Out of the Blue

A while back, David and I left our old church. It was something we had been feeling the Lord calling us to do for a while which we had initially resisted. We had friends at our old church, enjoyed the teaching and generally felt at home there. We eventually stepped out in obedience and began the search for a new church. It didn’t take long before we found it. And when we did, it was like spiritual fireworks went off in both of our hearts. This was the place for us. From the very beginning, we have had nothing but stellar experiences, from easily finding a multiple places to serve, to having very meaningful conversations with the head pastor, to joining a small group that was full of a diverse bunch of awesome people. Everything has just been amazing.

Our small group is probably the biggest source of life-giving spiritual encouragement I have ever experienced. In the past, Christian community always felt hard. I never quite felt like I belonged. Our current small group is like a breath of fresh air. It’s a mix of people from all stages of life and it’s lead by one of the teaching pastors at our church named Charlie (we have 3 teaching pastors who rotate preaching, it’s brilliant!). Over the last year, David and I have gotten to know Charlie and his wife and they have been so great to us. Encouraging. Kind. Supportive. Challenging. Friends.

3 weeks ago as we walked into their house for small group, Charlie greeted us at the door and said “Hey! has Brad (lead teaching pastor) called you yet?” I looked at him quizzically and said no, then I inquired about why Brad would be calling me. “Oh, your name came up as we were talking about ministry leadership positions at the church. I’m sure he’ll call you soon.” And that was all the info I could squeeze out of him.

Sure enough, the next day Brad called. He talked to me about how my name had some up several times as a recommendation for a position at the church that would soon have a vacancy. I was excited and anxious to hear more about it, I couldn’t wait to understand exactly what Brad was referring to. As he kept talking, my excitement and anticipation kept building. And then he said 4 words which came falling out of the blue and are still ringing in my ears today: Director of Women’s Ministry.

Nooooooo! Please Lord, anything but this. Anything but women’s ministry.

On the whole, except for a few positive experiences, women’s ministry and I have a pretty bad track record. It has made me feel like an unworthy infertile woman. Always overlooked, insulted and excluded. It is where I’ve received all sorts of awful “advice” like, “maybe if God saw your faith grow, He would bless you with a baby.” It’s where I quietly sat and listened to moms complain about their children, swap childbirth stories and give each other parenting advice. It’s where eyes would land on me and then quickly move on to someone more relatable.

It’s where I experienced some of the deepest pain in my infertility and childlessness journey.

So me? Try and lead an entire women’s ministry? Yeah…no thanks.

That was my gut reaction at least. My knee-jerk reaction of oh hellllll no. Find another girl. Find someone other than me. I’m not strong enough and I don’t have the fight left in me to keep trying to turn people’s eyes to Jesus instead of their children.

That was 3 weeks ago.

Fast forward to today and I’m singing a different tune. God has been patient and gracious with me, slowly changing my mind and giving me perspective. I had a meeting with Charlie last week to talk more about the position because he would be the overseeing pastor of it and my boss. He told me that he specifically recommended me for the job because of, not in spite of, the fact that I do not have children. He thought it would bring further health to the ministry to have a somewhat nontraditional woman leading it. He thought it might help bring other women who lurk in the shadows forward. Maybe they would see me and feel like it was a safe place for them to come too.

This was probably the first time in 8 years that I have felt any benefit whatsoever to my status as a childless woman in the church.

So I’m finally at a place where my head and my heart agree that this would probably be a really good fit for me. Charlie is very spiritual formationally-minded so he has his eyes fixed on the same things that I do, like listening prayer workshops, spiritual retreats and deep and theological teaching for the women in this ministry. Our visions couldn’t align better and it would bring in everything I’m currently learning at Denver Seminary.

At this point, there is really just one little pesky problem standing in my way. My schedule.

Charlie feels this is a 20-30 hour/week job. I work 20-40 hours/week with my photography business and another 10-15 hours/week with grad school. I’m maxed out as it is. I’m not quite sure how I would even have enough hours in the day to fit ministry in. I have weddings booked through December 2017 so it would be at least 9 months before I could scale back and probably 1-2 years before I could stop it altogether. I just added a 2nd employee to my team so it’s not just me I have to worry about either.

As I pray about this (which it seems like is non-stop these days) I keep getting the sense from the Lord that this is the right opportunity but the wrong time. I think He is delighted that my heart did a 180 and that I actually feel excited about this prospect. I think He is overjoyed that I am willing to step out of my fear and into this position. But I also hear Him cautioning me to be careful with my time. Going 90mph and 60+ hours per week is not exactly a healthy way to enter into ministry.

I meet with Brad on Thursday to discuss things further. Maybe there is room for negotiation about how much time I commit to this position. Or maybe I tell him that for now I will take my name out of the hat and trust the Lord’s timing to bring me back one day when I’m able to fully devote myself to the ministry. Either way, it’s been so encouraging to see how God has used a source of pain in my life for His glory. How He has used something that has historically hurt me to now encourage my heart forward in ministry.

Advertisements

Overflow

In the last few weeks I have met some very interesting characters. I could write a book on them. But I thought I’d write a blog post instead.

I met a man who looks like Santa Claus but acts like Scrooge. He was a paramedic for 35 years and now the bitterness resulting from sustained illness has caused him to bemoan every aspect of his life from his smelly apartment to his old dog with failing teeth. He hates our beautiful town almost as much as he hates the government and his “feeble-minded” doctors who will never ever listen to him.

I met a woman who has bone cancer, but you’d never know it by looking at her. She was the picture of joy and strength as she floated into her chemo clinic with a laughter that was infectious. “Did I mention that I broke my shoulder this weekend? I’ve got an MRI after chemo,” she said with a deep sigh and a wink.

I met a lady named Nina who had 7 children, but only 3 are living now. They all had varying forms of addiction and she couldn’t quite get them to stay on the straight path. Sadly, it got passed into the next generation and she was leaving the next day for a funeral so she could burry one of her grandsons who got caught up in a gang and drug related shooting.

Then I met a woman named Cindy whose magenta pink lipstick matches her magenta pink track suit. She can drink a whole suitcase of Bud Light in one weekend!

I met a man named Robert today who is clinging to his very last thread of independence. He probably shouldn’t be walking, but he knows the second he is completely wheelchair-bound, everything will change. He’ll wind up in a state-run facility where your days are scheduled and access to the outside world feels limited. He struggles up the 2 steps into his home and I imagine he struggles even more up the 15 steps to his bedroom. He tripped over trash on the floor and cursed it, all the while knowing he can’t bend over to pick it up. A bowl full of cigarettes sat next to a very well-worn easy chair in his living room, hinting at how he spends most of his days. His 5-day old stubble and stains on his shirt suggest that just getting ready for a trip to the grocery store is a lot of energy, energy that he’d rather save for the produce department.

These are just a few of the people I’ve met in the past few weeks since I started volunteering for a local organization that provides free rides to elderly and disabled people. Most of them go to doctor appointments, hospitals, dialysis and chemo. But some of them like Robert just need a ride to the grocery store that is 4 blocks away. My job is to show up with a smile on my face and take them to their destination.

One of my favorite things is just asking them questions as we drive along. I’m not afraid to ask about their illness or disability. That’s one thing I wished (or perhaps, still wish for?) I had more of throughout my SCDS journey. Many people with chronic illness, disability or pain actually need to talk about it, process it and share. It helps them to feel understood, validated, heard. When you have a chronic medical problem, you live with it every hour of every day. And you get to talk about it very infrequently to people who are quick to change the topic of conversation and remain unengaged. I experienced that more than I care to admit in the last year.

Every person who has sat in my backseat gushes out answers a geyser when I ask even one little probing question. They want to tell me how hard it’s been, how frustrating blood draws are, how their medications are causing weird side effects. They go into a doctor’s office and they have exactly 5 minutes to explain things before the doctor cuts them off, writes a lab order and is on to the next patient. I get it. I get it so much. It’s good to have a listening ear sometimes. I’m glad I can be that ear.

The job is easy enough. I love to drive and I love to help people. It’s a winning combination.

The difficult part is hearing the stories, seeing the struggle and feeling the swells of empathy roll through my gut. Part of me wanted to stay the whole day with Robert instead of just setting his groceries on the kitchen counter. I wanted to clean, make lunch and talk more with him. I also couldn’t wait to leave, because the sadness pierced my heart so deeply, I was afraid I might burst into tears right in front of him.

I get these little glimpses of what life is like….without health, without hope, without Christ. And it’s almost too much for me to bear. Almost.

I will continue because I know it’s just as good for me as it is for them. I’ve gained a lifetime’s worth of perspective in just a few short weeks. I have more face-to-the-ground gratitude in my heart than I ever have before. My heart is overflowing. God has brought me a sense of joy, strength and spiritual fruit that I can only hope to overflow back into their lives through the love of Christ.