Going Deep Together to Reach New Heights

GOING DEEP TOGETHER TO REACH NEW HEIGHTS

Going Deep Together

I wrote the following in my journal during a rough spot:
I don’t need you to tell me I’m wrong – somewhere inside I know this. I need you to talk with me about the deeper things surrounding this “wrongness.” To create a place I can live during the processing of it and still be loved and accepted. I need people who are really WITH ME as I work through it. People who call me to a higher standard (or maybe I should say call me to a deeper place) simply by being love to me – being Christ to me even when I am not yet Christlike enough. We can only be this for each other when we realize/admit none of us are “there” yet.

When I decided to share that journal entry here, I wanted an art piece to accompany it. So, I clicked on the page of one of my favorite artists, Gwen Meharg, and found the painting shown above. Click this link , then scroll down to the image of the painting on Gwen’s page and click that to see her explanation of the piece. It’s a great accompaniment for the thoughts I had when I was journaling.

I just want to add, too, that the link to Gwen’s work above is for her watercolors. She also does some amazing multi-media work. You can find it here.

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How We Ended Up with a Coffeehouse @ The Merge

HOW WE ENDED UP WITH A COFFEEHOUSE @ THE MERGE

How We Ended Up with a Coffeehouse @ The Merge

As important as our coffeehouse is to the overall vision of The Merge, you might find it interesting that we were as surprised by the concept as anyone else might be when we were in the planning stages for our church plant. Scott and I had known for years that we would someday plant a church. We knew it would have a heavy emphasis on music – thus, the music venue portion of our plans – because music is a significant part of Scott’s personal testimony (I’ll leave that for him to write about at some point). We also knew that we wanted to focus on a relational approach to church life, discipleship and outreach.

What was nowhere in our sights was a coffeehouse. That “little” addition to the plan was completely a God thing. So, I thought I’d share with you how that came to be.

I had been journaling for quite some time about the idea of dreaming big and living with passion. For over a week, I had repeatedly used the word “impossible” in my reflections. My mother-in-law had read a book about a missionary and told me that every time she picked it up to read it, she thought of me. So, she was going to hand it off to me when she finished.

One day, I was walking through the living room and saw a book lying on the ottoman entitled A Passion for the Impossible. I didn’t realize this was the book my mother-in-law had told me about or that she had left it for me. I just knew the title jumped out at me and I had to read this book.

It was the biography of Lilias Trotter, who became a missionary to Algeria in the 1800s. Prior to her work in Algeria, however, she lived in London. While there, her heart went out to the prostitutes she saw in the streets and she ministered to them through local missions and job training programs. Lilias eventually opened a storefront café where these women could come in off the streets, have a meal and “normal” conversation, and just feel loved. When I read about her café, I wrote about it in my journal and said, “This is something I think Scott and I need to consider.”

A few days later, Scott walked in the door after work and confirmed the idea I hadn’t told him about yet. Uncharacteristically for him, he didn’t even put his briefcase down before he said with an almost puzzled look on his face, “I’ve been thinking a lot about having a coffeehouse.”

I said, “That’s interesting. Let me show you what I wrote in my journal this week.”

We both still find it humorous that Scott actually voiced the idea. He was not even a coffee drinker at the time and never frequented places like Starbucks. I, on the other hand, could often be found working and/or socializing at coffeehouses. Having Scott bring it up without me mentioning it was definitely confirmation to me that the idea was from God.

And that’s how The Merge came to have a coffeehouse. We spent several years defining its purpose: a safe place for the community, a place for church members to build relationships, a place where we interact with the public in a way that feels like a normal part of their everyday lives, a place you can invite people who won’t readily accept an invitation to church.

We didn’t open a coffeehouse to be cool. If you know Scott and me, you know we’re just not that concerned about being hip – good thing because it certainly would not come naturally. We didn’t open a coffeehouse to bring in revenue – good thing because our most recent adventure with the coffeehouse is to offer a “pay what you can” menu so no one is denied service because they can’t afford it. We did not open a coffeehouse for most of the reasons I hear people speculate. We opened a coffeehouse because that’s what God led us to do.

It has been a wonderful adventure so far. I can’t wait to see the ways God uses this place He has helped us create as we continue to follow His leading.

The Rush To the End Syndrome

This was the perfect read for this juncture in my writing (about 2/3 of the way through the story). Glad to know the timeline I worked on will come in handy – I mean, it already has, but this reminded me it is part of the answer to my current frame of mind. After the excitement of coming so far in the process, I looked at what I still had to cover and thought, “but still so far to go.” This helps me reinterpret the feeling of being bogged down – now looking at it as a final push in continuing what I started.

Live to Write - Write to Live

I see this often in books and I don’t know if it happens because of time pressure or because of writer skill, but here’s what happens –

flag-finishA book starts off strong and you’re thinking “wow, this is a great story!” but then somewhere, usually about ½ to 2/3rd of the way the writing gets noticeably weaker. It almost feels like the writer is rushing to get out a finished product.

It was a great idea and it needs to be published *now!*

While accomplished and practiced writers who follow formulas like Patterson (nothing against him, just read his book ZOO) if a writer does not have the strength of story organization and formula under her belt, things quickly fall apart.

And the reader senses that.

Perhaps the best example I’ve read of this is Wild where you’re going along and then (literally) in the final few paragraphs, the author…

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Positioning Yourself to Hear

Positioning Yourself to Hear

I went on a prayer walk in a beautiful garden. This particular prayer path (a labyrinth) winds around in a way that brings you past the same spot periodically, but with varying degrees of closeness and different points of view. So, I passed by the same small waterfall fountain several times. I began to notice that while I was on the backside of the fountain, even when I was only a few feet away from it, I could barely hear it at all. But when just a few more steps put me on the front side of the waterfall I could hear its beautiful, refreshing sound very clearly. I wrote the following in my journal: Same fountain at all times; it’s just my positioning which determines if I hear it and receive the peace-bringing, life-renewing sound of it.

I also wrote this prayer: Lord, help me to stay positioned with you in front of me and my face towards you that I might experience the fullness of what you bring to me and have an ear to hear what you might say to me.

Relief or Freedom?

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Contemplating our addictions, temptations, and other common “issues” – self-pity, co-dependency, whatever it might be – and I keep coming to this thought:

When we are struggling with these things, giving in to “the thing” actually makes us feel like we have relief and some sense of control. We feel better because we no longer have the internal struggle that is present while we are trying to resist. It is interesting that when we give in and are experiencing this momentary state of relief and “peace,” it is that very moment that the thing/issue/addiction/temptation has its greatest hold on us. So, I guess we have to choose whether to feel relieved or to be free. It’s a tough choice.

A book? A novel? A creative or narrative nonfiction?

Well, it looks like we have our first debate on this blog. Yay! I love a good debate. I think it helps us all come to balance on a topic when we see and understand opposing viewpoints – not necessarily agreement, but balance.

So, what’s the big hot button issue we’re going to tackle right out of the gate? Whether or not I should use the word “novel” when telling about the book I’m writing.

I suppose that’s a good place to dip our toes in the water and see if we want to jump in further. It falls under the category of “day-to-day conundrums” I listed in my first blog post as possible points of conversation. Seems like a safe place to test the ground rules of open-mindedness and civility before diving into things like global problems or theological issues.

So, here’s the basic dilemma:

Typically, a novel has been defined as a fictitious story of book length, written in narrative form. More recently (especially since Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood), some have come to call works of narrative non-fiction novels. These works read like novels and the authors write with the same considerations of a novelist (developing plot and character, making decisions about the role of the narrator, etc.). The only difference, and the bone of contention, is that one is fiction and one is not.

While this topic may not seem to matter much (it didn’t to me when someone first brought it to my attention), I suppose I do need to come to a conclusion before proceeding further with book proposals to publishers or posting even more about my “novel” only to be seen as having a lack of understanding of genre. I actually have done some reading on the issue and will post some links at the end of this post for those who wish to do the same.

Here’s where I am at this moment. Following one of my mottos – choose your battles – I’ve changed the wording on the descriptions of my project to say I’m writing a book. That’ll work for now, but I have few hesitations with that.

First off, I feel like I’m writing a novel and to say “book” just seems so generic. Of all the current offerings, there is one description I prefer, but it would be cumbersome to always have to refer to my work as a narrative non-fiction (some use NN for short, but that’s just ugly). Other things like biography or creative nonfiction also don’t seem to fit.

I side with those who view this as a new genre (or at least a revival of an older genre). The goal is to tell a story, not just report the historical facts of a person’s life or an event. In the case of my book, I’m telling the story of a friend who is in witness protection. When I set out to write a book proposal for it, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to utilize the format suggestions for nonfiction proposals. I finally scrapped that approach and used the typical template for a novel. It was a much better fit.

So, I thought I had the matter settled in my mind … until a friend pointed out to me that she was confused because she thought I was writing a true story. When she saw I called it a novel, she figured she must have misunderstood and I was actually writing fiction. This friend is an avid reader, so I value her input. I value yours, too. So, what do you think?

Some articles I found helpful or enjoyable on this topic:

http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/28/home/capote-interview.html

http://amsaw.org/amsaw-writingright-EmblazingTheTruth.html

http://www.riverteethjournal.com/blog/2013/02/01/what-is-creative-nonfiction

http://old.post-gazette.com/magazine/19991226creative6.asp

Spiritual Mothers, Baby Feet, and Encouragement

This is something I posted last year for Mother’s Day. I’m reposting again as part of this month’s Encourager’s Devotional Series because it was part of the original work I did on the series. I expanded it for this month’s devotion on Spiritual Parenting, but had things in the original that were omitted. It also explains the story behind this month’s thoughts.

Spiritual Mothers, Baby Feet, and Encouragement

“Baby feet have got to be the sweetest things God ever created,” I found myself thinking as I was putting my daycare toddlers down to nap. With my own children being teens, I had forgotten how very much I love baby feet. This daycare job had turned out to be a surprisingly interesting and rewarding experience for me. I say it was a surprise because, when I was first offered the job, I cried – it was the last thing I wanted to do at that point in my life.

After finishing seminary, I had recently moved back to St. Louis. My husband and I both believed that this move was an open door for me to finally fulfill my heart’s desire and look for a job on staff at a church. I had started my job search, but I felt that the Lord was telling me to stop the search and wait. He didn’t tell me what I was waiting for, how long, or why – just wait. I discovered quickly I am not good at waiting!

One day, feeling frustrated, I prayed and asked God to at least tell me how long I was supposed to wait. The next day I got the call to do the full-time subbing job at the daycare in the district where I was substitute teaching. It was going to be a long-term position. I felt God was telling me the wait was going to be longer than I thought – that’s when I cried.

Besides the fact that this seemed like a detour from my dream, I just could not believe I was going to be in a daycare – changing diapers – when my training and experiences in teaching up to that point had been in high school and my most recent schooling was to focus on adult education.

But God moves in mysterious ways, and a few months into the daycare position I found myself actually thanking Him for the experience. I saw how that job actually contributed to my “education” for the work I eventually saw myself doing in the church – teaching and training others in various aspects of church ministry.

And besides that, it gave me some thoughts for the monthly devotional series I was sending out to subscribers at the time. It was called “The Encouragers Devotional Series” and each month I would give suggestions on ways to encourage others. I was working on the devotion for May and, with Mother’s Day approaching, I wanted to write on the idea of being “spiritual parents” to others.

I had planned many Mother’s Day and Father’s Day services in our years in ministry. Each time, I tried to think of ways the service could bless everyone in the congregation and not just those who had good parents or were being honored as good parents. I approached the services realizing that not everyone has a mother or father that is a model Christian or “praiseworthy.” For instance, I knew a young lady who got a little down every time there was some kind of family emphasis at church because she came without her parents. She needed spiritual parents to fill a void for her.

Here’s an excerpt from the devotion I sent out:

There are so many ways one might apply the idea of parenting in a ministry of encouragement. The Apostle Paul was a spiritual parent to Timothy. While Timothy had a strong Christian mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), his father was not a believer (Acts 16:1). Paul filled that void for him. In the opening of both letters to Timothy, Paul calls him his “son in the faith.” And in Philippians 2:19-22, Paul said Timothy served with him “as a son with his father.”      

My babies (my how they grow on you) at the daycare need various forms of encouragement. As they learn to do things on their own, learn to get along with others, and just learn about the world around them, they sometimes need a guide and a cheerleader. And sometimes, they need correction – remember, one of the definitions for the word encourage in Scripture is “to admonish.”

Children’s temperaments, ability levels, and even their learning styles are different. That’s why they need someone who is attentive to them and knows them well enough to create individualized learning experiences for them. Sometimes they are frustrated and just need someone to encourage them to keep trying, to help them develop confidence. When they fall or get hurt by others, they need comfort (and maybe an ice-pack or Band-Aid). And tangible gifts like hugs, stickers, or toys always make them smile and feel loved.

There are many “babes in Christ” who also need these forms of encouragement. Can you think of any? If not, can you keep your eyes open to look for someone who needs a spiritual parent? Pray that God will direct you to someone.

You might be like me and be a little hesitant to take on such a task, to go into unfamiliar territory. But, also like me, you may just find that God’s assignment for you will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

I eventually left my daycare job. Funny thing is, I cried again when I had to leave. While waiting for my dream job to materialize, I learned that God is full of surprises, that all of His children are precious, and that little things like baby feet can bring us incredible joy when we take the time to appreciate them.

More suggestions for practicing encouragement:

  • Send a note of thanks to someone who has been a spiritual parent to you.
  • Try something new. Agree to help in a new area of ministry at your church (maybe even the nursery!). Even if you explain clearly that you just want to “test the waters” for a short “trial period,” I’m sure the person leading that ministry will feel encouraged AND you may just discover something that you really love.
  • And I’ve got another one for military families. I heard someone say that they appreciated the gift of two identical daily devotion books. One was given to them, and the other was sent to their loved one in the military. They said knowing that they were reading the same thing each day helped them feel connected.

Welcome to the table …

The table – It can be used for meals, meetings, games, conversation, counsel or even as a make-shift writing spot for those like me who cannot always find the top of their desk (or just prefer to head out to a coffeeshop to write). It is my hope that this blog will serve as a table where we can gather for each of these purposes. So, here are the kinds of things I’ll be posting:

Meals – We all need nourishment for our minds, our bodies and our souls. Through music, art, devotions and challenges to our thinking, may we all be well nourished.

Meetings – I am a certified Grip-Birkman coach and have a passion to help people discover their gifts, personalities, intellectual styles, and occupational motivations. I particularly like to hold team-building seminars and foster appreciation for the fact that an effective team requires people with different ways of thinking and doing. See more at www.gripbirkman.com.

Counsel – Life is messy. Why pretend it’s not? I am a pastor who avoids the idea that there are quick fixes to tough problems; no one here will be told to “just get over it.” Instead, you’ll find links to resources and good advice from others who have been where you are. Those who are suffering and those who are overcoming are welcome to this table to share their life experiences.

Games – We all just need to have fun sometimes. “A merry heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). You’ll find healthy doses of humor here.

Conversation – I believe the best solutions come when we do life in community. Whether we’re looking for answers to global problems, theological debates, or just day-to-day conundrums, we’ll take a look at varying opinions and develop an ear to really listen and hear what others think and feel about the issues at hand. Open-mindedness and civility will be part of our core values, but that doesn’t mean we’ll tip-toe around the issues.

Writing desk“Lisa Womble writes hope-inspiring true stories that draw people closer to God and closer to each other.” This was my answer when instructed to draft a one-sentence mantra to keep me focused on the primary goal of my writing. I’m currently working on a book about my friend who is in witness protection. I will be sharing excerpts and reporting on my progress here. It is a powerful story of transformation. But not all stories have to be this dramatic to be powerful. Story sharing is a great way to get to know each other and my aim for this blog is to create a space where we come together to share our stories.

If you want to be understood, tell your story.                                                                                                                                      If you want to understand others, listen to theirs.