What does Ministry look like?

Psalm 78:70-72 (NIV)

He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens;
from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his
people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance.
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
with skillful hands he lead them.

**italics for my own depth of meaning

So I was asked recently what my ministry moving forward might look like.  Part of this conversation was also about tracing my past and looking for the nudges or signs that may be or may have been pointing me towards a call that though seemingly new, perhaps isn’t.  What moves me?  Why is there freedom for me in this call?

So, I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about it.  The thing is, ministry has been my life for pretty much my entire life.  I feel like the decisions I’ve made and who I am are all because of ministry and living out my life as a child of God.  A Christian.

I need to go back and read my journals, because I would probably gain much insight in doing so, but without going there yet (since this would require unearthing them-I’ve been journaling since a very young age), it occurs to me that I’ve had leadership roles in ministry since I was a teenager.  I’ve never really considered this.

When I was a member of the Church of Christ, I was actually a teen leader, given the role of discipler (a Christian mentor of sorts) to others.  I attended church leadership meetings, prayed, went to Bible study, church services and youth group.  This was just all a part of my regular life.  I was 15-16 years old.

Later, when I became friends with Father Mike and started learning, studying and falling in love with the Roman tradition, I was lead to volunteering my time and talents as a musician.  Leading the music during the mass and later helping plan mass for special occasions, such as weddings and funerals as well as holidays was just part of my life.

Then, when I was asked to consider being a section leader for the choir at Union Church in Hinsdale (UCC denomination), I was again in a leadership role, serving the church through music.  Helping church members, family, friends and acquaintances with music and scripture for weddings and/or funerals became part of my normal life.  It was common for me to do 3-4 services a weekend at church.

Through nursing school and living in Michigan this continued.  Different parishes, but somehow I found myself doing the same ministry.  Somehow ministry in the church and ministry at the bedside intertwined quite well…naturally, even.  The first time I assisted a priest from prelude to recessional for a service, I was 20 years old.  I’ve been doing this ever since.  I find true joy and love in this work.  So, when I think about what ministry might look like as a priest, it looks like this…

Being with, teaching and sharing with those around me the joy and security I have found as a child of God and hopefully imparting some of this love, hope and faith to others.

It’s holding the hand of someone leaving this life and moving to the next, providing whatever solace and comfort I may – singing, holding or just being present. [Blessing]

It’s planning the funeral of that same person, beloved of God, with the faith that there is LIFE after death. [Blessing]

It’s meeting at the table every week, perhaps more, and sharing a sacred meal.  A reminder of the grace and life bestowed on us, through us and in us, because we are loved that much.

It’s sharing the joys of new life (pregnancy, birth, baptism) and sharing God in the midst of it all. [Blessing]

It’s skipping dinner because someone is hurt, broken or hurting and needs support.  It’s making sure we both get dinner afterwards.

I’ve only touched bits and pieces, but these ring loud and clear for me.  I think this is actually parish ministry, pastoral ministry, shepherding.  I’ve done some of this work in the ICU, in another house. But, if God can call David from the sheep pens to shepherd and lead his people…I suppose it’s not so far off for God to call a nurse from the hospital to minister in a parish.

With regards to this seeming freedom I have with this call.  I’m not as free as one might think.  I’ve struggled, cried, fought and asked God what on earth he was thinking?!?!  But, when it all comes down to it.  I love God with my entire being.  I trust this God more than anyone else.  I believe God has a plan, not to harm, but for hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

As the lyric comes quickly from A Living Prayer by Alison Krauss

In your love I find release
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer my God to thee.

I’ve been singing this prayer for years now with my entire being.  Giving my life to God, who has given it to me, feels humbling…but also secure and natural.  I have always been his.

I’ll close with this hymn based on Psalm 5:8

Lead Me, Lord
Music by: Samuel Sebastian Wesley

Lead me Lord, lead me in Thy righteousness,
make Thy way plain before my face.
For it is Thou, Lord, Thou Lord only,
that makest me to dwell in safety.

Lead me Lord, lead me in Thy holiness,
teach me to love and trust in Thee.
Thou art our God, the God of our salvation,
all nations shall praise Thy holy name.

Lead Me

Blessings and Peace to you this day.  May you find hope, clarity and faith in your own journey today.

Looking for Faith

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.  ~Mathew 21:22

Faith:  Complete trust and confidence in someone or something.  Belief that is not based on proof.

You may wonder why I’m reflecting on faith.  I’ve had a difficult time being still enough in body, mind, and heart to write these last few weeks.  It’s been a whirlwind rollercoaster with ups and downs.

Good Friday, April 18, 2014, really was a good day for me.  I went to the doctor’s office in the morning to have my pregnancy test.  I took Freddie (my dog) out when I got home, and while coming in was told that I had a flower delivery.  Really?  I wondered who on earth would send me flowers.  I got the package and opened the note.  My friend Karin had sent them to me with a note that said:  “Just because I’m thinking of you.”  I promptly burst into tears.

It was at this point that I began to wonder if I was pregnant.  I’ve never cried over flowers.  Gotten excited and full of smiles, yes.  Cried non-stop, not so much.  The phone rang at 11:50am and caller ID said it was FCI.  I’d never received a call so early with any lab results, so my first thought was “Oh no!  They need to do a re-draw.  Something was wrong with the specimen.”  “Hello?”  The other voice replied, “Congratulations!”  “Who is this?”  “It’s Fran, you’re pregnant!”  Me, I was speechless, and of course I started crying again.  I got off of the phone and texted my husband the great news, who was waiting at work with bated breath.  This is my very first pregnancy.  Ever.

It was Good Friday, and I had work to do as well.  I was to chant the Passion at CHN, my church.  It’s a beautiful service that ends in darkness and candlelight as we venerate the cross.

Veneration of the Cross

I did chant the Passion that night, and here at the foot of the cross Thanked Jesus for giving me life.  As I cried, my priest put her arm around me and I whispered, “I’m pregnant.”….and so we both cried and held each other.  Blessed.

Saturday, April 19th, came and with it The Great Easter Vigil.  We had no deacon this year, and I was honored to be asked to sing the Exultet, an opening proclamation of sorts, at our service at CHN.  I would like to share the words, so you can conceive what this newly-found pregnant woman was singing…

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout Salvation for the victory of our King.  Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, bright with a glorious splendor, for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.  Rejoice and be glad now, Mother church, and let your holy courts in radiant light resound with the praises of your people.  All you who stand near this marvelous and holy flame, pray with me to God the Almighty for the grace to sing the worthy praise of this great light; through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit one God, forever and ever, Amen.

It is truly right and good, always and everywhere, with our whole heart and mind and voice to praise you, the invisible, almighty and eternal God, and your only begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the true Paschal Lamb, who at the feast of the Passover paid for us the debt of Adam’s sin, and by his blood delivered your faithful people.  This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and lead them through the Red Sea on dry land.  This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.  This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.  How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son.  How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away.  It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.  It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.  How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.  Holy Father, accept our evening sacrifice, the offering of this candle in your honor.  May it shine continually to drive away all darkness.  May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find it ever burning – he who gives light to all creation, and who lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.

All I can say about that is Thank You.

Fast forward to Wednesday, April 30th, our first ultrasound.  I was exactly 6 weeks to the day.

Twins!  One embryo had a definite yolk sac and the other did not.  I was to return for another ultrasound in 1 week.

The heartbreak began on our anniversary, Wednesday, May 7th.  I should tell you that my best friend’s mother-in-law who was on hospice had just passed away, and her funeral was scheduled for this day.  I pray she finds restful peace.

My husband had a deposition this morning and I had to be at FCI for my repeat ultrasound to check on progress.  Afterwards, we were to head to the Northern Suburbs to be with our close friends/family to honor Anita, and show our love and support as well.  So, we went our separate ways to start, but I thank God that my husband was made it in time for the ultrasound.  Baby A did have a heartbeat detected by ultrasound.  You could see the movement, however baby A was 1 week behind in measurements for gestational age.  Baby B was not making any progress and there was still no yolk sac.  I am exactly 7 weeks here.  The bright white spot is the heartbeat.

We were taken into a conference room and told to be “cautiously optimistic.”  We are both medical people, and in our world, that translates to; prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  Has anyone ever said this to you before?  We had naught a moment to be excited about our baby’s heartbeat, and we were okay with one, but now taking in the news that our pregnancy might not be sustainable.  The goal has never been to have multiples, but to just have a baby.

So here we are, it’s our wedding anniversary, we are filled with fear and sorrow for our pregnancy, and now we are on our way to a funeral.  No time to take it all in.  Just keep moving.  Just keep going.  This is the heart of my silence.  I just want to be strong.  I don’t want to tell you I’m falling apart inside.

I was told to come and see the doctor the following day.  When I got there, she decided to check and see how things were looking and to do another ultrasound.  I was alone this time.  My husband was at work.  Baby A still had a heartbeat seen on ultrasound, but it was a little slower, 94.  I was told we were walking on a tight-rope.  The ultrasound tech was already giving me advice about what to do should I lose the baby.  I finally said, I’m not giving up.  As long as this baby has a heartbeat, I’m not giving up.  They assured me that they weren’t either.  I cried for the entire rest of the day, while my dog, Freddie, licked my tears.

So here I am, looking for faith.  In 2 days I will be 8 weeks, and 1 day.  I am scheduled for another ultrasound and a visit with the doctor.  I need optimism.  I need prayers.  I’m anxious.  I need faith.  In my heart, I know that all will be well, that I can rise above whatever this journey brings. But also in my heart, I hope for a child to tell stories, to sing songs, and to laugh with.  I still feel that this is a divine pregnancy.  God is with me now, just as he was when we walked together through Lent.

Thinking of you T.J., with Love and Peace

As my dear friend prepares for her open heart surgery today, and fear and worry can’t be helped, I wanted to honor her and ask for your prayers that God will be with the surgeons and my faithful friend during this time.

Matthew 18: 19-20

Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.

 

If you’re not familiar with Baylor University’s Christian Reflection, a series in faith and ethics, I highly recommend it.  T. J. introduced it to me when we served on the Christian Formation Committee together at CHN.  They publish a new series each month to reflect on.  These can be done in any order.  This month, for obvious reasons, I pulled out the series on Lent.  I want to share a song written by Eric Howell, a pastor from Day Spring Baptist Church in Waco, TX.

Come Near Today   ~  By: Eric Howell

The holy son of God descends

to human pain and need.

O Lord, to my assistance come.

Come quickly, Lord, to help me.

With love assured, your healing word,

the Spirit’s flame, your holy name.

Redeeming grace in this place –

come near today to help me.

Who is this man, the Great I Am,

who loves so fierce and free?

My Lord! You lived our suffering.

Come quickly, Lord, to be near me.

 

Refrain

The holy Son of God walks on

to darkened Calvary.

To bear his cross is now our path.

Come quickly, Lord, to lead me.

Refrain

Now may our prayer be joined with his

through life’s uncertainty.

O Lord, to my assistance come.

Come quickly, Lord, to save me.

 

Refrain

This was in my reflection this morning.  It comforts me to know that God finds a way to give words of comfort, hope, and peace.  A gentle reminder to come to him in our time of need.  May God, the healer, guide the hands of the surgeons this day and be with T.J.  Give her peace and calm as she awaits her surgery later today.  Be with P.G., that she feel the love and presence of God’s spirit, while she awaits word from the surgical team.  Be with C.J. Lord, as she tries to make it through classes.  Give her a clear mind and assurance that all will be well.

Psalm 147:3

He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.