The Tool

Well over a year and a half ago, early one morning, the Lord awoke me with a single-frame “dream” image. It was a clipboard…..with rays of light glowing around it, like a picture one would see in a child’s first reading readiness worksheets where they say what they see as a way of learning language in a picture story. I chuckled as I got out of bed and said, “Lord, I know what this is …..a tool….specifically a tool for organizing and communicating information, somewhat archaic and outdated by today’s standards. We have iPads, iPhones,  laptops, and software and so many more ways to communicate and manage information…..What do you want me to do with this? How am I to use this tool?” In that split second when I finished that thought I “heard” the Lord speak in my spirit. “You are not to use the tool. You are the tool.” I felt my heart leap into my throat and I drew a deep breath and shook involuntarily like from a cold chill. The very next thought was something I had heard the Lord speak in my spirit twice before…..”Do you feel abused?” I reaffirmed my steadfast promise to the Lord to be obedient to whatever the Lord’s will might be. I was in a very real conversational, wide-awake prayer with the Almighty and I realized that in my choice to be obedient to his will, I might be used as a “tool” or vessel, as the Word says, for “honor” or for “common use” or “dishonor” as some translations say. (2 Timothy 2:20). The vessel created and set aside for use by God makes no choice as to its use. “Nevertheless, not my will, Lord, but thine. You have made me and I am yours,” was my prayer and I went back to bed and slept peacefully after a few tears. While I know that God’s call to pursue ordination is real and I have sought to be obedient to the process, I also believe that God would have gladly allowed me to serve as an ordained Deacon. That decision, however, was not a test of my heart alone, but a test of others’ hearts, as well. I had shared this dream-image experience and my conversation with the Lord that morning with the Christian counselor that the Board of Ordained Ministry required to meet with in 2015, my third evaluation during the seven-year journey to date. The instructions from the Board to the counselor were that I was to be evaluated for co-dependency, passive aggression, victimization attitude, and a variety of other DSM pathology diagnoses. She said she felt the Spirit tremble through her when I shared my dream about the “tool” and she knew it was truth. I met with her for five sessions. On the third visit she said, “They really don’t know you, do they?” We had a good laugh about that. I kept telling people that members of the ordination interview team didn’t know me, my ministry, or my heart for the Lord.

The prior year, in June 2016, before the Clergy Session at Annual Conference where I was to make my appeal to the clergy session in a challenge to the Board, the Lord had told me that “deadwood” was being pruned and I should be still and wait. I am right where God wants me and I am doing what God wants me to do. I have known that was the case for the last 20 years. I will continue to do so. The axe is at the ready. Deadwood will be pruned in a lot of places. I am simply to be still and wait. (And as God clearly told me in 1997, I was to “whisper it all”….sort of like the boy in Sixth Sense who whispered to Bruce Willis, “I see dead people.” ) Call it crazy. Call it psychosis. Call it supernatural. Call it whatever you wish. But I know what I know. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, ” The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Amen.
(Written 3/21/2017 CBB)


(Addendum on 8/12/2023) From a note written and tucked in my journal in summer 2016….

There are moments when an event occurs that seems especially memorable at the time although it is not real clear why.  Then suddenly one is given additional signs or perspective on circumstances and the meaning of the prior event makes sense.

In May 2016 just a week or so after a family reunion at a small country church in Alabama with which our family has been associated for at least five generations, my Mother mentioned that my brothers from Georgia had gone to the church for a day and had taken down a dead tree hanging over it.

God had bern speaking in my spirit through devotionals, sermon messages, and even a dream and visions about “pruning” and “deadwood,” so her comment about their volunteer work at the church stirred my interest. I called the older of my two brothers  and asked him about details of the work. I asked him how big the tree was, was it dead through and through or damaged, and had they used ropes, ladders and chain saws?  He said it appeared to have been hit by lightning at some point, was dead, that they had pushed it over with a tractor and into the adjacent wooded area to rot. I said, “It must not have been very big if you could push it over with a tractor.” Jim said it was big enough to destroy the roof if not removed before the right conditions came along.

They his voice changed a bit, more pointed and intentional, and he spoke a word that made a memorable impression…”Cathy, you can take down any size tree if you have a tractor big enough.”

That statement seemed powerful even though their work had nothing to do with me. Yet It stuck in my mind and seemed significant in light of how many  messages in recent weeks I had felt God pressing on my spirit about pruning and deadwood.

I went to our 2016 Annual Conference a few weeks later in June. I sat in the hall where the clergy session was to be held, where my name was to come before the session for a vote on my appeal to challenge the Board of Ordained Ministry’s decision to discontinue me from pursuit of deacon ordination. As the Bishop and a couple of others readied the room, the Lord spoke clearly again in my spirit.  This time it was, “The quality of the sap is tested by fire.” (measured or revealed, perhaps like a litmus test was the way it seemed)  It didn’t seem clear which specific meaning of “testing” was applied at the moment but the sense I had was that it was more along the line of being revealed qualitatively and not measured quantitatively. As I sat there I said to the  Lord that, given that a tree (or a “church”, maybe) being pruned of “dead wood” could represent me, my home congregation, or the larger denominational or universal church, I asked God who is actually being pruned.  As is often the case, there was no response to my questions seeking clarification.

In the following weeks I turned my focus to Bible study and prayer on behalf of “generations to come.”  Then one day I received a word from God that gave clarity to these events.  He said the removal of the dead tree over the church taken down by a “big enough tractor” has “cleared the way for the work of a new generation.”  It seemed to be an accomplished task.  It gave me a sense of comfort and hope as I had felt passion and urgency for the work of Christian education and spiritual formation and was beginning to feel the pressing limits of time on my ministry as I was already 62 years old.

Some time later, while conflict and talk of disaffiliation heated up in THE UMC in 2022, I reflected on that season of struggle from 2014-2017 with the political, theological, and cultural maneuvering I observed and experienced in THE UMC.  Suddenly, the Lord answered my question from June 2016 about who or what level of “church” was being pruned of deadwood……. “ALL OF THEM!” was His reply, which  probably should have been obvious to me at the time!