Monday, June 30, 2014

Year in Review: Grace Year 1

It has been a truly amazing year at Grace.  I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it many more times, this place will probably prove to be the closest thing to the burning bush I'll ever witness.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The One Thing I've Found That I Don't Love About Urban Ministry...

Okay first thing's first...I will update in the coming week about the status of my health.  It's been a very busy and awesome week in South Louisville, and frankly, I just haven't had time.  After taking in 11 new members with 6 new professions of faith a couple of weeks ago, I really thought we had hit the mountain top.  Yeah, funny thing about forgetting how big and how awesome God is.  Last night at the end of an amazing week of VBS at Grace, put on by our good friends at Centenary UMC, we had over 40 of our neighborhood kids come to the altar last night to receive Jesus. They just kept coming in waves.  I'm not sure I've ever been witness to anything so powerful and so awesome.

We have so much to celebrate and to be thankful for, that it almost seems wrong to bring up what I'm about to bring up.  However, it is the reality of our context and in the midst of the celebrations, there was one that was conspicuous by his absence.  What follows is a post that I was going to put on Facebook, but then I remembered, "Oh hey, you've got a blog for this stuff."

In the midst of all of the celebrations this week at Grace I also feel that I need to share something that we learned this week that wasn't so great.  We had a young man who had become a fixture at Grace; if our doors were open he was there and when it was time to close the doors we would have to chase him out.  He would interrupt me in the middle of a sermon on Sunday mornings to let me know that he had to check in at home and we loved him for it.  He was a constant reminder to keep things in perspective and to receive the children as Jesus did.  He also came from the single worst situation I've witnessed since arriving in South Louisville.

Some time ago he came to me and asked if he could do work around the church.  I told him that he could help us clean up on Friday nights and he could help at special events.  His response was that he didn't want to be paid in money, but that he wanted to be paid in Legos.  The kid had nothing and I think that he knew if he had money it would be quickly taken from him and he would still have nothing.  At least if he had Legos, he had something that was of no value to anyone but him.

In regards to his family, we marshaled additional help from the Salvation Army (clothes), the LMPD 4th Division (toys for Christmas), and the Oakdale Neighborhood Association (food). 

The young man worked hard for us over Derby weekend; when he left we told him that he would receive his Legos on Friday after Family Night.  Rickelle and I went and purchased him a large Lego set for a job well done and we have not see him again.  When he didn't show, I went and checked at his house, no answer.  I continued to do this over the coming weeks; looking for him in the neighborhood as I would drive through.  Nothing.  We would hear occasional reports that someone had seen him, but I never did.

This week, I promised a couple of our team members that I would stop by his house again despite feeling that the house had been abandoned.  This time, after knocking, I caught one of the neighbors outside, "They took off in the middle of the night a while back." 

This phenomenon is not unique to us at Grace; we were warned in the very beginning that it is the reality of urban ministry.  I can say that to this point, it is the only thing that I don't LOVE about urban ministry; the thought and now reality that our people could seemingly disappear without a trace.

The victories in this first year have been immense and beyond my wildest dreams.  I have been reminded over and over that God is so much bigger than I can imagine.  Just when you think that things cannot possibly get any better, God says, "Watch this."  I like to think that He is having at least as much fun there as I am, but goodness, stuff like this stings and it hurts.  I would ask that you join us in prayer for this young man and his family.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Stress Test??? You mean you won't take my word for it!?!?!

So, I've decided to chronicle this adventure.  I think there is value in doing this given the subject matter and the response that I've gotten from some so many of you.  Evidently I hit a nerve; a very raw one at that.  I'm glad.  This type of stuff can get away from us so easily and it has gotten away from many of us.  I think about the fears I've quietly wrestled with this year...fears that I'm certain many of my colleagues wrestle with in isolation.  My response?  That really makes me sad.  Let's do this together, let's learn together, and let's try and support each other in this journey.  Deal?  This post will be relatively scatter-shot. I simply want to give a broad update and to perhaps set some ground work for future updates.

Before I get rolling, I've got to share some really GREAT news.  This past Sunday at our Heathen Church service ( we were blessed to receive 11 new members with 6 baptisms...and I think we might have more this weekend.  We're not even two months into the launch of Heathen Church and the crazy and powerful is quickly becoming the norm.  God is good.

Now for the stewardship of this body I have been given...The stress test and echo-cardiogram were done on Monday; not the best way to spend a Monday morning.  Not a horrible experience, just long and boring.  The young lady doing the echo, which is essentially (I think) an ultrasound of the heart, seemed like she was trying to carve me up with the thing; she was pressing so hard.  "You've got a lot of muscle tissue to get through."  Well, better than moobs I suppose, but it sure don't look very muscular to me lol.

The stress test?  I was weird; no surprises there.  At rest, my blood pressure was ridiculous.  Once they started the treadmill?  My BP began to steadily drop, until it snuggled right into 120/80 and wouldn't budge.  Based upon my age, they wanted me to hit a heart rate of I think 151.  It took over 12 minutes of increasing speed and a sharp incline on the treadmill to hit the target.  Once the test was over and I sat back down, up went the BP.  Makes no sense.  Well, aside from supporting my contention that I really do detest sitting still.  I'm happiest in motion.

Of particular note when they were x-raying my heart (I got a dose of gamma radiation...sweet!!!), I had some good reflection time.  I was at peace and a huge weight was melting off of my shoulders.  I had been so scared to go to the doctor because I was terrified of what they'd find or tell me.  I actually remembered fleeting conversations with myself where I hoped something minor would pop up in my life, something just enough to FORCE me to go to the doctor.  How sick is that???  But there on the table?  I had such peace and relief to be where I was, to not have that fear anymore.  I would imagine this part is especially hitting a powerful chord with many of you...scared to go to the doctor.  Take that step and go.  It's really not that bad.  As a matter of fact; it's good.  If you have questions, concerns, and fears about your health, go to the doctor.  Far better to go on your terms, rather than on the terms of a clogged artery or a stroke.  Those types of things are not concerned with your best interests, your family, or your ministry.  Wait too long and they will kill or cripple you.  My results will be back on Monday.

The other points I wanted to touch on are the simple steps I've taken since the last post.  Three meals a day, taking my vitamins, and back in the gym lifting AND doing cardio.  The difference?  Immense.  I have more energy and I feel worlds better (albeit not back to where I want to be, but it'll come) in just a matter of days.  I had three people on Sunday alone tell me, "You've actually got some color!"  Aside from that, I've worked hard to prioritize what gets my attention, what I can delegate, and what I'm willing to give real estate to in my mind and heart.  Here's the thing...I have still accomplished as much and probably more on a daily basis, in less time, than when I had convinced myself that I didn't have time to eat or to breath.  Weird, huh?  I even took a full day off.  AND!  And I actually have taken the time each day to sit quietly in the presence of God.

Now, if I'm being entirely honest and transparent, I do have to admit it hasn't been easy.  I still have to force myself to actually stop and eat, and I also have to convince myself not to rush through the gym in order to get to church.  I have to give myself permission to do these things and then to remind myself that I have that permission.  It also helps to remember that doing these things actually adds more enjoyment to doing what I already love to do.  There is some serious reprogramming that needs to be done here, but it's certainly doable.

Sometime in the very near future, I would like to write about the diet and exercise.  I realize a couple of things on this front; first, it sounds really daunting.  It's not.  What I'm doing on the diet front is really simple and I've not found myself hungry.  Secondly, the exercise front probably scares some of you.  Well, that's only as complicated and scary as you want it to be.  Me?  Unless I leave the gym concerned that I've injured myself, I don't feel like I've done anything.  However, it really need not be that way.

In closing brother and sisters, be well.  If I am striking a chord with you, if I have scared you, please take the time to understand why and then PLEASE commit to doing something about it.  Your family, your ministry, your friends, and people you have yet to even meet need you.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Frank Word, Warning, and Plea for Fellow Clergy...I have become what they warned us about.

Typically when highly emotional things take place, I do think it is best to wait at least a day before (if at all) unleashing it for public consumption. I'm especially cognizant of that if it involves exposing myself and being vulnerable. Sometimes what seems admirable in the moment, doesn't seem so much the day after or the week after. Today, right now, I feel extremely vulnerable and yet, I feel like right now is precisely the time to write what I have to say consequences (pride) be damned. I think this is important for many of you to hear and I know like most of you, I'm very adept at making excuses for what I'm about to share. Tomorrow, I'm very liable to convince myself as well as you that I'm fine, that this is just a small bump in the road. I think this is important coming from me, because I think most of the time folks (including myself) have a tendency to see me as bulletproof and tireless, a perception I do very little to dissuade. I don't like to let people see me sweat, much less bleed. However, I would much rather you see me sweat or bleed, as opposed to say, sitting still.

I do not do what I'm about to do for your pity; I do it to warn you and who knows, maybe to save a life. I realized today that I have become everything that they warn us about and I have done so with a speed and efficiency that ought to get your attention.

As I sit here right now, I want to share a sober accounting with you as I find a rare moment of silence, forced as it is. My chest feels tight; not uncomfortably so, there is no pain per se, just an awareness. My jaws feel tight, tense; so much so that they throb. My head hurts, I feel slightly dizzy. My neck hurts; of course I have a bunch of metal and wires in there, but it hurts, feels weak. My lower back is killing me. When I get out of the car or I get off the couch, it takes five, six, twenty steps to stand upright and to walk in a manner not befitting an old man. My stomach hurts; it feels unsettled and I wonder if I'll have diarrhea or not go at all. My groin hurts, it burns and aches, from a not so great hernia repair that was repaired only when I literally could not stand it any longer. And even then, it only got fixed when I scheduled it months ahead of time for Thanksgiving break in seminary almost 3 years ago. I feel perpetually tired, but not sleepy. When I lay down to go to bed tonight, I will feel exhausted, but not sleepy. I'll take a melatonin and a few Advil to try to jump start the sleep process. I'll wake up tomorrow morning and wonder if I really slept at all. I have come to the conclusion that I am a physical wreck. However, I know when I get to my office tomorrow, I will no longer be aware of these things...and that ought to terrify me and you as well.

 Even in this condition, when I'm in motion, when I'm in my environment, I am a force of nature. The ministry situations I came to last year, were difficult and challenging at their absolute best; and I have thrived, I love it. I do not slow down, I do not rest, and as I realized last week in one of three moments of profound clarity and warning, I often forget to eat over the course of long days. I will tirelessly, with a smile on my face no less, doggedly chase after the profound ministry needs of my context; I love going into the darkness, I love taking Jesus where so few others would dare. I'll visit and hang out with junkies, I'll run to buy diapers for mothers in need, I'll stop and play football with the neighborhood kids, I'll do bulletins, I'll do power points, and I'll move heavy things around the church, up and down stairs as I try to squeeze another few feet of usable space out of our building. I'll study, write, and rehearse two entirely different sermons for Sunday for two entirely different services. I'll figure out how on earth we're going to provide not one, but two community meals in the course of the week, and then usually, help to prepare those meals. The only time that I don't is when I spring for pizza. 12-16 hour days, 6 days a week are my norm. And oh what pride I take in all of that :) (Do note that there is a terrible amount of "I" in that paragraph, despite my motivation being firmly rooted in the Kingdom. Yes, I know, I'm stomping on toes)

People tell me, "Take care of yourself Corey, don't forget to rest." My mental commentary? "Not me; that's for you. I'll rest when I'm dead." Yeah, funny thing about that. It wasn't until the last couple of weeks, when more and more people began to say, "Dude, you alright? You look bad," did I DARE to look in the mirror and only then, out of fear was I forced to listen to my body.

The picture above was taken as a joke (I detest man selfies lol) on July 1, 2013, less than a year ago. That was me shortly after I arrived in Louisville. I was a 6'1, 245 lbs mass of invincible freak show (lol). 20 inch biceps, a reasonable (albeit maybe a bit too ambitious) goal of bench pressing 500lbs by Spring 2015, I did my curl reps with the weight of grown men, and I shoulder pressed in excess of 250lbs. I had boundless energy, I felt good, I felt strong, my mind was clear, stress did not exist in my temple, I laughed loud, and I laughed often. I was on no medications whatsoever. The only stuff that I took were pretty basic, over the counter supplements for the gym.

This picture above? That was taken this evening. Yeah, I'm pretty embarrassed about that one and I struggled to include it here, but folks need to see what a difference less than a year can make. How quickly it can go south. How quickly we can become everything that "they" warn us about. Today, I'm still 6'1, 245 lbs, but I look very different. (For the record, my hair was probably about as gray in the pic last year, I just colored it back then lol) I feel very different; you read it above. I had blood drawn yesterday and I got the dreaded phone call this afternoon, "Mr. Nelson, please come back to the office, we'd like to discuss your lab results." My blood work is a mess and I now find myself on medications to try and right the ship. I'm also on blood pressure meds and cholesterol meds. Monday instead of going to Annual Conference to catch up with friends and to take part in the connectionalism that is one of the hallmarks of my denomination, I will be undergoing a stress test and an echocardiogram. I am and have become what they warn us about.

We hear so much about self care, that it becomes cliched. We hear so much about the cost of our insurance because we are fat, out of shape, overworked, and over stressed. I have become the cliche in less than a year. For my clergy brothers and sisters, look at my accounting above. How many of those things are you? How many of those things are you ignoring? How many of you are telling yourselves, "I'll get to it later."? How many of you aren't going to the doctor (like me) because you are scared to death of what the doctor will say? Here's the scary part. As rotten as I feel and look right now, as rotten as my physicians made me feel, I am still in better shape than many of my colleagues. Let that sink in. I was told yesterday that my blood pressure is now in the "stroke range" and I'm still in better shape than many of my colleagues.

Despite my current condition, I can still go a hundred miles an hour, all day long, but it is a race towards the grave. I love what I do. I cannot imagine a life without it, it is who I am. I like the challenges of where I am, I like that there is never a shortage of work, I like that it is just a little bit dangerous. But what good am I to the Kingdom if I am dead? South Louisville? My wife? My son? How on earth am I honoring Christ or anyone else when I refuse to care for myself? What we do brothers and sisters is an honor; an immense honor. We, broken as we are, faulty as we are, and damaged as we are, are allowed to represent God in this world, to be His ambassadors, the very hands and feet of our Lord. But what good is all of that, if the hands and feet grow cold, stiff, and cease to move?  We have hard "jobs", very challenging "jobs".  "Jobs" that demand us to be at our best; "jobs" that deserve us to be at our best.

The other two moments of profound clarity and warning that I mentioned earlier?  I took my wife shopping with me to find a cot for my office; the absurdity and embarrassment of it all hit me like a ton of bricks.  The other?  When I am still, when I am quiet, my body screams.  I think a part of me keeps moving to avoid it.

This summer I will have been married to my wife for half of my earthly life (21 of 42 years); that is a ratio I'm going to work real hard to extend to 4/5's. We're just getting started. This ministry is just getting started. I intend to do this until I'm called home as an old man, not as one of those tragic tales of a life burned out too quickly. I have become everything they warn us about all because I could no longer find time to take care of myself. Pastors, brothers and sisters, I implore you, take care of yourselves. Your families need you, your churches need you, and this world needs you.

I screwed this up in a years time, profoundly so.  I intend to fix it in a years time.  Consider joining me.