Did you always know what you wanted to do in life? If you are an educator, did you dream about teaching when you were in kindergarten? If you are in auto repair, can you look back from where you are now and see the aptitude and desire beginning to grow by what toys interested you in the toy box? If you’re a pilot, can you remember looking at the sky and the clouds and maybe even the planets and dreaming what the world might look like from far, far above the ground?

I’ve been asked that question a multitude of times over the years of my ministry – did I always know I wanted to be a preacher is how the question is most often asked. I usually say no and yes. Isn’t that so preacher-like? Something like:

Life Group member: Pastor, do you think Jesus reeeally walked on water?

Pastor: That’s an interesting question, what do you think?

LG member: That’s not an answer.

Pastor: There are a number of ways to look at the same scripture – literal, metaphorical, allegorical. Is it poetry, is it expository, is it history? And where does it fit in the scriptures, and are there parallels in all the gospels of the same story and what might that tell us? And what was the context of the society at the time and how might that have influenced the perspective of the one telling the story as a witness?

LG member: Do pastors ever simply answer a question yes or no???

Pastor: Did Jesus?

LG member: Ah, the Jesus card, here we go again . . .

It might on the surface seem easier to answer what seem to be yes and no questions with a yes or a no, and yet what if going deeper might invite us into life in a different way? And what if more conversation than yes or no builds relationship in a way that doesn’t allow us to pigeon-hole one another? And what if, in considering the nuances of an answer we not only learn more about someone else, but we learn more about ourselves as well?

Anyway, no and yes did I always know I wanted to be a preacher. No in that I never saw, heard, or experienced a woman preacher as I was growing up. Yes, when as a 3rd grader anytime Billy Graham was doing televised worship with stadiums full of people I watched it with the same rapt attention I watched the Brady Bunch. No, I was certain I wanted to be a teacher and a coach because I loved school and I loved sports. Yes, because I gave my life to Jesus at the end of every Billy Graham service when he offered the invitation while the stadium sang “Just As I Am.” No, because the very next day after giving my life to Jesus I sinned again and lost my salvation, usually picking on my sister. Yes, because I gave my life to Christ at church camp the summer of my 7th grade year and took the confirmation classes at Maple Grove Church of the Brethren and was immersed in baptism. And no, because I sinned again and was certain I lost my salvation again, I think it was the big sister stuff again. And yes, because I took the challenge from a pastor to read the bible straight through my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. And no, because I didn’t understand much of Leviticus and Deuteronomy or Philemon and Revelation. And yes, because I KNEW I loved Jesus and wanted to try and live like him. And no because as hard as I tried I kept falling short. And yes, because I believed he forgave me. And no, because I wasn’t always sure why he would want to when I made the same mistakes again and again. And yes, because no matter how awkward I felt about walking into a church alone in high school and college and during my first year of teaching, I somehow couldn’t NOT go because there was something there that I felt and knew and both did and didn’t understand that had to do with the deep purpose and meaning for life that moved beyond human limitation. I always wanted to know more and grow deeper and experience God in the ordinarily extraordinary moments of all of life. And no, because my Grandma Crissman died at Christmas my first year of seminary and I thought that might be a sign that women weren’t supposed to be pastors. And yes, because Dr. Lutgen was the Sr. Pastor at the church where I had a job and he believed in me when I most wanted to quit and kept not letting me. And no, because I still didn’t truly believe women were supposed to preach. And yes, because then I preached, and in that moment I came home. And after all these years, I still don’t know how to describe it any other way.

Why is it fall lends itself to this kind of reflection on the twists and turns of life each year? At least that’s sorta the case with me. And even though the season lasted two days before the winter grays and snow hit, it still brings this period of reverie and rumination. This time on the complexities of how we become who we are and the impact of people and politics and paths and choices and influences all somehow deeply grounded and connected to the presence of God and God’s choice to love and forgive and want for us, and sometimes in spite of us, good things. I still believe and try to live that beyond the shadow of a doubt when sometimes all else seems up in the air and a bit turbulent.

Perhaps moving into this week of focused gratitude, we decide it’s that spirit with which we enter these most holy of days. Maybe most especially gratitude for where we are and who we are regardless AND regarding with deep humility those struggles and triumphs that have helped create who we are and brought us to this place. And if we can do that for ourselves, we also can do that for those around us – friends, family, and strangers alike. Our hearts of acceptance and generosity then become that which moves before us, and because of us the world becomes a more thank-full plate, er place?!!?

Ringo, Oscar, and Max received part of their Christmas presents early – a new cat tree and a new dog bed were mostly well-received. Max the dog and Oscar the cat were quite free with their gratefulness as indicated by tail-wagging and purring respectively. Ringo? A nonchalant is this all there is because I’m rather unimpressed and uninterested. At least consistency reigns in my animal world!