Furniture with Memory

Sometimes bedroom furniture is more than furniture.

Recently Noah and I gave an old bedroom suit to some friends whose home was flooded by Hurricane Florence.   We were happy to share with them!

The night before the move, I cleaned out the last of the stuff in the dresser drawers and dusted off the top.  As I did so, the memories poured into my mind.  You see, this was my childhood bedroom suit.   I don’t remember sleeping in any other bed as a child.

I thought about . . .

. . . the nights as a child that I would call out to Mama or Daddy to come cover me up.  I was too scared to move.  I don’t know why!  Maybe I thought the monster under the bed would know I was awake and come after me.  After all, you never let your hand or arm hang off the bed low enough for the monster to see it.

. . . the childhood and then later teenage sleepovers with Elizabeth, my best friend

. . . the many hours of conversations between Elizabeth, Mary Lou and me about all those things that teenage girls talk about

. . . the carving found on the top of the dresser – “P + T” – (Patricia + Tommy, 5th or 6th grade boyfriend).  Rather sure my brother carved those initials that are still visible on the dresser.

. . . the various apartments and homes that have housed that bed and dresser – Norlina (2), Chapel Hill (6), Durham (2), Natchez, Wilmington (2) – twelve different places if I’m remembering correctly

. . . and maybe because Will is about to get married, I remembered lying in that bed in the little upstairs bedroom in our Natchez home on the night before he was born, having contractions but not wanting to wake Noah yet who was sleeping peacefully downstairs.  Well, I don’t know if he was peacefully sleeping.  He was probably feeling the vibes that I was putting out because of the pain!

These are memories that I haven’t thought of in YEARS!  I wasn’t having second thoughts about giving the furniture away.  I was just amazed at the memories that the furniture opened in me.

Isn’t it amazing how objects or places open us up to new thoughts?  Recently I began meeting with a spiritual director and even though we’ve only met twice, I am already seeing the power of centering prayer, of pondering spiritual questions, and of thinking about God’s movement in my life. We’ve talked about the power of “place” to bring us closer to God – to open us up to new thoughts.  So often I find the noise of life – both literally and figuratively – leaves me closed, unaware or unavailable to receive or hear God’s voice or God’s movement.

Yet, sometimes, when I sit at my desk – my place – something opens in me and I hear a new word.  A Scripture verse that I’ve read dozens of times is read with new eyes.  A bird sitting outside the window sings a song that I actually hear on this day.  Maybe just for a few moments there’s an openness for God’s voice and movement.

It makes me wonder what I need to do to stay open to the nudge and voice of Christ continually.

Maybe it’s just stopping.  Maybe it’s just remembering. 

Maybe it’s just going to my place. 

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Epilogue:  On Saturday morning, my friend came with her daughter and a few other family members.  Any possible doubt that I might have had in the deep places of my brain was completely gone when I saw how excited her daughter was at having this bedroom furniture.  She was so thrilled to have a BED!  She had been sleeping on a couch for over a year and now she had a place to call her own.

The story got even better when I received the 2 pictures of the furniture actually in her bedroom.  I hope Samantha and her cousin will make even more memories that will lodge in their minds to be opened 50 years later.

 

 

What If?

Today we are waiting for hurricane Dorian.  Someone on Facebook said that “waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle.”  Yep!

Like many in Wilmington, we are stocked with water, flashlights, batteries, Oreos, Chips Ahoy and a little patience.  We have all devices charged and have a generator in the garage that was never taken out of the box last year.  By the time we were able to get home after Florence, our electricity was back on.  We bought the generator as we journeyed home from Winston-Salem because we might need it.  What if we don’t have electricity when we get home?

It seems that life before a hurricane is filled with “what ifs?”  We fill up our cars with gas prior to a storm because what if the gas pumps don’t work after the storm and we need to go somewhere?  We clear off the deck because what if the wind picks up the table and crashes it into the sliding glass door?  Yet experience tells us that these are good responses to the what if question.

The what if? question goes beyond a hurricane.  It’s really the question that is repeated over and over throughout life.

What if my decision is the wrong one?

            What if the job doesn’t work out?

            What if the lump is malignant?

            What if they find out exactly who I am?

            What if they find out what I’ve done?

Most often it’s the question that is rooted in fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of others, fear of the lack of control.

Yet – suppose – what if? – we centered our lives in God’s what if question.

God asks:

                        What if you believe me?

                        What if you trust me?

                        What if you let go and quit hanging on so tight?

                        What if you forgive?

                        What if you ask me to help you?

Maybe the answer to the what if question is to remember.  Over and over, God instructed his people to remember.

“Remember the days of old . . . who brought you up out of the sea . . . who put His spirit within you . . . who divided the waters before you . . . who led you through the depths?  Like cattle that go down into the valley, the spirit of the Lord gave them rest.”  – Isaiah 63:11-14

Instead of asking myself the what if question rooted in fear, I pray to ask the what if question rooted in God’s amazing love.

Francois Fenelon writes: “Oh, how much better are we sustained by love than by fear!  Fear enslaves, constrains and troubles us; but love persuades, consoles, animates us; possesses our whole soul, and makes us desire goodness for its own sake.” * 

What if I believe you, O God?  What if I trust you, O Lord?   May it be so.

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Prayer Request –

I invite you to join me in prayer and support for all of those who are suffering and have lost so much in the hurricane, especially those in the Bahamas.  Also be in prayer for first responders and those who offer assistance to so many.

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*Quote from Selections from the Writings of Francois Fenelon, found in A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk with God © 2013, p. 320.

Pieces on the Path

I enjoy jigsaw puzzles.

I love the challenge of figuring out how all of the pieces fit together to create the picture on the box.  I enjoy the sorting and the arranging.  Most of all, I enjoy that sense of accomplishment when the final piece is put into place and the picture is complete.

I enjoy the puzzle that comes in the box.  However, it’s the puzzle from my iPad app that is more convenient – no pieces to fall on the floor or be eaten by Hank, the dog.  It is no fun to be almost done with a puzzle and realize that there’s a piece that is half-chewed or completely missing.

Usually when Noah and I are watching tv, you will find me also working on a puzzle.  (I think it drives Noah a little crazy that I’m doing several things at once, but why do one thing when you could do two?  Unfortunately, my puzzle work prevents watching any show with sub-titles. Smile.)

Whether it’s a puzzle from a box or a puzzle on the iPad, my usual reaction to beginning a puzzle is:  this is going to take forever!  There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason in the pieces.  They are just a jumble of colors of all sorts.  They look nothing like the picture of the finished puzzle.  However, gradually it comes together.

My plan of puzzle solving:

  • First put together all of the edges to make the frame.
  • Sort the pieces by color.
  • Look for commonalities.
  • Refer to the picture.
  • Look at the shapes of the pieces.
  • Refer to the picture.
  • Try a piece.  If it doesn’t work, try another piece.
  • Refer to the picture.
  • Put pieces together in smaller portions.

Piece by piece, color by color – the picture is revealed!

It’s making choices, looking at the whole, being patient, not giving up, looking for common threads – piece by piece, it comes together.

We might even call it discernment.

The word discernment comes from the Latin word “discernere” which means ‘to separate’, ‘to distinguish’.  Reminds me of a puzzle.

In their book, The Way of Discernment, Stephen Doughty and Marjorie Thompson, write:

The word, ‘discernment’, denotes an activity or process. It suggests that when we yearn to find what is right and fitting, there will be a means to do so. On the most elemental level, to discern is to sort and sift through the possibilities when we face a variety of choices. It is to distinguish and separate alternatives. . . From beyond ourselves we begin to hear, ‘Look, there is a way you can follow that leads toward greater understanding. There are steps you can take that will open you to the clarity you seek.’ We stand before the forest of our own wonderings. Then bit by bit, we become aware of a path through the forest.

In discernment, like a puzzle, we see a jumble of possibilities – some good and some not so good.  We sort. We arrange. We look for common threads.  We look at the picture. In discernment, the picture is God’s preferred picture.

Bishop Rueben Job writes “practicing a preference for God and God’s will is the place to begin . . . Begin practicing a preference for God and you will discover a growing capacity to receive and respond to God’s direction of your life.”

It’s sorting, arranging, and choosing the next piece, all with a prayerful spirit, that reveals the path in the midst of the jumble.

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Dougthy, S.V. and Thompson, M.J. The Way of Discernment. Participants Book. Nashville:  TN:  The Upper Room Books, 2003.

Job, R. P. A Guide to Prayer.  Nashville, TN:  The Upper Room Books, 2013.

Choosing Words

“I don’t like myself when . . .”

Some will read this statement and say:

“Trish, this is not a very positive way to start out a blog!”

“Trish, why don’t you like yourself?”

“Trish, you teach appreciative inquiry and this is NOT an appreciative statement.”

Well, that’s true and that’s why I’m writing it. It’s NOT a statement that should be my focus and thus, I have the opportunity to change this reality.

We get more of what we focus on.

I returned home yesterday after four days at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center helping to facilitate coach training with ministry colleagues from Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia. We’ve been working together since last fall (as Hurricane Florence was approaching – yikes!), meeting each month in online learning and this week concluding our training time. Every day we spent time reviewing theories, practicing coaching and reflecting on what we were learning together. We started and ended each day in theological reflection and prayer, drawing upon words that have guided our training together. Listen. Be filled. Love. Prepare. Learn. Conspire. Trust.

For sometime, I have had some angst in my soul. I couldn’t put words to the way I was feeling. It has just been there. This feeling that something was just not right. Someone looking onto my life would say: “What?!? You have a wonderful loving husband, son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law.” Yes, all that is very true. I am blessed beyond measure! Yet, inside . . . angst in my soul.

The word “authenticity” has been swirling in me. Authenticity in life, in practice and in faith. Does this word describe who I am?

On Tuesday morning of the retreat, my colleague was sharing in our morning devotional time and said, “I don’t like myself when . . .” That phrase just stopped me in my thought tracks. I really don’t remember what was being said before that statement or what was said after the statement (sorry, coaching friends!). It was a moment of understanding that became clearer as I reflected with my practice coach. I don’t like myself when I am inauthentic, when I’m fake, when I’m not true to my convictions and my desire to follow God’s leading. I don’t like myself when I focus on the negative, when I’m judgmental, when I expect things of others that I’m not willing to do myself, when I’m filled with resentment . . . I could continue for a while with these statements.

So . . . I can continue in this place or I can choose other words and actions to define who I am – who God says that I am.

I am choosing new words.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote the statement: “I choose to rejoice in You, Lord!” as my prayer for the year. I have not done a very good job. I have not done a lot of rejoicing. Sure, I can blame lots of circumstances, other people, the denomination, politics – again, the list could go on. YET, in the midst of this I have choices to make. What is my focus? I get more of what I focus on.

Friends, I’m choosing joy. Joy does not mean that I will be happy all of the time. That’s not joy. Joy means that in the midst of the junk of life, I can choose to be authentic, I can choose to be true to God’s leading, I can choose to be thankful, I can choose people and circumstances that bring joy to me. Yes, there will be circumstances and people who will “try me” (as a child, I heard this phrase when I was getting on my mom’s last nerve!), yet I have choices in my response.

I choose to rejoice in You, Lord!

 

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”                                 Matthew 16:26 NLT

Why I’m Pruning Social Media

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It can be a source of joy – celebrating the birth of a new baby, wishing a friend happy birthday, enjoying wedding pictures, enjoying my own family and our celebrations . . . endless possibilities. It can also be a place of connection to friends and family so that I can pray with someone in their loss or pray for someone in their sickness.

Social media can also be a source of unrest, anxiety, hurt and mistrust. The stories that appear and worse yet, the comments that are written do not create peace in my soul. And my friends, I need peace in my soul. The anxiety-provoking subjects of social media are diverse – politics, the UMC, how someone parents, the latest crime story . . . again, endless topics.

For several weeks, I’ve been thinking about my need to stop social media in my life, at least for a season. Last year during Lent, I stopped Facebook and made it through without this source of information. This year I’ve decided to stop Facebook and Twitter starting now through the season of Lent. When Easter comes, I’ll evaluate the decision.

The reasons for stopping? Here’s the top two:

1) Removal of social media is a spiritual discipline, freeing my time so that I might utilize it in a more life-giving ways.

2) Social media is just not good for my brain and my soul. Yes, there are some examples of stories and comments that touch my heart and mind. However, most of what I read on social media causes me to be angry, sad, anxious and wondering “WHAT?” If I read the comments under the stories, the feelings intensify.

Two weeks from today, I will head to General Conference of the United Methodist Church to be part of a vote that has implications for all God’s people. I want to spend my preparation time in ways that uplift me. Social media doesn’t do that for me right now.

So I’m pruning social media.

This past Christmas, a friend gave me a thought-provoking little book called The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual Lessons in Pruning, Waiting, Harvesting and Abundance by Judith Sutera. The author uses the experience of tending the vineyard to share spiritual lessons learned in her work.

Sutera writes:

“We practice sacrifice so that our spiritual lives can be more fruitful . . . The world will not become peaceful for us; we have to find our interior peace within the world. The irony is that this peace comes not from having things go more our way but from cutting away at what is disturbing from inside us . . .We will not wake up someday and find everyone around us lovable, but we can prune away our impatience and intolerance, our bad habits and behaviors, and practice the discipline of love. . . . We are what we think about. If we let go of what is not spiritual, we will be slowly but surely transformed. When an elderly sister was asked the secret of her apparent calm and happiness, she replied, “It started when I realized I didn’t have to have an opinion about everything.” (pages 72, 73, 74)

My prayer and my desire is to be a person of peace and calm, a non-anxious presence in a world that is swirling with anxiety, a person that doesn’t have to have an opinion about everything.

May it be so, Lord, may it be so.

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P.S. One more comment on social media – When reading anything on social media, please, please, please check the source. There’s a difference between facts and a sound bite. For all of you who are United Methodist folks, this will especially be true now and in the coming weeks.

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Sutera, Judith. The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual Lessons in Pruning, Waiting, Harvesting & Abundance. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014.

Step into the Water

It’s been almost a year since I left my local church appointment and moved into my extension ministry appointment. So much has changed and yet, so much has stayed the same.

On most workdays, I get up, shower, dress and yes, put on makeup.   I have coffee, a breakfast bar and then I’m in my “office” (the room beside the kitchen). I spend time in Bible study, prayer, journal writing, and preparing for the day. Around 9:00, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later, my “work” begins. Phone calls, video calls (one of the reasons that I don’t stay in my pajamas all day as thought by some folks), emails, writing, reading and “pondering” fills my day. Before I know it, the day has flown by and it’s time to figure out the dinner menu (the Archer’s home menu or the restaurant’s).

This ministry work is different from serving the local church and yet, it’s the same.   It’s a little more 9-5. I sit at my desk a little longer each day. My schedule is a little more predictable.   The other staff person in my office is Hank – who just lays on the couch beside me most of the day and announces the UPS person, the exterminators, the yard crew, really anyone that walks on the street in front of the house. By now, every person on the other end of the phone or video screen knows my receptionist.

It’s also the same: email, phone calls, unexpected calls, paperwork, budgets, billing, reading, preparation, writing, and most of all, people. People seeking to answer God’s call, people burdened by family concerns, people trying to make ends meet, people celebrating joys in their congregations, people angered or confused by the Church and people empowered by the Church. These people just happen to be clergy.

When I began my work as a ministry coach, I thought I would be working with folks in the ordination process (and I do have a few folks). Programs changed and now most of the folks with whom I work are clergy (and a few laity) who have been serving the local church 5-25 years. They are people with fruitful ministry who desire to follow God’s call towards more fruitful ministry. They seek to be resilient and adaptable in this changing world. They seek to honor Christ in all that they do.

My call? My job? – walk alongside them, encourage, pray for, listen, ask questions, help them open up the possibilities, invite them to see where God is moving in their lives, ask them what they want more of in their lives and in their ministry and pray some more.

A pastor told me recently: “Trish, you have a way of mudding the water, stepping into it with me and helping me clear it before you step out.” Yep! That’s what I do.   I think that’s an affirmation – maybe sometimes not.

As I think about it, isn’t that what we as the Body of Christ are called to do for one another? Help clear the water. Walk alongside folks, encourage, pray, listen.

Some days I feel like someone felt a little less alone in ministry, someone was a little more encouraged after the call, someone saw a possibility that God was waiting to show him or her . . . some days not so much.

No matter who we are or what we do, everyone needs someone to step into the water with him or her. No matter who we are or what we do, all of us are called to step into the water.

 

“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”             – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

To React or To Respond?

To react or to respond? That is the question.

Ok – I know that’s not the famous opening line of Hamlet’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s play but it might be the question we all need to ask ourselves. Wait, lest you think I’m judging, I need to ask myself. Am I reacting or am I responding? There is a difference.

Reaction or response?

  • the email that is hastily sent when I feel that I have been wronged
  • the email sent the following day after thoughtful reflection and prayer
  • better yet – a phone call or an IN-PERSON conversation

Reaction or response?

  • the sarcastic remark which in my case, may also include an eye roll
  • silence and maybe a comment without the sarcasm
  • better yet – silence

Reaction or response?

  • the words that fly out of my mouth and then I think: “did I just say that out loud?”
  • those spoken words that should be said aloud
  • those spoken words that are seen in compassionate action

. . . and don’t even get me started on Twitter or Facebook? We can respond globally in the time it takes us to type something on a keyboard or find just the right emoji. We can like, love, be mad, be sad – all with the click of a symbol. I can even respond to you with a bitmoji that looks like me! . . . sort of . . .

Just sayin - trish

We live in a world of instant reaction. Everything must be fast. How did we ever survive dial-up modems???  My guess is dial-up modems and pre-historic rotary dial phones prevented many harsh words spoken in haste.   (For proof of my hypothesis on rotary dial phones, please watch Dialing Tips circa 1950.)

In 1980, Eugene Peterson wrote his classic book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. 1980?? Just think how much has changed in our instant society since 1980!

If only we would slow down and turn our reactions into responses.

If only I could take back the words that hurt a family member or a friend.

If only I had waited until the next day to send the hasty reaction to an email.

If only . . .

Jesus calls us to a life of response – a response to Him and His call on our lives, a response to a hurting world so in need of compassion and love, a response to the grace and love He offers to all. . . . and our response?

 

God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course. Give me insight so I can do what you tell me – my whole life one long, obedient response.       Psalm 119:33 – The Message