September 5, 2015

I know that I have been delinquent. I know that I haven’t even opened up this blog much at all the last few months. The last few months have been delightfully full and hectically frantic. There are many things to report- some wonderful, some not so much- but the main story of my summer months was ministry and my son. I got to preach nearly every single Sunday the last 4 months. We joked that that is more than most called preachers preach! I loved every single minute of it. I’ve regularly preached since shortly after my son was born and I stepped out of ministry, but to have such a solid block of doing something I love to do was fulfilling indeed. It’s hard not to fall in love with these groups of people who are simply trying to do life and follow Jesus together. And so I don’t even try to stop myself anymore; I plunge face first into love for them. But the hard comes when it’s time to part, when the ending comes, and I am torn away again, leaving a piece of my soul’s skin there, wondering if ever there will be a day when I do not have to leave soul-skin but can stay for longer.

There is much to write about with my son’s continued and prolonged journey. I will try to do that sometime soon when the words emerge in a way that makes a little more sense. I realize that that is probably why you tuned in to begin with, and if I have any readers left after my hiatus, I promise I will return with words on the adventurous and treacherous journey we are continuing to walk beside his small life. So, tune back and stay tuned.

But today, I’ve had an experience that seems to take precedence in my heart.

I came in second again. 

This is not a new experience. It’s happened several times over the last few years. I was encouraged (read: pushed-with-a-swift-kick-to-the-backside) to apply for a particular job that would have allowed me to use some of the wonderful gifts God has for some insane reason given me. A call that would have looked a little differently than I had envisioned for ministry but would have been a wonderful opportunity. I had learned of the opening early in the summer, but did not apply until I was urged (see above note on backside kicking) to do so. And with only days to spare in the time frame for applicants, the powers that be bent over backwards to get me into the process. It was humbling and meaningful to have these people see and recognize and want what God has so powerfully shaped in my life. And to know that I might get the honor of being with people I love doing things that we all love together was humbling. And since God and I have this deal that I will walk through any open door (which has so far resulted in many face plants into brick walls), I did so, working overnight to write up the paperwork and figuring out the protocols for the position. While there is always that tug toward pastoring in a local church again, I felt this transitional role would allow me to use my gifts, let me learn more, and give me the chance to offer and receive whatever God wanted from me for a season. This role was a different way of being pastor, and I embraced that.

So for those weeks of waiting to interview, knowing that I was one of two candidates, I explored with Jesus the depths of what this might mean. I tend to not let myself get too excited about these processes-remember, I’ve come in second to incredible calls for quite some time- but I did feel a sense of wonder and hope that maybe this season would be a gift given to me, to us as partners.

I interviewed. I heard from my references about their conversations. I was propped up and supported in the process by the handful of people who knew of it, and who knew that it was a perfect fit for me. And today, I came in second… again.

One of the strangest experiences of my life has been this chapter. Walking with Jesus when I have no idea where the path goes, and it seems like we are simply walk in circles, and “hey, didn’t we see that tree before” has been filled with these odd tensions. The tensions of imagining the balance of motherhood of a young high needs child with the demands of a calling that fills my heart to the brim. The tensions of not feeling solidly a part of any community and yet having these wonderful communities of people who let me walk with them. The tension of longing for my own faith tradition and “tribe” of faith and yet not being part of them right now. The tension of significant gratitude and humbling opportunities and yet never fully reaching the goal of being back in the place where my deepest passions meet the deepest needs while meeting the movement of God somewhere. The tensions of deep loneliness and yet sensing a deeper solitude and companionship with Jesus than I have ever known. There’s this thanksgiving that comes with an ache. There’s this joy that comes with longing. They seem to be strange bedfellows, wrestling, one with the other, and yet continually joining hands and simply existing the crux of my soul. I would much prefer it if they would break partnership, but they don’t. It seems to me that love almost demands pain in order for it to sink deep. That joy doesn’t exist without longing. The tensions exist not so much to temper each other, but to work together to expand us into more than we are at the moment.

After hearing the news and texting with a few people over the recent disappointment (that is totally a tame word for what I’m feel right now, but English is not-surprisingly lacking in this case), I needed space, so I ran some errands while kiddo stayed with dad. We have handled such fragile hope for so long in so many areas of life. It sometimes feels like we have to grab the gorilla glue every few weeks and piece back together the broken pieces of hope that were smashed by the hardness of this drawn out season. I keep a supply of gorilla glue nearby at all times because of that.

As I drove in silence externally and in chaos internally, I thought about how often humans who have suffered so much rejection and disappointment tend to pull back, shy away. They have given and loved and opened themselves up just to be dismissed and put out and left out and put away. It is no wonder so many of us walk around unable to fully give ourselves away. It is so profoundly painful to give yourself to a loved one, a newly established friendship, a job process, a relationship just to have that dashed and ripped up and thrown about. Profoundly painful. So we hide away. We pull back. We put just so much out there, keeping back a little bit just in case that’s all we are left with. It’s no wonder people looking to be married give up after a time. It’s no wonder job searchers fall into depression. It’s no wonder people have these behaviors that cause them to fail. Because the experience of rejection- and repeated rejection- the experience of giving more than we ever gave before, and people taking what you give but then moving on without you, is so raw and terrifying. No wonder nearly everyone we meet holds back something. It’s because that something is all they are afraid they will have left after others are done with what they offer. That something that we hold back has to tide us over until we have more to give.

But then there’s Jesus. The Greek word kenosis came to mind. This word means “self-emptying.” It is an active word. It is a word of deliberate choice. It is a word that is hard for us to wrap our head around. And it is the word used in Phillippians 2:5-8 when we read of Jesus, who emptied himself in order to take on the same flesh, bone, blood, spit, sweat, ache, celebration, wonder, concern, experience of us humans. He emptied himself. He let go of all he could have held onto and emptied himself for me and for you.

One of the things that I stopped doing several years ago was holding back when it came to ministry. I entered this wasteland of being “out of call” and the confusing space called “becoming a parent” and then the more confusing journey of “becoming a parent of very sick child,” and I realized at some point that in order to do well, I could no longer hold back when I preached, when I talked with people, when I walked with pastors. I could no longer hold back on loving others. “Leave it all on the table” became my mantra, followed closely by my mother’s voice “But leave things better than when you found them!” In my fumbling and halting ways, I have thrown myself into that. So each sermon, each phone call, even each interview, I have thrown myself into leaving all the love that Jesus has graciously given me on the table. At first I was afraid I would end up depleted. Sometimes it has felt that way at the end of a Sunday, or at the close of a meeting. But what I found was when I held back a little bit for fear of depletion, I would end up even more exhausted and anxious and ungrateful. But when I left it all there, when I let it splat upon the table, I did indeed feel tired and empty, but also radically fulfilled and joyful in ways I had never known. And then, I discovered that after I let all the love and hope and gifting and joy splat across whatever table or pulpit or phone call I had in front of me, I would be surprised at how quickly I was given more and more and more to give away. Instead of a constant state of depletion, I found a source of unending replenishment.

I still do not do this perfectly… or all the time. And sometimes, let’s just be honest, I’m terrible at it. Because I’m sometimes too stupid and selfish and enraged and afraid to even think of it. But I am learning to tell the difference. And I’m learning the sound of putting all the grace and love I have- even if it isn’t much. I am learning the sound of it splatting on the table and the joy of trying to lavish on anyone present the wonder of a God who splats his own love on the table for us. Who empties himself, over and over again.

I wondered today if the splatting our gifts of grace, love, joy, transparency, vulnerability on the table is a little like kenosis. A small taste of Jesus. A small glimpse of him. I think maybe it could be.

But here’s the kicker… it hurts.

So today in the chaotic car ride, the conversation went like this:

          Me: I emptied it all out for these people and this call and I’ve done this over and over again for all these pastors and leaders and faith communities, and I’ve loved them and they have loved me, but I am still not ever fully wanted. I gave them everything and they still went with someone else. I don’t want to do this emptying myself out anymore.

          Jesus: I know. But empty yourself again the next time.

          Me: But Jesus, it hurts.

          Jesus: I know. Do it anyway.

          Me: But Jesus, it hurts beyond any words I have to say.

          Jesus: I know. Do it anyway.

          Me: But Jesus, people just take what they want, affirm who I am, have nothing negative to tell me about my call or work or personhood, but then leave me out or let me go or don’t want me enough to actually pick me. I love these people, I would have loved them even more and let them love me, but they didn’t want me enough to pick me. 

          Jesus: I know. But you’ll do it again the next time and the next time and the next time. Because that is how you learn to love. For real. 

Me: I’m not sure I signed up for this. 

Jesus: Yes you did. 

          Me: Will this sort of learning to love ever end up with me getting a new call, having a close community to do life with, or seeing my prayers answered?

Jesus: Just do it. I know it hurts. Just do it anyway. 

After my car ride with Jesus, I promptly messaged a friend and wrote: I’m pretty sure following Jesus is a big ponzy scheme. Yes, that’s totally heretical, but please don’t set up some burning stake, because despite all my sarcasm and attempts to find humor in an otherwise painful situation, “do it anyway” matters. It resonates hard and deep and vibrates throughout my entire being, threatening to shake the little strength I feel today, and widening my life of tensions even more, while all the time, causing me to know that that truth will bury itself deep in the soil of my heart and hopefully- if I don’t forget to water it or if I don’t stomp on it without thinking- it will grow into something. Love anyway. Splat yourself and your love out anyway. And when people take what they want and walk away and you are left aching to go with them but remain univited, do it again. Do it again. Do it anyway.

It doesn’t erase the profound loss. Or the second place losses I’ve walked time and again in these last years. It doesn’t even lessen the pain. Not in the slightest bit. In fact, in some ways these truths for me make the ache even sharper. But I do know that this truth grows next to that pain, becoming yet another strange bedfellow wrestling and partnering and not easily parting. Expanding me- expanding us- into something that maybe looks a little more Jesus-y than before.


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