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In 2011, I was called to go into ordained ministry. It was a huge calling in my life, and it was something that took years to get through. I thought that would be the only big calling in my life—I thought, “Cool, I’m young and have already gotten my calling? That’s a win!” But as I’ve preached over and over, God doesn’t usually call us to just one big thing. God calls us, usually, to several big things and even more smaller things over the course of our lives. This is no less true to me today than it has been in the past. Recently, I have received a second, big calling from God.
In 2014, the summer after my first year of seminary, I worked at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas as a hospital chaplain. What I haven’t mentioned about being a hospital chaplain is that you didn’t just learn inside a hospital room by doing ministry, you learned in a small-group setting. You had group reflections, discussions, and lessons and you had an individual, weekly check in and reflection with your Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE, supervisor. Now, the summer I interned, my intern group got lucky—our supervisor was none other than the head of the CPE division of the hospital, Carlos Bell. It just so happened that he was also the soon-to-be President of the nationwide Association of CPE. He was kind of a big deal—and this was a big deal to be trained under him!
Something Carlos really stressed for me was finding my pastoral identity. He would ask me who I am as a pastor and I could never answer him. I didn’t know how to describe myself. But he, being who he is and having seen plenty of chaplains come and go, knew exactly what my identity was, even if I did not yet know. One Friday, during our individual weekly check in, Carlos took me down from the chaplain offices in the Robbins building. We walked down past the elevator I used to take to the skywalk, and kept walking all the way to the Jonsson building, which is where the labor and delivery department is at the Baylor hospitals. In the middle of the entrance of that building is a simple statue. It is of a female nurse in her scrubs. In her arms is a little baby. The nurse is looking lovingly at the baby and the baby seems to feel safe and secure. We stood in front of that statue and he said to me, “Okay…what do you see?” I said, “A nurse and a baby.” He said, “Go deeper…what do you see?” I said I saw the love in the eyes of the nurse and that the baby looked happy too. He said, “Okay. What else do you see?” This went on for a solid 30 minutes of our one-hour session. I grew more and more and more frustrated with him and with myself. There was clearly something in this statue that he wanted me to get, something that was wrapped up in my pastoral identity. He grew even more frustrated with me that I couldn’t see what he was seeing. We walked away from that session equally frustrated with each other. Carlos would never give you an answer—that was always for each individual to discover.
It wasn’t until another 2 or so weeks later that something happened and it finally clicked for me what Carlos saw in me that I didn’t see in myself. My pastoral identity was that of a mother. Mothers care, mothers are loving and kind. But mothers also aren’t afraid to stand up for what is right, to maybe put people in their place. It is an identity that, once I identified it, I was able to grow into it and have continued to refine and grow into that identity each day in ministry. There’s just one, little thing, though. I found it pretty mean, maybe even a little cruel, that this was my identity, but the possibility of having a family of my own was and still is, something that not only remains to be seen but seems a bit of an impossibility.
In the last two months or so, it has hit me harder—this desire to have a family of my own. I have prayed and prayed for a miracle to happen. I’ve prayed for a family of my own. I’ve fought with God. I’ve said a few choice words, not ashamed of it either. Just like many of you, there have been things I have desired and desperately wanted, things I have asked God for and not gotten any answers or reassurance on. But about two and a half/three weeks ago, something changed. I decided to stop having a pity party for myself—because, seriously, I don’t need a man. It’d be nice to have someone, sure, but I don’t NEED one. I can survive and handle things on my own. So I thought to myself, what would be something you would miss if you didn’t get married? I thought, children. I want a family. I then looked up something that has been floating in the back of my mind for years, something I thought about doing once I got a parsonage and had enough room for a family—would it be possible for a single female to be a foster or adoptive parent? A quick google search said, “Yes, you can.” I began to feel a little better—maybe in a couple years I’d be ready to be a foster parent. At the same time, I began to feel anxious—the idea of fostering a child was terrifying to me. So I tried to get it out of my brain.
And I was successful for about 48 hours. Then began a crazy week with children's choir activities and, ultimately, seeing the need in our community. I continued through the week, but I couldn’t get what I saw and what I heard and what I experienced that week out of my head. At about 10 that Thursday night, it just hit me. It wasn’t a voice, necessarily. It really felt like a hit to the gut. I remember bending over trying to take deep breaths to deal with the anxiety of the call God was clearly placing on my heart. God was saying, “Hey Patricia—you want a family. You have a good job. You live in a big house. You’ve got a big yard and an even bigger heart. You’ve got a congregation full of people who love children. You’ve got a dog that loves children. There is need in this community. It’s time—it’s time for you to step up and sign up to be a foster parent.”
The first thing I did is tried to catch my breath and try to search my brain—was this just what I wanted or what God wanted. Then I realized this was never, in my wildest dreams, what I imagined for my 29-year-old self. I also realized this was not “normal” behavior for a 29-year-old, but that’s what a) made it from God and b) made sense for me because I do nothing normal ever! I joked with my mom after I told her that she is probably going to pray to God asking why she got a defective child—that’s how abnormal I do things and that’s how outside the box and outside the norm I go through and live my life.
I cried off and on for 24 hours. The first time I told someone out loud, I couldn’t do it without crying. I reached out to friends who have done and are foster parents. I was hoping they would say, “You’re crazy, don’t do it.” But they just said, “Yup, it’s scary. I was scared too. But I’m excited for you—it’s such a rewarding experience.” I’ve had such great support from all of them already and they have already said, “We are here for you and we will always be a listening ear.”
And I have to say, as terrified and anxious as I am about this, as soon as I gave in and as soon as I accepted this call from God, my life has completely changed. The grieving I’ve done off and on for six months about not having a family of my own has disappeared. While I know this would be easier with a spouse, it’s not impossible to do alone and I can do this. I’ve started thinking about how this time a year from now, my life will look completely different. I’ve already started changing my mindset, trying to get my life together and trying to mentally prepare to raise a child that is not mine and that will not stay with me forever. I’ve got the first year “baby Bible” currently sitting on my kitchen table. I’ve bought a treadmill so I can do long distance runs in my house with the child nearby. I’ve even re-evaluated my food planning and what I eat, focusing on eating better and doing better so that it can be a solid habit and just second nature by the time I have a baby enter my home.
This Christmas, God gave me a gift of a new calling that I just wasn’t expecting right now. And I wanted to share this with you for a couple reasons. First and foremost, because my foster children will become a part of this church family as long as they are in my home and are a part of my life. I will need your prayers and I will need your support. Second, I think it’s easy for you all to hear me say, “God calls us to do things all the time, we just have to listen and say ‘yes’” and think, “Oh she’s just saying that,” or “People in the Bible are from a long time ago, do calls like that even still happen?” Well, I’m here to tell you, yes, God is still in the business of calling people to do seemingly crazy things in the eyes of the world. And your pastor is one of the people God is calling to do something new and outside the box. This is my newest call and it is a scary one…but it’s one I’m choosing to say yes to and bravely face. I, just like each of you, are to listen to, hear, and take to heart the words from the prophet Micah that say: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
I hope this message gives you some courage today. I know God is calling each and every one of you to something. There are so many people who do not know they are loved by God, who have been cast aside by the world, who don’t feel like they matter, who doesn’t have a seat at the table, and who are in need of help. God is working in their lives and God invites us to act in the lives of others when he calls us to do something new and maybe what may even seem a little crazy! Maybe it’s not something exactly like God is calling me to, but God calls us every day. Are we listening? Are we willing to say yes? Are we willing to go on a wild and crazy ride we never thought we’d be on to do what God calls us to do, no matter what the world may think of us? What is God calling you to do this year? Who is God calling you to be? Who is God calling you to help? Step out on faith, in the full gift of God’s grace, and say yes to whatever it is God is calling you to do. It may be scary, terrifying, and may make you feel a little anxious, but it’s always worth it to say yes and do what God calls you to do.