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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To be the Nurturer

Gentle Reader,

I guess I’m a hugger now.

For someone who’s a bit of a germaphobe and is always trying to protect her right side, this is a complicated development. It does not naturally enter my mind to reach out and gather someone close. That’s why I know this urge has been planted in me by the Holy Spirit. I begin to recognize how much people long to give and receive healthy touch. To know that they are cared for. And I am deeply moved by that recognition.

Attending teen camp a couple of weeks ago was quite the experience. The pendulum swung wildly between the highest highs and the lowest lows. The first two days, I wondered why I was there. A definite sense of not belonging, because while I do like to play and have a good time, I am wired for the quiet moments and one-on-one conversation. Contemplativeness is not a trait generally associated with youth ministry; we think hype and loudness and messiness when we think of teens. And there is a place for that, of course, but there’s only so much loudness I can take before I teeter on the edge of a complete meltdown.

So, what could I bring to the table? What was the point in my being around?

The third day, it clicked. Teens don’t always express exactly what they need (really, adults don’t do that, either), but as I sat in the chapel and watched students wrestle with the message they’d heard, I didn’t have to think about how to respond. I just started praying with people. I put an arm around each person, and, without exception, they sighed heavily and relaxed against my shoulder. And Jesus smacked me on the head, as He often does, and asked me, in that quiet way of His, if I was going to stop wondering why I don’t fit in and just do what He’s called and designed me to do

You don’t design your ministry. That’s how we approach it, and that approach is all wrong. God designs us to do what only we can do in the way He’s asked us to do it. For too long we’ve focused on programs and processes and been content with slotting people into “leadership positions” that don’t require leading, but rather just replication of a party line and way. I wish you could hear me speak these words aloud, because there is no condemnation here, but rather a sense of clarity, an understanding of what I’ve been battling for so long and why I don’t need to battle it anymore.

The Church does not value the nurturers, but the Church needs them. Or us, I should say.

Believe me, I never imagined using that term to describe myself. Yet I know in my bones that people need to understand that they are loved. That they are safe. They need to know that they can have conversations, ask questions, and just be themselves. this doesn’t mean that I don’t speak and teach truth, because that’s a vital part of nurturing. But instead of lecturing someone from a lofty position of cold authority, I grab their hands and invite them to follow Jesus as I follow Jesus.

For most of my life, I have run away. Kept myself hidden as much as possible. Some of the reasons for this are valid, and ones that I will continue to work through. But mostly, it’s the dread and fear, pounding in my chest. Now, I want those feelings to be replaced by the holy love that pushes me to run toward. Even if I get beat up, or looked over, or stepped on.

I must be about my Father’s business and will, come what may, even though my approach to that work looks different from others’. Oh, I’m going to keep stumbling and falling and crying and doubting. Highly doubt I will ever be one of those ministers who seems to have it “together.” I think that’s okay, because the consistent sense of my own fragility keeps me grounded in grace. And so I can stop beating myself up for not being whatever it is that I or others think I should be. What freedom! What sweetness! What joy! What great adventure!

Wind in my hair, sun on my face, flowers in my hands. Arms ready to embrace all I encounter.

I’m going to love lavishly, because that’s how God loves me.

Yes, Jesus. Grant me the eyes to see as You do, the mouth to speak as You do, the heart to love as You do, and the willingness to go as You do.

To Love as God Loves

Coming back to a post I began a month ago. A month! I have much to share with you about that month, but before all that, this, which flows into and provides context for the that.

Gentle Reader,

I stare into the mirror. An ordinary-looking woman meets my gaze. The afternoon light shifts, highlighting the gold tones in her brown eyes and the red in her brown hair. She looks a little tired, but she always looks a little tired. There’s something else about her face today. A sadness. A weariness.

Time is short, my dears. The days seem to stretch on, but before we know it the clock winds down and the alarm sounds. Breath, God-given and sustained, leaves a loved one’s chest. The spirit flies into eternity, waiting for the day when the Father tells the Son to go and fetch His Bride.

And so I think we have not minutes to waste in petty squabbling. Yes, some hills are worth dying on. I may be mostly a gentle puffball, but I’ve enough of a fighter in me to know that to be true. But most of the things we spend energy on, the conflicts that rob us of both peace and sleep, are pointless. Useless. Do not, in any way, impact the grand scheme.

Perhaps we can choose a holy way of expending the energy and passion that fuels these fights. Perhaps we can throw ourselves, body and soul, into love. Loving the way that God does, something beyond affection and deeper than preference. The kind of love that means something. Costs something. The sort of love that we all ache for in the middle of the night.

Romance is not dead, my darlings. It is greater than the longing glances exchanged by couples in cheesy movies, more than eroticism. Romance is the deep mystery, the grand adventure, found in walking with Jesus. He beckons. He calls. He woos.

Then, somehow, He creates a family out of the called.

Like any family, we are dysfunctional.

But we’re still family.

And so our language must be seasoned with love and tempered with grace, for these are brothers and sisters, beloved ones, with whom we interact. Do you realize that? Do I? God calls us His beloved. Are we that kind of community? One that operates out of belovedness? Beloved of Him, beloved of each other?

What if we cared? Really, truly, cared? Paused and actually listened to that prayer request, and prayed then and there? Laughed with each other? Cried with each other? Were all up in each other’s business, not out of mere curiosity or nosiness but because that’s what people who love each other do?

There is a radical quality to the love of God, a quality that I begin to see is passed on and pressed into those who call upon His Name. The sort of sacrificial, selfless love modeled by Christ is ours to learn and share with the world. We do not drum up this love within ourselves by force or will. No, it arises instead out of time spent at the feet of Jesus. Sometimes that looks like hours of quiet contemplation. Sometimes that looks like a full day with hardly any room to breathe. Sometimes that looks like something in between the lull and the busy. But it always looks like a person devotedly – not perfectly – seeking the Savior’s will.

What an impact we might have upon this place, if we loved as He loves!

Five Minute Friday: Distant

Gentle Reader,

No idea where the last two weeks went. Hours lost to the same black hole that eats socks and hair accessories, I suppose. I thought I’d have a lot of time for writing, but nope. Here, there, and everywhere went I, and any moments left over have been dedicated to sleeping, because summer camp is next week and sleep is not a thing I will not likely do for four nights.

May the odds be ever in my favor.

Kate says: distant.

Go.

Part of my heart has been roaming around Utah, Arizona, and California, traveling with my beloved youth group. They explored Arches National Park, attended a conference with 8,000-plus other teens, participated in service projects, spent two days in Disneyland, splashed around in the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach and are now making their way home. I didn’t get to go on this trip, as I stubbornly dragged my feet in responding to God’s leading, but I thought I was okay with that until the vans pulled out of the church parking lot two Sundays ago.

It wasn’t the trip itself I minded missing, because I am not a woman who ever wants to go hang out in the desert in the middle of summer. It was them. I missed them.

And so I am thankful for the beast that is technology, because

Good news from a distant land is like cold water to a parched throat.

– Proverbs 25:25 (CSB)

They kept me in the loop. Shared pictures, stories, and videos. Called me a few times, both to vent about things that would make anyone cranky when it’s 114 degrees and you’re operating on very little sleep, and to share their joy as they began to hear God’s voice. That, indeed, is the best part. God is still speaking, still working. Still drawing people in.

My dear ones learned that they are not the future of the Church, but that they are the Church right now. I am delighted that they heard this message and I can’t wait to see how they begin to take ownership of their place and role. I am excited to walk alongside them as they continue to grow.

Teens are not a lost cause, you see. They aren’t useless. They can be used by God to impact their communities for His glory and everyone’s good, just as adults can. Yes, I am human and no saint and there are moments when it’s awfully tempting to walk away because they can test you like nobody else can (especially middle schoolers), but they need me. And they need you. They need those of us who are a little farther down the path to hold out our hands and pull them up alongside us. They need us to show them how and why to follow Jesus.

I am excited for them to return from the distant land. Excited to hear all the details of their grand adventure. Excited to hug them. Excited for new relationships began with Jesus and old relationships deepened.

That, I think, is one of the little miracles, the subtle touches of God’s hand, that we don’t always notice. A year ago I would have never imagined I’d feel this way or be so invested in their lives. I had purposefully distanced myself from many people because of deep hurt. I can’t say that I’m completely healed, but I can say that the in-process work of the Spirit lies in bridging the distance, in moving me toward when I want to pull away.

Simply, God is good. He has given me a beautiful, complex family, one for which I never thought to ask.

Stop.