Word of the Week

There’s a popular poem about JOY which you may have heard before. It's an acrostic:

Jesus first

Others second

Yourself last.

It's another way of saying, "If you really want to be happy in life, you’ll learn to love Jesus more than anyone else, even yourself.”

I was taught this way of life as child. It teaches faith in God and selflessness. But as I became an adult, I began to wonder if  this what Jesus’ own ministry modeled this acrostic of JOY? Did Jesus never eat, sleep, take retreats or be quiet from time to time? Christian culture seemed to teach me that Jesus was a robot of activity, never stopping.

But the truth is: Jesus stopped! He napped. He found quiet time just for himself. He prayed often alone. Go read any gospel and count the references to activities such as this.

Yet, often it's not what we model in the church.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at clergy gatherings where fellow colleagues have boasted of “never taking their vacation” or “working from sun up from sun down.”

I can’t tell you how many church suppers I've been to where there is nothing healthy to eat.

I can’t tell you how many times I've seen the joy sucked out of church folks because they don't ever stop and take a moment to enjoy the life in their own backyards!

What does this say about our faith?

As a child, I was taught salvation is making a stated confession to a community of my sin, repentance and acceptance of Jesus. It was such a big deal that people would ask, “What was the day that you came to Christ?” And, when you appropriately answered with a markable moment, your salvation story was complete.

But, in my third year of Duke Divnity School, Dr. Esther Acolotse, my pastoral care professor, challenged me on everything I thought I knew about salvation. She said:

Salvation is a process of becoming a human being– the human being God designed each of us to be at creation. To be saved, is to be made whole.

There are so many implications of this definition of salvation, if we truly embrace it. But one important one is this: that, yes, God calls us to take care of ourselves.

For, there's no way that you and I can be human if our schedules are out of balance or if we're eating the wrong foods or not sleeping enough. And the list of self-care could go on.

And so maybe what is saving our lives looks like this:

Spending time with people who make us happy (even if they are not the people we should be hanging out with).

Eating foods that our bodies will smile about when receiving (even if it is not what our mamas cooked growing up).

Taking naps on our days off when we are tired (even if it means saying no to grandchildren to hiring a babysitter for our kids).

Staying at home some nights and doing exactly what we want (even if we were invited to an event and should make an appearance).

And, above all, I think activities like eating, drinking, sleeping, walking are not unspiritual.  In fact by engaging in them, we are glorifying God through and with our bodies. We are saying the image of God is in us and so we must rest and love and breathe as God does.

In her book, Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor says about our salvation journey: "My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”

So, I'm taking a week off to do just this-- to become more human. I need more salvation. Like Taylor said- our lives depend on it.

What about you? What is saving your life right now?

When people say my name, the word "adventurous" is rarely the first association.

I'm the girl who doesn't like to ride roller coasters or bungee jump off of platforms or even play paintball. I'm a great purse holder and picture taker. We all have to know our strengths right?

For all of these reasons and more I was never going to be a long-term youth minister (but that's another story).

Yet I'm also the person who doesn't like to be left out-- as much as something makes fear rise up in my belly, I'll try it.

I've ridden some of the world's longest and fastest coasters (all the while my prayer life simultaneously grew).

I've stood on some of the world's tallest heights (ok, maybe one day I'll jump).

I've gone paint balling with merciless group of teens (coming home with the bruises to prove it).

And so, when Kevin and I spent a couple of days in Costa Rica for a mini-vacation/ attending a friend's wedding this weekend, I knew there was one thing I needed to do before I left the jungle: zip lining. Especially after a couple with us for the wedding went the day before. AND, they couldn't stop taking about how much fun they had.

I was sold. "Kevin," I said, "we must sign up for tomorrow!" Though I'm sure Kevin would have enjoyed one more morning sleeping in and didn't even have proper tennis shoes (luckily found a friend with the same shoe size to borrow from), we set out the next day for our 8:30 am tour. All was well and exciting as met our jungle guides and put our safety gear on. All was well and exciting as we made our trek up the mountain in a cart pulled by a tracker. But when I saw the first zip line with nothing but jungle and more jungle below my feet, all was no longer well or exciting.

Soon my speech became a smattering of words like, "I don't know what I thinking, Kevin. Oh my goodness. Can you believe this height? What was thinking? Why did I sign us up for this?? Why didn't you stop me? You should've stopped me!"

Kevin, with his white safety helmet sliding down his face began to reassure me with stories of the one time he zip lined before in West Virginia, "Oh it will be ok. You'll soon love this! I did."

But, I wasn't convinced. I knew there was a world of difference between West Virginia and the middle of the Costa Rica rainforest. I saw no safety nets. I saw no end to this course down the mountain.

Seeing the fear in my eyes the guide reminded us all: "There's no way getting down this mountain now than by going down on these lines." (The tracker was long gone, sigh!). And, I knew I was stuck, for better or for worse. I knew I had one thing and one thing only to do next: face my fear.

One of my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quotes came to mind, "Do one thing every day that scares you." And simultaneously thought-- I hope this fulfills my quota for days!

photo-1There would be no turning back. And with a push, down the line I went. And went. And though Kevin later summed up the activity by saying on twitter that "the monkeys in the rainforest might need therapy after all my yelling," I did it and even have this picture to prove it.

Fear is just like this-- in the end it is just fear. It's just an emotion that screams CAUTION so loudly in us that we never take the leaps in life that we're met to take. A good dose of fear is healthy, of course. There are leaps in this life reserved for the trained professionals. But, facing our fears can in turn be one of the most spiritual things we do in our days.

For when we face the things that scare us, we leap figuratively (and sometimes literally) into the hands of a God who says no matter what, I will never leave you alone. In fact, as we leap, we might just find ourselves soaring with joy we'd of never known-- just as I did by the 12th (and final) zip line on Saturday morning. Mission accomplished. I was thrilled.

Kevin and I had the opportunity to share a 10 days in Scotland and Ireland along with some time off with family before he begins this new job this coming week.

Can I just say that vacation is so good for the soul?

I had never taken two Sundays back to back off before, but what a break it was. I loved all the time to just be, think, and relax. How grateful I was for the time to be in two beautiful countries and simply be away! It is what the good stuff of life is made of. . .

You are out of words.

People seek from you what you don't have anymore.

You plan retreat and they come and find you.

Pray for me, pastor.

Visit me, pastor.

Solve my problems, pastor.

What do you do?

With compassion, you keep going.

You get out of bed.

You bathe.

You get dressed.

You show up.

You keep trying.

"The peace of Christ be with you."

You search the far corners of your heart, hoping there is some gem there.

You hope your morsels are enough to feed the five thousand sitting at your doorstep.

And, you plan vacation again.

You count the days.

You look for light.

You run toward it.

And you hope when all is said and done that there will be a good story to tell.

A really good one.

A story of unbelievable grace.

A story that feeds the five thousand with your morsels that have become loaves of bread.

When is the last time you were really searching for something? Can you remember the last knock out, drag out all of the couch cushions, search every cranny of all of the drawers, crawl under the bed, call lost and retrace your steps until you are exhausted—all in pursuit of something meaningful to you that you simply cannot find anymore?

Yesterday, I was on one of these crazy all-consuming searches that gave the meaning of "coming home" for homecoming an all new meaning. After a week off for vacation, I needed to get home for church this morning.

For those of you who travel a lot, you know that the goal is to always be prepared for anything and to have your plans flexible at all times for you never know what might happen to you. And, as Kevin and I boarded the shuttle that took us from our hotel to the airport at 5:30 am, we were believed we’d  be home from our week of vacation in Curacao (an island next door to Aruba) by late lunchtime and all would go as planned.

However, soon after we got through the long line at the ticket counter, through security and immigration and were patiently waiting for our plane to board at the gate, we got those dreaded five words that any traveler hates to hear: “Your flight has been canceled.”

We were crushed with frustration especially as we learned the only reason our jet would not board was because a flight attendant was not feeling well and they couldn’t fly without her. We were told to go get our bags, leave the terminal and go stand back in line to re-book our tickets for flights that were seemingly non-existent. (American Airlines is not my friend).

I had homecoming on my mind and how important this day in the life of our church was, I couldn’t be stuck on the island, I kept saying to Kevin. . . So, I dashed back to the ticket counter to stand in the long line already forming, hoping God might smile on my travel karma just a little.  Even as tech savvy travelers around me crumbled while looking at their blackberries and I said, “I bet we won’t get out of here for a couple of days, the next couple flights back to Miami are booked” I was determined to search—to find a way to get off the island and at church in the morning.

The series of events in this search were nerve-racking from the beginning.  From Kevin calling the airline only to get the news that we were re-booked to arrive home on Sunday night (not cool), to moving our hopes to  the local airline which boasted of a flight to the US in a couple of hours, to standing in their new long and disorderly lines, to being told by one ticket agent when I finally got to the front of the line that there was one seat on a flight out-of-town for the morning, but  . . . with the catch that I couldn’t buy it there.

I was told that: I’d have to find the airline rental car shed ½ mile away, only to arrive out of breath (I was running in jeans) with the message of: the seat on the flight I was promised was taken.

BUT I could be on stand-by if I walked back a mile and a half back to the ticket counter for another 30 minutes, to then learn finally that there was a seat available (yes, finally some good news in the search!), but then to be told, I would have to go back to the rental car shed (1/2 mile a way but felt more like 2).

There I finally did buy the ticket to the USA to then be told to go back and stand in the ticket line (again) so that the boarding pass could be printed. Only to learn when I got back to the ticket counter that the flight was getting ready to take off and wanted to leave me. Luckily, with some persuasion by Kevin, “Sir, my wife is a pastor she has to get home today (though in this Roman Catholic country I know he was confused as to how I could be a pastor)” the search to get off the island ended as I ran like a crazy woman through customs again. Thank you Jesus that I was on a flight that I hoped would bring me home (though Kevin wasn’t as lucky will probably arrive home later on tonight with his own version of his “In search of” story).

I still think it is a miracle I got off the island. . .

Looking forward to a less eventful week than has this one began.

If you look at my current contract with the church, it says that I get so many days off a year and so many personal days for medical emergencies and the like.

When I first came to be the pastor here, there were conversations with the personnel committee about the details of all of my "off time." I remember seeking to explain to the chair of the committee who wanted to offer me a certain number of hours off a week, that this just made no sense. Hours off? I had no idea how this would work. I explained that the only real time off I recieved best came in chunks-- when I could take a week or more of time to be off call, in another place, not responsible for sermon writing, visiting and email responses.

Yet, the longer I do this job, I know that being on vacation is like a myth that might only come when I'm no longer employed.

I say this not because I have some super high maintenance congregation of folks who ask for my constant attention-- who constantly call me on my off days and expect an email reply right away. (I'm very blessed, I know).  But, I believe that vacation is a myth. It is not how the pastoral vocation goes and those who seek to engage it are wired.

Last week, Kevin and I had the opportunity to take a southern tour of sorts with stops among both of our families in Tennessee and Georgia. It was a action packed road trip of stops along several points of importance to both of us.

And, so, I did not preach on the last Sunday of June. I did not Skype into committee meetings. I did not reply to many emails. I really tried to be present and enjoy the time with family and friends that I normally don't get to spend as much time with. But, in the end, I wouldn't say that I stopped working, though.

I got ideas about a new hymnbook that I would like our congregation to explore using while sitting in a congregation for worship on Sunday morning.

I experienced conversations with friends that raised questions in me about my own sense of calling and what this means for my congregation.

I watched movies with themes that I probably will explore in upcoming sermons.

I read a wonderful book about the rhythms of pastoral life that I would never have time to complete and digest in regular week of work.

I talked about what I do, when asked, at a gathering and doors were opened for ongoing dialogue with new friends about issues of faith.

I stayed in touch with my congregation through the wonderful world of social media . . . that I would do anyway, in town or not.

Though I have some friends who would say to me, "Just turn your brain off. Stop thinking. Stop working. You are on vacation after all." I can't though. I am pastor not just when I meet the hours a week required of me for my job, but in real life wherever it takes me. Some may call me me an overachiever, while many would come to understand this as calling.

Vacations made us better at what we do, as pastors, not because we simply go away and do nothing, but because we keep our hearts open to the fresh wind of the Spirit. The last time I checked the Spirit always seems to find me, even on vacation.