Here is another one of those entries that starts with, “It’s been a while since I’ve written….”. I don’t have a great excuse as to why, but I’ve had many encounters over the past weeks that caused me to reflect and consider. Since I wrote last, I finished my residency. Much has happened since then and I struggled for a while with what to share with you. I can reflect on my retreat/vacation time away and the emptiness that I discovered. I can reflect on the service, sacrament, and ordinance of communion- or the Eucharist. I can write about my worshiping at Richmond Hill and First Baptist and just beginning to find peace and comfort in those settings and dare i say, with God. I can write about my favorite professor and mentor, Dr. Israel Galindo “Ode to Galindo; All He Taught Me.” That will come in time, much to his dismay. 🙂 I can write about prayer retreats, worship services, coffees and conversations, expanding the circle, connecting with old friends, and stew master cousins. I can write about my time in unemployment while I am searching and finding where God is leading me. I can write about the many photos I’ve taken in the last 6 weeks and how I’ve fallen in love with Richmond all over again. I can share about the family I was honored and privileged to officiate at their wedding and taking photos of their growing little ones. There is a lot I can talk about and I will in due time. But today it’s about something else.
As I’ve learned to express my views a bit more on Facebook, people are starting to learn more of who I am and what I believe. Last weekend after one of the debates, many of us were bantering back and forth about the candidates and having a fun time, when someone messaged me privately and called my Christianity and calling as a minister into question because of what I believe and how I vote. Suddenly, the fun time stopped. The individual went as far as to say I needed to reread the Bible, specifically the New Testament and invited me out for coffee so they could talk to [at] me about it, since they were brought up in a Christian household and knew the Bible. I am fine with talking about scripture and having a civil conversation about our theology and biblical interpretation. But when you question my Christianity and ministerial calling without just cause, then I know it’s not going to be a two person civil conversation. I did not grow up in a Christian household, however I do have 20 years of studying and researching scripture, teaching about it, preaching about it and learning how to grow and live into it every day. I might know a little something.
Anyway, this questioning of my Christianity and calling sat with me like an overindulged Mexican dinner. I realized that this is why I don’t share my opinions and such because I get judged. Admittedly, this is a fault I have. I wanted to please everybody, or at least keep things calm. I wasn’t confident in my own place of standing when it came to what I believed so that didn’t help. Look at my past and you can see why. But I’ve learned a lot about keeping my mouth quiet for such a long time. I kept quiet too and believed what I was told.
After last weekend, I wrote and wrote. I wrote about all the times I was shamed, judged, degraded, ignored, made to feel like an imbecile, worthless and stupid; or told I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or perfect enough. These times stemmed from childhood and the lack of a perfect grade or the perfect personality, to recent years and my lack of leading a perfect worship service or lack of a “truly” divine calling because of my weight or lack of a male – well, you get the picture. I won’t even mention all the conversations I had with myself because I started to believe what they told me. I typed up five pages and was ready to post it with my command to be different and be happy and screw anybody who tells you otherwise. Then I stopped and wondered what my motive was. Was it a lesson learned or a chance to hurt those from my past? Yes, I thought about all those people and times when I didn’t speak up and should have. Was I going to speak up now for all the times I didn’t? More importantly, did I believe what I was told and is that why I didn’t speak up? I thought about this all week. I talked about the situation with a couple of friends and with God. I prayed about it and wondered what I was learning from it – from all of it.
Over the past 19-20 months I have been in a constant search of who I am, who God wants me to be and where God wants me to go. I did provide a momentary civil response to the individual last week. I said, I am not a Christian but I am a follower of Christ. Then I made a status update, “I am a believer in Christ, the Jesus Christ who told me to love my neighbor, to feed the poor, to help the helpless and to love and care for those who are chastised and left on the side of the road to bleed and suffer from the beating they took. I’ve been one of those people and I am called to help those who have lost their voice, just like I lost my voice. I have worked too hard to gain it back and NOBODY will take it away from me. NOBODY!” Ok. I may have reacted a little but then I reflected. As a chaplain and follower of Christ, I am called to sit beside those who are hurting and be whatever presence, spirit, or comfort they need me to be, while I still honor what Christ taught me, and honor the God who called me to be there. I am called to be a voice for the voiceless and that includes the voice that was missing in me.
You know, I just thought about something. I thought about a conversation I had on Friday with a good friend. We talked of all things, sin and salvation. It was a great discussion and I felt confident about what I said and believed. My friend didn’t look at me differently. In fact, my friend listened intently and with care and respect. Not surprised at all, because I receive that with all of our conversations. Oddly enough this moment was different than our past discussions, at least to me. Before I didn’t participate as much as I could have because I didn’t feel “prepared” enough, smart enough or capable enough to have an equal level conversation with our coffee. I was ashamed and wondered if I had something to contribute. Probably not, so I will just agree and nod, with a few comments here and there. I apologize to my friend for not holding up my end of the conversation and growth, and I promise it won’t happen again. Just hold me accountable for when it does.
And I ask all my friends and colleagues the same. When you think I am not giving my all, or questioning my own voice, push me. Don’t push me off the cliff, but push me to know that what I have to say matters and what I have to give is just as important because God made that voice in me, to speak and stand for those who can’t – including me.
Saturday, I took part in a Prayer Retreat at First Baptist. We focused on the prayer of discernment and listening to God. I had a conversation with a participant who is discerning where God is leading his career and path, much like me. He asked my counsel and had questions of how I discern where God is leading me. Why ask me? He thought I had something to offer and in the midst of my questioning where God was taking me, he reminded me of what I said, “Are you listening to what you are telling me? Because it sounds like good advice.” Maybe it was. It was an affirming day that capped off an affirming week of ministry and reflection for what I’ve done.
This week, I spent time with some wonderful nurses and therapists, enjoying fellowship, laughter and affirmation of our care for others. I took photos for a family I married three years ago and saw my affirming love for them in their children. I sat and prayed with a friend who was in need of someone who listened. I met with someone to discuss how we can reach out to those that are bullied and doing the bullying so teen suicide can end. I spoke about what I have to offer as a chaplain, and learned to believe that this is indeed a precious gift from God. A photo of mine was auctioned off to raise money for pediatric cancer’s CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation. I participated in a conversation of theology and compassion, and it didn’t matter how I voted or what I believed. I took part in a day of prayer where I gave and listened to the same advice. I met with a family who wants me to do an interfaith blessing/dedication of their one-year-old son next weekend and I received an email from the mother who said God led me to them. It was a week of looking in the mirror at all that God has done in my life, for others and for me.
Hmm. Maybe I did learn something from the individual who called my Christianity and ministry into question. I learned that I am indeed a follower of Christ; called to be a minister, a chaplain, and a compassionate servant. I will be judged and that is ok. God will speak up for me through my heart and through my work. I don’t need to do anything else but believe in the One who believes in me and believe in the person that God made in me. That’s not a bad lesson to learn.