Embracing 2020

I began 2020 with the woman of my dreams in my arms.
I began 2020 eyes squeezed tight out of pure joy.
I began 2020 inviting God to own this year – every single moment of it.
I began 2020 embraced.

Embraced in love from my Creator,
In joy with the love of my life,
In hope for all that is to come,
In delight for this incredible, wild, adventurous life I get to live.

And so my resolution word from 2019 carried me into my resolution word for 2020: embrace.

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I want to embrace all that this year has to offer.
Embrace change.
Embrace love.
Embrace boldness.
Embrace resistance.
Embrace my call.
Embrace my (future) wife.
Embrace healthy living.
Embrace routines and the adjustment of them.
Embrace ministry in all forms.
Embrace the radical and bigger-than-life grace of Jesus Christ more and more.

It’s a big ask. I’m well aware. But, that is part of the significance of a New Year’s resolution in a word. It’s going to stretch me. And challenge me. And break me. And encourage me. And hold me. And help me. There will be times I can celebrate when I’ve done it well. And times I will have to admit I was not keeping it as a priority.  Through it all, I will grow. I have no doubt about that.

Another beautiful part about a New Year’s resolution in a word is that it means so many things. Embrace means to hold someone closely, especially as a sign of affection. It can also mean to accept or support (a belief or change) willingly and enthusiastically. Further, it can mean to include or contain. The synonyms are almost as beautiful as the word itself: hold, cuddle, squeeze, encircle, welcome, adopt, espouse, include, encompass, embody. I want 2020 to be filled with all of these things. Sometimes that will be easier than others. But if I am just one step closer to being a more loving partner, a more present sister, a more attentive daughter, a more daring friend, a more valiant pastor, a more faithful follower of Jesus Christ by the embracing work I do this year, the point of this endeavor will have revealed itself.

So as always, please keep me accountable. Check in. Maybe give me a high-five when I’m embracing well and maybe give me an embrace when I am not embodying my word to the best of my ability. And maybe, just maybe, the world will follow suit and we will all learn to embrace each other a little more, a little better, a little stronger than we did before. For that and so much more, I am praying for 2020.

Get ordained.

Last week I went to a Sunday night service (which is amazing as a pastor to just get to go to service Sunday night and not have to plan it or be in charge of anything). My dear friend, Andrew, preached on the truth that hope can’t wait. As part of the sermon, there were two large sheets of blank paper in the middle of the room. On one, we were asked to write things we hope for – big, small, everything in between. On the other, we were asked to write things we could do now. I sat in my seat for a few minutes and prayed over the ways God might be speaking to me in that moment about hope. When the Spirit moved, I got up and wrote on the paper for things we could do now: get ordained.

This goal has been a process for more than 10 years now. Discerning my call, obtaining the right degrees, gaining experience, praying a lot (like a lot a lot). It’s at the point now where it started to feel like that is a goal I will never reach. I started seminary and had to find a church home. I found a (turned out to be temporary) church home and discovered it was not a safe or sustainable place for me to do ministry. I’m working in an incredible church as pastor for the second year and we’re preparing for me to leave and start all over again in 6 months. Getting ordained started to feel like a goal I will never reach.

But my friend Andrew and the Holy Spirit opened up to me that is just not true. That is something I am doing right now as an act of hope for the future and hope for what God is doing in and through me. As I played music for a good friend’s ordination service last month, I had this powerful sense of “wow, this is what I am called to do – that will be me.” So of course, as something I can do right now, I can get ordained – or at least keep chipping away at the needed steps to there.

So when I get overwhelmed with writing final papers and applying for jobs and shifting pieces around to figure out how on earth my next year is going to work and moving my ordination efforts to the PC(USA), I hold tightly to the truth that my work to get ordained is an act of faith. I trust that God is calling me to this work. That is something no one, no small theology, no general conference, no finite human interpretation can take away from me. Hope can’t wait, so neither will I.

Maybe getting ordained is not your call. Maybe it’s starting a company or writing a book or curing a disease. But in this season of waiting and preparation and expectation, I pray you, too, are challenged to follow that unfailing, steadfast Voice to hold, chase, and live out hope – in Advent and beyond.

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Trouble us.

I recently read a beautiful prayer by Martin Luther that has really stuck with me.

Waken our hearts, O Lord, our God; make them ever watchful to serve You and Your purposes. Trouble us with the smallness of our vision and work. Trouble us with the greatness of Your command to make disciples of all nations. Trouble us with Your great love for sinners and our own slowness to make You our greatest love. Trouble us with the brevity of our lives and time, talent, and treasure not invested in eternity. Comfort us by drawing us to Yourself with the cords of Your unfailing mercy. Comfort us, O Lord, with the assurance of our salvation and unending glory with You when we suffer and are afflicted. Rekindle in us a renewed desire for the coming of Your glorious kingdom when all wrongs will be made right, when everything that is broken will be made whole, and when we will trade a cross for a crown. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

So I decided to write a prayer for myself and for the world, asking for God to move boldly. While it was a challenge, I believe it is also necessary. May it be a blessing to you.

Trouble us, O God.

Trouble us that our perspectives may be shaken, our confidence set aside, and our call to justice renewed.

Trouble us not just to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” but to also offer our jackets and our glasses and our homes and our hearts.

Trouble us to value our uniqueness rather than our greatness.

Trouble us to be faithful, not perfect.

Trouble us to ask hard questions rather than settling for easy or comforting or dismissive answers.

Trouble us, O God, to truly acknowledge the ways in which we are sinners, are silent, are hurtful, are distracted, are broken.

And trouble us that our acknowledgment may move us, call us, drive us to loving, gracious, bold action.

And in the midst of the trouble, comfort us, O Gracious Healer, so that we may have a chance to feel the ground beneath our feet and be reminded of your steadfast love in the face of the trouble.

Comfort us with community and safety and rest.

Comfort us with friends, mentors, and motivators who teach us, challenge us, and model for us the love and action of Jesus.

Comfort us with good theology that lives and breathes and jumps – out of books and minds and institutions, into our hands and hearts and character.

Comfort us with truth and justice and mercy. Comfort us with relationships, homes, churches, spaces of safety, authenticity, and radical inclusion.

Comfort us with places where we can wrestle with questions, doubt, mess, and calling – to find you in the midst of it all.

Most of all, O God, comfort us with the truth and power of the saving death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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Painting: “Comfort” by Edvard Munch, 1907.

Encapsulating All

The past 2 weeks have shown all aspects of ministry. Quite literally, on the morning I was going to participate in a wedding, I got a call that a congregant died. One of the greatest celebrations paired with one of our deepest sorrows. Holding these two occasions in tension is a challenge. And, at the same time, I was honoring one year of being out on social media, leading my senior chapel service at the seminary, celebrating my birthday, and hosting my family. Needless to say, I am tired!

People keep asking me how I’m doing. And it’s a question I’m not sure how to answer at this point. Because, yes, this has all been hard. Yes, I’m exhausted. Yes, the balance is a lot. But as the same time, I’ve had this strange spirit of gratitude in my heart. How beautiful is it that God is with us as we celebrate love at a wedding and as we celebrate life at a funeral? How incredible is it that both of these bookends bring together all kinds of people, from all walks of life, with all of their stories? How amazing is it that the same Gospel, the same Good News, is preached and embodied at both ends of the spectrum, and everywhere in between?

Along the way, I’ve been making small talk with all kinds of people I’ve never met before, and likely will not meet again. We exchange pleasantries of where we’re from, what we do, and how we’re connected to the event. And by this, I’ve been reminded that my story is needed. My story is needed at a wedding. My story is needed at a funeral. My story is needed to declare on public platforms that God sees, affirms, and celebrates queer lives. My story is needed in the average and in the extraordinary. There is a power in sharing our story, no matter how glorious or mundane or challenging it may be. And by proclaiming our story, we get to speak even more to God’s story. We need God’s story to understand forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, presence, and love. We need God’s story to step back into the reality that we are loved and we are enough, as is our neighbor. We need God’s story to ground us when the balance is too heavy or the tension is too tight.

So as I step into another week of sitting with the sick, standing up for the marginalized, declaring the Good News, and celebrating the gift of love,  I challenge myself and those around me to bring our stories into our work. Bring our full selves so that God may continue to use us for the greater transformation of all of our hearts. We are needed, friends – in the joy and in the sorrow. And as we put all of who we are into this challenging, noble, vulnerable work, may we remember God is encapsulated in it all.

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Summer Greek, a reflection

I had a hard time choosing joy the last 8 weeks. Intensive summer Greek is just that: intense. Balancing pastoring, memorizing, homework, and being a human, I found nearly all of my limits in the last 8 weeks. Shout-out to all the incredible people living with me, completing homework with me, loving me, dating me, or attending my church for all of the support you extended to me in this season.

Amidst all of my frustration and anxiety and overwhelmedness, there was one word. One word that made the experience worth it (outside of the great people I got to hang with and the 6 required credits I knocked out in 8 weeks). χαρίζομαι. To give or forgive.

In the text book, there’s a theological definition included for this word, to graciously give.

Of course we talked through the historical context of the times that the scriptures were written and the common usage of the word. It was explained that graciously give is simply a product of Christian theologians way after the fact. We should translate it as to give or forgive.

But I disagree. As someone who benefits day in and day out from grace, I think our giving and our forgiving should be gracious. No matter the time period we’re in or the faith we hold. And in the midst of this broken world with the amazon on fire and the tragedy of the cruelty against immigrant lives on the border and rampant discrimination based on skin color, economic status, country of origin, and sexual orientation, we need grace and we need to be gracious to one another.

So I pray whatever season you find yourself in, you find the spirit of χαρίζομαι. Relish in it for yourself and share it generously with others. For it is up to us to bring the spirit of grace to the world.

 

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In the everyday

A little over a year ago I stepped into my first pastoral appointment. I’ve spent the last 365 days leading worship, preaching, doing pastoral care, attending committee meetings (lots of committee meetings), completing paperwork (lots of paperwork), and all around learning about how life works as a pastor. This year has stretched me in more ways than I ever imagined. I have preached more, laughed more, claimed “I don’t know” more, cried more, stared into nothing waiting for inspiration more, researched “Methodist polity” more, and loved more in the last year than I thought possible.

Yesterday I served communion for the first time in the same church I walked cluelessly into a year ago. With full authority to officiate the sacraments to this little community. This authority does not mean I magically know all of the answers or that I will never stumble or that I will always be confident in my call and in my leadership. However, this authority has given me important perspective. So as I served these kind people and my friends and my parents and my partner, a new level of understanding of the depth of this work hit me.  This is serious work. This is meaningful work. This is hard work. And this work is not about me. Because this work is a tangible connection of the sacred meeting our every day, meaning God’s moving so we must get out of the way.

So even though I am drowning in exhaustion from Ancient Greek class and pastoral juggling and settling into a new house, I am choosing to delight. This work is why I was created. This work is my incredibly small but incredibly important contribution to this broken world. And this work will sustain me, even when I am clueless or overwhelmed or at a loss. In this brief moment of rest, I am stuck on God’s unconditional love for us, God’s relentless pursuit of us, and God’s unbelievable desire to be in relationship with us – all of this showing up in the every day. May we aspire to live in kind.

 

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Check In

Life has been a little nuts.

But today was the first time in months that life slowed down (or at least pretended to). And it was glorious! I had time to check things off my ever-growing to do list. I had time to look through my boxes in my house that I’ve “lived in” for the last month. I did laundry. I went grocery shopping. I put AC units in windows (which should have probably been done much sooner). I sent emails that have been on my list for weeks. Really, I just had time to check in with how I’m doing and how things are going.

And it wasn’t until I was in the car on the way home from dinner to celebrate my co-pastor’s last day that I realized why today was so nice. It was like a running commentary in my head. I feel peaceful. No. I feel calm. No. I feel full. No. I feel delight. Yes! But rather than feeling accomplished for finding the right word (which is honestly a huge accomplishment for a pastor on a Sunday), I was disappointed. My word for the year is delight. It’s written at the top of my to do list – I see it every single day. And it was the last thing on my mind. Now I know what you’re thinking, what about grace, Kelly? Yes. There is grace! And there is flexibility. And there’s the reality that 97% of humanity does not keep New Years resolutions.

However, I do find it important to name that I’m not just disappointed that my yearly word hasn’t been primarily on my mind. I’m disappointed that I’ve been doing everything but delighting. De-escalating, decompressing, debating, debriefing, delaying, deflating – yes. But delighting, unfortunately not. I’m coming to find that most of that has to do with timing. Running around trying to do everything for everyone and read all the books you’ve ignored while playing all of the extracurricular instruments you’ve also ignored and magically be rested as you do it all – that is not the prime environment for delighting.

So I need your help. I know I will continue to have many days unlike today. Days where I am overwhelmed or overworked or over-committed. And I need good people like you to check in. Check in to see how I’m delighting. Check in to make sure I’m creating a home and a vocation and a schedule that allow me to delight. Check in to remind me there are greater, more beautiful, more exceptional things at work. Because today, I had time to do that for myself. But that’s rarely the case. So I’m being brave and I’m asking for help. Because God did not put us in this life to do it all by ourselves. So this is your invitation. Delight with me, friends!

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(Featuring a beach pic because I finally got to delight in the sunshine yesterday!)

Work

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“If you ever find yourself seeing your ministry as work rather than worship, take a step back”
These words came of my mouth seamlessly as I gave some advice to first year seminary friends about their upcoming transition to second year. And yet I had to laugh. Because the advice was really for me. Second year of seminary is a bear for a lot of reasons. These were reasons I knew about but didn’t really know until a few weeks ago, which, yes, is too late because second year is now officially over.
So now I’m in this reflective phase, taking inventory of my growth and struggles and excitements for what’s ahead. I’m making lists (I’m still me after all so of course lists are involved) of things that went well, things I’d like to keep pursuing, things I’d like to add on, things I want or need to do differently. And I laughed to myself on Sunday as I did the welcome at my church, explaining how important worship is and what a joy it is for me as a pastor and as a fellow worshipper, because I realized all of my reflections can be summed up in that one sentence advice I gave to friends a few weeks ago: If you ever find yourself seeing your ministry as work rather than worship, take a step back.
This year has brought so many challenges and delights and incredible lessons. I have never worked so hard in my life. But I realized I do not want that to be how I feel as I reflect again a year from now. I don’t want to champion myself for working really hard. I want to celebrate a year of ministry and worship. I want to celebrate a year of becoming a better pastor, better friend, better partner, better student, better follower of Christ. I want to celebrate my life’s calling, not just my life’s work.
I don’t know if this resonates with anyone else. I could imagine we all need a reminder that we are more than just work. But even if I’m the only one, I am excited by the opportunity to continue to delight in my calling and truly worship.

Cost

I worry about money. I worry about money more than I should. And I worry about money even though I know in my mind I am secure in what I have. There’s been something about the last few weeks that I have just been preoccupied with cost. Maybe it’s because I’m getting ready to move out of the dorm into a house, which will require me to pay for more gas, more groceries, and more everyday house items. Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the semester and I’m counting the cost of the time I have and the work I have to get done. Maybe it’s because everyone in the world is getting married and I’m trying to figure out which weddings I can squeeze out of my wallet and my PTO to attend.

But amidst all of my recent worry about money and cost, today hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m too worried and I’m too worried about the wrong things. It’s Holy Week. So if we’re really going to break down costs that people have and are enduring, my measly list from above is nothing in comparison to let’s say Mary pouring out ridiculously expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet as preparation for his burial or, you know, Jesus’ life as cost for our own. And this all hit me today as I sat in a beautiful chapel service put on by a dear friend where she challenged us to feel the weight of what all this week means to us as those who believe. She hit the nail on the head that so many of us sitting in that chapel have already understood cost; we gave up a lot to come to this school to get this degree to do this work for this relatively small salary. We understand on some level or another that following Jesus and answering his call is costly.

As I shook my head in agreement with these beautiful and powerful statements she was making, I also had this feeling stirring in my gut and these tears welling in my eyes. I have been so obsessed with cost – whether it’s money or time or even the cost of coming out in the last year – that I’ve lost sight of what it is the cost is for. It’s been super easy to give myself break after break, acknowledging all the work I’ve been doing and how hard this semester has been and all of the craziness that’s hit like the perfect storm in the last few months. And while I give myself break after break, I’ve missed that other people around me are also sacrificing, are also worried about making ends meet, are also devastated by denominations and ordination processes and the church, are also bearing the cost of living lives in pursuit of justice. Even worse, this focus on cost has completely distracted me from who I am and whose I am.

This semester has been so hard because I am doing work that I am both passionate about and called to. This semester has been so hard because I have invested in my future. This semester has been so hard because I have taken the risk to be vulnerable for the sake of building strong, lasting relationships. This semester has been so hard because I’ve had to engage creative muscles I have never used before. These last few months have been the most trying in my life, but it has all been for the most noble of causes: to witness to and bask in the love of Jesus Christ.

So I hope you are also finding yourself wrestling with Holy Week, not jumping straight from celebration to celebration. I hope you are also being challenged and stretched and called to new and incredible things beyond your imagination. And I hope, no matter where you are and what you’re going through, that you can join me in the sun that is about to rise, declaring new life for us all, helping us to remember what this cost is truly about.

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Someone Else’s Decision

I know I have not yet fully embraced all of my emotions responding to the process and the outcome of the United Methodist General Conference that just wrapped up on Tuesday. But I know it’s important to both acknowledge and surrender the emotions I do recognize to the God who is bigger than any church or conference or hateful/oppressive/exclusionary speech and/or theology. This is my best attempt to reconcile with those emotions.
Someone else called a conference
A conference of 820 or so people to debate
Debate “the future of the denomination”
“The mission of the church”
“What the Bible really says”
What that means was someone else called a conference for a bunch of someone elses
     to debate my call
Those someone elses decided I am unfit for ministry
Their decision was that my life is incompatible with Christian teaching
Their decision drew the line in the sand that people like me can only go so far as to
     be baptized and nothing more
Their decision brutally attacked not only my call but also my humanity
Their decision tried to restrict the love of God
Someone else’s decision took away my opportunity to serve
     in the church God called me to
HOWEVER
Those someone elses forgot the heart of the work they were doing, the mission of the church, the future of God’s love
They forgot they are not the ones who get to decide.
God is the one who knit me together in my mother’s womb
God is the one who looks at me and calls me good, queer identity and all
God is the one who inspired scriptures for us to wrestle with – wrestle that is until we
     start to understand the depth of the love God has for us and all of creation
God is the one who leads us and teaches us and makes us disciples
God is the one who speaks through me on Sunday mornings as I proclaim
     the Good News
And God is the one who calls me to ministry still. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
It takes everything in me to trust that call over the very loud, very ugly call of the
     United Methodist Church
It takes everything in me to not have a plan right now
It takes everything in me to wait for God’s voice to hear where I’m supposed to go
It takes everything in me to love the people who have taken my rights, my career,
     my dignity away by voting or standing with a theology that lacks full affirmation
It takes everything in me
It takes everything in me
BUT you better darn well believe I will give keep giving everything in me for the sake of spreading the love of God. Because that is why I was created. Because God’s voice is so much more powerful and so much more true and so much more worthy than any of the voices of the someone elses. And for that, I will continue to give everything in me.
I don’t know where I’ll be ordained.
I don’t know where I will live next year or work next year or worship next year.
I don’t know how long it’ll take for my heart to be healed of these very deep wounds, from the people who voted this terrible plan in place and from all of the people with non-affirming theologies who tried to tell me this will all be okay.
I don’t know how to best care for my LGBTQ+ siblings who are also tremendously hurt right now.
I don’t know what God is going to do with the United Methodist Church.
All I know is that I am loved. I am enough. And I am called. Just as I am. Someone else’s decision can not change that.
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