She said, "It's terminal, and that's ok. But I'm not planning on dying tomorrow or anything. The doctors are guessing I have 9-12 months left. I still have a lot of laughing to do."
That was Saturday. And this morning, I got a call that she had died.
Somedays its no fun being the pastor.
Not when you get one call like that. And definitely not when that's the third call like that in two weeks, or when you've gotten six other calls like that in the four months that you've been the pastor. It's no fun when all you can do is weep for the ones who weep, who have no place to go with their anger. It's no fun when all you can do is wail to God and impishly say, "This is NOT why you brought me here! This is NOT what I signed up for." And it's even less fun when you hear yourself saying that and know that this is exactly why you were brought here-- or at least part of it. And doubly true that this is exactly what you signed up for.
Because that's the calling. To stand in the tough places. To boldly point a way and declare that death never ever gets the last word. To be a human face to an intangible God. To say "I'm so sorry" and mean it, even when there is anger seemingly directed at you--but is really more intended for God's hears than yours. To grieve yourself, even while creating a holy space for others to grieve. To acknowledge loss while at the same time displaying vibrant life.
So you do it. Because you are the one the living God has put right here. Not because you are perfect, but because you are sent.
And in the doing, you discover anew that others have been sent too. Maybe not to be the capital P Pastor, but just as sent to do the pastoring. They are the ones who see the tear marks on your face, and tell you that they are praying for you. ("Me? Of all things you're praying for me? Pray for world peace or something. I'm ok." You wish you were strong enough to say that. But the only words that will come are "That means more to me than you can ever know.) They are the ones who will stand with you-- not to remind you where you fail to live up to your calling-- but to help you do the job you've been sent to do.
That's the nature of being sent. Because just as you head out to do a job that feels bigger than you, you discover that you were enough on God's radar that someone-- or ones-- were sent to you.
"Graceland" is the name of my favorite song and album. It's by Paul Simon, but more importantly, it's what "home" sounds and feels like to me. We always listened to this album as we traveled from my home in Tennessee to my parents' childhood homes in Florida. But today, it's also a pretty good snapshot of my theology. Somewhere I really believe that the Christian journey is all about a wild trip to Grace-land. As I see it, Grace-land is the place where God is waiting to meet even us–with all the baggage and brokeness that we tote with us. Grace-land is the place where we will be received with open arms, even though our attempts at “getting it right” have been miserable failures at best. But, I think, every step we take is a step on the journey to Graceland.