Have you experienced a time in your life when failure creeps in?
Such has been how I have felt the past couple of months. Trying to heed the advice I often give to others: "Lead from your scars, not your wounds" (Thanks Nadi Bolz Webber). I haven't written about it here.
My blog is primarily pastoral not-self confessional. I'm not a fan of public over sharing. I say that's what coffee dates with friends are for! BUT, something in me has tugged toward writing about failure today. Maybe someone needs to hear it?
Today is not the first time I've shared about failure. Through the time I've been blogging, I've written about my own struggles with depression, infertility, and even marriage. A theme of my writing for sure is what it means to find faith in the dark night of the soul. Some of you have told me I've been a healing companion for you on your journey. For this I am more grateful than you know.
Yet, here I am again. Even if you know that joy has seasons and failure is just a part of life. It still can feel rotten to feel stuck.
In my case, it seems everyone around me is running faster and jumping higher. And I'm behind them all just falling on my face.
And, why you wonder?
I've felt like a failure because my memoir, Birthed hasn't had the success I would have liked for a multitude of reasons most notably because there still isn't market demand for infertility stories. It's so hard to beg people to care about what they don't want to talk about.
I've felt like a failure in my friendships. As much as I try to value people and make time for others, human relationships are messy. Most of us simply do what we want to do. Often this means hurting others (even if we're making the best choices for ourselves). It has just been a season where I feel I've drawn the short end of the stick more than my confidence can handle.
I've felt like a failure in my time management. I've overcommitted myself to projects I can't complete. And sometimes there are no quick fixes for these poor choices. It just is what it is and we can't rest until everything is finished.
And I've felt like a failure because can't seem to find the advocates I need for the orphan care and the work I'm doing over at Our Courageous Kids. My motivation skills seem to have lost their touch.
Even if you want to rise above failure, it can feel like an endless cycle. The more you feel it, the worst it gets. (For all of you Enneagram buffs can you tell I'm a 3?).
So how can you move forward with a mess of failure all around?
For now, this is what I know: grace is the thing that keeps me going.
Grace tells me that my poor choices (or that of others) aren't the end of the story. Grace reminds me that broken relationships will find redemption somehow. Grace offers that unexpected gifts are waiting for me when I least expect it.
And then practically, I can offer grace back to myself. Saying, "It's ok that I can't be this or that right now." Or giving myself permission to sit on the couch if it is the one thing that makes me feel better. Or even something extreme like flying across the country to see people I love (which I did last week!).
My life has purpose and meaning even if it doesn't feel like I'm living into my potential right now. The words of Lamentations 3: 22-23 ring in my ears:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
This "failure season" of mine will indeed pass. And yours will too.
Something happened to me on the morning of November 9th of last year. I felt so sad not just as a private citizen but as a faith leader.
I felt so sad for what our newly elected administration would mean for the rights of people of color, immigrants, women or any minority groups for that matter.
I felt so sad for what this new administration would mean for America's peaceful relationship with our global neighbors.
I felt so sad for how the Bible would continue to be misinterpreted to support a theology of nation over liberation and care for all the citizens of the world.
While many of you who also felt this way have found yourself doing more marching, more letter writing, or more organizing over the last six months, a desire bubbled up in me to return to a familiar place.
On November 9th, I told a dear friend, Amanda that post-election I needed to preach. Not just in the ways that I was already engaged in (and enjoyed!)-- through short-term interims and supply preaching-- but I needed preach to a particular congregation.
Who was in the White House became for me a heard calling for "all preaching voices on deck." My colleagues and I talked a lot about what it meant to preach in times like this. AND I could not not be one of these voices. I could not shy away from speaking up even when it was unpopular. I could not keep from leading toward hope. I could not hold any good news for living in days like this to myself.
But here's the thing. I knew I'm not a traditional pastoral candidate.
Different from when I began this ordained vocational journey over 10 years ago and immediately pursued a full-time position, I am not the kind of pastor that could give one congregation all of my work anymore. My soul thrives in diversity of tasks.
There's other callings on my life too whose nudges are equally as important to me as preaching.
Callings like being a writer. Promoting books like I just wrote, Birthed and new books to come!
Callings like being an advocate for children growing up in children's homes internationally. Raising funds for scholarships through the foundation, Our Courageous Kids, that I lead with the help of some great board members.
Callings like being a wife and mother and a friend. Making time for playdates and movie dates and long lunches where I believe the best conversations happen.
And a calling to not do it all, all the time. Sometimes our passions need to be put on the back shelf for a season so that another passion can shine.
Not willing to budge on calling, I knew I would not be a fit for most churches.
(And, I would never ask a church to accept anything less than they need. Most congregations believe they want full-time minister or at least a part-time minister who is full-time available. Yet, that's not my scene. It's ok to not be what someone needs.).
I was wondering how it would all turn out. Especially as my calendar continued to fill with short-term assignments that I enjoyed very much.
I was very content. BUT, here's the news:
I accepted the position of Senior Pastor of Palisades Community Church in Washington, DC.
This Preacher on the Plaza has a new plaza where you can find her most weeks beginning on September 5th. Palisades is a lovely walking community just outside of the Georgetown neighborhood.
I want you to know that I said "YES" to this invitation to preach and lead because it wasn't lost on me that this was a parish in Washington DC proper. Proximity matters.
I want you to know I said "YES" because Palisades Community Church is theologically and denominationally in the camp I find myself most comfortable these days-- ecumenical, progressive and with liturgy that looks a lot like a merge of the best mainline Protestant traditions. It's a congregation where gay, straight, young, old, believing or doubting are welcome. And this is how I know how to do church.
I also want you to know I said, "YES" because of how our relationship began with one another. I felt accepted right away. I did not hide the other callings in my life during the interview process. I told them that my child would need a nursery every week and times might come when my husband needed me to support his work in other places. And they said, "Great! We think your other work will enrich our life together."
So on we go together this fall. I'm excited to see how our congregation can grow in community with each other. I'm excited to welcome in more of our neighbors. I'm excited to see how the weekly texts lead me to preach.
Journeying with God is most certainly full of surprises, just as I wrote about last week. And I am continuing to learn how to talk about and lean into this surprise. Most of all, I'm glad for it.
Last week on New Year's Day, I was sitting among a table of family and one person asked,
"Where do you want you life to be at this moment in 2018 that you aren't in today?"
Everyone went around the table to share as we feasted on the traditional southern meal that Kevin put together for the evening-- greens, black-eyed peas, okra and fried chicken of course. So good.
Some folks talked about getting better in shape. Others talked about where they wanted to be in their careers.
We imagined what my 6 month old daughter would say if she could talk "I want to walk." (And we know she will after all the moving around she's doing lately. . . bring on the baby gates!)
When it came to my turn, I could only answer, "I don't know."
The folks around the table graciously accepted my answer and we moved on in conversation, but I wondered about it later.
How could I say, "I don't know?!!" Aren't I " a get stuff done, know where I am going" kind of person?
But, after 2016 being such a banner year, a year when so many BIG dreams came together, dreams like publishing my first book and welcoming a child into our home and continuing to have opportunities to help churches in the interim work I love-- dreams that were YEARS in the making, it's hard to imagine what I will get into this year.
It's ok that I don't know.
Will 2017 be about preaching in a more full-time way in a congregation? Maybe.
Will 2017 mean devoting serious attention to my new book project about how God creates families in unconventional ways? Maybe
Will 2017 include more travel and attention given to the foundation that got going last year called Our Courageous Kids? Maybe
Will 2017 be about something that I can't even articulate to you right now? FOR SURE!
So maybe it's time to dream about new dreams? Or find strength to remain faithful to what I know for sure.
One Sunday ago, I preached at Oaklands Presbyterian Church in Laurel, MD, my friend LeAnn's lovely congregation. I am the first to admit that often the material of my sermons always has connection to what I am struggling with in my own life. Don't let a preacher tell you otherwise.
So while sharing about the "Slaughter of the Innocents/ Jesus flees to Egypt" passage from Matthew 2, I couldn't help but add in another reading from four chapters over in the same book:
Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into bars, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them . . . Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to the span of your life?
For it's such timeless wisdom. Everyday has enough troubles of its own, we need not take our mind on over to tomorrow's troubles! Yet of course so HARD to practice. Who really does?
Yet, the point of my sermon was this: God gives us the direction we need when we need it (though often not a moment before). And in response, our job is simply to listen and then do it. Just as God directed Joseph about where his family was to live, God will also direct us.
From the big details (where will I work in 2017?) to the in between (how will I find more time for my friends this year?) to the small (what will I make for dinner tonight?) I know a loving God who cares about it ALL.
And in my heart of heart, I believe this about my 2017 and I believe this about yours. God will lead you. Period.
Plans aren't all that necessary. In fact, often OUR plans get in the way.
Join me in listening, though.
Such is the start of several conversations I've had lately with folks who wonder why I'm not serving one particular church, full-time.
"But you're good at it. Why would you not?"
"The church needs you. Why are you keeping your gifts from it by not applying for ___ job?"
"Did you really go to seminary just to supply preach?"
I know that folks don't mean to be rude or insulting with these questions. What they're saying in a round about way, "You're good at this. Why don't you do more of it?"
For it's often the struggling preachers, or the new to ministry preachers or even the older retired ministers who engage in intentional short-term ministry. (And I don't think I fall into any of these categories).
So I get it. From the outside looking in, it might appear like I'm wasting my education, ordination or even time. For it's true: I don't know many 30 something female ministers who have chosen interim ministry as a way of life or even really enjoy supply preaching.
But I do! And here's the thing, I'm not wasting time. I'm exactly in the place of life I need to be.
I'm creating what doesn't exist.
It's great ministry to have one foot partly in the church and another foot somewhere else.
For me that somewhere else includes as much time as I can muster together thinking, writing and writing some more. It's the place where my book Birthed came from-- squirreling away hours of the day to loose myself in words with hopes that one day they would be of encouragement to someone else. And I would like to write more books.
That somewhere else includes dreaming, planning and working on the administrative details of a foundation I began last year. I've been quiet about it for a while waiting on my 501(c)3 status to come through before I mentioned it to you. But three weeks ago I finally got my paperwork!
Our Courageous Kids was born!
Our Courageous Kids is something you'll hear a lot more about in the future. But for now, this what I most want you to know: orphan care has become a great passion of our family. And out of this passion, my hope is that Our Courageous Kids will become a collective voice of empowerment for children that you'll consider partnering with!
It's mission is to come alongside orphanages around the world to provide grants for life and enrichment opportunities as well as scholarships for secondary education and college tuition. I want Our Courageous Kids to say to brave, brave children, you are not alone: you belong to us all and we want you to have the best future possible!
And that somewhere else includes being present with my family. Kevin, my husband, has a very fast paced schedule over at the American Diabetes Association as their CEO. I want to be as supportive to him as I can and available to travel to uplift him and those who are living with diabetes, a horrific disease. I want to have time with the children who are important in our lives. And I want to keep the bonds strong with friends who have become our family in places all over the world. I want all of these things because I know these special people make me more human. They know and love me unconditionally. And I love every minute I get to spend with them.
While there will always be large membership congregations that require full-time staff, such I think, will become more and more rare.
When I think about where the church will be in the next generation and then the next, I think that more of us will become part-time, embodied in the world ministers than full-time staff members with health and pension benefits.
Sure, financially it can be awkward at times to piece together different kinds of work and pay the bills, but as we as ministers become less dependent on the institutions to support us, we re-gain our prophetic voices.
We can say and do things that the Church needs to hear without fearing we'll not eat if we do. And we might just find ourselves becoming more human in the process. I know this has been my path. And I'm loving it.
What do you need to create that doesn't exist?
In December 2012, I quit my job.
I didn't have another one to go to.
And though there were lots of extenuating circumstances that led me to believe that I knew what would be next-- at heart I really didn't have a plan. It was very UNLIKE me.
All I knew was that Kevin could not do his work at Feed the Children all over the world around the world while I remained in a full-time pastorate in Virginia. Something had to give. And it was my job.
I told friends and family that I quit because I wanted to finish my book manuscript (which I did, but have shelved for the proper time to bring it out again).
But at a deeper level I quit for other reasons.
Traditional, scheduled and go to into the office every day kind of ministry wasn't fulfilling my soul.
And even if this meant I didn't buy new clothes for a long time or buy a new car for a couple of years, I could not go another day in the same old routine.
I know I made the right choice, looking back now.
But, the next steps weren't easy. The voices around me (or least the ones I heard the loudest) didn't help either.
People said: "Oh, you must be a good housewife" (As if suddenly I became Martha Stewart or something. Wrong!)
Or, "Aren't you so lucky you don't have to work?" (As if I didn't want to work. I did!)
Or, "You used to be a pastor?" (As if not having a specific location to pastor suddenly took my resume away. Not true!)
And looking back now, I have to say that leaving my acceptable job was one of the bravest things that I've ever done.
Why? Because I care what people think. I want to be normal.
Quitting my job, however, showed me who I was like no other experience could. John Lennon made famous the saying, "Life happens when you are busy making other plans." I was busy making other plans. And by quitting my job, life showed me another way to live.
Slowly I began to find my place at Feed the Children within the PR/ Communications department. I helped to start the first ever blog for the organization. I began doing freelance writing and social media projects for colleagues. More and more friends asked me to preach in their congregations.
What I was doing felt more aligned with my being than it ever had before.
My life began to speak in a Parker Palmer sort of way saying:
Now, that I'm pastoring in a more structured (and more recognized) setting again, I've noticed how colleagues' responses to me have changed. One even said, "Welcome back to pastoral ministry." But the thing is I never left!
But in these months, I'm doing it differently.
I'm remembering more who I am and who I am not.
I'm saying yes more often to short-term projects that I know I have energy to complete.
I'm believing that I am a pastor-- no matter if a church puts my name on the sign or not.
I'm thinking that interim work is more my speed as far as church life goes.
Ready to make a big life transition and afraid? Take courage from my story. You can do it too!
When I started seventh grade, I was in club that asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. We were told to write our answers down on a piece of paper and keep it somewhere where we'd see it again in several years.
I recently found it again all these years later and I bet you'll be surprised as to what it said. . . .
I wanted to be a lawyer.
Who knew where that came from? Other than maybe I saw my future in leadership and study and being a lawyer was all I knew that women could do.
I also wanted to be married, have lots of kids and live in a place near palm trees.
In some ways life has turned out like I hoped and in other ways it simply has not.
But isn't this the way life is for all of us?
Who really became what they'd thought they'd be when they were 7, 12 or 17?
We can set out at the beginning of our life to be or do something in particular only to find ourselves 15, 20 or 30 years later holding something different.
Personally, I've always fought against this norm. When I set my mind out to do something, I really want to follow through with it even if the goal is not in my best interest.
But lately I've been thinking about the folly of all of this. Not that it is wasted energy to make plans or to have a plan. Not that we shouldn't strive toward fixing big problems.
Yet, the stupid part is how much mental, emotional and spiritual energy we all seem to exert toward PARTICULAR plans.
We wrap our heads around some vision for our lives and then want to settle for nothing less even if our plans make us miserable.
I was sitting with a group of girlfriends over lunch recently and the transcript of the conversation would lead a bystander to believe that each one around the table was in charge of their own lives. Or at least each had the ability to control their life circumstances based on their intellect, determination and perseverance. Each made these declarative statements:
I'll be pregnant in a year.
I'll have a new job in a city closer to family in six months.
I'll be starting my doctorate in the fall.
While all of these things were beautiful and wonderful goals, I couldn't help but think the entire time, what hubris we human beings are capable of!
There is NO way to guarantee that anything we want to happen in our lives will.
If you asked me 10 years ago if this is where my life would land me in 2014, I would have shook my head. I am most certainly not living the life I planned to live. In many ways my life is so much better than I ever imagined. And in other ways it is much worse.
So, this is my life motto: goodbye 5, 10 or 15 life plans. I can hardly predict or plan what is going to happen in the next 6 months! (Much less even a year in advance) so why obsess over what is to come?
And while this way of living goes against every bit of my type A nature, I am learning to accept it. This season of life has forced me to accept it in this strange land. I must make peace with it.
Because really, who am I? Just a grain of sand in the larger universe. I believe in a Creator that is complete mystery. Who am I really to know what I want or I need? Who am I to ever predict what comes next?
All I know to do is wake up every morning and keep living, hoping that as I do-- that the particular path for what is next becomes clear. And when in doubt, I also go back to this my favorite prayer by Thomas Merton. Because really in the end, life is not about us anyway.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Today I'm hoping for you as I'm hoping for me that in due time, all will be well. All matter of things shall be well.
It's been over one year now since I left traditional ministry. And folks say to me all the time, "When are you going back to the church?"
I don't know how to answer other than to say that we need to think about the church in new ways.
Why do we always think about church in terms of buildings and ministers with retirement plans and pensions? Why do we always think of church in terms of who is the staff listed on the back of the Sunday morning bulletin?
And no I don't think I am not going back anytime soon to what you mean by church.
These are the facts: a year ago, I left a weekly pulpit, weekly pastoral care responsibilities and ties to one place, but what I gained in this transition myself.
I said it. I gained myself. I still can't believe that I had the courage to make this leap into the unknown last year. I did have a retirement plan with a denominational board. As much as I've always had a rebellious streak, I've always liked following the rules too.
Yet, I know this past year has been a turning point for me. I think 10 or 20 years from now I'll look back on that year when I was 33 as a time when everything changed. Even with the mid-year moaning and groaning and "what am I doing with my life?" depression I went through (for y'all who lived with me through all of this, thank you!), this move into the unknown was and is a great decision.
The longer I live in this new reality, the longer I know I am not alone and there's other ministers out there like me who want to make such a transition too. I'm gaining a new community.
I recently read Anne Lamott's new book, Stitches. And as I read, I was struck by Lamott's narration of how she quit what she called "her last real job" at the age of 21. She said when she stopped working as a writer at a magazine and called it "the moment when I lost my prestige on the fast track."
When I left the church a year ago, this happened to me too, I think. There were even emails that said: "What are you doing? Why don't you settle down and get a new church in Oklahoma?" (As an aside, I have yet been invited to preach anywhere yet in Oklahoma City-- so even if I wanted a new job in the town where my husband resides mostly, there aren't a lot of opportunities). But who really needs a fast track? I'm still wondering.
Lamott goes on to say about her transition to a non-traditional writing life: "I started to get found, to discover who I had been born to be, instead of the impossibly small package, all tied up tightly in myself that I had agreed to be."
Spot on for me too! These days I am learning and re-learning and then learning some more about the minister, the writer and the human being that I am and was created to be. It's wonderful freedom. I now get to dream without some box of what I think other people want me to be holding me back.
And so in all of this settling down to a new kind of life, I knew my blog-- a medium for so much of this kind of heart-felt communication and exchange needed a makeover. So here it is, and here's my stance. I'm not going back. I am a preacher on a plaza.
As a preacher on the plaza, my new website can give you a tour about the ways in which I'd love to connect with you, your church or non-profit.
I think the conversations we've had and will continue to have are a part of creating what doesn't exist for other ministers, writers, dreamers, poets and businesswomen. This is it. We're on the edge of something beautiful. I just know it.
January 2013 began with a bang. A quiet bang that is. I left my position of pastor at Washington Plaza Baptist Church in Reston in pursue more writing projects and support the work of Feed The Children. I blogged and sought to practice Sabbath keeping as I transitioned. Some days it went better than others.
In February as I settled into my new life of nomad in chief (spending half my time in Arlington, VA and half in Oklahoma City, OK), I continued the tradition of cookie on a stick baking for my new Feed The Children family throwing one amazing Valentine's party (If I do say so myself :), I visited new churches like this one in Tennessee and was humbled along the way, and I fell in love with the ministry of writing.
In March, I participated in my first US Feed The Children food distribution in my hometown of Washington DC realizing how hungry some of my neighbors actually were. I continued to pack and re-pack my bags learning more about simplicity every day. And I wrote a post for the Associated Baptist Press called, "I Left the Church, Don't Hate Me" that explained how I was trying to figuring out my pastoral calling in my new life.
As April rolled around, I continued to breathe deeply even though I wanted to hyperventilate some days out of feelings of "What am I doing with all this new free time I have?" I thought a lot about the young men with disabilities in Kenya that I'd met the previous August and how work makes us feel useful. One day in Oklahoma I went without shoes along with the rest of the staff of Feed The Children to raise awareness about childhood poverty. As I got deeper into the journey of writer-pastor I faced fears of the big questions of life like "Am I good enough?"
In May, Kevin and I traveled to Central America for the first time together. Guatemala won a special place in my heart for its beauty and the kind souls of its children. Oklahoma City was never the same after the F-5 tornado hit Moore. I wrote this prayer in response that went viral the week of the tragedy.
As the summer began, I continued to preach once a month at Watonga Indian Baptist Mission in Oklahoma, took a short vacation to Costa Rica for the wedding of a dear friend and got in a ride on a zip line through the jungle, and reflected on the fact that Kevin had been at Feed The Children for over one year. Oh what a difference a year can make in your life!
In July, I spent some time back at youth camp with my friends from Son Servants. And, it became clearer and clearer that my vocational calling as I looked forward was all about creating something that didn't exist.
August was not a great month in the Hagan household as if out of nowhere, I got sick with an infection that caused much havoc on all of my lower abdominal organs. I had emergency surgery and was in the hospital in Oklahoma for several days. I learned much about being cared for by others and resting deeper than I ever had in my entire life. Though it took me till September to feel like writing about it.
In October as I started feel stronger every day, the travel picked up again. I worked in Nashville, TN alongside Feed The Children assisting with social media at several key events. I preached at Hawaii Baptist academy as their pastor for Christian Emphasis week. I hit my stride in truly feeling at home in my skin as a pastor outside of the church-- even writing a three-part series about it.
The highlight of November was absolutely our trip to Africa. My heart overflowed with JOY with every minute I was in Kenya. I couldn't but write about joy with every post describing this trip. I became official at Feed The Children (it was a long time coming!) taking on the position of Ambassador of Social Advocacy though my pay did not change (I am learning to work for free).
Though I didn't blog about it here, in December Kevin and I continued our Christmas tour in Central America-- visiting with orphans and other children in our programs in Honduras and Nicaragua. We played the part of "father" and "mother" Christmas bringing gifts to thousands of children. It was an amazing privilege of presence. On the blog, I joined with colleagues and friends to bring you the Baby Jesus Blog.
This sermon I preached at my church, Martin Luther King Christian in Reston, VA in early August theologically sums up how I feel about 2013. This was a year of suffering. This was also a year of resurrection.
I am glad, though, that through it all grace has been ever present and I've survived. Thanks for reading and cheering me on along the way.
Happy New Year!
We can't help it, but in our society we are what we do.
When you meet a new person (especially in the circles I run in it seems) the first question that gets asked when you meet someone new is, "What do you do?"
And in response free-flowing answers are something like, "I am a lawyer. . . . I teach school. . . . I work for the government. . . . I direct an organization."
When we hear these responses and other similar to them, we nod our heads in approval and say with our body language and sometimes our words: "Oh, good. That sounds interesting. How long have you been doing that?"
But then there are those responses we can give like: "I consult."
"I'm a stay at home mom."
Or, "I'm a writer" that usually seem to evoke less than energetic responses.
Some of us don't understand how a person could just consult or just stay at home with their kids (aren't they wasting their talents by not pursuing traditional full-time work?), or we think, "Isn't saying you are a writer code for you don't know how to get a real job and that you sit in your bathrobe and eat chocolate all day?" (Yeah, you know you think it even if you don't say it).
But what if you are called to be a generalist consultant or a stay at home mom or dad or heaven forbid even a real writer?
I sat at a coffee meeting with a new colleague on Monday. Catherine is a consultant for social media (something I'm doing more and more of these days) and self-employed too.
We talked about the frustrations of being in an office of one, doing helping work through writing and social media for non-profits (and folks not wanting to pay for our services, ugh!), and how easily our value in the society in which we live is tied to what we do.
In response, Catherine offered this nugget of wisdom that she's known to share with groups during one of her training sessions: "Don't worry about being something. This will get you nowhere. The someone who you think you are because of a job could change at any moment. The title you have on your business card will not be with you forever. Instead, put your energy into being someone. This is who you are that will never change."
I was struck by the simplicity but depth of her words. I may not be the something that I once was, but I am a somebody.
My friend, Ken and I were talking about this very thing a couple of night before. I was bemoaning the fact that I often feel like a "nobody" since I left the church and don't have an official title of "I pastor ____ church" to add to my name. And Ken pushed back. "You are a somebody. And you are doing important work. You just don't see it like the rest of us do. . . . "
And then came Catherine's words about "being someone instead of something."
Clearly I needed to hear such a message.
It's a hard road and most certainly the path less traveled, I believe to find yourself outside of the confines of a role or a particular job. Ask someone has recently started a new business or who has retired early how they're feeling about the transition, and you'll know I'm speaking truth here.
You don't win the "most impressive" award when you meet new people at a happy hour or a professional gathering with a non-traditional "what I do" response.
Instead, you have to brace yourself for the stares, the strange tones of folks reactions, and comments hurried your way like I recently got, "Do you like being a housewife?" (Ok, I almost died. No, I am NOT a housewife).
But, I am a someone. And so are you-- in whatever you do.
Last night I was talking to my friends Tim and Debbie. In the course of the conversation about vocation and what it means to enjoy life at the fullness that life can really be, Tim chimed in to say, "I've always thought about life like this: who you really are is what you do when you aren't at work."
And while there are all different sorts of implications for vocation and paid work interlacing and certain people's 9-5 "It pays the bills" sort of jobs having all different levels of meaning for us-- I think Tim is right.
We have clues to the "someones" that we truly are if we notice what we are naturally drawn to in our free time.
And it is not that we become these things, such as, "I am a cook." "I like to garden." Or, "I am so happy when I get to keep my grandchildren" but that the character qualities that motivate us to do these things shine through. And we see more clearly our souls.
We are challengers (or not).
We are contemplative (or not).
We are relational (or not).
And these things do not change. We simply are.
We were created with value and purpose and uniqueness. We can be a someone no matter if our work is validated, paid for or even appreciated. We can find fulfillment in simply BE-ing.
I'm not there yet. I really like being a something better than someone. But, I'm on my way and I wonder if others of you out there are too?
People ask me all the time what I miss about church life? Do I miss preaching all the time? Do I miss the committee meetings? Do I miss the hospital visits? Do I miss the cranky people calling me after church on Sunday afternoon?
I'm not really sure how to answer these questions.
Because yes, I do miss church life.
I miss putting on a robe on Sunday morning with the wind of courage behind me, filled with something to say to eager listeners.
I miss people calling me to say "I just needed to talk to my pastor."
I miss the privilege of walking an adult through a baptismal process and seeing the light come to their eyes just before the water touches them.
I miss Sunday potlucks-- you know the meal that is best served at a church where you really never know what exactly you are eating . . .
(But, no I don't miss anything with the description "cranky" in it. And no, I most certainly don't miss long committee meetings).
However, all this to say, as much as I miss these things, I know I'm in the right place. I know this season of life as a non-traditional work-er, minister type in the world is where I am to learn.
Sometimes, in life, I believe, we are asked to give up what is most comfortable, what we most know, or even what makes the most sense to us and our educated friends around us. We are asked by God to seek out the new.
I was having a conversation with a colleague a couple of weeks ago. It was a colleague I'd worked with in denominational life connected to my most recent pastorate, a colleague I hadn't seen in six months. It was fun to see her happy face again.
Yet, personally, it was a sad day for me when we ran into each other. A day when I was thinking a lot about what I had lost and how much I missed about my former life. But this colleague surprised me with the first words coming out of her mouth were, "Girl, you are looking so good!"
How could she say that I wondered? I had just been crying in fact.
She went on to explain was that my posture seemed more relaxed, more at ease, that their was light in my eyes she hadn't seen in me when I was going about the business of keeping a particular church in good order. I thought, well, now that's interesting . . .
This colleague then asked me more about my future plans and what came out of my mouth was, "I feel called to create something that is yet to exist."
Well, then. That was news to even my own ears. Called to create something that doesn't exist . . .
Upon further reflection of this moment, I realized maybe this was why she said I was looking well. As much as I do miss the familiar or even the simple joy of putting on a robe and saying, "Thanks be to God" every Sunday-- there's something about this season of re-evaluating, of re-grouping, of renaming that suits my soul quite well.
I am more myself. I am more at ease. There's light pointing me in new directions I might have been scared to death of years ago, but now I'm here. There's no turning back now.
It doesn't mean the path to get to this unknown place is easy though. It might suit my soul. But, my body doesn't like it very much at all.
My days are often filled with self-doubt, loneliness and lots of prayers of "Why can't I be like everyone else?"
I want to work normal hours. I want my work to be respected and acknowledged-- even paid for from time to time. I want to not feel so alone as I usually do between the hours of 8-6 pm every day.
But in the meantime, I try to see the progress I'm making along this path of what I know not of, and what does not exist yet.
I eagerly look forward to any opportunities to connect with other like-minded thinkers and doers-- even if I have to travel to another state to find them.
I eagerly look forward to moments when my ministerial identity gets to be expressed in an life-giving and affirming way (such is hard to come by in Oklahoma, but that's another story for another day).
I eagerly look forward to the day-- whenever that may be-- when my eyes get to see the dreams come to pass that my heart has had a long-standing commitment to.
And on that day, I'm sure I'll probably say that the journey, no matter how long or hard it has been was worth it.
But until then, all I can say is this kind of creative work is harder than I could have ever imagined.
Today marks the one year anniversary of our family's involvement with the non-profit giant, Feed The Children. More than just a job for Kevin, it has been a calling to a way of life.
I've thought a lot about the fact that I would write this blog today. That today I would mark this passing of time as significant in our lives. That today I would say something nice about my husband. That today I would highlight some of the great work that this organization does on the ground to feed hungry children every day.
But, somehow none of these lead ins seems appropriate.
How to do you talk about the meteor hitting the foundation of everything we know kind of year?
How do you talk about being transported to a world you'd never thought you'd be in?
How do you talk about living a life suddenly that few of your friends understand?
How do you talk about the fact that faces of children from all over the world filled your Christmas Card photos?
Or the fact that when your mother calls her first question is, "What state (or country) are you in today?"
It has been a year!
It's been a year that has landed us with necessary dwellings two different cities.
It's been a year that has taken us to five different countries in the developing world for field visits.
It's been a year that led me to leave the traditional career I had for something on the edge of undefined.
It's been a year that has led us to some of the most exciting possibilities for our future than we could have ever imagined, truly.
It's been a year of much hurt, unsettling findings but then hope in the rubble too.
It's been a year that has re-made my husband's mission for his life with clearer vision than he's ever known.
It's been a year for me to seek out new mentors, as the role of being "Kevin's wife" in an organization like this has felt often times like entering a foreign land for my independent sentimentality self.
It's been a year that has called both of us to hold tight to the foundations of our own sense of vocational callings and marriage covenant-- "Yes, wherever you go, I will go."
It's been a year that has united our faces, cheek to cheek with some of the most precious children of this world-- who long most of all for someone just to see them. And we have.
It has been a year.
It's hard not to speak of how proud I am of my husband. Or of how proud I am of us-- Elizabeth and Kevin together-- two who keep fighting for the best for "us" in the midst of the best for "them." Or, how proud I am of myself for not taking cues from what certain folks want me to be, instead, listening to the voice I already have.
Oh, if the walls could talk you'd know that it has been quite a year, a really big year in the life of team Hagan on the Feed The Children train. But, it's a train we don't sit stopping in the direction of progress anytime soon. Together.
Yesterday, the Associated Baptist Press published a commentary I wrote called, "I Left the Church. But Don't Hate Me." You can read it here.
In this piece, I described that one of the reasons I left my pastorate stemmed from a new professional opportunity given to my husband at Feed The Children. It's something I've blogged about a lot in the past. You can read one such post here.
So, you might wonder how? How do you merge your vocational identity with that of your business oriented husband? How do you support him and this ministry when you aren't employed by this organization? How do you make it work?
Well, the answers to these questions are an ongoing conversation in our household. We aren't quite sure.
Never do I want to be unhelpful or in the way of Kevin's work. But never do I want to shrink down from the opportunity this position has given our family to be a voice of the voiceless, to be a hospitable presence to those in whom have been given to us to care for. Kevin and I have different leadership styles, but styles in which I think push us both to think about situations in ways we'd never would. And, at the end of the day, I know we're each other's biggest fans. I want to love Feed The Children because Kevin loves it and want to do whatever I can to further it mission under his leadership tenure.
So in the meantime of trial and error of what works and what doesn't-- this is what the calling looks like for now.
In the summer and the fall, I traveled both to Africa and the Philippines to learn about and encourage the field work overseas. I wanted to see the field for myself, bringing stories back so that I could better tell the Feed The Children story to all of you who might just be moved to lend a helping hand as well. I want to go on other such trips in the future.
Several weeks ago, I planned and led a Valentine's Party for the entire staff which including a letter writing activity for the staff-- sending love notes to all of the orphans in Feed The Children's care around the world. I made heart-shaped cookies on a stick for the 260+ Oklahoma based employees. I created this event (which now folks I think are expecting every year) to encourage this hard-working staff, letting them know how much they are appreciated especially by us.
And just last week, I made a point to spend as much time as I could with the country directors in to the Oklahoma City office who traveled to Middle America for a week of training. I wanted to honor them as they've honored us during our visits to their countries.
I wish there were some roadmap or even guidebook for this calling. Because I'm often walking in territory new and uncharted (doing and being place I'd never thought I'd be), but in the meantime I'm thankful for the grace to learn a little more about myself in the process every day. And to know that Kevin and I are in this journey together.