Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

Today is my 39th birthday and our 3rd wedding anniversary. It's one of my favorite days as I get to celebrate both my life and my life with Craig. I have worked hard to incorporate many of my favorite things into this day. Here they are in chronological order:

1) Pushing the snooze button. The day started with pushing the button not once but three times so I could stay in bed and snuggle with Craig.

2) Pampering myself at a day spa. My appointments started at 9:00 and included a massage during which I learned just how stressed I am as she kneaded the knots in my upper back, a facial where I learned that the oily skin I complain about is actually making my skin look younger, and a haircut where I spotted Newt Gingrich getting a shampoo before having him in the chair next to mine while we both got haircuts. It took all that I had to refrain from telling him that his brilliant Contract with America is the reason I lost my job in 1994.

3) Breaking bread with my husband. I then met Craig at an amazing restaurant in Old Town where we over indulged on an exquisite meal made possible by a very generous gift certificate from my in-laws. The staff went out of their way to make us feel special. We held hands. We gave thanks. We laughed. It was wonderful. I really am married to someone who is unlike anyone I have ever met before. Craig is the kindest person I have ever met - someone who constantly makes me a better person while also making more of me. Here's to the start of our 4th year together, love of my life.

4) Being a pastor. The day continued with a stop at the hospital where one of my favorite church members has been for the last month. Howard will turn 103 next Friday. For the last six years, I have seen Howard twice a week on most weeks as he rarely missed being in church on Sunday and was also a regular participant in our weekly Bible study at the home where he lives. Howard is someone who has affirmed my gifts often. He is someone who has regularly taught me that it is far better to give than it is to receive. He is someone who was reluctant to see change at the church and voted against the sale of the church property only to become one of the members who regularly gets excited by all the new people at church. Howard is now in that thin space where heaven and earth collide. His body and his spirit are exhausted. He refuses to eat. And while he sang, "He Lives," to me almost every day last week, he now cannot seem to muster the strength to sing so I sang to him today, repeating those familiar words about our risen Savior who is in the world today. I prayed the entire time I was with him that I could hold back my tears until I got into my car only to discover tears streaming down my face as I sat next to his bed with my hand on his shoulder, poking him until he would open his eyes so I could tell him once more how much he means to me. I know that I'll soon say good-bye to this wondrous gift in my life - one who has reminded me often of how being a pastor is a privilege that none of us are worthy of. It was a blessing to be reminded of this gift on my birthday.

5) Being loved by friends and family. I've concluded today that everyone should be a Facebook user on their birthday. If one does not use it any other day of the year, one should sign onto Facebook on the day of their birthday and see what an amazing gift it is to receive birthday greetings from 200 people from every stage of life - birth to now, elementary school to college, people I see often and people I have not seen in 20 years.

I'm thankful. I'm thankful to be alive. I'm thankful to be married to Craig. I'm thankful to live in Washington. I'm thankful to be a pastor. I'm thankful for the gift of another year. And I am thankful to know that my Savior lives and promises me that all will be well no matter what tomorrow or any day in the future holds.

Here's to my final year of being in my 30s!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I See You

My mother is one of the most gifted people I know. Her career has included time as a college professor, a college dean, the mayor of a small town in Colorado, and a small business owner. She is wonderful with people and a great public speaker. These gifts have been affirmed many times throughout her life as doors have opened.

However, the last couple of years have not been easy. She became a widow after the loss of her husband. She decided to give up city politics, opting to not run for a third term, and she sold her house so she could move closer to my sister. For the first time in a long time, she has found herself in an unfamiliar city with a very small community of people who know her. She has been working at a high-end outlet to pass the time and earn some spending money, and she has learned how long days can be when one is standing behind the cash register ringing up clothing sales.

But something has happened recently. Customers have started to come in and ask for her by name. People have repeatedly told her how helpful she is. More clothing is being sold when she is on the sales floor. Her gifts are being identified, and a manager has started to take note. The more people ask for her, the more the district manager has come to see that she does not belong behind a cash register but instead could be doing so much more for the company. She has a series of interviews this week in order to discern what might be possible in the future.

At the same time, Mom sounds happier than she has sounded in a long time. She seems to be discovering her place in the world again - a place where she is noticed and where her gifts are utilized. She's excited about what tomorrow might hold and considering opportunities that she would have never considered before - all because people took time to identify her gifts and then make space for these gifts.

The same thing happens in the church regularly. I listened to a story last week of a colleague who is near 40 telling of what happened when he was growing up in a large church. An older woman in the congregation took him aside and said repeatedly, "Boy, you have gifts that God can use in the church. God is going to do great things with you." My colleague has not forgot the first time his gifts were noticed and named by this woman. Her voice continues to echo in his ears as he takes his next faithful step in church leadership.

There are gifted people all around us. Our churches are filled with remarkable people at all ages and stages of life. Many churches are filled with what one colleague would call, "an embarrassment of riches." At the same time, the church is in great need of committed, passionate, and creative leaders - lay and ordained. There are many around us with the capacity to awaken what some consider to be a sleeping giant.

How much time are we spending seeking to notice the gifts in people around us? How are we naming the wondrous talents and commitment of people in our pews? What are we doing to help people hear and respond to the call or claim God has placed on their life?

It takes only one voice to awaken the possibilities and potential found deep within the well of one's soul. It takes only one comment to ignite a lifetime of dreaming.

I see you, and I think you are remarkable. God's hand is upon your life. God has great things in store for you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pentecost and Pride

Pentecost is one of my favorite celebrations in the church. I have been singing the words "Holy Spirit Rain Down" in my head over and over again during the last seven days. I have pondered the gift of being present when people started speaking in many different languages with a central message understood by those who did not know the language. I have imagined the incredible diversity present in Jerusalem on that day. And, I have given thanks for seeing this diversity following our Pentecost worship last Sunday.

It was a typical June day. A bit of steam was rising from the sidewalks. Vendors selling water were stationed on each street corner. The sun was beating down upon Pennsylvania Avenue as people filled every corner of the popular street.

I walked down the city block in search of familiar faces and soon found the table from which members of our church were telling others about our unique community of faith. Armed with a fresh dose of the Spirit and a powerful reading of the scripture passages in which diversity is central and the Spirit falls upon all people, I could not wait to tell others about our church.

If I heard it once I heard it 50 times, "Are you really a gay friendly church?" or "Are you sure that I am welcome in your church?" A one word response, "Yes," was not enough to satisfy some of the visitors stopping for a rainbow cross or cold bottle of water. We had more convincing to do as a group representing Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church.

As I read the story of Pentecost found in Acts, I see a community in which everyone is a candidate for a fresh anointing of God's Spirit - the Advocate whom Jesus promised to be with us. I notice how God did not anoint only one type of person or only one group of people from a particular place. Instead, I see God's Spirit powerfully falling upon all who are present in real, tangible and transformational ways.

How has the church come to believe that it has the authority to discern who can receive the Spirit and who cannot? How has the church come to believe that diversity is something we should keep in our schools or other institutions but not a key mark towards which every Christian community should passionately work? How has our church come to pride itself on keeping some people in while keeping other people out?

As I stood on the street with the sun scorching my feet, I prayed for our church. I prayed for our church to look more like the crowd I saw at Pride - old people and young people, people with a lot of clothing and people with not very much clothing, people filled with confidence and people clearly afraid of being seen, people with dark skin and people with light skin, gay people and straight people, people aware of God's presence in their lives and people who have sought to lock God in the closet because the only God they have ever been told about is a God of judgment, people who were alive and well last Sunday afternoon because they were in a community in which they were fully accepted and valued - just as they are.

Holy Spirit rain down!