Monday, June 28, 2010

So I did hear right . . .

It never fails . . . just before I'm about to preach, I get an extreme case of nervous butterflies in the pit of my stomach . . . the most painful anxiety headache that seems to pound with every drum beat played during praise and worship . . . the feel of cotton balls in my mouth even as I drink bottled water after bottled water . . . and I experience extreme doubt about what I'm supposed to say. Over and over in my mind I'm asking, "God are you sure this is it? God are you sure I heard you right?" Then once the sermon is over and I've resolved that I did as best I could . . . I may get a message from someone saying, "You know I been thinking all day about what you preached. It really got me to thinking."

That's what happened on Sunday. After pulling an all-nighter and part of the morning trying to get the sermon written, I learn later in the day that my sermon, "How hungry are you?" was on target. I learn that the lectionary text, Luke 9:51-62 which was planned some years ago, was just what needed to be preached on this particular Sunday. Funny how that works. It was just the text -- one that deals with the issue of discipleship -- that the people needed to hear. . . that I needed to hear. I was already pretty confident that it was a message for one of the churches, as earlier in the week, I saw signs of what John in Revelation calls a "lukewarm" congregation. I learned that if some of the dedicated few -- which are 3 or 4 could not or would not be making Bible Study, then Bible Study wouldn't happen.

Admittedly, my spirit grieved that day as I cried over whether the people were really interested in going to the next level in their Christian walk. I was thinking here was an opportunity to up the ante. . . to get a better handle on this Christianity thing . . . and they didn't have time. Other issues were more of a priority. What I had heard them speak seemed contrary to their actions. When given the opportunity to "follow Jesus" as the text says, here they were offering excuses. I knew right then I needed to tackle the issue on Sunday. But as I shared, I had no idea if it would resonate. . . no idea of the people would think me too harsh . . . no idea of what to expect.

Then later in the day after I had preached two services . . . after I was winding down and going over the coming week . . .I get an instant message from one of the congregants saying how moved she was by the message. . . so much so that she posted on her Facebook status: "I'm hungry for a mighty move of God . . . use me Lord any way you choose!"

Unbeknowest to her, God had already done so. Her worldwide posting was my confirmation that I had done as God had requested . . . that the nervous butterflies in the pit of my stomach . . . the head-pounding headache . . . and feel of cotton balls mouth . . . and extreme doubts about what I had heard . . . was not for naught.

It was just as God had ordained.

On to next Sunday.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pushing through my peculiarities . . .

I'm learning something about myself – the older I get, the more introverted I become. I've always known that I have introverted tendencies and it may be the result of being an only child where I spent most of my time with myself and never really longed to need or be with other people all the time. (I wasn't one of those children who begged my parents for more siblings or more playmates. I had plenty in cousins and that was enough.) While I have more extroverted personality traits and function well, I still find that I do not always want to hang around people every second. I actually treasure my alone time. . . look forward to my alone time. . . even become agitated if I feel as though someone is attempting to barge in on my alone time. I have a friend who says she is more energized by people and find she needs to be around them for that energy. I, on the other hand, become drained by people after a while and look forward to solace and spending time in my own space. I guess it should not be surprising really. After all I was a journalist and most tend to be slightly introverted, if not full introverts. They are slightly more comfortable with their writing, reading and sitting with their thoughts and engaging in stimulation that way. So as you can imagine this has become somewhat of a challenge as I attempt to do ministry here . . . in a community where people look forward to getting together with each other . . . and are with each other seemingly all the time . . . going between house and house . . . sitting for hours with each other's company . . . and asking questions when the pastor isn't out all the time every day.

I came across an article a few days ago entitled, "Hospitality for Introverts". It was written by a pastor's wife who classifies herself as a full-on introvert and how she has manages to share the gift of hospitality in spite of her introverted personality. After reading, I felt some of the suggestions could be applied to pastoral care. The writer suggested concentrating on reaching out to one or two people. I've done that. I allot different days that I will do pastoral care visits and plan out early who I will visit on those days. Usually it is two or three people.

The other suggestion is to set boundaries on time. I'm not so good at this. I usually find myself sitting for hours -- usually two or more -- with some in the community. I find myself feeling guilty if, after I have drank my tall glass of water, wanting to leave. This happened recently and the couple got me another glass of water, saying, "Now you can't leave until you've drank your other glass."

Pastoral care is essential in doing effective ministry. I did it last year, on a smaller scale. While it was one of my responsibilities as part of my pastoral internship, it wasn't a key responsibility as it is here. In a community like Cherokee Sound, where many of the 200 residents are older and the culture is one where visiting is a norm, it is a non-negotiable. Many of the residents are not able to get out as much and look forward to the visits. . . the conversations. Granted, once I'm out and about, I'm fine and enjoy them. It's just the initial getting up and going out to be with other people that sometimes challenge me. There are times my introverted self wants to take over.

I enjoy hearing the stories and learning about the lives of the people here, just like the recent story about the visit of one's grandson. This grandfather, who had never seen his grandson, largely because he had disowned the child's father years ago, saw his 22-year-old grandchild for the first time on his 84th birthday. He said to me: "He called me up and said he wanted to come see his grandpa!" I could see the emotion and joy on the man's face as he told me the story and proceeded to tell me more about his life in Cherokee and Marsh Harbor. I'm sure he hadn't told those stories in a while and my being there was a chance to live in his memories . . . recall a life of both joy and sorrow and blessings and regrets.

At that moment, I was glad I had pushed myself to make the visit . . . stop and even sit for a while. Apparently, so was he.

"Thank you for talking to me," he said, after about an hour or so, and after I got up to leave and head to the next house.

I have to remember that God knows all the peculiarities I have and knew them when I was called and knew there would be some things in ministry that would be more challenging to me than others. I have to believe those things make for a much richer ministry experience. The encounter was a reminder that what I do or attempt to do is so much bigger than me and that the ministry of presence is sometimes all that is needed. It was a reminder of why I have to, at times, push through my moments of introvertedness. . . cause in the end it'll be a blessing to all involved.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

That cell phone was talking . . .

On Wednesday night I went to teach and also got taught:

So I led Bible Study at St. Andrew's last night. This is the congregation in Marsh Harbor that I will also be working with, although not with as much frequency. The night before, I led the lesson at Epworth Methodist Church in Cherokee Sound, where I live and spend most of my time. The turnout there was small -- only two people and the pastor and his family. Needless to say I was slightly disappointed. A few others said they were coming, but never showed. I'm glad I listened to the Holy Spirit earlier in the day and made the decision to have it in the manse. . . it was much more personal and intimate . . . a good atmosphere to talk about prayer . . . simple prayers.

Apparently the lesson was a hit. Pastor Joseph asked me to teach it to the members at St. Andrews. I'm glad he did. The members there loved the class . . . so much so that when the power went out, no one moved . . . no one gave an excuse of why they couldn't' stay. . . conversation didn't stop. Members simply pulled out their cell phones and illuminated the darkness and continued sharing their own experiences of prayer time . . . conversation time with God.

I'm not so sure that would have happened in church in the states . . . maybe if we were used to blackouts as often as they have them here during the summer months, but again, that might be a stretch. I think what was so amazing for me was that the members were so engrossed in their conversations and so hungry to learn about how to deepen their relationship with the Divine that the darkness didn't even matter.

That night my simple prayer was answered -- the lesson was relevant. And what I had been hearing was confirmed -- that I was on the right track concerning the mission God called me to carry out here this summer. The vision was clear -- I needed to turn a certain amount of focus to the spiritual needs of the adults here. Many are hungry. . . thirsty and interested in seeking an oasis from the drought.

They even asked if I was on the schedule next week.

There is something about being hungry and committed . . . nothing gets in the way. Even when you can't see your way clear . . . you continue on . . . press in . . . knowing that eventually light will shine through . . . even if it's from a cell phone.

My simple prayer: God make me just that hungry.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

One in the bag . . .

Sunday reflections . . . a little late. . . oh well.

I pulled off my first church service today . . . the first service where I helped organize the order of worship for the morning and evening service . . .the first service where I preached. And I must say, I think I'm getting the knack of being a minister. That's what this experience is all about . . . more intensive training in the ways and means of handling congregations and leading God's people. It's an opportunity to begin to walk out who God says I will be . . .who I am.

The congregation said I'm off to a good start. That was encouraging considering I wasn't sure about the message. You never know what to expect when you tell a group of people they are hypocrites, especially on the first day you stand in the pulpit.

But hey, I blame it on the text. . . on Jesus really. That was the message he was getting across in Luke 7 in regards to Simon's view of the "sinner woman" . And that was the text I was called to preach and the message God delivered in the midst of my exegeting. I included myself in it of course, but a message about judgement and condemnation is not exactly the one I thought I would have been preaching on my first day . . . it's definitely not one you'll hear people shout about . . . or one that elicits "Amen's" and "That's Right!"

And if they do, as a friend says, it's more than likely because they think you're talking about someone else other than themselves.

Nonetheless, the word went forth. But it's my experience in the midst of the proclamation and the entire service, really that I reflect on. Something happened. . . something that I notice happening more and more as I take my place behind the pulpit. . . in front of congregations. I seem to stand a little more taller. . . with more confidence . . . and speak a little more authoritatively. More and more, I notice God taking over in those moments and I hear my voice saying things I didn't even think I knew or remembered and I hear it in a tone that sounds unlike my own. (That's exactly what happened during the alter call for congregational prayer.) And I feel a sense of urgency to say what I need to say . . . and I have a strong desire to do -- absent of fear and doubt.

A change is definitely taking place. And I may have -- in part -- my favorite Public Storage manager to thank. She prayed with me before coming here. While I can't remember all she said, I do remember her praying for God to build my confidence. And I remember her looking me straight in my eye saying that I would return changed . . . better . . . more self-assured.

Funny, she didn't even know that I struggle with my confidence. Nor was she aware that during that same week another friend had been praying the same thing concerning me. And I had been praying myself.

I can't speak for the days ahead, but I can say that on today, that boldness manifested. I surrendered . . . got on the passenger side of the car and allowed God to slide into the driver's seat. And what unfolded was a beautiful exchange between me and the people God called me to serve that day. What began to be unveiled was the "minister self".

And if I must say, it wasn't a bad look.

Is this another branch broken? Not quite. . . but there is at least a crack in the wood.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

God provides . . .

Remember I said an adventure usually includes details for the making for a good story?
Well, here is one: Just as I'm walking up the steps, returning from dinner with one of the families . . . determined to finish this sermon (After all, they are expecting me to preach in the morning.) . . . the power goes out. Not a glimmer of light in sight. The house is completely dark . . . that dark like you can't see your hand in front of your face dark. So of course there is no way I can read books and type . . . no way I can even think . . . or hear God speak. I have only one flashlight that I stumble into the bedroom, groping to find . . .hoping to find on my nightstand.

Then God speaks. . . just before full panic sets in regarding how I will ever get this sermon done . . . tells me to call the only family that has a generator. Just as I call, Eleanor says she was about to call me and tell me to pack a bag and come over. She knows I have to finish my sermon.

So, there I go . . . venturing into the black of night with black bag in tow and flashlight illuminating the way toward my God-sent blessing . . . feeling more of God's love . . . recognizing God in the faces and actions of this family . . . knowing that I am not alone . . . but that God is directing every step of this journey . . . taking me from the darkness and into the light.

God does provide.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Food for the journey . . .

So today makes a week that I have been here on the island. And my, has it been a week. A trying one. A contemplative one. Power has gone out almost every day as I come to learn that the power system can only take so many generators and air conditioners running each day. And it has been extremely hot here . . . hotter than I'm used to in Florida/South Georgia and Atlanta . . . hotter than it's supposed to be this time of year . . . hot like as soon as you step out of the shower and dry off, you need to dry off again hot cause the sweat just keeps on popping up. I've been battling bugs . . . attacked by mosquitoes . . . and just struggled overall to get adjusted to doing ministry here in the Bahamas. . . in a small rural older community where there is not much to do and expectations are high.

Admittedly, I've been distracted by these minor inconveniences.

But I have survived thus far. Truth be told, what has aided me on the journey has been the hospitality of the families here. Just when I was having a "wits end" moment, a rainbow would emerge in the form of what I call this radical form of hospitality. And maybe it's not really radical at all, just a form of neighborliness that I am not used to.

Earlier this week, as the clouds started to gather and lightening flashed across the water, I prepared myself for what I knew would be a heavy downpour. I didn't expect the power to go out and continue to be out as night fell. I attempted to sit on the back porch and read a bit, but the mosquitoes were just to much for me to take. Inside it was just unbearable, but I had resigned myself to just lying down, thinking that if I breathed slowly and remained still, I wouldn't feel the heat as much. But just as I was trying to figure out how I would endure the heat that already had sweat rolling down my back and across my brow, I get a phone call from a couple from the church to pack a overnight bag and come to their house. They had a generator and air was in plenty supply. They even had leftovers I could enjoy, since loss of power left me with no way to cook or warm leftovers I had in the refrigerator.

As I strolled down the street, pulling my little overnight bag behind me, I saw neighbors gathering at each other's home talking to one another and enduring the blackout and heat together. And I was reminded of the communal tradition that many of us have long left behind as we have come to value our privacy and live individual lives.

But not here. Here in Abaco in the Cherokee Sound community, every family -- whether related by blood or not -- is connected to each other. They rely on each other and look after each other.
Two days ago, a neighbor dropped by to bring me lunch. She had no idea I had awoke to meet ants in my cereal and was having another "wits end" moment. That night I was invited to dinner at her nieces house. And her niece had no idea that I had simply planned to eat some leafy greens and tomatoes or something because it was just too hot for me to cook.

These are the moments I have had here. These are the moments God has created to show God's self in the midst of the frustration. On Wednesday, a friend reminded me that God manifests in every situation and we have to open our eyes to see how God is revealed -- even in the most trying times. She asked how I could see God in the situation of the "ants invading my cereal". At the time, I couldn't see God anywhere.

But now that I look at the picture in its entirety and at these collection of days, I see God's attempt to show me love through the many acts of kindness of God's people here. I see God calling me back to simpler times . . . to times of reflection and introspection . . . to remembering what God said to the people of Zion in Isaiah:
"and provide for those who grieve in Zion -- to bestow on them a crown of beauty for their ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for a display of their splendor." --Isaiah 61:3

So even on my worst day, I see the promises of God and am given a glimmer of hope of the best that lies ahead. I see that I matter and God always has me in mind, particularly when I find myself captive by a myriad of experiences and trials I rather not endure, but are necessary.

In these moments -- like now -- when my mind and spirit is quiet enough to hear . . .I hear another dead limb being cut away.
The pruning continues . . .

Monday, June 7, 2010

Watch what you pray for . . .

I have no doubt now that God is trying to get my attention, while at the same time answering my prayer to hear more clearly . . . pray more deeply . . . and help me to focus. Not only do I not have television and am unable to connect to programming online, but I just learned I can't access music on or This pops up: "We're sorry. We have detected that you are outside of the United States. This service is only available to residents within the United States."

Hence my posting on Facebook: "Okay God, I know what I prayed . . . but really?"

It's not that I don't have enough to do: three churches to contend with, sermons to write and prepare for, youth ministry activities to plan, Bible studies to lead, sick and shut-ins to visit, classwork to complete for this internship and papers to write for my commissioning packet to become ordained that's due in two months.

There's just something about having access -- or not.

All I know is that when God is serious about getting alone time, nothing gets in the way. However the pruning needs to happen, will happen.

So, I just gotta suck it up and count it as part of the adventure.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bahamas blues . . . .

I'm back where it all began . . . in the Bahamas . . . on one of the family islands where I believe some of the intensive shaping and molding into a minister began . . . particularly one who will be living the life of an itinerant minister. One's who's life will be on the move . . . one who will enter into a congregation and at some point depart . . . one who will come to understand what it really means to be called to go! And what it means to answer.

How apropos that I would be reflecting on what it means "to go" as I believe I was called to come here -- to the Cherokee Sound settlement on the island of Abaco, where residents number about 200 and sleep with their doors unlocked. This is a community where modern conveniences such as electricity didn't come to the island until the early 90s. Up until 1987, I'm told all residents went to the community operator to make phone calls. I don't know if I can quite explain it, but I believe the preparation to come here -- to be isolated so-to-speak -- began when I made my first trip to the Bahamas in January 2009 as part of the World Methodist Evangelism Institute's Conference in Nassau. I say that because on that trip, I was also isolated. Soon after my arrival, I found myself whisked away to preach on a smaller island from the rest of my traveling companions.

I know that I must accept that in saying "yes" to this call . . . in saying "yes" to coming here at this time to hone my skills as a minister, I was saying "yes" to the adventure. And like any good adventure there will be much on the journey for the making of a good story. There will be unexpected twists and turns for the creation of a good plot. Already this story is shaping up to be life-changing and unforgettable.

Just as I believed then that God needed to pull me away to do some heart, soul and mind surgery, I believe the same rings true this time around. But it still doesn't stop me from feeling the "God why here like this blues".

And honestly, the only answer that comes is, "Why not here!"

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Yes, pastors are human too . . . fun and sexy even!

So I'm coming to recognize that I am not a traditional pastor . . . you know the one that people have in their mind of what a pastor is supposed to look like, supposed to sound like, supposed to act like. Well, I'm not that pastor. I wear funky, stylish outfits . . . sexy even. I tell funny jokes . . . use slang sometimes even. I bowl, dance, go to the movies (even the R-rated ones), listen to R&B, read books other than those centered on theological topics or talk about Jesus . . . play pool even.

So, you might say I'm slightly off center of those visions -- at least trying to be. For the most part, I'd like to think I live outside of some of these wild, crazy notions and expectations that we have about ministers -- like the one I heard from a fellow preaching sister who said that someone was shocked that she actually went to the movies.

Really? God forbid we see our preachers or pastors going to the movies! Some would have proclaimed us Hell-bound a long time ago . . . oops! I said the word, "Hell".

So of course it probably isn't appropriate that I like to shoot a game of pool every now and then or sing karaoke or listen to Rick James and Teena Marie sing "Fire and Desire" (which I just heard minutes ago). I started thinking about these notions we have our of spiritual leaders after wresting with myself over whether I should have even posted this picture of me in all of my beauty with a pool stick in hand. I started thinking about what people would say and how they would wonder, "Is she really a minister?" or mumble "She isn't like any preacher, I know!"
I got even more nervous when someone referred to the pose as "Hot"! (By the way, can a minister be "Hot"?Of course not, especially if she's a female. What was I thinking?).

Actually, the question is "Where did this thinking come from? Since when did I cease to be less holy, less spiritual and less than capable of carrying out my duties as a minister? Since when did I cease to become less than human? None of these aspects of who I am are lessened by the fact that I hold a pool stick in my hand, sing karaoke and simply have fun. A friend of mine quoted that she and I and some other women she knows in ministry, "walk by the beat of their own drum".

And that's what I'm doing . . . strutting in my peeptoe pumps and high heel slingback sandels with my funky, eyecatching toe pedicure design in only the way that I can . . . in a way that I believe is not offensive to Jesus . . . in a way that I believe liberates me and others from this bondage we have been held in and hold other people in . . . in a way that I believes helps me proudly proclaim that a decision to follow Jesus is a decision to live in freedom from the world's social constructs. There are still many things or aspects of my personality in my BC (Before Jesus) days that I can hold onto now that I'm a member of Team Jesus!

It's crazy how we fall into these realms of thought . . . most due to years and years of being programmed to think this way. It happens almost unconsciously and only when we begin to speak some of the thoughts aloud or find ourselves in conversation with others do we ask, "Where did that rule come from?" or "Who said that?" do we begin to realize how asinine some of these streams of consciousness really are. Clearly I've been a victim too. I started believing the criticisms and living in a way that prohibited my authentic self from shining through, but quickly realized just because I'm pastoral, doesn't mean that I'm not sexy, pretty or as a friend said, "hot". God made all of me and I encompass those qualities. This is who I am and I must embrace it. We have to begin to redefine how we come to think about ministers, remembering that they are human too. This, however, does not give us a free pass to live recklessly and "on our own terms" in a way that "causes our brothers to stumble" or turn away from God.

The truth is that while I am a preacher, proclaimer of the Word of God or however you want to define it, I am not perfect. I will fail. . . I will make mistakes . . . and like my friends and family and future congregants, will find myself struggling and wresting, while working and striving to become better each day!

And as I journey into each of these coming days, I will take all of what makes me ME, with me . . . my beauty, my fashion sense, playful nature and all!

With that said, I think I'm ready for a game of Spades now!