Faith. Hope. Love (Vol. 1)

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Welcome to the first week of “Faith. Hope. Love.”  I envision this column as a weekly thing.  The purpose is to share places, people, situations, etc. where I have witnessed or experienced faith, hope, and love in the week before.  Maybe it sounds hokey.  But, I know that it’s very easy to fall into a “poor, pitiful me” kind of attitude that can cloud our perception of the world around us (especially when it’s snowing on the 30th of MARCH!!!).  I’m as guilty of this as anybody.  That said, I am convinced that choosing to look for and expecting to see God in daily living not only changes the way we interact with the world around us but helps strengthen our relationship our Creator.  I don’t know about you, but I could use a little more of those things in my life.  So, without further ado: Faith. Hope. Love.

Faith

This week, I’ve been wearing a little gold cross necklace that my grandfather and uncle gave to me when I graduated from college.  I don’t wear it very often, but it is made of yellow gold and coordinates nicely with my favorite pair of yellow gold earrings.  Janie (my youngest daughter) is always fascinated by my necklaces.  At 19 months old, she knows the word “necklace” and associates it with the word “gentle.”  One day this week, I was holding her in my lap and she was carefully admiring my necklace saying, “gentah…neck-as…booful” (gentle…necklace…beautiful) when she pulled back abruptly and said, “Church?”  At first I didn’t understand what she was getting at, but then I realized that she recognized the cross on my necklace as something that we see at church.  I told her it was a cross, and she repeated the word back to me, “coss…”

While she may still be too young to understand the significance of the cross of Christ, much less why I or anyone would choose to wear that symbol around our necks, she is plenty old enough to associate the symbol with the church: a place Jane dearly loves to be. At 19 months, the Holy Spirit is already at work in the life of this little one, filling her with the gift of faith.

Hope

2014 may go down in history as “The Year of the Neverending Winter.”  Here it is, March 30, and in parts of our state, friends of mine have nearly two inches of freshly-fallen snow on the ground.  Hello? Spring? Are you out there? And yet, in spite of the frozen precipitation that just won’t quit, have I have seen so many signs this week that Spring is just around the corner.  Dare I say that I have hope that one day soon the warm days of spring will be here to stay, the grass will green up, flowers will start blooming, and the world will once again be lush and alive?  There are earthworms.  Everywhere.  No doubt, they have been urged out of the ground by the rain we’ve experienced the last couple of days.  But, darn it!  Those little guys give me hope that the earth is getting ready for things to begin growing once again.  Hope!  There is a reddish tint to many of the trees in our area, a sign that trees will soon begin to bloom.  Hope!  Birds are chirping and singing happy songs early in the morning.  Hope!  It’s (almost) April!  Hope!

All of these things point to signs of new life in the world around us, reminding me of God’s resurrection promises.  But, seeing as it’s snowing on the 30th of March in the mid-Atlantic region, it would seem that the future glory of Springtime has yet to be fully revealed.   Simply having hope in God’s promises is going to have to suffice for now.  🙂

Love

This morning, my husband and kids and I were all getting ready to leave the house at the same time.  My husband and the girls were headed to church, while I was headed to one of my part-time jobs.  As I was getting into my car, I heard Audrey call out to me from my husband’s car which was parked next to mine.  “Have a good day at work, Mommy!” she called.  “Don’t forget to catch raindrops on your tongue!”  What more can I say?  She is so little, and so innocent, and so loving.  And I am so blessed to be her mom.

The Vault: Living a Metaphor

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Since I left my full-time pastoral work nearly a year ago now, I’ve mostly been content to stay at home with my littles, run errands, take on the occasional substitute preaching gig (in the church we call it Supply Preaching), and mostly just to exist.  However content I may have been with my new -found freedom (it’s so NICE to be in [mostly] complete control of your own schedule!) the reality of our situation is that when I left my job, our household income was cut by more than half. It was time to get back to the real world and start earning a regular income. 
So, this past February, I began working at a home improvement store in the back office, colloquially known as “the vault.”  The Vault is what it sounds like it is, complete with bullet-proof walls, locks, keys, and pass codes. The Vault isn’t for everyone, but the quiet and isolation suit me just fine.  
Primarily, the job involves counting money.  I also do some payroll stuff, and paperwork.  Those are the official responsibilities of the job, more or less.  But, as most people know, with most jobs there is an official job description, and there is an unofficial job description.  The unofficial job description involves counseling, listening, and confidence-keeping: a lot like being a pastor.  The thing about The Vault is that all of its security and seclusion create a real sense of safety within the space that, as I have discovered in recent weeks, also extends to the people who work inside the vault.  For the people who work at our store, there is a sense not just that The Vault is a safe place, but that the people who work there are also safe.  As The Vault is the secure keeping-place for the store, we Back Office Associates are the secure keeping-place for the secrets of those who work in the store.  It is, officially and unofficially, a job of great responsibility and trust.  
Early in my seminary career, before I was ordained, someone likened The Pastor to the keeper of the stories of a congregation.  For the time that we serve a congregation, we are charged with keeping its stories.  Pastors are charged with learning and keeping the stories of a congregation’s past: what events and people of the past have helped shape the congregation into who it is today.  Pastors are charged with accompanying a congregation as they create new stories, and become themselves, a part of the story.  Pastors are charged with keeping the stories of our faith, the Word of God, alive in the congregation through preaching and teaching.  And, pastors are charged with keeping the stories of its individual members: the stories that are known publicly, but also the stories that are closely-guarded  secrets.  
I am living a metaphor right now. I thought I was leaving full-time parish ministry behind to be home with my family, and to find myself again after becoming lost to life and ministry. But, it took my being locked up in The Vault to understand that 1) I was locked up in the metaphorical vault of a life that stifled me completely, and 2) that I have been shaped by God to be A Vault.  A pastor.  A trusted keeper of stories.  
 

Learning (again) How to Worship

They may look sweet and innocent, but it's all a ruse...
They may look sweet and innocent, but it’s all a ruse…

For so many years, I had been a worship leader.  I was used to getting to church early, handing my children off to a loving “adopted” grandparent, aunt, or uncle who would watch them during the service (or sometimes they would go with their dad to his church), putting on my alb (the white robe many pastors wear) and stole, gathering up my Sunday worship bulletin and hymnal, and fielding last-minute questions from volunteers and visitors.  I was used to being the one with a clearly-defined sense of what needed to be done on Sunday mornings, and then going out and doing it to the best of my ability.  And I loved every second of it.

Then, in April of 2013, after leaving the congregation I had been serving, I found myself struggling.  All of a sudden, I was no longer the worship leader.  Instead, I was a worship participant. I had no place to be before worship, and nothing specific to do.  I wasn’t preparing for anything in particular, just waiting for worship to start.  What was more, this new worship participant also had two little girls to wrangle by herself while sitting in the seats amongst the members of our congregation.  And, the two little girls were NOT used to having their mother accessible to them in this way. When I was The Pastor, they would sit with their adopted grandparents, aunts, or uncles in worship, and they were as good as gold.  They would sit quietly in the seat at church, and most of the time, you would never even know they were there.  I was always so proud when people would tell me how well-behaved my children were in church.

But now, it was a different ball game.  They were no longer sitting with adopted grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  They were sitting with me.  They were no longer willing to sit quietly and patiently during worship.  They were hungry.  They were thirsty.  They wanted to play.  They wanted to sit on my lap.  They wanted to go home.  They wanted to tell me a story (or have me tell them a story).  I was so self-conscious.  It didn’t help when well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ would come up to me after worship and tell me lovingly, “Just so you know, they don’t act like this when you’re not here. We usually don’t hear a peep out of them.”  Like knowing that my kids only act up when I’m around should somehow be comforting.  (By the way, it isn’t.)

The following months were hard.  Really hard.  I even left worship in tears one Sunday because my oldest was acting so badly and I just couldn’t manage.  Especially not in front of the whole congregation.  Especially worrying that the whole congregation wasn’t just judging me as a parent and judging my kids for misbehaving, but that they were also judging their pastor, my husband, and the father of these two little hellions.  I didn’t want to do anything or permit anything to happen with regard to our children, that would make his job as the pastor of our congregation more difficult.

I found myself caught between a rock and a hard place.  As a pastor, I had always encouraged parents to bring their children with them to worship.  After all, the only way kids learn how to worship, is by being present and participating in worship.  I always encouraged parents to sit near the front of the church because it is easier for kids to see when they don’t have huge grown-ups standing in front of them blocking their view or distracting them.  I always told parents not to worry if their kids made noise because it was always far more distracting to the parents themselves than it was to me as the pastor or to the other worshipers around them.  But now, as a mom, I was wondering why I even bothered to come to worship in the first place.  It wasn’t like I was doing anything that remotely resembled worship anyway.  I was busy shushing noisy kids, picking up dropped toys, grabbing runaway children, and generally trying to keep my kids happy so that they wouldn’t bother anyone else, and all from the front row so that my kids could see better and not be distracted or have their views blocked by adults in front of them.

I rejoiced at the end of each service when the assisting minister would finally say, “Go in peace, serve the Lord” because it meant worship was over, and we could go home where it didn’t really matter how antsy or talkative our kids were.  It wasn’t like my kids and I were worshiping anyway.  Furthermore, I struggled knowing that it is important for my kids to be in worship not just so they learn how to worship, but so that they learn to love and serve God and their neighbor.  But I hated being there with them.  I did not enjoy it.  At all.  And I wanted–no, I needed–that time to worship.  In peace.  So I did what so many moms and dads before me have done, and what many more will do in the future.

I took my kids to the church’s nursery.

It felt like such a cop-out.  I struggled with a lot of guilt about not having the kids with me.  I worried about what I was teaching them about worship by denying them the opportunity to be there.  But they were happier.  I’m sure the people around us in worship were happier.  And I found peace, space to breathe, and time to relearn how to worship, not as a leader of worship, but as a participant.  I relaxed.  I got used to the idea that my role in church is different now.  I have even been singing with the choir, on occasion, not because I feel like I have to as the pastor or even as the pastor’s wife, but because singing in the choir is something that I enjoy.  It makes me happy.  I want to do it.

Things with the girls in worship have gotten easier.  The novelty of Mom being with them in church has worn off, and they have adults other than me that they like to sit with sometimes.  When they do sit with me, there is rarely a struggle, although it is still hard to balance the work of mothering two little girls who want equal time and attention from me in worship.  Other times, they choose to go to the nursery, and I go get them before we have communion, so that we can share the Meal together. It’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination.  But it is working for us.

In the midst of our struggle, we have all found peace, joy, grace, and acceptance.  When I think about what I want my kids to learn about being a part of a congregation, these are among the things that top my list because at the end of the day, there is peace and joy in God who is gracious, and who, in spite of our shortcomings and struggles, accepts us as God’s own.  While our kids may not be learning those lessons the way I thought they should or would, the bottom line is that they are learning them.  And we are happy.

Ms… Pastor… Mom… Who?

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When I was serving a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as its full-time pastor, it was common for the kids in my youth group to call out to me “Ms-” (forgetting that to them I wasn’t a ‘Ms’ and then quickly regroup and reorient to) “Pastor Emily?!”  This unexpected and accidental contraction of titles and names is the inspiration for this blog.  Here’s why.

am a Ms.  I’ve been married to my husband for seven and a half years now.  He is also a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, so that also makes me a pastor’s wife.

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I am a pastor.  I was ordained in September 2007 and served for almost six years in my first call: a smallish congregation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, before leaving there in April of 2013.

am a mom.  I have two beautiful little girls who are smart, sassy, and and sweet.  They are the most joyful people I’ve ever met (even when they run me ragged and have me wanting to pull my hair out!).

kids

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while now, ever since I left my full-time pastoring job to be a full-time wife and mother.  When I was a full-time pastor, I was consumed with all things church.  Attending meetings, teaching confirmation classes, preparing worship services, writing sermons, visiting the sick and home bound, and the general oversight of the life of the congregation was what filled my days.  Then, I’d go home to my loving husband and my two little girls and I could be wife and mom, except for when I was thinking about church (which was all the time), or exhausted from working 12-13 hour days (which was happening pretty regularly), or fired up about something someone said or did that was stupid/thoughtless/hurtful/manipulative/infuriating (which was also pretty regular), or beating myself up because of something I felt like I should have/could have/would have done if… (which was the rest of the time).

I was lost.  I had no idea who I was any more.  I felt like everyone wanted a piece of me, and had expectations of me that I was supposed to live up to, but felt like I couldn’t do it.  I wasn’t doing anything in my life well.  And that was devastating to me.

So, I decided to take some time off from the one role in my life that was (somewhat) easy (in a logistical sort of way) to leave.  So I resigned my pastoral call to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, and to try to find who I am, what is truly important to me, and what gives me joy.  This blog is a testament to that journey.

I don’t have grand ideas that this little endeavor of mine will take off and go anywhere.  I don’t even know if I will like blogging.  But I am going to try.  Because I want to.  And if no one reads it, so be it.  But if someone does read it, and can relate in some way to my experiences as a wife, pastor, and mom, then maybe we can support, encourage, and commiserate with one another on our journeys.

Photo credit: Memories by Allison Photography