My Deep GladnessDecember 29, 2016
My Deep Gladness
In my first eighteen years of life, I was frequently asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As I entered high school, conversation shifted to the college I would go to and the job I wanted. When I stepped foot onto Messiah College’s campus, the conversation turned to vocation. This word carries a deep sense of wonder, along with privilege and responsibility. For years, I thought vocation was synonymous with a specific job description, title, and success.
Frederick Buechner is famous for his writing on vocation and calling. He writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Over the last several months, God has reawakened me to the deep gladness that is at the core of my identity. My deep gladness cannot be confined to a job description or title. My deep gladness — the space in my very being that when lived out, honors Jesus and quenches a sliver of the world’s hunger — is one that breaks the ceiling of a specific building, name plate, contract, or time. My deep gladness and your deep gladness is found when we are wholeheartedly living in the rhythms and purposes that for which we were created to live.
Five months ago, my best friend and husband, Micah, and I moved to Lancaster City (Pa.) Even before we knew each other, God stirred our imaginations and callings to help people come to know Jesus and live a transformed life by starting new churches. Years later we packed up a U-Haul, moved to the northeast neighborhood of the city to love our neighbors, and form a new church community called Branch & Vine.
Borrowing a phrase from Eugene Peterson, we say that we are a church-in-formation. This means that we are working other full time jobs, getting to know our neighbors, and prayerfully discerning what a new church community will look like. We do not have a church building, but our home is a place where we open the doors and our lives to serve others. We do not have congregants, but view each person we come into contact with as people who are made in the image of God and are dearly loved by him. Yes, we know that God is calling Branch & Vine to be a Jesus-centered, diverse, and multiplying community, but the weekly rhythms of what it all looks like. We have our dreams and ideas, but those are just sketches of what might come.
Currently, I work at a middle school in the city in the emotional support classroom. Each weekday I have the privilege of spending the day with eight teenage boys who need extra grace, love, and encouragement. I’ve been called names that I cannot write here, but I have also been called “mom.” I’ve had to chase kids through the hall, but I have also had the privilege of sitting on the floor listening to a student tell me what was going on in his life. I’ve been asked — what seems like hundreds of times — routine questions like if they can go to the bathroom, but on a few occasions I have been asked surprising spiritual questions.
I have a bachelor’s degree in congregational ministry and a master’s degree in ministerial leadership. I am not working in a traditional church setting. Most days I have no idea what I am doing. But for the first time in my life, I can wholeheartedly say that my deep gladness has met the world’s great needs.
My deep gladness meets the world’s great needs when I show up, day after day, to a room of adolescent boys in whom I see immense potential, when the world would rather push them to aside. My deep gladness meets a small portion of the world’s needs when I tutor a group of girls in the afternoons, talking about their day and helping them with their homework. My deep gladness meets the world’s great needs when I stop frantically living and have conversations with my neighbors.
My deep gladness is found in being a shepherd — loving, guiding, and encouraging people no matter where I am. I desire to point people to Jesus and my calling will never be confined to a 40-hour-per-week job. I have never been so scared or excited (and ask me on different days and you will probably get a different answer) about planting a church — in all of its messiness, ideas, complexity, and beauty. For now, I thank God for contentment in mission and vocation. I prayerfully ask that God would continue to form relationships, passions, and values into a church — knowing that I am being formed first and foremost.