I am sometimes referred to as lifer. Not in terms of prison sentence, but meaning I grew up in the church and, even more, that I grew up in a UCC church.
My parents were quite involved in the church. They wanted to raise their children in the church, so I went to Sunday school, the after school program, and Pilgrim Fellowship.
After my confirmation, my parents had a rule. I could choose to be in worship
or help in the Sunday school. It was my choice, but it had to one or the other.
I had to be under church’s roof on Sunday morning.
Now just think for a moment – I was in high school with classes all week. I was already sitting there being lectured and talked to five days. I wouldn’t want that on Sundays, too, so obviously I chose to help in the Sunday school.
I wound up teaching the four and five year olds. My overarching purpose was to teach and show the children that God loves them. God’s love is always and forever and there is nothing anyone can do that end God’s love for them.
At the same time, I had low self-esteem and struggled with it. I knew logically,
in my head, that God loved me. I did not know it in my heart. I couldn’t feel God’s love for me. It was in my head, but not part of my heart faith.
I struggled to get that simple yet foundational truth into my heart. Eventually it did come as I brought my doubts and difficulties to God. I realized that just because I didn’t feel it, it didn’t mean it was not true and that God did not love me. God could still love me; I could still be God’s precious child.
The problem was not with God. It was not with God not loving me. Instead, the problem was on my end. I think of it like a phone call. God is and will always be there – trying to connect with us, calling and wanting us to pick up. We need to pick up the phone and answer. We need to be open and allow God in.
At MIT, I was majoring in chemistry and math. My plans were to to be a pediatrician. Something, though, was gnawing inside me; something just didn’t feel right.
I took the few Bible classes they had. I had major interest in learning about the Bible, especially its history and its meaning in the context of the time.
Still though, there was a sense in me of something not being quite right, I had a hunger that wasn’t being filled at MIT. I loved the school. I had great friends. I enjoyed the classes and loved their philosophy of education.
Even with all that I loved, I still had the sense inside me, and it kept growing. I felt I was off course and had somehow lost my way.
I took time off to figure it out and find my path. I needed to clarify the direction my life was meant to take. As I was working it out, I went through some dark periods. It’s hard to struggle with having a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Someone could say this was my wilderness time. As I was working to discern my direction and find my path, I wound up growing in ways I never expected.
Many of which were definitely outside my comfort zone.
I had growing sense of God calling me to work more directly in service of God
but I still had the low self-esteem, and it kept getting in the way
The thought that God was calling me to ministry would enter my mind, and every time I would quickly dismiss it. My thinking went something like, “Of course God doesn’t want me. God wouldn’t want me. God couldn’t want me.”
Growing up I had two fantastic ministers and I believed there was no way I could compare to them and do what they did. I simply felt that I was not good enough to do the work of ministry; it is too important.
This went on for quite a while. I would get the sense of God was calling me to do more: to help others live in God’s way, to be with them in good and difficult times, to struggle together in learning, growing, and deepening relationship with the Divine and one another. I would ignore it though, thinking it was my ego.
It was quite a struggle. God kept calling and I kept refusing to answer.
I am reminded of the story of Jonah, who refused to listen to God’s call, go to Ninevah and carry God’s message of the need for people to change their ways.
Jonah said, “No”, but God wasn’t accepting that as an answer. Jonah tried running away, but God still would not accept the no. Eventually Jonah got it.
It took some time, a big storm at sea, and some involvement with a big fish. Jonah understood better and accepted God’s call.
Like Jonah, I kept saying “no” to God. Looking back on it now, I think how silly my thinking was. Thinking I knew better than God I had eliminated the possibility to do the work God called me to. I was making the judgment instead of God, and my judgment was that I was incapable, not good enough, not qualified or able to do this important work of ministry.
It went like this for quite a while. God would call and I would refuse to listen. During this time my condition, syringomyelia, became evident. I very quickly went from walking to being on crutches to using a wheelchair.
The onset of the symptoms made for a lot of changes in my life, but even with all the change and uncertainty, I was sure of one thing. Now God couldn’t, God wouldn’t want me for ministry. After all, I had become a physically disabled woman whose love was ministry with children and youth. God could never want me as an ordained minister to preach the Word and celebrate the sacraments.
Now I definitely knew this possibility had been eliminated. I still, though, needed a direction in life. I needed to know where I was headed and what I was to do.
I was on a church retreat and at one point I was praying which wasn’t unusual for me. This time, however, it was different.mmI fully surrendered my self to God with, of course, one little caveat.
My prayer went something like this:
Now that there is no way I could be an ordained minister, please show me and lead me in the direction I should go. I will do whatever you want. I am yours completely. Just show me what you want me to do.
I opened myself completely to God, and something quite different happened. I was filled with a peace like I had never known before. I was being held by the Holy Spirit. The presence of God was palpable in the room. Other people on the retreat felt it.
As I surrendered fully and opened my heart completely to God, God was still calling me to ordained ministry. There was no denying it. All the doubts I had about my ability, all the reasons why I thought I wasn’t capable diminished in size and importance.
God was right there with me as I had never felt before. God was calling me to do this and this time I answered yes.
So much seemed to fall into place at that point. I was accepted into the M.Div program at Andover Newton Theological School. I was encouraged and supported by my home church. I was taken in care by the local association of the UCC.
Even after signing up for one more class than I could afford, out of the blue I received a call from a former pastor. She was offering me a position working with children. The compensation was just enough to cover the additional expense of the extra course.
From that time of prayer and acceptance of God’s call, all the big things fell into place.
After serving a few churches as a solo pastor, churches with few or no children, I came here. I am now able to fully concentrate on ministry with children, youth, and young adults.
I understand my calling and this position as more than simply setting up church school and supervising youth groups. I see it as ministry with children, youth, and young adults. It involves teaching and preaching the Word, and celebrating the sacraments in a kid friendly and accessible way. It is pastoring in times of difficulty and decision-making as well as times of joy. It encompasses showing the love of God for all people, including children, providing opportunities to serve others. It is tending to spiritual needs and listening to questions and doubts. It is creating safe space where children and youth can be who they are and become the person God intends for them to be.
It took me quite a while to live into my potential and into God’s call to me. I am still working on it. I know, though, that it fits. It is right and I look forward to the future with hope, promise, and faith.