Word of the Week

A friend recently asked me how I felt about leaving Oklahoma soon.  This is what I said: "I am breathless with gratitude."

I think it surprised her that I didn't give a simple: "I'm happy" or "I'm sad" about it answer. I think she even would have been satisfied with a "Change is hard" statement from me or something like "I'm excited about the future."

But I said none of these things. Not even close to "I'm jumping for joy. Thank God I'm getting out of here" (as I would have said 2 years ago).

No simply: "I am breathless with gratitude."

For when the day comes that our packed car pulls heads back East for new adventures, I won't be leaving this state wiping the dust off my feet as I once thought I would. I won't be leaving with a face of disgust. Nor, will I be leaving with all the pain of these 3 years (and it's been a lot!) at the forefront of my mind.

No, I'll be leaving saying, "I am breathless with gratitude." And my little NF heart just might burst as I do. (By NF I'm referring to Myers Brigg language). There's much to be grateful for!

I'll be leaving this way because faces like this:


And this:

IMG_5238And this:


And these as well:


And countless others I'd still like to get photos with!

These faces have been love to me. They've seen me for who I really am-- flaws and all in a state where I felt unseen for so long. And they've affirmed me as their pastor, their friend and their fellow traveler on the journey of life in Oklahoma.

Recently I told them this in a newsletter.

When I think of what it means to live into our calling as Easter people, the one word that comes to mind is “surprise!” Because when you think about it, the resurrection, as the first disciples experienced it, was most certainly a surprise. Resurrection was shocking, overwhelming and most certainly not what they expected. But yet, when they learned the great news, it was their job to live into it. They were charged to go and tell what they saw!

As for me, in looking back on the short but oh so meaningful time that I’ve spent with you, The Federated Church, surprise is the one of the best words I have for describing it.

From the first time I learned about you, I was surprised to learn that a church like Federated existed in Western Oklahoma. I was surprised that you wanted me to be your interim pastor. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed preaching every Sunday again. I was surprised at how flexible you are. I was surprised how quickly I grew to love you all so deeply. I was surprised to tell a friend recently that “The Federated Church has changed me. I know now that I can’t not pastor when I go back to Virginia.”

Isn't this God’s Spirit at work? If we believe that God’s mercies are indeed new every morning, then, surprise is what we’re all about!  And it’s not just for pastors, but it’s for EVERYONE.

As you and I enter our next chapters, my prayer for you is one of continual surprises! The best is yet to be for both of us. All my love to you, Elizabeth

I talk a lot about being "Easter people" because I just love the metaphor of Good Friday/ Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday a paradigm of how we move through our lives. And as for our time in Oklahoma, we've experienced all of these movements.

So here's my word-

Oklahoma, you've given us one hell of some Good Fridays!  But you've also given us some glorious Easter Sundays! And with breathless gratitude, I say thank you. For all Kevin and I have endured. For all we've seen and experienced. For all those who have loved me into becoming authentically present here, I say thank you.

Because of the community of Christ, I am no longer in the ashes and for this I can't help but be breathless with so much gratitude!

Have you ever been in a situation where a houseguest has left early in the morning before you woke up?

Or you've parted ways with a friend in a mad dash to the airport without final words?

Or you haven't been able to find that favorite teacher or buddy in the midst of the large crowds at a graduation ceremony to say "thanks?"

I think we all have.

And, I hate situations like this.

I like saying goodbye. Closure is a great comfort.  Words like, "Thank you" or "I love you" Or, "I look forward to our paths crossing again" are a part of what good endings are all about.

In the church, as many pastoral leaders can tell you, we suffer from a lot of cliff hanger types of relationships with our parishioners. Lots of folks leave without telling us that they are leaving and most certainly not saying goodbye.

Someone has a spiritual or family crisis and goes from present every Sunday serving in multiple ministries to the status of "Where in the world did they go? Anybody heard from them?" in a flash second.

And in response, when contacts of concerns are made by the pastor or other caring church family folks such as: "We miss you. . . .  We hope you are alright.  . . . We hope you're still alive . . . " and there's no response.  It is a great grief is suffered when it feels like the cold shoulder is given. Leaving without saying goodbye can feel like a slap in a face to what the relationship has meant in the months and years prior.

I understand that relationships and the dramas of life are messy, though. I understand that the best possible scenario of closure just is not always possible. But, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't do a better job of holding ourselves accountable to end as well as we began.

So, as you all know, I will be leaving my post as pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist Church on December 24th.   It's a little less than a month away. And, in these next several weeks, I want to make good use of the time. I want to continue to engage in the life of the church as much as a possibly can so to make this time of transition a healthy and smooth one for everyone. And, I don't want to leave without saying goodbye.

My pastorate at WPBC has been about more than just the members or regular worship attenders. Many of you online have been a part of our church and many of you have popped in and out of our ministry as your life situations have allowed. I want to include you too. Let me not leave without getting to see you too. Consider coming back to one of our Advent worship services that begin THIS Sunday at 11 am and continue throughout the month.

I have shared with the congregation this week that I am available to meet with folks for lunch or dinner or coffee over the next several weeks. Don't hesitate to contact me to find a time to get together.

I want to say goodbye, celebrate the good work we've done together and anticipate the great future that is ahead for both of us!

I haven't left yet.