Saturday, February 13, 2016

Anybody Remember This?

My time hop indicated today that I was getting out of the hospital 6 years ago after surgery for a blood clot in my arm.  I also had one in my heart.   It was a scary time -- it reminded me of my priorities.  It made me much more grateful.

I also remember that I found myself incredibly funny during my week in the hospital.  I felt fine, but any of you who have had blood clotting issues know that you have to be there until your INR number is correct before they will discharge you and it took me a long time.  Thus I was in the hospital with nothing to do for a week, which more than likely made the staff crazy.   I thought I was hilarious.

So, if you were NOT around during that time (or if you were but are needing a reminder of just how hilarious I am, you should check out this blog entry....

Friday, February 12, 2016

Nothing Greater than Grace

I wrote this email to my staff this morning and I thought it was worth sharing here.  Every day I send my staff a YouTube Link to a song.  Today's was suggested to me by our Director of Physical Plant and I had never heard it before.  But I have listened to it several times this morning and it inspired the email, which inspired this blog post.

Grace is something that I didn’t really understand until I was in my 40s.  Until then I had been about as perfect as a person can be.  I had learned at an early age that it was really important for us to strive for holiness.   While I knew that there wasn’t anything that I could do that would make God love me less, I had this strong feeling that I could do plenty that would get him to love me more.   And that is what I was going for.  And since I rarely did anything wrong, I figured God could save His grace for the really bad people.  

In the midst of all of this I was not a gracious person.  I was very judgmental and had lots of conversations with people about what the Bible said about what they should or shouldn’t do.  I was pretty condescending and arrogant.

In my 40s through a series of events I screwed up and I needed grace… big time.   I needed it from other people and I needed it from God desperately.  When I received it,  I was absolutely overwhelmed by the power of grace.   It transformed my life.   And as I understood how much I needed the grace of others and of God, I recognized that I needed to offer that grace to others as well.

The last chapter of my book, “A Glimpse of God’s Heart:  How Trying to Change My Kids Changed Me”  is entitled “Grace Leads to Grace.”  When we truly understand how much grace God offers to us, we can’t help but extend that grace to others.

These have been challenging days at PHFS.  I have asked you to do difficult things.  I have asked you to forgive and extend grace.  Not just during one week, but every day.  And this is hard work.

But as we extend that grace and offer forgiveness to those around us — especially the ones who deserve it the least — God transforms us.  This is the crux of the gospel.  We are the recipients of grace and thus we are givers of grace.

There will be tough days ahead.  It’s inevitable.  But as we move forward, receiving and offering grace, we will indeed beat the system.

There’s nothing greater than grace.    

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Don't Fight or Fault the Person: Part 4 of the 10 Guidelines for Beating Dysfunctional Systems

In every system there are roles.  And when a person is placed into a role, there is sometimes very little they can do to get beyond the role.   Suddenly the person becomes their role and then they are stuck.  Unless the system changes, it is very difficult for the person to change.

Think of these roles in a family system:

Overbearing Father
Permissive Mother
Black Sheep of the Family
Smartest Kid
Most Disobedient Child
The One who is Never Home
Problem Child

And the list goes on.  As a system gets more and more dysfunctional, people become more and more entrenched in their roles.

If the overbearing father comes home at the end of a rough day but is happy to see his family and ready to relax, he may not get the chance.  He may walk in the door and the children stop laughing and having a good time and head to their rooms because they EXPECT him to play his role.

The spoiled child may be planning to do his chores, but gets distracted.  Before he has a chance to remember to complete them, older siblings are yelling at him and their parents for letting him get away with it.   Eventually he doesn't bother to try.

As people sink deeper into the roles of the system we become more and more angry at the person.  We argue with them.  We fight with them.  We blame them.   Each day we are more and more frustrated by THE PERSON when really their role is a part of the system.

So the 4th guideline is to fight and fault the system not the person.   In coming into my position this has been very helpful to me because I can clearly see how well intentioned good people have been sucked into their roles in the system.   I try hard to see them with fresh eyes and to recognize that the fault and blame lie in the system.

Shake up the system by attacking it, instead of people in it.   Change the way YOU respond to the people in the system.   Breaking free of your role attacks the system.   Expecting behaviors different than a role that has been assigned messes with the system.

I have had a pretty rough week because I have been working hard to challenge a system that is being controlled by the enemy.   I was feeling anxious and insecure this weekend about all that happened this week and Bart said something really significant.   He said that sometimes it doesn't matter what you do to change the system -- it just matters that you do SOMETHING to shake it up.

So if you are thinking to yourself today that there is a person at work, or at church, or in your family that is driving you CRAZY.... ask yourself if it is really the person or if it is their role in the system.  Then, attack the system.   You may be surprised as to the difference that can make.

Can't Believe It has Been a Week

I certainly had plans to blog this past week.  I just didn't find the time.  I was rushing from one thing to another and one home to another and one office to another and one town to another and having many conversations that were intense and good and hard and good and difficult and good.   That's kinda what happens when you're trying to move forward in a dysfunctional system.  You just have to have those hard conversations.

Let me back up and tell you that we are having a BALL getting to know the folks at Mt Vernon UMC in Danville where Bart is the new interim pastor.  Last Wednesday we got to tell the story of us .... and we love doing that.   I, of course, go into "Stand Up" mode when handed a mic, and Bart plays the straight man and we just have a blast.   We have met so many people and I am about out of RAM after meeting everyone at my new job, so I'm having more trouble with names than Bart is -- he is the master.   But so many friendly and kind people have welcomed us and we are enjoying it a lot.  (And I'm not just saying that because some of you googled me and found my blog :-)

We are continuing to enjoy the parsonage.   We even had an adult house guest who borrowed our couch Friday night ... and realized this is the first time that this has happened (with the exception of family members) in all of our marriage.  We never had room for others (or when we did they weren't brave enough to stay at our house :-)   It is fun to have people over and be able to practice hospitality without a lot of frightening drama.

My job is full of challenges.... good ones, but some really hard stuff.  Covet your prayers as we continue to work to defeat the enemy and move forward.  I can't help but believe that there are mighty good days in store for us if there is so much spiritual opposition to what we are doing.

Several busy days ahead.... challenging ones ... but I am convinced that God is in control.

If you happen to know any couples who would be interested in being houseparents, I would love for you to have them contact me.  That's our biggest need at the moment.  And even if you don't know anyone if you could pray that God will send some our way I would be most grateful.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Groundhog Day and Dysfunctional Systems

It was very appropriate that yesterday was Groundhog day, because the dysfunctional system reared it's ugly head around here for a couple days.    Details don't matter.   I can sum it up by saying that I broke a couple of my guidelines and it sent people into a tailspin, and several folks headed back to their corners of comfort, scrambling to decrease their own anxiety.  They started asking, "What is best for me and how can I get it... fast."   They talked to each other, they talked to their boss, he talked to me, I talked to my peers..... Dysfunctional System Freakout!   Anxiety was high, trust was low, and I was so discouraged.   I didn't see it as a system issue.... just felt like I was a complete failure.  I didn't sleep well at all on Monday night.

And then I woke up on Tuesday morning, February 2nd, and realized that it was Groundhog Day.  I started thinking about the movie.  You've seen it, right?   If you haven't you HAVE to see this movie!  It is one of my all time favorites.  You can rent it for $2.99 on iTunes or probably buy it for that used on eBay.  But I digress.

In the movie, Bill Murray plays a meteorologist, Phil, who goes to cover a story on Groundhog Day.   When he wakes up the following morning, it is still Groundhog Day.   In fact, he is reliving the day but nobody else is.

If you have seen it, you see the beauty of the second chance.  You see how the main character, when he has a new chance every morning to live the same day, changes.  He starts to focus more on others. He doesn't make the same mistake twice.  He learns each time how to perfect his actions so that they have different outcomes.  Some days go well, others go bad, as he tries to adjust his actions and thoughts to live a "perfect day."

And that is the way it feels in a dysfunctional system that is moving towards health.  Every day you revisit something that you thought you had solved.   One of the wise guys puts it this way:  You put something on your to do list, and you check it off.  And the next day, you come in and erase the check box and you start over.   But the truth of the matter is, eventually, if you just keep doing it, one day at a time, not letting the repetition discourage you, you make progress.  You learn from your mistakes.  You vow not to make the same ones again.  You try new ways to address old issues.   You just keep doing it, day after day after day.

Eventually you recognize that you are not at the center of the universe.  Just like Phil in the movie you start to focus on others and how the system is hurting them.   You find ways during your day to take care of other people instead of scrambling to take care of yourself.   And gradually, the system fades away.

One of the lies of the enemy is to say that "nothing has changed" but in reality a lot has changed,.  There will be days of regression.  It's all part of healing a system.

And for me, it is very helpful to realize that this isn't going to change all at once.  Many days it is going to feel like we are making no progress at all and we want to give up.  It's going to feel like I'm living the same day over and over again.

But the beauty of the gospel and living the Christian life is that God's mercies are new every morning, even if the system hasn't changed overnight.  God is good and gives us the strength to do what we need to do.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Snapshots of the Future

This morning in church I had one of those surreal moments when I thought about the past.... and the future.... and how it sometimes is a good thing that we don't know the future from the beginning.

We were sitting in our new church (isn't it beautiful????) and a small group was singing the words to this song:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
It was the song that we had sung at our wedding.....   And suddenly I thought -- what would we have felt had on our wedding day we had seen a snapshot of the future?  What if at the wedding we had seen a picture of this church and us sitting there.  What if someone would have explained that in less than 20 years we would have 12 children ages 17-29, 7 grandchildren, and would have just moved all the way to the North Carolina/Virginia border to pastor a church and take on a huge job as a Chief Officer of a Family Service agency?

I think I would have said, "Way cool!" But I also would have wondered a great deal about what steps we were going to be taking to get from point A to point B.  Seeing a snapshot of the future might have caused me a great deal of anxiety.

There is a reason why God keeps some things a secret and simply says, "Follow me."  Todays sermon was all about that -- how God leads us through the unknown, the foggy moments when we can't see what is ahead.  He keeps His promises, though, and guides us from one place to the next.

The last three months have been wild ones for us.  We went from having a very sure solid predictable  future on October 1st  (retiring from Bethany, living in Minnesota until death) to living in Virginia having resigned from Bethany and leaving the Minnesota Annual Conference and being settled in a new parsonage on February 1st.

Way back on that day, when Bart and I stood and listened to our dear friends sing the song above, we were committed to those words.  I don't know if we have always followed them, but we have tried.  And we have found them to be great words to live by.

I don't think I want to see a snapshot of 20 years from now.   In fact, I know I don't.  I don't need to either.  All I need to know is that the same God that has brought us this far, will carry us through the next steps, one at a time.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

For the 7th time on this blog (yes, I went back and counted) I am quoting this little ditty my mother used to sing to me as a child:

"Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold."

I see my life as a tapestry and friendships contribute to that tapestry.  Each person whose life is interwoven with mine adds richness, color and depth that would not otherwise be here.

As you can imagine we have met a LOT of people in the past month.  When I applied for this position, I new ONE person who lived in this entire state and I haven't seen her yet because she is 3 hours from here.   Now I can call several Virginians friends and am meeting new people that I find delightful every day.  There is not enough time to get to know all of them as quickly as I would like, but I'm going to work on it.  Because their stories, their perspectives and ideas, make my life fuller, richer and deeper.

So this weekend is going to be a wonderful mix of the old and the new.  Last night, Bart and I met 8 people for the first time.  Four couples from our new church had dinner together with us.   I was able to meet some people who have that dry, quiet, sarcastic sense of humor that delights my soul.  All of them were bright.  Some were readers who could talk to Bart about their shared passion for books. Others had interests not like mine (one is a master gardener and you'll remember if you have been a blog reader of mine for years that my gardening hobby was the worst three hours of my life).    We had great conversation, a delicious meal, and a rousing few games of sequence.  We laughed a lot.  We learned a lot about Danville and about life in Virginia.  We listened, we shared, and I could see the needles threading ... the richness of my tapestry of my life is about to become even more beautiful!

This morning is going to take me back a few months and years, to hang out with Sonia the Office Manager at Bethany who is one of my favorite people on earth.  For some reason we clicked -- she was single and 30 when we met, I was very not single and over 50.   But we took time to get to know each other and I was able to see her heart, her potential, her struggles, and we were able to share on a deep level.   She is going to FaceTime with me this morning -- we have a date for that, and I am so excited!

Then after that I am rewinding to 21 years ago when I lived life daily with my friend Mara.   She was the Secretary to the President at the college where I was Dean of Students.   We shared a special connection during the years we were together and she and I are going to have lunch together and then spend 4 glorious hours catching up on 21 years and reminiscing about those "good old days" when we had energy to stay up past ten.

Finally, tonight one of the three wise men and his wife are coming for dinner -- our first house guests at the new parsonage.  Bart is making hay and straw -- my favorite meal (fettucini alfredo with prosciutto, bacon, and mushrooms)!  

When I first arrived on campus people referred to friendships as "alliances."  I knew there were some system issues when I heard that and started joking with people that I had just joined an episode of Survivor.   The system said that you couldn't really get close to anyone because of what others might think.   Well, screw that.   You all know me well enough that I'm not going to get sucked into that.

I am happy to be friends with anyone who wants me to be their friend.  Situations and circumstances are going to mean that I end up getting closer to some people than others based on our working relationship, family situations, etc.   But that doesn't mean that I can't be professional in my work.

It's odd that most people who work here move across the country to become a part of the staff here.  They know NOBODY else but the people they work with.  And if the system says, "don't be friends with those you work with or people will talk" it isolates people further.   So I immediately decided that I was going to consciously not pay attention to the "rules" that say who I can and can't be friends with.  My life, as you know, is an open book, and I'm not going to start behaving in different ways because of a dysfunctional system.  And I am going to encourage everyone to work on having MORE relationships that are close, not less.

So I'm going to tell you who is coming to dinner and why they are our first house guests.

Tonight Steve and Wynde are coming over.  I am telling you their  names because this is my personal blog so I can write whatever I want here.   If you are looking for my "professional blog" you can click here.  

Ever since before I came for my interview Steve and Wynde have gone out of their way to be kind to us.    Wynde showed Bart all around during my interview.   She introduced him to a United Methodist District Superintendent that led us to getting this awesome interim appointment and huge parsonage to live in.  

Steve is the Chief Operating Officer, so technically my peer, though he would most likely tell you that he is intellectually superior to me. :-)  He and his staff did everything they could to make sure that we settled in well when Dominyk and I came.  They had the house ready.  They made sure we had what we needed.  They secured a company vehicle.    Steve emailed me ideas and suggestions about where Wilson might feel most comfortable in school and hooked me up with others who had opinions as well.  

When Dominyk arrived and knew nobody, Wynde and Steve's son, Caleb, spent the day with him.  Wynde took them out to lunch.   Caleb has hung out with him a few other times since then and Dominyk thinks he is awesome.  We certainly don't mind Dominyk spending time with an Eagle Scout who is enrolled in college.  (A bit different that his friends he was making back in Robbinsdale who were contracting with him to buy him guns).

The week Tony came unexpectedly, I invited myself over to dinner at Steve and Wynde's because I knew I didn't want to wait alone in the office in Lynchburg when Tony was coming because he causes me some anxiety.   Wynde prepared a great meal and we talked and my anxiety leveled out.

There is no end to the list of ways that they have both gone out of their way to be welcoming, both professionally and personally.   They have made it a point to care for us without expecting repayment.

I could go on and on and on (you all know I could) about how awesome I think they both are but enough is enough.   Let's just say that they are fine people.  See why we're having them for dinner?

So this post kind of got out of control.... but I am trying to make a few points, like I always do.  Let me summarize:

1)  Relationships are very important to me.   People are what make me who I am.

2)  I am committed to renewing old friendships whenever I can, because I love my old friends.

3)  I am constantly seeking to add people to my list of friends who are willing to "do life with me" -- not just casually acquaintances, but deep meaningful transformative friendships that change me, change them, and together change the world.

4)  I'm not going to let a dysfunctional system having me living in fear.  When we have others over for dinner, I will tell you about that (if i'm in a blogging mood).   I will not allow the system to suggest that I need to hide what I'm doing from anyone else.   I'm just going to be me.

And really, if I can be myself, and show others how to do the same, health is on the way...

Friday, January 29, 2016

Space, Space, God's Space....

Oh wait, Was that supposed to be grace?

I know I haven't blogged this week... not for four or five days I guess.  It may have to do with the fact that i have driven 452 miles between trips to the airport, my two offices, and the parsonage.  Or it may have to do with the fact that my days have been packed.  Or the fact that I'm not sleeping much.  But here I am, back again, not sure that i have much of value to say.

But I am working from home today... home being the parsonage.  Jimmy keeps calling the parsonage "dad's place" and the townhouse "mom's place" on Facebook.  People probably think we split up.

I have mentioned to you how much space is here and you are invited to come check it out.  But you really need to understand our history to know why this space is such a blessed relief.

We bought a small house on purpose the last time.   We figured if there wasn't room for our adult kids to move in they would find another arrangement.   That didn't happen.  Instead we had kids on couches and in the laundry room and grandkids on the floor.

It got to the point that Bart and I never left our bedroom unless it was to cook (him) or eat (both of us with the kids).   We stayed in our bedroom.  His desk was in our bedroom.   I sat on our bed as there was no room for a chair there.   Our dining room table wasn't big enough for everyone many Sundays...

So here we are.   We have a bedroom that is only our bedroom.  We have a guest room.  We have a lovely sitting room and a family room with comfortable furniture.   We have an office where both our desks are.  We have two small kitchens with tables big enough for the four of us who live here.  We have a dining room with a table bit enough to hold 18 with the leaves in -- a HUGE one that with the leaves out seats 10 comfortably.   We have a back porch big enough to put our table in there.  We have four full bathrooms -- we have never had more than 2.

So this morning while Bart and I were quietly working in this office I was just thrilled with the sense of space.  I could work in the office.  Or we could go in the family room together.  We could sit in the sitting room together.  We could sit in Kitchen 1 if we wanted to.  Or kitchen 2.  Or in the dining room.

I think you're getting the picture.  Speaking of pictures, my soul feels like the picture above....

Space at this point in our lives is a very very good thing.