In the Snow, Beneath the Pines

Gentle Reader,

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

– 1 Corinthians 13:39-41 (MSG)

I stood shivering in the cold, despite layers of clothing, my eyes, never of too much use in the darkness, scanning the yards ahead of me anyway, watching for any sign of trouble. My warm breath mingled with the frigid air, swirling clouds ascending to the treetops above. Weak lamps cast a pale yellow glow, unable to compete with the beauty of the stars above, but useful in their own way. Laughter and screaming filled my ears, never mind that they had all been instructed to be quiet. Panting and full of good cheer, a couple of teenagers fell at my feet, soaked to the skin but not seeming to mind.

I hadn’t planned to be there, in the snow, beneath the pines. Hadn’t anticipated earning a new nickname that I shall not reveal here because reasons. Hadn’t dreamed of climbing on a stage and lip syncing to “The Schuyler Sisters” with someone with whom I apparently share a brain. Hadn’t longed for sleepless nights. Hadn’t pictured myself in suddenly deep conversations. And certainly hadn’t, in any way, thought that I would be so thoroughly and completely embraced.

Drenched in love of the most wonderful variety.

All following hard on a year filled with harshness, with brokenness and rejection. I hardly know how to handle such acceptance. I’ve come to expect glares, frowns and tight-lipped whispers when I enter a room. Grown accustomed to the fear associated with knowing you’re being talked about – because you dared to disagree, because you went outside the accepted boundaries, because you aren’t perfect and wonderful and exactly what everyone wants you to be at all times. Believed that every bit of gossip and petty meanness was exactly what I deserved. Wondered if I really was that unwanted, undesirable and unloved.

So to have a group of people actually want you around… Encountering nothing but smiles and laughter…

Frightens and delights in equal measure.

Helping at a youth retreat is work, no doubt. My whole body feels it today. Neck aches from headbanging. Side of my hand throbs from pounding it on a table while shouting, “One two three four, JFK, FDR!” I’m not sure I will ever be warm again after giving my coat, scarf, gloves, snowpants and boots to people who claimed to have “packed everything!” Definitely had a moment when I thought duct-taping them all to the side of the lodge was a good idea.

But I’d do it again.

The things they said:

“You’re so fun and young, like one of us. But then we can talk to you about real stuff and that’s cool.”

“Would you pray with me for a second? There’s this thing going on…”

“You brought M&Ms? Hand ’em over!”

“Can I sit by you?”

“Ugh. Why don’t the boys shower? Their hallway smells like butt.”

“I frickin’ love you.”

“You are the prettiest!”

Makes a lady feel all bright and snuggly inside. The gooey, chewy center that she tries to hide all exposed but, for the first time in a long time, she’s okay with her tender heart beating loudly for all the world to hear. She is not trying to defend herself or be anyone other than the woman God so carefully designed and placed into this context. She wants to wrap her arms around all of them, teen attendee and adult leader alike, because she loves them so. She’s full of life, overflowing with it, and wants nothing more than to be a gracious, healing presence, soft and gentle and kind and warm. She hopes to be, empowered by the Spirit, a safe, comforting port in the storms, to provide the shelter of a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for any and all.

For every compliment they gave, I had the joy of showering them with words of affirmation in return. I got to watch their eyes light up with wonder that someone saw good things in them, told them that they are smart and capable and a powerful force for good in the world. I got to watch them take steps, some microscopic but real, of belief. Belief in God, belief in themselves.

What a privilege that is.

Who am I, that this should be something I get to do?

I forget sometimes that this body of mine is fragiler than most. That’s the thing about walking around with an organ that’s doing it’s level best to kill you; when you get a reprieve from the pain, you feel energized and free and so you forget all the caution and warnings and go all in. I was blessed with a few hours’ release from the sharp stabs in my side. So I took all the hugs and knocking about that I could get. Then it came screaming back, a tangible reminder of my desire for resurrection wholeness, and I had to steal away for a moment to let the tears fall.

Then I kept taking the hugs and the knocking about.

It was worth gritting my teeth for them. It will always be worth gritting my teeth for them. Because they need a person, who isn’t a parent because what do parents know, to be present. To be willing to handle the discomfort in the service of true life and love.

I curl beneath a heavy blanket, dog on one side and coffee on the other. I know I have yet to truly begin processing all that I witnessed and participated in this weekend. My journal awaits, ready for the deeper notions and feelings, the things that I can’t write here but are safe before God’s eyes. It will soon come spilling out in sentences that make sense only to Him.

For now, this. Utter physical exhaustion. A glowing soul. Spirit full of love given and received. Mind entranced by thoughts of what might be next. Pessimism obliterated by optimism. Miraculous, divine and unexpected loosening of heart-knots.

Without doubt, supremely blessed.

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(Belated) Five Minute Friday: Share

Coffee

Gentle Reader,

Missed the whole thing last week. Instead of tip-tapping my way across the keyboard, I wrangled teenagers, which is a bit like giving a bunch of dogs a bath. (You think cats are harder to bathe? You’ve never met my dogs). Our church recently became part of the Family Promise network and the youth group wanted to be part of the overnight team, making themselves available to serve the two families who lived in Sunday School rooms for a week.

I think I fell asleep around midnight. I definitely woke up just after 3:00 a.m. Friday morning.

Yeah.

Kate says: share.

Go.

So we did that. I was proud of the teens; they jumped in and played with the kids who have no say in their living situation. Lots of hugs and giggles were shared. Jenga towers fell and ping-pong balls zoomed across the table. Then they all crashed and slept straight through blaring cell phone alarms, leaving Chris and I no choice but to rouse them with the infamous screaming goat video.

I needed a nap. I wanted a nap. I planned for a nap.

I got no nap.

And that was no good, because Friday night was another overnighter. (No, we didn’t plan this well). At 9:00 p.m., the twelve-passenger van packed tightly with bodies, backpacks and snacks sped toward the University of Idaho for seven hours of fun and games. We joked and scream-sang the whole way. Thankfully, I did not have to stay up all night. Instead, as the driver, I got to take the van, that I had never driven before, to a cheap hotel, that I had never stayed at, in which I would stay and hardly sleep due to the…exuberant festivities of the college students all around me.

I’m paying for it now. Back hurts. Head aches. Sleep schedule completely thrown. Too old and uncool for this.

Coffee is my BFF right now. Don’t try to separate us.

I’ll do it again because I’m so glad I got to share in those experiences. Don’t believe the bad hype about Generation Z. They’re cool people.

Stop.

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Ministry, Laptop Style

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

There’s always this battle going on inside me. One part wants silence and simplicity, the unadorned and straightforward nature of Quaker, Amish and Mennonite worship services. The other wants full-on Anglicanism, liturgy and stained glass and choirs. My understanding of Scripture leads me to believe that these parts will not be fully fused and satisfied until Eternity, when, somehow, being with God will be simultaneously simple and full of awe-inspiring grandeur.

Because He’s cool like that.

I didn’t grow up in a denomination and the idea of joining one took some time for me to wrap my head around. That part of me that likes the simple doesn’t always understand the need for things like creeds and manuals and ordination processes. The Apostles didn’t need any of that to do the work Christ gave them. That other part, though, the formal side, is pretty into structure and order and sacred tradition.

The Church of the Nazarene (my denomination) requires men and women who want to serve in full-time ministry to go through a rigorous, years-long process. There’s schooling and licensure and meetings and mentoring. Some parts of it make sense, some parts of it make me roll my eyes. In the end I’d rather caution than foolishness; anyone who dares take on the mantle of leadership should know exactly what they’re getting into and take that very seriously. It’s no light thing to stand before a congregation and preach the Word of God.

When all the hoops are jumped through and all the tests passed, then the ordination ceremony. A solemn occasion. All the candidates stand in front of the church members gathered for district assembly (basically all the churches in a certain area get together for a several-days-long business meeting, but with worship and cool workshops). There’s a whole lot of prayer. No rushing through allowed. It’s pretty awesome to watch.

I have zero desire to be a pastor. Oh, preparing sermons each week would be super-fun, and I could probably muster up the courage to stand behind a pulpit and preach, but the other stuff…the having to listen to people complain about stupid things and keep from smacking them…yeah, I’m not so good at that. (Thank you to the men and women who are. Thank you for not smacking me when I complain about stupid things).

But I am in ministry.

Stupidly, I didn’t realize this until recently.

I’m not ordained.

I’m definitely not paid. (Starving artist status, for the win).

But every time I open my laptop and start typing, I am engaged in ministry. I am teaching. I am leading.

Yes, I have known for a long time that my spiritual gift is teaching. I can’t help but tell anyone who will listen (and some who won’t) about the things I’m learning. It just happens. I have known since I was a child that I have the ability to write. But ministry? That’s for the people “up there.” That’s not me.

I wonder how differently we might see ourselves and our work if we lived in the light of two words: holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).

What does it mean to be the elect of God? Quite simply, the elect of God identify with the vocation of Christ and are a holy people who manifest God’s glory in the world. As Christ bore the rejection of humanity, so will his followers. Yet as Christ fulfilled his calling as the Elect of God and was honored, so it will be for his followers. God’s elect people identify with God’s elect Son and assume his vocation in the world.

For this very reason, Peter concludes this section by ascribing to Christians the titles of honor enjoyed by Israel (2:9-10). Like the redeemed of old, those who have been redeemed through Christ are God’s chosen, holy people who make known the wonderful deeds of God in the world. As the elect people of God they are the unique people through whose Christlike conduct God reveals his mercy and power to the world.

Asbury Bible Commentary, emphasis mine

The purpose of ministry is to “make known the wonderful deeds of God in the world.” This can and should be done by those who have heeded the call of the Lord and given themselves over to this work in a formal, full-time way. This also can and should be done by those who have heeded the call of the Lord and given themselves over to this work in an informal, but no less full-time, way.

We’re all called. Anyone who belongs to Christ has been enabled to do whatever it is He has called her to do – from bringing truth and light to the corporate world, to patiently changing another diaper while singing “Jesus Loves Me,” to submitting to the process that results in a pastoral position. It’s all ministry.

And there it is, that blending of simplicity and formality. A glimpse into the mind of God, who brings the low and the high together in order to create something entirely unique, something that cannot be copied by mere human effort.

Minister wherever you are, however you can. Each day is filled with opportunities to make God known. There’s always someone who needs to hear His truth and feel His love. You and I are the vessels by and through which His presence and salvation are declared.

Let’s not forget or waste that knowledge. Let’s learn to see folding laundry and filing reports and sitting at bedsides and everything we do as holy work – chances to pray and speak and be the hands and feet of Christ. There is no sacred/secular split for us.

For if we are in Him, then this is all about Him.

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What’s Wrong With Me (and Possibly You)

Group

Gentle Reader,

This morning, I had an epiphany.

For the last several weeks I’ve grown increasingly frustrated. In the last two years I have gone through the loss of all of the “official” areas of ministry in which I was involved. Two women’s Bible study groups, a book discussion group, a church library project and board position.

Vaporized.

Most of the time I know that each of these losses has been intended for God’s glory and for my good, but there are more and more days lately when I just can’t stand it. I look at my husband, at his involvement with our church, and I actually feel jealous. I never thought I’d feel that way toward my spouse! But, yes, jealous. He’s in the worship band. He teaches the pre-schoolers. He leads a men’s Bible study group. He rocks babies in the nursery. He’s the “go to” guy while I sit and wonder if anyone would miss me if I just stopped attending services.

Now, I love my husband. I don’t begrudge him a single one of those activities. His increased activity is, I believe, ordained, just as my stillness is. Trouble is, I’ve had it drilled into my brain for so many years that a “good” Christian serves, and I worry that I’m slipping out of God’s favor. Or that I’m useless.

Chris and I were joking around about something as we each got ready for work this morning. I wish I could remember the context, but he eventually said, very seriously, “You would not be a good manager.” I agreed without hesitation. When I am at work, my focus is on the task. I like my coworkers (most days) and don’t usually have too much trouble interacting with them, but they are not the priority for me. I am kind, but would prefer to be uninterrupted when in the middle of a project.

I don’t like chit-chat. I don’t like wasting time. If there were a word strong enough to convey my hatred of meetings, I’d use that here. The very idea of managing people, of dealing with interpersonal conflicts and ensuring that everyone feels equally valued, makes me want to pull my hair out. I have a good work ethic and will do whatever is asked of me, but don’t make me part of your Human Resources team.

All day long, I pondered the stark truth of my lack of managerial skills. Then, the epiphany.

I have been frustrated in ministry, in finding my place and role within the Body, because I’ve been trying to do something that I’m not equipped to do. Take, for example, leading a Bible study group. If I sense apathy among the attendees, I have no desire to teach the lesson I’ve spent hours on. Instead of a joy, it has become a waste of time. Another pointless meeting. I resent the people I’m supposed to be loving and reaching out to.

This makes me think that there really is such a thing as a “people person.” Yes, yes, God wants us to love everyone. But must we all love the same? Chris never meets a stranger. He’s comfortable in just about any situation. He can converse on any matter of subjects and people feel at ease around him. Where he relishes going to a party, I often dread it.

So, I wonder if there is some way to use the abilities and the passions that God has given me in an “outside-the-box” sort of way. Is it loving to clean the sanctuary so that people are comfortable on Sunday morning? To create an attractive bulletin? To think long and hard about an encouraging word or Scripture passage to write in a card and send to a friend in need?

I’m starting to think so.

I’ll go even farther with this and confess that I limit God. I think we all do. We assume that serving Him means that we must be a great speaker or an amazing singer or at least the guy who operates the Power Point. But who blesses the speaker and the singer? Isn’t the person who brings the water bottler or the cup of coffee just as vital as the preacher or the worship leader?

This is quite embarrassing, for the idea of each person and each way of serving being deeply important should not be so revolutionary to me. I’ve read the passages. I’ve heard the sermon. I’ve got the theology degree. For whatever reason, I never really understood. Today the curtain is peeled back a little.

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