Monday, June 3, 2013
She walked down the aisle and said somewhat quietly in my ear, "I. Am. Mary."
I was shocked!
I had just finished preaching the third sermon in my series "Who ought we to be? taken from 2 Peter 3:8-15a. It was Advent season and we had begun to explore lessons we could take away from John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary. On that Sunday, we were discussing Mary. Not the Mary of my Catholic school upbringing, mind you, where I was taught to pray to her, worship her, and praise her and left wondering if I could ever live up to her obedience ideal. No, the Mary, I preached that Sunday was a Mary very much like me, flawed, disoriented and groping to understand what in the world was going on. The Mary I introduced was the single-mother Mary. The Mary who had a child out-of-wedlock Mary. The Mary who was almost abandoned by her finance Mary -- oh the thoughts that must have been running through her head. The Mary I introduced was the Mary who was likely the subject of rumors by the village gossipers. The Mary who pressed on in her faith journey, despite her lack of understanding and was still called and able to be used by God.
I didn't expect the sermon would call anybody or invite anyone to respond. Largely because I wasn't sure it was even a good sermon or I could be used in that way. But yet, this woman came with her confession that Mary's story resonated with her and called out to her. Bits and pieces of Mary's story was her story. On my sixth month at Harris Chapel, my very first appointment, God moved in spite of me and my insecurities. God moved although we hadn't spent quality time. God moved although I was still grappling with the title of being pastor and didn't feel the most confident that I was off to a good start of becoming an effective pastor. God moved even though I was still uncomfortable and would even forget sometimes to offer the invitation.
I had been working and working so trying to "prove" -- at least feeling as though I needed to prove -- to my new congregation that I was worthy of being their pastor, I left little room and space for God to be with me on this new journey to lead me, guide me and teach me. I left little room for God to be God. To surprise me. Her confession refocused me on my calling and exposed how I could no longer shirk back from it and downplay it. I had to get myself together -- wrap my head around the gift of being called! I had not done that. I had not yet accepted what others seemed to celebrate -- that I had been given a personal invitation to make personal introductions to the lover of our soul. I had been assigned a mission that was mine to carry out. On that day, God made it quite clear that I was trusted to preach and speak about God. God trusted and trusts me. And I had to learn to trust God! I had to learn to follow.
That young woman's courageous walk to respond to a call that she could only hear showed me how I had had not been as attentive to the one who called me. If I were ever going to be the pastor and disciple God intended, I had to invite God to be a part of the process. I had to be just as intentional about seeking God in my ministry to do my ministry as I had been intentional about telling everybody else to ask, search and knock.
That Sunday, the young woman who came down the aisle might have seen the invitation as being just for her, but I really think it was an invitation for me.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
I've seen this scripture before. Listened to it. Read it. Shared it. But not until today did I really hear it. And all of a sudden I started rejoicing. I felt as though a weight had been lifted. (Sigh). In black and white, loud and clear, I got the message: I don't have to know it all . . . have all the answers or even know all of God's language to communicate. That there is something on the inside of me, alongside of me, something within my spirit that steps up when I become tongue-tied and feel my inadequacy and says 'I got you' is simply a RELIEF!
It's a gift, really. I'm cheezing right now at what seems to be such a simple understanding of this passage: I have my very own translator!
How refreshing, particularly when you are the Pastor and oftentimes, expected, counted on, depended on to provide the answer or have a response. When you're the one who is expected, counted on, depended upon to pray at every gathering! When you are the one who without a doubt spends countless hours with Jesus, countless hours doing little else than reading the Bible, countless hours sitting in solitude and meditating. (Yeah, right!) Under this assumption, why wouldn't you be expected to engage in lively conversation, battle on behalf of, and petition for. But alas, there are many times I am not up to the task . . .my mind is confounded. . . my thoughts are a jumble of mess . . . my mouth is as dry as a desert . . . and I have difficulty praying.
Yes, sometimes the pastor/preacher is speechless.
I confess there has been many a Sunday when I have stood before the congregation waiting to hear, turning over in my mind what I should say . . . upset that I didn't remember that great passage of Scripture I wanted to include in the prayer. . . begging the Lord for guidance. . . pleading for God to give me a hint of the concerns in the room. . .only to hear: 'Juana, just speak! Just talk to me! I'll tell you what to say' And like a flowing fountain, the words begin to come. It's as if on cue, the Spirit steps up and takes it's position and makes clear what needs to be said, right when I have struggled and wrestled enough to exhaustion to compose something that would sound proper and profound and intelligent. And like a boxer with no more fight left, when I do finally surrender, true heart matters speak.
I learn later from my members the words that are shared are the words that many wanted to share as well . . . words of affirmation they needed to hear . . . words of healing that allows all of us to surrender unto the Spirit that had been saying all along, 'Turn it over to me. Let me translate the language of your heart to the lover of your soul.'
Why I have struggled . . . continue to struggle at times with these matters of trust and surrender, I am not quite sure. It may have something to do with my will and desire to say the right things, do the right things and be right. It may be because I have reverted to my 2-year-old self, who rejects help and assistance in an effort to "show you" I can do this on my own. I can be independent. I'm a big girl now. Ah, this is exactly why the Spirit steps in. My toddler self is not aware of all the in's and out's of the stages of maturity -- one of which is knowing when to surrender the 'will'.
Each day on this journey, I am learning to surrender the 'will'. My growing edges are becoming clearer and with each assignment I discover I've been working way to hard and too much. I have a personal translator who's always on the job and "knows more about me than I know about myself and my pregnant condition. So, today I choose to stop fighting and allow my personal translator to do its job, cause it really does take the pressure off.
Friday, December 16, 2011
That was the prayer I prayed earlier last week and one I asked a friend of mine to pray on my behalf. I never thought of myself as a people-pleaser. I like to think that I've always been a person bent on doing her own thing, not caring what people thought or think of my decisions or what they think of me. I like to think that I have danced to my own tune, whether it was popular or not. But since becoming a pastor, I've noticed a struggle has begun to ensue. I've noticed a wrestling within myself to be approved. There, I said it! Called it out for what it is -- a sticky web you can't break free from once you get entangled in it. I'm glad to say that for the most part, I have won the battle. I've stood my ground and moved forward despite people protests. Despite the uncomfortable feelings inside my body that remind me I'm going against the grain . . . responding counter culturally . . . and that it's OK. Standing fully in one's own self and thoughts and opinions . . . and oftentimes alone, isn't going to feel good at the onset. We live in a society that espouses uniqueness, but operates on sameness and so when change enters the picture we struggle to embrace it. Because it will separate us. Put us on the outs with some. Leave us standing in a place of critical judgement. And no one wants to be judged or be the target of its darts.
It's helped that I've had many around me to keep me grounded and undergirded in prayer, because I recognize there have been moments when I may have been about to break. And that has been scary. Admittedly, it doesn't help that I am a part of a denominational system whose very structure is founded upon man's approval of whether you pass the muster or not. They alone decide whether you are able to articulate your theology and whether it is aligned properly with the Methodist theology of your training. They make the decision regarding whether you are ready and fit for ministry with full credentials that give you a seat at the table. They, for the most part, decide whether God has called you into ordained ministry. The authenticity of your call by God is pitted against their own human knowledge that says you are ready. That your call was true and they stand in support of it.
This thing about people-pleasing is funny, because who does not struggle with wanting to be liked or having the praise of men. Who does not wrestle with their own uniqueness. Their being set apart and having to take the road less traveled. Or taking a risk that may pan out or not.
For the past few weeks, we have been studying Saul in Bible Study, a classic example of what happens when a people-pleasing mentality is not arrested. You become a puppet of the people. At the mercy of someone else pulling your strings. Like a drug, you begin to crave what is merely false affection and you find yourself a slave to it, as it become insatiable and difficult to break free of its tentacles. When you begin the journey down that road, it's hard to turn back.
In 1 Samuel 13, Saul's impatience regarding further instruction on how to lead his people into battle with the Philistines, leads him to engage in an unlawful sacrifice to God on behalf of the people.
When asked by Samuel why he made the sacrifice, Saul responds, "When I saw the people slipping away from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering at Michmash, I said, Now the Philistines will come down on me . . . "
Now the Bible doesn't say, but I know people and I'm sure they were no different then than they are today. Impatient, particularly when the vision isn't clear. Hormonal. Critical. Just plain crazy. I'm sure many of them were second-guessing Saul's military prowess, just as some of them did when he was first ordained. And because he feared losing his status with them, he responded, seeking their approval than God's directive.
Every since God called me into my pastor pumps, I've found myself having to arrest my people-pleasing mentality. I've found myself having to push aside this dark desire to be given the thumbs up and stamped with the "approved" checkmark label. I've found myself heeding the words of my wisdom tellers and sharers, who say it is imperative that I uncover and recover my wisdom voice. That it is imperative I speak truth to power. That it is imperative that I preach in and out of season, for "how will they have faith in someone they haven't heard of? And how will they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent?" I have found that it is imperative I put away my people-pleasing ways and fear not the ordination boards, the mother boards, and the peanut galleries and critical comments of pew warmers and sideline saddlers and believe in God's belief in me. That God has indeed called and gifted me to be a truth-teller. And that I must simply preach!
Monday, December 12, 2011
But I recognize for the past three years, it was slightly different. I was in seminary and I knew for the most part what was coming next . . . another semester. There was solace in the certainty of it all, despite the challenges that I knew each semester would bring. Despite the fact that each semester I found myself crying and praying that I would make it through and gather the strength to write one more 20-plus page paper. There was still some solace there. The end goal was always in sight . . . graduation. Even though I wasn't sure I would make it, I could see an image of the finish line. I hoped. Now that I'm seven months beyond the finish line, the image of what lies ahead is not so clear anymore. The walks seem a bit longer and the road more windier. Some things are clear. Many are not. I'm in a new city . . . a strange place . . . in a new job . . . doing something I've never done before . . . wondering "Where is God taking me?" Only this time, I must think about more than just myself. I pray and ask these questions for more than just one now. I have people to look after . . . souls to care for and tend to . . . a responsibility to pay more attention to what God is saying and doing. I can't just wander off and explore on my own anytime I please . . . others can be hurt.
I recognize what worked well for me before, isn't necessarily working in the same way it has for me in the past. I'm being required to do more . . . step up my game so-to-speak. I don't hear God in the ways I used to here God before. Some things are not unfolding so easily as they have in the past. I'm having to dig deeper, stretch my eyes a little wider and lean in to hear more clearly.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
As I walked the halls to gain familiarity with what is located on each floor . . . across the street . . . . and around various corners, I was struck once again with what this experience would entail. It would require me to be transparent, particularly with my colleagues as we discuss weekly our experiences and reactions to encounters. It would require me to use the same tools I employed to produce a good story with myself. My time in CPE would require I do investigative work on me.
This was the first day to fully coming to know more about myself . . . and frankly it was all overwhelming. There is nothing fun about doing deep introspection on one's self . . . but it is necessary. Many who have traveled this path of CPE says that it will make be a better minister . . . . more competent . . . more sensitive to the needs of others . . . and more understanding of the other. . . and more knowledgeable about myself. As I shared with my supervisor, I'm not quite sure what to quite expect from this experience outside of the tears that have already began to flow from the heaviness of the day and the weight of my responsibilities.
I heard someone say of the experience that it is about learning to tell my story and learning to navigate what it true for me. That makes sense. Once I learn my own story then it will be easier to guide others to theirs and help them too, speak their truth.
116 days to graduation and counting . . .
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
I admit there is some anxiety about what is in the unknown, but there is also peace these days that it will come together. I used to fret over how I would remember all the stuff that has been dumped into my head over these last three years. I used to fret over whether I would be able to adequately explain the Trinity or engage in conversations with my parishioners about why evil exists and where did it originate from. I used to beat up myself for not paying more attention in Old and New Testament and doing all the required readings and often cried over whether I would be able to adequately lead and care tenderly for the souls that will be in my care.
But now, what I'm beginning to learn is that what I need will come back to my remembrance at the right time and all that I don't know, I can simply look it up. Candler has taught me how to research. All that I didn't read, I can finish reading. The answers to certain questions are no longer elusive to me nor are the questions themselves a frustration. While I would love for things to happen in my time and the way I want, I know that will not be case. Change has been in the air for many years now and it will continue to be whether I like it or not. But what I do know is it will come together. . . that even as God led me here, God will lead me from here . . . even through the darkness of the unknown.
In an interview with Holly Robinson Pete on The Talk, Oprah Winfrey shared how she had read in a Vaniety Fair article Michael Jackson's continual quest to recreate "Thriller", a feat that he was never able to do. Oprah shared that in the moment she read that, she realized she too was afraid to move forward following her decision to end the show after 25 years. She too struggled with how she would create another Oprah Winfrey Show . . . how she could recreate these moments of her past. "Then I thought, I don't want to go the rest of my life saying Oh, I wish it was the Oprah Winfrey Show," she said, "cause it won't be. I have to let that time be. Now let's move on to this moment. Let's not try to hold onto that moment."
When I came to seminary, I began to shed my identity of journalist. Like Oprah, I toiled over how I would be able to recreate the success I had as a writer and editor and expert in my field. And like Oprah, over these last few years, I've begun to learn that those moments will never be again. I must create new moments. I must be willing as Jay-Z said, to "climb to the next mountain." Afterall that is what re-inventing one's self is all about. It's about answering the call of God to move when God says move. It's about having the courage to become who I really am.
For some time now, the Divine has been saying that I'm one of the chosen as God's mouthpieces. For some time now, God has been preparing me to become a greater self than the self that previously existed. And today, I choose to no longer fight it.
Friday, July 30, 2010
On July 23, I woke up after a restless night where the power had been out during the night and penned this before it would go out again:
This week has not been a good week as it has been filled with power outages that occur multiple times without warning during the day and night. It seems to get worse every day as the power is more often off than it is on – maybe two to five hours during the day and another four to five hours at night. These old wood houses, which are not insulated, become hot very quickly when the fans no longer blow and the air conditioning has stopped running And for someone who has only had her computer to keep her connected to the "outside world" so-to-speak, -- considering that I have no television or radio -- it has become an extremely stressful situation. The power outages have affected my broadband connection. I've had no connection. Today it doesn't help that it is a torrential downpour. This week we cancelled Tuesday Bible Study because of the power outage. "It will be difficult to find someplace to keep cool," said Mrs. Margaret, the church's organist and one of two members at Epworth Methodist who faithfully attends the study. Although the lesson I had planned for that day was still on my computer as I didn't get a chance to print it out before the power shut off at 10 a.m., I was open to pulling another lesson that I already had put together for the Wednesday Bible Study class at St. Andrews. But it wasn't needed.
I read an essay earlier this week from a pastor who described a trying and challenging situation in his life as God's way of not trying to destroy him, but bring him in closer relationship through the means of daily devotion. I have thought about this in relation to my own situation and my time spent here in Abaco this summer. I can agree that this summer – with all of its challenges – has brought me into closer relationship. Being here has forced me to be more focused, helped me to hear the voice of God more and moved me to become more disciplined in my work. But I can't help but wonder at what point does an experience cease to be a divine attempt on God's behalf to get me to a certain place in my life. At what point do power outages just become what they are: power outages?