Sunday, February 28, 2010

Call of encouragement

Today we had a choir from CBU come to worship. They were awesome (as was expected). Last year, there had been some hullabaloo when they came—a few members didn’t like the contemporary music and one man even officially left the church. This year, people knew what to expect, so the biggest nay-sayers didn’t bother to show. One man (of very few words) called me as soon as I got home just to thank me and tell me how much he appreciated the choir. It was very cool. I rarely get those calls and on a day with much potential for complaints, it was a very cool call to receive.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Limited Vocabulary

Each week I use a different scripture, but lately I feel like I am saying the same thing over and over again. I feel like I don’t have words or ideas to express new things.  (though the series with the 10 commandments got rave reviews as something new and interesting).
I am frustrated. I don’t know if I am just worn down and worn out and need a break to revive a bit or if  I need to go to a preaching conference or what. But something has to change.  R told me my brother was having similar concerns and decided to double his weekly reading to spark new ideas. 
Doubling wouldn’t be much for me these days, though I am reading more lately. 
But, I’m out of the office for a week and have a couple of books with me, so we’ll see how much creativity might be sparked…

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thank you notes

I've said it before, thank you notes are a saving grace.  They form a connection with people like none other, they are simple, straightforward, fairly cheap, and easy.  They do wonders.  It personalizes the relationship and helps people know you appreciate them (enough to take the time and energy to write a note).  

But they are also a saving grace to receive.  The other day was rough.  People were upset that I hadn't done certain things and I was frustrated and stretched, exhausted and worn out and was not digging work.  I went to church for an evening meeting, basically in tears, and looked through my box and found a note.  It was a thank you note.  It was from someone I had counseled (and you could say I failed her the first time I counseled her by offering too much input and not enough of a listening ear) and have been praying for and talking with through a very rough situation.  Well, things are looking up and she dropped a note to say "thank you" and it made my night!  

Really, it was just the dose of encouragement I needed.  It was the reminder of why I do what I do and why it is the best job on earth!! 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fish or cut bait

My church is coming to a climax moment.  We are growing (both spiritually and numerically) and we are pushing away from the pastor-does-it-all model into something more collaborative.  People have been awesome about assuming new responsibilities and stepping out of their comfort zone and trying new things.  It's been inspiring really.  

And as we grow, I have to delegate more (a task I am still learning to do and often fail at...making myself insanely overwhelmed...) and to start, it's the simple things that are easiest to hand out (birthday cards, typing up documents, tracking missioner money, making phone calls to recruit leaders, and even visitation).  All of which was going along fine until this week (when I delegated out more things than normal...???) and I started to encounter the push back.  

I didn't visit a surgery patient (not b/c I didn't want to, but because it's been busy!  see: "insanely overwhelmed" comment from before) and I had someone else ask someone to fill out a grant proposal and someone else ask someone to lead a new class.  And I heard about it. One person was hurt and upset.  Another simply commented, "I used to get a hand on my shoulder and a question, now someone else calls and asks."  

I know that with most conversations there is "text" and "subtext".  There is what is being said  (i.e., text) and what is really being said (i.e., subtext).  So, I know (or at least believe) that the subtext on the frustrated patient is that she wants a visit and needs to feel remembered and important and know we are praying for her in the midst of the pain.  And the subtext on the other is that he liked the personal nature with which I have been leading.  Both of those are good things. I don't mean to deny that.  I'm not even completely sure I want to lean away from that.

But the flip side is, I can't pastor that way to any more people than we already have.  So something has to give.  Either, we decide to grow, and give up some of the "personal touches" (or at least the ones that come directly from the pastor) or we decide to forsake growth (and a lot else at the same time) and keep the pastor-does-it-all model. 

As a church, we haven't quite reached the moment quite yet.  But we are on our way and we will have to choose (or I will end up in the hospital or the psych ward...).  It's tough to give up some of the comfortability, but there is also a lot more to be gained, because when I cease to be the trusted one that has to be the one to pray or visit or call, then that means there is MUCH more space for other people to fill that role...and the church will grow. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Which way to pray?

When do you conceed from praying for a physical miracle to an "easy", God-infused death?

I believe in miracles. I've seen them. I've prayed for them.  I've even experienced them.

I've also been with people as they die and with their loved ones as they mourn and sometimes death seems to be the miracle, the answer to prayer.  As a chaplain in seminary, I dealt with a lot of death.  Each night I was on call (save 2 of the 14) I responded to 3+ deaths. I ministered to parents who had just said goodbye to a barely born baby, and to the elderly who had lived a long life and the life-spectrum in between.

I've witnessed living and dying, healing and suffering.  My theology says that sickness and suffering are not of God--instead they are a by-product of sin--they are the work of the enemy.  So I struggle when people are prayed for, but not healed.  Now, having said that, I do not believe God is absent from suffering (in fact, as we know from the cross and Christ's suffering, he suffers with us).  

I think there are answers from God that come in a form other than "cures".  God's healing touches more than just body--it touches mind, soul, emotions and relationships too.  

So then what do you pray for?

"God's will"?

Sure, but we are also told to pray and ask specifically--so what then?

When we quit praying for physical healing--are we conceding that god can't or won't do such miracles?  

And when we pray for God-infused peaceful death, are we simply acknowledging that there is more to life than this moment, but that the eternal is incredibly valuable and important? 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Engagement Pictures

Our friend Joy is working on developing her photography skills and offered to do an engagement shoot for us.  So, we finally set a date and went out Saturday and had a ton of fun.  Here are just a few:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Set backs

We've been fundraising for our Katrina mission for months. We've worked hard and done a lot. We have a BIG concert scheduled for May 9th and after various trials and frustrations, we signed with the bands and paid the (non-refundable) deposit.  

Planning an event like this (as a small church...?) is a headache.  Can I just say that?! It's a royal pain.  And it's tricky and complicated. The bands want venue info before they'll move and the venue wants band info before they will.  Talk about a pickle.  But we were making progress!

"Were" being the operative word.  The venue we've been planning on and working with backed out.  That was not helpful.  We've paid $4000 out of $15000 and need to start MAJOR publicity and ticket sales within the next 2 weeks (or say, last week...).  It was the kind of news that made me want to throw in the towel.  How are we supposed to find a venue that seats 3000-5000+ people in less than a week?  

I was ready to quit.  Bite the bullet on the $4000 and just quit. At first, R argued with me and said we could do it. And when I pushed harder he said "Ok, let's quit."  What?!  I was stunned.  It was one of those "chicken or steak" moments.  (You know, when you're at a restaurant debating between chicken or steak and ask someone which one you want and they say "chicken" and you think to yourself, "no, actually I want steak.")  It was one of those moments.  He said ok and what I realized was I wanted him to argue and say "No, God will help us make this happen." 

I have no idea what will happen this week, but I am praying God will indeed make this work. I pray it's one of those God-sized miracles where we will only be able to say, "God did this. It wasn't us.  We were struggling.  God did this."  

Please pray for us, we need a lot of pieces to come together in not much time.  And this event (and the proceeds) is not for us (though I am sure we will learn a lot and be blessed by it), it's to help those still recovery 5 1/2 years after the initial devastation of Hurricane Katrina. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sex trafficking

Whenever I have heard about human trafficking or modern day slavery in the past, I have always thought of those in labor trafficking. I think indentured servants and folks that want to work but end up in shady deals without resources or connections.

I have never really thought of the sex trade.  At least not locally. I have thought of women that are sold into the sex trade in other countries but never here.  And never as simply as prostitution.  

This last week I had an interesting situation when I met a woman who was/is basically involved in prostitution and wants to get out but doesn't know how.  I've heard of people working with women in similar situations in Vegas or otherwise, but have no personal connections to anyone in such work.  So, I emailed a couple of friends/colleagues and asked for their advice and direction.  

One friend has worked on sexual and domestic violence issues for years and she recommended the Polaris Project. I looked around their website and thought to myself, "I'm in the wrong spot."  But decided to call the 888 number anyway.  They offered some additional numbers of "local" (LA based) organizations who might be able to help.

I still wasn't sure I was connecting with the right people.  But I called the woman back and gave her the numbers.  It was when I was explaining things to her that it all really clicked.  It was when I made the connection that the "connect" is really a "pimp" who is really a "sex trafficker" that it all fell into place.  He is pushing/selling ("trafficking") sex and she is merely a pawn in his game.  

I know it sounds hard-hearted to say I wasn't super compelled to deal with issues of modern slavery or trafficking before, but it's the truth.  Not that I didn't care, but I didn't have any personal connection to it. I couldn't put a face to the issue. But now I have.  And now that I have made these connections in my head, I have many more faces of others who have shared stories of being forced into prostitution, "lent" out for sex, or caught up in ritual abuse.  

I've worked with many survivors over the years, but now there is a whole new light shed on what happened to them, and what continues to happen to millions of others.  

Please know that we are not immune from such abuses, nor are our friends or families, or neighbors.  We have to call the abuse for what it is and do something about it.  

Recovering from such abuse and breaking the cycle (both literal and figurative) is tremendously hard work. But it's invaluable work.  

Please take some time to read through the Polaris Project website and work to educate yourself on these issues.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Is this place abandoned?

Two days ago I drove up to church in the afternoon, after everyone was gone, and happened along 3 young (5th-6th grade) boys riding bikes and scooters.  As I got out of my car, one of them said, "Is this place abandoned?"

I was surprised by the question since we have a very active congregation and busy campus.  The office is open everyday. We host NA/AA meetings 6 nights a week.  We have a Korean congregation and the English congregation that meet for Bible studies and worship.  We have youth group, outreach, and trustees who are active regularly.  And, we have 4-8 homeless that sleep on the campus every night.  It's a busy place.  At least in my mind.  All of our buildings get used (for more than just storage!) and there are easily over 500 people that are on campus throughout any given week (good for a congregation of 150 with 120 active on Sundays).  

But I suppose none of that really matters when you are a pre-teen boy on his scooter at the church in the afternoons when rarely is anyone to be found.  I told the boys that the buildings were not abandoned and talked about when we have youth group and worship and that they would be welcome. I invited them to the Monday night kids group and told them where to enter.  

I said goodbye and went to the office to get what I needed.  When I came out, they were still there and as I got in the car I heard one tell the other, "just ask her."  I paused and looked back and one meekly approached and asked, "Do our parents have to sign us in?"  Nope.  You can just come!  But we do want them to know where you are!  

We smiled and said goodbye and I told them I hoped to see them again soon.  

I do hope they'll come and check out the program.  I also hope the program is good that night and keeps them wanting to come back.  It's always hard with a small children's/youth program to be convinced that non-churched kids will see it as valuable even though there are only a dozen other kids there.  

Here's hoping!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lenten renewal

Life has been hectic lately and I'm sorry I haven't posted more.  Not always for your sake (since I'm not sure how much you get out of it), but for my sake too, I need to write and process to work through things.  Writing is cathartic and healing for me.

Yesterday marked the beginning of Lent, with Ash Wednesday.  I started the day with a simple early service: communion, prayer books to read, and the institution of the ashes. We had about 15 people who started their day at our church with prayer, communion, and ashes. 

We decided to do an early service this year because of comments last year that people wanted to be able to use the sign of the cross as a witness to their faith throughout the day, so we gave that opportunity. 

For me it was nice to be able to share an early morning service with folks (and rekindled a desire to do a once a week communion short morning service before work for folks...) and it was also nice to have concentrated quiet time where I could read, pray, and think. 

The rest of the day proved to be as busy as the last (too many) have been.  Running from one thing to the next with only enough time to get the required task done, no more, no less. 

I'd like to say I don't know why I've been so busy, but the reality is, I do:

planning my wedding
officiating at (and planning) 2 weddings next week
a lot of counseling appointments
preparing for a trip to DC
planning an out of state mission trip
planning summer camp
planning a HUGE concert for May
community meetings
training new leadership
trying to be more proactive in worship planning

it's been busy and stressful. I've had headaches almost every day for 2 or 3 weeks. I've sort of lost count.

So, for Lent, I'm going to work on finding balance and trying to take some more time out.

I started with exercise this morning and hope to keep that up 3-5 times a week.  R and I have decided to fast from TV and hopefully that will free up some space to read and maybe create. I'd like to do some sewing and even felt inclined to paint/draw the other day. 

Blogging is another commitment I want to make.  I want to think through stuff, I want to write prayers, and I simply want to make the commitment to keep it up.  =)  So, here's to everyday blogging!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cars and counseling

Yesterday morning was a bit of a mess after R texted and told me the ignition on his truck wouldn't work.  After some work on his part, he called for me to come get him to take him to the parts store.  We fiddled with the steering wheel to get it off, so he could try and pull the ignition (he apparently has the one type of truck that requires you actually take the steering wheel off before you pull the ignition), and that in and of itself was an endeavor.  

We did some more fiddling and still couldn't get it loose.  So a friend (and parishioner) came and started helping.  Then he recruited a neighboring business owner/friend to also help.  The two men worked to try and get it all apart.  R and I mostly watched.  After awhile, the guys determined the ignition wasn't going to budge, so they got drills and started drilling it out.  

Now, as a woman who can change her tires and semi-narrow-down the problem with her own car, but not much more, I will openly admit that I would have had the car towed to a mechanic about 4 hours earlier when someone even dared mention taking off the steering wheel, but that's just me.

So, instead, I just stood by and watched as they drilled and drilled and drilled some more and still struggled to get it off.  At one point, I asked, "so, at what point do you call a professional?"  No one answered.  I worried that maybe I had offended the guys, but I also wondered how many more parts would break in the endeavor to fix it and how quickly it might have been fixed if we'd just taken it to the shop.  So, I shut my mouth and kept on being a quiet observer.

Later, R and I were in the car (going to get a new ignition) and I remarked that he had been quiet and I assumed just waiting and hoping they would figure it out and be able to fix it before they did too much damage, but also silenced by the fact that they might be able to fix it or he might need their help later and he wouldn't want to ruin that possibility by saying, "yeah guys, no more dinking with my truck, I'm going to a shop."  

And I think that summed it up.  So, we got the ignition and M continued to work on the truck in our absence and got it all apart and figured out how R could get it to start until he could get it properly fixed.  So that was super nice.  Worth the waiting (and the fear I suppose) and saving however many $100 not to pay a shop.  

Later I was recounting the story to a friend and she and I cracked up at how insane the idea of drilling into the ignition while still attached to the steering column had seemed, and then I said, well, that might also be because I don't take apart cars. 

The parallel might be that I consider myself fairly versed in counseling, I can handle most situations and have done enough of it that I would probably "tinker" with a situation (counseling-wise) when someone not as experienced would have called in a professional long ago.  I guess when we're comfortable with something (whatever that something might be) we're willing to stretch ourselves and go a bit further, after all, that's how we learn and grow.  And when we're a complete novice, we ask silly questions like "so, when do we call a professional?"

Monday, February 8, 2010

Good idea

On Friday I went to my cousin's house for a visit and as we caught up on life, I looked through her photo albums and came across one that was all picture Christmas cards.  Each year she saves the photo cards and then scrapbooks them so she has the memories. It's particularly cool because most often the cards are of children, so you see them as they grow up!  (One cool parent idea was to put the kids' ages on the card too so people would be able to look back years later and know their ages.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Can a priest be sexy?

The other day I watched "What Not to Wear" and they had an episcopal priest on the show.  It was an interesting show because it dealt with a lot of the issues many of my clergy friends and I have discussed:  How do you combine your personal wardrobe with your professional clothes?  (or can you?)  How do you accent your body without being too scandalous or seductive?  

She handled the questions well and chose clothes that were complementary to her figure as well as professionally appropriate.  

At one point, the hairdresser asked, "Can a priest be sexy?"  She paused and then said "yes".  Ever since I have been running that question through my head.  I think personally, (like in her personal life) it's alright, but as a priest, I don't think so.  It's a tough line to draw, and even in her personal life it's questionable since she's bound to run into parishioners outside of the church walls.  I don't know. Maybe it depends on how you define sexy, but it made me uncomfortable.

Maybe that's because I wore a dress last Sunday that got a lot of comments.  People said things like "You look too good to be a pastor." And even, "You look sexy." (That one came from an 80-something year old lady).  It was unnerving actually. I had not intended for such a look. I wore a dress with boots...long sleeve, knee length and fairly loose, and yet it evoked comments that dealt with my sexuality, or at least perceived sex appeal.  

It wasn't 5 minutes at church before I lamented my clothing choice and was ready to be robed.  I don't think a pastor can or should really be "sexy".  It has the potential to seriously undermine what we do.  And for women in particular, I think others are prone to sexualize us anyway (call it cultural, call it a minimization of the feminine side of God, call it whatever, but my experience is it seems to be true).

That doesn't mean we have to be drab and frumpy, only that we do have to be conscientious of how we dress and how we are perceived.  After all perception is 9/10 of the law!