Fourteen years, working as a pastor in this stunningly beautiful community. Fourteen years of handling situations and complications that I could never have imagined when I said yes to God's call those many years ago. Fourteen years isn't much on the scale of most people's professional lives, I suppose. But then, I'm not most people. I'm a strange hybrid, an anomaly of sorts, someone who never quite fits into anyone's mold.
Married at 20, while still in college. Traveling 14,000 miles from home while still a newly wed to live in Zambia for 2 years, teaching eager students, learning about married life and - surprise! - motherhood. Three kids in 4 years, 21 years stateside as a stay-at-home mom, wife, volunteer. Then...a strange and scary invitation to consider seminary training. Terrified, I needed friends to walk with me into the admissions office to drop off my application. Four years of education, loving every single minute of it (after the first quarter, that is, when I lived pretty much in terror every single day!). Learning to preach - oh, my, how I loved it! - teaching preaching as head TA with many different students over about six years. Hearing a clear call from God to move into pastoral ministry, jumping through denominational hoops to ordination, working for 3 years without pay to keep those hoops open. And then, the call to Santa Barbara - an adventure at age 52, a husband willing, even eager, to support this call by agreeing to commute to LA for TEN YEARS, finding a home which has become shelter, retreat, hospitality central, the source of peace and rest and deep comfort.
Then came the decision to retire. It was such a hard one for me to make - I loved what I did, I loved the people I worked with and for, I felt God's call to do exactly that...until the spring of last year. I had made the decision to begin training in spiritual direction the year before, and had traveled to Chicago for a week-long, very intense session at our denominational seminary that summer. And as part of the discernment process for continuing in this 3-year program, had labored over a photo-essay book to submit to the on-line instructor of the year-long class which followed that week in the midwest. But what had come to me in that process was more than a 'yes' to continue my training. What had come clear as well was that now was the time to step back from my role, my title, my position, my place. So at the end of 2010 I retired from pastoral ministry and am now taking a four month time away to recuperate and re-group.
I felt a deep peace about this choice, grateful to God for the time I had enjoyed, hopeful that transitioning into a new role as certified spiritual director would provide just enough 'professional' identity to fill both hours on the calendar and that space inside my spirit called 'pastor.' But the road took a strange and unexpected twist: I landed in the hospital in late spring with blood clots in both lungs. And my body simply would not allow me to travel to Chicago last summer, forcing me to withdraw from my training cohort, leaving me to prayerfully consider how God might redeem this loss and point me in new directions.
Through a series of marvelously providential connections, I discovered that there is a school for spiritual direction that meets right here in Santa Barbara every summer - and it is co-led by my own director. And I was invited in for a peek - a weekend class last summer and a winter retreat last month. So now, the application for this summer's class sits in my book bag, waiting my time and focus. Is this the next step in God's continuing call on my life? Should I switch from the training track I have already begun to this new one? The timing is identical - two more summers with year-long reading and learning in between. The one here in town is Benedictine - Roman Catholic - and I have loved the worship and the differently focused theological underpinnings to the coursework I've done. Perhaps immersing myself in this very different environment is what I need just now. Perhaps this is the way the road is turning. "Lead me in the paths of righteousness, O Lord, for your name's sake!"
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