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

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.

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*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!

Next Step on the Journey

It is hard to believe that Will started his last week of undergraduate classes at NCSU today.   It was just yesterday that I was in full “mother hen” form, gathering those things I just KNEW he needed for life away from home.  Don’t worry! – I didn’t write his name in his clothes but I’m sure I thought about it. Then I snap my fingers and he is a senior at NCSU, graduating in less than 3 weeks.

Now the next step on the journey for him . . .

It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s the unknown. Next steps are all of those things for Will.

And the same is true for me.

After serving for 15 years at Pine Valley UMC, I will be leaving this appointment at the end of August. I will begin a new appointment as a full-time ministry coach, serving with Passion in Partnership. It’s exciting. It’s scary to leave the known for the unknown. But that’s what following God’s call on your life is all about.

Several weeks ago, I found a copy of my application to Duke Divinity School, along with my acceptance letter from the Admission office (dated May 25, 1990). I remember how scared I was to leave the profession I loved to pursue this call that I didn’t understand. I was single. I didn’t have any savings. I had just paid off the loans for my Masters from UNC-CH and now I was biting off even more debt to go to Duke. What was I thinking?!?

I wasn’t really “thinking” as much as I was trusting – trusting that this call to full-time ministry was the next step in God’s plan. I had no idea where God was leading me. I just knew that I needed to take the next right step.

Noah came into my life a few months later and by November 1990 we were engaged.   He finished residency, I finished seminary and then we were off to the next step on the journey. Will arrived in May 1994 and the journey continued.

And now all these years later . . . God is calling again.

This week while reading the book, Know Your Story and Lead with It by Richard L. Hester and Kelly Walker-Jones, I came across a quote by Albert Einstein: “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research.” It leapt from the page because it applies to more than just research. I might rewrite it: “If I knew what I was doing, it wouldn’t be called faith.”

Sounds a lot like Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

All I can do – all anyone can do – is take the next right step.

 

For anyone who wants to know more about ministry coaching, check out the Passion in Partnership website: www.pipcoaching.net

Holding on to Daddy

Grief is weird. It comes to you in the midst of life.

I realized this morning while sitting in the Starbucks on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, that today is second month anniversary of Daddy’s death. For several reasons, I haven’t been able to write anything about his death yet. Today seems to be the day. . .

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When someone you love dies, there are parts of the experience that you do not want to remember. There are also parts of the experience that you want to hold on to. Mostly those parts are about the person. You just don’t want to forget.

That’s where I am right now. I want to remember.

Friday morning, August 26, 2016, at 3:25 a.m., my father, Clifton Rogers Hicks, died.

People often ask me how I’m doing. Fact: I don’t know. I’m learning a new way to live and in the process of learning this way, I want to hang on to as much of Daddy as I can. For me, this hanging on happens as I write down my thoughts – my long-time spiritual discipline. My written words may speak to you. You may consider how you want to be remembered. If so, that’s good but mostly I’m writing to process my grief, to remember – to never forget.

I want to remember:

Daddy praying for me when I went away to Carolina. We were like many families. We prayed at meals and at bedtime but the prayer leaving a lasting impact happened on the morning that I left to go to UNC-CH.  Just before we left home, he gathered Mom, Gene and me in the kitchen and prayed for his oldest child who was about to venture out into the college world that he had not experienced. I don’t remember his exact words but his very act of prayer is the reason that I pray for Will at the beginning of every school year,  preschool through this last year as a student at NCSU.

That if you’re going to do something, you should do it correctly. Daddy did not believe in “guess work” but rather precision.  Example: If the package said plant the flower bulbs 18 inches apart, then Daddy used a string, stakes and a yard stick to make sure they were planted accordingly. Of course, he laughed later that his precision created a perfect map for the mole who ate all of the bulbs.

Laughter makes everything better. Daddy was the king of the corny joke. He loved to tell a joke or say something silly.  Noah and I sometimes say to one another, “that sounds like something Cliff Hicks would say”.

Family time came first. Every Sunday we went to Grandma Ella’s house, playing with whatever cousins also there, sitting by the hot wood stove and reading the “funny paper”. I didn’t realize then that one day I would long to have that opportunity once more.

“Place” or home is foundational. Daddy’s family were tenant farmers, never owning their home or property. His family lived on the Boyd farm in Warren County, the longest of any place. This was “home” for them – filled with memories and stories of life on the farm. I drove Daddy down the Boyd farm road just this past March. To the unknowing eye, it looked like woods, a few over-grown wooden structures that once were barns or a farming shed. To Daddy, it was home.

The discipleship (membership) vows of the UMC were promises to be fulfilled. I don’t remember there ever being any question of whether we were going to church – Sunday school and “preaching”. If it was Sunday, we were there. Every Saturday, Daddy wrote a check to the church. It may not have been a large sum but it was faithful giving. Every Saturday night, he’d go “check on” the heat in the winter and the a/c in the summer. That was his service as the Sunday School superintendent – for over 30 years.

Life is for living. Daddy never got to the point that he said “ok, I’m ready to go.” Yes, he was ready to see Jesus. He had committed his life to Christ a long time ago but he loved being here. In those last weeks before he died, we cried together as he said “I just don’t want to leave you all.” We told him that we didn’t want him to go but he should not be afraid – that in the twinkling of the eye, we’d be with him. Every time I left him to drive back to Wilmington, not knowing if it was the last time that I’d see Daddy, I’d say: “remember Daddy:  In the twinkling of an eye.”

In the last days of Daddy’s life, he often would look at us and say “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” I like to think Daddy was in that place between heaven and earth. Should he take the next step in heaven? Should he stay here? I asked him:  “Daddy, what do you want to do?” Maybe he thought he was supposed to do something. He was a hard worker all of his life but now, there was nothing else to be done. He just needed to let go. Finally he did.

“Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”

25 Years of Love, Diamonds and Umbrellas!

I was just being practical. I WAS listening to Noah when he said he needed an umbrella. Shouldn’t you give someone a gift they need?

Well, yes . . . but not as a wedding present to your future husband!

Twenty-five years ago today, I married the love of my life, Noah Archer. Maybe more surprising? He married me after receiving probably the worst wedding gift of all time – a brown umbrella. How was I supposed to know that wedding gifts to your future husband should be a little more romantic? How was I supposed to know that he was having his grandfather’s ruby and diamond tie tack made into a pendant necklace for me to wear on our wedding day?

It’s hard to believe that Noah and I have been married 25 years! I will not go through the entire meeting and courtship but let’s just say it was a God-thing. We met at Orange UMC. I was teaching school in Chapel Hill. He was a pediatric intern at UNC-CH. He was sitting behind me in church one day and after worship, I told him that he had a nice singing voice. Then we didn’t speak for another year.

By the next summer, I had resigned from teaching and was preparing to enter Duke Divinity School in the fall. Noah had survived his first year of residency as an intern and now had a little more time outside the hospital. I needed a pianist for the early service choir that I was leading. He happened to play the piano.

Sunday, Labor Weekend, 1990, early morning choir turned into lunch, an afternoon at the Symphony in the Park and by Thanksgiving weekend, we were engaged.

On August 10, 1991, at Orange UMC, we were married, surrounded by our family and friends.

Through these 25 years, our love has changed and grown in ways that we could never have imagined. Through the joy of the birth of Will, through the pain of miscarriage and infertility, through the challenges of busy professions or rather callings, through family and friend ups and downs . . . in everything, God has been the source of our strength and the foundation of our marriage.

Every day has not been rosy. Really, who has that kind marriage? But every day has been a recommitment to one another, to our love for one another and to our marriage.

Happy Anniversary, Noah! I love you and look forward to the next 25 years. Thank you for giving me your heart all those years ago – even after a brown umbrella!

P.S. Maybe on the 25th anniversary, I’ve done a better job with the gift. TBA