Blog Post: Simple Gifts

Good morning sun,

whose rays of glorious light greet me each and every morning.

 

Good morning sun,

whose rays refresh me anew, and remind me of God’s blessings. 

 

Every day brings a blessing, 

a reminder of the badge of gratitude I must wear as a survivor, 

as one who marches every forward away from the battle for one’s life. (?)

 

And yet, 

my left hand wanders to the reminder of the thing that keeps me alive. 

The futile reminder of a complicated and all too simple decision, 

and yet a null decision. 

To become subject to a battery,

forever and all eternity. 

 

It was not a decision I made,

based on internet searches,

YouTube videos, random Google queries and curiosity. 

It was a decision made of last resort, 

of nothing lefts, of “there are no more options left for you,” 

of…”I simply don’t know what else to do.” 

 

The simple gift is not the battery,

whose life expectancy is but three years,

and whose wires are but only six to eight. 

It is easy to see the gift in the medicine,

the battery telling my heart to beat just so –

Not too fast, 

Yet not too slow. 

 

The simple gift lies in the daily things given-

the ability to take a deep breath,

the deep belly laughs,

the glimpses at a life not taken for granted,

and the opportunity to shape lives for the better. 

See these simple gifts for what they are. 

 

Glimpses.

Glimmers,

true miracles sent from the divine one who did indeed inspire amazing hands to create.

 

And now life moves,

breathes,

thanks to the one who causes me to see the sun rise and set each and every day. 

It isn’t the battery nor is it the disease, 

though they do lie very close to the front of my mind. 

Both are simple gifts,

in and of themselves. 

 

The gift is in the giving,

the giving of life,

the giving of another day,

and the giving of a story. 

Not the giving of anger, 

spite, frustration to another, or choosing to be someone I’m not. 

 

God has gifted me with simple gifts. 

Simple gifts that are beautiful,

and are even beyond simple, gifts that are more than I could ever ask for. 

God has gifted me with perspective,

at a young age. 

Younger than I should have,

and yet, 

a sign of a simple gift that others have yet to receive. 

 

Some spend their days evidently resentful on social media of their simple God-given gifts,

arguing and bitching,

begging and pleading for attention. 

Others blind to the scent of the gift right under their nose

that is God’s grace, 

reality ripe before them. 

 

While reality sucks,

surely it does,

as it calls out our flaws, mortality, the reality that life is raw, ripe for the taking,

and can be taken away just as quickly as it can be given,

reality is beautiful, clear, and truly a simple gift to be treasured. 

 

So thank you God, 

thank you for the simple gift that is the morning sun, 

the challenges brought about by the zap of a defibrillator, 

the frantic beating of a sorrowful and sickened heart begging for help, 

and a soul seeking the God who created it all. 

 

Thank you God for bringing me to a place where I could see you in it – 

In all of it, 

the good and the bad, 

the pretty and the ugly, 

the perfect and the imperfect, 

because You created it all, 

and in it is the simple gift. 

 

The simple gift is not the sorrow, 

nor is it the joy on the other side. 

The simple gift is not the sickness,

nor is the temporary solutions. 

The simple gift is the walk with God, 

the compassionate touch of a physician, 

the prayers of a community, 

and the tears shed with family after weeks of awkward silence. 

The simple gift is months of laughter after a year of anger.

The simple gift is a walk up a hill that previously defeated.

The simple gift is simple empowerment. 

Joy brought about by the simple things, 

that were once truly impossible, complicated, painful,

that might as well have been climbing Mount Everest. 

 

The simple gift is being able to say

Thank you God. 

Now use me. 

Make this about more than me.

Because I’ve had enough of this being about me.

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Blog Post: Returning to Old Haunts as a Person Transformed

This past weekend, I was the liturgist at my home church; I had the honor of being the liturgist for the pastor who essentially started this whole process, or opened my eyes to the potential for my call – the woman my home church called to the role of minister of education and who is now associate minister. I couldn’t be more proud of the minister she has become in her last seven years serving God and my home church, who God has molded and shaped her to be, how God has walked alongside her, comforted and supported her in her highs and lows, and how God has taught her to be a strong and compassionate leader of a church that desperately needed to learn some humility, humanity, and most of all, to learn that it too was just as human and beloved by God as the rest of the world! She very much was a transformative part of that ministry, if not the catalyst that got it started! And so, coming back, after four years of undergraduate work and three years of seminary (at the same seminary that trained this most incredible leader of the church and woman of God) felt like slipping on a shoe that fit just right, but also like walking alongside a trusted friend and mentor. 

You see, my home church is a wonderful place, and has long supported my call to ministry, from the very beginning, but has been an avid supporter even more so in the last year, as the months draw closer toward the possibility of ordination, as the leadership changed slightly, and as the dynamics changed. Regardless of this, I feel as though it could also be that I too have changed, as I have grown into my understanding of what it means to be a leader of the church, and a lover of God in this role that is pastor, preacher, pastoral caregiver, and jack of all trades. 

Maybe it wasn’t so much the church changing as me changing, but when I returned to do pulpit supply this last June, the same nerves of last August (when I preached there last) were no longer as strong, nor were they as present in the forefront. Experience and time changes all, and my senior year definitely did grow and mold me in more ways than one. The small things no longer bug me in the same way as they did a year ago, and yet, other things do. Preaching at my home church last month felt like returning to a comfortable environ, and yet, the sweet people who remembered me when I was a little tyke struggled to envision me as an experienced pastoral presence – as someone with an M.Div. who was heading out into the ministry as a hospital chaplain, with already 28 months of experience in hospital ministry and nearly two and a half years of church ministry experience. To them, I would be the perpetual pre-teen (or younger for many), with the frizzy ginger hair and acne running around the Edwards Room seeking the bagels and juice, or looking for my Sunday School classroom. 

Coming home to preach or do liturgy is always a positive experience, and an experience I am ever grateful for, and yet, I feel like someone toeing the line between their youth and adulthood, between the old and the new, between their young immaturity and God’s calling that lies in leadership and a pastoral presence. That leads me to believe that while I love home, home will never be the site of God’s call for me. It will always be a source of comfort, support and restoration, but never will it be the place that I will find God’s calling on my life so long as the people who knew me as a young person are there. The two cannot be co-existent with one another, for my sake, and perhaps more importantly, for the sake of those being served – the people of God! 

It was the greatest blessing of mine to serve alongside my female mentor this past Sunday, to finally serve alongside, rather than be assisted, to assist, or to be helped, all words that imply needing help. This time, this Sunday, we were working as a team, a ministry team, a prayer team, and most importantly a team serving God’s people for the sake of worship. I suppose the time has come that I am no longer the seminary student, the candidate for ordination, but the certified candidate, the one with more experience, but most importantly the one who has changed and grown. 

Life has happened, ministry has happened, seminary has happened, and now, I am no longer the seminary student or the intern, but now the one with more experience than before. So returning to old haunts, my home church included, feels different, and is experienced in different ways, as I am no longer the high school student preaching a poorly-written sermon on how the church has shown me love, but now preaching on theological subjects, praying, reading scripture, collecting the offering, and declaring the benediction. Times have changed, and pastoral presence is necessary. 

Maybe it is possible in old haunts, or maybe new sidewalks, waves, beaches, stairways and apartments are necessary for God to call. Either way, God calls, and pastoral authority comes along with it. 

The God phone is ringing, and I’m ready to pick it up. It just isn’t at home. 

Blog Post: When God Closes a Door…But Is It Really God Anyway, or Us?

With my complicated, not so easy, less than fulfilling on the surface, but-yet-totally-worth-it-in-the-end-once-the-boxes-have-been-unpacked-and-my-suit-pants-have-been-donned-cross country move only 10 or so days away now, I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase, “when God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Much of the last two years have been about looking for the bright side in the face of many seeming dark ones. Sparing the nitty gritty, I had to print out the operative lab reports from my old Cardiologist to bring to my new one, and reading over every step, ever stitch, ever cut, needle stick, and every zap of the defibrillator that I’ve endured over the last eighteen months makes me think about just that phrase, and precisely what this move means in the face of each of those pokes, prods and zaps of electricity straight to the ticker. Five months ago exactly, I wasn’t healthy enough to move 3000 miles away; all I was facing was closed doors, even though I had already said yes to UCSF on a whim, hoping and praying that I would be able to get there. 

From my vantage point, at that moment, I felt like a toddler. I don’t remember much about being a young child, but what I do remember is having everything be just out of reach. I remember being able to just see the edge of the counter or table if I stood precariously on my tippy toes, but even then, everything placed their its polished surfaces were evidently out of reach of my proportionately short and still quite chubby arms. Try as I might, cookies, toys placed out of reach due to poor behavior, and adult objects were just far enough away that I couldn’t access them, causing frustration and anguish, tears and meltdowns. Even in my mid-twenties, with a sad heart, that had been melted, fried, frozen, ablated, medicated, infected, pried and poked to within an inch of its poor little (ok, maybe not so little…) existence, I desired the things that were just far enough out of reach. The doors that were feeling “closed” in front of me. But perhaps my theology of this was a bit off. Maybe the way I was thinking about this whole situation, my perspective and vantage point in light of my relationship with God and creation were wholly and intimately skewed – not because of the tragic nature of my experiences, but because of my desire to intellectualize everything, including my faith life, rather than to live into my faith with God each and every moment. Lets go through that one again – I am an intellectual, and love all things brainy and theological, and yet, there are some aspects of faith that simply cannot be intellectualized. They have to be lived. I’ll come back to that part later. But first, the theology.

See, the theology goes like this in my humble, seminary-educated opinion. The phrase, “when God closes a door, somewhere out there He opens another door,” is lovely, and hopelessly optimistic, and yet, on the other hand, it is horribly unReformed, and poor John Calvin and Martin Luther are turning over in their graves in shame just because I have mentioned it twice now. (FOR SHAME, Liz, for shame!) If we believe in some element of free will as fallen, choosey Christians (thank you Calvin, I am forever grateful for this theological doctrine!), then humans have the ability to choose not only a response to God’s faithfulness in the form of belief in the first place, but also the choice to follow God’s will, which has been predestined from before creation. Therefore, God never closes doors, nor does He open windows. Those doors and windows are pre-opened before our births, just waiting for us to run through them toward God’s open arms of embrace for us and us alone as His children. 

So who is closing the doors and windows? If it isn’t God, then who is it? Well, not to place the blame on people, but…well…PEOPLE. Us. You. Me. We are the very people who are dulling and dampening the still small voice of God, who is shouting at us, encouraging us to GO THIS WAY or RUN THAT WAY toward the open door, window or what have you. 

Sometimes, these decisions – open doors or windows – don’t always have the most encouraging of decisions or easiest of things on the other side, and yet, they are what God intended for us from the beginning. They are not what we would choose, and yet they are exactly what God would have chosen for us, try try as we might to avoid them. What makes us human is that we avoid the things that are hardest and yet best for us. Telling the truth if we have been lying or concealing the truth about a part of our lives to those we care about, opening up a new aspect of our lives to a new relationship, seeking a call in a new and challenging field or just plain trying again if we have failed at something we love – a relationship, a job, or even life. 

In the midst of the challenging saga that were the beginning of my mid-twenties, I wondered what this phrase meant, and yet, I couldn’t possibly see a closing of a door and the opening of another as being complementary to another. The closing of a door in faith means the shutting off of God’s potential to show love to His people, His kingdom and those who are seeking for redemption and a second chance. The God of the Bible is wrathful, but He is also omnipotent and constantly looking to redeem, forgive, and ultimately give compassionate care to those in need of new life and second chances. Shutting doors only to begin an endeavor for an open window doesn’t allow for the sharing of immediate compassion, it only spurs on distraction and the search for an escape yet again, both for the seeker and for their divine guide. I never ran from God, and never had any clue that God would run from me. No windows, no doors, only enduring and persistent love and compassion as exhibited not by the closing of doors and windows, but rather the sharing of a long meandering walk together along the pathway of life. 

Faith is something that has to be lived into, and while God appreciates a good theological and intellectual banter, at some point, yielding must occur. In the midst of illness, theological and intellectual banter provides security and safety unlike anything else. A security blanket of sorts. But so does faith. The phrase, “when God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window” is in some cases a theological cop-out and in other cases a theological security blanket, as on the one hand, it provides theological and spiritual safety for those who need to know that God never gives up the upper hand in our lives, especially when the going might seem to be getting tough. But on the other hand, it is so totally a theological cop-out, because it gives permission for us to choose the call. Or, instead, it places the blame in God’s hands completely, rather than in the hands of the human, which is the theologically appropriate response. Yes, I may be intellectualizing again, but it is also the seemingly comforting approach as well. Because if we say that God can potentially turn his back and shut the door on opportunities on a whim, then how are we to trust that God will be steady in our lives? To me, this phrase, if God doesn’t do X, He’ll certainly somewhere, at some point do Y, implies that God is inconsistent.

And is the God of scripture, of Christianity, of Judeo-Christianity, a lackluster, inconsistent God? That certainly isn’t the God I was taught about in Sunday School, or in Seminary, or at Smith. 

So who are you kidding? Are you the one who is closing the door to opportunity by your actions and your words? Are you the one limiting yourself by claiming medical conditions that aren’t real or aren’t as serious? Are you the one placing limitations on your job or call potential that God has for you for reasons that are fear-based rather than reality- and faith-based? Discern the motivations behind your words and actions, because God isn’t shutting doors and opening windows. There is no theology behind those words, only human actions motivated out of selfishness and fear. And no one deserves to live a life motivated based on those two emotions.

Blog Post: When God Calls The Most Unfitting and Unlikely of Characters

When I first applied to seminary, I always envisioned that I would end up in a church. And while I still believe that to be a possibility, whether it be fourteen months from now, or fourteen years from now, God’s immediate call to hospital chaplaincy was a riot and certainly a surprise initially. But when I also applied to seminary four years ago, I also had no idea the number of hoops, hurdles and trenches I would have to leap over, through and endure in order to seek and discern God’s call to ministry. You see, to serve the church isn’t as easy as declaring a sense of call and then going out to serve it, as it was in the days of Paul and the disciples of Christ. If it were, the world would be filled with prophets, apostles and pastors, all preaching the Gospel and claiming to have the right answers and the direct path to Christ. 

The ordination process has been daunting – ten exams, two tries at the PC(USA) Bible content exam (and two failures), the writing of a credo, and now, I have reached what will soon mark the end of the ordination process. On the 18th of August, I will get to meet with a committee of ministers and elders from my classis to discuss my credo and Hebrew exam, and should I pass, my ordination exam will be complete. Four years total, with one year off for health reasons, and it will all come to a beautiful but rather anticlimactic conclusion should I pass these two exams. 

In these moments of waiting for August 18th to arrive, I have been meditating on the various call stories in scripture: that of Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Paul, and even the faithfulness of Job in the face of trial and tribulation. In each story, the called individual was so totally unfit, and yet God persisted, perhaps even to the point of overriding human will and desire. In the case of Jeremiah, God insisted to the reluctant and even pessimistic Jeremiah that he was destined and created for the purpose of prophethood before his birth, and because of this there was no way he could get out of it. 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations….Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:5, 8. NRSV) 

Jeremiah’s hesitancy and reluctance is valid; here comes God to announce that not only is he to be a prophet to the nations, but that he was destined for this purpose and only this purpose…before his birth. But don’t worry, Jeremiah, God will be with you. See, that’s the thing with these biblical call stories. God never abandons, nor does He forsake his chosen (and seemingly completely unlikely) characters. The call to ministry comes with lots of responsibility, but with it also comes a companion in the divine creator, who not only calls but equips and guides. Take the call story of Abraham: 

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3, NRSV) 

Abraham was commanded to leave the comfort of his home in his old age – something I have been constantly reminded is quite a compromise, and not something to be taken lightly at all, but rather is a leap of faith and the sign of great trust in God’s providence – because God had greater plans, both for Abraham, and for this other place Abraham was being sent. Abraham’s call involved both a geographic move, and a detachment from family and friends. And yet, God said, if you do A and B, I will not forsake you, and make a great nation of you, and bless you and keep you. 

Here’s the thing about picking up the phone when God calls to ministry; the timing isn’t ever going to be perfect, and the way it happens – the road to the pulpit, hospital, prison, etc. is never going to be paved with gold. Being called to ministry meant facing the fact that God calls the most unlikely of characters, like me, but with that comes also the understanding that God not only follows alongside and equips these characters as well. Think about it; a twenty-five year old, naive WASPy young woman with very little worldly experience prior to undergrad picking up the God-phone. A very unlikely candidate for service to the church and yet, here she is, finished with seminary, and God-willing, all-the-wiser as a result of being road-worn, world-torn. And yet, God continues to walk alongside because when God calls, God endures. 

In each of the call stories of the Bible, God doesn’t simply pick up the phone, call, and then put down the receiver, only to walk away without a care in the world. God isn’t the type of divine Creator who creates and then distances Himself from that which He creates. Instead, He actively involves Himself in creation, including those which He calls to minister to creation – the pastors, prophets, apostles, elders and deacons, and lovingly equips them each and every step along the way. The funny thing is, God calls the funny, unlikely and completely ridiculous people to these positions – why? Perhaps out of relatability, perhaps because we are all unlikely, ridiculous and funny in different ways, and we are all different in our own ways, and that is exactly the way God desires creation to be. 

So as my ordination process slowly nears its end, and whether it ends in an ordination service this fall (I’ll be looking for people to do prayers, read scripture, etc.), or it involves more time in discernment, God continues to amaze and inspire in calling the most unlikely and incredibly different of characters to this odd and wondrous calling. Not because He doesn’t want to call the regular and blah, but perhaps because the everyday, average people are the ones who can bring God into the darkest, most regular and average corners of the world. 

In calling the normal and regular, unlikely and unfitting, like me, and perhaps even like you, God is realizing our potentials, the potentials that we haven’t seen at times, and might even not see in the here and now, and is calling our bluff. God is calling us into what we were created to do, just as He did with Jeremiah. So struggle as we might to envision the potentials and realities of our calls, they are there, and they are God-given, unlikely as they might seem. Jeremiah’s seemed unlikely, Abraham (as Abram)’s seemed ridiculous, and Job should have given up in great times of strife and trial, yet all three incredible men continued to have faith in God’s calling on their lives. Calling, however blind and leap-inducing it might be at times, involves an act of faith on our part, and that means leaping into the unknown, and understanding that the feelings of insufficiency, not fitting, unlikeliness, and at times, the absolute ridiculousness of the call to ministry means the perfection of it all. 

Ministry means leaning into the unknown of God’s desire – God knows how it will all work out, and we are not meant to; I am not meant to know whether chaplaincy is it for the entirety of my ministry, or whether it will involve church ministry as well. I am not meant to know where I will land geographically, whether I will be ordained in October or November, or how my ordination exams will go in a month. But what I do know without a shadow of a doubt is that God is with me, and has equipped me for just this purpose from the time I was formed in my mother’s womb, and every hurdle, bump, bruise, ick, yuck and joy equipped me for such a time as this. 

A time of uncertainty and yet so much certainty. A time to trust and wait, to be still and know that He is without a doubt the God who has led me this far and will not go anywhere. 

No one ever said the call to ministry would be easy, and it hasn’t been. But it has been a lot like the calls from the Bible – filled with trials and tribulations, joy and tears, laughter and a whole lot of questions. But never once have I questioned that God would lead me through to where I am supposed to be. Because God never makes a mistake in calling the funniest of characters – the most comedic, the most intelligent, the brightest and those willing to act when they see something is wrong – to ministry. God does not call the militant, the reactionary, the mean-spirited and the immature. For those, the call process will be long and filled with walls too high to climb and too long to go around. 

But for now, I shall wait…wait a few more weeks until I meet to discuss the 90 page paper that was described as verbose but theologically sound by a man I greatly respect. A paper that stands to determine whether I will be ordained in the RCA. Two final exams. 

Thanks be to God, this process is almost over. And yet, its ending marks the beginning of yet another, equally daunting journey – the wondrous journey of the ministry in service to God and God’s people. I wonder which is harder. 

Blog Post: Hi, My Name is Broken and Yet Perfect, How ‘Bout Yours?

At some point during Lent, I blogged about the Christian state of brokenness and woundedness, and how being broken was not something to be ashamed of, but rather something to embrace, as we have been reconciled to Christ, and in our brokenness and woundedness, we are very much whole in our faith and relationship to God. A strange and odd paradox to say the least, and yet, so totally rational at the same time. 

The subject came up again at dinner with my parents this weekend. I was trying to explain the theological meaning of “brokenness” and “woundedness,” only to find that my “seminaryese-”style conversation wasn’t exactly welcome, and would be promptly shut down. I guess wounds, scars and brokenness isn’t exactly dinner conversation in the real world…shocker!  

But the world’s brokenness is scriptural, theological and is an important topic to be discussed; we do live in a broken world, do encounter broken people on a daily basis – whether we choose to recognize it or not – and we are all broken, flawed and scarred in one way or another! Christ encounters his disciples again after his crucifixion and resurrection in the Gospel of John; the infamous “doubting Thomas” story of John 20 seems to fit perfectly when talking about woundedness and brokenness, as in the face of one’s imperfections, Christ steps in to show that his own brokenness is in fact, perfection and nothing but. 

“But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (John 20:25-27, NRSV) 

In the face of Christ’s own brokenness, and the physical signs to show that Christ too had suffered as a man, endured much pain and suffering and could be just as scarred, Thomas believed. Maybe this isn’t the right interpretation for the text, or maybe it is, one will never know. But it seems to me that John saw it extremely important to point out that even after his resurrection, Christ still had the marks of his human wounds, even though he had overcome death as the divine. It would make far more sense for Christ to come back to his disciples whole – his flesh unmarred by the nails driven through his hands and feet, his side pure and undamaged by the wound from the cross. And yet, here he appears to his beloved disciples, as though he had never left, wounds and all. These wounds are a mark of honor, a badge of courage for the one who had the audacity to overcome sin and death for all of humanity, even the most sinful and righteous. To the disciples, Christ is both the risen Lord, and the one who went to the grave to overcome death, and to do so, he had to endure the most incredible and excruciating pain, which meant the accumulation of scars upon his perfect flesh. 

He could have erased them after the Good Friday mourning had ended so that the joy of Easter Sunday could be perfect and right, not marred by scars and seeming imperfection; but the Lord Jesus Christ modeled the reality of human existence in that not every day is bright and shiny, but humanity is broken, even though we have been reconciled to God the Father. Thus, he donned his scars with pride and in solidarity, modeling for the rest of the world the fact that our scarred, broken, imperfect existence is not something to be ashamed of. Rather, the depth of our wounds connect us to the Christ who embraced and showed his to the world, as he bore his for the sake of the human world, and continued to show them for just that purpose. 

Why are we so afraid of being broken? Of showing our scars, of exposing our wounds, when Christ has gone ahead of us to model for us that the behavior of vulnerability and woundedness is acceptable and courageous? After all, Christ Jesus is a wounded Lord, and is the leader, savior and teacher of a wounded and broken community, and this is not and should not be something to be ashamed of by any means. Perhaps being vulnerable means having to show our wounds, weaknesses, fears, concerns and the things that make us human. But what’s the worst that could happen? We could see the face of Christ in those with similar wounds, vulnerabilities and scars. Or worse, others could help heal the wounds we have, or put a balm on our healing wounds, strengthening our testimony, and show us further that we are a part of the Body of Christ, who lived, breathed, and suffered so that we could be wounded and broken together. After all, are we really suffering for perfection? 

Illness and life do and cause the funniest of things – it leaves behind the ugliest and yet most beautiful of scars, whether they lie above the surface, on faces, chests, arms or legs, or beneath the surface, where no one can see them, but still they exist each and every day with the rising and setting of the sun. These scars for some are the marks of vulnerability, evil, wickedness, and are to be hidden; I remember a family member saying that I shouldn’t show my pacemaker surgical scar, and that soon it would fade, “don’t worry.” But yet, scars are also the sign of the strength and veracity of our faith – that our faith in Christ Jesus, in his death and victory over it in the form of the resurrection was far stronger than the very thing that tried to overcome us, whether it be illness, the loss of a loved one or job, or a life-altering event. Our willingness to expose our brokenness and the scars that represent this state is exactly what Christ was getting at when he showed Thomas the marks left behind by the cross – they are the signs of belief in the face of tremendous doubt, sorrow, and horrific odds to the contrary, whatever those odds may have been. 

My pacemaker scar has faded, much to my disappointment, but I love to show it off whenever I have the chance, just as Christ showed his scars to Thomas and the other disciples. Scars and other signs of our brokenness and vulnerability are not things to be hidden away from the world out of shame; instead, they are symbols of unity, radical welcome and the welcome into the new creation gained through Christ’s suffering and resurrection. My wounded Christ, and yours, is scarred and broken. But he accepts the brokenness as wholeness. Our wounds and scars are the very things from which we can testify to God’s strength, persistence and goodness, even in the face of horrible circumstance. 

Even though there is death, there is always a resurrection. Even though there may be a wound, that wound will always heal into the most incredible of scars, testifying to our body’s ability to heal itself without any explanation as to how such is possible. It is our duty to testify to our scars, journeys and God’s goodness and mercy in the midst of it all. 

“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and the calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10, NRSV)

Our weaknesses, scars, marks, vulnerabilities and flaws are the very things that make us strong in Christ; they are not the things that bring us closer to God, nor are they the things that make us “better Chaplains,” “better pastors, doctors, lawyers, humans…” But they strengthen our testimony that we worship a God who is willing to suffer with and for us, and continues to suffer with and for us, to the grave and back. 

So, do we see brokenness and vulnerability as an insult? As a condition to be avoided with a ten foot pole? Or do we flock to the Christ who was willing to show his wounds to his beloved with pride and courage, so that they too could do the same for others? After all, perfection is overrated. I love my scars, as they show that the very thing that tried to bring me down didn’t win – the strength, courage, and redeeming blood of my Lord did, and in turn, so did I. Thanks be to God.

Blog Post: Saying Heartbreaking Goodbyes…to Say Many Beautiful Hellos

Adulthood is hard; that is something that no parent ever prepares you for. I don’t ever remember my mom and dad putting me on their knee growing up and saying in a soothing voice, “Don’t worry, Liz, your childhood is one thing (because it wasn’t the easiest socially – I was bullied, teased, and definitely not the most popular girl in my school class), but adulthood isn’t easy. Don’t expect for it to be paved with gold and for opportunities to be made for you.” Nope, no recollection of that moment at all, not even a vision or daydream of such a moment, and boy can this only child daydream as good as the rest of them.

Adulthood involves a lot of upheaval – cutting of ties, cutting of flesh, cutting of nerves, and the cutting of packing tape as cardboard boxes are filled with only the essentials in preparation for a 3000 mile move from my New Jersey emotional home (definitely not a physical home at times) to my brand new home in San Francisco, California. I don’t have a new place yet, and the search has been, shall we say, less than easy. God’s call to ministry doesn’t come with dental or health benefits, let alone enough zeros in the paycheck to always live where the call is, and this is one of the challenges I’m currently facing – San Francisco’s cost of living far outweighs my price range (by $500-$1000/month), and given that roommates are not a possibility for me, asking for some help from family has become the only option. Again, adulthood is hard, and asking for help is even harder. But God is even bigger, and willing to bridge the gap of even this proud heart.

Packing boxes has forced me to think about the last three years, the relationships and memories attached to each object being thrown into each pile (Take, Leave, Give Away, Sell, Throw Out, Store, etc.), and how saying goodbye will be heartbreaking, if only for now. Obviously, no goodbye is truly forever – reunions, weddings, ordinations happen, and thanks to social media, people are able to stay more and more closely connected than ever, although social media is definitely NO replacement for human contact in a relationship. And so it is with the tearing of tape and the throwing of memories into boxes, I think of all the “see you laters” I’ll have to say in the weeks to come, not knowing when I’ll replace them with “how I’ve missed yous” and “what’s new with yous” in person.

These goodbyes I am having to offer up to my closest friends, some of whom have become family, harken back to the faith I call my own, and even my Christ, whose disciples and closest followers were in a similar position at one point, way back when. Gathered around a table one night, the followers of Jesus the Christ were forced to listen to their beloved teacher tell of how he would soon be leaving them, not forever, but only for a short while. The period of time likely didn’t matter to these heartbroken men of new and fresh faith, who had just bonded with this man of incredible and miraculous potential, who called himself Jesus, and related himself to God the Father, and now, he would be leaving them with the Gospel and the responsibility of preaching it to all the nations and all corners of creation. And yet, Christ encourages them to not be troubled, but to continue to believe – to believe in him, but also to believe that this was not the end of the story, the end of their relationship.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so there I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him…” (John 14:1-7, NRSV)

Christ encouraged his disciples to understand that they had already seen God, been in relationship with God, and known God, and that this relationship will not end, despite Christ’s departure from them. The heartbreak is real, the pain and despair over losing a loved one to distance. To the disciples, Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection feels like a death, as their beloved teacher is no longer physically with them – to guide them, nurture them, and witness to them each and every day. And yet, Christ’s departure marked a series of new “hellos” for these disciples as Christ did not command them to sit and mourn his departure, but to continue his ministry, preaching the Gospel and message of God to the ends of the Earth. They were not to be sedentary in mourning, but to be proactive in joy; their salvation, reconciliation to God and renewed faith means living in new relationship and hospitality.

Adulthood is like this, and my move feels a lot like this. It means the rending of old and current relationships, and thus my heart in the process. Old relationships are safe and sound, and comfortable, but hold me in the present, ultimately preventing me from breaking into the future – rather, the future that is San Francisco, chaplaincy, my ministry, and all that God holds for me out there. Adulthood means trusting that God might be calling me to make some tough decisions, asking me to move in a different direction, and even 3000 miles away from the people I call family, the community I call home, and the church that feels most comfortable and safe. Nothing about adulthood is easy, and nothing about breaking the physical bonds of safety is either; yet beyond the goodbyes lie a whole other set of hellos, new nice to meet yous, new getting to know yous. None of these will replace the old, seasoned, familiar, worn in and comfortable; they will just add to them, color them and make them more valuable and rich, and even better than before.

While I hate packing, I hate throwing things out, giving things away, and selling my things, God has placed a call on my life to go and serve, just as Christ commanded his disciples to go, serve and preach the Gospel at the last supper. I don’t necessarily get to choose where God calls, nor do I get to choose where my chosen family lies – when God calls He calls, and all I can do is hold on, pick up the packing tape, and lovingly hug those I’ve bonded with before heading off to the next stage of my life.

Adulthood hasn’t been easy so far, but no one ever said it would be; then again, no one ever told me it would be as amazing, wondrous, or odd, to borrow the words of Martin Copenhaver. To follow the calling of God, truly and honestly, means never fully putting down roots, but instead living by the seat of God’s pants, not my own. A theologically crude (and rather unladylike metaphor), and yet, it is perfectly fitting, since in three weeks, with only the necessities packed in the back of a truck, headed to a storage facility for a few weeks, I’ll be leaving on a jet plane for NorCal to look at places, placing my faith solely on God that this is truly in fact where I am supposed to be, not where I have desired to be since the summer of 2010, when a young 21 year old ginger-haired and freckled, naive WASPY girl from Westchester county went for the first time on her own to a land far far away to see if she was, in fact called to this thing called ministry. And to ministry, she certainly is called.

“Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and to which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord christ, which he will bring about at the right time – he who is the blessed and only sovereign, the king of kings and Lord of lords.” (1 Timothy 6:12-15, NRSV)