Friday, April 15, 2016

Twenty Years!

I started mapping my life at the age of 11. Surrounded by a community of people who regularly took time to name my gifts, I knew I had strong leadership abilities at an early age. Raised by a mother who took me to hear Zig Ziglar as a teenager, regularly told me I could do whatever my heart set out to do, and never let me forget I was beautiful, I was gifted early with a healthy self-esteem and the desire to keep a list of goals on my bulletin board at all times. Educated at an all-women's college, I learned the power of feminism at its best and met Hillary Clinton on the Saturday before the general election day in 1992.

I knew I wanted to run for office. I would finish college, move to Washington for a few years - first to intern at the White House and then to work on Capitol Hill. I would then return home to Missouri, enroll in law school, and eventually run for office. The original plan would have me in the United States Senate at this age of life.

The first parts of the plan came to fruition. I spent my last semester of college in the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance. I was quickly hired as the scheduler for a Congressman from Ohio who lost his election later that year. After a few months of unemployment, I was given an opportunity to write letters for a Senator from Iowa. And I loved it. I loved the work, my coworkers, cocktails at Congressional receptions, and the exposure to Washington's political power and process.

But there was another side of my life that was equally fulfilling - a place that utilized my gifts more abundantly than my role on Capitol Hill. It was a place that called forth the best from me, giving me more opportunities to flourish than I had experienced since college. The place was the church, a United Methodist Church I could walk to from my apartment on Capitol Hill.

I'm still not sure what the pastor saw in me, but he gave me every possible opportunity to serve. He allowed me to preach without first hearing me speak in front of a wider audience. He suggested I be chair of the Church Council at the ripe age of 24. And he invited me to chaperone a youth trip to New York City in April of 1996.

I'd never been to New York City. I said "yes" in large part because it was an opportunity to go for free. I had no idea that the journey would completely change my life, and I sometimes wonder if I would have gone if I knew at the time that transformation was part of the package.

The young people on the trip captivated me with their honesty, their vulnerability, their willingness to share whatever was on their hearts. The energy of the city seduced me into believing I might be called to move to Manhattan or go to business school instead of law school. By Saturday evening, I was using a Wal-Mart calling card to phone my mother from a pay phone at the Staten Island Ferry departure gate. With no one answering, I left a voice mail. "Mom. It's me. Everything is great. We're having a wonderful time. I just want to let you know I'm not going to law school next year. I'm not sure what I'm doing. But I'll call you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow" held the opportunity to worship at Riverside Church where Dr. James Forbes was the preacher. I had never heard such an extraordinary preacher whose voice seemed to penetrate every inch of that magnificent structure.

We then boarded a bus, and my pastor took the microphone normally used by a tour guide to offer a closing prayer. "Thank you, God, for this journey. Thank you for the safety you have provided. Thank you for what we have learned. Thank you, too, for the ways in which you can use experiences like this weekend to call people. Please be with all whom you have called during this time together as they discern how you are working in their lives."

I had not articulated any of my changing thoughts to my pastor. The Spirit, however, was interceding - not with sighs too deep for words - but with words that named why I wouldn't be going to law school the next year.

That was twenty years ago yesterday. It was Sunday, April 14, 1996 when I first heard that voice, when I first started to learn as much as I could about seminary and the process that leads to ordination. It was twenty years ago when I was placed on a different path and given one joy after another for which no one is truly worthy.

How might God be calling you? What are the places that most name and claim your gifts? Who are the voices that speak most powerfully to you?

Thank you, God, for this odd and wondrous calling. Thank you for the precious gift of serving you through this messy, beautiful, life-giving thing called the church. Thank you for a pastor who saw you at work in me and cultivated your call on my life. Please help me to never take your call for granted but to instead seek to continue to serve you as faithfully as I possibly can. Amen.