Each Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous, amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce our friend, Deborah Reeves. Deborah serves on the Baptist Women in Ministry Leadership Team.
Deborah, tell us about your ministry journey, the places and ways you have been serving and are serving.
I’ll begin with where I am now. I currently am a stay-at-home mom. I am a secondary caregiver to my dad, who has a chronic and debilitating memory illness. I provide daily care to others. Each moment is rooted in love.
I am reminded daily of the patients I served over the years as a hospice chaplain. Most of them strived to live each day to the fullest and to give as much love as possible before they died. When we are face-to-face with a life-threatening illness or situation, many of the mundane things of life fall by the wayside, and we see more clearly what matters most. God called me to serve people as they were dying, and they ultimately showed me how to live. Although it is hard to recognize it as such, I try to embrace caring for family as a ministry.
I have been reluctant to participate in the “This is What a Minister Looks Like” series, because I feel inadequate and unworthy to write as a minister during this season of my life in which I am not employed in full-time ministry. After much reflection of the ways I am serving in ministerial roles as a lay person, as a Christian neighbor in my community, and as an advocate for those who often are not heard, I was reminded of the lay people who provide me with pastoral care, who nurtured my calling to ministry when I was young, and who taught me to serve others out of love. Remembering the hands who have served me reminded me that any one of us who serves another out of our love of God is a minister. There are opportunities in life to hold a ministerial title and to be compensated for ministerial work. But each day and in every season of life, I am a minister because I serve God by serving others.
I am a board certified chaplain through Association of Professional Chaplains and received chaplain endorsement through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I was ordained by Boiling Springs Baptist Church in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. That church family held me as a baby, baptized me as a child, nurtured my calling to ministry as a teen, and later witnessed my marriage as an adult.
I am just an ordinary person, but I have been used in extraordinary ways by God. I have served as a minister in churches and as a chaplain to hurricane survivors amidst destruction and ruin. The majority of my ministerial experience has been as a chaplain in hospitals and with a non-profit hospice agency. I officiate weddings, baptize people, bless babies, and preside at funerals. I am fortunate to be one God uses to care for God’s children. All God requires of me is a willingness to serve.
What does a minister look like?
A minister looks ordinary, insecure, inadequate, unworthy, and yet, truly divine. In my hands, the ordinary becomes extraordinarily divine through the transforming power of love.
My husband, Stephen, tells me I must have the word, “Chaplain,” written across my forehead. He can hardly believe the number of strangers (in addition to many people I know) who randomly talk to me, sharing very personal stories of pain. I rarely wear a stole, never wear a clergy collar, and certainly do not have a stamp on my forehead. I look like a minister, though. In a moment when someone needs to feel the presence of God, to hear assurance of God’s love, or to speak their pain, I look like an empathic listener, like peace, refuge, comfort, and maybe even hope. I look like love. This is what a minister looks like.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest joy in ministry comes from the humbling realization that I was used by God as a vehicle to provide care when another person needed God most. I reflect on ministerial experiences, and I know God used me because I could not have come up with those words of comfort, nor could my presence have brought about healing without the power of the Holy Spirit. Being fully reliant on God in those times of crisis and knowing God showed up brings me joy.
The majority of my ministerial experiences as a chaplain are rooted in pain, tragedy, loss and crisis. Where is the joy in that? It is true that ministry requires me to journey often in the depths of despair. I hold the hurt. I have been in the room when a person takes the last breath on earth more times than I can count. I also have been in the room when babies are born. Both experiences bring new life. I have seen miracles. I witness moments of forgiveness, reconciliation, laughter, peace, and love. It is a privilege to bear witness to so many realities of life. We are relational beings. When we journey with others, relating by experience and/or empathy, joy truly is possible. I often ask God to comfort us in our grief and to increase our joy as we remember. I think the act of remembering—even the worst of times—helps us to see more clearly that God was with us all along and used others to journey with us during the difficult times and in times of celebration.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
One of the greatest challenges I have encountered is being present with parents when their young child dies and journeying with them in their grief. I cannot imagine the magnitude of such pain, and I fear it happening to me as a mother.
Though I have survived much of my own pain, it is a challenge at times not to fear what I have seen others experience. I am thankful for effective Clinical Pastoral Education and the power of the Holy Spirit that prevent me from focusing on my own fears and insecurities in times of crisis. When I step away, funneling out of my role as chaplain, I experience many emotions from fear to relief, and from sadness to gratitude. It is both a privilege and a great challenge to face the pain of life and to be reminded of my insecurities day after day.
How do you stay healthy, physically and spiritually?
I have a very active lifestyle with a one year-old and a three year-old. I play a lot with my children, and they make me smile often. I walk at the park and hike in the mountains. Being outside surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation invites physical activity, and it also is good for my spiritual health. I often meet God outside.
As long as the good outweighs the bad, I maintain a healthy emotional state. When the scale tips too heavily on the bad side, I rely on my spiritual health to bring me back to wellness. I remind myself of my core beliefs in the goodness of God’s creation and in the transforming power of love. I hold my babies and hug my family and friends. Most of all, I practice breathing prayers by inhaling deeply, and exhaling with the promise of Christ’s peace. If all of these efforts fail me, I watch a funny video. Laughter heals.
What is the best ministry advice you have been given?
Two ideas make up the best ministerial advice for me. The first comes from my mentor, Dr. Doug Dickens, who said, “In a pastoral care visit, the person who does the most talking gets the most out of it.” There is a time for preaching and teaching in ministry, but listening and being present by seeing people, hearing their stories and holding their concerns is sacred work too. Just as I have to make time for silence in order to hear God, I also must allow space for God’s children to speak to me. Stop talking, and listen.
The second idea was taught to me by my parents. Actions made and words spoken out of love are right. In ministry, as in life, there are times I do not know how to be, what to do or what to say. What is right in moments of controversy and tragedy, or in any given scenario I face as a minister? To act and to speak out of love. If love genuinely is the foundation from which I act and speak, then even my mistakes, insecurities and limitations can be transformed to good. Start with love. It perseveres. Love never fails.