Friday, January 25, 2013

Taking the long view

Last year around this time, I attended a series of preaching lectures at my alma mater, the McAfee School of Theology.  I don't always make it back there for special events; however, when I heard Brian McLaren would be the guest lecturer, I not only made the trip, but sent him an email to see if we could "get together".  Really?  We'd met once.  I'm not sure what led me to do this, other than the fact that I really admire his work. I also think that many of the ideas expressed in his books have inspired me down the path to church starting.  Still.  Asking before-hand for a featured speaker's time is not my norm.

I must admit I was pretty pumped when I got an email confirming that he would be able to carve out some time for us to meet.   We ended up only having about 30 minutes, just enough time for me to ask him about his church starting experience, lessons learned and advice for a new-by.   We talked about influential books and the necessity of balance and self-care, but there is one piece of advice that has stuck with me since then.  As I shared about my hopes and dreams for our new faith community and for my ministry, he shared some simple yet powerful words that have emerged from lessons learned on his own journey:

Take the long view.

To be honest, I was not sure how I felt about these words when I first heard them.  
Take the long view?   
What about making each moment count?  
What about living like there's no tomorrow?

Take the long view.  

Take the long view in life, in ministry, in leading our faith community.  

The more I've let these words sink in, the more they have helped me to be focused, to be content, to be present.  Everything I hope to achieve, everything I dream of and feel compelled to work toward, does not have to happen today.  In fact, it will not happen today.  Taking the long view means being present today.  Here.  Now.  It means seeing and participating in the beautiful moments that are unfolding on this day, and not always wanting to do and be more.  It means tabling some things that are not as urgent, not as necessary and for which the timing is just not right.

I needed this advice, and I am thankful that it still lingers in my heart and mind.  While I have many hopes, dreams and visions for the future, they will  (or will not) unfold in due time.

How do these words speak to you?  
How do you need to be more present today, here and now?

Friday, January 18, 2013

The elephant in the room

Apparently, it's been a while since I've been to the circus.  That's one reason why when a friend offered discounted tickets, I decided to take her up on the offer.  So, last night I, along with my youngest daughter and one of her friends, arrived excited about what was in store.  We found available street parking (i considered avoiding the $10 parking fee a huge success!), and walked toward the arena.  Everything was going smoothly, and it was looking like a great night of fun.

If only it were  not for those darn animal rights activists that greeted me outside of the arena, it may have been a spectacular evening.  I mean, why had I not remembered all of the news headlines I had seen several years ago uncovering the mistreatment of circus animals?!  True or not, I felt a churning in my stomach that I could be supporting this abuse.  All that kept scrolling through my mind were images of Dumbo and her mother...

This was the first of several signs that let me know right away I was in the wrong place.  As we entered the arena, there was booth after booth lined up to sell over-priced souvenirs. People were already purchasing stuffed animals and fluorescent mow-hawks before the show even started.  Me and my we-can-go-as-long-as-you-know-we-are-not-buying-any-junk self had a hard time smiling when my daughter turned to me and said, "thank you so much for bringing me to the circus, mom."  I wanted to say, Sure, honey.  Maybe next time, we'll go watch some pigs get slaughtered.  I was not sure that was appropriate to say to my 9 year-old, so I smiled back and said, "You're welcome."

As the night went on, I tried my best to go along with the excitement, but it was not easy.  The now old-fashioned circus is clearly extinct.  The juggling clowns have been replaced by motorcycle riding, hip-hop dancing newer models.  The elephants, tigers, rabbits and poodles did their synchronized moves, but they looked unnatural and a bit over-tamed.

It was not until this morning that I realized what made me the most uneasy about this experience.  It was the elephant in the room.  Not just the living, breathing ones, but the one pounding on my head and heart.  The elephants of greed, of misuse of power, of injustice and oppression.  And, there I was quietly playing my part.

There's no need to sit around today and wallow in my guilt about taking my child to the circus.  I know there are much bigger things to get worked up about.  In fact, this isn't about the circus at all.

It's about all the times I go with the flow instead of asking the tough questions.
It's about all the ways I perpetuate injustice because it's not convenient to do anything new or different.
It's about all the instances when I refuse to be intentional in how I spend my time, my money and my resources in ways that matter.

I guess that's the elephant that needs my attention on this Friday.

What elephant needs yours?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Practice makes better

Over the past couple of years, I have struggled to put into place a non-too-structured, yet productive rhythm of work.  I float between an office space generously provided to me by our partner church, my makeshift home office, coffee shops and other public meeting places.   I love the flexibility and change in scenery, and have learned a lot about myself as I've moved around from place to place.  I've learned that I write sermons best from home, that I sometimes get distracted by eavesdropping on others' conversations (come on, we all do it...) and that I am much more creative and energetic when I am out and about in our neighborhood.

I know I'm not alone in dealing with the challenges of not working in a traditional work place.  No doubt, not having set hours, clear productivity expectations or a consistent work space can offer lots of freedom.  Within that freedom, I've experimented a lot to figure out what works best for me, knowing that there's no right or wrong way.  I've discovered that there are a few practices that have helped me develop a rhythm for doing the work I love to do, and I want to offer them to you...

Some of you know that I have just completed life coach training, and am loving practicing this new skill set.  I was first introduced to coaching by a friend who suggested it might be helpful to enlist a coach to help me navigate the challenges of church planting.  By asking me powerful questions, offering much needed affirmation and helping me develop realistic action plans, coaching has been a key part of my rhythm.  I now have monthly coaching phone conversations that last about 45 minutes, and I always leave the call with new insights and a plan to achieve my goals. Through these conversations that I have uncovered many of my fears, passions and hopes for the future.  I have also developed strategies to help me lead difficult conversations, make challenging decisions and implement self-care.  

Day of discernment
During a season of extreme (like most seasons) busyness, I realized that I was seriously missing much needed down time for reflection and renewal.  I was constantly reacting to what I thought others expected, and was feeling uneasy about my leadership.  Needing some clarity and space for reflection, my coach and I came up with a practice that has now become a critical part of each month.  One day a month, I get in my car and head for Lillie's Coffee Bar at Jax. Beach. I call it my "day of discernment" even though it really only lasts a few hours.  I spend a couple of hours journaling responses to a series of questions that force me to listen to what is stirring, challenging, exciting and draining me.  I reflect on how I'm balancing work and family, leading our community and nurturing my own spirituality.  Afterward, I walk across the street to at least get a glimpse of the ocean.  Some days, I'm able to go for a walk, another practice that helps me listen and center myself before returning to engage in work.  As difficult as it seems to set aside the time, I've found that getting away (even just 30 minutes) gives me a fresh perspective and helps me recognize what is difficult to see in the places I sit every day.

Connecting with others doing similar work
Each week, I schedule some time to explore websites, blogs and articles written by people doing similar work.  I also make time for an occasional visit with someone else starting a new business or trying to create something from scratch.  Hearing their stories, and being reminded that my anxieties are not uncommon can be a huge encouragement.  If I am not intentional about connecting with others doing similar work, I miss the opportunity to learn from their experiences and to be part of something bigger than just my little piece of the puzzle.

These are just a few ways I'm working out a rhythm in this new way of living and working.  I'm going to continue to experiment, to move and to change.

I'm curious...

What are you practicing that is giving more life to your work?

How are you making space to determine the best rhythm for your work/family/self-care responsibilities?

Friday, January 4, 2013

My Word for 2013

After several months of abandoning any writing outside of sermons, prayers and emails, I am plunging back in.  What better time than at the start of a new year!  Thanks to SheLoves Magazine and this post, I'm taking the challenge to make one word my place to live from in the coming year.  

The word I've chosen is courageous.

It's not like I'm unfamiliar with the meaning of the word.  After all, it takes a slight bit of courage to change careers, to move away from home, to complete a marathon.  Yes, there's a little pat on the back before I tell you why I so desperately need to be more courageous.

In the 4th chapter of Gospel of Luke, just after Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness we find these words:
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  (v.14-20)
I know that of all the life-giving, love-bringing actions performed by Jesus, this one seems to pale in comparison.  Having just stood the test of the wilderness temptations, Jesus is back among friends and family.  He is among those who know and love him.  Yet, the story tells us that he is not the same.  Rumors have spread and he has gone from temple boy to teacher and leader.  Unlike the boy who wandered away from his parents to the temple teachers, he is now the one doing the teaching.  Not only that, but the scripture he reads would announce his true identity.  He would bring good news to the poor.  He would proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  He would let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.  These life-giving, love-bringing tasks would bring deliverance, but they would also invite much opposition. 

Courageous (adj.): Not deterred by danger or pain; brave.

I'm imagining it took a lot of courage for Jesus to stand before friends and neighbors knowing that he would soon be identified as one who blazed a new trail - a new way to love God and neighbor - a new way to be in the world.  Many who approved of his scripture reading on this day would deny even knowing him in the days to come.

As a mother, wife, pastor and follower of Jesus, I struggle to live courageously in ways that matter.  Instead of stepping into my identity (which is unique to many, especially in this mostly conservative southern city), I too often shrink back.  Instead of letting discomfort propel me forward, I allow it to push me back.  I'd rather play it safe and save the real challenging work for someone more courageous than me.

Here's what I imagine stepping into courageous will look like in the coming year ... writing, running and sharing more; having more fierce conversations; saying no more often to things that matter less and yes to things that matter most; apologizing more when it's necessary and less when it's not; hosting less events and engaging in more long term/messy/challenging relationships; delegating the details so I can be more present;  embracing my new life coaching skills and practicing them as often as possible.  This is what I imagine, but I'm sure there's much to learn and discover as I begin trying out courageous.

It scares me to death, and that's why it know it's the word for me this year.  I'll give some updates about what I'm losing and finding along the way, and also write more often to continue sharing my journey as a missional faith community pastor.