There are lots of things I love about being in ministry.
First of all, just that:"Being in ministry." Really, aren't we all?
Yes, we are. I'm convinced that life itself is, at its best, ministry.
I know that, properly defined, the word points to the work of religion. However, as a verb, it is simple: Attending to the needs of someone.
I think we are the best of ourselves when we are doing that. In my vocation, it is my responsibility to attend to the needs of others, under a spiritual cloak that folds into the grace of Jesus.
I believe that a healthy, honest, authentic life must include self-examination and the acceptance that there is more than what is seen.
I believe that sincerely, completely and wholeheartedly following the teachings of Jesus offers the best, most authentic pathway to what Joel Osteen calls "Your Best Life Now" - except Mr. Osteen and I differ mightily on what constitutes the "best" life.
"Attending to the needs of someone" puts a hierarchy in place. Whether for a moment or a longer period of time, someone other than you takes priority. This is not as easy at it sounds; as humans, our personal needs are made manifest twenty-four hours a day. There's always something we need or want.
But to attend to someone else's needs puts your own at rest, and within that framework is where your best life is found.
In my experience, ministry has been an absolute necessity for my emotional health and any chance at being a productive citizen. Not as a vocation; I'd be okay teaching piano lessons, or back in the classroom. But the lifestyle of ministry - the one that started with the birth of my daughter in 1990 - that lifestyle set my feet upon a path that was quite unfamiliar to this self-absorbed, selfish, proud young woman. I am sad to say that 27 years of life had done little to teach me to die to my self. Unfortunately, I failed to grasp the importance of that concept through marriage, either, to my shame and failure. But woven throughout my life as a mother were the threads of service and submission, born out of great love and immediate necessity.
Motherhood was essential to break me, in ways that needed to be broken. And as so often happens, beautiful things were created out of the dust of that brokenness; there is no thing in this life that gives me more joy than my family.
Thanks be to God.
The seed of faith had been planted much earlier, but the self-abasement that comes out of serving small children - five of them, simultaneously - bred in me a dependence on God. It whittled away at my pride and sense of self and nudged me along a course of purpose for me life that has resulted in a deeper life and vocational ministry.
In some ways, I am shocked to find myself here.
But truth be told, I think I've been headed this way since I was 10 years old.
I've had a few conversations lately with a friend who desperately wants to be in vocational ministry. He wants to do what he sees me and his other church-staff-friends doing; he sees a purpose and a position that he longs for. We are talking in circles, with me unable to understand exactly where the barriers are for him, and him struggling to bring clarity - both for himself and for me. He's bumping into walls, perhaps of his own making; but walls they are, and the pain of the bruises compound the frustration.
So I am thinking much these days about why and how I am in the position I find myself; particularly when in discussion with my friend. And on this post-baptism evening, I am reflecting a bit.
Before marrying Tony, while still living as a single mom of five busy children, I began teaching piano lessons in the dining room of my house. Moms waited in the living room, watching tv or reading alongside my own kids, while I worked patiently through Faber method books with their young musicians. Amie and Leslie were two of those kids. Their mom and I struck up a friendship that all too often ate into lesson time, as we always had too many words and not enough time.
Over six years ago, Amie and Leslie became my students. Today, they are high school students; active, high achievers. Both still take piano lessons, alongside dance and drumline and marching band. One has struggled with a diagnosis of juvenile diabetes that put a slight bump in her life - but not a detour. Their father is waging war against cancer, with all the forces of a prayerful, loving community surrounding him.
Their mom remains one of my favorite women; one who gives me the great gift of honesty and authenticity and reveals the heart of a strong, powerful, doubtful, weak person - the truth of what it means to be human.
This evening, in the long line of the 60-plus people who waited on the boat ramp to be baptized in the James River, Amie and Leslie stood.
And I stood right behind them.
They had signed up to be baptized, went through all the proper channels, and they'd requested me. As the minister.
I came unglued when I got the email.
I was overcome with emotion in the water as well.
The fullness of time; six years of eighth notes, Bach and Beethoven and Katchuturian. Dancing and drumline. Frustration and celebration.
Attending to the needs of these two girls meant spending my gifts and talents to teach and coach and encourage. It meant co-laboring with church music and keyboard settings. It meant being true to my calling to love and honor their mom, their dad, their little brother, their family. It meant serving the church they call home so that they can continually encounter God in a meaningful way, and grow in their understanding of Him and their purpose in His Kingdom.
It means an unspoken, agreed-upon commitment that I'm here for the long run; that should they need anything as they grow into the completeness of the life God has for them, I will be here.
"I baptize you, my sisters..."
Those words were rich and thick with love for me this evening.
Thanks be to God.
They have always had an incredible flair for giving awesome gifts; today, although a surprise, was no exception. I'm not sure what part was Karen and what part was the girls, but she said it was homemade.
I will treasure it, always.