Exodus 3:14 (NRSV): God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’
I’m at the end of a much-needed vacation. During my time away, I took an opportunity to go on a short spiritual retreat. This was to be a time of reconnection and reflection on who I am, who God called me to be and who God made me to be. For a while now, those three were not the same answers.
One day on a prayer walk, I ran into Kevin. We talked about what brought us to this retreat center. Kevin shared how he’d recently been to Ireland, Scotland and be still my spiritual heart…..he visited the Iona Abbey. I about died. That’s where I have set a far away dream to be able to attend this historic and sacred retreat center for Christian faith and worship. Kevin did visit and had a deeply meaningful experience.
A part of his experience, Kevin explained, was how he felt so free to be who God needed him to be and just as important, who Kevin needed to be too. You see, those two answers should match. A Christian called into ministry, needs to follow God’s plan and be passionate about it. I felt the same way about chaplaincy. When I realized God was calling me to be a chaplain, I felt this passion like no other call. Even people at the church I served knew it was the right thing for me and probably before I did.
Kevin asked if I understood what he meant about that feeling of freedom. I said undoubtedly yes. Well, at least I used to. I explained how a part of my calling as a chaplain was to be free to be a voice for the voiceless. As a chaplain, I am not restricted to steeples and pews. My faith, theology and passion are not restricted to the people who occupy the pews and believe the same things. They are entirely open to help and honor any of God’s people in however they need. As a chaplain, there is this freedom to be whoever God needs me to be.
Kevin and I went our separate ways and I reflected on what we talked about. I reflected on the experiences I’ve had these past few months. I’ve used my voice more. God is working to develop the confidence in me to be the voice for the voiceless, yet people got angry. I was not fitting in the comfortable box of beliefs they’ve grown up with. I understand what they were thinking because I no longer fit in the box of beliefs I’d known for 15 years under the bubble of my first church. I became a Christian in 1990. It’s 2015 and I’ve broken through many barriers (several of which were my own) to become the person and chaplain I am now.
After 15 years of studying scripture, reading commentaries, writing papers, creating bible studies, preaching sermons, and earning a Master of Divinity, I’ve come to my own theology through God’s guidance and wisdom. I prayed, searched, knocked, and found answers. Then I had more questions. It’s been incredibly transforming. As Paul reminds us in Romans 12:2, we are not to conform but be transformed by renewing our minds, so we can discern God’s will. I was doing that and will continue to. It was during this time in prayer that I realized I wasn’t fitting into this box people wanted me to fit into. They were angry and disappointed. I was angry and upset.
In the book of Exodus, just before Moses goes to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he wanted to know what to tell them in regards to who sent Moses to lead them. God said, without a question of doubt, “I Am Who I Am.” Exodus 3:14 is arguably one of the strongest statements from the Lord. Five simple words turned into an exclamation point of identification. It is clear God does not want to be put into a box and I am not about to put God in a box either.
With honor and humility, God has sent me here to do what I have been called to do; to care for the grieving, comfort the hurting, be a voice for the voiceless, a bridge for the leper, a heart for the ostracized, and a hand for the fallen. Through empathy, compassion, mercy and grace, (ok, I can work on the grace part) God has equipped my mind, heart and spirit to do just that. If I stay in the comfortable box of restrained expectations, unrealistic standards and beliefs that are not my own, I won’t be able to do what God has asked me to do.
I’ve shared in some recent blog posts (albeit, they were written almost two years ago) what’s been on my heart and mind. God gave me the knowledge, the voice and the written word to do this. I was asked to be a voice for the voiceless, the hurt and the ostracized; specifically, the LGBT community and the motherless. They have both been condemned in the church for being who they are, even though neither group is who they are by choice. Haven’t we all been condemned before? I have – for being a woman, for being overweight, for being single, for being without family, for not having children and most recently, for caring too much.
Could I have handled myself better? Sure I could have. I could have responded instead of reacted and for that I am sorry. I could have explained myself better and I will the next time. But I cannot and will not be sorry for being a voice for what needs to be said. When God called me to be a chaplain, God took the restrictions and restraints away that the church placed on me. God gave me the mind in which I work to cultivate daily. God gave me the spirit of which I’m still learning how to handle appropriately. God gave me the heart in which to care, sometimes too much.
Note: In the practice of full disclosure, I asked God that my heart be hardened because of what’s happened recently. It was broken and I am still healing. God sent three dear people this past week in answer to that prayer. A surgeon friend, a minister friend and a long lost high school friend all said exactly the same thing, “Don’t do that.” These three precious souls said I would not be me if I had a cold and hardened heart.
Hearing that, I now understand that if my heart were hardened, I would not be able to sit at a patient’s bedside. I could not comfort the hurting. I would not have been able to stand next to the one who needed a friend. I could not have sat with the nurses who needed someone to talk to. I would not have heard from those in pain. I could not have been a voice for the voiceless. God asked me to serve, using my heart, mind and spirit. My heart will break again and it will heal with another scar. My spirit will weaken at times and my mind will try to conform. But God will take care of me, provide the necessary healing and then send me back out to do what I’ve been called to do. God will send me out to be who God made me to be, with each experience making me a stronger than before.
You see I am who I am and God wouldn’t want me any other way.