37 Thoughts on the day after I turned 37

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My birthday was yesterday. I turned 37 years old, which seems a little ridiculous. I don’t feel that old and simultaneously,  I also feel much older. Anyhoo… here are 37 birthday thoughts, just a day late.

  1. I get lax on leaving birthday greetings on facebook walls, but then my own birthday hits and I smile at the kindness from all the friends and family.
  2. On that note… how fun is it to get real mail? Birthday cards are the best!
  3. A few people sang to me yesterday. That makes me smile.
  4. Last year, Grandma Benton sang to me on my birthday. It was the only time in my life that I remember hearing her sing.
  5. Grandma sang off key… way off key. It took a stroke for her to lose the inhibitions and filter that kept her from singing loudly. But it was the most beautiful serenade I have ever received. I miss her.
  6. This was my first birthday without a grandparent. That’ll age a person quickly.
  7. I spent my morning at the church, hosting coffee for church and town people who wanted to stop by. IT WAS FUN!
  8. In the afternoon, I helped the Presbyterian Women take treats for coffee time to a care center and IT WAS FUN!
  9. I used to think I really liked adolescents and teenagers. I enjoy talking to them and asking all sorts of questions.
  10. Turns out I just like people. I enjoy talking to most of them, no matter their age.
  11. I was feeling a little old after asking my husband my age. (Since 30, I’ve never really known my age without stopping to subtract 79 from the year.)
  12. Then, I talked with Helen. She’s 106. I’m just starting the 2nd 3rd of my life if I live to be 106.
  13. She said it’s lonely after 100. Most of your friends are gone.
  14. I asked if she made new friends and a smile spread across her face. “New friends are good, too,” she said.
  15. We let age become a barrier to friendship too often. I want to have friendships with people in every decade.
  16. Another woman at the care center asked me if she could talk to me. Would I listen?
  17. I put on my concerned and attentive pastor face. I expected a deep theological question. I went to seminary for this, right?
  18. Turns out pastors aren’t just needed for deep theological questions.
  19. “My roommate snores. How am I supposed to get any sleep? What should I do?” the lady asked.
  20. Fortunately, I was an RA in college. This is freshman college roommate territory. The circle of life, if you will.
  21. I suggested she try to go to sleep before her roommate. Or ear plugs.
  22. Ear plugs are great because you can sleep without anyone disturbing you– roommates, phone notifications, loud and hungry kitty cats…
  23. Then I thought about all the people walking around with headphones or ear buds, deadening the sounds of life around them. I wonder how many cool moments we miss because of headphones.
  24. Listening is hard work, but good. I’m going to listen a lot as a 37-year old.
  25. One of the women I had coffee with was in her eighties. I told her I just wanted to listen to people like her because I wanted to learn stuff.
  26. “Oh, I know a lot of stuff,” she said. “Some of it I can even remember.”
  27. Can you imagine in fifty years when people my age are in their 80s? We don’t have to remember much now because we document the important stuff on social media. What if we lose access to pictures and files? What will we remember?
  28. “Oh, I can google a lot of stuff. Some of it might even be important.’
  29. I don’t know what to make of 37. I get ordained in three days. The rest of my years, I’ll be a reverend. Best get all the heretical thoughts out of my head now.
  30. At General Assembly, someone approached me about being part of the young clergy women group. The group’s for women who are ordained before they turn 35. I was already almost too old. “Oh, you don’t seem that old. I’m sorry you can’t be in the group, but you can read our blog.”
  31. All due respect to young clergy women and men… I want to be in a group with the old clergy women. They know more of the stuff.
  32. Excluding the gifts from my husband, the best birthday present I received this year was from our neighbor Tom, who sprayed the wasp nest hanging from our house. Can you imagine a better present than a dozen dead wasps and a cool geometrical hive?
  33. The way wasps build a nest intrigues me.
  34. The way wasps might chase and sting little nieces visiting this weekend terrifies me, though.
  35. Steve got me two new place settings of fiestaware and the 37 year old me is giddy about them. That’s old lady glee.
  36. He also got me a “Fear the Tree” coffee mug and sticker– he kindly tolerates and encourages my obsession with the Stanford Tree. Pray for him.
  37. What a great birthday. What a great year. What a great life.

 

(You think this list is long? Can you imagine what Helen’s list of 106 things would be??)

Eleven days until my ordination!

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Lord willing, I will be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in just eleven days. As we get closer to the day that I thought would never come, I am eager and anxious. A decade ago, I would not have imagined myself to have the discipline, focus, and desire to complete all the steps required by the Book of Order; nor would I have dreamed about returning to school to complete a MDiv degree at seminary. The Holy Spirit sometimes pushes us in weird places.

A decade ago, I was firmly in the tribe of youth worker. I was adamant that seminary was not in my future. I was stubbornly sure that youth ministry was my calling. I had a chip on my shoulder about ordination. You don’t need to be ordained to live into what God is calling you to do with your life. That was true then, and I still know it to be true now. Strangers, church members, friends, and an annoyingly persistent older brother continually nudged me to consider more schooling and taking the next steps.

I don’t recall a light bulb moment. With me it was more of a dimmer switch slowly adjusted to bring more light to my understanding of vocation. Through Winterset and then back to my roots in Cherokee, I realized I was yearning to do more in the church. I did not graduate from youth ministry. I did, however, realize that I wanted to be able to serve communion and baptize people. I also acknowledged the thirst for more knowledge about God and the church.

The three years of seminary and the four years under care of the presbytery of Prospect Hill feel like a blur. I am a better person for both tracks towards ministry. I’m still unpacking all I’ve learned from classes, conversations, and guidance. As I study the latter part of Hebrews 11 and the first few verses of Hebrews 12 for Sunday’s sermon, I’m mindful of the people that God has used to shape me and to prepare me for this calling.

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Just a few of my faith heroes from the top right and going clockwise: Mister Rogers, Grandpa Everett Lamb, Grandma Anna Belle Lamb, and my grandparents C. Wayne and Neva Benton.

The cloud of witnesses include flesh and blood friends and teachers, yet also friends who live in the cloud of my computer. Family has been incredibly supportive of this journey and I don’t think I would have made it through school and all the meetings without the encouragement from my husband, Steve.

I’m humbled by the support and love from people spanning all parts and times of my life. I look forward to celebrating my ordination on August 21. More so, I look forward to the coming years when I will be able to live into the calling God has given me. I look forward to taking on the responsibilities that our Book of Order lists for Teaching Elders (fancy talk for Minister.) I’ll end with the paragraph that explains the role of teaching elder. Some of the phrases are so beautiful and I am eager to officially take on this role.

 

Teaching elders shall in all things be committed to teaching the faith and equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12.) … When they serve as preachers and teachers of the Word, they shall preach and teach the faith of the church, so that the people are shaped by the pattern of the gospel and strengthened for witness and service. When they serve at font and table, they shall interpret the mysteries of grace and lift the people’s vision toward the hope of God’s new creation. When they serve as pastors, they shall support the people in the disciplines of the faith amid the struggles of daily life. When they serve as presbyters, they shall participate in the responsibilities of governance, seeking always to discern the mind of Christ and to build up Christ’s body through devotion, debate, and decision. –G-2.0501

Blog revamp

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Confession: I had forgotten how to log in to my blog. And I let the domain name expire. And I thought I would just start fresh when I finally landed somewhere as a pastor.

Now I’ve landed. I updated the domain name (though there’s always going to be a slambfriend inside sarabsutter). And as I read through the past posts, I decided they should stay as signposts for how I ended up here. I don’t want or need to “start fresh” since I believe God uses our experiences to prepare us for what comes next. Growth is fun to see.

I’m still working through how I’m going to use this space and this mode of communication. Over-thinking everything is a gift, right? As for today…Today’s success comes from logging in, updating the header, and getting a short little post up for the first time in a couple years.

The beauty of pen and paper

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I’ve been writing a lot… just not here. At the tail end of 2014, I was at Pier One when I found a journal with cover that featured a compelling picture of a giraffe. The giraffe wears glasses. I justified buying yet another empty notebook by half-heartedly promising myself that I would write in it every day of 2015. And I have.

And the intensive class time of J-term wraps up tomorrow. Encouraged by the syllabus and skeptical of an article I read claiming we remember more when we write by hand, I opted to take all class notes by hand in a notebook. At times it was hard to keep up– I type a lot faster than I can write with a pen. It took a day or so before I got in the groove of handwriting all notes. I found some new abbreviations: C with a circle around it is Calvin, Z is Zwingli, LS is the Lords Supper, HS for Holy Spirit, JC for Jesus, H’bg for Heidelberg, etc.

And I’ve been haunted by a story that I’m trying to get out. It’s funny how writing in the journal prompts that. With a computer, I’m constantly editing as I go. With a pen, I don’t like to cross things out. That leads to creatively rearranging sentences and propels me forward instead of obsessing over the previous sentence or paragraph.

Maybe if I return to a fluidity of writing for myself on paper with fun pens, I will be drawn back here to share publicly some of the discoveries I’m making privately.

There’s some comfort in knowing what I write in a journal, or what I jot down mid-thought in class won’t end up on the internet haunting me by being out there forever. My silly little poem assessing my day is just for me and certainly won’t go viral when it’s confined to the pages of the giraffe journal.

I’ll close this with a favorite sentence from this J-term class, courtesy of our seminary dean, Dr. Longfield: “I’m not opposed to technology. I use pens.”

these things you carry (a devotion)

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Bel bows down, Nebo stoops,
    their idols are on beasts and cattle;
these things you carry are loaded
    as burdens on weary animals.
They stoop, they bow down together;
    they cannot save the burden,
    but themselves go into captivity.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from your birth,
    carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
    even when you turn gray I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
    I will carry and will save.

ISAIAH 46:1-4

You know that feeling of being completely overwhelmed? Maybe you find yourself over-committed at work, at home, at school, with family, or with friends. Maybe you are struggling to meet expectations that others have for you or expectations you’ve set for yourself. Perhaps you’re struggling with the weight of guilt or grief. All these things you carry are loaded on your back as though you are the weary animal, burdened to bear the weight of the world.

The beasts and cattle described in Isaiah 46 know how that feels. Here the livestock strain under the weight of man-made Babylonian gods. The animals stoop and bow down, unable to bear the burden of hte heavy gold statues they are forced to carry. Isaiah says the people of God have been groaning under such burdens, but instead they should come to see that they are carried by God. Isaiah reminds us that instead of bearing the weight of false gods, God’s people have been borne by God since birth. Instead of struggling under the weight of human-made golden idols, the house of Jacob will be carried, even in old age, by the Creator.

Hear this good news: Though we live under the weight of a fallen world and sometimes feel like we cannot bear to carry one more thing, God promises to hold us up. God made us, and God will bear, carry, and save us.

Loving God, We feel overwhelmed at all we have done and all we still need to do. Like burdens on weary animals, various kinds of stress weigh us down. Quiet our minds. Calm our hearts. Help us to lay our burdens at your feet. Let us rest on your promise that you have carried us since birth and will never let us down. In the saving name of Christ we pray…

Amen.

A Prayer from Augustine

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My friend Laura wasn’t able to come back to seminary this year. I miss her like crazy. She has that perfect mixture of humor and heart. I miss our talks. I wish I would have spent less time stressing about homework last year and more time hanging out with her. I know Laura will be a lifelong friend, but I still get to miss her.

During Spiritual Formation Group last year, Laura used this poem during the class she led. I carried it in my backpack for awhile and at the end of last school year, I put it under the glass that covers my desk so I could see it when I needed to pray it. You certainly are welcome to print it and keep it somewhere you’ll see it in case you need to pray it. For now though, I just invite you to read through it and let it sink into your soul.

Let us pray.

O Lord our God,
under the covering of your wings we set our hope (Exodus 19:4).
Protect us and bear us up.
It is you who will carry us;
You will bear us up from our infancy until old age (Isaiah 46:4).
When you are our firm support, then it is firm indeed.
But when our support rests on our own strength,
it is infirmity.
Our good is life with you forever,
and because we turned away from that, we became twisted.
Let us now return to you that we may not be overturned.
Our good is life with you and suffers no deficiency (Psalm 101:28);
for you yourself are that good.
We have no fear that there is no home to which we may return because we fell from it.
During our absence our house suffers no ruin;
it is your eternity.
Amen

Hurry up and slow down

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Seeing all the school supplies at Target Saturday led me to taking a hard look at the calendar. Though I still feel like I just returned from General Assembly in Detroit, turns out the end of July is almost here. I am failing spectacularly at my goal of weekly posts. Sometimes I’m too close to the things I want to write about in a public way. That necessary vulnerability is scary and necessary if writing is to be authentic.

I miss regular seminary classes. I miss my classmates. I miss the confines of a class schedule and syllabus requirements. when I took all the personality and psych inventories before coming to seminary, I scored 100 on abstract and 0 on details. I also was 100 on independence and 0 on dependence. The fact that I’m longing for more structure right now and missing feedback from friends and faculty shows that the snapshot of who I was entering school last fall has certainly changed.

I feel myself growing this summer, too. First Pres has been a great, safe learning church for me. I feel the care that members have for each other and for me. The life and love in the place inspires me. Ministering in a church setting suits me. I miss parts of youth ministry, but am thankful to be able to participate more fully in the life of the entire church. One Sunday, the nursery was short on volunteers and I felt complete relief, knowing that my responsibility was to serve as liturgist in worship instead of having to answer the unspoken expectation that I would fill a spot in the nursery.

worship planning

Picking out liturgy, working on sermons, and applying the seminary education to church life energizes me. I know that some of what we’re learning in class is ivory tower stuff, boring to many in the pews on a Sunday. The more I see in this congregation convinces me that there are lay people in every congregation who are capable of understanding Reformed worship particulars. Before seminary I’d planned worship services– mostly youth led, or summer camp– and nobody had ever sat down with me and showed me the Directory for Worship. As a lay person, as a camp staffer, and especially as a youth worker, I know I could have learned so much more about why we do things in certain ways.

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Watching and working with Vacation Bible School a couple weeks ago was also eye-opening. I’ve helped with many as director, as story teller, as recreation leader and so on. This summer, I was the leader for Bible Discovery. (Above, you’ll see the tasting time activity we did, talking about the passover meal.) I found it refreshing to not have to worry about all the details for all of the programming. I learned so much from watching how Linda and Kat led different parts of the week. I finally had time to think about VBS more philosophically– you know, from the ivory tower instead of from the trenches. The budget my last two churches had for decorations was bigger than the budget for the entire week here. There was no purchased curriculum… all was homegrown. Wonderful stuff.

vbs program

I preached yesterday in church. It was my second time as part of Sunday worship. I’m fascinated by the mystery of how a sermon comes together. I read and reread the scriptures. Then I dig into reading and commentary– I suppose the study part of it. Just when I think I’ll never figure out where to go or what to say, the Holy Spirit intervenes and I start typing. I’m still self conscious from the pulpit. I was braver a few years ago. Now I want to make sure I say the right thing and I’m too paranoid about making mistakes. When I learn to relax and when I get a little more comfortable in the role of pastor, I think I’ll be able to sleep better on Saturday nights. And maybe not. Maybe my process just includes a freak out. Yesterday a professor described my sermon as “sophisticated.” I promise you that’s a word I’ve never heard in regards to anything I’ve done in youth ministry or in the life of the church. Maybe that’s okay? Though “sophisticated” still makes me think of Haiku in a bow tie.

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Overall, things are going well. I’m glad to be where I am.