When you are 40, you will look back on this day as both a pleasure and a pain.
You will remember the gentle sway of your canoe as you sit and relax in the path carved out through endless lily pads by many, many similar boats over the years. You will remember the long, long day you spent in this canoe with a girl whose mother played violin and whose father taught biology. The fickle world of middle school church camp and the fact that neither of you had a clear camp-friend forced the two of you together for the day-long canoeing adventure. You thought it would be a beautiful day, because you loved canoeing and swimming, but she talked nonstop about herself and how smart she was. You learned later, when her mother ended up substitute teaching at a school where you taught in your early twenties, that she got pregnant at 16 or 17 and that her life had been hard. You would not be sympathetic. In fact, you almost thought she got what she deserved.
But on this day, just before you entered 8th grade, you floated lazily, dragging your finger through the duckweed that coated the top of the water. You had just about mustered up the courage to break up with that jack ass boy, and you should have, but you couldn’t. You really should have, but that’s not why I am writing to you this time.
You had been a Christian for over half your life already, and you thought church camp was about the best and worst place you’d ever been. As you floated there, you thought about the spirituality of the place, the lessons, the bible study, the worship, the beauty of it. You thought about how silly some of it seemed, the cliquey girls, the boys who openly flirted with them, the contrived games at recreation time. You thought about a high school counselor from your hometown, who, when I look back on your young life, you may have been a little sweet on. Finally, though you just prayed.
You swayed back and forth as the girl tried to paddle you forward, and you dragged your finger in the water, and you prayed. Hard. You wanted answers. You had always heard God speak, and you always would hear that voice. Even when you are 40 you’ll hear God’s voice. God’s voice will never leave your body or your soul.
In that moment, when you were floating there suspended between your middle school world, the natural world, and the spiritual world, you heard the words that will disturb you for the rest of your life: “I want you to do my work. I want you to speak. I want you to minister to those around you. I have called you to this.”
Those words will both shape and destroy you. You will always wrestle with what this means for your life. You will always wonder if you are, in fact, ministering. You will always wonder why you heard these words and then a few years later figured out your sexuality which wasn’t compliant with your chosen denomination’s perception of your calling. Hell, your gender is barely compliant with your chosen denomination’s perception of a call to ministry. You will always wonder why you can preach, why you can counsel, why you can minister in all situations. You will always have people who want your counsel. You will always feel like you could do more to uphold and fulfill this call, this vision. You will always feel unsettled.
You will go to seminary for three years, and you’ll work in a church for five. You’ll preach sermons, you’ll mentor teenagers, you’ll make an impact on countless lives. You’ll leave all that behind to do the same in the public school system. You’ll go to graduate school and you’ll read books that make you feel whole, that will lead you to putting your bifurcated self back together, because all your life you’ve been taught that you can’t be gay and a Christian, let alone be a pastor. You’ll always feel a bit of that push and pull. You’ll be 35 before you finally figure out that living a call and ministering is a process of putting all your pieces back together. Of accepting those things about yourself that seem to be in opposition.
While you sit there in that canoe, think long and hard about what you’re hearing, what it means, and how you’ll follow that longing, that call. Make some different choices. Give yourself some grace. And revel in who God has called you to be.