I love my children. I love my husband. But even before I loved them there was something else I loved, and that was sharing GOD’S love with people.
I was married when I was 23, a marriage that lasted only a year – there was no magic wand waved over us when we took our vows, no cure-all t0 fix the growing divide that started even the day our vows were taken. A big wedding and a pastoral pronouncement do not make a marriage.
When my marriage dissolved I went into a serious soul-searching phase. I returned again and again to the feeling I had of a call to pastoral ministry, a call I tried to bury deep, because after barely surviving 4 years of college to get my bachelor’s degree, I did NOT want to go four more years for a Master of Divinity. But I belong to a major denomination, and to be considered for ordination, I would have to get this 4yr Masters. So I buried my call, got a job in the social work field (where I have my Bachelor’s degree), and got about my new independent life. I fell in love and got married. But it fell apart.
In the soul-searching and in conversations with my pastor, conversations of forgiveness and compassion, he encouraged me to return to this sense of call, to see where it would take me. I was hesitant, but he was insistent. “You don’t want to get towards the end of your life and wonder, ‘what if?’ If you try, and fail, at least you know you tried. If you try and succeed, well then, wonderful!” How could I say no to that? So, newly single (and thank God with no children from this marriage) I quit my job, packed up my life and moved to a new city to go back to school.
I started going to church when I was in high school. I had had such a tough time in my family of origin and in school. My father was an alcoholic. My mother was a classic enabler and HUGE into denial. We moved when I was 12 and I was shy, so the kids in the new school thought I was snotty, and I was picked on brutally.
Church became a refuge for me. A place where I could go and feel taken care of. The pastor proclaimed the gospel – that despite what I had done in my life, despite what was done to me, despite my bad feelings about myself and my failures – GOD LOVED ME just the way I was. I immersed myself in my congregation, joined the youth group, the choir, played guitar.
Certainly church wasn’t perfect. It can’t be. It’s filled with sinners. But I felt loved there, and wanted other people to experience that love too. I wanted to preach.
So after my divorce I started seminary. Three years of coursework in addition to serving a few hours per week in a congregation, and then one year of full-time internship. Along the way the depression I battled on and off since my early teens reared it’s ugly head, and I found myself back in therapy and on medication. But both things, as well as an incredibly supportive seminary community helped me stay on track. And in my last year of seminary I met an amazing guy, a year younger than me, and two years behind me at school, who would become my husband (of almost 19 years now).
I’ve also been ordained almost 19 years now, and the thing I love most of all about pastoral ministry is what I got to do this morning – share the love of God with people. I do not proclaim a God who sets all kinds of rules, a God who welcomes some and shuns others; the God I know in Jesus loves each and every one of us more deeply than we could ever imagine. He is for YOU and me. There is no one beyond Jesus’ reach. No one he doesn’t love. No one he didn’t die for. You don’t have to be good enough – NO ONE is good enough. What a tremendous message that is. A message that sometimes gets drowned out by the loud voices of religious intolerance, and that grieves me.
I don’t know your religious affiliation, if you have any. I’m not here to judge. I’m not here to convert anyone. This is just where I’m coming from, and I wanted to share it with you. I hope whatever your faith, or lack of it, that you have some guiding principle or belief which helps ground you and build you up in the crazy world we live in. For me it’s Jesus.