Getting What You Want? by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Abee Blom preachingAs I prepared quesadillas, I was listening to a PGA game. The golfer who began the round as the clear leader missed several putts and now was falling far short of winning the game. As he prepared to putt the 18th hole, the commentator remarked, “Well, he got some experience today. Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

I think all ministers can relate to this adage. Often we know exactly how and where we want to serve, but the opportunity doesn’t open up, so we find ourselves involved in ministries that we had not anticipated.

When I graduated seminary, I expected to be a full-time youth minister at a Baptist church. I went through the process of application. I interviewed and accepted a call from a church.  The role and church appeared to be just what I wanted. As I was packing boxes for the move, however, I received a call from the church’s search committee. The pastor had resigned unexpectedly, and the committee had decided to suspend my call. They thanked me for my time and wished me well, but I would not be serving as a full-time youth minister at that Baptist church.

I was without a job and housing, but I did have a church family: Bridgewater Baptist Church, where I had served in various roles while a seminary student. Once news got out about my loss, a Bridgewater member visited me to, in her words, “Just to hug you.” Neither of us knew my future, but she knew that I did not have to face it alone. Another family provided the upstairs of their house so I would have a place to live. Soon the church offered me a position working with the preschool children’s ministry. I was tasked with developing sensory motor children’s worship for ages birth through five years old. Along with the programming, I learned volumes about interacting with parents and recruiting volunteers. I had not planned to serve in children’s ministry, but in that role, I received loads of experience serving on a church staff and working with ministry teams.

As this new role unfolded for me, I was grateful for the support from my church family but I was also fighting the bitterness of not getting the ministry role that I had wanted. A friend and fellow minister, also a member of the Bridgewater family, invited me to lunch. While I shared openly and honestly about my hurts and disappointments, she listened. And then she said, “You are building cabinets. Jesus was a carpenter long before, and for longer, than he was doing his ministry. Jesus built cabinets, attended worship at the synagogue,and lived as a brother and son for many years. Building cabinets is not in lieu of doing ministry, it is what you do while you wait.”

Whether I consider myself “getting experience” or “building cabinets,” the concept of doing what I know to do–in the community that I am in at that time–gives me direction and peace.  At this stage in my life, I had not anticipated being the at-home parent and church volunteer. I expected to be serving a church or religious organization in a professional ministry role. Yet roles as worship leader, Sunday school teacher, blog writer, homework helper, classroom volunteer, and dishwasher are where I find myself. And since I remember building cabinets in the children’s ministry of Bridgewater Baptist as the foundation of so much of my subsequent ministries, I am content with my current role. I’ll keep building cabinets until the next part of my ministry reveals itself.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.


Calling the Powers by Brittany Riddle

Brittany and the sculptureRecently, while taking a day of personal Sabbath and walking one of the greenways in Roanoke, Virginia, I came across a sculpture that is titled, “Calling the Powers.” It is part of a memorial sculpture garden in memory of Ann Davey Masters, who was the executive director of the Roanoke’s Clean Valley Council from 1996-2009.

In my imagination, the sculpture depicts a woman who, after reaching the top of a mountain, falls to her knees and reaches to the heavens in awe of her surroundings.  The sculpture captured my attention on many levels. I came across it on a beautiful day full of views of the mountains, sunshine, and a light breeze.  In those moments of peace and rest, I could imagine myself in that same posture, reaching up to the heavens, soaking up the sun and soaking up those moments of grace as time seemed to stand still.

I was also reminded of how I feel when I am doing what I’m called to do as a minister—arms open wide to God and the people around me in awe of the beauty of life and creation, knowing the joy of journeying alongside people in the ups and downs of life and faith, sensing the freedom of being present in the moment while resting in God’s grace, experiencing an openness to the possibilities that lie ahead.

I remember the days when I was exploring a call to ministry and was not able to take this posture.  I even remember when the “This Is What A Preacher Looks Like” t-shirts came out when I was in college. I bought one, knowing that I felt called to ministry, but not daring to wear a t-shirt that claimed this truth. It took me a couple of years before I would even put that shirt on in the comfort of my own home.  Those were days of uncertainty about my calling and insecurity that God could or would ever call ME to serve in full-time ministry. Even when I began serving in my first ministry position out of seminary almost two years ago, I remember struggling to use the title “minister” when I introduced myself to people.  I was sure God had called me into ministry, but I was unsure of myself and what I had to offer. Those were days when my posture was not one of reaching upward toward the heavens and outward toward other people, but instead my posture arched inward, toward myself. I still have those days sometimes. But I find that the daily routines of ministry help me to slowly chip away at those thoughts of insecurity, which enables me to reach up to God, living into God’s calling in my life, while extending open arms to those with whom I minister. It is not an exact science, but a constant challenge and exercise in grace and love, each and every day.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown writes, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” This sculpture reminded me of this truth in my own journey. We open ourselves to vulnerability on a daily basis as we call on the power of God, step into the messiness of living in community, and remember that we are deeply connected to each other and to the One who created us. And embracing these vulnerabilities to experience love, belonging and joy and to live into our callings is worth every ounce of risk.

Brittany Riddle is minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia.

Holding Hands by Tammy Abee Blom

Holding HandsAudrey was telling me about her third day as a second grader. I asked if anything had not gone as expected and she shared, “I took the new girl to the nurse.” I asked her to tell me about it.

While licking her Popsicle, Audrey related, “We were playing on the playground and Maddy-the-new-girl scraped her knee and was crying. I went over and said, “You need to tell the teacher.” She kept on crying and said, “I don’t know what to do.” I said, “Hold my hand. I will take you to the teacher.” Maddy-the-new-girl didn’t want to go. I told her, “If you hold my hand, I won’t let go.”

Audrey walked Maddy to the teacher and then to the nurse’s office for a Band-aid. Audrey concluded her story with, “She’s new, Mom, and she didn’t know we would take care of her; so I held her hand.”

Holding hands in sadness and joy is what friends, ministers, and chaplains do. We believe God can take care of us, and we believe that holding on to each other will make the situation more bearable. Often we don’t trust in the power of presence. When the pain or the hurt overwhelms, holding a hand seems like too small of a gesture. However, the small acts of kindness soothe the soul.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Gandalf shares his belief in the courageous quest of the Dwarves. Gandalf tells the Lady of Lothlorien, “It is the ordinary folks who keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love keep the light strong.”

In our ministries and lives, it is the ordinary people who carry the light for us. It is the friend who offers to watch the baby so you and your spouse can have dinner together. It is the minister who calls the day before your medical procedure. It is the Sunday school teacher who welcomes you with a smile. Ordinary, everyday acts of kindness keep the light strong. So, don’t discount the power of showing up and holding a hand. You are keeping the darkness at bay.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Doing Nothing by Brittany Riddle

Brittany RiddleAs I looked ahead on my calendar recently, I wondered who filled up all those little boxes as I flipped through September, October, November, December, January . . . . I took a deep breath and remembered that it was, in fact, my own doing that my calendar is already so full through the beginning of 2014.  Many of the items on my calendar are things I thoroughly enjoy doing with people I love—church events, traveling with the senior adults from church, teaching Bible studies, lunches with minister friends, and more. Some are the routine parts of my weekly and monthly rhythms that simply have to get done.  Enjoyable or not, the number of things filling up my calendar was enough to overwhelm me in that moment.

For the sake of satisfying my obsession for organization, my calendar is color-coded. Church events are one color, personal commitments are another, and “Brittany time” is a third color (yes, I have to write down “Brittany time” on my calendar). And that color was noticeably missing from my upcoming schedule.  “Brittany time” is the time I take for myself to read, write, and regroup. I’m an introvert, and though I love being around people most of the time, I also have the need to “disappear” into my own space by myself every once in a while to recharge and rejuvenate.

As I was sharing with someone how overwhelmed I felt when I looked at my calendar, she asked me if I could schedule something fun, just for myself, in the near future.  I thought about it for a moment, and half-heartedly said, “I guess I could,” but in the back of my mind I was saying, “I don’t want to schedule one more thing!” And that’s when it hit me. I realized what I needed most was unscheduled time. Time to take off my watch, not watch the clocks, to take a walk outside, to sit on my couch and take a nap or watch TV, to just do nothing. It was in these moments that I was finally able to be still in the presence of God and in my own skin so that I could calm my mind and my body.

Sometimes I feel guilty for taking time for myself. There are always so many other things I could be doing. So many other people who could use a visit or a listening ear.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the expectations that everyone else has for my time that I forget to take care of myself. And then I have to remind myself that I am not at my best to serve God or other people when I am running low on energy and patience.

I long to be with other people, but I also long for moments of quiet and solitude when I can simply rest in the presence of God.  Sometimes these moments have to be scheduled in order for them to happen. Other times, often the most refreshing, they happen spontaneously when they are needed most. For these moments, I am grateful.

Brittany Riddle is minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia.