When You Pass Through The Waters


When I first meet people, they often ask me why I became a minister. They often ask if it is part of the family business or if my husband is a minister. “No” I say, “I come from a family of teachers,” and “my husband is a recovering Southern Baptist”
“How did you know you were called?” they ask.

“That’s a long story,” I reply. The short answer is “ by my baptism.” Our calling to follow God is not about a job or a career. It is not a word of mission, sending us into the future. Not at the outset. The word of baptism is first of all about the delight of God in this beloved, this chosen, this child called by name. Not a call to go do something, but a calling to be something. Our first calling, the baptismal call, is one that simply loves and names: You are my child. I delight in you. The words embrace us and promise to hold us. This is where it begins, and this is also, we dare claim, the last word, the one that holds our future.
This baptismal call will often become a call to action. It will mean mission and ministry and all kinds of tasks. Anointing is a sign of blessing, but it is also a commissioning. You are a child of God, now go act like it.

I was going to be many things before I was going to be a minister. – A dancer, actor, lawyer, therapist, news anchor, domestic violence advocate, peace corps volunteer, just to name a few. When I graduated from college I worked in the domestic violence prevention field for the Illinois Supreme Court. It was the time in my life when I was the most lost in my direction. I went on a quest to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. I decided to interview every professional who had a job that I was remotely interested in. I visited lawyers, social workers, psycho therapists, YMCA directors and interviewed them asking what they liked and didn’t like about their jobs.

In the back of my head was this idea of being a youth pastor, but I scoffed at that. Every minister, except for my youth pastor had always been a silvered hair man who smelled like Listerine and wore cardigan sweaters. I could never be that. Finally, that annoying voice got the best of me and I went and interviewed about five pastors. What did the like about being a pastor? What was difficult? What schooling would I need to do? I finally relented, put my hands down and surrendered and told God if this is what God wanted I would go. I was reminded of my baptism you see. I was reminded that I belonged to God. I said, look God, I know I belong to you. I am yours. You have a hold on me, so I will stop fighting and go where you want me to go.” It was then that I heard a voice, that said, “you are going in the right direction, go in peace.” – The next day I called my home pastor, the Listerine smelling, kind man who I had listened to preach my entire life. I left a message, “by the way, just want you to know I think I am going to go to seminary and be a pastor.’ I did not expect to hear back from him. It had been about 10 years since I had been back at my home church and he was a busy pastor of a large congregation. The next day, there was a voice message from him. “Hi Shelly, this is Phil Queen, it is so good to hear your voice….I have been waiting to get this call from you for a long time.”

I don’t share this story with you to be self-promoting. It’s my story to share, and it’s the only one I have. I share it because you are no different. You too belong to God. You too have a purpose a mission, a calling. You too are charged with remembering that you belong to someone greater than yourself. The question is, can you put down your arms and follow? Let me tell you, that surrendering to that calling doesn’t happen once, it happens every day, sometimes every hour.
When we hold a new-born baby, so fresh from God, so full of blessing and promise, we recognize that they have their whole life ahead of them. We know that they will have bumps along the way. They will get their feelings hurt, have self-doubt, not get on the team, become an adolescent, be annoyed by their parents, change their major 8 times, struggle with relationships, and who knows what else.  In the 11 years that I have responded to this call of ministry I have been affirmed and I have been discouraged. I have felt God saying, “you are going in the right direction” over and over again.  I have also been told in so many words that I am really not very good at my vocation.  There is no doubt that I entered this vocation a broken person and that I have been reminded of my brokenness.   It hasn’t been a cake walk.  God never said it would be.  What did God say is
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
When you pass through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire, the flame shall not consume you.
I have called you by name, and you are mine.


  1. Very beautiful, Shelly and very moving. You are right – while it is uniquely (and wonderfully ) your story, it is more than your story. I will be holding your words in my heart for a long time…if I may say so, like water for a garden. Thanks.

  2. Shelly, this is the best sermon you have preached to us. So powerful and so meaningful and so beautiful. You truly have a gift!

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