Clergy Couple’s Lament

screenshot-2016-12-03-09-40-21IF…

IF…you assume that the Spirit needs me here and you there for whatever inexplicable reasons…

THEN..

THEN…it behooves us to find joy in the journey, in the service of the One who loves us and brought you and I together.

ALAS…

ALAS…I struggle with finding the joy when the sun begins to set and you are not beside me for the evening meal and sleeping.

STILL…

STILL…IF…THEN… joy is necessary and is actually present when I look for it.

SIGH…

SIGH…just SIGH.

Love you.

It’s What I Do. 

When one of our beloved flock are nearing death, we live in dread of the next phone call or text. That’s the way it is for clergy.

When the call comes, our carefully planned day or day-off drops to the bottom of the priority list. The dreaded communiqué and our response disrupts schedules and family time. Yet, we don’t complain. This is the job. We respond in love without resentment. That’s how it is when you’re called by the divine. Though I don’t exactly find joy in this aspect of my work, I have a sense of satisfaction and peace in being with families.

I also feel a private sense of grief. Always.

My grief can be simple and straightforward: I feel sad for others. If it is someone with whom I’ve had a deep or longterm relationship my sadness can take awhile to process. Nonetheless, out of love I set my feelings aside to be God’s presence for the deceased’s family and friends. That’s the job. That’s the calling. It’s what I do.

Sometimes, however, the death triggers a personal emotion. That’s what happened recently. Both clergy, my wife and I minister 165-miles apart. We manage the distance well. I feel as called to my rural congregation as she does to the suburban hospital where she is chaplain. Still, I don’t like it.

Dealing with unwanted separation in my own marriage I am sensitive to the grief of departures and time apart. The death of a parishioner’s spouse is prone to trigger my own feelings. This can especially be true when an aspect of the couple reminds me of my own relationship.

***

When the text came recently, I was over a hundred miles away. When the text came recently, I didn’t question where and with whom I must be. This is the job. This is the calling. It is where I needed to be.

This time the triggered emotion, coupled as it was with a tragic death the week prior, and the too soon departure from my own wife, I found myself sobbing as I drove the freeway to be with the widow.

I thought about the grieving family. A family I love has been struggling for far too long. I sobbed and prayed for them. Without the drive, my emotions would have remained in check until the quiet of the evening or days later.

I didn’t just sob for the family, however. I sobbed for myself. My personal feelings had been triggered. This is the job. This is the calling. It is what I do in my alone time surrounding a death.

My own overly sensitive feelings about detaching from my wife cascaded down my face. I thought about the choices we make for our jobs, our God. I thought about quitting outright and becoming a househusband. I fantasized about living with my beloved full-time. This is what I do when we must part. These were familiar thoughts, not enough to cause sobbing.

And, so, I prayed for my own relationship. I did not pray for our circumstance to change. I know that, at least for now, this is the job. This is our calling.

I thought about our deaths with eyes open. One day, one of us will die and leave the other. The widow with whom I would soon sit, was not an aberration. This is the nature of life, death will come.

I thought about the depth of aloneness one of us will one day feel. I prayed that when the time comes, my wife should die first. I hate the constant separations of our present, dread going on alone after her death, but I do not want my beloved to have to feel that pain. I will gladly take it upon myself, I told the loving spirit that connects all of creation.

This is the marriage. This is a calling. This is love.

Am I Wasting What Time I Have?

It can be extremely rewarding and gratifying but this month, it is hard. Ministry is hard.

We spend half our time 165-miles apart and I’m done with it. Done, done, done. I ache. We’ve been at this for over three years. Before that we dealt with 350-miles for the three years while I was in seminary. There was a brief period between in which we lived together, in which we slept in the same bed every night.

I shouldn’t be surprised that we’re challenged by separation and distance. In my focused meditative Bible reading leading up to my seminary years, I perceived the Holy Spirit speaking to me about the cost of my call. Following God can sometimes involve leaving family behind, at least for a time.

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said,  “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25-27 CEB

No, I don’t think God is trying to break us up.  The still speaking God, however, hinted to me about the very kind of challenges we’re enduring. I naively thought they would end once we finished my seminary years.

I’ve grown weary about what it means for a clergy couple to respond to our individual calls from God and remain true to our marriage vows. We both work hard in our respective ministries. We also remain strongly committed to one another and make good use of texting, phoning, and Facetime to maintain our relationship.

But it is hard.

Ministry can be lonely work under the best of circumstances. When you are faced with personal struggles of loneliness, there is often no one to whom you can turn. The role of the pastor (me) and the chaplain (my wife) is to listen to others rather than talk about our own problems.

I have found healthy ways to cope. I exercise regularly. I maintain friendships of mutuality outside of my tiny community to the extent I’m able. I sit with my feelings and accept them without judgement. (Well, sometimes.)

But it is hard, especially in weeks like the last few.

Having survived Holy Week with its extra pressures and services, I looked forward to some downtime with my wife. As is prone to happen, death comes on its own schedule rather than on mine. Word reached me that a beloved member of our church was nearing his final breath. I kissed my wife and traveled 165-miles to be with the dying saint of the church. I did not get to pray with him the one last time I’d hoped. He died while I was en route.

The time apart from my wife has been more emotionally difficult since this death. I’ve been weepy. I’ve been clingy. I’ve been a bit on the controlling side.

This is what sometimes happen when standing and praying with a widow as she bids the body of her husband of six and a half decades goodbye. Her emotions mingle with my own and I wonder if I’m wasting the little time I have with my own beloved to minister to others.

Ministry is hard, especially when my emotions get all tangled with others.

I don’t know whether I’m wasting the little time I have with my own spouse. At the end of the day being a non-anxious presence for others, I just don’t know. All I can do is sit as quiet tears fall down my face.

The Angst of Sunday Afternoons

The Angst of Sunday Afternoons
Mt. Jefferson. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Mt. Jefferson. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

In my household it is assumed that anything I say on Sunday afternoons is taken with not only a grain of salt but the whole shaker. Following the emotional build up to morning worship, I fall off the cliff in the time it takes me to get to my home three blocks away.

I am self-critical. Feelings of discouragement descend upon my whole being. I parse what I said; I parse the words of others. My perceptions of self and events lean negative.

I am unreliable. I have little faith in the divine and I take upon myself responsibility for everything. Everything is my fault. Everything.

***

Mondays I take responsibility for as little as possible. They are days for trusting the divine to heal me. They are days for trusting the work will get done without me.

The sin of failing to sabbath is that of believing that God and others cannot manage without me. It is to ignore the way in which I was created. It is to ignore God.

My salvation comes through trusting in the healing one. In faithfulness to sabbath, my body, mind, and spirit are renewed. I once again have a reasonableness about my being that allows me to take responsibility where it is mine and no more. Restorative sabbath leads me to living more fully as the unique human being I was created to be.

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Lamenting Evil & Hurt

Lamenting Evil & Hurt

Evil is real. Evil is real but it’s not born of a horned being with a pitchfork. Evil is born of deep hurt and wounds. And, so, even today when I’m reeling from weeks of dealing with evil wrought by aggressive hostility, manipulation, and vindictive actions, I feel some empathy for the perpetrator. I am exhausted and bruised by the actions and words of the emotionally wounded perpetrator and will be cleaning up the destruction wrought for some time yet.

Whether I start from anger at being mistreated or am releasing tears that cleanse my body of the evil, I end up thinking about the trauma or wounds that can lead a beloved child of the Divine One to manifest evil. Praying, connecting with the One I call God, I feel sadness. I yearn to clean and wrap the wound. I wish I could kiss the broken spirit’s boo-boo and apply a cartoon band-aid.

But the wounded one clings to the pain and violation — whatever it may have been — and resents any attempts at healing love. The wounded one blames and points fingers even when objective facts contradict. In the smoldering pot of evil soup she concocts and lashes out at those who will not eat her food with a subservient smile.

What kind of pain, God?! What kind of violation of spirit did your beloved suffer that would lead to denial of your divinity within? What kind of hellish violation of soul makes the wound the only thing a person feels can be called her own?

What pain is so traumatic that love is rejected? What is the boiling soup that burns and scalds made of?

And so I protect self and flock to the best of my ability. I pray. I cry. I lick a wound or two. I toss and turn at night and I scream out to God in the shower!

I lament the evil soup that bubbles over. I lament the human condition! I hurt. I hurt for myself. I ache for those victimized. And I pray for the soul who clings so tightly to the wounds and says no to the love to which she is worthy.

___

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Ministry Sucks Sometimes

Boldness in the Spirit

Boldness in the Spirit

I typically script my sermons. It keeps both my time and topic under control. Sometimes, however, that process Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 9.12.41 AMleaves too little room for the Holy Spirit to speak through me. That is, scripting sometimes prevents the unexpected epiphany, the words that even I do not expect to come out of my mouth.

Last Sunday, I veered from my normal style and preached primarily from notes. The result was that my sermon ran nearly thirty minutes. More significantly, however, was that my sermon spoke even to me. The Holy Spirit surprised me with epiphanies and challenged me.

I discovered through preaching this sermon that though I had told myself that during the years we lived in West Virginia we were secretive about my daughter’s sexual orientation primarily to protect her; we really did so to protect ourselves. While there was some truth to protecting her, it was a secondary reason. We hid who she was and failed to talk about our joy at the love she’s found with her partner because we were afraid the church that my wife was serving as pastor would react harshly.

But the Holy Spirit spoke to me last week, nudging me to confess this past sin of self-protection while refusing to allow me to do the same again. Listen to Boldness in the Spirit using the audio player below. The text for the sermon is Acts 4:23-31.

Ready & Waiting for the Adventure to Come

     When Isaac was little, we would withhold information from him. It’s not that we wouldn’t tell him eventually, it’s just that he would bug us if he knew things too soon. Maggie got a huge bonus from work one year and we decided that this was our one opportunity to take the kids to Disney World. What a mistake it was to tell Isaac ahead of time! For two months, he would wake up everyday and ask, “Is today the day?” Isaac was always ready for the adventure to come. 
 
     I’m a lot like that, too. I guess that is why I understood and empathized with him. Once I have a sense of what is going to happen, I’m ready. Let’s go! This may be the reason that my future ministry is revealed like the peeling of an onion (See Onion Peels on the Treadmill, Sept. 27, 2010). This impetuous desire to get on with the show may be why the Spirit has been slow to reveal things to me.
 
     My Call, which I tried to talk myself out of, required God to be direct and clear. As I was traveling I-77 to meet with my Regional Minister to discuss my Call, I was quickly convincing myself that I’d made it all up. It was then that I heard a voice, not in my head nor through my ears, but a voice all the same. “I need you.” That was it and I knew my days of running from God’s call to ministry was over.
 
      But I still didn’t know what form it would take. As I began seminary I was very adult about it. When asked what I thought my ministry would be like I would respond, “I’m just listening and praying to see where God leads me.” In June of this year, however, after much prayer I had a “Holy Spirit” moment. It was at communion that I received what I believe is a shove toward new church ministry in the Northwest, specifically Portland. One more peel of the onion fell to the floor.
 
     Now, I’m not saying God made a mistake in revealing this glimpse of my direction. What  I am saying is that at times I feel a lot like Isaac. I feel a lot like the boy with the blonde curls and brown eyes who would wake up each morning and ask, “Are we going to Disney World today?” I’m anxious–really anxious–for the adventure that God is calling me toward. I draw energy and perk up when I talk about it. I smile and am animated. 
 
     No, I’m not saying God made a mistake in revealing this glimpse of my direction. My adult brain knows there is much left to discern. There is much left to be revealed and there are preparations that need to be made. Maggie and I still have a house to be sold, our possessions to give away, and I have to finish seminary. But sometimes I wish I could just walk away from my fishing boat leaving all behind like Simon, Andrew and James (Mark 1:16-20). Sometimes I wish today were the day.
 
God,
 
You are the blood 
   that flows through my veins. 
 
You are the air
  that connects me with others.
 
You are the arms of friends,
   as we hug after time apart.
 
You are the calm,
   that comes as my skin melts into my lover’s embrace.
 
God, you are the breeze,
   which reliably and gently guides me forward.
 
You are the bird that chirps,
   reminding me to find the joy in this moment.
 
God, you are the past, present, and future.
   You are in all of creation if we but open our eyes and ears.
 
Help me to hear you,
   and do your will in the now and the later.
 
Help me to see you,
   in the green mountains of West Virginia,
   and the snow capped peak of Mt. Hood.
 
Help me to see you,
   in the eyes of those I’ve grown to love here,
   and in the eyes of those who I’ve yet to meet there.
 
Help me to be your healing embrace,
   for in a fragmented world as your loving realm unfolds.
 
Amen