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

Making a Home

I love HGTV.

From finding the perfect house in a small town to the selection of a private island for those secluded vacations, HGTV has it all. City dwellers can find the cabin in the woods that takes them out of the mad urban rush. Winners of the lottery can find their dream mansion. Don’t forget those who seek to downsize their lifestyle as they move into the tiny house that gives them the simplicity that they crave.

My favorite of HGTV? Fixer Upper!  For five seasons, I watched Chip and Joanna take the “worst house in the neighborhood” and turn it into a beautiful home with the touch of the homeowners’ personality and charm.  Did anyone else cry at the last “Fixer Upper” episode?

I loved watching drab, vine-covered, over-grown-with-bushes homes be turned into the dream home for the new owners. Cottages, ranch houses, and 2-story 100 year old houses that were close to falling down saw new possibilities as Chip and Joanna worked their magic. Often I thought: “I wonder what they could do for my house that could use a little “fixer-uppering”!”

Often as future homeowners decided on a house, you’d hear:

“I can see our family in this place.”

“I can see our children playing in the yard.”

“It feels like home.”

It feels like home – the place to settle in and build a life together.  Noah, Will and I have lived in 2 houses in our life together. (Yes, there were a few transitional apartments.) Our first home in Natchez was a 1940’s bungalow, The Radcliffe House – the home into which Noah and I brought our newborn almost 24 years ago. We watched him take his first steps there, enjoy his first Christmas celebration there, and his first and second birthday parties. One day it was time to pack up the boxes and head north.

Will doesn’t remember too much about that first house. He just knows that he lived in the house on Linton Avenue, now with a bright red door. When Will was two and half, we unpacked our boxes in a two-story 1970’s house. (I think we are almost unpacked – only a few boxes left in the back shed that never made their way inside.)

When Noah and I made the decision to buy both of these houses, I distinctly remember those exact words from Fixer Upper in my own heart and mind, maybe spoken aloud:

“I can see our family in this place.”

“I can see our children playing in the yard.”

“It feels like home.”

It IS home. It’s now twenty-one years in this 2-story home – memories in each room, changes in paint, a new deck, some different flooring and much that has stayed the same. It’s home. It’s where we’ve taken a house built by someone else and made it into a home for the Archers.

I don’t know if we will stay in this home forever. A downstairs master bedroom sure would be nice as we get older. Will lives across town in his own place now but it’s still home for him. As a matter of fact, when any mention of a new place comes into the conversation, there’s a response from the youngest Archer: “You’re going to sell my childhood home?!?” Uh, maybe one day. Sorry, son!

Homes don’t just happen. There are lots of houses on the market. New, old, fixer-uppers . . . all for the showing and purchase. But it’s the personality, the charm, the memories, the settling in that makes a house a home.

As has been my usual practice for the past 5 years, I choose a sentence prayer as my “breath prayer” for the year. My 2018 prayer is “I choose to abide in You, O Lord.” Abide . . . remain, make my home in, dwell, settle down, reside . . . in You, O Lord.

“Make your home in me as I make mine in you.” – John 15:4

This is true home.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book on spiritual formation: “As Jesus travels with us in life, he teaches us how to return to the house of love. . . He never stops telling us where to make our true home, what to look for, and how to live.” *

Living in the love of God – the home of grace and love found in Christ – this is where we can really say: it feels like home. It IS home.

As you look for a place to abide this day, may you find your true home in the love of Jesus.

__________________________________

* Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Harper One, Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, 2010, p. 78.

Photo:  “Daddy’s building” at my childhood home, a place of many memories and love

Changing the Filter

 

 

“Resentment is drinking poison and waiting for the other person to get sick.”

I don’t know who said this originally.  I just know it’s true.  Resentment eats you up on the inside.  It damages relationships.  It puts a filter over everything that you see.  It’s like the filters that you put on your pictures: mono, vivid, silver-tone, dramatic cool or noir.

A bad filter can make a picture worse.

A good filter can take a so-so picture and turn it into something far better than the original.  Take the picture from yesterday’s post.  Add a little “noir” filter with a little more brightness and voilà!  a better picture!

My problem?   I don’t always know how to change the filter.  Sometimes it’s rather easy. Forgive and move on.  Sometimes you can’t do it so fast.  It eats at you and starts to wear you down.  It can make us see every fault, every fallacy, and every action as a deliberate attempt to hurt us.  Resentment can ruin us.

Henri Nouwen wrote in his book on spiritual formation:   “When you cling to your complaints, your heart is full of resentment, and there is no room for God to enter and set you free.  Resentment curtails the movements of the Spirit and diminishes the kingdom within. It replaces faith, hope and charity with fear, doubt, and rivalry.” *

Maybe we change our filter by seeing with the eyes of Jesus.  Maybe it’s every time that I think of _____________ (fill in person, situation, action), I also see the face of Jesus.  Maybe our filter needs to be Jesus beside, behind, in front of ________________.

Maybe everything we see needs to be in the filter of “grace and forgiveness of God”.

It might be hard to change the filter all at once – forever.  Maybe it’s every day to change the filter just a little more in the light of the grace of God.

I may not be able to change _______________ (fill in the blank) but I can ask God to change me.

Change my filter, O God. Help me see with Your eyes of grace and forgiveness. Amen.

 _______________________

* Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Harper One, Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, 2010, p. 59.

A Simple Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. *

A simple prayer – a prayer that has been spoken by thousands of people . . .

  • an alcoholic seeking the strength to resist the urge to drink
  • a couple who doesn’t know how they can make their marriage work
  • an addict who tries to decide between buying food for their family and drugs for their cravings
  • a mom who is fighting the urge to “fix” the problem, enabling her loved one yet again
  • me in the midst of the everyday

It’s a prayer said hundreds of times at Celebrate Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholic Anonymous, Al-Anon and other 12-step meetings.

It’s a prayer of acceptance, peace, courage and wisdom.

I remember seeing this prayer stitched on a needlepoint in my grandmother Louise’s house. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know if she stitched it or if it was a gift. I don’t know what it meant to her. I didn’t know what it meant to me when I was child.

It’s a prayer that I see carved on this cross every time I sit at my desk to work, write, read or pray.

I pray this prayer regularly – sometimes in haste, sometimes in moments of indecision and sometimes in the throes of resentment.

What does it mean to pray: “serenity to accept the things I cannot change”?   It’s a prayer for peace, knowing that I can do nothing to change the situation that is before me.  It’s not my situation to change.  I can’t make anyone “feel” differently.  A person’s emotions belong to that person. As much as I want someone to be _________ (fill in the emotion), I cannot make anyone feel any particular way.  I have no control over that.

What does it mean to pray: “courage to change the things I can”?  It’s a prayer to stop saying “I can’t do anything about that!” It’s a prayer to stop making excuses . . . a prayer to quit letting anger fester into resentment.  Just this morning I read this powerful line from Henri Nouwen:  “When we swallow our angry feelings and do not make them known, resentment settles in.” **   When we don’t try to change something that we DO have control over, it bottles up, sinks deep into the pit of our hearts and at some point comes pouring out, usually in a way that is certainly not peaceful or serene.

What does it mean to pray: “the wisdom to know the difference”?   For me, here’s the real point of contention – the crux of the prayer.  How do I know if I should accept or if I should seek to change?  Is this really my problem?  Is this my responsibility?  What’s MY part in the situation before me?

To understand the difference,  I need a moment to think, really think – to pray, really pray – for clarity.  Sometimes that clarity comes easily.  Sometimes that clarity is harder to see.  Sometimes I need someone to help – a friend, a confidant, a sponsor, a coach or a spouse. Most often, it’s my husband, Noah. (Thank you to Noah and all of the people who’ve helped me figure it out.)

It is a simple prayer . . . a prayer drawing me to the Source of strength, courage, peace and hope . . . over and over again.

__________________________________

*The Serenity Prayer is most commonly attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971).

* * Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Harper One, Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, 2010, p. 59.

Christmas “Wants”

“What do you want for Christmas?”

As a little girl, the question of December was always “what do you want for Christmas?” It was Santa’s main question but it was also a question of my family and friends.  Maybe it was a way to get hints for gift-giving. Maybe it was a comparison of “want” lists. Did Deborah’s list have something on it that I had missed in my thorough examination of the Sears Christmas catalog?

Ah!  The Sears catalog – now THAT was sheer joy – an examination from first page to last of the possible new toys for the list! Sure, there were clothes in the front part of the catalog: matching Christmas pajamas, lovely red velvet Christmas dresses for Sunday School and maybe a new pair of black patent leather church shoes!  But the real fun? The pages of dolls, trucks, games, and chemistry kits (yes, already embracing my nerd-dom – never got one!) gave so many ideas for the “want” list!

Then on December 25, the question shifted to “what did you get?” Early in the morning, brother Gene and I would “patiently” wait for the ok from Mama and Daddy that we could take a look under the tree. Ever wise, my parents did not get us everything on our lists but we were always overjoyed with what we did get!

In the afternoon, we made the trip to Grandma’s house where the question could be asked of cousins: “what did you get for Christmas?” As I got older, I made the call or the ride to see what Elizabeth got from Santa. When we went back to school, we continued to ask the question of classmates. Everyone was comparing, admiring – maybe with a little jealousy – the gifts of Santa!

What do you want for Christmas?
As I’ve talked with clergy and laity this week in my role as ministry coach, I’ve asked each of them: What do you want more of during this Advent and Christmas season?

Hmmm.

Well, one answer may be like the little girl from the Today show story: “a nap” – true story of a little girl (2 or 3 yrs) who when asked the question answered with this wish. Santa was happy to oblige as he reclined and cuddled the little girl for the Christmas wish nap. My guess: it was also the parents’ wish!

What do I want more of this season?
For me: less rush, more quiet, less fixing, more trusting, less activity, more family time

The second question I asked this week: What do you need to do to make this happen?

For me: intentionality, willingness to say no, acceptance that less is more (every Christmas decoration does not have to be put out!)

The third question is an adaptation of “what did you get”: How will you know that it happened?

For me: less frantic running around, a decorated house that brings joy instead of exhaustion, time with family and friends that is easy, and time to actually sit down on Christmas Day!

Most importantly, I want time with God to enjoy his Presence.
I need to spend time each day in moments of gratitude, reflection, reading and writing.
I will know that I’ve gotten my “want” when Advent and Christmas season brings me closer to the greatest Gift that I will ever get for Christmas!

On this first Sunday of Advent:
What do you want for this Advent and Christmas?
What do you need to do to make that happen?
On December 25, how will you know that you got it?

May the joy, love and peace of Jesus Christ, the Gift, be with you!

Let Him Go

 

Parenting is a continual process.  Letting go is a continual part of the process.  I know that’s not news to anyone.  It’s the actual doing it – that’s the difficult part.

It starts early and continues . . . letting go of his fingers so he might take that first step,  allowing him to walk into school all by himself, letting him drive to a friend’s house alone,  watching him walk into the dorm for his first year of college, and most recently, saying good-bye as he boards a plane for 6 weeks of study in Peru.

When Will was just beginning to take a few steps, I was afraid that he’d fall on the hardwood floors of our home.  There was no carpet to break the fall.  There might be bruises or crying or pain involved.  But the only way Will learned to walk was by us letting go.

The first time that Will walked alone into his kindergarten classroom from the school drop-off line, I called Noah crying.  “He just walked into school all by himself.”  Up until this point, I held his hand and walked him into school, exactly like I done when he went to preschool or church or Mrs. Peggy’s house.  All of a sudden, he could do it alone.  He didn’t need me to hold his hand.  I could let go.

And then there’s giving him his own keys to a car.  He no longer needed me to drive him to school.  Yes, to be honest, there were some definite benefits in this letting go.  I didn’t have to enter the school parking lot at drop-off or pick-up times.

Then comes the first year of college.  Now he just finished year three.  How did it happen so fast?

On Friday, the “letting go” took on a whole new dimension.  Noah and I had encouraged Will to take the opportunity to study abroad.  Visit other cultures.  Expand your world view.  Meet interesting people.  Immerse yourself in another language.  It sounded really good in theory but actually putting him on an airplane?  Not so much.

Will and I shopped and planned for weeks leading up to the trip.  Well, I shopped and planned for weeks.  He just went along whenever I said “you have got to try this on” or “you have got to tell me what you need.”  I knew I was stuck in my default setting of co-dependency but I couldn’t help myself.

On Thursday before he left, I began to “panic” with thoughts of:  “maybe he needs this” or “maybe I should have done that” or . . .

And then I heard this small Voice say:  “STOP!  You have done all you can do.  You can’t control every moment.”  It was time to let go.

While leaving the airport on Friday morning, I heard on the radio:  “You can trust God or worry.  But you can’t do both.”  A nice word for 5:30 am.  A word that I needed to hear.

Let him go.

I know that there will be other moments of letting go.  But I will just take them one at a time.  It’s never easy but it’s always part of the process.

P.S.  Yes, I will be thrilled to see my little boy on June 19 – bearded face, curly hair and all.