Advent 4: Love

Micah 5:2-5a
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

If you love, you get battered. It’s just true. You fray at the edges, then unravel. You get all used up.

Loving anyone or anything in any way empties you and dumps all your goodness out. Compassion fatigue and empathy erosion are real things that can take the kindest, tenderest heart and harden it up.

Love can break you down.

Love is always two-sided: you cannot love others if you do not love yourself; you cannot love yourself without loving others. Whether we like it or not, our hope, peace, joy, happiness, success, and prosperity depend upon each other. We need each other. You need everyone else. You are needed in this world. You need us. We need you, too.

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

― Frederick Buechner

Love can break you down. If you seek out the love and care you deserve, it can break away the hardness of your heart and make it soft and caring again. You will be emptied of your love at the end of your life, but that can be good news. It can be a sign of a life lived well, filled with the care and love poured into you. Your goodness may be emptied out, but you can be full of the goodness of others. Love gives, and love receives.

You may be battered, but you may also be healed. Hold the tension of the battle scars, sutures, and balms that entail a life well loved.

Luke 1:46b-55
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 

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.

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.

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.

island during golden hour and upcoming storm
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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.

red and green tree leaves on a sunny day
Photo by le vy on Pexels.com

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.

Bones

“Bones” is a TV show that I highly enjoy, and I was frustrated when I couldn’t find a way to watch the final season when it was on television. I had watched it for years and I needed to see the conclusion! Now, a year later, I found the series on Amazon Prime. I love when a good TV show has a satisfying ending, and this one did not disappoint. While watching the series finale today, I had a startling realization that put my life in perspective.

This time 5 years ago, I was preparing for my final Sunday at my first church job. I was leaving the church with immense pain and bitterness. I was planning to give up my aspirations to go to seminary. I was about to start a miserable four months working in a call center.

Working at the call center, I went to a dark place. I felt like I had wasted my college degree. I thought my dream to go into ministry was over. I was still freshly grieving the loss of my grandfather. There were other pains and disappointments that piled up on top of each other as friends decided not to be there for me when I needed them. I was depressed for the first time in my life.

To numb the pain, I would come home and watch hours of Netflix. I desperately needed an escape from my everyday life. (I am not endorsing television as a replacement for therapy. At the time I couldn’t afford it, and that’s a real thing. Everyone deserves a right to healthcare, mental healthcare included!) While there were other shows I watched, I distinctly remember watching hours and hours of Bones. The stories were entertaining, the characters endearing, the relationships heart warming, and most importantly of all, these people made enormous sacrifices in their personal lives to work the careers they were passionate about. This show distracted me from my grief, my defeat, my failure, my miserable job. It gave me hope that I would one day have a career I cared deeply about like they did.

As we know, I got a new job a local nonprofit, came out of depression, applied to seminary, and I’m now on the other side of all of that.

I didn’t go through a “honeymoon” phase with my new church. I have had my rose colored glasses shattered a long time ago. I know the church can be both a beautiful, yet broken place. I had rough week last week, and instead of it being a sobering “reality check”  I began questioning things as I have on this entire journey. I have had to fight harder than many of my other colleagues to get where I am today (and I know that due to my status as a white, straight, cis-gendered woman, there are others who’ve had to work harder than me.) I have been through the ringer to get to this place, and my instinct is to question and doubt because this is what these forces have wanted me to do.

But things were settled and I had a couple successes to re-energize me in my ministry. I also had strong words of encouragement from friends. I am called, I am here.

So as I watched the finale of Bones, I have realized that I am where I desperately wanted to be. I watched this show end as someone who accomplished what she set out to do. I watched the show with completely different eyes, as a source of entertainment, not as an escape. With my rose colored glasses being destroyed long before seminary, I know I haven’t “arrived.” My career is not perfect and will never be. But I am where I am supposed to be. Life’s not perfect, but it is so much better now than when I was at my lowest point. I am grateful to have been given this new perspective to reaffirm my place and my calling.

Graces

I had my first rough week as a pastor.

I know there are many more to come.

I won’t divulge too many details, but rubber has met the road this week in many ways. One of these ways was by conducting my first solo funeral. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak the Gospel to those in need of comfort and hope. God was present, there was love in the room.

Now, I am tired.

 

This is when self-care has come into play. I have been spending the last few weeks reaching out to friends who I haven’t spoken to in some time (for some, it has been years.) I may not always be in touch with the people who are important to me, but reaching out and checking in is just my way of saying hello and reminding them that I care for them. It was good to receive kind words from friends. Some of which heard my venting and offered prayer, encouragement, and advice. I am so grateful for people who speak life in difficult seasons.

Andy and I grabbed lunch at a local seafood restaurant, which is on a pier. I had a drink, dined on grilled fish, and watched the waves crash around me.

This morning was a weird one, but a good one. I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep, due to some mild anxiety. And then I had some lingering emotions from some things I am struggling with. After an hour I decided to get out of bed, realizing the sun would be coming up in a half hour. Andy woke up with me, and we walked down to the beach together. We watched the dolphins and pelicans catch their breakfast, which was enough excitement to get me through the week. For those who don’t know, dolphins have been my favorite animal since I was a kid, and watching them come out of the water and feed in the wild is breath-taking for me. And then the sun rose over all the feeding animals in the sea.

 

We walked from the beach to our local breakfast diner and had an early breakfast. I came back and cat napped. Then it was time for the funeral.

I don’t have any profound thoughts gleaned from this week. I will just stay grateful for the small graces, and the large ones too.

Rev…? Who, me?

On my ordination day, I thought there would some sort of feeling of…triumph? revelation? transformation?

I thought the laying-on-of-hands and the declaration, “You are now a minister of word and sacrament” would be a moment of transcendence. And while I smiled wide at the words and felt deep joy, it still didn’t feel…real? I worked so hard for the title “rev.” and yet it still felt like the title didn’t belong to me.

I’ve been waiting for something to click.

 

What I’m realizing is that it probably won’t happen in some defining, special moment, but over a period of type after a number of circumstances.

Repetition is helping some. I keep referring to myself as “Pastor” Glory in formal settings, or using “Rev.” Glory in formal emails and letters. Rev. Glory is doing the work, getting her business done.

When attending my friend, Betsy’s, ordination service I was able to go and lay hands on her as she was being prayed over. I had a moment of impostor syndrome while standing surrounded by so many other elders and teaching elders (and being the youngest among them.) But I stood, taking my role seriously welcoming my friend into ordained ministry. Rev. Glory had the authority to stand in the company of elders and ministers as one of them.

 

WBTS searched for nearly 2 years for an associate pastor, and it really took a toll on them as they waited and waited. The senior pastor had to take on the work load of two pastors. I am starting feel the weight of my role here at the church. Rev. Glory is needed to share the load and meet the needs of this congregation.

At my installation service, I chose to receive the same scripture charge as my ordination service: 1 Tim. 4:11 These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.15 Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Upon hearing this read to me a second time, I was drawn back to the moment of my laying-on-of-hands. I had to be reminded of that moment for the event to sink in. Rev. Glory should not neglect the gift that is in her given to her through prophecy and the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

 

I’ve never been the type to want to over-use a title. I like being personable, and I don’t need formalities (I do, however, expect the use of formalities used for me when they are used for the senior pastor.) I have no plans to force people to address me with my title, especially when in a casual setting. Personally, I just need the practice so that I don’t feel like an impostor! Here’s to living into this new role, this new title, this new chapter in my life.

I made it! Finished the Bible

I came in just under the wire and finished the Bible in 90 days.

So here’s what I have learned from doing a challenge like this one:

electric lamp
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  1. You get behind so easily. Life doesn’t stop in these 90 days. I graduated, traveled out of the country, moved states, started a new job, and got ordained in these 90 days (life has been wild, I know.) While about 13 chapters a day sounds manageable, when having entire days committed to other things and being way from home without time to do much else other than wake up, spending the entire day doing what you need to do, then going to bed, it is easy to miss a day…or three…or five. And then 13 chapters a day for the five days you missed really stacks up. So skimming becomes a go-to.
  2. You’re not going to absorb much. If you get behind (and you probably will) and you start desperately skimming to catch up and meet your goal, it’s easy to miss a lot…or everything. Just scanning words on a page doesn’t enhance your biblical knowledge.
  3. It’s more about “bragging rights” than anything. So now I can say that I finished the Bible in 90 days, but that’s about it. I’m not a better Biblical scholar by any means. However, I did get a lot of Biblical words ingrained my mind. I got to soak in the language of the Bible, and I believe that has been imprinted in my brain.

    adult beautiful blur casual
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  4. Listening to the Bible is not cheating. When people talk about listening to the Bible, it is usually sheepishly, as if they are cutting corners when it comes to devotional time. While this can be true if you’re doing other tasks while listening, it was a saving grace when I got hopelessly behind in my reading. Listening to the Bible was no worse than skimming the pages. In fact, I caught more phrases while listening than I would have by skimming. I found myself looking up words, phrases, and going back to the scripture itself and re-reading it. Listening engaged a different part of my brain and helped me latch onto somethings I might have missed while reading.
  5. It set me up for personal devotion later on. I now have a list of devotional studies I want to go back to and spend more time with. I missed so much here and there, and my interest was peaked in certain passages, so now I will set a new goal to go back and dig in.
  6. If you want to absorb more, use other tools. I am creating a curriculum that goes through the whole Bible for my youth group, and the Bible Project Youtube series has really enhanced my reading of scripture while helping me build my curriculum. These videos broke down the tougher scripture passages that I didn’t have time to struggle with, while sewing together scripture into a bigger picture. The Essential Bible Companion is an easy read that can be completed in a couple hours, and gives a summary of each book of the Bible. I also read “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans, which you can read more about in a previous blog. It helped me combat some of the fundamentalism that has been ingrained in my scripture reading and re-frame my understanding of the Bible. I am now reading “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell. When I finish, I will write a blog about that, so keep an eye out.

So there it is! I am glad I went for this challenge and completed the Bible is 90 days. Again, it’s not for scholarship, but it has exposed me to more tools that have enhanced my understanding of scripture and has peaked my interested for further study. If you are interested in taking on such a challenge, be prepared! It is no easy feat, but it may be a gateway into a deeper desire to understand scripture.

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