Cast Into the Desert

This morning for the first time since my thyroid was removed, I put on a necklace. Every lent, since entering the ministry, I have made it part of my lenten practice to wear a crucifix. But since my surgery last April, I have not been able to wear even the most delicate of chains around my neck. The scar, while it healed so well, remains tender to even the lightest of touches and if the truth is told my heart remains tender too.

So with trepidation I unclasped the chain
placed the links around my neck
reclasp the hook

All day, I felt the weight, a pulling, a tickling, a distraction from the pain in my throat. A reminder.

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I don’t like to complain about or think about what I have been through. We joke about it all, Nathan and I, how my body seems to be allegeric to itself, how I have run through all the “removable” body parts, how we have to try out the surgical wing at every hospital nearby.

I probably do complain about it more than I should since in the last 13 years, it seems I have spent more time waiting for doctors to diagnose me, a surgery to happen or recovering from a surgery. But most days when I am tired of the pain, of preserving, of complaining within my own head, of wondering about the journey I have had to walk I come back to these verses from Mark 1: 11-12

 

And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness.

Not that I would ever compare myself to Jesus, or my humble journey to his, but I find strength in these verses. The Beloved, the One who is claimed as God’s Son, with whom God is well pleased, does not quite catch his breath after he is claimed before God has sent him out into the wilderness.

My call to ministry happened when I was young and passionate. After I answered the call, after I was affirmed, and claimed, and wrapped in the warm glow of God’s pride, I have felt pushed out into the wilderness. I cannot control my health. A ruptured appendix, endometriosis and rupturing fibroid cysts that eventually lead to a hysterectomy, a gallbladder that stopped functioning, a thyroid that one day seemed fine and the next had a two massive nodules that could possibly be cancerous, and finally a sore throat that has last for over a year and a half which should have gone away with the removal of my tonsils but which has not.

There is a certain shame in being in the desert. Days spent on the couch. Meals brought to the door. Prayers, countless prayers, having to be asked for time and time and time again. Tears that you cry alone in the shower over yet another frustrating visit with a doctor who can’t tell you why yet another thing is wrong. The financial devastation of the thousands and thousands of dollars that copays leave you paying for years after, the monthly reminder of your body’s failure. The disappointment in your children when you just can’t, just don’t have the energy to play with them, do the things with them. The feeling of letting down the very people you are called to serve and serve with.

The only way you get through the desert is to remember that you are beloved. The gift of lent to me is to look down at that small still reminder of what Jesus did for us and to remember that my shame, my desert, my worst days, my weakest weakness’ are nothing compared to being one of God’s beloved. I keep pressing on, doing today what I can do, knowing that the desert does not last forever and that in all things, even in these things, God redeems.

As I came home …

As I came home from my ordinand retreat, I sat in the Chicago O’Hare Airport pondering on this long journey towards ordination and the church I am committing my life to. Jeff Mickles, the chair of the Virginia Conference Broad of Ordained Ministry, reminded the 32 of us who will be ordained that ordination is the next step in our call. We are moving from disciples to apostles, from people who are learning to those who are sent out. We move from being the students to becoming the teachers. Ordained persons in the United Methodist Church live into a different call from local pastors and even provisional members.

As I sat in the airport I pondered on my life in the church up to this point and why I so deeply love such a broken and flawed denomination.

I remember sitting in Lew Parks UM Doctrine and Polity class, learning for the first time that ordained elders had a security of appointments. I remember being shocked that after I was ordained I would always be given a church to serve if I wanted to serve. It seemed strange to know that the only job I would ever do, ever qualify to do, was a job I could not lose. I remember feeling uncomfortable with the weight of that knowledge.

I also remembered the clergy women’s consultation I attended two years into my first appointment. I was shocked to come out into the lobby and find doors lined up, with a silent witness from the LGBT community. As I listened to one of the Bishops (I don’t recall who now) preach about people standing outside the doors and knocking, it was the first glimpse I had really had of the pain our church has caused some.

I remember my first time as an Annual Conference delegate. I was a district young adult representative and had never been before. I poured over my Book of Resolutions for weeks trying to understand what all this meant and how I was supposed to figure out how to vote.

This process has been hard. I have at times wondered why I was doing it, if the church really wanted me, if I was meant to be here. I faced hard questioning about my abilities and my knowledge. I faced my learning disabilities and what they meant as I serve a church. There were times I raged against the hoops, that I sobbed because of the hurts, that I tried to speak for change. There are also the friends I have made, the hurts that have been healed, the hope I have found because of this process.

I face a church that no longer has security of appointments (although in fairness I have to say the process to be unappointed is one that is both fair and thoughtful to both the church and the pastor…read the legislation). It is a church where there are still those outside the doors. It is a church that still under-equips both pastors and small churches.

It is the church who has helped shaped me to be who I am since I answered my call at the age of 14.

It is the church I will try to faithfully serve.

It is the church in which God will shape me to become whoever He needs me to be.

Together, we will walk, struggling and striving to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.