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Christmas Eve Prayer

Oh God, it’s you who is the magic, the splendor, and the wonder of Christmas. You have set forth the brilliance of the stars, the magnificence of the angels, the perplexity of the Christ child. You created the whole, wide world and everything in it. You have shown us your covenantal love and faithfulness from everlasting to everlasting. May we never cease to be amazed by the work of your hand. As we celebrate the birth of your Son, help us to have the faith of children who marvel at your divine mystery that enchants us to celebrate you year after year. Help us to delight in you and your people, as you delight in us.

Oh Jesus, it is you who became God-with-us, the word made flesh. You came in the grit of childbirth and the filth of a stable to show us that your love does not shy away from the pain and grime of the world. You are the Messiah who is humble, who gets his hands dirty, who doesn’t avoid suffering; you are the visible evidence of the invisible, unfathomable love of God. Help us to always lean in and embrace people with the same courageous love that you modeled for us. Help us to fully commit to being your disciples, continuing the mission that you began by entering into a broken world.

Oh Holy Spirit, when our own souls are worn within us, when we lose our faith, our hope, our peace, and our joy, it’s your still small voice that reminds us of who we are and whose we are. It is you who sparks our hearts with light and life each year at Christmas, reminding us that the first coming of Christ was not a one-time event. You sustain our spirits as we wait for when Jesus comes again. When it seems like the celebration of the season is out of our reach, and when hope in a peaceful kingdom of reconciled people seems like a dream withered and deferred, it is your breath of life that comes blowing by reviving us in your fire.

Holy Trinity, three in one, we give praise to you on this glorious Christmas Eve. We have practiced hope, peace, joy, and love all of Advent doing our best to honor the kingdom that is already here. We hold dear to our hearts the birth of Christ as a promise of your kingdom come, when your goodness will prevail and all the virtues we have practiced will be the abiding law in all the world. When the celebration dies down, help us not to abandon this work and help us not to grow weary in our waiting. You have come, and you will come; and that is the fierce hope of Christmas. Alleluia, amen.

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
Photo by Blue Ox Studio on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

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.