My Husband the Logger

The hour-plus drive from the rolling green hills of Vermont was worth the steaming cup of coffee now nestled in the palm of my hands. I tried remembering the last time I had sipped something so robust and satisfying, but the memories were playing hide and seek with me. I soon tired of seeking and focused on the conversation coming from across the café table in the little upstate New York city known as Troy.

“So how did you do it? How did you find the faith?” she asked.

She was a new pastor friend I had made. And while she was a city pastor and I was a country one (by accident in my eyes, but not God’s), there was a commonality bringing us together. The most obvious was her upcoming marriage to a “local boy” who grew up in the same neck of the woods as my “local boy”—my husband, PJ.

How did you do it? How did you find the faith?

She was not asking for wedding advice. She was asking about my journey back home to Vermont which involved leaving a traditional pastorate in Maryland for a ministry still emerging.

How did I the faith to come back home without the certainty of steady income?

I sipped and let the most amazing cup of coffee that I have had in (darn, just how long has it been?) buy me some time.

I didn’t want my answer to be an insignificant commentary on “just have faith” or “simply believe.”

No. I had to find the right words for what God was doing was far from insignificant. This was more than just believing in the goodness of God’s provision. This was about allowing one’s self to be changed by God, to trust God in everything and to grow in the knowledge of God’s mysterious ways.

Taking a leap of faith, I have recently learned, was not about being awed that the prayer we say by rote about giving us our daily bread is in fact a promise we can count on. No, awe and thankfulness aside for the manna falling from heaven, leaps of faith are all about deepening one’s relationship to God. They are not about how to eventually fill one’s belly or line one’s pocket. They are about having more of God fill your life.

I had wanted to take another sip of that darn good coffee, but I put my cup down.  I could see the searching in her eyes. She had been harboring dreams of a new ministry which still had many details to be ironed out. The most pressing detail was how to earn a living at it. She was waiting for my answer.

“My husband is a logger now,” I heard myself saying.

She gave a quizzical look, wondering where I was going with this.

I wondered too. I tried to explain.

Last week, while on my prayer walk on the rail trail running behind my little old house in Vermont, I learned something about leaps of faith.

I was struggling with my husband’s recent decision to give up driving a truck. It was something he has done for years to earn an income, but it gave him no joy or fulfillment. In our six years of marriage, I have always yearned for him to find happiness in his work.

It was foreign for me to hear people complain about work for I have always followed my heart in terms of vocation. That search for being the person God intended me to be is what led us back to Vermont seven months ago.

Still, this move was about my call, my discernment, my fulfillment. PJ would be that steady paycheck. He would be the certainty in our uncertain future.

God, he can’t do this. Not now. How will we live? Why couldn’t he have waited till you showed me my next step, um, the next step that comes with a salary and health benefits. No, he can’t do this.

I walked on the trail longer than I usual. I guess I had a lot of instructions to give to God as to what our life was supposed to look like. And God, as God always does with my instructions, listened and chuckled and decided it was time to get my attention.

A strong breeze whipped up out of nowhere clearing the stagnant air of my fears and my ranting. The breeze was refreshing and soothing. I looked around and remembered Jesus’ words about worrying. Why do we do it? Look at the birds. Look at the flowers in the field. Look all around. Every little creature is cared for. Am I not one of God’s creatures too?

The breeze continued to minister to me. It was then I realized this move back home wasn’t about me. This move was about someone I loved dearly and his discovery of who God wanted him to be. This was about PJ’s vocation. His contentment and sense of joy.

My coffee sipping had to wait as I continued.

Leaps of faith aren’t always about seeing how God will provide daily bread for our tables. Leaps of faith aren’t even all about our personal dreams and desires. Our leaps could be God’s plan for the other leaps our loved ones are hesitant to take.

Leaps of faith are as mysterious as the God who pushes us to take them. But take them, we must.

“My husband is a logger now,” I concluded with a shrug.

My new friend nodded. We lifted our steaming cups of coffee and sipped in unison. Our holy silence carried on the conversation.

Later that day, my husband the logger came home with a belated anniversary gift and an early birthday present for me all rolled into one.

Two stumps to serve as seats for my rustic fire pit/cooking area I was creating to honor our home’s 18th century heritage.

My heart filled with joy.

They were all I wanted.

They were all I needed.

My husband is a logger now.

Just leap. Don’t worry about having enough faith.

Just leap. Don’t wonder if you have the strength.

Just leap. Don’t fret about daily bread.

Just leap. That’s all God is asking.

IMG_4554

The Accidental Country Pastor’s combination wedding anniversary and birthday present—       log stumps courtesy of her husband, the logger now. 

 

 

Into the Deep End of Gladness

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Frederick Buechner

Not sure why I wrote this quote in my journal. It wasn’t as if I’ve never heard it before. I had. Many times over. There I was, though, scribbling it down as if the words were brand-spanking new to ears I thought were deaf by now to such pithy quotes. The longer you’re in ministry the longer the list of these quotes seems to get.

I scribbled and reread it. Then I underlined “deep gladness” and read it some more. Next, I circled “deep hunger” and read it yet again. Then “God,” “call,” “meet.” The words were taking on an exciting new life. The speaker at the clergy conference I was attending continued as I gazed down at the fresh ink marks made on the soft gray lines of the bright white journal paper.

“If you don’t know where your deep gladness is—find it,” he commanded, emphasizing “find it” with enough power and punch to get his point across.

It was then my pen jumped at his command and began dancing across the page of my journal. Like the Bible story about the writing on the wall mysteriously appearing in the courts before King Belshazzar that mesmerized me as a child I, too, looked at the words before me wanting to know what they meant, for it was a message I didn’t quite understand or, better yet, didn’t trust to be true.

The mysterious words were, “I do know.”

Really? I do know where my deep gladness has the ability of meeting the world’s hunger?

I thought some more about the divine message that I could no longer ignore—or even erase from my journal. Darn. I knew I should have written this down in pencil! But the truth was let loose.

I did know where my deep gladness was. I knew, but some where and some how I had let life get in the way. How strange it is that the things we need to do in order to “live” are often the very things robbing us of deep gladness? If only we were more aware of that which makes the heart leap for joy would we then start seeing God’s kingdom becoming a beautiful reality in our midst.

This is especially true of our faith communities where, in sacred spaces and on holy ground, time and energy is spent trying to solve the problems of low attendance and little money. Focus on what is thought to give new life, though, actually thwarts the new life Jesus is offering. What is all too soon forgotten is revival begins first by reconnecting with one’s deep gladness. And this deep gladness is always accompanied with the gifts, talents, resources, energy, etc., needed to satiate a hungering world.

Yes, the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Find that deep gladness now, for the world is indeed hungering.

IMG_0488.jpg

Deep gladness is found out in God’s big backyard where the accidental country pastor’s passion for rural ministry meets the hungering needs of small churches.

A Heavy Yet Blessed Weight

93962677_4cdc958951_b

Eight years ago on November 11 I took my ordination vows at South Presbyterian Church in New Jersey. It was a day I learned how heavy yet blessed the weight of serving God is.

It was eight years ago today, November 11, in which I embarked on the craziest journey of my life. On a sunny afternoon in north New Jersey, in an 18th century church that now stood as an anomaly in a congested town that I am sure none of the old Dutch names gracing the weathered headstones in the church’s cemetery would even recognize as the place they once called home, I was ordained to the office of minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA.

It was a day with many emotions. Disbelief mixed with awe that was then mixed with tremendous gratitude that was then mixed with excitement for the next step to come that was then mixed with fear and trepidation for that very next step to come. Did I mention the emotions were many?

In just two short weeks I was moving to rural upstate New York to serve another 18th century church. This church, however, was not an anomaly for life in the small village had somehow escaped congestion. Some of the locals, though, would disagree with me for when I first visited their little village many shared with me their displeasure with the eyesore of the traffic light—their one and only traffic light—that winked red, green and yellow at you even when there was not a car in sight for miles. Mind you, the traffic light had already been there for a few years already. Yet the displeasure with it was as fresh as yesterday’s memories. I, though, couldn’t wait to call a place “home” where one traffic light was needed, well, not really needed….

Yes, in two short weeks. There were still many more boxes to pack and even more friends to say good-bye to. There was Thanksgiving dinner to share one more time in New Jersey at the home I grew up in. And there was my last sermon to preach for the congregation who nurtured me into ministry. Ordination day was here and the crazy journey was beginning.

My parents were there that November afternoon beaming with pride as brightly as the sun streaming into the sanctuary was. My brother was there as well in which I was grateful for as his disabled body made it hard for him to get out much. Often it was easier to let him stay home then to go through the ordeal of getting him out the door.

“Please God, let him be at my ordination,” was my prayer leading up to that afternoon, for my brother was the beating of my heart for ministry. He was the one who broke my heart opened to seeing the needs and feeling the pain of those labeled as “not normal” by a society in which I often question the normalcy of.

Ordination day was here and I remember the opening processional hymn soaring high up to heaven as the trumpeter joined the bellowing pipe organ. I remember my friend from seminary sitting next to me and I remember looking back at a packed sanctuary seeing a sea of faces that collectively told the story of my journey into ministry. Among those faces were the chapters yet to be written as members of the congregation of the one traffic light village up north were sitting in the old pews, beaming along with my parents.

The thing I remember the most, though, was the “laying on of hands,” the part of the service echoing back to the New Testament in which the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit. And so the one being ordained kneels on the ground and is surrounded by those already ordained and then hand after hand upon shoulder after shoulder, weight bears down upon the one kneeling. I wasn’t prepared for that moment.

I, in my ignorance, just assumed that the hands would be light and gentle, a show of sorts, just symbolic, simply grazing each other’s shoulders so that the one kneeling would not be crushed. But crushed I was. Within in seconds, clergy who have already been on this crazy journey called ministry, engulfed me to the point where I couldn’t see anything but the bottom hems of clerical robes and a variety of shoes. (Ooo…nice heels. Note to self: Must ask that minister where she purchased those shoes.)

I soon lost interest in shoes as I noticed the hands upon me weren’t light or gentle. The hands upon me were pressing down hard. I felt as if my knees were going to fail me and I was losing my balance and feared I was going to fall over. For a second I wondered how in heaven’s name was I going to get up gracefully after all of this.

Soon, though, the shock of the burden upon me eased, and my worries about getting up off the floor faded. I bowed my head and let the tears of thankfulness fall down my cheeks as I listened to the prayer being said about serving faithfully, following wherever, trusting always, loving all…and then I heard what I needed to hear then just as I need to hear now.

Serving God is indeed a heavy weight to bear. It is burdensome. It can crush you. It can bear down upon you. But you do not serve God alone. The pressure of the hands upon me was my tangible reminder of that. Those very hands that put so much weight on me were the very hands that held me when I thought I would fall and it was those very hands that helped me up when I needed to get up. All of a sudden I understood the magnitude of what I was entering into. I understood what a heavy weight I was to carry and that I was not to carry it alone. There are always hands eager to help and support you. And because of those hands, the weight, no matter how heavy, becomes blessed.

Eight years ago today, on a sunny November afternoon in an 18th century church that now stood as an anomaly in a congested New Jersey neighborhood, I said “yes” to God’s invitation to never go it alone in this life no matter where in life one is going. We just aren’t meant to do that.

Do you feel a weight crushing down upon you? Does it feel as if a burden is just too much? Are you wondering how in heaven’s name can you get up from where you have fallen and get up gracefully? If so, may you see the hand that is reaching out to help ease the burden. More importantly, though, may you feel the strong yet loving pressure of the hand that is always upon you. May you feel God’s hand—THE hand that makes all heavy weights blessed indeed.