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.

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

Space for God: A Thought and a Request

Out of brokenness comes life.

Out of heartache come new possibilities.

Sometimes it happens quickly. Most of the time, it’s a journey.

This summer, I’ve been going through my sermons, my teaching plans, and devotions I’ve written in preparation for several retreats I’m leading this fall and spring. Even though I’ve written or spoken on a diverse group of topics and scriptures, there seem to be several consistent themes:

  • The extravagant love of God
  • Hope in the midst of loss
  • God always meeting our needs
  • The abundance of God (thus the name of this blog – “Something More”)
  • The need to make space for God

The last theme, space for God, shows up time and time again. I’ve taught classes at church, spoken to ministry workers at professional conferences, led weekend retreats, led day retreats, written devotions and sermons and the list goes on. It’s not that I’m an expert on the subject. Far from it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t really know anything about the subject the first time I sent a proposal to a national conference. I sent it out of my own desire to create some space for God in the midst of the brokenness of my life.

The theme began to show up in my work around 2005, just a few years after one of the hardest battles of my life – depression. It’s a long story that I probably will tell one day in more detail. For now, just know that I was broken – some days hopeless, some days anxious, and most days trying to smile on the outside but crying on the inside. I doubted my own faith: “Maybe I wasn’t spiritual enough. Maybe my faith wasn’t strong enough. Shouldn’t I be able to pray this away? Didn’t I believe that God could heal me?” Healing did not happen instantly. It took prayer, time, therapy, medicine and support from my husband and friends.

Yet, God did what God does – redemption. From this painful time, new possibilities came forth. From my own brokenness, came new life. And God continues to redeem my brokenness.

I’m still learning about what it means to create space for God. I learn from you, from my experiences, from my failures and from my wonderings.

So there’s the thought: from my own brokenness, God gave me experiences to share with others. He continues to redeem my brokenness for new possibilities.

Now my request: I’ve learned from years of preparation that I have better understanding of creating space for God when I listen to the stories of the people around me – those I know and those I don’t know. There are similarities in stories as well as new expressions and examples of meeting God. Would you be willing to share your experience and thought by completing a short survey? You can find it at the link:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SpaceforGod-anonymous

It is completely anonymous (no names or identifying info – unless you write it). Someone asked me yesterday what I was doing with the research. Good question. I’m looking for themes, new possibilities and clearer understanding of God’s movement in the lives of those around me.

Maybe by completing the survey, you might hear God speak to you of His movement in your life. Maybe your experience of Christ is a story that needs to be told so that it might touch someone else’s life. Maybe today is the day to share it.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

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