Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Our talk to seminary couples around a fireside

Ten things we’ve learned in our first ten years of ministry. Actually we ended up with fifteen I think – so you can pick the ten you want to hear. ☺ The fun thing was how easy this was to do. We simply sat down and the ideas were right there. We have learned a lot.

1. Don’t defend yourself. God will be your defense if you don’t defend. (This doesn’t mean don’t answer charges at a board level for instance. But it means don’t fight to prove you are right. Or good.) We learned this in the year just before our first stint of seminary – when a woman in the church we were in (we were very new believers but had experienced something of a ‘call’). The woman had a complaint against us and told everyone. We naively continued to be friends to all (as we thought was the Christian way) and did not defend. Eventually when everyone in the church knew about it but us, people started asking why we were not speaking badly of her. We discovered that God preserved our reputation BECAUSE we did not engage her. The lesson we learned: let God defend us. And this has proved to be one of the most important things we’ve done as a rule… we do not defend ourselves to our critics.

2. When you don’t have enough money, and extra comes in, use it to buy an experience instead of a thing. (And – you can live on less than you think.) Never do our kids – ever! – talk about the houses we lived in or the furniture we had. But they do talk about our experiences. When you get an extra $100 from somewhere, instead of buying that new chair you have been coveting, take the family rafting. You will build a host of memories that will be retold as family lore for decades. (We lived pretty shabbily for most of our family life – the kids had second hand clothes etc. We did help our kids buy one of their name brand products - for instance one fashion jean instead of five WalMart jeans. They had very little clothes but always had some things they liked.)

3. Spend time with your critics. On a Sunday when one of the old German farmers was displeased with the service (we used guitars? Or Steve preached about freedom instead of rules) they would come out of the service and harshly critique Steve to his face. But on Monday morning Steve would phone them up and say, “Uncle Dave, do you want to take the boat out?” Steve would go over and help the old man load the boat on his truck and they would go out on the lake. After a couple hours of listening to the old man complain Steve would quietly say, “Uncle Dave, why don’t we just enjoy our fishing?” And they would have a great afternoon. This happened over and over with a number of critics the first years of our first church. Eventually those old men became Steve’s greatest supporters, men who would defend him and who truly loved him. When you avoid critics you miss a great opportunity to make a friend and supporter out of a person.

4. Your kids will pick up your attitude about the ministry, time, people, their state of security - everything. I have to say this is mainly directed to the woman of the house. The children will feel about the ministry life the way you do. If you talk about how people are miserable and how they misuse you, and how you hate it all the children will grow up to resent the church. I worked hard to make the ministry the greatest privilege a family could have. I often pointed out to our children how many ways their dad was available to them in unique ways, celebrated how blessed we were, etc. Our children grew up thinking they were the luckiest kids in the world. They all still respect their dad and his work with deep feeling.

5. Use Caller ID. Always return your calls.

6. If you plan an event it MUST happen – cancelling events creates distrust. Trust is built by doing what you say, over and over. Even if no one is coming, follow through to your best ability. And learn how to be selective. Every idea is not worth doing.

7. When times are very, very hard, remember that you are NOT your work. Steve and I have a little inside covenant that when things at church are ridiculously difficult we will dress us and go to a great restaurant and talk about our life, our dreams, our kids and all the good things of our life. We cannot let the smallest people define us. We must keep some of our identity private.

8. Have friends within the church. The myth of not being able to have friends is just plain wrong. You do need to wisely choose mature friends who will not put your friendship on display. We have hosts of deep relationships with people who have been in our churches, and several very close friends. We did learn to be wise, but because we do not talk about people in front of others we seldom have an occasion where we ‘reveal too much’ of the church.

9. Sometimes the spouse just needs to stay home from church. Sometimes a kid needs to stay home and just take the morning off. The pastor’s family is not the prisoner of the church. The nicest gift Steve gives me now and then is to say, “Hon, your week has been too much. Sit on the porch this morning and I will take you out for lunch when I get home.” No guilt. One time one of our staff members called to say he was going to be a little late for his responsibilities because his wife was in the bathtub sobbing. Steve WISELY said, “Friend, we will cover all your responsibilities. You take care of your wife. Don’t come this morning.” It took some work to fill in his places in short order but it was necessary. Later that day we arranged child-care for them and sent them away to a local resort for a couple nights. The church footed the bill.

10. Always show up on time. Always be prepared. You have no guarantee that everything you do will always be top notch, but go prepared and if things go wrong, just look at it and say, “Well, that didn’t go too well.” Prepare like it is all up to you but then release it all to God.

11. The best thing to do when something goes wrong in a service is to smile – laugh. When things go wrong everyone looks at the pastor and if he smiles and is relaxed they will all relax too. The way the pastor responds in a moment will begin to set the tone for the church..

12. You cannot pastor people if you don’t love them. To love them you must see their lives as they see them. Go walk through a barn, pluck chickens, sit in court and watch them work.

13. About working on your own sermons vs ‘buying’ sermons. The other guy’s sermon from the net will most likely be better than yours. It will sound better, he will have ideas you haven’t thought of. BUT if you use his sermon a) you impede your own spiritual growth because you don’t have to struggle with the scriptures and b) you rob your people of the word that God gives you for your people. If you love them and do real work with the scriptures you will feed them well and they will grow. We encourage READING – not just church growth books, but real literature, thinking, beautiful ideas. And try to learn to read poetry. Anyone who is going to spend their life communicating better saturate their mind in rich writing.

14. Find someone ahead of you and ask for their advice, often. Steve connected with an older pastor whose name was Johnny Bell. Steve would call Johnny and say, “I am thinking of doing this.” Johnny would say, “DON’T DO IT! They will kill you if you do that!” Johnny was nothing like Steve, but he became a treasure in Steve’s life. I know that Johnny prayed for Steve and cared for him and spoke plainly to him. This saved Steve many immature mistakes.

15. Don’t let people use you as a ministry spouse to become a critic of your husband. People who want to get to the pastor but don’t have the courage or ability often use the pastor’s wife … and they dump on her the issues knowing she will take them to the pastor. This makes the wife an unsuspecting critic of her husband, and we all know how healthy that is. This is how I learned to deal with this. When someone would come to me with a long criticism about how things needed to change, I gave them the very best ear I could. I listened, responded, even prayed with them. Then I would say approximately this, “Thank you so much for sharing. I know you will be so relieved to know that I won’t share one word of this with the pastor. I know you would not want me meddling. So if you want him to know this I know you will let him know but BE SURE that I won’t tell him.” Then I smile real big and hug her / him and move on. They stop giving me criticism and I never did take them to my husband. This process created an environment where I was no longer the recipient of criticism and my life in the church became much more peaceful.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What does a fabulous woman look like?

We are part of a church 'family' and if you don't know a church family you don't understand that it really IS a family. Although, like a family we bicker sometimes or get grouchy with each other, we also love. And if someone has a loss we all rally round. Kind of like kids who can't stand each other until their sibling is being attacked from the outside, and then the loyalty rises.

We had a loss this week of a family boy. He is chronologically a man, really, but still a boy. A boy who grew up in the church family, a boy who lives in the memories of everyone as a whole person - full of life and mischief and love. Now a young father, this boy's life ended a week ago much to the deep sorrow of his mom. (Not just his mom, but I am writing about her.) I can't even imagine that I could go on if I lost one of my kids. It is something I haven't yet faced in my long life. I am blessed.

But... I digress.

This woman, faced with the loss of her boy, deeply and openly grieved. She did not hide her pain or try to spiritualize it or pretend she was not crushed. She was surrounded by those who love her as completely as possible in this world, and yet her pain was particularly personal. Who can love like the one who has carried life in her very own body, sharing her energy and DNA and blood. Who can love like the woman who watches a child every moment of his life for YEARS. Think about that. Many mothers do this. They literally have their eyes on the child every waking moment, guarding the fledgling life.

I watched this woman grieve, and then watched her quiet dignity during the funeral. She was very much the mother of the family, responding to the grandchildren, standing in peaceful sorrow at the graveside by her sons, receiving condolences and consoling others.

Today, two days later, she came into church carrying a Kroger bag with baggies in it. In each baggie were seeds she had plucked from a particularly fabulous plant in her garden. She found her gardening friends - including me - and offered us some seeds to sprinkle over a bed for blooms in the spring. She gently told me how to plant them and what to expect in return for growth.

I watched her and loved her immensely. This is strong and compassionate womanhood. She is not through her grief, not at all. She will not know what she has lost until the years pass on and she has discovered holes in her life, over and over. But she is still planting for the future. She is passing out her little seed bags to her friends who stood with her while her son was planted in the earth to wait for the resurrection.

A woman's heart - who on earth can fathom the beauty and depths of it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

thoughts from a friend

We had a man speak about having a 'parenting strategy' in church on Sunday. This was my friend's reflection.

It started with listening to the guy in church talking about parenting strategies, and ended with my son quoting Hebrews 13:5-6* from this month's quizzing material.

I don't know what category our parenting strategy would be put into, but I'm sure I cannot take credit for it.

I remember as a young adult with a 2-year-old, in a life group with 3 other couples doing the Crown Ministries study. We learned that if we make the right choices and handle our money well, that God would bless us financially.

I greatly struggled with that philosophy, because I was quite sure we were making the right choices, but still God was not choosing to bless us in that way. He comforted me then in showing clearly that blessings come in different ways, as in that particular life group, all the other couples had plenty of money but struggled with infertility. Opposite of us. So I was content, but still puzzled.

I cannot say that we have completed the task of raising our kids, as we haven't graduated the first yet, but I can say with certainty that I am proud of the way our kids have turned out so far, and am constantly shocked at the things other parents are dealing with their same-aged kids that aren't even on our radar screen.

What did we do "right" in parenting? Why did we raise our kids differently? Because we didn't have the money. We would have raised our kids the same as all the others - giving them the stuff they wanted, putting them in all the classes and stuff they wanted, teaching them that their desires are a most important factor in family choices.

Now I know. When I was a young mother, asking God why He wasn't blessing us financially, God was saying, "Because I want you to raise your children differently. There are some lessons that they will never learn if you have money."

And He was right. And I am so happy that God chose our parenting strategy.

*Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

on healing

A couple weeks ago I wrote on my facebook status, "Cried all day. Working to figure it out." I know that when we have a rupture in our emotions or find ourselves reactive to ordinary events (reactive - strong response, triggered emotions etc.) then we must pay attention. Inside that reaction or rupture is our truth forcing its way to the surface.

My erupting emotions are tied to deep family of origin experiences, family dissonance and trauma, and my estrangement with my father. But what can one do? I simply tried to stay awake to the emotions. And I have to admit, I felt embarrassed that my close colleagues had to see some of my less mature edges. It feels very childlike to be honest about these deep places - maybe because it is the child in us that is hurting.

Anyway, already I sense I am healing, and healing in my core self. Healing happens level by level, ever deeper. It is a lifelong process, this healing business. I came across this quote from Anthony de Mello who was always calling people to wake up and become aware of their lives.

If you would only switch on the light of awareness and observe yourself and everything around you throughout the day, if you would see yourself reflected in the mirror of awareness the way you see your face reflected in a looking glass, that is, accurately, clearly, exactly as it is without the slightest distortion or addition, and if you observed this reflection without any judgment or condemnation, you would experience all sorts of marvelous changes coming about in you. Only you will not be in control of those changes, or be able to plan them in advance, or decide how and when they are to take place. It is this nonjudgmental awareness alone that heals and changes and makes one grow. But in its own way and at its own time.

My evangelical background was not fully comfortable with this quote, and so I chose not to use it in my mentoring class. But I couldn't just dismiss it either. I had to think it through. Am I uncomfortable with looking at myself 'without judgment or condemnation' because, well, aren't we sinners? And don't I co-create my brokenness and need to own it instead of just being aware of it? Is it true that awareness brings growth? Doesn't God bring growth? And so, my niggling thoughts pushing this quote around and around like a cat pawing the dirt.

I put the quote on my desk and kept reading it. This morning I came to work with a deep sense of peace and a shift in my feelings and understanding of this eruption. I reread the quote and it rang fully true! My own judgment of myself resists change - it holds me in a place that says I deserve not to be well. And this, frankly, is NOT Christian thinking, although many Christians think this way. And if I don't simply stay present to my pain I will finally need to create my own false blessing to survive, crafting yet another layer of 'cope and cover' that only serves to distance myself further from the place of truth within me.

Over and over I learn that when I take my hands off my own formation and allow God's hands to move into places that are open and vulnerable I am transformed, gently, noticeably and without striving.

I am quite sure this is my experience this past few weeks. I know a fuller health as I enter this day. The change is deeply internal and my joy now is to live into it and discover new freedoms.

Can I recommend if you are troubled that you stay in the trouble as peaceably as you can: look at it, become alive to it, and let the healing light of God's love warm that place. Who knows what you might have happen?

But in its own way and at its own time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

for Stephanie

I was driving to work this morning thinking about my blog and how random and unfocused it is. I write when I have a minute, not when I am feeling brilliant, and I write about whatever is in my life and view just then. My thought was that I might shut it down.

But then Stephanie talked to me this morning and told me how much she enjoys reading my blog and that it does mean something to her. So you can thank Stephanie for this blog posting.

This little moment makes me ponder the flimsy-ness of all our lives. We are, generally, unaware of our own power, our own beauty. Over and over we offer our gifts, and these gifts feel so small we wonder if they are worth much at all. Or at worst, that we are a walking offense.

On Saturday a friend came for soup and conversation and brought her little girl. Sarah, aged five, didn't want to come empty handed so she quickly drew me a picture of herself and me, with a heart on each side of the page. She folded it up and gave it to me quite bravely.

It occurs to me that as we get older and 'wiser' we forget to give our gifts with the same sort of unselfconscious daring.

A while back I started giving gifts that came from my hoard of possessions. (And it is a hoard.) I sent my friend with cancer a modest diamond bracelet Steve had given me. I told her to consider it a gift from God. Her daughter was wearing it at her funeral, I think. I gave someone else a book I loved that had my notes all through it. Another time I gave a small statue I had enjoyed on my desk. These gifts seemed more meaningful to me than a bought thing. Of course, maybe the receiver didn't think so! :)

I am going to keep this up. Giving away a sweater to a person who would look great in it. Giving away boots because I just don't need three pair. Giving away scarves and books and jewelry.

But will I also be brave enough to keep giving my own self and then not critiquing my gift to death? I had an insight once that to go over and over my actions and what people must think of me was the sin of self consideration. Simply put - it is the SIN of seeing everything through the lens of me. What do you think of me? How did I come across? Who do you think I am?

I have grown in this but I want to grow more and more bold. I want to believe that my true gifts of self - whether they are a small part in a larger drama or a moment of conversation - are really a dazzling burst of spirit that imperfectly brings LIFE.

What is true, what is given with love, what is full of humor - these things are beyond critique. So draw your little picture and fold it up carefully and give it with spirit!

And thanks Stephanie for giving me your gift this morning.