I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about the past . . . things that have happened in my life 10, 15 or even 20 years ago. I’ve thought a lot about how I got to be where I am. I’ve thought a lot about the people who have helped see at different junctures the gifts that I could not see in myself. I’ve thought a lot about God’s hand of provision at my most desperate places. I’ve thought a lot about one of my favorite hymns, “He Leadeth Me” which testifies to just this truth of God’s gently guiding me, guiding us along the way. In particular, I’ve recognized.
It is amazing to me that a young girl who had never seen a woman preach and thought it was “not a woman’s place” turned out to be one.
It is amazing to me to think of the moments when I felt so unseen, so un-lovable that there were those who loved me, though I may not have been able to recognize it at the time.
It is amazing to me to think of how full circle life can turn out to be– people, circumstances, or hopes that you long thought were long gone from your life come around again and be full of such blessing.
In all of these things, the wisdom for the future that surfaces is “stay the course.” And, by this I mean, as much as life seeks to bump us all off the course, our job is to just stick with it. To know ourselves and to live out of ourselves and not to believe anything less about what we sense to be true about our lives.
When I was in high school, as many at this age experience, I just felt out-of-place. I felt like no one really knew who I was. Can you say awkward?? This was me in almost every sense of the word. Dress, presentation, interactions with others, you name it. This was me.
However, I knew I liked encouraging others. I knew I liked organizing and leading things with purpose and that validated others’ gifts. I knew I liked paying careful attention to the details of others’ lives so to connect with them richly. I knew I liked public speaking and got great joy out of someone receiving hope from something I said. But, in all of these good gifts I felt completely defeated. Why? Because I lived under a value system where none of these heart bursts of mine were assigned much if any value.
So, I tried to be what others saw as “good.” Yet, this was like hitting a wall time and time again. I wasn’t good at sports. (I even got a C+ in PE once because of my kept falling off the aerobics bench during the routines). I wasn’t good at voicing my opinions in a crowd. I wasn’t good at telling others that I needed them as much as I communicated thoughtfulness to others. I was afraid. I felt lost. I wondered why people didn’t seem to like me as much as I liked them. I just couldn’t find my niche.Deep pains from this time in my life still eat at me now, if I let it.
In response, I could have become full of rage. I could have started living into destructive patterns of behavior. I could have rejected the faith I was given as a child. And, I’m sure no one would have blamed me.
But, in all of this mess, my life was saved, I know, because I was given this grace from God: fire to stay the course. Though I didn’t have words to articulate this concisely at all, I knew what direction my life was going. And gradually, I found friends, mentors and colleagues who with great patience would beat it into my head that I was loved and my gifts mattered. Through such crumbs of encouragement, I knew that if I just stuck with life long enough it would get better. I knew eventually people would really see me truthfully. I knew I had to fight for my own life, even if no one else did. Because my life mattered. And, I needed to live out my calling. Otherwise my soul might start to die.
And, I’m so glad I did. I am so glad I became a pastor.
People ask me all the time, now as a pastor, for advice. I really don’t feel comfortable with this because I mostly see my pastoral work as that of deep listening. However, if folks insist, I usually go toward the writings of Parker Palmer who says, listen to your life. Here’s my Elizabeth paraphrase of his ideas:
Let your life talk back to you. Let the divine gift of direction swell up in you and don’t be afraid to believe in your own blessedness. No matter if no one but you recognizes it at the time and not matter how much you feel beat down, keep believing and soon others will too. It is going to get better. It always will get better.
This is my testimony for today: stay the course. It got so much better for me and it will for you too.