Daddy’s Tribute

 

 

This last time my daddy spoke to me was on Sunday, May 21st at 5:38AM. I remember this so clearly because my husband, Jon, had just finished up a missions trip to Asia, and he’d texted me even earlier that morning while he was in Hong Kong before flying home the next day. Consequently, I hadn’t fully fallen back to sleep. So, when my mom called to tell me that Daddy had an episode and that the Hospice nurse had been there, I was wide awake and intently listening.

I asked her to hold the phone to his ear, and I told him that I loved him and for him to go to Jesus when he was ready. As I paused to fight back tears, he said very slowly, with hardly a verbal sound, but more like a hushed grovel that required much effort, “I…….Am…….Dying!” See, my daddy and I have always been straight-shooters with one another. And I believe with all of my heart that he knew I needed to know and that he wanted to be the one to tell me.

As well, it’s not lost on me that he passed in the month I was born, or that I’m now the age he was (43) when they adopted me as a baby. He always said that I kept him young. Growing up, I hadn’t a clue that he was considered to be an ‘older parent’. In fact, it never even occurred to me until one day a dear friend from college said, “Do you realize your dad is as old my grandfather?” Honestly, I had never really thought about it, because he never acted like he was older than my friends’ dads.

Most of his life, he worked multiple jobs at once, including serving in ministry as a bi-vocational pastor. And he always kept up with me and all of my shenanigans and activities; attending every piano recital, orchestra performance, awards ceremony, and sporting event. No matter if I was playing second-base on the softball field, running up and down the basketball court, or simply cheerleading on the sidelines, he was always there. After I went away to college, even after I moved out of state, he continued to be there for me. Would you believe that one time he surprised me and showed up to my final concert in Kansas City, KS? My parents drove through the night from Louisiana to be there because I was moving to WA State right after, and they wanted to see me while I was still “in the area”. Those few hours were precious!

Although I always knew my daddy was a hard worker, I didn’t realize the sacrifices he made for me until I got older and matured a whole heck of a lot. For my dad, a typical day began at 4AM. He’d get up when it was still dark, so he could feed all the animals and milk the cows before heading to his ‘day job,’ which until I started high school was at a sawmill. To earn additional income for our family and to make it possible to attend all of my activities and events, he worked overtime every single Saturday, making sure to get off by 12 noon.

From an early age, my daddy taught me the importance of hard work and honoring one’s commitments. He instilled in me a desire for lifelong learning and standing up for personal convictions. He encouraged me to dream big dreams. Then, he did all he could to help me see those dreams become realities. From the time I was a little girl, he always told me that I could do anything that I set my mind to do. To this day, I still believe it. He taught me to be strong and independent, as well as soft-hearted and others-focused.

But most importantly, he modeled to me a genuine faith, and welcomed all of my questions and doubts that came with working out my own personal faith in Christ. He always reminded me to trust God in all things. And told me it was okay to have doubts and questions. Questions didn’t mean I had a weak faith. He assured me that they were an opportunity to grow and deepen my faith. And he encouraged me to make sure that I was searching for the answers in the right places!

Speaking of church and faith and God, my daddy lived the ways of Jesus. Now, he’d be the first to tell you that he’s not perfect and that he has a stubborn streak. Or that our family has experienced our share of hardships and difficulties. Some of which we are still navigating. Still, through everything, he has never doubted Jesus, or His love. A few years ago, he told me that even though he was a pastor, he thought God had used him the most whenever he was working at the sawmill or when he was driving a log truck. He counseled people after work, performed weddings, officiated funerals, and was “Jesus with skin on” for many folks.

And from the time I was a little girl, my daddy told me I could do and be anything that God called me to do or be. And ya know what? I believed him! I think he saw something in me from an early age that took me a little longer to figure out: I was called to vocational ministry.
And for the last twenty years, he has prayed for me, encouraged me, and supported me in a multitude of ways in the various ministry positions where I’ve served. Even when I left a “sure thing” job, teaching at a university, to take a leap of faith into the unknown world of church planting, he didn’t think I was crazy. And five years ago, he made the long trip from Louisiana to Washington to stand right beside me at the service when I was ordained an elder in the Free Methodist denomination. I think that was one of the most special memories for both of us. My daddy was my biggest encourager, my strongest advocate, and my most faithful supporter.

Daddy and I, we always “got” each other. And he understood me like nobody else did. All of my life, he has been my sounding board. I’ve only known he had Alzheimer’s for about four years, if that. And one of the ways, I discovered something was ary was because he began passing the phone off quickly whenever I would call. Now, neither one of us are what you would call “phone people,” but we would talk to one another. I would cal him about everything. Not because I wanted him to solve my problems, or tell me what to do. I simply processed life with him. So, not being able to talk to him, and process things with him these last few years has been torture.

Everything that I have read states that people in the end-stages of Alzheimer’s aren’t able to recognize their family members, and they can’t communicate/speak. And as hard as that is to comprehend, I prepared myself for it. But the very last time I saw him, which was in April, Daddy did recognize me. Maybe he didn’t recognize my face, but, perhaps , he recognized my voice? As soon as we got to my folks’ home, I laid down beside him in his bed and sang songs to him, quoted Scripture to him, and prayed for him. But he was also able to communicate with me.

And right before we got on the plane at DFW in Dallas to fly home, I called my parents to speak to him. Truth be told, I wanted to hear his voice just one last time, but I wasn’t really expecting him to be able to say anything. The week we had spent with him, he really was only saying one or two words over the course of an entire day. But during that brief phone conversation, he said to me, “Dada, love!” Although he had a hard time pronouncing the ‘J’ in my name, he knew who he was talking to!

Then, a few weeks before he passed, I received another gift! I heard his voice again, even though the words I heard were not what I wanted to hear. In those brief seconds on May 21st, he very clearly communicated to me by telling me that he was dying. Even my doctor was dumbfounded by all of this whenever I told her about it at my last appointment. She said medically-speaking, it was unbelievable that he recognized me or takes to me. And me? Well, I choose to believe it was God’s gifts of grace to me.

Even though I know that dying is a part of living, I never really imagined life without my daddy. This is going to be hard. My parents adopted me when I was only 22 hours old. Along the way, there have been many questions. Some questions have been answered; others haven’t been. What do know is this: I may not have had Vincent Briley Bown’s DNA, but I am most certainly his daughter. And he’s gonna be deeply and dearly missed. I love you, Daddy!

 

 

My Story: Part 1

Most of my friends know that I am adopted. I am very open about this part of my life. Over the years, some have said, “Jada, there’s a story there, and you need to tell it. People need to hear it!” For years, I have balked and drug my heels because several of y’all are real-life authors (i.e. you make your living writing books), and you actually know what you’re doing. And me? Well, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or where to begin. Not to mention, I didn’t feel that it was my story to share. Well, at least it wasn’t only my story to share. There were other main characters, ya know? Now, however, I am rethinking it all, and taking a cautious, slow step into the unknown. Who knows if it will ever turn into something, or if it will simply be me engaging in creative, therapeutic journaling. Still, I’m putting pen to paper. Well, actually, fingers to keyboard, and I’m free writing. I don’t have all the details, there are gaps in the story, and holes in the timeline. But this? Well, this is my personal experience, and what I know to be true. Here’s the start of what I have.


My husband turns into the parking lot, finds a place to park, and cuts off the ignition. I glance his way. We briefly lock eyes. Then, I quickly turn to face forward. Staring out the window. Sitting in silence. Neither of us saying a word. My hands are trembling. And I am freezing.

Here I am, less than 100 feet from the man who gave me part of my genetic code, and I am seriously shaking, hardly able to catch my breath. I’m closer than ever to getting answers to the plethora of questions that have raced through my mind over the last forty years. Finally, in a place to discover whether or not I inherited ‘the nose’ from him, because it surely doesn’t appear to have come from my biological mother. But more than anything, I simply want to say, “Thanks for letting me live.”

See, I don’t want anything from him. I don’t want to ruin his life, especially if my birth was some deep, dark secret that he’d rather keep hidden in the past. And I surely don’t think he owes me anything. If that were the case, I’d have contacted him twenty years ago whenever I was first told who he was … who I was. But I didn’t do it then. And I’m not so sure I can do it now.

And so we sit. And we wait. In complete silence. Well, other than the sound of my heart practically pounding outside of my chest and the deep breaths I am taking to try and remain calm and grounded.

Thoughts are racing through my mind. What will he think? Will the shock of seeing me cause him to have some sort of medical emergency? I mean, he is living in an assisted care facility. So, he must have some medical issues. And there’s no denying that I am her child because I look just like her when she was younger. Well, except for that nose. From the photos I’ve seen of him, there’s absolutely no doubt I inherited his nose. For goodness sakes, why did it have to be the nose?

Twenty years ago this summer, I met my biological mom after one of my concerts. A concert that wasn’t even on the schedule at the beginning of the tour. Even more ironic, it was in my home state, which wasn’t even slated to be part of our geographical area, but that all changed two weeks into tour. And that’s how it came to be that I ever even got to meet her.

But I’ve never met him. In fact, I didn’t even know who he was. Then, two years after my biological mother and I met, she passed away. At that time, I was given his name. I’m quite sure he doesn’t know mine. Heck, he may not even know I exist. But how couldn’t he? I mean, all my life, we have lived less than 15 minutes from one another. And once, when my daddy pastored a little country church, we even lived in the same town. To my knowledge, we never crossed paths.

But that all changed a few years ago. That’s when our worlds collided, but I was the only one who knew.

Three years ago, my daddy who has Alzheimer’s was hospitalized with pneumonia. Part of his recovery time was at an assisted living facility. That’s how both of these men, each with significant connections to me, wound up in the same place at the same time. One lived on the residential side of the care facility. The other was temporarily residing on the rehabilitation side.

Two men. One who was my father. The other who was my daddy. One who shared my DNA. The other who shared my life. One who knew me well. The other who didn’t know me at all. One with whom I have shared many real-life memories. The other with whom I have only created imaginary ones in my mind. Neither of them had a clue who the other was, or how their stories intricately intertwined, but I knew.

And here I am. Sitting in the parking lot with my husband who takes my trembling hand into his and leans over to whisper in my ear, “Are you going to go in?”

Robotically, I respond, “I don’t know.”

© 2010-2017 JADA SWANSON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Silent Saturday 

It’s Saturday. The day after and the day before. The day smack dab in between His death and His resurrection.
And there’s silence.

We have accounts, vivid details, actually, about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But the day in between, nothing.

No details. No information.

Just silence.

And this causes me to contemplate, to imagine, to wonder.

It was Sabbath for the Jews, so they’d be at the temple. Typically, this is where Jesus would have been found. Talking to the priests and leaders. Maybe even turning over some tables, expressing a bit of righteous anger. Remember?

But not this Saturday.

Instead, He was in a tomb. Not only silent, but silenced by death. No breath, no blood, no life.

All was silent.

Where might His followers have been? In hiding? Fearing for their lives, too? Trying to figure out what to do next?

How might they have been feeling?

Scared? Confused? Grief-stricken? Disillusioned?

And what about Mary, his mother? Remember the young girl, only thirty-three years prior, who’d said to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

I’m a mom, and I can’t begin to imagine my son dying, especially in such a horrific way. Much less, watching it all, up close and personal. Observing those who were casting lots and hurling insults at my son, my beloved child.

If I were her on this day, my heart would be heavy, filled with grief. Maybe even anger. Then again, my heart might be numb. Too much. Too soon. Too painful.

Might she have been questioning everything? The angel’s visit? Her response?

Knowing a little, but no where near the entire story of her son’s existence. At this moment, and on this day, she was a mom. And her son was dead. The one she bore, the one she fed, the one she watched grow from boy to man.

But now, what?

Only silence.

We commemorate Good Friday, the day of His death, and Easter Sunday, the day of his resurrection. But have you considered the significance of Saturday, the day in between?

What does this silence represent?

In our lives—well, at least in mine—sometimes, God is silent. Sometimes, I have questioned whether or not He’s there, or if He’s listening.

But here lately, I’ve found solace and strength in the silence. For it’s been in silence that I’ve learned to hear, really hear, God’s still, small voice. But more than merely hearing it, I’ve learned to trust it, to expect it, and to heed it.

The time in between may be silent, but it is never wasted. Never, ever wasted.

For, you see, Sunday’s a comin’!
[Jada Swanson, 4/15/2017]

{March/April 2017} Meals for a Month

mealsforamonth
{March/April 2017} MEALS FOR A MONTH

Soups/Stews:
Mama’s Pot of Beans (CP),  Gumbo, Seafood Chowder, Thai Shrimp SoupAfrican Chicken and Peanut Stew (CP)

Meatless Meals:
Mujadara, Yellow Lentils with Spinach and GingerPenne with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic & White Beans, Balsamic Kale & Black Lentils, Lentil Coconut Curry

Poultry:
Herb-Roasted Chicken Thighs, Uzbekistan Chicken Plov , Slow-Cooker Sticky Chicken Drumsticks (CP), Paprika Baked Chicken, Weeknight Butter Chicken, Seasoned Chicken, Potatoes & Green Beans (CP)

Seafood:
Honey-Garlic Salmon,  Halibut Fish Tacos w/ Cabbage Slaw and Avocado CreamGrilled Salmon w/ Avocado Salsa and Orzo, Orange Salmon and Green Onions,  Baked Salmon and Lentils

Beef/Pork:
Steak, Spaghetti with Bolognese Sauce, Homemade Pizza, Lamb Roast & Vegetables (CP), Braised Pork Chops in Milk-Dijon Mustard Sauce, Homemade Hamburger Helper, Bobotie (South African Meat Pie), Baked Crunchy Taco Casserole, Slow Cooker Cuban Beef/Ropa Vieja (CP),

Entree Salads:
Brown Rice & Lentil Salad, Lentils & Apple Salad, Mediterranean Tuna & Orzo Salad, Quinoa & Kale (Protein Power Salad) , Thai Chicken Salad, Southwest Chopped Salad w/ Cilantro Dressing, Apple-Pecan-Rosemary Chicken Salad, Black Bean Lentil Salad w/ Cumin Dressing

 

 

18 Things I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self

books-in-the-grass

Recently, I was asked by a dear friend from Colorado to contribute a few thoughts for a special scrapbook that she was creating for her soon-to-be 18-year-old daughter and recent high school graduate. I was deeply honored. I’ve known this delightful young woman since she was about five years old. And last summer, she served as an intern at our church in the Worship & Arts Ministries.

As I put pen to paper, I reflected upon what I wish I would have known when I was 18-years-old. Those things I wish someone would have told me in order to be better prepared to navigate this new journey called Adulthood. Now, there may be some points on this list for which you don’t agree, but that’s okay. Not to mention, I’m sure I missed a few things, here or there. What might you add to the list? 

18 Things I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self

(in no specific order)

1. Set various types of goals: personal, spiritual, vocational, financial, travel, educational. Make them manageable. But at the same time, a little hard work is good for you, too!

2. If you don’t take anything away from these ramblings, please be sure to really understand and embrace this reality: You are and always will be enough, and you are absolutely never too much.

3. Begin now to establish healthy habits in order to take care of the temple that God gave you to steward: drink lots of water, eat fruits and veggies, get outdoors and enjoy physical movement, and go to bed at a reasonable and consistent time.

4. There’s a great big world out there: Go discover it! Seriously, take every opportunity that you can to see the world that God designed, meet the people He created, listen to their stories, eat their food, and take in the beauty of it all. It’s absolutely glorious!

5. Self-care is not selfish. No matter what season or stage of life, this is important. Doesn’t matter if you are a college student, a young adult, newly married, first-time mom, or a senior citizen, prioritize self-care. Take time for yourself, take care of yourself, and don’t feel guilty about it. (Check out Renewed by Lucille Zimmerman.)

6. Be purposeful about finding mentors: faith mentors, relationship mentors, even vocational mentors. One bit of advice: don’t ask folks to be your mentor. Usually, they’ll say no, because it sounds like too much work and/or incredibly time-consuming. Consider inviting them out for coffee to ask three pointed and specific questions. You might pose questions about their business/work practices; their successes and/or failures; their most trusted relationship advice or parenting tips; or their personal faith and spiritual formation practices. Depending upon their desired presence in your life, there’s many ways to engage in this type of connection. Face-to-face coffee chats are ideal. Conversely, much of my mentoring has happened via email or over Skype chats. Be respectful of their time, but learn all you can from them!

7. Establish and maintain healthy personal boundaries in all areas of your life. Trust me, there most definitely will be times when others can’t/don’t/won’t understand or respect yours. No worries. They are your boundaries.  (There’s a great series of books by Henry Cloud & John Townsend on this very topic. Highly recommended reading.)

8. People over productivity. Period. People are always more important. Invest in what matters most.

9. Be an engaged listener. Actively listen to what people are saying. Not merely to respond with your own thoughts, ideas, or opinions, but to intentionally hear what they are sharing.

10. Don’t merely make God a priority, but realize that He is absolutely everything. Make Him the center of all that you do. And understand that your spiritual journey won’t look like anyone else’s. Intentionally practice various spiritual disciplines, not just reading the Bible and praying. Consider implementing times of silence and solitude into your life’s rhythms, as well as purposefully practicing Sabbath.

11. Don’t neglect friendships for dating relationships. No matter how much you love him or how amazing the dating relationship may be, make sure to maintain your friendships. Cultivating a tribe of female friends and creating time and space to engage and invest in those friendships is essential during every season and stage of your life.

12. Don’t allow various media outlets to determine your sense of style, beauty, or self-worth. Be the unique individual that God create you to be. Like wearing stripes with your polka dots? Well, then, go right ahead! Don’t allow a number on a scale to hold you hostage or determine your self-worth. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it’s reflected from the inside out.

13. Being married is not the ultimate goal for a Christian, male or female, following Jesus is. Pursue this relationship wholeheartedly and unapologetically. Unfortunately, the American church has not communicated an appropriate message regarding singleness. If many years down the road, you find yourself single, please understand there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are not less-than, or second-class. And if this has been or ever is communicated to you, it is a lie from the pit of Hell.

14. In the same light, if it is God’s plan for you to get married, pursue someone who loves God more than you, makes you laugh, encourages you to dream big dreams, and definitely someone who views marriage through the lens of partnership and values teamwork.

15. Be a lifelong learner. No matter how much you know, you don’t know as much as you think you do. There’s always more to learn.

16. Financially, always live below your means. Even if you can afford more, bigger, or better, always ere on the side of frugality and generosity. Personally, I like how John Wesley puts it, “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”

17. “NO” is a complete statement, a gracious response and a final answer. And it can be said without hesitation, explanation, or defensiveness–just a simple, “No.”

18. Learn from your mistakes, because there will be mistakes. Oftentimes, our greatest successes are borne out of our biggest failures. Don’t be afraid to try something new, to leap into the unknown. You don’t always have to have a plan. Take risks, even if they are more on the calculated side. But, mostly, enjoy life! 

Wrecked, Ruined & Working


Seven years ago today, April 12, 2009, our family launched a church plant. I say family because it was most definitely a family affair. That season wrecked and ruined us in the best possible way. Had we not said, “Yes” to God, we wouldn’t be where we are today. 
Recently, I was asked to share at my church’s women’s retreat about how God has worked in my life. That question caused me to thoughtfully reflect upon the specific moments in my life over the last several decades when it was undeniably God leading, directing, working, and moving in my life.

circuit-de-promenade

Wrecked, Ruined & Working

How had she seen God working in her life?


Perhaps, it was on that random day in the Spring of 2008 when she was an adjunct professor at a university. In the dim lights as she listened to one of her voice students rehearse for their final voice recital, tears slowly began to stream down her face.

“Why am I crying?” she thought.

Although the song that was being sun was beautiful, it wasn’t one that would result in this type of emotion, especially since she’d heard it hundreds of times before. Yet, the tears continued to flow. At this point, they were uncontrollable. Thankfully, the room was dim, so others didn’t notice her tear-stained face and bright red nose.

As she turned her attention back to the stage, it wasn’t the singer’s voice she heard. Instead, it was a still, small voice, which she knew to be God’s. Oh, it wasn’t audible to the human ear, but it clearly spoke these words, “About that meeting you are heading into, don’t hold it closely to your heart. You won’t be a professor here next year. You’re going back into ministry and you will be pastoring again.”

She remembers thinking, “What? We have no plans to move. Dreams? Oh, we’ve got lots of dreams, but no plans.”  She turned her attention back to the singer on the stage, and didn’t give much thought to the voice in her head. Well, until about an hour later.

Sitting in the office, she listened to Dean of the School of Music share with the group his hopes and dreams for the future. Plans were discussed. Dreams were dreamed. And possibilities presented. She walked out of that meeting realizing she would have a place here for a long time, if that’s how God led.  But now, she couldn’t stop thinking about what the still, small voice had said.

After the meeting, she walked back to her office to teach a voice lesson. As she arrived at the door, her phone rang; it was her husband. Before she even had time to say hello, he said, “You’re not going to believe this! The superintendent just called me, and they want us to plant a church in Washington. Not just me, but both of us.”

Stunned even more, she fumbled for her keys, unlocked her office door, and made her way to the chair by her desk. She collapsed into it as her head spun with all of this new information coming at her from every single direction. Quietly, she thought to herself, “Now, I know what that still, small voice was trying to tell me about not holding that meeting closely to my heart. I am not going to be here next year.” She tried to explain all of this to her husband who was equally excited and overwhelmed himself.

Being told that God was going to once again open doors for her to pastor shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was. In fact, it was shocking. Even more amazing because God was moving her family back to a place that they considered home. Yet, a place they never ever expected to return.

But maybe she had experienced God working in her life just two years prior in November 2006.  Her family was sitting at a stoplight in Johannesburg, South Africa.  After wrapping up the first worship and arts conference in that country, they were headed back to their host home. Next week, they’d be headed to a church near Durbin. But first, thanks to their gracious hosts, they would celebrate Thanksgiving. Her kids couldn’t believe they were going to swim outside in November on Thanksgiving Day. Not to mention, celebrate an American-style Thanksgiving in another country–complete with a tur-duck-ken and Martha Stewart’s Sweet Potato Casserole!

As they waited for the red light to turn green, her husband looked over at her and said, “Either we are moving to South Africa, or we are are going to plant a church where we can both pastor and fulfill our pastoral callings.” She looked at him in stunned silence. No one saying another word. She knew they weren’t moving to South Africa, so this must mean he was serious about church planting. She had talked about it for years, but he’d never said a word. Well, that is until now as they were sitting at a stoplight in another country! What the heck?

For the next two weeks in South Africa, neither of them uttered a word about that brief, but significant conversation. However, once they got back home to Denver, it was all they talked about, dreamed about, thought about and planned for. Yet, there really was no plan, because God hadn’t opened a door. And she wondered if it would ever really happen.

She went about the usual rhythms and routines of her daily life. Parenting two kids under the age of three and working in fulfilling work environments. She really loved her job as at the university. Yet, with each passing semester, it truly felt as if her calling to pastoral ministry was getting stronger and stronger. However, in many ways, she was pastoring these students–meeting with them outside of class time and encouraging them in their personal walks with Christ. Still, she couldn’t shake how God was leading and working in her life.

Possibly, she had most experienced God working in her life in 2005, shortly after her daughter was born. One evening after the kids were tucked into bed, her husband turned to her and said, “We need to talk.” With cups of coffee in hand, they made their way to the couch and sat down. He shared how he knew she was called to be a pastor, and that he would be responsible to God in how he helped her steward her pastoral calling, her talents and and her gifts.

He recalled when they had first met. She was the one who had been called to vocational ministry. At that time, he was studying to be a medical doctor, and he desired to support her in ministry. Yet, here they were, many years later, trying to figure out what it would look like for both of them to walk faithfully in their pastoral callings. Surely, it was non-traditional, but nothing about this couple was typical. They sort of live life outside-of-the-box of tradition.

Or could it be that she’d really experienced God working in her life during college? She thought back to that Sunday at the end of her freshman year of college when she walked the aisle of the Baptist church. Stepping out into the aisle, she took the first step. Then, another step until finally making her way to the front of that sanctuary where the pastor was standing. Years before, when she was just a little girl, she walked the aisle to make public her decision to accept Jesus as her Savior and Lord of her life. But this time, well, it was different. This time, she was walking the aisle to surrender her life to full-time vocational ministry. She knew whether she married, or not, she was called to ministry. Maybe even to be a pastor.  And if she didn’t make it public, she wouldn’t be walking in obedience to God.

In the moments and months and years after making that decision public, she recalled all the doors that God had opened for her to minister, to lead, to serve and to learn. She sincerely wanted nothing more than to do God’s will, so she accepted most every opportunity she was given: working with college students, youth and children, and, of course, singing and leading worship. After all, music was her college major (and minor).  

Then again, maybe God had most strongly and specifically worked in her life when that young woman, now a wife and mother, was standing on a stage.  But not just any stage. Once again, she found herself standing on the stage at Wenatchee Free Methodist. However, this time, instead of performing a concert, she was taking her ordination vows. As the Bishop spoke, she recalled the first time she walked through the doors of this church as a tour member preparing to perform a concert. Like any other night in any other city in any other state or any other country, this church was just one of the many stops on that tour. 

As she got off the tour bus, this small-town Louisiana girl thought about how she’d never even heard of the Free Methodist denomination. And she was quite certain after that concert was over she would never step foot into another Free Methodist church in her lifetime. After all, she was a Southern Baptist pastor’s kid! My, oh my, doesn’t God have a sense of humor?!

Yet, here it was seventeen years later–17 years–and where did she find herself? Standing on that very same stage of that very same church in Wenatchee, WA. Only this time, she was flanked on either side by her pastor-husband and her pastor-dad, because she was being ordained an elder in the Free Methodist denomination. As she knelt down and placed her hands on the Bible, it was a holy and sacred moment. It was almost too much for her to take in. Overwhelming was an understatement. God was surely at work. 

Or possibly she most experienced God working in her life at that first official church service of their church plant back in 2009. Selah, it was called. She thought back to how they’d even come to that name for the church. On a bright and beautiful spring day–ones she’s only seen or experienced in Colorado–her family was driving home from a friend’s birthday party. When all of a sudden, she said, “Selah, that’s it! That’s the name of the church we are going to plant. It’s from the Old Testament in the book of Psalm. Do you know what it means?”

With a big grin on his face, her husband said, “Yes, it means, ‘to pause, to rest‘. And I agree, Selah is the name for the church.”

Although hard work and long hours, their season of church planting was very much a pause and rest for her and her entire family. After navigating the hamster wheel of busyness and chaos of what they had personally discovered to be Americanized-Evangelical church ministry, they realized it was not the life they desired. Nor was it the ministry to which they felt called to serve. Now, here they were setting up church each and every Sunday: chairs and tables and church signs and kids’ classrooms–the whole shebang.

And that season was life-giving and fulfilling and transformative. Not only for them, but for many others. People who’d never stepped foot inside of a church before and others who’d been deeply wounded by the traditional church experiences were attending. They were coming to the services, and their lives were being transformed by Jesus. During that time of her life, God was surely working. 

Even still, as the case often is with church plants, their’s became a statistic. The doors were shut and the church was closed. There was doubt and confusion and, if I am honest, a bit of anger, too. But that’s another story for another day. Suffice to say, that season gave her a new perspective on success.

Success is not always determined by numbers or buildings or programs. Neither is success always the completion of a dream. She learned success wasn’t defined by man, but by God. In her life, success meant saying YES to God and trusting his plan even when the outcome was uncertain or unknown. Or when things didn’t turn out they way she had envisioned or planned. 

Church planting ruined her and her family in the best way possible. And she’d do it again…in a heartbeat. 

But when had she really seen God working in her life?

Maybe it was back in 2013 when her husband told her he needed to recharge for the next ministry season? He wasn’t at the point of burnt out, but he knew that if he didn’t intentionally take a season of rest, he would be. In some ways, this was a sabbatical, but in this case it was voluntary unemployment. In our faith tradition, pastors are usually granted a sabbatical every seven years. However, due to moves and various other transitions, they both had been in ministry for nearly 20 years without ever taking, or being granted a sabbatical.

To some, taking this season of voluntary rest didn’t make sense. Still, in faith, they walked in obedience to God. For her, specifically, this was another lesson of trust and relinquishment. This decision should have freaked her out, because she is planner–a serious planner who likes to have her ducks in a row. Yet, it didn’t freak her out. In fact, she experienced peace like never before. And she thought, “No paycheck, no problem.” God will provide.

And God did provide in many overwhelming and extraordinary ways. During that season, her husband was intentional about resting and restoring himself—body, mind, soul and spirit. He also took on all the responsibilities of home schooling their kids and managing their home while she continued to work. And it was amazing to see God work in and through their lives.

In less than three months, God multiplied her music studio by three fold. She was flabbergasted. As such, her sphere of influence widened. She had students and families from every walk of life and background coming into her home each and every week. She may have been their music teacher. But she knew for many, she was the only Jesus they would ever see. And she took that seriously.

As a result, she began to see ministry differently and more clearly. Ministry was not only when she served on the staff of a church, or whenever she had the title of pastor. It wasn’t an official program or position. No, ministry was her very life, 24/7/365. Living and loving like Jesus, wherever she found herself in the many spheres of influence that God placed her.

As the season of sabbatical (unemployment) ended, they really had no idea what their next steps would be. Would she be hired at a church to pastor? Would her husband? Would they be serving together? Or in separate locations? Would they move? Or would they be able to stay in a community where they felt called to establish roots? No matter what the future held, they were going to be obedient to God. And they would walk through whatever door he opened or down whichever road he directed.

Then, one day, that couple got another call from the very same superintendent who had called them a few years before. Remember? 

Perhaps, that was the day when I most experienced God working in my life.

And here I am. A pastor on staff of a church. A church I dearly love. Serving alongside of my husband, because he’s on staff, too. Writing these words in the very office where my husband sat and worked way back in 2000. The very office that I helped him to paint (And it’s the same color, mind you, from over 15 years ago.)
The very office where we had many tearful talks. The place where I told him about yet another negative pregnancy test. (Unfortunately, we had that particular talk a lot.) But it was also the place where I was able to tell him he was finally going to be a daddy for the first time.

It was in this very office where our then-lead pastor looked at me and told me, “Jada, you should pursue pastoral ordination and take classes, because you are already a pastor, but you should make it ‘official’.” And now, it’s the place where I fulfill my pastoral calling from so many years ago. 

Yes, I do believe it is in this season that I am most experiencing God working in my life. Right now, in this very moment. But I wouldn’t be in this season had it not been for the many, many others. For you see, each one is intertwined and connected together to create exactly who I am and where I am today.

And in this one, I’m fulfilling a little girl’s dream. A little girl who “played church” with her stuffed animals and “preached” on the front steps of her parents’ home in the Deep South. Only now, I’m not pretending to be a pastor. I am one. And I love it and my Church, the people, as well as the community in which I reside and serve.

Recently, we were on a family hike. During the hike, my daughter exclaimed, “Mom, I don’t like straight paths. I like to make my own way.” Her comment got me to thinking–really thinking–about my life and the paths that I have journeyed over these last four decades.

Now, I can’t speak for everyone. But for many of us, God’s plan for our lives doesn’t always include a straight path. Oh surely, sometimes, it might. But usually, there are many twists and turns and detours along the way. At least on my journey, there have been many.

And there were times when I thought the dream and the calling would never be fulfilled. But God had a plan. A plan I would have never, ever dared to dream, or hope for, or imagine. Whenever I thought the door was closed, he was simply saying, “Not that one,” or, “Not now.” God was with me and stays with me every step of the way. In some ways, I’ve come full circle. And there are many days that it leaves me absolutely breathless.

What about you? Has God given you a dream? Has he called you to a unique opportunity? Surely, it doesn’t have to be vocational ministry.  God calls his children to all sorts of endeavors and experiences. And he only asks that we faithfully serve and represent him wherever we find ourselves.

The book of Proverbs tells us, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”

So, if God has given you a dream or a calling don’t become discouraged when it doesn’t come to fruition overnight or within a human’s finite timeframe. Allow him to work and to move and to do what only God can do in and through you. For you see, it’s really not about the destination; it’s about the journey.  If I could encourage you in any possible way, it would be to keep your eyes on where he’s leading, but mostly, I encourage you to enjoy the journey–each and every step, every twist and  turn, and even the roadblocks.

Clergy Confessions: Brain Farts [What’s Your Name?]

design

Over the course of my time serving in vocational ministry, which is nearing the twenty year mark, would you care to guess what one of the most difficult tasks I have found to be?

Remembering people’s names. 

Seriously, even though I can memorize dozens of pages of musical lyrics in various foreign languages (Russian, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Hebrew, etc.), it is difficult for me to remember folks’ names. Now, when I’m memorizing musical lyrics, I am sitting with those pages of music for many hours each and every day. Yet, as typical with church attendance, most folks don’t attend church each and every Sunday. Statistically speaking, it’s usually two out of four Sundays a month. So, that adds to the challenge of remembering names. Not to mention, most pastors have multiple hundreds of names to remember (if not multiple thousands). It may not be popular to admit this, but even in trying to do my best, I make mistakes and have “brain farts“. And don’t tell me you don’t occasionally have them, too! Because if you did, we’d have to talk about lying then, wouldn’t we?!

In all sincerity, I am STILL learning folks’ names at the church where I am on pastoral staff, and I have been working there for two years (and this is my second stint at this very church, so there are a few carry overs from my previous tenure). However, I am trying to show myself some grace, and hoping others will do the same. As a church shifts and changes during staff transitions and, especially, when a church is growing (and praise God our church is!), it takes time for pastors to get to know folks. And, it’s all the more difficult when folks dart out quickly after service. On those occasions, we hardly have time to say, “Good morning!” much less engage in an actual conversation and make polite introductions. Then, of course, there’s football season, when pastors around the country wonder, “Where’s my congregation? Did I miss the rapture and get left behind?”

Between preaching and/or leading worship, putting out fires or filling in for the volunteer who didn’t show up, managing emergencies that arise (sometimes, church-related, but other times family-related, because pastors don’t cease to be parents on Sundays), praying for people (which we absolutely love and live to do) and, then, engaging in a bazillion and one conversations in between services, please know that we, pastors, sincerely do our best to remember each and every detail–including your name, your spouse’s name, and all of your children’s names and ages, too. Seriously, we are trying. But, sometimes….it’s just not there. And we wonder where it went, because we can recall every other random detail or unnecessary fact that’s rolling around in our brain. But your name, for whatever reason, is gone. It’s like a system failure, and we have no clue when it’s going to happen. It’s just like POOF!

Unfortunately, it all comes back to one very real, but annoying fact: We are human. Shocking, I am sure. But pastors are not and never will be super-human. Instead, we are simply run-of-the-mill-boringly-ordinary-nothing-special-about-us human beings. As such, we have limited brain capacities, especially on Sundays. Which, as a reminder, happens to be our fullest and most fatiguing workday of the entire week. And, sometimes, we are simply tired. Occasionally, those of us pastors  with kids haven’t gotten one single wink of sleep the night before church due to sick children (Three cheers for dual-pastor families!). Or because we may be dealing with aging and elderly parents ourselves. Or, perhaps, we were at the hospital all night long with a grieving family. Or we may have been tossing and turning throughout the night in fitful sleep; finally giving up on it and, instead, begin to fight a spiritual battle through prayer on behalf of someone (or several someones) in our congregation.

Yet, we are up bright and early on Sunday mornings, because it’s our job to show up, to serve you, to share God’s Word, to pray with and for you. And we take all those things ever so seriously. But the brain farts continue to happen. It’s like they are uncontrollable, unstoppable, undeniable. They are unexpected and unbelievably annoying. And, sometimes, they cause pastors to forget names. (Heck! Sometimes, brain farts cause me to forget my own kids’ names! What’s up with that, huh?) 

So, might I make a humble request, dear church member, regular attender, or cherished guest: Please, oh please, if we are talking with you at church, or if you happen to run into us while out and about in the community, and you can tell that we can’t quite recall or remember your name, please don’t be offended (or leave the church). Instead, would you be ever so kind to show us some grace and, perhaps, even remind us of your name? It would really help us out a lot.

It may come as a surprise, but most pastors have already figured out that we are not perfect, we make mistakes, we (occasionally) say stupid stuff, and we forget things. (Sometimes, we forget our kids at church. True story!) And we put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to get things right, to serve you well, to represent God in a worthy manner. So, a simple, but gentle reminder, would be absolutely amazing. And if you forget my name? Well, just make one up! Tommy or George, Sally or Sam, doesn’t matter to me. I am sure I have been called worse!

With many thanks and much grace,
A Pastor, who dearly loves her congregation