Before I Knew Your Name

It’s been at least 14 years ago.  I remember being at Aunt Nancy’s house and noticing an empty frame on the table that held family pictures.  Why would you have an empty frame in the midst of pictures of children, grandchildren and other family members?

Then I noticed a sign on the frame that indicated that this frame would one day hold the picture of the child that her daughter (my cousin), Jennifer, would adopt.  Aunt Nancy didn’t know the child’s name, yet she hoped and believed that one day she would see the face of the child for whom she prayed.  One day she would know his or her name.

And indeed, one day Jennifer flew to Guatemala and welcomed her baby Joshua into her arms.  Soon Aunt Nancy would have a picture for that empty frame.

I too have been praying for someone for a very long time.  I didn’t have an empty frame in our house.  I didn’t know her name.  I just prayed for the person who might one day be my daughter-in-law.  And now I know her name:  Angel.

On Saturday, November 9, Will and Angel will stand before God, family and friends and commit their lives to one another in the covenant of holy marriage.

Angel came into our lives about this time of the year 2 years ago.  Well, she came into Will’s life a few months earlier, but he didn’t tell us.  When I found out that he was dating someone, I tried to get a name from him . . . a little information.  But, in true Will Archer style, I got nothing.  (He can keep a secret like no other.)   When I asked him to tell me about her, he said “No, Mom.  I know you.  You will google her!”  True.

Then we were invited to a friend’s wedding and Will invited Angel to go with him.  “Ok, Will, you can’t introduce the “world” to Angel, and I haven’t met her!”  So, he granted my plea and we met the “mystery woman” for dinner at the Longhorn Steakhouse.  We could see that Will was smitten and very quickly so were Noah and I.

I give thanks for the love that I see between Angel and Will . . . for the looks of love and care between them . . . for the laughter, for the joy and most of all, for the abiding faith in Jesus that the two of them share.  I’ve married many couples in 21 years of ordained ministry and my consistent word in premarital counseling is the power of Jesus’ presence in marriages.  My prayer is that Will and Angel will always know the power of God’s love and strength during the good times and the not-so-good times.

Today I know the name of the one for whom I’ve prayed:  Angel.  She is a beautiful woman of God who loves our son and is deeply loved by him and by Noah and me.

Thanks be to God!

Oh, by the way, Angel’s photo is framed along with all of the other family members.

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.  In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”                      – Psalm 139:13-16

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.

A Younger Me

“What would I say to a younger me?”

What a thought-provoking question! and what a question to be asked immediately before the start of a worship service in which you are the guest preacher.

Recently I had the opportunity to preach the Homecoming service in a United Methodist Church in the area. Prior to the service, I walked around the sanctuary and met a few folks already seated, waiting for the service to begin.  Ted, an older gentleman and Dylan, a younger man were seated on the second row. My first thought? – grandfather and grandson. How special for them to be in church together!

No – not the case. Dylan was a visitor from South Florida who was in the area working with FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Dylan and his dad, another FEMA worker, were staying in the bed and breakfast owned by Ted and his wife. We exchanged greetings and I went back to my seat.

A few minutes before the service started, Dylan came over to my seat and began to talk some more. Then he said: “I’ve asked Ted this question and I wanted to get your thoughts as well. What would you say to a ‘younger you’? What would you say to me – a young man who is seeking God and trying to build a relationship with God?”

Ok, Trish, answer that in the 2 minutes before the prelude starts!

My words to Dylan?  “Don’t limit God.  Follow God’s imagination for you”

This was actually the point of my sermon for the day using my favorite scripture:

“Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” – Ephesians 3:20

“Imagine all that God might have for you – far more than all!”

Dylan’s question has stayed with me since that service. What advice would I give to a younger me?  What words might encourage or guide me, especially in my relationship with Christ?

As I wrote this blog, I remembered that I asked a retired pastor a similar question in my first Duke field education experience. “Rev. Culbreth, what would you say to a clergyperson just starting out in ministry?”  His words have stuck with me for 27 years: “Love the people. If you can’t love the people, you need to get out.”

[It’s funny how words stay with you. Words that can guide and encourage or words that can hurt and destroy.   That’s a blog post for another day.]

What would you say to a younger you?

What word of advice, challenge, affirmation, or encouragement would you give to a younger you?

Tell me.

 

“Dear younger me, I cannot decide.

Do I give some speech about how

to get the most of your life? 

Or do I go deep

And try to change

The choices that you’ll make

‘cause they’re choices

that made me.”

Lyrics from the song, Dear Younger Me, by Mercy Me © 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

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.

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* 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