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.

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

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.

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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. 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.

The Need to Reframe

Several years ago, while on vacation, Noah photographed a beautiful sunset on the island of St. Kitts. I loved it – the fading sun creating brilliant colors as it set on a mostly deserted beach.

I framed it in my usual basic black frame and hung it in a room, already decorated with other “beachy” décor. I looked forward to gazing upon the picture and remembering the wonderful time on St. Kitts. However, my plan for gazing on the picture did not have that effect. It just didn’t look right. The beautiful colors of the sunset did not pop as I expected. Why? Maybe it needed reframing?

Back to the store – let’s try another frame.   This time I purchased a white frame. Would that make the difference? YES!

Reframing brought out new colors. Reframing pointed out the house down the beach with a few lights shining in the windows. Reframing made the clouds in the sky looked almost 3 dimensional. Reframing pointed out the ship far in the distance. Reframing showed the reflection of the sun on the sand.   Reframing brought new possibilities to light. Reframing created a new picture.

I’ve been pondering this topic of reframing. I scribbled some thoughts on a sticky note and stuck it on my desk several weeks ago. Until today, I have stared at those notes as I worked.

No, my notes have not been about reframing more pictures in my house.   This reframing is the kind that we do in the circumstances of life. How can we take a situation and gain a new perspective on it? Reframe it. Step back. Change the view. Put it in a new light. Clarify what is true in the situation and what is assumed. Look for the redemptive moments. Is God’s redeeming love and amazing grace still true? Always.

Reframing is something I need to do on a regular basis. People do bring us joy but people also disappoint us. Life happens and sometimes we have absolutely no control over the circumstances. The only control we do have is our response to the circumstance.

The prophet, Habakkuk, stated it this way:

“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines;

Though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food;

Though the flock is cut off from the folks and there is no herd in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”

 

Though . . . yet.

 

THOUGH people disappoint, YET I will praise You, Lord.

THOUGH the media speaks of violence and injustice, YET I will hope in You, Lord.

THOUGH the bank account is low, YET I will trust in You, Lord.

 

Fill in the blank with the circumstance:

Though ___________________________, YET I will exult in the God of my salvation.

THIS is reframing, my friends!

 

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Scripture noted is Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NRSV)

Picture taken by Noah Archer, September 2015 on the island of St. Kitts.

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