Sunday, June 19, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
It has been nearly a week since I returned from our church youth choir's concert tour of Florida. We went to Melbourne, Miami, Key West, Naples, Sarasota, and Orlando. It kinda made me miss living in Florida, except the humidity which is definitely in full force there as well as here in dear ole southwest Georgia. I have to admit, I had the best time I have had in a long time. You forget when you get to a certain age how much fun, and how dramatic it is, to be a teenager. I had gotten to know some who are part of the choir because I would help out from time to time with sectional rehearsals and several of them were also in our church production of Joseph. But, you do not really get to know people until you spend 24/7 with them. I had the honor of taping doors at night and wishing all the rooms a night filled with pleasant dreams. I also got to go with them to several rescue missions, the Miami Rescue Mission being the most significant. Besides the serious work, we also had fun exploring Key West, touring the Everglades, shopping, and visiting Islands of Adventure in Orlando. I could probably blog for hours about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (I bought a wand and a chocolate frog), but that story will have to be told another time. The nutshell version is we had a great time and I learned a lot about some very multi-faceted young people and my life is better for getting to know them.
If you are in church ministry, you realize you are in the business of people. I know this well, but I admit, there are times when I just want to do what I want to do. But something I learned long ago is that it is not about me. Nothing I do is as significant as what the Holy Spirit has in mind. By subverting my ego, I am much better able to serve the people He has led me to serve. This does not mean I do not have an opinion or desires of my own. What it means is my desires and plans are not what is important. I don't have to do everything just because I think it needs to be done. This is something that has taken me a long time to learn. For instance, I do not remember a time when I was not teaching music and working in a church. But since I moved to Albany, I have not had a desire to teach part time at a community college like I did when I was in Panama City. I think I needed to teach while I was in Florida because I was holding on to that image I had of myself as a college professor. Like I said in my last post, I no longer wake up thinking of myself that way. I believe for the first time that I do not need anything else, besides what I am called to do here. True, I have taken on projects that are not completely directed toward my music ministry (a musical, a summer Bible study, my ordination coursework), but they all relate to the greater purpose of the church in which I work. I really don't need anything else.
Now what I have learned through this process of moving to southwest Georgia is the importance of completely engaging the people I am called to serve. A little over a year ago, someone told me they were afraid that wherever I would go, I would find a way to disconnect from people. It was meant to hurt me, and I understood that, but it still worked a number on me. Our Enemy has a way of bringing people into our lives to derail us by telling us things about ourselves that are only partly true. The truth is, I am an introvert and as an introvert, I tend to need more time away from people than other, more extroverted personality types need. I battled over what this person told me for six months. And one day, the Lord just took it away from me. It was like I woke up, realized it was a lie, and decided not to live in that self-pitying place anymore. I am grateful.
The plain truth of all of this soul searching? If we are not pouring our lives into others, we are wasting our time. I cannot be worried about acclaim or prestige. I do not need someone to recognize me at the grocery store or see me on television. But if I can help one young person figure out their path, if I can be encouraging to the members of my church staff, if I can share hope with the members of my music ministry, if I can engage the community in which I live with love--then I have accomplished all that is necessary to a successful ministry. I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul said to his disciple Timothy: "As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing."
(2 Timothy 4:5-8 ESV)
My prayer for today: "Lord, make me a drink offering that is poured out in your service and the service of others. Holy Spirit, strip away any false humility and bring every motivation into captivity to your will, that I would birth in others something of eternal value. Amen"
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
But something happened January 1, 2011. I don't know if it was God or me or both of us, but things began to change. Misty and I started going to a Sunday school class and that was good for both of us. I got into rehearsals for our church production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and that took up half my life for two months. The choir got gung ho about our Easter music and wanted to practice twice a week. And I had a big fundraising concert event 10 days after Easter called "Songs in the Key of Dance" to plan. I never had time to rest. And, besides all of this stuff that was going on, I decided to bring my treadmill back into the house. So I got in the habit of running a 5k six days a week and eating much less and being happy about it. And I read the Bible over and over again. Since I moved to Georgia, I read it through 4 full times. And, besides that, I had to transfer my ordination process to southwest Georgia as well. I've been busy.
It has been a very full year, one of the best and worst of my life. In a year like this, you would hope to learn something. So here is what I know now:
1. It is really hard to move to a small town where everyone is related to or has known everybody else in town since preschool. #Really hard.
2. For the first time since I went into full-time church ministry, I no longer wake up thinking I am just loaning myself out to a church before I decide to go back to the academic world. This is BIG. It means I no longer think of myself as a college professor. For the first time I think I need to be ordained because it is who I am.
3. Gaining the same weight you lost before is just hating yourself. The excuse not to exercise is always that we don't have enough time. But, I know this for sure, we have time to do everything we deem important. I am probably going to put this somewhere where I have to look at it everyday.
4. It is always better to stay busy than to let yourself have time to concentrate on what is not right in your life. So, in my summer off season, I am going on the youth choir tour to Key West, doing music for vacation Bible school, co-teaching an adult Bible study (Through the Bible in 90 Days) and taking a course in United Methodist history for my ordination.
So, if you have worried that I was not communicating with you. Cheer up. I wasn't communicating with anyone.
"But, thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 15:57)
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV)
It has now been a few months since my last entry. I had planned to give a run down of the last few months of my life since making the decision to uproot my life in Florida and move to southwest Georgia. I have decided to leave those thoughts in the past for now. I have a really hard time moving on. I tend to let things simmer for much longer than necessary. I just don't snap out of it very quickly. I believe this is a weakness of my personality type. And, speaking of that, if I learned nothing else during my four years in Florida, I learned about personalities. This has become something of a fascination with me--attempting to understand personalities and why people do the things they do. I admit that one of the reasons I wanted to make a change was because I got tired of having to be the one who understands. Forgiveness is one thing. Being a doormat is quite another. In the end, I do believe God opened a door for me to step away from my former situation (which, for the most part was very positive) and into a new one that may just have been created for me especially.
But, to say it is the way I would have planned it, would not be true. I have talked about this over and over again, and you would think by now I would have gotten it, but God's plans are often not my plans. In fact, I have begun to believe God chooses paths for me just to reassure me of how bad my planning really is. This is especially frustrating for someone who likes to have everything mapped out months/years in advance. Why is it that I cannot do the things I really want to do? Because God has something better planned for me--something that I cannot imagine. I think about how the Apostle Paul had his life completely together and then he came to a fork in the road and was forced to make a change. How different was Paul's life from what he had planned? If someone had told me when I graduated from high school that I would be living in southwest Georgia in 20 years, I would have told them they were mad.
But here I sit in southwest Georgia, as assured as I ever have been in my life that I am where I should be. I had a parishioner ask me the other day if there were things I missed about living in Florida and I admit that there are some things I wish I had here, but those things are trivial in comparison to what I have been given by being obedient to God's call.
Last week we visited Plains, Georgia, the home of former President Jimmy Carter. Talk about a tiny little place--less than 700 residents in the entire town. We went to visit the historical site and watched a short movie about the president's life in which his wife, Rosalynn talked about their return to Plains after Jimmy's father died in the 1950s. She said she was not very happy to move back to Plains, that she liked her life, that she felt she had outgrown it. But she had gotten a little too big for her britches and she realized not long after moving back that she still had things to learn from her tiny hometown. Her statement resonated with me because I know I would not be here if God did not have something to teach me. And just when I think I have it together, God has a way of reminding me that He is the one putting things together.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
But, about a year ago, I realized that the issues I was facing and the struggles which were weighing on me were too personal to share on this blog. What was meant to be a faceless working out of my inner turmoils, became a source of turmoil for me. The nutshell version is that even though professionally everything looked like things were wonderful, things were not wonderful in this little part of paradise. My music groups were doing very well. My classes were much better than they were last spring. I took 4 graduate courses toward my ordination. Everything looked good on paper. But I began to believe, whether it was true or not, that I could not comment on some of the crazy things that were going on around me. I admit, the older I get the less I like conflict and conflict and drama seemed to be all that I could find wherever I looked. At home, everything was fine, but even there I began to seclude myself in my own private shell. I knew what was happening to me, but I felt helpless to do anything about it. I knew it was bad when, over the Christmas holidays I read 15 books, including all the Harry Potter books.
I promised myself when we moved to Florida that I would never feel trapped again by my surroundings or my situation, but here I was again in the midst of something that I could not control. I really wanted to hide. And, the sad part is that few people recognized what was going on. Last September, my church began looking for a new recreation director/minister for our new building and I was put in charge of posting our open position on the national ministry websites. I admit that from time to time I would look at open positions, wondering what life might be like wherever, but it had been quite some time since I had done this. So, when I started posting our open position, I also started to look at what might suit me better. Purely hypothetically, I had no intention of sending out resumes or seriously looking for anything new. It was September for Pete's sake. The girls had just started school. I looked anyway.
I came across a posting for a church in Albany, Georgia. I had to Google map it to figure out where it was. I was not really impressed, but I felt this odd compulsion to find out more about it. I sent in an inquiry email with a few questions. They responded back in all the appropriate ways, so I sent in a resume. I did not even attach references to this resume because I was not interested. I just really wanted another church to be interested in me. I would feel better about myself and get on with my life here. Pathetic. Well, later that week I got a call from this church asking for my references. I was in a quandary. Do I send them my references when I know I cannot possibly make a change now? I decided I could not and I told them to take my name off the list of potential candidates. It was done and over and that was that. Or so I thought.
About two weeks passed and I was going on my merry way when I got an email from someone I did not know. He said he was the youth pastor at the church in Albany. Oddly enough, he was a former Pentecostal as well. He told me that he and his wife had moved to Albany from a larger city a couple of years earlier. They were not really interested in moving, but were compelled by friends to come for a visit. They loved it. But, they could not get away quickly either and the church was willing to wait for them nine months before they were all in residence in Albany. I was in a bit of shock. He said that if I really felt like the timing was off that was fine, but if I was at all interested, I should resubmit my name because the church was willing to wait for the right person whenever it was right for everyone. I resubmitted my name and sent in references.
I admit that even doing this, I did not think anything would come of it. I think I was in such a low state that I could not see past my own existence to fathom that God might have a hand in all this. The funny thing is that I was so casual about all of this that I never told Misty until I resubmitted my name as a candidate. Let's say, she did not think it was all that funny. We got to looking at the town and schools and she got a little worried. Her main question was "Why there?" We have talked often about the possibility of a change in the future, but we always talked about moving to a bigger city, rich in culture, etc. This was definitely not what we were looking for. I told her not to worry about it. I did not want to move there anyway. I just wanted some encouragement. So we left it at that and months passed.
In December, my liaison to the search committee told me the church wanted me to come for a visit in January. I did not respond. Things were crazy in December at the church and they only got crazier in the new year. I finally responded to his email and told him I would not be able to come for a visit until early February. Their committee was okay with this and they sent me a packet of stuff to prepare for my visit. Well, things got even crazier at the church and I really felt like I would not be able to make a visit to Albany, but I began to realize that I would not remain in my current position much longer. Something just had to give. So, I called my liaison and talked to him about some things that I needed to know about his church and decided to make the trip after all.
What is funny about this whole process is that even with all of these signs pointing toward this little city in southwest Georgia, I still was not ready to say this was it. I had an interview with another church via telephone the night before I drove to Albany. It was in a nice church not very far from my old home. It was a great interview. I liked them. They liked me. We were on the phone for almost two hours.
As I drove into Albany the next morning, I thought to myself . . . the other church is the one. I think this church deserves a good interview, but I am just going to be myself and maybe not all that nice. What have I got to lose? This is not going to be a good fit. Misty really did not care for the place and was pretty adamant that this was not it, so I was prepared with some very pointed questions.
Then I met the staff and the committee and I cannot tell you how much at home I felt. It was kind of awful and wonderful. Most of the people I met seemed like old friends. It was astonishing. I still asked the questions. But I felt like I got the answers I needed. When I called Misty that night to tell her, she seemed different. She was okay with what I was telling her. Within a few days of my visit, she told the girls we might be making a move. You about had to pick me up off the floor. Within two weeks we went back to Albany to show the girls the town and the church. We had a great time. All the girls liked it. Two weeks later they offered me a job.
I admit that over the course of the first two months of this year I spent more time in prayer and daily Bible reading than I had in some time. I read through the Bible in 65 days. I cried more than I have in years. It seemed that I was only at peace when I was praying or reading the Bible. My family was praying for this whole situation, for a resolution to my personal crisis. And I believe the resolution has presented itself. Whereas we have enjoyed our time in Panama City, we are looking forward to a new chapter that will begin in the next couple of months.
I read this article in GQ this past month in which an odd source encapsulated my feelings about this entire period of searching: "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." I have long been a planner and I even now I still want to know everything ahead of time. I am having to remind myself that because God has been so faithful throughout this process, I have nothing to fear. But I do hope you will pray with us as we make this transition.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:
"The church advertises strength through certitude, but starting from the same collection of fables, commandments and aphorisms — love thy neighbor; thou shalt not kill; blessed are the meek for they will inherit the Earth — the religions of the world have reached an alarmingly diverse set of conclusions about what behaviors, like gay marriage, are right and wrong."
"In science the ends are justified by the means — what questions we ask and how we ask them — and the meaning of the quest is derived not from answers but from the process by which they are found: curiosity, doubt, humility, tolerance."
I particularly liked this process of curiosity, doubt, humility and tolerance, and the idea that the process is just as substantial as the answer. If you would like to read the essay for yourself, a link is provided below.