Elephants and Jesus

By Kelly Moreland Jones
Kelly Moreland Jones cropped

There’s an elephant in every room with me now. It wasn’t there last year and I’m trying to figure out how we can be roommates. I often feel microscopic by comparison, wondering if anyone sees me. Usually in those moments someone from my newfound faith family comes along and reminds me that God is bigger than the elephant and I feel better. For a while. But then the elephant loudly blows his trumpet, repositions himself, and reminds me that he is still in front of me, preventing me from becoming who God has called me to be and preventing others from hearing that call.

I’ve heard a fair number of sermons about running away from God. That’s not my struggle, exactly. My struggle is running to God. Finding a clear path from here to there can be challenging. Especially when an elephant is standing in the way.

Did I mention I’m a woman? Called to ministry? But definitely not children’s ministry or student ministry. Preaching is my passion. In my denomination there’s a little bit of history about the struggle for women to be accepted as equals behind the pulpit.

I’m 43 years old with more than 20 years of professional experience in higher education as an administrative software trainer, analyst and project manager. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion and Philosophy and a Master of Education degree in Higher Education Leadership. I’ve served on boards of non-profits in the Nashville area, contributed to great causes, taught and led in my local congregation.

I’ve even done the womanly stuff my society expects. I’ve been married for 20+ years and am raising two boys with their (successfully-in-a-career) father. At church I’m on committees and have taught Sunday school. I actively support the boys’ academic efforts and coordinate the logistics of their extra-curricular activities.

Before-the-elephant-life was a comfortable existence, I suppose. So why rock that boat?

Because… Jesus showed up.

He showed up last year in ways that I could never have anticipated. The call to act was as clear as any conversation I’ve had in my life. And there are some things worth noting about that…

God showed up in my everyday life – in worship services, devotional times, bouncy houses at Fall Festivals and Sunday School rooms. In places where service opportunities easily presented themselves God whispered, “More. I want more. You have played it safe long enough. Take the risk. Look into the eyes of the girls you teach and think about the role model you are (not) for them. Come to me. Trust me to be in this with you.”

And so I did.

Cue the elephant entrance. Circus music. Hear it? Somedays elephant conversations look sort of like this…

“You’re going to seminary? What will you *do* with that degree?”

And sometimes it cuts into relationships…

“You’re going to seminary? I thought I *knew* you.”

And as painful as those conversations are the one that haunts me every single day is within me: I feel a tremendous burden to do *everything* right in an effort to prove to doubters that as a woman I can do this. And in those moments the elephant tempts me to never take a risk.

“It’s going to be hard enough to succeed in ministry as a woman. They’ll never want you if you have a failure on your track record.” –Elephant

“Don’t do anything until you know you can do it perfectly. They’ll judge the abilities of all women called to ministry based on how you perform.” –Elephant

Saying yes to invitations to pray, preach, or lead is a risk because I haven’t practiced those skills in an academic setting much, yet. Trusting that God will show up in those moments is a new step of faith for me. But you know what? I am doing it. I am trusting God to show up.

I did it when I preached a sermon for the first time. And God showed up.

I did it when I helped serve communion for the first time. And God showed up there, too.

I did it when I preached at my current church for the first time. And God definitely showed up.

I did it when I applied to seminary. And God showed up every time I took a risk in this past year to follow my calling.

There is still an elephant in every room with me now. Yet each time God shows up it is a whole lot easier to face the elephant. In fact, sometimes he disappears completely. And I can see where I’m going so much more clearly.

Loving God, in those gut wrenching moments of tension when I am trying so hard to prove to humanity what You already know, help me to see You. Eclipse the elephant with Your Bigness, Wideness, with Your Grace and Mercy. Be present in the hugs, smiles and encouraging words of faithful friends. Quiet my anxious thoughts so that Your will may be done. Amen.

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Kelly Moreland Jones lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a first-year MDiv student in Cohort II of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Central Tennessee.