Pastor Marie

Gentle Reader,

Well, I had a panic attack this morning. Been awhile. I lay in bed, heart pounding, mind racing, unable to focus my vision. I closed my eyes and waited for the sensations to pass. They always do. Feels like forever, but it’s really only minutes.

Panic Disorder, it’s weird. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there is no reason behind the onset of terror. It simply is. The brain’s just like, “You know what would be fun? A lot of adrenaline. A woo hoo!” Stupid brain.

Then there’s that one percent, when I can connect the panic to something I haven’t processed in a healthy way.

Four-and-a-half days until seminary begins.

On the one hand, no shocker. I’ve known for years that this is something I’m supposed to do. On the other, very shocking, because I only applied in mid-May. For someone who likes method, order, and routine, that feels a bit whip-lashy.

I look at the tall stack of books sitting nearby and feel overwhelmed. It’s not the reading. It’s not the writing of papers. The actual academic work itself – okay, fine, no problem. School’s always come easy to me. I enjoy learning. I know it’ll take me a few weeks to get into a routine, to figure out what professors expect of me, but I’ll get there. The assignments are all plotted out on my calendar. I know what I have to do, and the time it will take to do it.

Nevertheless, anxiety.

I know. I’ve presented you with a paradox. How is it possible to logically know that I can tackle this work and yet feel afraid to begin? If you can untangle that mystery, you’re far smarter than I am. All I know for sure is that my head and my heart are consistently at odds. The war is ever-raging, humming beneath the surface of my skin, where nobody but God can see.

That’s why it’s strange when people confess to being intimidated by me. Apparently when I walk into a room I do so with an air of calm self-assurance. Let me tell you the truth: I hide the fear behind a face that gives little away, unless you’re really paying attention. I definitely don’t have it “together.” I don’t have all the answers (never will) and any stability others sense in me comes directly from the Holy Spirit’s response to my desperate cries for help.

Also gotta give credit to the little green pill I take every night. Zoloft for the win. Don’t make enough serotonin on your own? Manufactured is fine.

Some of the books are thick and heavy. Commentaries on Genesis. Some are slim volumes, thoughts on Sabbath-keeping and community living. I’m drawn to the commentaries, because in them, I can lose myself. I want to know as much as I can about the Bible, and then learn some more. The books that repel me, the ones on knowing yourself better, especially within the context of ministry where strengths and weaknesses are readily apparent, are probably the ones I need to read the most. I can feel my nose crinkling as I write that.

Because I know myself. Yes, I struggle with self-condemnation, as everyone does to one degree or another, but on a good day, I have a very clear idea what I’m good at and what I’m not good at.

And therein lies the fear of failure.

You see, seminary is not simply graduate school. I was reminded of that the other day as I read something by a pastor that I should have bookmarked but didn’t. Attending seminary is an act of obedience and worship. The goal of this education is not the mere retention of information, but to be transformed in the renewing of my mind, as Paul counsels (Romans 12:1). It is to be equipped to preach and teach, that the Church might be strengthened and the Gospel spread far and wide, to the glory of God and the good of creation. It is to learn to care for others, to sit with them in sorrow, celebrate with them in joy, encourage them to keep moving toward the good even when it’s hard, and to lovingly confront error, that relationships might grow and the world might truly begin to know we are God’s by the love they see displayed among us.

What if I can’t do that? What if, at the end of the day, I am just a nerdy lady who likes to read, and pastoral care and leadership is beyond my reach?

I have wrestled with this question all summer. This is not what I imagined for my life. This is not what anyone imagined for my life. At teen camp, I stood near my cabin one night, out of sight of everyone, and looked to the sky, wondering just why I was there.

It’s that word, “pastor,” that throws me. I have a lot of ideas as to what and who a pastor should be. Didn’t even realize that until recently. And I don’t, you know, fit a lot of those ideas. What kind of pastor often needs to take a nap during the day? What kind of pastor requires significant amounts of solitude in order to re-energize after interacting with people? What kind of pastor is startled, nearly to the point of tears, by sudden loud noises? Aren’t pastors supposed to be charismatic, energetic, tough people?

So I’m annoyed, because I know that this first semester is going to be emotionally stretching, as God breaks down my ideas and replaces them with His own, as He reveals the path to me, step by step. And I really don’t like dealing with my emotions. Other people can cry and rage and whatever else around me, and I’m happy to listen and provide support. But me, letting myself feel what I feel, in the moment I feel it? Ugh.

I easily fall into the trap of believing my value lies in accomplishments. (Silly, because the sense of defeat inevitably follows when discovering that another has accomplished more and greater). So of course my mind jumps years into the future, to graduation day, and the idea of graduating with honors. Imagine my shock, then, to realize that such an end could actually be sinful. Prioritizing the wrong thing. Stick with me. Yes, I believe that everyone should do their best at everything we set out to do. I have no intention of slacking off. But I’ve learned something this summer, in the hustle and bustle (that’s left little time for writing): What God places in front of me, here and now, is the thing that matters.

In short, I will fail seminary if I come out the other side with an excellent knowledge of exegesis and Greek, but without having grown in love for God and people.

Achievement at seminary might mean accepting less than an A+, because that might mean that I’m out there putting what I’m learning into practice, instead of spending every waking hour stressing over getting an assignment just right. However many years I spend in school can’t be just about the schooling itself. This journey has to be about God, from beginning to end and beyond.

Maybe this is all very obvious to you, but it’s a major shift in thinking for me. The academic world is one I’m comfortable in, one I know how to navigate. The pastoral world, not so much. And there’s another shift: Maybe I’m a pastor right now. Maybe that’s who God made me to be. The process and the ordination and all that, it’s good and right and I can go along with no fuss. But maybe that endpoint is just a confirmation of what is already true.

A pastor who takes naps and needs quiet and is quiet and hates loud noises. A pastor who uses slang and wears ripped jeans and is too lazy to dye her white hairs to match the rest of her strands. A pastor who is not and will not be your superhero, but will gladly point you to the Savior you need. A pastor who longs for all to know the grace, love, and truth of God.

Maybe that’s enough.

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Five Minute Friday: Question

Gentle Reader,

June in North Idaho is a strange month. Monday the temperature reached into the upper 80s. Today it’s been clouds and rain.

Kate says: question.

Go.

“You want to be a pastor?”

Want might be too strong a word. I identify strongly with the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, neither of whom were initially thrilled to receive the call. In fact, I just finished reading Ezekiel recently, and this verse had me laughing aloud:

The Spirit lifted me up and took me away. I left in bitterness and in an angry spirit, and the LORD’s hand was on me powerfully.

– 3:14 (CSB)

Commentators are split as to whether his anger and bitterness was in response to the sins of his people or in response to being commissioned to do a thankless job. I suspect it was probably a bit of both. When God, in His kindness, confronts us with our sin, we rightly feel a rush of emotion. When God, in His wisdom (and honestly, sometimes with His sense of humor), guides us toward the path He wants us to travel, we wrongly get mad and stubborn.

At least I have.

I don’t like getting up in front of people and talking. A lip sync battle, sure, because that’s funny. A part in a play, fine, because that’s not me; it’s a character. Just myself, Marie, behind a music stand, daring to declare that God has given me something to say…wow. That’s a lot.

But like I said, God has a sense of humor. I think He gets a kick out of using unexpected people in unexpected ways, because it brings Him glory and creates goodness in our lives.

Do I want to be a pastor? Truthfully, I’m not quite there in the wanting department. Still a lot of fear to overcome. The better question is this: Do I have to be a pastor? Yes, I really do. Absolutely no idea what that’s going to wind up looking like. All I know for right now is that I’m meant to keep showing up for our youth and I’m supposed to go to seminary. (Yeah, I just signed away at least four years of my life).

The real question, the one that circles ’round and ’round my mind, the one spoken in the quiet yet authoritative voice of the Holy Spirit: “Will you obey Me?”

Even though I don’t know where this path is going.

Even though it scares me to the point of tears.

Yes. I’ll obey. Not because I’m awesome, but because my God is. Because when I stand up there, longing for nothing more than to run away or to disappear, a greater longing overtakes me. I want these precious and wild young people to know just how deeply they are loved. I want them to understand the glorious Gospel that sets them free. I want them to meet Jesus. I want them to grow in relationship with Him. I want to see them grab hold of transcendent truth, to be enraptured with their Creator – and then to go out and set the world ablaze as they live in grace.

Stop.

Side note: Super weird to have people start referring to me as “Pastor Marie.” Pretty sure I’m not ever going to get used to that.

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Five Minute (Someday I’ll Do This On Time Again): Goal

 

Gentle Reader,

Spent my Thursday night with a friend at church, trying to sleep on just-this-side of uncomfortable hospital mattresses. We watched a silly television show, ate chocolate, partook of a face mask that made us look like swamp monsters, and chatted into the wee hours. Most importantly, we served three families who are looking to improve their lives. We had the honor of sitting with them during dinner, then cleaning the kitchen while they rested and prepared for the next day.

Loving like Jesus does is a beautiful thing.

Kate says: goal.

Go.

This might surprise you, but I’m not particularly goal-oriented when it comes to my writing.

Not in the traditional sense.

I used to want a multi-book contract. To see my name on the New York Times bestseller list. To write posts that go viral. To develop a big following on social media.

Now…none of that matters.

Of course I wouldn’t turn down a book contract. Of course I’d be delighted to see my name alongside major authors. Of course I’d feel honored if something I wrote spread far and wide. (As to the big following, it’s too scary). I’m just not chasing that stuff anymore. I may not know a lot, and I may have had to learn the things I do know the very hard way, but I can say with confidence that none of the above is fulfilling. None of the above meets the deepest need of my life.

That deepest need? To be loved. To be seen. To be accepted. To have purpose.

Only Jesus does that. Only He reaches down into my heart and draws the broken pieces together. Anything good this world has to offer, it’s just bonus. Extra. Nice and all, but not necessary.

I’m not a super-spiritual saint. Chances are good that as soon as I hit “publish,” I’ll be distracted by something false and shiny. But I know, in that place of knowing in the center of my being that cannot be shaken, that Jesus is the real treasure. Him – not what He provides, but Himself.

My goal, then, is to glorify Him in every word, whether they are read by the many or the few.

Stop.

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Five Minute (Monday): Well

Gentle Reader,

Did attend the chat last week, but neglected to go and see what the prompt was, thus this belated entry.

Completely unconnected thought: I have never dyed my hair. Well, I guess that’s technically not true; one summer, several years ago, I had some low lights put in that were about two shades darker than my natural color. Wild, I know. But yesterday, I found myself thinking, “I should go blonde.” Utterly random and it 99.9% won’t happen because I am lazy and/or a hippie when it comes to my hair – obviously, or I’d be straightening these locks every morning – but you never know. I might show up looking like a completely different person one of these days.

Kate says: well.

Go.

LORD, you have treated your servant well,
just as You promised.
Teach me good judgment and discernment,
for I rely on Your commands.

– Psalm 119:65-66 (CSB)

If you’re ever feeling down, turn to the psalms.

The whole range of human emotion is expressed in these poems. We are given permission, by their inclusion in holy writ, to be the fragile, frail people that we are. We are given space to cry out to God. To doubt, question, and wrestle. To express the desire to call down fire on someone’s head. (Don’t tell me you’ve never felt urge). The psalms are the sinner’s songbook, full of fear, passion, and rage.

And yet the stanzas are so much more. Time and again we watch as the author shifts from complaint to praise, from worry to wonder. The pen stills as the heart drops into a steadier rhythm. Despite the brokenness, despite the pain, despite the suffering, God is good. Like the true Father He is, He guides His children into places of peace and wholeness. When we are done fighting and fussing, He draws us into His lap and whispers words of love.

Yes, Lord. You treat Your servants well. We raise our hands in praise to You not because of the perfection of our existence, because it is not perfect, but because of the perfection of Your presence. You enable us to walk the path You have set before us, sometimes sure and swift, sometimes halting and hushed. This path, it leads straight to the heart of the better country, the place for which we are made and for which we ache.

Yes, Lord. Teach us good judgment. Teach us discernment. We rely on You.

Stop.

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