Breaking Bread Together

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 

Matthew 26:26-28 (NIV)

estes-chapel-communion-table

I love celebrating Communion. I love the liturgy.  I love the ritual of the sacrament, the tradition of it. I love that the words are the same as those I grew up with, even though I am in a different faith tradition now. I love that there is a deep sense of connection, not just to my own past, but a connection to the saints over the centuries, celebrating and worshiping as they did so long ago.

I was able to help serve Communion just a few weeks ago in chapel. The following Sunday was Children’s Sunday at church and my oldest daughter was able to serve communion on that Sunday. It filled my heart with joy to watch her bless every person, offering them the elements. What a difference her life in the church will be compared to what I grew up knowing!  She will be able to be a full participant in the celebration and worship, and I am thankful to know that will be a part of her future. As someone who grew up in a faith tradition where women were only allowed to be present at worship, but not allowed to do anything with the service, it brings me to tears to watch her joyfully serve.

Communion is one of the elements of worship that I connect with on an emotional level. It brings a tangible presence to the service, and makes worship a more sensory experience.  The taste of bread, the sweetness of the juice, the visceral connection to the heavens is what makes it such a beautiful experience for me.

And it touches my soul deeply when I am able to offer the elements to others. I feel it is an intimate connection to the other to join with them in celebrating the Lord’s supper. Being able to remind another of the sacrifice of body and blood, given for them, given for me, is humbling and grace-filled. I have a hard time keeping it together, not crying as I am serving. I am honored to have that moment to connect with each person there, worshiping God together, offering our broken selves to the Lord, and accepting the grace and mercy that comes with the bread and juice.

If you have never allowed yourself to fully immerse in the sense of awe and humility that Communion can offer, give yourself over to it the next time you are able to partake. Feel the presence of Spirit in that moment, allow yourself to connect to the Creator and the lover of your soul.  Perhaps it may strike you anew the sacrifice made on your behalf. Perhaps you may be bowed low, awestruck with the realization of how much you…yes, you…are loved, abundantly. Loved to the point that God came down from the heavens, lived in this broken and hurting world, experienced shame, torture, and death, all to triumph over death and sin to restore His relationship with us, His people, His beloved. And me? I’ll be crying in corner, awestruck and humbled, too.

photo courtesy of Asbury Seminary Chapel

Whispers

Over the past few weeks, I have heard  a whisper in my heart. I have heard a murmuring, and it is causing me to be amused and a little off kilter, as I am feeling God’s nudging to move out of my comfort zone and step out with faith.

About a month ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a conference in Atlanta. A sweet friend invited me to join her, and once I heard who the speakers were that would be there, I really couldn’t say no. It was several days of renewal and refreshment for my soul, and a chance to grow in deeper friendship with the woman I attended with.  The conference is aimed at those in ministry  who are leaders, and the conference is aptly named “Catalyst” as it does create within one a condition for change, for growth. Between the fantastic preaching, the wonderful worship time led by Matt Redman (!!) and one of the lead singers from Hillsong, and awesome speakers, I began to hear God’s sweet whispers to me, leading me, guiding me.

I was convicted several times over the course of the three days, realizing that I was not fully living into the call of where I am now, right at this point of life. The fact this conference was meant for leaders was not lost on me. I do not consider myself a leader….far from it. However, one of the speakers defined a leader as one who has influence. And don’t we all have that? Don’t we all have an influence, leave an impression upon those we live with, work with, love? Don’t we all all have, at least limited, influence upon the community in which we live?

A leader…no, not so much. But an influencer? Yeah, I can see that. That is a word that resonated more soundly with me.

The following week I took a spiritual gifts inventory, as part of the healing prayer ministry training that I am involved in. Faith and mercy were my top two gifts, according to this test. And yes, I get those. I very much live in faith….because after the life I have led, that is really all I can rely on.  And mercy, well, my heart aches for others, and I have always had deep empathy for the other, and I have been shown so much mercy and grace through this life, so that one I get too. But my third strongest gift was “pastoring” and I literally laughed out loud as I read that. Pastoring means preaching, exhorting the word of God, passing on knowledge, and well…preaching.  Right? Ugh.

So. not. me.

However, as was explained to me as we were talking about our gifts, pastoring isn’t just the act of preaching. That may be what we think of immediately when we hear the word pastor, but really what pastoring is is shepherding. Caring for others. Guiding. Leading. Again, that word….lead.

Again, so. not. me.

Just last week, another nudge, another gentle push. I had another person speak into my life, tell me specifically that, even though they knew I pushed back from the word “pastor” that they saw me as being gifted in that area. They saw me as a leader, as someone who gently guides others. Someone who cares enough about others that they desire to bring them alongside, and grow in faith with them.

Now, before you think I am bragging up myself, let me tell you that I don’t accept compliments or positive affirmations well. I try to shrug them off or brush them aside.  The word “leader” makes this introvert want to run screaming far, far away. But I also know that when words keep repeating themselves, when the same themes seem to keep running through my day to day life, I know I need to listen, to focus and try to understand what the message is. I need to pay attention to where the invitation to growth lies.

As we start to wrap up our time here in Kentucky, I am starting to realize more and more how formative this experience has been for me, and how much I have grown in my faith.  I have always known I would be supporting JJ in ministry, and doing what I could to help, but lately it has been pressed upon me that it will also be my ministry, and ours together. That, even though I am not the one taking classes and working through the ordination process, our family is going into ministry.

Together.

This will be an adventure for the entire family, and I can only live in the hope that we can do it well, honoring God with the willing hearts that we have.  As my husband steps into the role of a pastor, there comes with that a lot of assumptions for me and my role as the “pastor’s wife.”

No, I don’t play the piano or organ. No, I won’t make a good church secretary. No, I won’t volunteer to lead or be on every committee or do nursery care every week. No, you are not going to get a “2 for 1” deal, expecting me to work for the church for free.

I do intend on having boundaries, both for myself and for our family, but I also intend fully to participate in my husband’s ministry, in our ministry, with a joyful and willing heart, just as he has and will continue to support me in the work that I do.  As we think and dream about what our future will look like, I am excited to partner with him in ministry. Our giftings compliment one another well, and I do look forward to helping him, joining him, leading with him, but in my own way and through my own, unique giftings.

As I have received so many affirmations lately, so many nurturing and encouraging words, they have been a catalyst to change within. There is an awareness, and an invitation to grow and develop in certain areas, and so, no, I may not feel like a leader, but I know that I am being equipped to guide gently, to  help others grow, to help others heal.  And I am joyfully leaning into that, as I listen to what is being whispered to my soul.

And I am thankful.

Click, click, click

There is a sinking feeling in your stomach when you try to start your car, one that was running just fine 15 minutes before, and all you hear is a click…click….click…  No sound of the engine turning over, no blowing of the heat, no music from the radio. Just silence. And a click, click, click.

Vehicle problems are the bane of our existence. And when you only have one vehicle on which you rely, well, it definitely makes things even more interesting.

My husband drove to church this morning, came home, grabbed the kiddos to get them to their rehearsal for the next church service and came back home. During the mile of traveling, the speedometer went wonky, so he looked online how to fix it. A few minutes of tinkering, and voila! Speedometer back to normal. Great job, honey!

But, wait! Why won’t the car start now?? oh, crap….what did you do??

Cursing, muttering under my breath, and generally unhappy, I call a friend to give us a ride back to church, so that we can join our children there. The husband finds a neighbor to give him a jump start, hoping that will do the trick and he can run to the nearest supercenter and buy a new battery.

Jumper cables on. Nothing. A few minutes go by. Nothing.

Ugh.

We head off to church, catching a ride from friends. I can’t say how my husband was feeling, but I was in a general state of…well, grumpiness would be an understatement.  It was children’s day in church, and the kids put on the entire service, with the exception of the sermon and a bit of the communion liturgy. What should have been a joyous celebration of the fact that our children were not only involved, but finding joy in serving and being an integral part of worship, was stifled by my worry over our silly car, and the expense it will bring. My mind wouldn’t focus on the message, and the frustration spilled over.

And it is just a silly car. And just money. Yes, we live with pretty limited funds, but we are so rich compared to so many. I can lose perspective of that so quickly, when one of life’s hiccups happen. It stresses me out, and my faith is tested, even in these little things.

And I am ashamed of that fact. I am ashamed that my faith wavers, even slightly, during these times of minor inconveniences. I am ashamed that my attitude doesn’t resemble anything Christ-like, and my mind and thoughts run foul. I am convicted of this as I think about those with real trials, real challenges in their lives. My life gets derailed by a minor inconvenience…how would I handle a real tragedy? Would bitterness and anger overwhelm me and poison those around me?

I am struck hard as I receive another e-mail, convicted anew as I realize how trivial my problems are compared to those around me. A family in our community just lost an infant daughter, a sweet girl whose body was born broken, and whose time in this earthly realm was far too short. How can I bemoan the inconveniences of a car problem when there are those, just down the street from me, whose entire lives have been wracked in pain and suffering over the past few weeks? How selfish can I be? As I read through the e-mail planning lunch for after the baby’s funeral, I am wracked with guilt over being so self-absorbed and selfish.

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I am finishing this post the day after the baby’s funeral.  I have never witnessed anything quite as heart-wrenching as seeing this tiny girl’s body in a tiny little coffin.  There is something….wrong….about the fact that coffins exist in that size, that they make them in child and infant size.  This was the first time I have attended a funeral for an infant or child, and it was hard. It just isn’t right, isn’t fair, and I was…I am…. overwhelmed by the senselessness of it all.

But, in the midst of it, I was overcome by the grace and faith that this family has in their Savior, knowing full well they will see their sweet baby on the other side of the veil, faithful in the fact that her three short weeks of life were a miracle and a testimony of love. Oh, to be in the midst of such a strong faith in the midst of mourning was amazing to behold.  As her father spoke about the miracle that her life was, my soul cried out in worship and praise, grateful for the faith that the family can lean in to and be comforted by, and thankful for their hearts that believe in the Resurrection and the hope it brings.

And I can’t help but wonder, how would I react? Would I be able to be such a powerful witness to the miracle and life found in Christ in the midst of mourning, or would my reaction be the exact opposite? As I look at how I reacted to the inconvenience of a dead car battery, how could I possibly think that I would exude faith and grace in a time of tragedy?

I can’t help think but this is just one more way that God is forming me, shaping me, giving me an awareness of where I need to grow, where I need to work on myself.  The journey of formation is a never-ending one, and every moment, every situation, is an invitation to connect with the Creator. As I continue to grow in awareness of my shortcomings and failings, I also grow in an awareness that I do not have to continue to live into those shortcomings and failings. Instead, I am afforded the opportunity to change, to be molded and shaped, to grow in faith and thanksgiving, to love more fully and deeply, and to allow myself to be open to how the Lord is working in powerful ways in my life.

Whether it be the minor inconveniences of the world, or the tragedies that wound one’s soul deeply, I pray that God continues to invite me to grow in the midst of them, that in His gentle and loving way, He continues to invite me to be formed and transformed.

And the click…click….clicks of the world will not wreck me.