Sunday, July 07, 2013

You Can Do This Too

We live in a world in which Bigger is Better, and in this particular instance, I am not speaking about McMansions or stretch limos.  I am speaking about the sense that we have to Go Big in our ministry efforts, or we are somehow not living up to the gospel call.

I have Ministry Envy.  Stupid, huh?  Well, let me explain...

I am Facebook friends with several folks who tackle mission work in foreign countries. Many adoptive parents feel a call to give back to the countries that allowed them to become parents to their beloved children.  They go places, they take medical supplies, they photograph their journeys, they build playgrounds.  There are non-profits formed, there are villages "adopted", and there are Big Plans made.

Then there is me, sitting here in my LazyBoy Lounge Chair.

I, too, said yes.  Man, I have said "yes" to SO many things I was uncertain of, terrified of, or horrified of.  Preaching is one of them, homeschooling is another.  I say "yes" over and over again, I try to force myself to get out of my comfortable box (or figurative LazyBoy, if you will), and still, 3 years post-Lay Ministry training, and I am still clueless what the point of it all was...but sadly, still I cannot deny the call was real and still feels real.

But why? I dunno.

I do know that thus far, I have never been personally called to overseas ministries.

Lately, however, I might be starting to get it a little.

We have an amazing pastor, one who never fails to reach me and teach me.  Tonight's sermon totally spoke to me.  It was a multi-layered work that I need to read and re-read to dissect the ways in which I can use it.  At its core, it was about simplicity, about not overcomplicating this Gospel thing, about "being" being equally as important as "doing".

Twice recently, I received this message in less obvious fashion than a sermon, and tonight's preaching just piggybacked on it.  Friday evening, we had planned to make it a little earlier night.  Thursday's holiday festivities had left us awake very late, and we were all pretty bushed from the unusual heat as well.  Dominick headed off to bed, and I said I would soon follow.  Kenny, Angela and Matthew were all joining me at the table for a little late night snack of Fishy Crackers, and somehow we drifted into conversation about the value of imprisoning people over a certain age, and whether prison was for rehabilitation or punishment.  This led us to further examples of former SS officers who had worked in or overseen the operations at the concentration camps, and the ability of someone to turn off their conscience or to become hardened and calloused to the plight of other humans.

We sat there, huddled over a bowl of Goldfish, talking, debating, and puzzling over acts which mankind has puzzled over for all time.  How does a human act in such inhumane ways?  How does a Mob Mentality change one's ability to do the right thing?  What is it inside a person that gives them the courage to stand for justice in the face of certain danger?

The next morning, I was so tired, but I explained to Dominick why we all hadn't gone to bed as early as we had hoped.  There are moments, I said, that can't be recaptured, and if you miss them or shut them down, the opportunity is missed.  It's about being aware of simply "being" rather than doing, and in parenting, I have found that in the midst of all the doing...of which there is plenty...there absolutely needs to be some "being".

At the food bank this past couple of weeks, God has been speaking to me long and hard.  I have not yet figured out whether it is about something connected specifically with their mission or not, but I have been working up front more, and am face to face with the "customers" as they are called, many of whom I am discovering I have known from previous work contacts.  I am learning so much about what poverty looks like in our town, and realizing that in some cases it looks scarily like us.  Dominick and I are always incredibly aware that we are not that many rungs up the ladder from public assistance, and that by the grace of God we have made it thus far.  But many, many people we meet there are underemployed, not unemployed. They're doing their best, but are unable to make it to a little better standard of living no matter how hard they try.

But aside from that obvious fact, what has struck me is that ministry there at the food bank comes in many forms, and it is definitely not just the person in need of food, for there is need for food of another kind in just about all of us.  There are those who are desperately in need of community, so they volunteer to have a place to go and a place to be of use each week.  There are those whose young lives are completely messed up and directionless, who are in dire need of mentoring and boundaries, and they are often school or work ordered to volunteer.  There are those who are trying to feed the masses, stretching every donated dollar as far as they can, who are in need of encouragement and support.

It is so odd, but it was as if there was a sign over every single person I encountered there the past couple of weeks that was in bright neon, expressing a ministry need that may not be as conventional as being dark skinned and living in a hut in some parched land overseas, but the need for human connection, as well as divine compassion expressed through  that human connection, was just as urgent.

Gradually, ever so slowly, God is seeding me, showing me perhaps what I was called to do and one day might grow into.  I am not a preacher and never will be.  I am not a singer, not a wisdom teacher, not a leader.  Lately it has felt as if my every failing and weak point has been brought to the surface in grand scale.  Oh, I am not SO many things.

But...but...I can be present.  I might have just one gift. I can do what some people can't, and I can more easily say the things others are too uncomfortable to say in those situations where you wish the floor would drop away and you could disappear.  I never want to disappear, instead I want to grab hold of a hand, look into the eyes of that person who is before me, and let them know they are not alone.  I guess, maybe, I am good at one thing and maybe only one thing.  It is what a dear friend or two call the "touchy feely stuff".  It doesn't scare me, it doesn't intimidate me, it doesn't turn me off as it does so many others.  I am not scared of it, because for me, that is the exact moment when God is more present than ever before, and that feels like nothing worldly ever can.

I may never be able to preach or teach with words, but I can hold you when you cry, or give you space for the tears to come.  I can listen to your fears, I can offer whatever insight I might have, and you can leave me knowing you are loved.  I won't run away in the face of whatever has you so upset, I won't leave you alone in that place.

Maybe I can do this with no qualms because I have been there far too often myself, and I actually was so very alone, and I desperately don't want that for anyone else I know.  It hurts too damn much to have people avoid you because they don't know what to say, or to have people turn away because it is raw and real and it touches a little too close to their own fears.  I have had to "pull the plug" on someone I loved, I have had to watch life ebb away, I have had to be strong so others could finally be weak.  I have had to empty rooms of beloved ones who are no longer with us, I have had to empty rooms of the heart so that there is space for new love.  I have had to say "no" through tears, wishing I could say "yes" but knowing it would solve nothing.

As the refrain from tonight's sermon reminded me, "You can do this."

There are many, many things I can never do, or can never, ever do well.  Sadly, they are things that I wish I could succeed at, but I have to accept my many limitations.

But "being"?  Being with you in pain, being with you in sorrow and grief, being with you in dark times, being with you in fear, being with you as you get very honest with yourself?  That I can do.

It's not glamourous, it's not something that gets posted about on Facebook or blogged much about, because it is too mundane, too ordinary.  It is absolutely not putting in a playground at an orphanage or bringing much needed medical supplies to an AIDS riddled country.  It's not about wearing a stole on Sunday and preaching from a pulpit, but then, that is only part of a minister's job.  It's definitely not the Big Ministry Plan, but for the person whose life you touch, it can be Bigger than Big.

What it is, is real.  It is in the moment, it is one on one, it is the hard stuff that is seldom spoken about.  It may be the hard stuff, but in some ways, it is the least complex part of "being Christian"...or for that matter "being Muslim" or "being Buddhist".

So, my eyes are verrrryyy, veeerrrryyy slowly opening.  God already said, "You can do this."  I think I just have to discern that "this" is.  With each passing day, with each attempt at something new, I am...at the very least...learning what "this" isn't.  That is just as important.

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