Monday, February 3, 2014

beloved child of God...first and foremost

I was reflecting this morning about my faith journey and in particular, my earliest memories of church.  I realized that there are many details that I just don't remember, but...there are some wonderful things that did stick and have shaped me into the person I am today.  One of the most important lessons is one that I am still leaning in to, that first and foremost I am a beloved child of God...and so are you!
Hershey United Methodist Church

My first memory of church was Hershey Methodist on Cocoa Avenue in Hershey, Pa.  I was 2 when we moved to the
family farm, and my mom insisted on going somewhere other than my grandparent's church, in neighboring Elizabethtown.

When I visited Hershey a few summers ago, I was curious to see the church and since the doors were unlocked I drug my kids inside. I found that I didn't really remember much about the sanctuary, it was smaller and darker than I recalled, but my very first lesson about church and God didn't happen in worship, it happened in the Sunday school class room.

I remember sitting around a big round table with other children.  We were asked to find a seat and get  ready for a treat.  Then, the teacher poured a whole box of Cheerios in the middle of the table.  The whole box!  I also remember we were given little cups of apple juice.  To this day I prefer my Cheerios dry, with a cup of cold apple juice on the side.

God = Abundance!  Poured out!  Overflowing!  Have as much of me as you like, God seemed to be saying to the three year old me.

I know we attended church most Sundays but the only other thing that I can remember is my mom sitting up front in the station wagon wearing a hat, it was the 60s and early 70s after all.  We moved from Pennsylvania to rural Galesburg, Illinois when I was 12.

My most vivid memory of Sunday mornings in Illinois is when we didn't go to church and instead listened to Bill Cosby records.  His Noah's Ark story seemed to suffice for a sermon.  My only experience of youth group was there in Illinois, I can't even tell you which church we attended but I remember going to a youth weekend retreat and feeling the love of God as palatable and vast as the stars in the sky.  (My other memory of church in Illinois is the breaking of my younger brother Mark's collar bone during a boisterous game in the Fellowship Hall.  I can neither confirm nor deny if I was the one who fell on him...I think I was pushed.)
I still have my 1976 BoD!

When we moved to Tennessee in the middle of 10th grade, my parents decided that it was time for me to be confirmed.  It was my sister and the preacher and me - and the 1976 Book of Discipline.  Then, just like that, I was a member of the church.  When the pastor heard I had an interest in radio I became the weekly scripture reader.  No youth group, but a wonderful sense of community there in Morris Chapel, Tennessee.  Young and old alike would gather for softball games in the summer...we had a great time.  I still think multi-generational activities are essential for the health of a church.

When I went off to college I must admit that I never stepped foot in a Wesley Foundation.  For about 10 years I went to church when I went home to visit, but that was about it.  During this time my family moved to Iowa where they've remained for over 30 years.

When I started my own family and found myself the step-mother of a 14 year old boy we were living in the suburbs of Atlanta and I felt ill equipped to parent a teen so I sought out a church, joining a Sunday School class with a group of 'older' adults - folks who were also parenting teens, and this is where I really learned about the Bible and the Church.  (For instance - I had no idea that Jesus was God until my mid-20s...I'm sure someone somewhere in our many moves covered this - but what a revelation!)

Haralson UMC, Haralson, GA
Later, when we moved to an acreage south of Atlanta I felt drawn back to the country church, and it is there where I learned that the greatest commandment: loving God and ones neighbors can be lived out by being open to everyone's journey, caring for your neighbor, especially those who don't go to church, and trusting in God's provision.  The folks at Haralson UMC were missional before missional was cool.

But I didn't realize how much I was LOVED by God until we moved to Colorado and I attended the Walk to Emmaus (in my parents community in Iowa.  How we got to Colorado is a long story, just roll with it).  The unconditional love I experienced that weekend was eye opening and revealed a deeper truth, that God's love is not earned - it is a gift, free and boundless, that God is wooing each and every one of us into a deeper relationship with Gods-self and one another and that there is a whole new world available to us - a world steeped in beauty and love and mercy and kindness - if we are open to receiving this as gift - and then, just as important as receiving the gift of love, it is important that we share it with others.

Three years later my family was living in Iowa and thanks to another Walk to Emmaus weekend, where I was a helper, the wheels were put into motion for me to respond to God's call and claim on my life as a United Methodist pastor.

My seminary experience at the University of Dubuque allowed me to have a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven.  Surprise! it isn't all puffy clouds and golden streets.  It was intentional learning and conversations and study groups and messy test days and Koine Greek and struggling with big picture concepts and serving a church and being a mom at the same time.  My seminary experience was real, intense, and the best four years of my life.

Ordination, June, 2009
I graduated in 2007 and was ordained a United Methodist pastor in the Iowa Annual Conference in 2009.  I have been blessed to serve 3 different congregations over the past 11 years.  I am reminded daily of the many blessings that come when one says yes to God.  Has it all been rosy?  Nope.  But it has been and continues to be an amazing ride!

Not everyone lives in 7 different states in 50some years.  Many of my friends and parishioners have lived in the same region of the country their entire lives, and I appreciate the sense of belonging and rootedness that they have as part of a long term member of a community.

That being said, I have tasted and seen and experienced things in my life that have been wonderful and scary and sometimes even mind boggling.  From television marketing and promotions for TV stations to a pulpit in Iowa - who would have imagined? I have borne 4 children and buried a parent and two step-children. I have gone through the pain of divorce and each and every day I continue to seek most earnestly to live into the love of our triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I have no illusions that I will ever get it all figured out, I do however trust a few truths in the midst of it all:
  • God is a God of Abundance - ready to be relished and enjoyed.
  • God is present in the midst of transition, in the joys of life as well as in the midst of sorrow and suffering.
  • We are loved and beloved - unique and gifted individuals...and this means everything.
  • Authenticity is essential, but in this life there are few with whom we feel safe enough to be truly authentic, and this makes me sad.
  • Relationships are essential - each of the memorable events in my faith journey were tied to being in relationship with, journeying alongside, others.  We can not do faith without community.
  • We have to take risks some times but we also have to learn to roll with things...and there is tension in this, rather than getting anxious we need to see this as an opportunity.
  • We can trust the Holy Spirit to guide us...inspire us...equip us along the way.  Thank God!
I trust that God isn't done with me - but I have no idea where I may land next, and I am ok with this too.  Along the way I think it's important to reflect on and share one's faith story.

So, what about you?  Perhaps one of these questions will inspire you to write your own story:

How have you experienced God?
Where have you seen God at work in your life?
How is your love of Christ being shared with others?
When have you had to trust the Holy Spirit in a difficult or challenging time in your life?

I look forward to hearing YOUR story!  Let's visit some time soon.

To God be the glory for the great things He has done, is doing and will do...

in Christ, together,


  1. What a wonderful experience it must have been to have been a child growing up in or near Hershey PA. As a Chocoholic, and a candidate for Elder, my mouth waters at the thought of being appointed to a church in Hershey... Perhaps that wouldn't be the best for my health. It would probably be best if I stay in Texas.


  2. I hear you, Jacob! The cool thing is that the church where I am now appointed in Waverly, Iowa, is home to a Nestle plant. At least once a week they make chocolate flavored coffees and cocoa - and oh how wonderful it smells when it's chocolate day!