Lean Into It

There it is again. That ache. The pain. The reminder of loss, of things left behind. Of people, lives, relationships, goals, passions and dreams altered. Separated. Not because of physical loss but spiritual, emotional. One act of obedience that changes the path and leaves a portion of your heart on the side of the road.

It’s a pain that eventually fades. Changes. Mutates. Moves from grief to sorrow. The stabbing lessens to a dull ache, fades to a tender spot. The tender spot the enemy loves to poke with impeccable timing. Those moments when joy starts to shine through, when purpose is forming like an ethereal dream, that’s when he jabs his boney finger right into the most delicate space. That tender spot that awakens the sorrow, stirs the tears and squeezes the heart.

The poke, the pressure, that ache that rises and casts a grey pallor over everything, creating doubt shadows where each decision, each moment, comes with a backpack full of questions, doubts and second guesses.

Are we doing enough?

Earlier this season I attended the local Town Hall gathering for The Meeting House. Included with the expected information was the introduction and subsequent conversation about Jesus Collective for which the initial launch and development path is pastor/leader focused.

One of the attendees voiced a concern that for them, an initial launch of pastor/leader focused resources and networking created an “us and them” environment s/he couldn’t support.

Being a “9” (see “The Sacred Enneagram and/or The Enneagram Institue“) it took some time for me to assess why this reaction bothered me ultimately determining the hackle raising aspect being how much the comment echoed today’s self-centred, consumerist mentality.  It unfortunately reflects the culture we currently live in. A “what’s in it for me”, “we should all have access to everything”, “I want that”, “I deserve to have what they’re getting” culture that expects everything from everyone without obligation to give back. 

In considering whether this cry for equal access is valid, these questions come to mind: Are we truly loving our pastors? Are we loving them well? Do we give them all the supports, encouragement and resources they need? 

Given the number of churches folding, of pastors burning out or leaving their ministry in either disarray or disgrace, is there any answer other than “No”?

From the outside, the life of a pastor looks tough, exhausting really – who would pick it voluntarily? The standards to which they are held is higher than the average person or Jesus follower, and if they’re a teaching pastor, scripturally so (see James 3:1). Plus there is an expectation of always present, always perfect, always giving, always loving, always listening, always agreeing and not ever showing weakness, doubt or fatigue. Simply listen to the grumblings after a service or of someone thinking to leave a church or community. Their words are likely to be unfair but represent the pressures, spoken or otherwise, 

Not every community should be painted with the same brush – there are many pastors with strong healthy connections and relationships within their communities and some with amazing supportive relationships with friends/fr-amily beyond their congregation that make their work energizing and fulfilling.

But what about those who don’t? What about those who stand alone, serve alone, struggle alone? In isolated regions or environments? Those for whom the current social pressures could divide their congregation beyond repair? Where reaching out locally isn’t an option because there isn’t a “locally” to reach out too? Or language is a barrier? Or ethnicity? Persecution? Where going against cultural norms is a life threatening choice? Where the parent denomination enforces practices that are counter to the teaching of Jesus? 

At its heart, this goes beyond a single online resource. It’s about overcoming the “I want that too” sense of entitlement that pervades and choosing to dig in, to lift up the people Jesus has commissioned to be on the front lines. To stand alongside them – financially, prayerfully, emotionally. It is about choosing to sacrifice our indulgent need to have everything and give of ourselves. Just like they do.

Don’t Box Me In

Me when it feels like someone is expecting an older version of me

For just over three years, I had the luxury of working in a local ministry environment. The final year of this journey had me step into a new church environment while my family remained with our home congregation. I would hear rumours of people asking where I was, why wasn’t I present at Church A and so on. Hubby would politely answer that I was doing well, thanks for asking with a gentle reminder that I was serving at Church-Ministry B,

Now that the ministry role has come to a close, I have been attending Church A with Hubby and fam. Some have smiled and said hello. Others share a hug and “it’s nice to see you.”

A few though ask the question.

“Are you coming back to Church A?”
“I see you here a lot now. Does that mean you’re coming back?”

It took some time for me to determine why these particular questions set my hackles up. After all, they were trying to communicate that I had been missed and that they appreciated having me present. What my spirit felt was my new self being pushed into an old box.

The old box of who they thought I was before I went into the mission field. The old box of Robyn fitting in. I can’t say for certain what that Robyn looked like, only that this version is different. This version sees the world differently, is not willing to compromise on who she is to ‘fit in’. This Robyn is more willing to speak up, to speak truth – in love and with gentleness but truth openly instead of hiding in case it make someone not like her. This Robyn has more ink, more attitude and more courage.

And she wants to stay that way.

Some will read all this and say it’s over-reacting. “Just take the welcome and the encouragement.”

How about we change the question. Instead of “are you coming back?” ask “Will you be joining us this summer?” or “Will we see you more? We’ve missed you.” Even better though, a statement then a question: “It is so nice to see you! How was your time in ministry? Did God do amazing things you can share?”

I’ll own it. Over-reaction and all. The word “back” sinks my gut and rips apart my heart. Ask me about my time in ministry. Get to know me as I am now.

Or don’t.

Just don’t box me in.

Grief is not linear

There is no straight line from loss to what we’ll call recovery. I’d like to say “all my life I thought…” but truth is, I never even thought about grief, about loss, about what it means for everyday, what that loss does to the light, to time, to joy, to the very act of breathing, getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, how things look, feel, sound, taste.

While I have lost family members, it never occurred to me that grief as a journey isn’t a straight line. The direct loss wasn’t mine. My heart ached for the spouses left behind. Still aches for them. But it wasn’t until an entirely different circumstance introduced me to grief directly that I began to see it for what it is.

Grief stripped me of all that I thought I knew. It ripped me to the core of my being. It flipped upside down everything I thought I knew about life and loss, living and dying.

In my current journey of loss, the most recent lesson is that it is not linear. One doesn’t simply and gradually “get over it” like walking up a gradual incline. There are days when getting out of bed is an achievement. When emptying the dishwasher counts as a productive day. And while I can look back on the months between impact and today and see how things have gotten less painful, how things have changed and, for lack of better words, gotten better, I then had an experience that put me so far back on the path to healed that I’m not sure the end exists. The proverbial “two steps forward three steps back”.

In this particular case, words spoken in support and hope created turmoil. They were intended to heal, to soften a moment of history yet had the unintended result of ripping open a carefully stitched wound. To be clear, I do not hold the source responsible for the outcome. My reaction is on me alone and I hold no malice, anger or disappointment.

The results though tell the state of my heart and stage of my journey. The imagery that comes to mind is that I had just climbed out of a deep chasm. Rocky walls, damp, rough, the only way out going up, through the pain. And, standing on the edge, finally out of the depths and face turned to the light and warmth, to then have words blindside me back over the edge back into the hole like a wrecking ball into the side of a building.

My choice, once again, to remain in the pit or work, inch by inch, memory by memory, hurt by hurt back up the edge. Jesus on belay, me searching for toe holds through the threat of tears.

Grief doesn’t travel a straight line. It weaves and ducks, it leads then follows, strangles then caresses. It sneaks up like a storm on a sunny day. The tiniest scent, a flash of memory, a habitual motion, phrase or task brings a sweeping wave wiping out all forward progress, sets back days, weeks, miles, back to the bottom of the pit.

You: Vulture. Pohtaytoe: Pohtahtoh

Before you turn away in disgust, never to visit this blog again, hear me out.

God made a unique creature to fill a very specific role, a purpose only for them. He gave them a very specific collection of attributes necessary to complete their task. Often, this creature is considered unusual, unconventional. It doesn’t fit the mold, does its own thing and when it does that thing that God designed it to do, lives are saved.

While that paragraph is written around the nature of vultures, we too are uniquely created, designed for a specific role, a purpose, and have been (or will be) given the attributes, gifts and skills needed to fulfill that God assigned purpose. I rarely fit expectations or maybe I just don’t feel like I fit. But when I am actively choosing to do the things that I know God has put me in place to do, I feel like I’m soaring. My whole being knows I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. It doesn’t matter the success or failure, hurdles, hurts or challenges.

Vultures have a reputation. Ugly, vile, repulsive. They eat dead things after all. But that is their purpose. And to do that God designed them with no feathers on their heads, necks or feet so they don’t retain bacteria. They are the only birds with the sense of smell needed to locate their task and the acidity in their digestive system kills every deadly disease they consume including things that would kill you or I with only a drop.

In the heat of the day, they can see the thermals rising from the earth – those wavy lines of heat we can see only when they’re rising off the road in the summer – and using only those currents, stay aloft for hours and travel for miles without flapping their wings. Elegant, drifting, floating.

So yes. disgusting and ugh. I get it that no one wants to be compared to such a thing. But I do.

God created. Unique. Purposeful. Soaring. Elegant.

(For an excellent read about vultures and condors, try “Vultures. Nature’s Ghastly Gourmet” by Canadian author Wayne Grady)