Florida in February is a good thing. I just got back from a whirlwind weekend with some folks at Element 3 Church in Tallahassee. My brother serves there, and his wife and kids are part of the life of the church. We’ve collaborated on a few events from time to time, as we – to our concurrent surprise – have both ended up in ministry and worship as our vocations. Eric blogs and sometimes he writes about me, and I blog and sometimes write about him. We are one another’s biggest fans, which is a miracle in itself, considering the depth of torture I inflicted upon him years ago.
I was not a good big sister.
But grace covers a multitude of sins, and he has forgiven me. We worked together to create a short retreat for members of the E3 worship team, and in a separate event I spent some time with women leaders from E3. It was great to come in and bring a new perspective, share some teaching and facilitate conversation. I got to be the “special guest”.
I felt special.
I enjoy traveling; I’m always up for a new adventure, and I rather like the whole tedious mess of packing, suffering through security, waiting for the plane. This trip I made it a point to be open to the humanity of whoever might be crammed in a too-small seat next to me on a too-noisy aircraft. I had some interesting chit-chat with people I’ll never see again.
I read on the plane; you might laugh, but I found this article on the Pope interesting and inspiring. As we soared through the air at 450 miles per hour, I jotted notes about the weekend and dozed off a bit.
Arriving in Jacksonville, I stood at the curb and waited for someone I didn’t know to pick me up and make the two-hour drive to Tallahassee. Eric had sent a pastor from E3, a dynamic and insightful woman who turned out to be – as Eric predicted – someone I feel like I’d known for 30 years. We talked and talked and talked and by the time we arrived at our destination, Lori knew things about me that I’d never told anyone else.
The topic of the weekend was vulnerability, and I started out with a bang.
We had an evening together with about 20 people, working through an exercise from Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team and I can’t tell you the depth of the sacred, holy breath of truth I witnessed. It wasn’t necessarily anything shocking or transformative, but the power created by giving space for people to gather and talk openly and freely about themselves, in a place they trust to be safe – it is something hallowed and beautiful.
I was there to facilitate, to urge along – but the incredible privilege of witnessing and feeling somehow incorporated into the intimate communion of saints – it was like nothing I’d ever experienced.
Wait. That’s not true.
It is the same thing, cut from the same garment, that I experience weekly, in gatherings of honest searching and contemplation of truth and the sharing of sorrows. Different faces, but a similar sacred space.
Being human; it is a gift of supreme beauty.
We gathered again the next day for several hours and we talked and I facilitated and guided and as we went along, my heart started thrumming, a steady pulse of affirmation in my soul: This is the thing this is your thing this is the distillation of the mess and the muck and all the crap and all the glory this is the thing this is it right here, as if the Creator and the Redeemer and the One who forgave was saying tell them, say it, show it, shine the light, tell your story, open up, don’t be afraid, stand in my glory, you are mine, i love you.
let me prove it.
I cannot explain it, really; in planning and preparing, Eric said, “You should tell your story”, and I thought, “well, yeah” and I assumed that I would but I’d never sat in a room of strangers and said, “Hey, here’s something that will make you slightly uncomfortable…let me tell you about the worst thing I’ve ever done.”
Here’s the thing: I had every reason to keep my mouth shut. I was the “special guest”, and as far as anyone knew, I was Eric’s sister and a worship leader and part of the senior leadership team at my church and a “successful” woman in ministry. I could stand on that resume and spout forth wisdom about teams and authentic worship and gender equality.
But here’s the real thing: Anything I know really isn’t worth a crap, because there are a gazillion people who know and do more than I do. My resume is unimpressive, and the truth is that I’m in the middle of a major identity crisis in ministry, one that simply won’t go away, and I’m crawling around in the dark with a broken flashlight and eyes that are too weak to see and all the better/younger/more energetic folks standing straight up and shaking the tree and I’m trying like hell just to cling to a branch. That feels like it might give way and send me thrashing to the ground.
I’m a hot mess, see; and all I have, really, is this taste of grace.
And this weekend, being all fancy, flying out of state to be a Special Guest Facilitator at a Church Retreat – which, if I confess and peel back my stupid, self-absorbed ego, is Something I Always Wanted To Be (that is, “special”) – what slammed hard into my gut was the blunt force of something more powerful.
Something I couldn’t plan or preach or organize.
Power, supernatural and unknowable, uncontainable, beyond me. Power made perfect in weakness.
I did my best; I exhorted and exclaimed and encouraged made the most of the words and preparation and the planning.
But in the end, I believe there is a reduction to all we do and say and speak. The mist rises, the chaff blows away and we stand. In a darkened room, we broke bread and held a cup of red wine, rich with sulfites. All the words rose upward in a misty plume of insignificance and nothing was left.
This is the body of Christ, broken for you.
This is the blood of Jesus, shed for you.
He knows you.
He hears you.
He will heal you.
Eye to eye, face to face. Broken to broken.
We stood in a circle and I moved to stand before every person. Without even thinking, I crossed intimate space and touched. Held. Kissed foreheads.
I looked deep into the eyes of people, connected through mere presence and the simple fact that we share an ancient belief in the desperate, deep call of the Creator in us and to and through us. We are lost and broken and stumbling towards some profound faith, barely grasped, the hope we cling to sometimes so far beyond our comprehension that we barely even manage to show up.
And yet we stood in a circle of glory, still inhabiting that holy, sacred territory of salvation that continues to be worked out and worked on, fear and trembling fully present.
Someone began to sing.
Go on and scream it from the mountains
Go on and tell it to the masses
He is God
After all the hours of talking and sharing and exercises; after the scripture reading and picture drawing and deep thinking, that’s it, really.
That’s all that matters.
He is God.
And this is what I brought home with me, sure and solid in the midst of the chaos and life change.
He is God.
I don’t have to be special.
He is God.
I have never before felt so deeply the distinct privilege of fully inhabiting the office of pastor. And, simultaneously, of being one of many, on level ground, surrendered and longing. One of many, stumbling into grace; our hearts in our hands before one another and before the maker.
He is God.