devotional I read, or sang in the choir where I attended church, or the church members at my current congregation who show up at church to learn and to minister, I must also seek spiritual renewal and devotion to God outside of my job. My job can’t be what I rely on to feed my soul, that has to be intentional from an outside source. My job situation may shift and change over the years, but I can learn to rely on God and my faith to hold and keep me. My ministry and my vocation go together, but I must also respect their separate needs as well.