Pushing Through with Queer Eye

I’m carrying a lot these days; this year has been a tough one. The first third of the year was miserable with leaving my toxic ministry and dealing with panic attacks. The middle has been full of rest, healing, and discovery. But this last third has almost undone all of the healing that I worked so hard for.

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I am grateful for those who have encouraged me and shared my ministry with others. Starting a new ministry with Tales of Glory means that I need help, and asking for help can be really hard. But I am also disappointed that I haven’t received as much help as I have needed and asked for. It’s discouraging and lonely.

I have made some tough decisions in regards to setting myself free from abusive situations, how to move forward, and realizing how that might (permanently?) affect my future. I am fighting off another cold (I had one just a month ago!) and we’re coming up one month of living in a hotel after our fire.

It’s hard not to be depressed. It’s hard not to lose my faith. It’s hard not to close myself off from others and completely withdraw within myself. Sometimes I feel as if I only have my husband and myself. Part of that is beyond my control. The other part might be my own doing as I retract from the world that seems to really have it out for me.

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On my sick day, I decided to go back and watch Queer Eye from the beginning. 5 gay men, known as the Fab 5, enter a person’s life to make them over on the outside and makeover their home, but also reach deep to boost their confidence and self-image, work on their relationships, work on their professional lives, and truly bring out the beauty in each one of the “heroes” they work with. It never fails to bring joy and light in my life. But it was extra profound to watch these episodes that hit on so many of the things I am experiencing: loneliness, complicated family situations, struggling to connect to others, struggling with faith and theology, and even the grueling struggle of starting a business.

In one of the most recent episodes where they took Queer Eye to Japan, one of the Fab 5 named Antoni, who specializes in food, was watching some of the footage from one of their makeovers. They always watch footage of how their makeover has helped their “hero.” Antoni was openly weeping when he saw the hero and her friend embracing each other for the first time after decades of friendship, which they said was not common in their culture. He cried out, “Why does kindness always make me cry?!” Through my own tears, I laughed and said, “That’s all of us watching this on every episode!”

I have been knocked off my feet so many times just this year alone that I know there is no way to know what the future holds. I don’t really know how this chapter of life is going to work out for me. I keep scanning the horizon for a sign and coming up empty. What I do know is that Queer Eye is the microcosm of what the kingdom of God should look like. I am going to keep gathering these little pockets of joy and kindness to sustain my soul. Maybe my own faith and my own ministry can grow from there. For today, Queer Eye has kept my faith in God and in the goodness of others alive. Each day looks different, and each day I react differently as I stumble through; but at least for today I am pushing through with the small gift of hope given to me by the Fab 5.

Down in Your Bones

At this point, we are all well aware that life is unpredictable and that we can’t know the future. And yet, when life surprises us as it is prone to do, we’re still caught off guard and left spiraling. If you’re a planner like I am, it can be especially frustrating when you feel like you took precautions for these pitfalls NOT to happen, and still, they can swallow us up.

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Then we cope with the pain. We are angry and we grieve when our lives take turns that bring suffering. We think about all of our life lessons, reflect on our experiences, and try to learn from our mistakes. But I think we often forget to listen to our intuition. I think if we trust our gut, then we may be a bit more prepared and equipped than we realize to navigate life’s changes and challenges.

When I was preparing for seminary and for a life of ministry, I knew deep down in my bones that I would probably have to start my own ministry and blaze my own trail to use my gifts. Somehow my theatre training and love for the arts would become an integral part of my ministry, and that doesn’t always fit what the traditional church looks like. I didn’t know what that meant or what that would look like. God didn’t give me a clear vision but did give me a hint, an intuition. So I held onto this and banked it away as I began my education. I intentionally took a class during my time in seminary about church planting, developing new ministries, and nonprofit ministries. I knew that if I didn’t take that class then I would regret it down the road.

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And then, another hint appeared: ministers are increasingly becoming “bi-vocational.” This just means that someone’s ministry doesn’t always pay the bills, so the minister takes on another job while also being a minister. I knew this was a likely outcome at some point in my ministry, and in some ways, I felt attracted to it. I had some nonprofit experience before coming to seminary, and I felt, down in my bones, that would come back to benefit me. I deliberately chose to do my chaplaincy internship in a nonprofit setting instead of a hospital setting. I wanted to equip myself for the nonprofit world in case I ever needed to be bi-vocational in the future.

However, somewhere in my second year of seminary when I began preparing for my ordination exams, I got swept up in the “traditional” idea of ministry: becoming a pastor. So I kept my intuitions in my back pocket for the future, thinking that I would have to use them “someday”, but for right now I wouldn’t need them.

The thing about intuitions is that we have them to help navigate us, but it can surprise us how soon and unexpectedly we will need to rely on them.

My first job out of seminary as a pastor didn’t work out. I thought I would be there for at least 2-3 years and then move on to something else, but that wasn’t the story. There were some things that happened that were not okay and shouldn’t happen to anyone. However, it is okay that being a pastor felt like it didn’t fit. Those feelings that I had down in my bones were coming to fruition much sooner than expected, but I was glad that I had trusted my gut and prepared myself. It didn’t prevent the pitfall, but it gave me the tools to climb out on the other side.

Now, as I am beginning my ministry with Tales of Glory, I am also preparing to enter into the nonprofit world again. I am becoming bi-vocational and I am starting a new, trail-blazing ministry.

So, are there some things you know down in your bones? Is there a hint or an intuition that is drawing your attention? Trust your gut. Follow it. If you don’t need it now, bank it away. You never know when you’ll need it and how it might reappear to help you later on. The Holy Spirit plants those seeds, and she waters them for you when you’re not even looking.

Feed Your Soul

I am in a place of discovery right now.

I almost abandoned my love of writing and theatre for the sake of ministry. I have loved both of these artistic elements since I was a child, and I was given opportunities to grow my talents. As a teenager I felt a call to ministry and thought that maybe I could use my creativity in ministry. In college I double majored in theatre and religious studies, and I minored youth ministry. I dreamed about what I could do with my passion and my calling together. I thought that when I went to seminary my vision would come into focus, and I would be inspired to forge a new path for myself.

Unfortunately, this isn’t what happened. My studies were academically rigorous, and while I had a class or two that was focused on creativity, it was within the traditional ministry model that leads to parish ministry as a pastor through which the arts could be used; these classes did not necessarily lend themselves to new ministry ideas. I also had numerous tasks, exams, meetings, and steps to complete for ordination. It was four years of one giant checklist (literally, I had a giant checklist that I checked off my fridge for four years.) After following the traditional model of seminary with little to no creative outlets to feed my soul, I thought my arts days were behind me and that those would be hobbies that would take second place to my “true” calling of being a pastor.

Part of my soul withered because it was starved of creativity. I thought it was a sacrifice I had to make for the greater good. What I learned is that I cannot serve the greater good if my soul is not being nourished. I cannot serve when I am not whole.

And then I realized that I don’t have a separate calling from my passion, my passions were given to me by God as part of my calling. If my calling lacks passion, I cannot serve with joy and energy. If my soul lacks passion, it suffers.

 

I have now published my first book, looking for a publisher for the second one, and writing my third. I am working as a stage manager for a local theatre, and  I hope this is the beginning of being involved with the local theatre circuit. I am on the pulpit supply list for the local presbytery to preach when needed. While this is not how I will be able to sustain career-wise in the long term, it is fertile ground to discover what God is calling me to next. I will need room for creativity, whatever that means, however it looks. I do not know what’s next, but for now I have the freedom to dream, to try, to experiment, to hope, and to grow. I hope something beautiful comes from this.

Sometimes we sacrifice certain things to answer our callings, to do what is good in the world. But we do not have talents so that they might be wasted. If our souls die for lack of what feeds them, what we are able to do for the greater good is limited. We were created unique and gifted for the greater good, not in spite of it. Sometimes we have to blaze our own trails. We have to be brave and navigate uncharted territory. Trying something new, even if it’s scary, can save our souls.

Published Sermons!

I am sharing to let everyone know that I have published a book of sermons! “Who May Dwell on Your Holy Hill?” is the first in what I hope to be a long, fruitful, life-giving career in writing and publishing. For anyone who has enjoyed my blogs, I think you will enjoy my sermons as well. They can be used for devotionals (they aren’t too long!) or for other preachers looking for sermon illustrations or for anyone who simply enjoys scripture, theological reflection, and stories. And please feel free to share with your friends! You can order my book here:

Parson’s Porch

Living Easter

Easter is not over, it’s just entering its second week. It’s really easy to slip out of Lent, a time of discipline and fasting, celebrate the holiday of Easter and then move on. Especially after more shootings in California and Baltimore, Jesus’ victory over death seems to lose its savor. But as Atlanta Terence Lester based activist explains, when nothing seems to change around us, then we have to change our selves and our own communities. Our actions seem small, but they are a start. If more and more people were to be encouraged to be brave enough to keep trying, then change would be evident. This is how we live into the resurrection and keep the celebration going. This is how we live into the kingdom of God that Jesus spent all of his time telling us about. During the weeks of Easter leading to Pentecost, a time in the church when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit with tongues of fire, I will be sharing practices I have adopted and other practices that can be used for change around us. This week I am sharing small, easy, practical things we can do in our every day life.

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  1. I don’t always have cash on me, and when I do it’s for a specific reason, so I can’t really afford to give it away. So when I am approached by people who are looking for money I try to carry something else on me instead: I carry a small water bottle and a snack, like a pack of crackers and a granola bar, so I can offer them something. Often people could use some sustenance. If they don’t want it, they don’t have to take it and I can wish them a good day. A compassionate interaction, even if our help is limited, can really change how we as a society see and treat people who are in need of help.
  2. Keep your change! At the end of the year you can roll it up, put it in the bank, and cut a check to donate it as a gift to a charity of your choice. Or my denomination has an initiative known as “10 cents a meal” (can also be known as “Pennies for Hunger or “Cents-ability”) where every 10 cents buys a meal for a person in need. People in our churches save their change each month to bring it to church to donate.
  3. It you have a few extra bucks to spend at the store and you’re tempted to get some canned food, first do a few minutes of research. First, find out what charities, shelters, kitchens, and other nonprofits are local to you. Second, go to their website and find out what they are specifically looking for. Often places like these are looking for feminine products, underwear, baby wipes, and socks. Find out their specific needs and try to fill those instead of giving cans of green beans and corn. Only donate those food items if a food pantry specifically asks for them.

These suggestions are just a small start! I am trying out all of them, especially the first one. If you think of something helpful, share it with others! Just make sure that you’ve done your research and that these acts are going to be helpful and not just seem helpful to make us feel good. It’s about making change, not a pat on our back for doing something. Next week I will talk about volunteering time. Let’s keep the resurrection victory moving in our daily lives this Eastertide.

Revelation 1:4-8
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

All Saints’ Prayer

God of all souls, past, present, and future you have gathered us in the palm of your hand. Thank you for enfolding us in behind and walking before us each step of the way. As the church year comes to a close and we prepare our hearts for a new beginning in Advent, we remember our loved ones who have passed away this year. We pray for all the grieving hearts that are missing their loved ones this year. We trust that our beloved have gone on to be with you, and that if you are always with us then that means they aren’t too far away. Even though this is a comfort, we still hurt and we grieve. For the many types of suffering and mourning we pray peace and understanding.

On this, All Saints’ Day, we remember the souls who’ve entered into the eternal light of Christ. We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away after living long lives of many years, full of love.

(Candle lighting and bell chime)

We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away too soon and too young.

(Candle and bell)

We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away after a prolonged illness.

(Candle and bell)

We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.

(Candle and bell)

We light a candle in remembrance of all souls who were victims of violence, crime, injustice, and tragic circumstances.

(Candle and bell)

God of every age, we entrust these souls to you. As we mourn their absence in the here and now, we look forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb when we will gather together at your table in reunion and communion. You are the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, who will wipe the tears from our eyes when the old passes away into the New Heaven and New Earth. Until we are reunited, be our peace and our hope. In the name of Christ, the Lamb of God, amen.

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.

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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.

Pastoral Identity

I am learning as I go when it comes to pastoring. I love people, but I am an introvert. I have to fight my hermit tendencies so that I am spending time getting to know congregants and ministering with my presence. I’m learning how to balance accepting constructive criticism, and standing up for myself when people are unkind. I’m learning about how to share about myself so that others get to know me, but also draw lines about what are appropriate and inappropriate questions. I am learning how to be gracious but firm when people are saying hurtful things. I’m learning how to contribute during meetings and encouraging others who speak up. I find myself connecting with some of the quieter congregation members who show up and support the church, and are finding their voice. I love hearing what they have to say from their perspective, and when they apologize for going on “too long” I tell them not to apologize. I love hearing from the quiet people. They observe so much more than most.

I’m learning. It’s challenging, but I am also enjoying the little improvements and victories along the way.

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I am learning that outreach and mission is relied more heavily on me than I realized it would be. I’m used to churches having a sizable group in place that runs of lay members and is interconnected with other community outreach events. Now I am one of the leaders (not the main leader of our committee, but a leader in the group nonetheless.) While it is daunting, it is also exciting to dream up what can come from the church. There are some awesome ministries in place, and I am impressed with the way our church contributes. But now it’s time to motivate others to get involved. I’m grateful for our committed, compassionate group.

It’s amazing how “new” I still feel. But I feel like little by little I am getting more established.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying living on the coast. I walk on the beach to calm myself. I let the waves crash on me and get my clothes wet. The bottoms of my shorts drip, I track sand in the house, my hair gets tangled and wind blown, but I don’t mind at all. I’ve never been the beach bum type, but I’ve always loved the ocean. I don’t even panic when seaweed gets wrapped around my ankle! And the pelicans, the herons, the seagulls, the egrets, and the cute little piping plovers are  giving me so much life.

I’m living into this vocation and finding my pastoral identity. I’m praying and trusting God to guide me.

The Only Way to Heal

I saw a quote on Facebook that deeply resonated with me by Christian writer Liezel Graham, “Sometimes the only way to heal, is by undoing the way you were put together by others.”

A year ago, beginning my final year of seminary, I knew that as a leader and a pastor I would have to figure out who I was apart from who I had been trained to be. As I entered this final year, I knew it was going to be a little different. I was going to be doing my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) which would be a full-time (unpaid) chaplaincy internship. Instead of spending 5 days a week in the classroom at CTS, I would be spending 5 days a week at my CPE site which was the Outreach and Advocacy Center. Each day I would help a number of guests who were experiencing homelessness get the Georgia state ID cards which could help them get medical care, employment, food stamps, and housing. Some needed their birth certificates or social security cards. Other people didn’t need documentation, but needed food, clothing, and medical vouchers to meet their daily needs. There were a few other services that we offered as well. This job took a lot of knowledge and quick thinking, but also patience, listening, and understanding. It was a very hard job, but one that taught me how powerful it is to slow and down and listen to someone who often goes ignored or silenced by society.

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Learning who I was in this environment taught me the positives of the things I was taught to be throughout my life, and the negatives. A major part of CPE is being part of a cohort of other chaplains who are at different sites. We would come together twice a week to learn more about each other, to learn about ministering to people who are facing mental illness, trauma, and major conflicts, and how to communicate and manage conflicts within our own group. We learned about our strengths, our weaknesses or “growing edges”, our blind spots, and how to offer criticism without being abrasive, and how to receive it without being defensive. It was really difficult and tense, but it was also enlightening, healing, and usually happened successfully (meaning that we came to an amicable understanding, not that there wasn’t bumps in the road along the way.) This was a training ground for self-reflection and living in a loving community.

One of the aspects of CPE was to have learning goals. One of mine was to learn how to be “appropriately assertive.” This is where who I am is in conflict with who I was taught to be. From a young age, I was taught not to be intrusive: do not ask for food and or drink at at someone’s house, even if they offer, because it’s rude for them to have to go out of their way for you. I was taught to do all the work: no one else is going to do it, so we have to be the ones who show up hours early to set up, and we have to stay late to clean it all up ourselves and do.not.ask.for.help. Just suck it up and do it. I was taught that saying “no” is rude and lazy. I was taught that I should never stick up for myself in order to “keep the peace.” I was told to “get over it” far too much growing up.

I was groomed to be a door mat. And for years, I was. I let people walk all over me, take advantage of my kindness, not show up for me when I had showed up for them, blame me for things that were their fault, make fun of me, and so much more.

But then I started standing up for myself, and I wanted to use CPE to learn how to be firm in standing up for myself, but also compassionate and gentle. I especially valued this goal when we took the Enneagram test. (For more information go here: https://www.integrative9.com/enneagram/introduction/) I tested as a 2, and immediately felt wrong. I knew that wasn’t who I was in my core. A 2 is a “helper” who are helpful to the point of being self-sacrificial; they are warm, caring, and they want to make the world a better place. But their identity is often caught up in being the servant and for some “the need to be needed.” I know this is not the case for all people who are 2’s, but this felt like the identity that was being imposed onto me. While I think some of these aspects are good and part of who I am, I didn’t feel like the working definition fit who I really was, but who I had been taught to be. I then learned that women frequently test “false positive” for a 2, because we are often socialized to be the servants, the self-sacrificial individuals who make the world go round. If we as women won’t do it, then who will? It has been “our place” and expected of us to do the work without the credit for thousands of years. I knew that a 2 was a false positive.

My CPE supervisor said to check the other numbers and see if there is one I might identify with. I felt strongly drawn to 4, the “intense creative.” Individualistic, deeply emotional and empathetic, drawn to the arts. However, sometimes our strong emotions can come off as moody or temperamental or dramatic, when to us it seems normal. We can be both social and withdrawn. We’re ambitious, but also envious and feeling like something is missing. I felt like this was me, who Glory really was at her core. Flaws and all. So I’ve claimed a four: emotional, empathetic, caring, but also firm in who she is as an individual. To learn about myself, I had to unlearn who I had been made to be.

I’m still practicing my “assertiveness.” What I’ve learned is that it’s a lose-lose situation for women. There’s still an expectation of being a submissive servant, so if we act in this way we are forced to do all the work with no credit or forced to do work that is expected of women: cooking, cleaning, child care. If we act against this manner, we are “too assertive” or “too hard-lined” or “inflexible” even if we have politely said, “Hey, I’m sure you didn’t intend this in this way, so I am not angry or anything, but what you said felt hurtful..” Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, coming across in a nice way, and going out of your way to use “I” statements so you’re not accusing them, doesn’t mean there still won’t be backlash against the fact that you’re speaking up for yourself. If you say something people don’t want to hear, no matter how understanding you may try to be, there are just people who will be convinced that you’re the bad guy. Somehow, women still get painted as the villain, even when the wrong has been done to them.

It doesn’t mean I am planning to stop anytime soon. I want to keep practicing so that I can be compassionate and graceful. I never want to be unkind. But I am going to be myself, unapologetically. I can always improve myself, but I will not stop being myself. I will not be a doormat; it’s not who I am.

I took the enneagram test again, a year later. I answered honestly, and this time I came out as a strong 4. I am learning to become who I am apart from who I have been made to be.