Sunday, January 24, 2010

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

At the ripe old age of 35, I could honestly say that all my dreams had come true. I'm married to a good guy, I am mother to the most beautiful boy on earth, I have two dogs that fill my days with waggy tails and canine-related hijinks. Yes, at 35 I could honestly say that I was happy. I was fulfilled. The things I had dreamed for my life had come to pass, and I was satisfied. This post is going to be long. I apologize in advance.

Here's one thing I can tell you with full confidence about God making your dreams come true: when He makes all your dreams come true, He then invariably gives you another one.

One of the many things that had made my days so fulfilling was becoming a part of a genuinely great faith community. Our local church has been the most incredible landing spot for my heart. We had searched for so long for that place that felt like "home". Meeting the good people of HOPE United Church of Christ on our very first Sunday there was like meeting my husband for the very first time. I just instantly "knew". We were home after years of searching for a spiritual resting place. I breathed a long-awaited sigh of relief as we settled into our new congregation. And then one day my Pastor, whom I adore, did the unthinkable. He told me that part of his job as a pastor was "not only to comfort the afflicted, but also to afflict the comfortable." "But I'm not comfortable!" I lamely protested. Of course I was comfortable. See paragraph one if you require a refresher on that topic. And then he asked me to do an even far more unspeakable, unthinkable thing. He asked me to preach a sermon.

I laughed it off at first. I jokingly said I'd probably cuss. He said that was okay. Then I fell prey to my hyperliteral Baptist upbringing. "BUT I'M A GIRL!!!!" I argued. I think his reply was something deep, along the lines of "And???" And I had nothing. If the combination of my sailor's mouth and feminine gender weren't enough to get him off this mission, I didn't have anything left in my line of defense.

So I thought about it.

And I thought back to when I was in high school, I remembered the day I met my Savior. The day I realized I had a need for someone to build a bridge between God and myself because a lifetime of me being "a good girl" simply would not suffice. And I reflected back to my college experience and the day I surrendered my heart to ministry work. Of course then, my definition of feminine ministry work included teaching Sunday School to children or teens (but never men), making casseroles and possibly marrying a minister or missionary and being his cookie cutter perfect little "helpmeet". I was willing to leave all of myself behind and if it was what God had for me, become the meek and silent culotte-wearing Baptist version of a Stepford Wife. You know the kind. They sit in their pew beside their deacon husband, with a facial expression of half surprise and half deep thought, hands placed lightly in their lap, with their head cocked to the side in that kind of confused puppy dog stare. If you know me, you know this is so totally NOT me so making a choice that I would sacrifice all of my me-ness to become that was pretty huge. I began down a road of compromises that started with me dating a missions major...which thankfully, didn't pan out. Crisis averted, and after college it seemed that ministry just wasn't what life had in mind for me. Instead I got married and divorced and married and divorced and married and had a baby and then...we're back to paragraph one.

Silly me, I was a sitting duck. Life began to whip around me, creating this perfect storm of realization and along with it the creation of this new dream. I had no idea it was even happening until I was in the thick of it. I kicked and screamed and complained and doubted and one by one, messengers have come along the way to dissolve every single objection I could come up with.

So I agreed to do the sermon. The morning of, I had misplaced my notes and was late for church while I searched the house for them. Classic rookie mistake, I had put them somewhere where I couldn't possibly lose them...and then I couldn't remember where I'd stashed them. I didn't talk about any groundbreaking developments in Christianity and believe me, I now completely see the irony of my message entitled "What Are You Bringing To The Table?" in which I discussed how each member of the body of Christ is blessed with a gift, a talent and a passion and we are both equipped to and commanded to share of this overflowing bounty. While I tried to act casual during announcements and music and the offering and prayer time, my stomach churned with nerves. My friend Mandie and my mother had come out for the service. I continued to feel nervous and anxious during the first portion of my speaking, until I finally told Mark that his picture taking was "so distracting" and then I found my stride. And it was profound. It was amazing. I slipped into this comfortable groove that didn't feel manufactured (as in the Baptist robowife depicted above) or wrong, it felt totally natural. Completely organic and spontaneously perfect while I shared the message that God had brought to my heart. When church was over, Mandie came over to say goodbye and she asked how I felt and like a woman possessed I said "I want more!!!! But don't tell anybody!" After the service, a few church members outright told me "you should go into the ministry" and I gently told them that no, all my life all I wanted was to be a wife and a mommy and I have that so I'm satisfied. And up until then, that was all true. Little did I know that the first gust of this perfect storm of life had just blown in. I wasn't even really in touch that it had happened, I just really loved what I was able to do that day.

My friend Terra told me about this book she was reading and loving. I had Mr. pick it up for me at the library, and started in on The Dance of The Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. You might have to read to book to "get" it, but the gist of it is that women are not necessarily required to be robobabes as previously described. We have amazing hearts, generous and compassionate. We are talented and smart and approachable and tenderhearted. We are just as committed to the message of hope, faith and God as our male counterparts. The very first person on earth to ever carry the Gospel was a woman. Jesus' mother, Mary. And just. like. that. all my "but I'm a girl!!!" arguments were null and void.

Then there was my "but I'm divorced" obstacle. In detailing the requirements of a minister, the Bible specifically says he must be "the husband of one wife". Does divorce then eliminate willing servants? Well what if the understanding of that simply is that you must be faithful to your partner? I guess that interpretation would then render my ex husbands ineligible to serve, but not me.

What about the way I was abused as a child, and those scars left within?

And what about my difficult experiences with not just one, but two failed marriages?

And what about the fact that I am so overwhelmingly imperfect that there is nothing good in me except what God gives me?

My friend, Nathan Clair, sent me a link to one of his sermons entitled "The Unexpected Moment". I used to run around AWANAS with Nate when I was in Jr. High. We graduated from the same high school, him one year before me, and had lost touch until the magic of Facebook offered us the opportunity to reconnect. How grateful I am for the magic of Facebook, for it was this inspired message of his that washed away all my doubts and brought me to the realization that when I say "I can't do this, God, I am too wounded/broken/messed up/wrong for You to use" He says "I know. Isn't it great? I have so much to work with!"

So it was there in my Jeep, on my way home from Super Target, as I listened to Nate's insights that I had downloaded onto my iPod, that I cried "Uncle!" and decided that maybe this thing that my pastor and church family sees in me is something that I have been chosen to do. When I talked to my husband about this growing direction in my heart, his response was a sing-songy "I'm gonna do a pastor, I'm gonna do a pastor!" so I'd have to say that he's on board. For now, the long term plan is that after the kids are in school and I have some free time with my days I'll enroll in seminary to follow this path. And as I've thought back on my life's journey that has brought me to this place, I think I'd like to work with teens and college age kids because there are so many people who were in my life back then who had an impact on me, that led me to this place that I need to invest my life in that.

In the middle of church today, my friend Zach leaned over to me and whispered, "Would you just be a pastor already, Felicia?" and I smiled and said "Oh, we'll talk about that later." Hey Zach, it's later.

And that's the story of how, when I thought all my dreams had already come true, God gave me a new one. The perfectly inspired thing about it is that as I look back I can clearly see how God ordered each step and orchestrated each influence to bring me here. There are a lot of parts of my life, especially recently, which have been upside down and backwards and uncertain and uncomfortable. But I can say with complete confidence that this is part of the beautiful tapestry that God is weaving with my life. There's some tangles in my tapestry. And some holes. And some spots where it's worn thin and threadbare. There are wrinkles, lots of them. But God has shown me that He is both able to and committed to making something beautiful out of what I bring to the table.

I've always loved this song, by one of my favorite groups. Lately, the second verse and chorus has been especially resounding with my heart:

What I get from my reflection
Isn't what I thought I'd see
Give me reason to believe
Never leave me incomplete
Will you untie this loss of mine
It so easily defines me
Do you see it on my face?
And all I can think about
Is how long
I've been waiting to feel you move me
Close my eyes and hold my heart
Cover me and make me something
Change this something normal
Into something beautiful.


McMama said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome. You were wonderful and you will be wonderful. I keep thinking about how all of MY personal gifts are ministerey-type gifts, but I'm still in the arguing phase. For now I'm going to get my BS and be a scientist and see where life leads. You have to have a BS or BA to get into Meadville-Lombard anyway (which is the only seminary I am interested in) so if my life leads that direction later, that's fine and if not, I'll be a scientist like I plan. :)

Anyway! I am so happy for you... and it sounds to me like your dreams are going confidently in the direction of YOU, willing to chase you down and tackle you if necessary. :)

Just Me said...

i read this when you first posted it but needed to think about what I wanted to say because I wanted to say sooo much.

First I think 'ministry' is open to a lot of meanings. It can mean spreading the word, bringing food, lending an ear or a hand...all of which you have an amazing skill for.

Also I believe that your 'failed' marriages and abuse as a child give you that much more compassion and insight. You know what it is like to be betrayed, you know that hurt, you know that life goes on, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it does not have to be a train.

So sure you have been broken you have been used up but you have let G-d put you back together. You have allowed Him into you heart. What better a person to minister to those who are struggling than one who has struggled herself and come out an incredible woman?