The last month has been an incredible slice of life, with both ups and downs. Which is exactly what makes life rich! On September 6th we celebrated the first birthday of Avery, my granddaughter who was born over three months early. What an amazing little bundle of life she is! She’s caught up size wise, her brain is as quick as light, and her motor skills are catching up. Over this last year she has taught us much about trust and perseverance. We celebrated her birthday with a back yard fiesta and….her baptism. It was in awe and joy that right there in the Texas evening heat among friends and family of all denominations and journeys of faith that I baptized her in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. None of us had been to a backyard baptism before and even the bartender and the Taco Cabana caterer were there to witness God’s grace. It was a special time to celebrate and give thanks for God’s gift of life, love, and community. I know there may be some who would balk because the baptism wasn’t done in a Sunday morning worship service inside brick and mortar. But there was something really powerful about introducing Avery to the “church” that had surrounded her and her family with prayers and encouragement during her uncertain beginning. The church that will walk with her in life.
September held another celebration. My daughter’s roommate from college, one of her friends I love as my own, married and asked me to officiate the wedding. My daughter was one of the bridesmaids which made it especially fun. To be able to celebrate new life and new beginnings brings such joy. Everything to come, promise full of possibilities.
Along with moments of new life, I was called upon to walk along side others who were giving thanks for a life well lived even while walking in grief. Last Friday I presided over the funeral for a woman who died two days after her hundredth birthday. A century of joys and sorrows and hopes and memories! I only saw this woman briefly at the bedside just hours before she took her last breath. I was asked to do her service by a cousin, someone I knew at a previous church I served. One of the biggest challenges for a pastor is to be able to honor a life and comfort a family’s grief when you’ve never met the person. As a hospice chaplain I was called to do this repeatedly. In meeting with the family one must listen with all senses firing. If you want to know a person you have to not only hear the stories about them with your ears, but you’ve got to watch for the twinkle in the eye of the person telling the story. You have to feel the pain in their words of loss. (Right now I’m convicted that I don’t listen like this in every conversation I have!) Every human being deserves to be celebrated for the gift of life they were to the world. I don’t always get it right, but when asked to do this I do give it my all. And when I am able to totally surrender the moment and my words to God, somehow the gaps are filled and people are comforted. A reminder to me that it is definitely not me at work, but God’s grace.
While it may be challenging to do a funeral for someone I don’t know, doing the funeral for someone I know and love takes the journey to a whole new level. My sorority sister, Suzy, died a week ago Sunday after a fierce and courageous battle against cancer. From the beginning of her fight I understood my role. Because she told me what it was going to be. She was very direct like that. Soon after her diagnosis she called and said “I’m going to need you.” She had so many friends, who were closer to her than me, friends who supported her in ways I never could. But, and I think out of protection for them, she counted on me for those difficult conversations. The ones she knew would be hard on her loved ones. The ones about death and dying, her fears and feelings. Approaching the hour when I would speak at her service I wondered about what to say. There were so many people who knew her better. And so many people who would be hurting, waiting for a word of comfort. Saturday morning before leaving for Austin where the service would be held at her church, it came to me that I was not supposed to recount her life, the life others knew so intimately. But that I was to lift up the lessons of life she exemplified so well. I was supposed to lift up the gift of her life. God knew so much better than I did what needed to be said and I am glad I trusted in that. (Why don’t I always trust like that?)
Here’s the thing. The reason I am writing this post after a month of writing nothing. The “cud” I am chewing today. Everything I have told you about what I have had the opportunity to do over the last month are things pastors do. Pastors baptizing, pastors officiating weddings, and pastors honoring the completion of one’s baptism that comes in death. Pastors who are employed by a church, that is. And, over the last six months I have settled in quite nicely to the life of “not” being a pastor. I haven’t preached a sermon (although my family thinks I’m a little too preachy from time to time), attended a meeting or one pot luck supper or talked about budgets, or anything in an official capacity. And, I am not a part of a worshiping community. Or so I thought.
This past month has taught me on a deeper level than I ever realized before what constitutes the “call”, and in ways that I probably would not have received had I still been serving in an official capacity at a church. Pastoring has more to do with a willingness to be available than the terms of a contract. Pastoring has more to do with being deployed into service by God and for God than being employed by an organization. Maybe my call is meant to be more about living out my baptism than trying to live up to my denominational ordination. Maybe I don’t have to try to be something other than what God has already declared me to be. In the place where he has put me. With the people he’s put in my path. And maybe, one of these days, I’ll finally get that.
And, if this is true, is not the same truth available for all of us? When Jesus was baptized, God’s Spirit descended upon him as a dove and God declared him as his beloved child, naming a truth that was already eternally true. Doesn’t God do the same for us in our baptism? Isn’t that simply the outward declaration of a truth that was already there and will always be there? Declared beloved. Declared to have purpose. Declared to be. How can I expect my grandchild to live out her baptism if I am blind to my own?
What about you? Is there something you are striving for the world to recognize in you that God has already declared you to be?
You are beloved.
Something to chew on….