Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Reason We Are Here

Ifyou've ever been on one of those wretched online dating websites and, againstyour better judgment, created an "Online Profile" for said website,you've seen the question I hate: "What do people first notice about you?"

Beingas how none of us are people other than ourselves, I don't know how anyonepurports to answer this question with any degree of honesty. However, I knowwhat I assume I should write in that box, if I'm attempting to think like otherpeople. 

Ibore so much shame at these self-imposed marks in the aftermath of theirarrival. I spent many summers indoors and in long sleeves. It was a kind of"coming out" the first time I decided not to cover up my scars. Inthe process I lost friends, was stopped and inundated with questions from strangersin places I'd never even been, and I was the subject of manywhispered judgments and shunning.  The way people stared:With pity, they looked at my scars, through me, and kept their distance, likethey might catch my sadness. Yet, was I supposed to live the restof my life as some social-pariah simply because my struggles were visible?Hadn't I overcome? 

I refused to believe that what I'd been through was all I would everbe - that scars were that thick. I realized people might be, butthat didn't mean I had to accept their ignorance. Searching for truth to standon, I turned to Galatians 6:17, where Paul talks about scars, "From nowon, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks ofJesus." Jesus' marks were not only a part of His story, they were Hisstory: The reason He came to the world in the first place. If Jesus was neverbeaten, never cut, never scarred then none of us would know hope. Yet, we do.All those who trust Christ bare the marks of Jesus; we bare the story He wrotefor us. Our scars are the reason we are here. And just as Romans 8:1 states,"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in ChristJesus." We are not condemned - we are created. 

Thisis the truth I must walk in, as you must, to face the world at large. Yourscars may be visible for everyone, or they may be neatly tucked away in therecesses of your heart, protected by an iron will to never tell anyone aboutthem. I challenge you: Do not hide! We have a story to tell: An inspired, divinelywritten story that was never meant for us alone: Our stories need to get outso others can find Hope. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Hardest Thing

I have spent 3.5 years as a staff member of a local church, and these years have been some of the most incredible, transformational, fun, adventurous, and rewarding years of my life. They have also been humbling, difficult, frustrating, arduous, and terrifying years. Ministry is the hardest thing I've ever done: And now it may be the hardest thing I will ever leave.

Ministry was not hard because I didn't love it or believe in it. It wasn't hard because I had to sacrifice in a number of ways, work long hours, or give up seeing my family very much. It was hard because people are hard; disfigured and stained by sin, myself included. And it was hard because I love these broken-yet-new people. And I, broken-yet-new, was loved by them. Everything became one thing. When church and work became one in the same, the beauty of each was lost for me- and I want the beauty & joy back.

I was called to this season of ministry in a very delicate time of my life. I was searching for a purpose. Paul shared about the purpose of all believers in Ephesians: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The “good work” I was privileged to be a part of was helping others see this truth of God’s intent for their lives. The irony of it all was that I was learning how it applied to me at the very same time. I was a leader by title, maybe even by calling, but I was and am a fallen soul underneath all of those labels. I need Jesus, like those I served, so very much.

And when I struggled to lead in ministry, or I was weary of trying to be the Perfect Christian (or Perfect Leader, Perfect Strategist, Perfect-fill-in-the-blank) because I was so visible in the church or was frustrated because I knew I would never be more than myself, I clung to Galatians 6:9, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Today, I can see that harvest! I see the faces and lives of many incredible people who have given of themselves to serve God and to know Him, to love the people of our community and church, and whom I was privileged to serve, love and know. I can see the harvest of God’s work through them, and me, though I doubt any of us will see it in whole, this side of Heaven; and even this is a gift. My being called away, my heart moved to the next season, this is a gift also: "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9 says it so well – I never planned to move on from ministry, but God has asked me to take a break and journey with Him to another “good work". I am scared because I do not know my future, but I do know who holds it, so I cling to Him and trust.

Even though serving and ministry are meant to be about others, I can’t help but give credence to what being allowed to serve in ministry gave to me, what the people here have gifted to me. There have been so many firsts for me here: First out of the country mission trip, first half marathon, first promotion, my first season of health and whole-hearted living. None of these experiences would be mine without the incredible people in this church. Through my time with the church, I have learned so much about who God is and how much He loves us on a personal level. I have learned what true grace-not “grace” dressed as shame-looks like, feels like, and slowly I am learning how to give this to others. My faith has become just that: My faith, and God has become My God.

I've learned how to walk with integrity, how to appreciate different gifts and strengths in others, and how to appreciate my calling and to love how it differs from the callings of others. The lessons are many and vast in their depth and breadth; I could not possibly share them all now. I’m not even certain I have learned them all fully as of yet. However, my head and my heart are full of stories, so many stories, of God’s provision, of His love and my church’s love, and of victory (both my own and the church’s) and of laughter (mostly at inappropriate times)! Though my path is diverging from that of professional ministry for a time, the memories go with me, and I am filled with joy unspeakable that they are mine.

As this season winds down, I am struck with how hard it is to truly let go of this community, as one of its leaders. I have been privileged to serve. God forgive me for the times I lost sight of that fact.

C.S. Lewis said, “Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good, as far as it can be obtained.”

This is how I feel about my church. I want only the best for them. If I could say one thing to the staff and community I have served and served with, it would be the words of E.E. Cummings:

“And this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart: I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart).”