Monday, January 17, 2011

Edge of Seventeen

Stevie Nicks' Edge of Seventeen came out the year I turned 17...the year I graduated from high school and started on my muddled path to becoming who I am today. 

Here are a couple pics from the day...before and after I got my hair chopped off (and permed.)

Hard to believe that was thirty years ago!!

"Oh I went searchin' for an answer...
Up the stairs... and down the hall
Not to find an answer...
Just to hear the call..."
At the age of 17, I didn't know what I was searching for, what call I was listening for.  I was adrift in a sea of uncertainty and low self esteem, with no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up, and no sense of what I might be capable of.  A typical teenager, in many ways, I suppose.  I went to university, got a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in pyschology...mostly because getting a university degree seemed to be the thing to do, and so I got one.

I hit my twenties, drifted into a job in the accounting section of a local company for horrendously low wages...married the most wonderful man, and had the first of our two amazing daughters.  In the last year of my twenties, I got a job with the Technical University of NS (TUNS), still not great money but having a pension plan was a welcome addition!

At 31, I had the second of our two amazing daughters.  A couple years later, the provincial government decided to mandate a takeover of TUNS by Dalhousie University. (Ok, they called it a mutually decided upon merger, but that was generally accepted to be a takeover.)  TUNS employees got the short end of the stick...Dal staff all had more seniority, so we were left with the lower level positions.  I said no thanks, and got a job as a property accountant for a medium sized family owned real estate & development company...soon I was promoted to senior corporate accountant...then to manager of the accounting department.  It was a great experience in many ways, I gained confidence and knowledge, and learned a ton of useful skills, such as doing presentations, managing staff, writing reports, dealing with difficult people, and so on.  But it never felt meaningful...seemed that all I was doing with my life was helping a handful of private citizens earn a profit. The family who owned the business was great to me, in some ways I became an extended member, being present for engagements and weddings, etc.  But soul was restless to be doing something meaningful with my life.  But what??

At 39, I applied for a position with the Province of NS, and to my surprise, I got it!  I thought working in public service would surely feel more rewarding than private industry.  And it did (and does), but not nearly as much as I thought.  Perhaps because I still dislike accounting every bit as much as I had in private industry!!

I had started attending church in my mid to late-thirties, and found myself feeling drawn deeper and deeper into the life of the church.  Early on, I agreed to be central treasurer.  Unfortunately, that meant accounting was now invading my place of joy and refuge.  Still...I felt good about being able to help in some way.  Happily I found other ways to be involved which fed my soul instead of draining it!  Things like reading scripture on Sunday mornings, joining choir,  getting involved in an annual Conference level program for young teens, joining study groups, having conversations with my (then) minister about faith and prayer and God, sharing faith stories with friends at work.  And I started writing about my faith journey and sharing my spiritual thoughts in my blog.  

I began to hear the voice of God calling me to be so much more than I ever thought I could first I did a lot of pushing God away, and making up excuses why I couldn't answer...but I felt really drawn to being in ministry full time, so I poked around on the United Church and AST websites to learn just how one goes about becoming ordained...but kept retreating back behind my inadequacies and fears...telling myself that surely if I was minister material, my close friend, who is herself a minister, would have recognized it and encouraged me to explore the possibility.But she never mentioned it...and I felt too awkward bring up the subject myself. (When I finally did talk to her about it, I discovered that she is as overjoyed and certain as I am that ministry is where I am called to be, and had been watching me moving in that direction and waiting to see if I felt it too. It was painful thinking she didn't believe in me...on the other hand, I know it is probably for the best that she didn't say anything until I brought it up myself because then I might have questioned whether it was God calling or simply the power of suggestion.) In any case, I am grateful to another friend for asking flat out if I have ever considered being a minister...I needed that act of responding out loud "Actually yes, I have" in order to let this incredible and scary possibility slip from my heart and out into the world.

And now that I have answered God's call, I wonder what took me so long.  I can't wait to begin my MDiv in September (feeling quite sure my Discernment Committee will recommend me as a Candidate for Ministry.)  My soul is filled with longing to be out in the world with my light shine as brightly as it possibly can.  To borrow some language from our Song of Faith: I want to be God's good news lived out, to continue the story of Jesus by embodying Christ's presence in the world, to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only.

I am now on the edge of 47, not 17...I believe that God has always been calling, it just took me a lot of years, and a lot of life lived, to recognize and embrace that which has always been whispering in my ear...singing in my heart...swirling through the deepest core of my being, Spirit enfolding spirit.  Jesus said come, follow me.  And I will...because you're never to old to discover what you are meant to be when you grow up!

What an amazing gift it is, this call to ministry...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A wordless song...

In the depth of my soul, there is a wordless song...

So wrote Kahlil Gibran and his words resonate in my heart.  I am so thankful for the gifted poets and lyricists who are able to give voice to that song.  Able to reflect with their own words, the astonishing and sustaining song of God that sings us out of darkness and into the light, that sings strength and comfort and joy into our hearts, that guides our journey and moves us out into places we never thought we'd go.

Until recently, while discerning God's call to ministry, I have been set on returning to school full time.  Hoping to obtain my MDiv in a classroom setting, immersed in an ecumenical community of students and faculty.  There is another path to ordered ministry in the United Church besides the full time classroom study route - a distance program - but it hasn't appealed to me.  Except now I have felt a nudge to explore the possibility.  This nudge could just be because I am feeling the weight of an impending, possibly unmanageable, financial struggle...having just learned the Fund that used to automatically cover tuition for United Church Candidates is having hard financial times of its own...thus has substantially reduced tuition funding and made it a needs-based bursary instead of being automatically available to all. 

When I got the email yesterday containing this news, it came as a total surprise because earlier this very week, I'd been told tuition support was secure - needless to say, I felt quite disheartened.  Had a little chat with God that I won't repeat here lest I bruise anyone else's sensibilities, let's just say my inner child wasn't on her best behaviour -  good thing God loves me anyway!!  Between this new obstacle, and the one-step-forward-two-steps-back feel of the discernment process (not my discernment itself, just the process), I said to Dave that it would be ever so much easier if I saw all the technical difficulties as signs that ministry isn't the right path for me and so could turn away feeling satisfied that I gave it my best shot...not everything is meant to be, after all.  But I don't feel that way.  I feel the song of God calling just as loud and clear as ever...come closer, child of mine, I am with you on this journey and we've only just begun...and I feel just as compelled as ever to answer, to follow, to keep walking in faith..

But you, O Lord, know me;
      You see me and test me – my
            heart is with you.
                    (Jeremiah 12:3)
So here I am, exploring the possibility of studying through AST's Summer Distance Program.  (Handbook found here.)  In this program, one studies throughout the year while in a part time ministry position, plus comes together with others in the program for a six week intensive period of study each summer.  As I read the document, I remembered my friend Iain telling me that his pastoral charge was applying to be a Learning Site.

[An FYI sidebar - Iain was my minister when I first came to the church a few years ago, and has come back into my life to share this part of my journey with me.  Valerie is sharing it with me too, of course but as friend, not as minister.  Through discernment, one really needs someone in a kind of mentor/pastoral care/spiritual support kind of role...and our friendship is way too close and personal for her to be that for me.  Was kind of funny when she and I talked about the fact that I needed someone else as minister through my discernment period, we both named Iain almost in the same breath!  He (semi)retired eight years ago (which is when Val came to our church) and since then has been part time minister in a rural charge not too far from my home...he claims to be soon retiring on a full time basis!]

I am not yet convinced the distance program is for me, but it feels to be where the Spirit is moving at the moment, so I am giving it serious consideration.  Iain said his charge is just getting their application in for the designation, and that they are a "sensible, faithful bunch", which certainly sounds appealing!  Plus they apparently have a wonderful manse, so I'd have a whole separate space where I could retreat to study and plan worship in the absence of all the regular distractions of home.  (And, as I told Iain, no doubt Dave would be delighted to ship me elsewhere those times when I am wrestling with God and full of faithful angst!)

This morning, I was filling Moira in on this latest twist in the journey, and admitted that the In Ministry program feels like a much scarier option than full time study.  I don't feel even remotely ready to suddenly be in an active ministry role, even as Student Supply.  Then I added oddly enough, this gives me the sense that this really IS the path I am meant to take.  I heard the sound of was Dave, laughing because taking the scarier path is exactly what he would expect of me.  He said: "we always seem to end up on the hard road, don't we?"  Yes my love, that we do.  But isn't it wonderful!

After all, God is nothing if not challenging.  And it is always by stepping outside of my comfort zone and rising to a challenge that I grow the most and discover I am capable of amazing things I hadn't thought possible.  Sometimes I have the feeling God likes to flaunt her mysterious ways...

Monday, January 3, 2011

NY at the camper...the nature scenes :)

Here are some photos I took around the campground as the light from 2010 began to fade...

And a few more taken in the light of morning, and a brand new year...I am usually the first one up at the camper and have really come to enjoy my moments of solitude and prayer, sitting by the still waters of this lovely little lake.

Not sure what kind of bird left these footprints...thought all the water birds had long since migrated (?)

A recent windstorm had taken its toll and brought down a few trees...I tried to walk across the first one, but the snow on top was too slippery, so I hopped off before I lost my footing and got tangled in the branches on the sides!

Ringing in 2011 at the camper

Once again, we spent New Year's Eve at the camper.  This year it was just the four of us, Dave & I and Valerie & Mark, which was nice for a change.  We would have enjoyed the girls' company too of course, had they joined us, but Val's girls were working and mine had other plans.

Dave and I were first to arrive, around 2pm.  Dave shovelled a few paths in the snow, while I unpacked our pile o' food and also emptied the firepit so we could start a fire.  (The pit was full of snow and ice and frozen ashes...not much was going to burn in that!)

Dave surveying the fire (good thing we brought dry paper from home!)

I tried to sneak up on Dave for a candid shot of the two of us...I think it turned out remarkably good considering how hard he was trying to twist away from the camera! :)


Valerie and Mark landed a couple hours they are, all cosy and full of good cheer! :)

The weather was relatively mild, so it was a wonderful winter evening to sit outside. 

I stuck the end of a stick into the fire until the end was glowing, let my inner child loose and spun it round and round to make circles and ribbons of light in the night...


I love this photo Valerie took of the sparks leaping off the fire...our own little fireworks display.  Another group of campers set off *real* fireworks, but in reality, they weren't as interesting as our bonfire!

Nearing the end of a wonderful and relaxing evening...enjoying the warmth of a roaring fire and the love of a best friend!

In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, but never in want.
~ Irish Toast

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dear 2010: don't let the door hit you on the way out...

Have to confess...I am not sorry to see the end of 2010!  I definitely had many wonderful and joyful times over the past year...but I also spent many a day feeling adrift, uncertain, exhausted.  When I think back on the year just ended, lyrics from a Grateful Dead song come to mind: "what a long, strange trip it's been"

But with the promise of a new year open before me, I continue my long, strange trip with hope in my heart, and faith that the Spirit is present in every step (and misstep!) I take on this journey...the twists and turns along the way invariably lead me to new understandings of myself, of my relationships with others, of my relationship with God.  When the way is obscure, I am learning to let go of my need to see exactly where I am going and "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Finish every day and be done with it.  You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.
~ Seneca
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