Two long years.
A commitment I made two years ago is finally complete, and at times I never thought I'd make it. Had I known how hard it would be, and what else my life would bring in the midst of it, I am certain I would have never made that initial phone call. I would have missed out on so much! Now though, with homework and classes behind me, I feel as if I can breath again.
My lay ministry classes are over, and I have but one step left to become "officially licensed" as a lay minister. It is a big hurdle yet left to leap over, but I am not going to think about that for a couple of weeks. For now, I am going to rest in the relief of having finished something that was astoundingly difficult considering all else that was going on at the same time. 4 days after arriving home from being gone 2 1/2 months in Kazakhstan and I have to be at a weekend retreat 5 hours away from home in a snow storm. But I made it! Classes missed while overseas and trying to focus on homework while my heart was churning over events unfolding that required all I could offer to them. But I did it! An entire year of changing gears on so many levels including suddenly being thrust in the role of full time teacher who had to create a curriculum for 5 children including a variety of special needs as well as implement it. But doggone it, I DID it!!
I have never worked so hard at anything, I have never tried to stretch and grow to this extent, and I have never been placed in a situation where my thinking and writing was put to such a test. I even managed to do reasonably well in all my classes, despite not having any real college experience or term paper writing in my past. In fact, I have never written a real term paper in my life!
And still, 2 years later, I sit here having no clue what ministry will look like for me, or how it will all unfold. I was quite anxious about this a few months ago but have since come to an understanding (and actually have a strong conviction about it) that God indeed has a plan that has yet to be revealed, and it is highly unlikely it will look like anyone else's idea of "ministry" in the classic sense. Why would it?? Nothing else in my life has ever been anything even remotely close to "normal"! It is very clear to me though, in the same way it was clear about each of our children, that something is at hand and I need not push a thing to find out what that is. It is not as if I am not using what I learned every single day in my own life, and I also have the opportunity to use it while working with our youth club as well. If there is to be more, and I feel there definitely will be, then God can yell at me when the Spirit is good and ready! Haha!
Our congregation recognized my unofficial "graduation" on Sunday, complete with a homemade cap with a tassle, a framed certificate, and the most beautiful stole created by my dear friend and blog commenter, Lael. Lael herself has gone through this program a few years back and has blessed folks in congregations all around us with her gifts on many occasions. As you can see from the following photos, Lael's artistic gifts are many, and I will treasure this stole forever with it's deeply meaningful symbolism and the love with which it was created shining through.
My goal was his as well, and for us, any ministry I might find myself involved in is truly "our" ministry, for we agreed that we needed to serve God always in the ways we could, and this may be what it looks like for us as a family...Dominick serving in indirect ways at times so I may serve more directly. We are a team, and just as we have joked about the first couple of years here in Colorado, when I worked 8 hours a day then went to help him detail cars until well past midnight or all weekend long until my fingers literally bled, we do what we need to do. Now though, we are blessed to be doing it with a larger team, and the kids also helped enormously by just being who they are...understanding, thoughtful, amazing people who gave me space when I needed it, applause when I came home with a good grade, and encouragement when I felt so overwhelmed. Lots of extra housework was picked up by these 5 of ours!
There were friends who kept me going, prayed for me, watched our kids so I could attend classes, and understood when at times I was emotionally unavailable this past year. Jill and Jane, I love you both and thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me accomplish something when the timing felt so ridiculous. You understood when I said "I feel I have no choice, I have to do this and I have to do it now."
Throughout my life, God has placed mentors in my path who were extraordinary people. I may not have ever gone on to do great things, but I can recall 3 or 4 people on various jobs who took me under their wing, nurtured me, and cared about my progress. None, however, had the impact that my own Pastor had on me this past year. I flat out wouldn't have made it without Pastor Karen. I am not speaking of just ministry classes.
Returning home from Kazakhstan I was an emotional wreck, a total mess. I didn't know what I needed, I couldn't process all that we had gone through, and my soul was battered in ways I had never expected. The unfailing support, encouragement and love shown by Pastor Karen provided me with the finest example of what leading a flock and caring about lost sheep is all about. The healing I have had to go through this past year was not something I anticipated, and wouldn't have known where to begin in terms of making it happen. Thankfully, I was never alone...never. God reached out via the internet to me halfway across the world to touch me through my long winter. God spoke to me as my heart was aching, and later confusion settled in. God held my hand every step of the way through every doubt and difficult moment. God did it through the hands, heart and often the keyboard of Pastor Karen. As I sit here gazing upon a pile of her graciously loaned books, I am beyond thankful for the hours upon hours she has invested in me and continues to invest, and I know I am not worthy. She saved me in so many ways...and this photo of two God Geeks with Jesus' outstretched arms behind us, seemingly ready to embrace us both, couldn't be more perfect.
So now one unique phase of my life has ended. Had this call to ministry occurred 15 years ago, I would be headed to college and then seminary, without a doubt. That is not how my life has unfolded, and for that I am actually grateful. I have lost nothing, I have lost no future opportunity by leading the life I have led thus far. It may not be a graduate degree on paper, but the real life education I have received is worth far more than anything a seminary might have been able to expose me to. I can always gain new knowledge myself, if I want it badly enough. I could never recapture the experiences God wanted me to have to become who I am...the person who heard the call in the first place. The things I have been through are not mentioned on any syllabus, but are more instructive for ministry than just about anything else I could think of.
Jesus used lowly fisherman, fresh off the boat and no doubt smelling suspiciously like their prey. They had no sheepskin with wet ink, signed by a Chancellor, certifying them for ministry. They simply heard the call and responded with all their hearts. While I may not reek of salt water or haul up nets, my heart has surely been captured and is more than willing. If even one single person throughout my life can somehow discover the light in that dark place because of something I have said or done, then this past 2 years will be worth it. I needed that light, and my life is infinitely better for it, as is my entire family's. Maybe someone whose path crosses mine will also need it, and I can point them in the right direction, or maybe even walk hand in hand with them right up to it so they can touch it. They will never be the same again.
Neither will I.