...or you can let it come to you.

[This is the second of two posts that center around my recent vocational discernment. If you haven't read part one, jump over here first!]

Then, in January, I started this work in Admissions. This work that involves entering data into a difficult-to-navigate database, learning an endless stream of acronyms, and plenty of paper cuts.

This work that involves walking with others as they discern God's call in their lives, matching prospective students with current students who are eager to share their experiences, and being surrounded by an incredibly gifted team every day.

And then, less than three weeks after this dream-job interview, I became sure that God can call us to more than one thing.

So, until May 2013, I will live into this new knowledge by serving as the Associate Director of Admissions right here, at the seminary that has helped me understand the breadth and depth of serving God. It's funny: I have been so eagerly anticipating the end of my life as a full-time student, all the while dreading the thought of leaving this community. God so fully, fully provides.

At my endorsement interview last April, the pastor who was then serving as an Assistant to the Bishop (who is, in a delightful twist of fate, my new boss) recommended that I consider the possibility of serving in campus ministry at some point in my career. I was overjoyed at this suggestion, because at its heart, campus ministry entails walking alongside young adults as they figure out what it means to follow God's leading, to fully live into the vocations to which they have been called, and that aspect of ministry has always excited me. During the next chapter of my life, I will get to do exactly that, but with young adults, "regular" adults (whatever that means!), and even much older adults, all of whom are God's beloved children. In a roundabout way, this is precisely what I have always felt God calling me to do, it just looks a little different than I imagined. And it, too, feels like home.

I feel incredibly privileged to be able to serve in this capacity for the next two years. This call will afford me the opportunity to travel around the country to engage in conversation about discernment and hear the different and beautiful ways in which God calls God's people to public ministry. And when I return from these excursions, I will settle back into life on the Ridge and remember why I came here in the first place: because I so clearly see God at work here, and that, my friends, gives me great hope.

NB: The titles for this post and the one before it come from Sometimes a Beggar by Caedmon's Call, off of their latest album, Raising Up The Dead. Good stuff.


And you can search for what to say...

[This is the first of two posts that center around my recent vocational discernment. For part two, check here!]

Back in November, I started a blog post and never finished it. Here it is, in all its glory:
And that's as far as I got.

This was on November 18th, 2010. Two months and twenty-seven days ago. It wasn't the first time I felt that way, and it was far from the last. I was in the midst of an identity crisis (no, really), and it was terrifying. The post I started on that day has evolved a bit, and now has an ending that I truly could not have imagined just a few months ago.

I've found that every academic year carries a theme for me. Often, it stems from something that I've been thinking about on my own, but then pops up frequently in class, or becomes the subject of Refectory conversation. I've found that I can't force a theme, or every mention of it will feel artificial. When it naturally emerges, it's a welcome surprise and a constant reminder to listen to God's voice.

The theme that emerged around the beginning of this year was whether or not God can call us to more than one thing. It came up nominally in class, but predominantly in my personal life. That aforementioned identity crisis revolved around whether or not I was following God's call to be an Associate in Ministry, or if I was ignoring God's call to be an ordained pastor.

I spent a good bit of time, that week in mid-November, in an office in the North Wing of our academic building. One of the people I trust the most guided me through the painful process of looking inward and asking myself if I was being truly faithful to who God is calling me to be. I felt hopeless and, for the first time in my life, completely unsure of where I was going next.

I thought about going on internship. About taking a year to spend more time discerning. I thought about just switching to another program, as if it were a safety net, just in case it's what I was supposed to be doing. But I kept coming back to this program, to this roster, and it felt like home.

In the end (with the surprising help of TinkerBell, which is another blog post entirely), I discerned that I am doing what God has called me to do. Had I switched to another program or another roster, I still think I would be doing what God has called me to do. Because I really, truly believe that God can call us to more than one thing. I believe that God gives us a host of gifts that can be used in different ways, and it is simply a matter of being faithful in the moment. And being faithful in that moment, for me, meant pursuing a call to congregational youth and young adult ministry.

Well, that's what I thought at the end of November.

I pushed through the rest of the semester, and wound up with an interview at the end of December, thanks to a dear friend's recommendation. It was perfect. The congregation is exactly the kind I've dreamed of working in for years. The pastor and I got along quite nicely, and I think we would work well together in ministry. They want to get creative with young adult ministry. Like I said: perfect.

Leaving the interview, I told myself not to get too attached. I wasn't sure if they would be able to wait until May for a youth worker, and even if they were, another candidate might be a much better fit for the position. No expectations, no crushed dreams. Simple. But deep down, I felt like that job, that congregation, that call, was home. I was absolutely convinced that was where I would be post-graduation.

And, well, that was at the end of December.


Persecution or Inconvenience?

Last semester, I had three classes on Tuesdays. On one particular Tuesday, we ended up talking about Christians and persecution in two of those classes. In both cases, I felt like the token dissenter, playing Devil's Advocate just for the sake of stirring the pot. I took the side that I cannot stand by the claim that American Christians are, as a whole, being persecuted in our society today.

Except when I made that statement, I wasn't just trying to stir the pot. I was being completely sincere. 

In my first class, we were discussing how Christians were persecuted in the book of Acts. If you've read any of this book, you know that Christians were seriously persecuted then. They were driven out of their hometowns, thrown in jail, and even killed because of their beliefs. That's serious persecution. As a friend pointed out later, there are definitely Christians in America who are persecuted. This friend used the example of Rachel Scott, the teenage girl who was killed in the Columbine High School shooting almost 12 years ago, potentially because of her outspoken Christian faith. That is persecution.

But Rachel Scott is an outlier. As my friend Kerri put it, "[American] Christians might be inconvenienced, but not persecuted." In both of my classes, part of the discussion focused on the current state of Christmas in America. On how retailers are reluctant to say "Merry Christmas," and opt for an inclusive "Happy Holidays" instead. How nativity scenes are being taken down from in front of government buildings. I can understand how Christians might feel inconvenienced by this: a holiday that is central to your belief system is not being recognized, you don't know who you can say "Merry Christmas" to, and the list goes on. But persecuted? I don't buy it.

If anything, Christians are in a place of privilege in this country. When the media portrays the "perfect American family," they almost always go to church on Sunday, say grace around the table, and display some other sort of religiosity. There are variations in the statistics, but anywhere from 76-82% of Americans claim to be Christians. If you've been to church lately, you may have noticed that far less than 76% of your community is seated beside you. This might be a bold statement, but I would posit that most Americans just default to Christianity when asked for religious affiliation. They wouldn't do that if American Christians were so persecuted.

I want to be careful to give each person the respect they deserve. If someone feels persecuted, I don't get to determine whether or not they actually feel that way. But I would encourage that person to seriously consider those who are persecuted in harsh and unjust ways. Those who are tortured and killed for professing their beliefs. Those who are served with criminal charges for having a Bible in their home. While encountering strife among family and friends or not having a sales clerk wish you a merry Christmas might feel inconvenient, is it really persecution? By claiming that American Christians are persecuted, might it devalue the pain that Christians around the world (and non-Christians in America, for that matter) are experiencing?

As another friend, Adam, so eloquently stated, "There are some days I'm hungry, but I ain't starving!" And I think that's a good perspective to keep in mind.


Pumpkin Fluff Parfaits

I've been a very bad blogger, I know. But somehow, I got all consumed with CPE in all its 60-hours-a-week glory, and then was thrown right into being the Summer Greek social coordinator, and then started the semester. So there's been little to no time for blogging. Sad day.

Also sad? I only realized that I have a few more months of being a sassy seminarian. So I should probably use up the name for all its worth before my tenure as such runs out.

I don't aspire to be a food blogger, but I always like trying new things, so here it is. Earlier this week, a friend's facebook post caught my eye:
So, I resolved that these would grace my family's new kitchen this weekend, and today I made it happen. Who says I'm not productive on the weekends?

First gather some ingredients.
1 package of sugar free/fat free vanilla instant pudding mix
1 15 oz can of pure pumpkin [NOT pumpkin pie filling!] (or 15 oz of the real stuff if you're good like that)
1 8 oz tub of Cool Whip Lite (thawed per directions)
1 cup of fat free milk
Pumpkin Pie spice
Ginger snaps (4-6 cookies per parfait)
Plenty of miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Start by pouring the milk into a large bowl.

Then, if you're going to be photographing this whole process, find yourself a willing assistant. Then take a blurry picture of her, because you haven't quite figured out how to properly manually adjust your dad's awesome DSLR camera.

Pour in the package of instant pudding mix while whisking, so the mix doesn't clump. The assistant might become unreasonably excited about this step.

Whisk it until it's all combined and the consistency of pudding. It will be thicker than normal pudding, but that's a good thing. Try not to eat it as is.

Now, add some of the pumpkin pie spice.

In this family, we like a lot of pumpkin pie spice.

Well, most of us do.

Now, pop open that can of pumpkin.

Ponder it for a moment.

Model it, if you so choose.

Then dump it in the milk/pudding/spice mixture. All of it.

Then, have your assistant do some actual work and mix it all around.

Make sure it's all nice and combined.

Then grab some whipped cream.

And dump the whole container in the bowl.

Then mix all of that around...

...until it looks like this! Now, you could stop right here, put a good cup of it in a bowl, and eat it. It's basically pumpkin mousse. It's light, fluffy heaven in a bowl.

If you're like me and you don't want to make the parfaits right away, put the bowl in the fridge. You should refrigerate any leftover fluff anyway. This will also help firm it up a little bit, which is good for the parfaits.

While the fluff is in the fridge, go to your nearest IKEA and pick up these adorable little glasses. You can get a package of six 6-ounce glasses for $1.50! Truthfully: we bought these today specifically for the purpose of making the parfaits. There's no shame in that.

Grab one of the glasses and a plastic bag.

Put the ginger snaps in the bag, and crush them using the glass. I left some large pieces and made some into the consistency of a powder, but that's entirely up to you.

Put them back in a bowl if you're going to be photographing your process.

Grab your bowl of miniature chocolate chips and try not to eat them.

Fill the cup about halfway, maybe a little more, with the fluff.

If you drop some on the counter and then accidentally smear it, pretend that you're on Top Chef, where they always smear some sort of foam or cream or whatever on the plate.

Put a generous amount of ginger snaps on top of the fluff. I like to use the bigger chunks for this part.

Then, after you've figured out the sweet spot of the manual focus, add some of the miniature chocolate chips, especially around the edge.

Add some more fluff on top and sprinkle with some more ginger snaps. I used the powder-like cookies for the topping.

Then, if you love chocolate like I do, add some more miniature chocolate chips. Or, as my friend up there suggested, some chocolate shavings. Whatever floats your boat.

Then, your mom and sister will tell you there aren't enough ginger snaps in the middle.

So you'll add some more, and your mom will tell you it needs ginger snaps on the bottom.

So you'll add them, and then you will have found the perfect combination of fluff and ginger snaps.

And there you have it: Pumpkin Fluff Parfaits. Refrigerate them until you're ready to eat, and then enjoy this fall treat! If you use all of the light ingredients, it's a little more healthy than most desserts, so it's practically guilt free :]

Any favorite fall recipes you'd like to share?

[Oh! And if you'd like to see all of the ridiculous pictures my sister and I took during this process, check them out here. There are 114 of them. Seriously. I promise you'll laugh.]


Fear or Love?

Over the past few months, I have become an NPR addict. I used to listen from time to time, or peruse their website, but I wasn't an avid listener. For some reason, this past January, I made NPR one of the presets on my XM radio, and I very rarely change it now. Except for when my sister gets in the car and, before I can even turn the key, begs, "Can we pleeeeease not listen to NPR?!" I'm one of those people who starts every other conversation with, "You know, I was listening to NPR the other day..." and I love hour-long drives that begin on the hour, so I can catch a full show. And much like my friend Sarah, I will sit in my car outside of my destination to listen to the end of a program (or, if I'm able, I'll run inside and pull up the online XM player on my laptop). It's okay, I know I'm a nerd.

Anyway, today, I was driving to my clinical site, listening to Tell Me More, and Melissa Etheridge came on. Now, I like Melissa enough. I can sing along to a bunch of her songs when they come on the radio, and I think she's a great musician, but I've never waited in line outside of Best Buy to pick up her latest album. But this morning, I heard her say something that has been running through my head all day. In talking about her new album, Fearless Love, she said that along her journey, including a battle with breast cancer a few years ago, she has learned that "every choice we make is either love or fear, in anything, everything we do."

Love or fear. Everything we do is either love or fear.

At the exact moment I was listening to this interview, I was feeling incredibly exhausted, both mentally and physically, and reluctant to get out of the car once I got to my clinical site. But then I started thinking...if I sat in the car, I would be making the decision out of fear. Fear of initiating conversations with people I don't know, fear of saying the wrong thing or not taking advantage of the moment in a conversation, fear of failing. But if I got out of the car, I would be making the decision out of love. A love for every person inside of that facility, a love for hearing their stories, a love for ministry.

Recently, in a conversation about goals, a friend said that she never says she "will" do something, but rather that she "intends" to do something. When she says, "I will," she rarely actually does. But intentions run much deeper. It connotes an internal motivation to achieve something. For this friend, using such language helps her accomplish her goals more often. So, taking a cue from her, I intend to live and act out of love, rather than fear.

This sounds awfully nebulous, I know. Sometimes love means holding back, or it can mean saying or doing something difficult. And that can often look like fear. I know that this summer, which will continue to be filled with exhaustion, pain, emptiness, and most of all, learning, it will be difficult to push away that fear and instead choose to act out of love. But I can't help but think what a rich and joyful season this could be, should I make that conscious decision. So I will ask those with whom I spend the most time to check in on me and make sure I am not reverting to fear.

And I intend to love deeply, honestly, and often.


"We change, whether we like it or not." [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Generally, when I'm overwhelmed and anxious, I have quite a bit of trouble sleeping. The best remedy I've found is to make progress on the cause of my anxiety, helping my heart rate go down and my brain to stop stumbling over itself long enough for me to fall asleep. In the middle of a semester, I'll lay awake for hours stressing about assignment deadlines, but as soon as I jump out of bed and do twenty minutes of work, I'm sleeping like a baby with no trouble. When it's time to pack up and move out of any one of the temporary residences I've inhabited for the past five years, I run through every item that needs packing while trying to get some shut eye, but can only achieve that blissful state after emptying my desk drawers into a movers box at two in the morning.

Well, there are no assignments due in the next few days, and all of the boxes that need packing are about sixty miles north of my current location, and although they are weighing on my mind a bit, they aren't the primary source of my anxiety at the moment. I've laid here for an hour, trying to figure out why I'm so unsettled, and it all boils down to my least favorite six-letter word: change.

This is my first summer not living at home. I've lived on campus at college and grad school for five years, but I've always been able to spend my summers in my hometown: spending days off with childhood best friends, carting my younger sister to and from daycamp and various other activities, shopping with mom on a lazy Saturday, enjoying my father's grilling experiments, sitting by the pool at a family party...all the comforts of home. It's not so much that I'm nervous about living away from family and friends, I know I can do that. But to upset something that has become so routine in my life reminds me that I am about to experience immense change, and I'm none too happy about it.

This summer, I will complete a summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. This is an accredited program that helps those in ministry learn more about pastoral care. I have a lot to learn on the subject, so part of me is excited about the learning experience. But CPE is also heavily focused on learning about yourself. According to those who have gone before me, this summer I will learn why I react to certain situations in certain ways, what unresolved issues I have in my life, and what I need to work on to be a more pastorally caring presence. Just putting it all out there...I am terrified of CPE. I think that what scares me the most is I have no idea why I'm so afraid, just that I am. I'm pretty sure it has to do with not knowing what to expect, so I'm hoping some of these fears will be eased shortly. But it is mostly because everyone says that you emerge a changed person after CPE, and like I said, change and I have a tumultuous relationship.

While CPE will be the big change in my life, there are a bunch of other changes happening, some bigger than others, that have me tossing and turning. My family is moving next month, and while I am excited for a brand new house with brand new doorknobs, light fixtures and appliances, I am saddened to think that this might be my very last night in the only permanent home I have known for 23 years. The people (and dachshund!) I love are going to the new house, but we are leaving behind the marks of door hinges that came down many, many years ago after breaking a fall, thus busting my chin; the worn carpet where I played "airplane" with my baby sister for hours (even after she spit up on me that one time); the kitchen floor where I spilled an entire bottle of sprinkles, much to the delight of the aforementioned baby sister; the backyard that holds a long-forgotten swing set and the under-appreciated grape arbor; and all of the other memories that I can't even remember, but will surely miss. There are things that I won't miss, like a basement that floods with too much rain, and the complete lack of counter space in the kitchen. But it will be difficult to be removed from the moving and settling process, only traveling through on weekends and holidays for the next year, and then for who knows how long after that. I'm afraid that settling in the new house will change my family, and I won't be there to be a part of it. It's a little irrational, as I'm incredibly close to my family, but it is undoubtedly going to bring about change.

Then there are the little changes, the ones that may be strange at first, but are ultimately for the best. Things like meeting roommates and learning how to live with someone new, even if only for a few months. Or having to wear professional attire every day instead of reliable old jeans and flats. Or a best friend getting married. Or saying goodbye to a beautiful, vibrant toddler who you watched once a week for the past nine months, as she and her parents move several states away to answer God's call.

These are the things that haven't allowed my mind to stop spinning or my eyes to remain closed, even though I have an incredibly busy weekend approaching quickly. I tried to think of something I could accomplish in half an hour's time to give me temporary closure and grant me enough sleep to be productive tomorrow. Letting it all out and making my fears known is part of it, but I've realized that I also need to issue myself a little reminder: "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" [philippians 4:6].

I've been missing those "prayer" and "thanksgiving" parts, forgetting to be thankful for the vast amount of stability and security I've been given throughout my life. Forgetting to pray for peace in the midst of change, all while be thankful for the opportunity to experience new things. And how often I overlook the compassion and grace of God when anxiety takes over, preferring to abate my fears rather than to pray for a peaceful spirit. So as my eyelids become increasingly heavy and my thoughts order themselves neatly in my mind, I think it might be time to try a new remedy for these sleepless nights.


Clean & Unclean

This semester, I am taking Witness of the Gospels, a class where we look at all four Gospels and how they came to be, as well as what they are actually saying through the original language. At the beginning of the semester, we were given one text from each Gospel and were asked to choose one to work with for eighteen weeks. I chose Mark 7:24-30, the story of the Syrophoenician woman:

From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 

During my drama class in January, we worked a little with this text, and I wanted to know more about it. We did quite a bit of exegetical work (figuring out what the Greek is saying), and then wrote a heady, academic paper that was actually really helpful in deciphering the real message. Then, we were graced with the integrative project. The task? To use what we found in our exegetical work to creatively present the text. Some of my classmates wrote really insightful sermons, some wrote beautiful and/or hysterical songs, and some created visual art. It has been a huge blessing to see my friends use their talents to creatively preach the word of God.

For my project, I took a cue from the Woman at the Well video that I found a few years back. If you haven't seen it, watch it immediately, it's incredible. Anyway, I wrote a slam poetry monologue based on this story, and then recorded it for the project. I've embedded the video below and included the text. This helped me learn quite a bit about the story of the Syrophoenician woman, and I really enjoyed creating this.

I am a woman, of no distinction, of little importance.
I am a woman who they say is unclean.
I avoid you in the street, if I’d touch you, you’d recoil.
And you can’t even see that I’m a person too,
I’m a person who is so much more like you,
Because clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
This demon in my child, it has ripped us apart, cursing, beating, swearing, tearing, condemning, hating, shouting, doubting.
I have prayed and I have paid, in every way you could imagine, but this spirit haunts my daughter and shows no sign of release.
They say that you’ve healed others:
You can remove a leper’s spots and make a paralyzed man get up and walk, and give a withered hand new life and stop bleeding, pain and strife,
And I heard you healed a man who was unclean just like us;
We can’t help where we come from, and we don’t know why we weren’t chosen, but we know that we deserve to be loved like the rest,
Because clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
They said that you would come to this house;
Close the curtains, lock the door, rest your feet, take some time, take some time just for you.
But there’s no time for my daughter, how much longer can she bear it?
I’ve sat across the road, hoping, wishing, praying, doubting, needing, for you to appear and release us from this pain.
So imagine my pain when you brush me off and cast aside
Comparing me to the dogs who roam the streets where they reside
I won’t bark but I’ll beg, and I’ll beg but won’t bite.
I’ll take what you can give us, crumbs and scraps from off the floor
That they would step on, sweep up, throw out, disregard, even ignore
I’ll take what you can give us, we haven’t gotten much before,
Because clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
Now there’s a change in your eyes.
Did I offend, affront, insult or taunt?
I wait for the cold shoulder I’ve come to know so well, the one that chills my heart and lets my daughter’s demon dwell.
But then you do what I asked; you say my child is healed, that from here you made the demon yield.
I want to thank you or to kiss you or to show you what you’ve done
For me and for my daughter and our new life that’s just begun
But I can only turn and run
And when I see her I’m undone
Because she’s smiling, laughing, blinking, talking, doing all the things we’d missed.
I never saw your face again, but I heard about your words and deeds, the things you did for people like me
So when everyone asks how my daughter got well,
I tell them about the man who knows
That clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
All items in this post ©Julie Stecker 2010. May not be used without permission.