Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Easily Distracted

I worked late on Halloween night.  I had a 5pm meeting and got back to the office just as the sun was setting.  I finished up some logging and packed my bags to get home to my better half, who was awaiting my arrival to eat supper!  But I noticed I hadn't washed my coffee cup from that morning.  So, I ventured to the kitchen, noting that the coffee pot hadn't been rinsed either.  Growing up, my dad was a coffee drinker and my mom abhorred it all, especially the coffee stains.  I thought I was being nice in quickly washing the coffee pot.  I set it out on a towel to dry while I washed my coffee cup.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the coffee pot tilt off balance and go crashing to the tile floor.  You can imagine the rush of distress I felt if you've ever worked in an office setting with avid coffee drinkers.  The coffee pot literally shattered sending shards of glass everywhere.  I picked up the handle (which was plastic) that had a metal ring attached to it.  It was all that was left of a container which generally held a magical, dark elixir that somehow made an office setting more tolerable, if not enjoyable.  Yes, I bought a new one.  But not without a few curse words first.  

Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, I travel about 75 minutes into the city for class.  On Thursday, I had a memorable experience.  This was prior to Day Light Savings Time ending, which meant that I had the joy of.....sitting in traffic with brake lights everywhere as we went from 40 mph to 0 mph in approximately one-hundred yards, every one-hundred yards.  But for some reason, I glanced away from the vehicles to notice the fall colors in the trees.  The intricate colors of red, orange, yellow, brown, and ever green swirled together to create this magnificent view.  That is, if one could see past the west-bound lanes of traffic, the bridge's beams, and the electrical lines that were running through the view, all while engaging in the starting and stopping of traffic.  

Tonight, as I pulled into my apartment complex, utterly exhausted physically and emotionally, I turned to head to the mailbox (against my typical route).  Straight ahead was a trash dumpster, literally overflowing with trash.  My typical reaction is usually disgust, but the reaction tonight was different.  Awe.  NOT at the gorgeous blue dumpster with the overflowing amounts of trash that we, as wasteful Americans, produce.  I saw stars.  Bright stars shining in clear skies, even in the fight against the city lights.  

Coffee pot shattering.  
Traffic and trees.  
Trash and stars.  

God teaches us in weird ways sometimes.  That is, if we're willing to notice.  Too often, I find myself overwhelmed by the to-do lists and time constraints.  I find myself rushing to get things done, even if they are good things to do.  I get irritated when traffic makes me slow down the drive to class, panicked that if I'm late I will forever be deemed tardy.  I get stuck in a routine of looking at the negative, trashy parts of life and even the people around me.  

But, what if we looked up from ourselves?  What if we noticed those who are around us?  What if we noticed creation, the swirling colors of the trees and stars shining from light years away? What if we stopped trying to balance our crazy lives and hide behind the labels of "fine," "good," "tired," or the classic "busy?"  What if we stopped inviting stress into our lives so we can more readily dance through life, like Fiyero (from the Broadway Musical WICKED) suggests? What if we intentionally create moments of awareness?  To acknowledge our vulnerability.  To acknowledge our inability to balance.  To acknowledge that we don't have it all figured out.  

Maybe then, we can see how God sees.  Maybe we will find focus.  Maybe we will find intentional ways to combat the stress with Sabbath. Maybe, just maybe, we will be a little more like who God created us to be.  I am 99.9% sure that God did not create us to be stressed, rushed, and negative.  

So, what is YOUR telos?  
For what did God create YOU?  
Are YOU living into being an image of God?  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Romanticism & Careers

Lately, I've been binge watching 7th Heaven.  You should know that I watched this show religiously as a child and teenager so it seems necessary that I watch it anytime I have access to it.  (We only recently got TV service after 5 years without it.). There is so much to love about this show, and others like it - Touched By an Angel was another favorite. It's the show that you watch and walk away feeling so good.  Whether it was just a happy ending or it made you realize that you're so much better off than so-and-so, you walk away with a smile.  

When I was younger, I would dream of the day when I, like Lucy, would give my first sermon.  I would play church and memorize all of the Sunday School songs and hymns out of the giant, heavy hymnal.  I would dream of helping people and making connections with them in ways that only God could orchestrate.  I would dream of standing at the pulpit with the heavy black robe on, and pretty stoles, and speaking into people's lives about God's forgiveness, having passion in one's life, and fixing the brokenness of our world.  I suppose you could say, I grew up!  

Some people find it hard to imagine what a day is like in the life of a pastor.  Now that I'm older, I've realized that it isn't as simple as it seems and there is much MUCH more to being a pastor than coming up with a 10-25 minute sermon once a week.  There are others though who still hold this romanticized view of being in ministry.

I read an article in a TIME magazine about people who are happy.  On a spectrum of people's careers, it said that ministry leaders/pastors were the most happy with their career.  I can see why!  They are out there making a difference in the world and following God's call in their lives!  It seems very obvious that they would be happy, right?  Perhaps this article also romanticized the idea - or perhaps they didn't.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines romanticism as "the quality or state of being impractical or unrealistic."  I use this word because we often consider all the wonderful aspects of ministry as being more than the nitty gritty that it comes down to.  My youth pastor once said that for a 15 minute talk, he would spend 30 hours preparing - whether that was research, study, prayer, etc.  That seems great until you add all of the counseling sessions, meetings (lots of committee meetings), hospital visits, coffees with new members, struggling members, otherwise curious members, etc.  That seems really fantastic until a phone call of a death in the church interrupts your lunch or dinner with a long-lost family member, or your spouse and kids.  Perhaps it doesn't seem so nice when you are an itenerant pastor who moves every 2 to 4 years, uprooting your kids, leaving family and friends behind, and being unsure of what the future holds.  

Perhaps you are wondering why I'm even talking about this when I am pursuing a degree in education.  Special education - at that!  Some are upset that I'm not going to be at the forefront of the movement to allow LGBTQ folks to be ordained.  Some are curious to know why education, when I got out of education in the first place.  Some still see the "pastor" in me and struggle to understand why I'm "not pursuing God's call in my life."  I'm not going to answer all of these things in this post.  But you should also know that this romanticism occurs in just about every career.  How many times have you thought, "Oh, teachers have it pretty easy - they have weekends and Summers off."  Or have you ever thought about doctors - "They dictate their own schedule and they have a giant, marvelous salary."  Perhaps I'm not at the forefront of LGBTQ folks having the ability to be ordained and maybe I do love the church and know a whole lot about it!  BUT - I also have a huge passion for those on the outskirts, especially those with disabilities.  You will probably never find me at something like PRIDE or an event similar.  I don't like labels.  I don't like when there are boxes to be checked to classify us a something different.  My marriage is still a marriage.  My chronic illness labels still make me a person with feelings that can be built up or broken.  My ministry is still a ministry, even if I don't wear the robe or give sermons on a regular basis anymore.  

Special education in and of itself is a label.  I get that.  You just read my rant about labels - but special education is more than the label.  It is the opportunity to even the playing field.  It is the ability to allow kids to be kids and help them to live into their dreams.  It is the opportunity to teach the children who are most in need.  The opportunity to teach those who need extra help and learn from them as much as they learn from me.  It is the opportunity to teach.  Life skills, academics, social skills, behavior management skills, etc.  It is the opportunity to teach.  Did I mention the whole teaching thing?

About 5 months ago - or so, I was asked what I loved the most about the idea of being a pastor.  Knowing the "crap" that pastors have to deal with on a day to day basis, of ALL of that, I said the ability to teach.  Whether that is to teach a class or to teach/preach a sermon, that is what most appeals to me.  That is when I realized that maybe I had it wrong.  Maybe I was relying on the romanticized idea of what it meant to be a pastor and that was limiting me from being able to be able to see other career choices.  I have always wanted to be a preacher, a teacher, or a librarian.  Perhaps what I was missing was the connective link between all of them.  Perhaps if I had looked hard enough and deep enough into myself, I would have seen that I just want to teach.  To acquire a lot of knowledge and share that knowledge with the world around me.  I want to teach people of God and "peace & love Jesus".  Teach people that they are more than the limits of labels and everyone's perception of who you should or shouldn't be.  Teach people that the ability to learn is within us all.  To teach is a skill and an art that I want to perfect. Do I miss preaching?  YES!  Do I miss teaching people the backstory of a Hebrew word?  Of course.  Do I miss the romanticized idea of being a pastor?  Sure.  BUT - I can tell you that I will be just as happy, if not happier, being a full-time educator.  And who knows, maybe I'll become one of those crazy professors that teach the teachers.  Maybe I'll take a summer off and explore Israel and speak Hebrew fluently.  Maybe I will inspire others to learn of other languages and cultures by hosting foreign exchange students.  Maybe I will be able to serve in student's and kid's ministries and share more about "Hippy Jesus" challenging them to look at God in a very real and personal way while still being crazy cool.  Maybe I'll lead (or even run) summer camps and mission trips.  Maybe I'll share my love of reading.  Maybe I'll lead a Bible Study some day that talks about how we, as people, can do something to Tikkun Olam (repair the world).  Maybe, just maybe, I'll impact the life of one of my students and he/she will live and fruitful and thriving life because they were taught that they were valued and loved.  

Maybe I have a romanticized view of teaching too...But maybe, I can learn how the nitty gritty of the job does make an impact.  Maybe I can learn to teach and utilize my every day to teach those who need some extra time or to learn it in a different way.  I believe fully that I, in this moment and at this time, was created to teach.  For now, perhaps that is in a school.  Maybe someday, and I won't put it past God, that teaching will occur behind a pulpit....BUT - I hear those are going out of style anyway.  Living room couches are much more comfortable, not to mention the glorious smell of coffee shops!

FInd your niche, people.  Don't expect to know it right at 18yo when you're picking a major...but find what you're passionate about.  Explore what is out there and what God cares about.  Don't ignore any clues along the way.  Perhaps I should have realized that I was meant for special education a lot sooner than now.  BUT for right now, in this moment, I am glad to be pursuing my certification.  Do I wish I had started sooner and already been in a classroom?  Sure!  Will I be happy in 25 years doing the same thing?  Who knows?!  I may be doing something totally different by then.  But for right now, I am happy.  

Are you happy?  Did you have a romanticized idea of your career before you got into it?  Do you still hold a romanticized idea of any particular career?  Consider it your challenge to see the good and the nitty gritty in each career.  Consider it your challenge to appreciate the people who do the job you could never do (or would never want to do) and focus on the impact you can make right where you're at.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Roundabout Way

If you've ever talked to me about what I want to be when I grow up, I've probably given you a whole slew of things - preacher, teacher, librarian, counselor, and the list goes on!  Basically, I'm a life-long student accruing three lifetimes worth of debt.  However, with each closing moment, I come closer and closer to figuring out what I actually want to be when I grow up!  I'm only a quarter of a century old - I still have time, right?! 

Here's the shindig...I know you've seen the posts about graduate school this and graduate school that.  I didn't want to announce it too early in case it wouldn't work out orrrrr I change my mind again.  However, I'm set on doing this program for several reasons. 

1)  I love teaching.  Anything and everything!  Whether that is languages, history, Biblical stories, math, etc.  If I don't already know it - I'll find out - which leads me to.....

2)  I love learning.  ALSO anything and everything......well, almost.  I get bored super easily.  I need a profession where I'm consistently being asked to grow, develop, make steps up the ladder, etc. 

3)  Psychology has provided me the perfect foundation for this program.  Some of you think I wasted years on a degree I'll never use.  NOT TRUE.  I use psychology all the time in my work life, and even in my personal life.  I did score pretty well in my persuasion class and that personality class lets me know just who of you will actually read this.  Not only that but cognitive psychology and developmental psychology are good courses to take when you need a foundation in.....

EDUCATION.  (But her bachelor's isn't in education - how is she going into education?!) I'll be getting my Master's in Teaching which through some extra foundational courses, I'll be able to apply for certification with DESE.   I'll specialize in Special Education with an elementary content emphasis, most likely.  (That part could change pretty easily depending on where I attend school.)  Schools being considered are Webster University (attended their information session tonight and was extremely impressed AND got a free tumbler), UMSL, and Fontbonne University.  Ultimately, I'd like the face-to-face programs however I'd like to retain my current job until I can teach.  Some universities offer it online, however I'm leaning away from them as I just completed most of my bachelor's online.  I'd like some sort of face-to-face interaction with people.

Some of you will protest and think I was so close to having a "real career" - why go back to school and start all over? 

1)  Psychology is a terrible degree alone as a bachelor's.  YOU HAVE TO GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL TO DO ANYTHING COOL WITH IT!  Sure, I could have gotten a job, maybe, and made more money to do more work and worked an 8am to 5pm job while juggling graduate school.  OR, I could pursue something I really love, even if I have NO educational background other than work. 

2)  I didn't love any choice I had already been pursuing or it wasn't right for my family.  Counselor?  Sure, it would have been fine in about 5 years when I was done with graduate school, provisional experience, and had a usual job.  But I couldn't even write the essays on my professional career goals or why I wanted to be a counselor without way more thought than I should have.  Pastor?  That may not be the best thing for my family right now, or ever, and who says I can't be crazy involved in church and still teach?!  HELLO?!  I'll have weekends and summers off!  Hello summer camps and mission trips?! 

3)  I'm technically not starting over.  My two years of work experience have given me a ton of experience and an idea of what the job is like (the good and the not so good).  My psychology degree gives me a good foundation.  I love working with people with disabilities.  I love their behaviors.  I love them, just as kids.  The schooling will not take as long as everyone imagines...And I'll start out with master's pay (not a bad gig).  Sooner or later, I'll be at some back to school banquet and I'll be announcing my 25th year of teaching.  And it will be amazing. 

To all of you who thought I should have gone into education in the first place:  Be patient with me.  I'm learning who I am and the potential I have to change the world one small step at a time.  Expect big things, because I imagine God will do incredible things if we are only open to the possibilities.

It might be the roundabout way.  But sooner or later, I'll reach my destination.  And really, it's the journey that makes it fun, right?! 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wasted Time

Tonight I did a rare thing for me but the norm for many.  I sat in front of a black box and watched it for two and a half hours!  Yes, this rare moment for me when I actually enjoyed just chilling in front of the TV.  Now, don't get me wrong - TV can certainly be nice or even helpful when it comes to relieving stress at the end of the day or staying informed with the news (no matter how biased they tend to be).  BUT - due to sitting, or rather lounging, on my couch for two hours, I have absolutely no motivation to do anything.  I did absolutely nothing productive while watching some fake show and wasted a ton of time! 

Time is the ONE thing that we've been given in the here and now.  Sometime, you should look up the definition of time, just google it, and you'll find all the ways we try to define this thing that we have but that could be gone in a blink of an eye and no one can really touch it!

I can't really remember a year that I haven't had someone's funeral to attend.  Whether it be a relative, friend, or church family member, I always am amazed by what people say about their deceased family member.  Usually it starts as a typical timeline of their hometown and where they went to college or their career.  But then, it takes a turn and it begins to unravel the impact that the individual had on the speaker's life and the lives of those right there in the room.  We tend to talk about the good things and the funny things at funerals and right there in the midst of all the sadness and grief, we realize that we are going to miss that individual because they were a good listener or had the best jokes or loved to go fishing with me, etc.  The list goes on and on with ways that people impact lives in small gestures.  What started as a simple hello could grow into lifelong friendships.  You know, I don't hear people talk about that kind of commitment anymore.  We are constantly moving in a fast-paced culture where success is key and that really clashes with the kind of culture that Jesus talked about and lived out.  What I love most about Jesus is that He wants a relationship with me!  But just that desire to actually want relationships is incredible.  I don't want to be the person who only has a timeline read at my funeral.  I want to be the kind of person that impacts lives for Jesus.  I want to be the kind of person that people get inspired by to live their lives with a little more optimism and purpose.  But I can't do that if I'm wasting time in front of TV or worrying about what will happen next, isolating myself or better yet, talking about myself and complaining about other people.  Shouldn't we all care a little more about others? 

By all means, unwind with a TV, but don't let it dwindle your desire to make a difference in this world by establishing relationships with others!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Works for the Good

Today, I started back up at the school where I'm a paraprofessional in the ID (Intellectual disabilities) rooms.  There are certainly a lot of changes, some good, some I'm not sure about yet.  But if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that God works for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).  So often, I think we forget that every good gift comes from God (James 1:17).  We think that it's coincidence or luck that something happened.  Or maybe we think that it was of our own doing that we got to a certain place in life.  But friends, let me tell you that God is working in and through and beyond everything that we experience in life.  Even the bad situations that seem to multiply, God works to turn those around for our benefit.  This is so encouraging!  I'm so glad we have a God who is on our side working for the good of us!  Of course in doing so, we build our faith in what we cannot see and trust the God is ultimately God of all and especially God of our lives.

Other than this, I don't have much else to say.  So I challenge you to look at the situations in your life where it has become chaotic and messy and know that you have a God who is working to bring something beautiful and meaningful and ultimately GOOD from it.  You have a God who is able to turn dust and ashes into life and bring good and perfect gifts to His children.  So I ask you this...Can you see this happening?  Are you loving on God as He works for your benefit?  Are you forgetting to thank Him for all the goodness you see in the world? 

"You now rejoice in this hope, even if it's necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials.  This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine."  (1 Peter 1:6-7, CEB)

May we have genuine faith in a God who works for the GOOD of those who love Him.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Losing Inspiration & Making Cookies

My sister asked me today why I don't blog anymore.  I suppose that is reason enough to start blogging again.  I told her it was because of not having internet at my previous residence, I recently moved, and going back to school, too busy, but I think it was honestly that I lost inspiration.  I lost my motivation.  And in doing so, or rather not doing so, I lost part of myself.

I LOVE to write.  I love to blog.  I use this as my edited journal.  I find myself exploring why I believe what I believe and how that comes to life in the world around me.  I use this blog as a means of expressing myself in ways that just make better sense in a blog than in a conversation.  I was contemplating when and why I started blogging today and I realized that I began back in high school.  (LunchTimeDevos)  I took a lay speaking class on preaching and someone saw it fit to tell me that I should post devotions online.  And I did so for quite some time.  They are still up for the world to see too.  But I loved to write and have readers who got inspired because they could get on at 5:30am and have a short morning devotional written in a basement by some teenager who saw the world in a different way.  Over time, I think I've begun to think that that way is not an appropriate way for an adult.  Today, I think I was more right in how I wrote than what I gave myself credit for.  Writing about turtles on the road and the sunrise/sunset are totally appropriate!  So today, I shall take up writing about the things that inspire me or make me think as I go about my day.  Sometimes it is the little things that God can get me thinking about Him and how His kingdom works and what needs to be done.  Thus, here is a story about Making Cookies...

Someone I know recently made cookies.  She had the recipe, which made the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had, and she had all the ingredients.  She mixed everything together and realized the batter looked a little thin.  She tossed in a little more flour and figured it would just make a giant cookie cake if they all ran together.  Unfortunately, they ran together but were inedible.  She had forgotten to add the rest of the flour to the batter so instead of using 2.25 cups, she only used 1 cup!  THAT obviously made a huge difference. 

Now, she had clearly forgotten to use the rest of the flour, but how often do we try and take short-cuts in our walk of faith?  We have all the ingredients - we read the Bible, pray, go to church, give, etc - but we just don't have the right amounts.  Instead of reading the Bible daily and digesting it, we read a quick devotion (when we remember to) and head out the door to our busy lives.  Just today I saw something on Facebook that emphasized the lack of Christians who greet God in the morning.  Don't get me wrong, I'm guilty of this too, but don't we tend to fill our lives with ingredients that do more harm than good and don't put enough of the good ingredients either?  We serve.......once a month, if even.....for two hours......It's just not enough.  We give......until it messes with our usual expenses.  We go to church......for one hour....a week......and we complain if it runs a little long.  We pray......for five minutes every night.......okay, like two minutes......right before we drift off to sleep because we spent our day doing too much. 

Now, I know there are some of you out there that will say that you do have all the ingredients and you do these things enough.  BUT - just like not enough flour will not make cookies edible, too much vanilla could ruin them too.  I've heard it said that too much of a good thing can make it a bad thing.  This reminds me of the Apostle Paul who talked about moderation in everything.  We as the church cannot be half-hearted Christians if we expect to be able to change the world for God.  And we can't be burnt out Christians either.  We have to learn this balance and this recipe for life.  Until we do, we won't be content in all circumstances or able to impact the people we are meant to impact. 

So, what ingredient do you have, but maybe don't have enough of?  Perhaps you are missing an ingredient altogether?  Are you burning out because having too much of one ingredient and not enough of another to even it out? 

I may have lost my inspiration to write when I stopped looking at the world around me and seeing that I had something to offer that might impact people, even if it dealt with turtles or cookies, whether I was writing at age 16 or age 24.  Regardless, this won't be the last post.  At least, not for a while.  I think God's given me a lot to offer up and I hope you'll stick around to read about my reclaimed existence! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Past and Present Churches

I've gone to a lot of churches in my day but let me tell you about the last two significant experiences I have had and I am having....

I attended a Pentecostal church from July 2012 to April 2013 which supported me in affirming that I am okay loving a woman.  I learned more about the spiritual realm than I have anywhere else in my spiritual journey.  I questioned a lot of who I am and what I believe and especially the WHY behind what I believed.  Through God, I grew in knowledge and wisdom. 

I am a now member of a church in STL (since August 2013) which is over an hour away from my house one way.  I love this church and the work that it is doing within the city of STL! For a few months, Nichole and I led a core group (small group) of LGBTQ persons in 2013.  It was an amazing yet challenging experience.  I learned through this experience and mostly I learned that I'm not alone in my faith even with my orientation.  Because of my church, I was challenged to grow in my relationship with God because my sexual orientation was a non-issue. 

This church also allowed me to be involved with the Student Ministry which has been my favorite part of the life of the church!  Last summer, I was able to go to Cape Girardeau, MO for a mission trip with the students AND help with summer camp!  It was really cool and taught me a lot about what ministry among young people looks like now that I'm an OLD adult!  It was also fun just to connect and have a meaningful time hearing about students' lives and how God is interacting with them along their journey.  The great thing is that in January 2014, I started with a small group of students at the Clayton site and while it looks very different than when we first started, I love them wholly!  It is awesome to see students getting into the Word of God and asking questions that some adults are even afraid to ask!  I love seeing them every week and it is totally worth the hour and fifteen minute drive in at 7:30am to worship and grow with them.  If I could tell all the stories and profound things that they've said and taught me, I would not have room in this blog for anything else! 

Let me just tell you - I am headed to Louisville KY this year for the mission trip with the MS and HS students and I am SOOOOO EXCITED!  Not only that, but I also have the privilege to be a mentor at the summer camp in August for the 4-8th graders!  I cannot wait to see how God impacts the students' and mentors' lives AND for the amazing amount of fun that we are going to have! 

It's awesome to be a member of such a cool church.  The Gathering UMC - in case you were curious!