Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What is the greatest need in the community?

"In your opinion, what is the greatest need in the community?"

This is the question that I asked anyone and everyone coming in through the doors of the local grocery stores several years ago as I began my position as Director of Missions. 

Earlier that summer, in a seminary class on multicultural ministry with Hugo Magallanes at Asbury's Orlando campus, he had impressed upon us that we cannot meet the needs of the community if we do not know what that is.... and how can we know if we don't ask?!?!

So, I decided to ask.  I picked four grocery stores that were in close proximity to our church and could be considered community.  Then, I asked permission from the managers at the grocery stores.  Two granted it; one I could never connect with the right person (but they ended up closing their doors); and then, somehow I gave up and never went to the last location.  It wasn't that I didn't think what I was doing was important.  Other aspects of the position demanded my time and attention, however and I figured two out of four was a good start, or "good enough".  I don't know if it was truly "good enough", but I do believe that I did get insight into a cross section of what the community considered to be their greatest need.

In asking this question, I got a variety of responses.  Most folks answered.  Some wondered why I was asking, so I told them.  Some thought the question was too hard and declined to answer.  Most gave answers that showed a light into the community.  Some engaged me in further conversation and I truly felt that I was touching the heartbeat of the community. 

I'm going to list the answers that I received.  Where there was more than one answer that was the same, I kept a running count.  I will include that here.

On July 5, 2011 I was at the Sav-A-Lot on Middle Valley Road for one hour.  I attempted to go into my time of questioning without any preconceived answers and simply planned to write down all their answers.  I have kept my notebook pages of notes.  Here are the answers to the question "What is the greatest need in the community?" from that location:
  • better paying jobs
  • spiritual
  • entertainment for youth
  • something done about drugs
  • something done for the little guys
  • I don't know (4+)
  • live unto the Lord
  • safety
  • people going hungry and needing food, shelter, and water
  • shelters, food, water
  • enforcement of traffic laws
  • employment, jobs
  • family relationships and God and biblical truth
  • more cops because of people speeding
  • money-- get rid of lottery.  Need real form of revenue.
  • I don't think we have a need; they're all fulfilled.
  • Keep all stray dogs in own homes.
  • Keep Sav-A-Lot in business
  • jobs--good paying jobs
  • getting help to elderly
  • people coming together in community (though because of recent storms this person has seen this in action personally)
  • cheaper milk
  • more jobs
  • lowest price on everything
  • jobs
  • closer bus stop for kids and salvation
  • sanity in our justice system
  • providing food for homeless and needy
  • safety and consideration on marginal roads and passageways
  • for Casey Anthony to be found guilty [though I'm not sure how that was part of our community]
  • good school teachers
  • help for the tornado victims
  • God
  • kids
  • jobs
  • help the needy
  • helping the elderly
  • weed, marijuana--it keeps crime rate down [2 youth answered this one and the next one]
  • weed, marijuana
  • fixing potholes and stuff in roads
Jobs, road conditions, helping others (needy, elderly, hungry, homeless, etc.) were the answers that kept showing up.  I wondered if the road conditions and speeding came up due to the back roads around the area or if that would come up at another location.  It was interesting to see how many people knew that helping others was a need in the community.  Unfortunately, this wasn't the time for in-depth conversation or to find out how they might see meeting these needs in the community.  But, it did give me an idea of what was important to these people and give me a cross section view in this hour.

The next store I visited was Super BI-LO on Hixson Pike on August 8, 2011.  Again, I asked the same question as folks came into the store to shop.  I was at that location for about 1 hour and 35 minutes.  Here are the answers from that day:
  • cut down on DUIs
  • getting people jobs (8)
  • more police protection (2)
  • enriched library
  • help in schools because some are old with portables
  • No idea. / I don't know. (7)
  • just moved here/just moved back (2)
  • cheaper prices, especially for retired (for overall living; not necessarily groceries)
  • education/better education (2)
  • money
  • salvation
  • peace (2)
  • utility work-- digging up the roads; having one lane of traffic
  • that we all just get along
  • for the homeless (2)
  • funding for education
  • leaving the arts in the school (2)
  • lower taxes
  • Jesus Christ
  • better school system
  • better daycares
  • more jobs
  • more people in church
  • closer store to where I live
  • more church participation
  • for people to listen-- to shut their mouths and listen
  • vote people in who change things-- rid debt, etc.
  • more outreach with unfortunate kids-- toys, clothes, school supplies
  • help those without jobs
  • cheaper gas
  • communication and love for one another/talk to neighbors
  • community recreation center/after school facility-- games, help with homework, etc.
At this location, there was more concern expressed for the children in the community-- for the schools, education, their needs, etc.  Since the Hixson Community Center is now open in the old Hixson Middle School location, I wonder if that has met the needs for some of the community?  I imagine that it has, though there is probably still a need to let people know it exists, what programs it offers, etc. [Hixson Community Center on Pinterest]  Jobs came up frequently too.  I think that is simply a sign of the economic times. 

As you look over the list, what pattern(s) do you see?  If you live in the Hixson/Middle Valley community, how would you answer the question: "What is the greatest need in the community?"

Beyond answering the question and seeing the needs, are we (the community) meeting the needs of our neighbors?  Might we work together to join our resources to better meet those needs and identify them?  What more could we do in the community to address some of the needs listed above and whatever else is expressed by others?

What about the needs of the other that might be unseen?  I was glad to see that some who might be considered "unseen" were mentioned in the lists.  There are people thinking about the homeless, the needy, the children, the elderly.  I think we can also add to that group the people for whom English is a second language.  Our community is growing, not only with Spanish-speakers, but with folks of other languages, as our school systems can verify.  How do we meet the needs of those people in our community?

It is up to us, the community, to meet the needs of one another.  For me, it comes back to that short, but difficult statement: love God; love others.

The greatest need in the community may not cross your journey path where you are at this time.  I would encourage you to think about it, however.  As you walk around your particular neighborhood and community, think about the people and the needs therein.... Ask yourself what you think is the greatest need in your community.  Ask others.  Engage in conversation. You might be surprised where it leads.

Blessings on your journey,


Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood

Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood (Baker Books: 2011) is by Alan J. Roxburgh.  He is president of the Missional Network.  Click this line to reach the website for the Missional Network.

I finished the book this morning and was glad to get in a non-required book prior to getting back to my seminary reading.  This has been on my shelf for a little while and I've been wanting to see what Roxburgh has to say.

The book came at a good time in my life having recently taken a workshop on "Joining God's Mission II" at SOULfeast 2013 and also hearing Bill Easum talk to our church recently about backyard missions.

The book rang true to things I have been sensing and some things I've attempted, yet simply didn't get very far with it.  Maybe it wasn't the time then.  Maybe the time is closer.  We'll see.

I'll share some of what stood out to me in the book.  It's a paradigm shift, shifting focus and thinking to a different place.  Because of that, it's exciting.  Yet, it can also be scary because it's "different".  There isn't exactly a road map for all of this just yet.  This reminds me on another one of Roxburgh's books that comes in very handy here: Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition (Jossey-Bass: 2010). I read this one in January 2011.  This book was crucial to helping me understand where I was in ministry and where I felt I was heading.  I think it still is and can be.... it's just that this is not where most ministry is and it seems so foreign, so alien.  I think I need to re-visit my notes from this book. [I wrote a post about this book back in May 2011.]

Back to the original book...

There are three parts to the book:

Part 1-- The Cul-de-sac of Old Questions: Why We Have to Stop Thinking about the Church
Part 2--The Language House of Luke-Acts: A Narrative for Shaping Our Time of Missional Formation
Part 3--A New Language House

There are 13 chapters total in the book, 190 pages of reading with 6 pages of notes at the end for the entire book. 

The practical application steps are found in chapter 13, but you really need to read the book to get the foundation for these, though you could probably read the last chapter and get some ideas for action if you're already on the same page with Roxburgh's ideas.  However, even if you are on board, it is likely that you will need the rest of the book to help you prepare yourself to help prepare others to be on board.

The book is part of a series and in the series preface by Mark Priddy and Al Roxburgh, the point is clearly made: "This is not a "how-to-guide" as much as a handbook for leaders wondering how to empower and energize a community seeking to witness to the kingdom in the midst of their lives." (10)

That sentence grabs me.... anything to empower and energize folks who are seeking to live this out.... great!

As I read the section "A Slow Death" (pages 20-22), the image that Bill Easum shared with our church of a frog slowly being boiled in water (and therefore not knowing he was dying) was in my mind. 

Roxburgh makes it plain that the situation is this: "we need to be asking radically different questions: What is God up to in our neighborhoods and communities?  How do we join with what God is doing in these places?" (22)

"When we are truly seeking to know what it means to be God's people, we will want to know what God is up to in our neighborhoods and communities and what it means for the gospel to be lived out and proclaimed in this time and place.  The matter of getting someone to church is utterly secondary to these insights." (26-27)

Roxburgh speaks quite a bit about Lesslie Newbigin in this book and Newbigin's example of living into a cross-cultural missionary.  Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing: 1989) is mentioned in the text and is a book I've read (well, most of it). [Chapter 19 was most relevant to me when I read it because I was contemplating taking the Director of Missions position and there were things in that chapter that spoke to helping people see their place of missions in their daily lives in the workplace and how missions starts with daily discipleship.]

Sometimes when change comes, people think that something has gone wrong.  I love how Roxburgh addresses this: "What if the life-giving Spirit is saying to us that nothing has gone wrong but that he is breaking apart the five-hundred-year-old boxes in we have so conveniently placed the movement of God since the European Protestant reformation?  What if the period we are in is another one of those times when the boundary-breaking Spirit is pushing apart the settled, managed, and controlled ecclesiologies that came out of a specific period of European history with its nation-states and the emergence of its hegemony over the world? [...] What then do we do when the Spirit breaks the boundaries?" (84)

The book brings up the concept of table fellowship and sharing meals and conversations with others in order to get to know one another.  This time of eating together is sacred.  Roxburgh says: "The table is a symbol of where God is taking all of creation.  More than a symbol, it is a sacrament that can engage us directly in the life of God." (144)

Table fellowship is another one of those themes that keeps coming back in my life.  It is around the table that we talk and share and get to know one another.  Lives are shared and shaped.  This takes time and commitment, all very well worth it!

What if the Spirit is breaking out of boundaries?!?!  That is exciting to me!!  It is also a little scary.  As my daughter has phrased it-- "I'm 'nerv-excited."  I don't know what it means for me.  I don't know what it means for the community, the kingdom, etc. 

What I do know, however, is that if the Spirit is moving, I want to be a part of that movement.

Where is God working in my neighborhood?  I need to spend some time on that.  I spent a little bit of time on that a few years ago.  Maybe I'll start there, reflect on what I learned from that, and go forward.

What about you?  Where do you see God working in your neighborhood?  How do you sense the moving of the Spirit?

Blessings on your journey,


Monday, July 29, 2013

S.O.S.-- Summer of Service... a gorgeous afternoon to be out with people

Yesterday afternoon was the final S.O.S. (Summer of Service) for Burks UMC since summer is almost over.  This doesn't mean that this type of outing and outreach and outpouring of love, food, and fellowship is over... it just means that it might look different.

Yesterday was also my first time to fully participate.  I had wanted to participate in June, but was working diligently and faithfully on a final paper for my UM Theology class.  I did take a break and head over to the pavilion to help out about a couple of hours into their serving time.  However, when I got there, I learned that the plans had changed and they were re-grouping and heading to the Chickamauga Dam area.  That would have been awesome to join, but the kiddo was worn out already, so I took her home.

So, it was yesterday, my first day, that I got to experience a taste of what these folks have been doing at these S.O.S. afternoons.  What a blast!

After the hotdogs and hamburgers were ready, the assembly line began.  They were put into buns and re-packaged.  Trays with chips were made for the park rangers and a team took those.

When enough food was assembled, 7 teams took off into the campsite areas with the dogs, burgers, chips, and cold water to offer them to anyone who wanted them... FREE! 

I was a member of the Pavilion team.  Upon finishing burger assembly, I walked around with another team member offering ice-cold water to folks at picnic tables and pavilions in the area.  We let them know we had free food under our pavilion and they were welcome to it.  Most had already eaten, though some came.  They all seemed grateful for the ice cold water.

The day wasn't too hot and there was a nice breeze off the lake (Chester Frost Park). 

After folks were done in their respective areas, everyone re-grouped at the pavilion.  Those who could go to the Chickamauga Dam loaded up and headed out. 

I was looking forward to that because I knew there would be more Spanish speaking opportunities there.  I did get the opportunity to speak some Spanish at Chester Frost with one group, but most of the folks who spoke Spanish there were at the beach area... and that was off limits, after week 1 of S.O.S.

So, to the Dam.  Folks took items off the vans and like ants, made their way down the hill to the grassy area and sidewalk and set up the tables for service.  The servers got ready.  Folks went out with cold water, offering a cold drink and inviting people to eat. 

I wandered around with cold water, chatting with different folks in English and Spanish.  The best part was simply getting to know people.  To hear that they were having a good time enjoying the beautiful day with their friends and family. 

Speaking Spanish and English, playing with the children, talking with the adults, fellowshipping with those there and with those who had come to serve.

Except for the location, that sentence I just wrote describes all the mission trips to Costa Rica I've ever taken. ☺  Same thing, different place.  Backyard missions.  It's all good. 

Thanks to all the minds, hands, and feet that worked so hard to put S.O.S together.  This was definitely a community effort.  What a beautiful picture to see folks working together in the kingdom for the kingdom.  And, what you saw wasn't the entire picture.  There had been much preparation behind the scenes and in advance to get everything prepared for yesterday.  So, the "thank you" goes out to MANY!!

A take-away from this for your journey?  What is something you (with your family, a group, or some folks at your church) can do in your backyard [literal backyard, neighborhood, etc.]?  I know some of you are already doing things.  Maybe your examples can encourage others and spark even more ideas!

Blessings on your journey!


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pierced and stung... an interesting morning!

I woke up prepared for this day.  I was eager and excited to see what worship might bring.  The Bridge Builders series over this past month has been informational and transformational.

There have been some difficult things that have taken place in the life of the church, but as I learned from some leadership development training on Saturday and also heard from Bill Easum... there are times when leadership needs to take a stand for the health of the community, make changes to get the community moving or growing, etc.  Those aren't exact words, those are take-away thoughts combined from the two different settings.

As I said, I woke up excited for this day.  I had met with some others yesterday evening to pray for the leadership of the church, to pray for all who would come to church, to pray throughout the campus, etc.  We gathered and prayed.   We scattered and prayed.  We re-gathered and prayed.  It was a powerful and meaningful time for me.

I decided to wear one of my new outfits I had picked up in Waynesville, NC last week.  Then, I decided I would wear earrings.  I haven't worn earrings in ages.

Getting the earring in my left ear was not a problem.  Then I tried the right ear.  I have had my ears pierced for years.  It took me a little while to get the right side to go through.  Then, I decided to go ahead and wear two pairs of earrings.  I have double piercings.  Again, the left side was not a problem.  But that right side?!?!  It took quite a while to get the earring into the front part, even more the back side.  I had to have help.  And, it was a tad painful for a moment.  I had left them grow over. 

Much like pruning, there is some pain to pushing through grown-over skin to re-open the hole.  But, the second set of piercings is pretty significant for me.  Many years ago, a good friend of mine and I went for our second set of piercings (way before piercings became a thing of the entire body).  She got hers done and I chickened out.  I couldn't do it.  It was a few years later that I finally honored my commitment to our pact and got mine done.

Fear can have a way of stopping us in our tracks.  It may keep us from doing something simple that doesn't really have life implications or it may keep us from living into who we are called to be.

I think this morning's re-piercing (as it turned out for the one ear) was symbolic for me in that I'm going to move forward in living into what and who I am called to be.  It isn't crystal clear, but I know to take the next step that I can see.  Without fear.  And, pushing through any boundaries that might be keeping me from pressing onward.

Edified and ready to go; feeling things aligning; encouraged by songs I heard on the radio in my driveway and on the way to worship-- you know the feeling?!?!  Nothing can stop me now!

Then, as I put my right hand on the door to swing it open, I hear a LOUD buzzing noise and see a large black object land on my left shoulder.  At the same moment, I feel a powerful sting and see the thing fly off.  OUCH!  Amazingly, I said no words other than "dang, that hurt" as I walked in to the Narthex, more stunned and in disbelief.  Because the pain was intense and throbbing, I sought out some benedryl.  A dear angel checked the first aid kit, in which there was none, but then drove down to the nearest store and got some oral and topical benedryl.  I was surprised to see how red and swollen my shoulder had become when she returned with the benedryl and I applied it.

Thankfully, I learned today that I'm not severely allergic to wasps.  Also, I am thankful that some folks took care of the wasps nest by the door so others wouldn't have such a buzzing experience upon entering worship. 

I would like to say that I made it through the painful experience without saying any "bad" words.  But, upon entering the sanctuary and upon being asked by my two pastors how I was prior to their walking down the aisle, I told them the sting had hurt like "hell".  That was the only word I said.  And, as it was pointed out, that may not have been the best place to say the word.  But, God knew how I was feeling and knew the pain.  And, I think the analogy was okay. 

As far as analogies go, I wouldn't take "pierced" or "stung" too far down any road or try to figure any of it out.  Though there was some reflection along the way, it certainly wasn't all deep. ☺ 

Even so, it made me think of moving forward, moving beyond the pain, the fear, the stings of life, the obstacles. 

That type of moving is part of the journey, if we are to learn and grow. 

This morning's lessons came in odd forms, even prior to the worship and message.

How about in your life and on your journey?  Where are you seeing lessons along the way?  How are you finding ways to apply them to where you are or where you've been or where you're going?

Maybe, that's something to think about.

Blessings on your journey,


Friday, July 26, 2013

Pruning... cutting back whatever it is that is sapping energy

I'm not a gardener.  I would like to be able to take credit for the beautiful flowers that come up year after year, but I won't.   I didn't plant them.  When I bought this house, the previous owner had spent much time, energy, and effort into making the yard a registered nature space. 

We do our best to take care of the trees, plants, and flowers... to keep them alive.  We have some help from others from time to time.  We take care some of it ourselves. 

We have needed to call in professionals to trim dead branches off a tree.

And, then, there have been the times when my husband has taken the chainsaw to a tree or bush to only "trim" it... and to my surprise, there has been little left.

Weeds pop up in the cracks of the stonework where they aren't supposed to and they need to be rooted out.

If I'm not a gardener, why all this reflection on the topic?!?!

Spiritually, I'm at a place where pruning needs to take place.  I'm aware of that.  I have recently taken on some new responsibilities that felt right in regards to where I am and where God is leading me.  Yet, in order to live into that, something needs to go.  As I was talking with someone over Skype Thursday afternoon about the new responsibility and getting some insight and last minute words of wisdom, etc., we talked about pruning.  Then, later that evening I realized I had been pruned.  Something in my life that I was doing as a means of communication had been pruned for me.  This was something that I had been doing for a couple of years now.  And, even though I was no longer in an official capacity, I was still part of the communication online.  The odd thing and difficult thing for me at first was that no one told me about it in advance.  One day I was able to be a communicator and then, poof, I wasn't.  Though I don't understand and realize I don't really need to, I have seen this non-sought-out-pruning as a gift.  One less thing in my life that I will feel responsible to be a connecting point for others.  That releases my time and energy to flow as God sees fit.  Admittedly, this unexpected pruning caused me to wrestle with my self, as my false self sprouted up fairly quickly.  Imagine that.  I just finish a book on learning more about my true self and that ugly ole false self finds a way to quickly re-enter the scene.  But, that's life.  That's part of the journey.

Just like those trees and bushes didn't expect to be hacked by the chain saw, unexpected pruning on us humans happens. 

Pruning, whether it is pinching off the buds or cutting off limbs, is painful.  It takes time to process the healing.  Yet, the energy and life of the plant flows more effectively into the areas that are life-producing once the pruning has taken place.

Even though the pruning process has begun for me rather abruptly and not as I intended, it has begun.  Whether I initiate the pruning or not, may God be the Gardener in charge of whatever pruning God deems best in my life at this time so that time, energy, and life itself can flow where God knows it needs to.

What about you?  Have you experienced any pruning lately?  If not, is it time?

Blessings on your journey,


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self

I finished reading Robert (Bob) Mulholland's book, The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self.  I had taken it with me to the board meeting in Minnesota and to SOULfeast.  This book is a sequel, in a way, to Invitation to a Journey: A Roadmap for Spiritual Formation.  You don't necessarily need to read them in sequence, but I highly recommend both books and I would start with the "invitation" before going "deeper".

This isn't a light read.  At least it wasn't for me. 

Over the past several years, I've been learning to face myself, to look inside, to be honest with myself, and to attempt to live into my true self.  I have read books that have spoken to how knowing oneself, especially one's dark side and weaknesses, is important to leadership: Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox of Personal Dysfunction by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Sr. and Inside the Leader's Head: Unraveling Personal Obstacles to Ministry by Virginia Todd Holeman and Stephen L. Martyn are two examples of books that taught me much and helped me see myself more clearly, and hopefully to grow some. 

This growth process and looking inside is an ongoing one along the journey.  Mulholland has been instrumental in my life through his books and through his teaching at the Academy to help me clarify some things and to grow.

Here are some things that stood out to me in The Deeper Journey (with thoughts sprinkled in along the way):

Every chapter opens with a prayer that is open and honest.  These prayers are worth checking out, praying, and simply reflecting upon.  These prayers can bring about some change and transformation.

As I read through this book, there were things that reminded me of Paul Smith's book, Integral Christianity: The Spirit's Call to Evolve.  Specifically, for example: "Jesus is indicating that the purpose of the Christian life is a life of loving union with God at the depths of our being." (Mulholland, 14)  This refers to Jesus' prayer in John 17, verses 20-23 where Jesus prays for the people.  Later in the book, on page 74, Mulholland writes this: "God has created us to be partakers of the divine nature, as Peter puts it (2 Pet 1:4), to find our wholeness in the very being of God, to be restored to fullness in the image of God, to live in loving union with God." This is another aspect that reminds me of Smith's book.  Maybe it's time to take another look at some of the more difficult portions of that book again. 

"Union with God results in our being a person through whom God's presence touches the world with forgiving, cleansing, healing, liberating and transforming grace." (16)

To be someone who can touch the world with this type of grace....WOW!  Now, that's powerful.  And, it's a result of being united with God, in relationship with God, with God living in us.  Yet, so often we don't live into that powerful opportunity.  Neither for ourselves nor for others.  Allowing God's transforming grace to flow into us and through us is a humbling and life changing matter.

Mulholland suggests early on in the book that as one reads the book, "make yourself available to God and give God permission to do whatever God wants to do in your life through this book." (22)

That is dangerous permission.  Allowing God to do whatever it is God wants to do in my life?!?!  Not only through the reading of this book, but through other venues, avenues, etc. as well?!?!  That's a risky, vulnerable, and simply dangerous place to be.   But, it's also an exciting place to be.  I think that is why attempting to live into my true self by putting to death the false self appeals to me and why 'going deeper' on this journey of faith continues to call to me.

"God's purpose for us was not simply to forgive sins but to transform our false self-- to cleanse all its unrighteousness, to make us righteous, to restore us to our true self in loving relationship with God and in being Christlike in the world." (23)

Mulholland unpacks the false self and the true self, providing personal examples throughout the book to help us see what the false self looks like in action.  Though we may have recognized it in ourselves, it helps to see a fellow journeyer be honest and transparent along the way.  It helps us to know that we are not alone and that we can work through and overcome the struggles we face.

The false self is fearful, protective, possessive, manipulative, destructive, self-promoting, indulgent, and distinction-making.  (That covers pages 30-42 in the book.)

On page 48, this paragraph spoke to me as a warning: "For those of us on an intentional spiritual journey, our awareness of the deadly and debilitating nature of the religious false self is essential.  Rigorous religious practices, devoted discipleship, sacrificial service, deeper devotional activities may do nothing more than turn a nominally religious false self into a fanatically religious false self."

On page 50, this paragraph, if lived out, seems to give life and freedom: "In a very real sense the crux of our journey from our religious false self to our true self is an ever deepening abandonment of the construct we call "God" and an ever more profound willingness for God to be whatever God will be in our life at any given moment."

There is so much more in this book. 

I hope that I am truly "on a genuine quest for radical abandonment to God in love" (as Mulholland states several times) and not just thinking that's where I am and what I'm doing.  It's definitely a check point to keep in mind along the journey. 

Each chapter offers helpful questions for reflection at the end.  Chapter 7 discusses "Principles of the Deeper Life". 

I don't know if you are at a place of hungering and thirsting to go deeper in your journey or if this book speaks to you in any way.  It spoke to me.

Wherever you are in your journey, may you be able to take the next step that is shown to you and may you grow in grace with your relationship with the Creator and creation.

Blessings on your journey,


P.S.  I forgot to read the "Epilogue" earlier.  I just read it.  I was struck by it.  In particular this description of the deeper journey:

"It is a journey into the unfathomable wholeness of a life in loving union with God, a life of inexpressible joy, a life of unshakable peace, a life of world-shaking power, a life of infectious integrity, a life of healing grace, a life of transforming love." (163)

I'm not 100% there yet, but this is my desire-- to live into a life that is described above as the deeper journey.  That statement encapsulates how I desire and strive to live, though I often fall short of the mark.


Monday, July 22, 2013

SOULfeast 2013--The Spirit Alive

I'm back from my second SOULfeast at Lake Junaluska, NC.  I first went to SOULfeast in 2010.  That summer and fall were packed with some major mile markers in my life.  Much has transpired in the three years since I have been to SOULfeast.  To look back and see how God was working then, to see how God worked through many situations and people, and to see where I am now is a tad mind-blowing for me.  Interestingly (or ironically), even with all the movement in my life, I still don't know the end-all where I'm going.  BUT, there is a difference in my life now than three years ago.  I'm much more calm in that unknowing (most of the time) and I can live into with more acceptance and ease.  I attempt to live it step by step, as each one is revealed.  I did three years ago too, but there was an urgency in my spirit that was pushing me.  For me, part of this SOULfeast was reflecting back on my last SOULfeast and the past three years. ☺

Trevor Hudson was the main speaker, speaking at opening worship, the plenary sessions, and closing worship.  I have never heard Trevor Hudson speak.  I haven't read his books, though I did buy The Cycle of Grace this past January that he and Jerry Haas co-wrote and I have skimmed it.  Another one of his books caught my attention in the fall of 2010 at a 5 day Academy I attended because of the hiking boots on the cover: A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion.  My husband picked it up at the Lake Junaluska bookstore and is currently reading it, so I'll get to read it eventually! ☺  Trevor was an incredible speaker!  Engaging, authentic, humble, transparent, vulnerable.  He spoke the truth-- hard core, yet in love, teaching and challenging.  Each session there was something to sink my teeth into, to chew on (reflect upon) and to apply to my life journey.

During each worship time, there was an artist from Iowa, Steve Braudt, who drew with chalk throughout the singing, speaking, etc.  That was powerful to watch-- his worship expressed in art.  And, the results were always beautiful expressions of art that reflected the worship.  A gift that helps him worship, but that also gives to so many others.  [Check out The Art Project website here.  There are links about art as a spiritual discipline, etc.]

The altars were changed out for each worship time.  Altars and banners bring beauty and meaning into the worship space.


There were quiet spaces set up around for quiet time and reflection with instructions: Walk The Rosary (using the rose path), Labyrinth, Sitting at the Feet of Jesus, Joy of Coloring... I may have missed some and may not have the names exactly correct, but you get the idea.

SOULfeast offers wonderful choices for morning and afternoon workshops.  The morning workshop is designed as a 3 day consecutive time, while the afternoon workshops are individual.  There is not enough time to be able to do all the great choices offered.  That is a wonderful problem.

This year I chose the Joining God's Mission II for my morning workshop.  For the afternoon workshops, I went to Holy Listening: A Circle of Trust and an e-learning session with folks from both the Upper Room (Sharon Conley) and (Steve Wilke).  All workshops were helpful, provided me with information, allowed me to meet and interact with new folks, etc.  Good stuff!

I got to reconnect with folks I hadn't seen in a while (from my 5 day Academy, past SOULfeast, etc.) and connect with folks I had only met thus far in the virtual world.  In an afternoon workshop, I recognized the name of one person (Ann Smith) I had met through her blog (Out of My Heart) that my cousin in Spain had sent me. [He had sent me a specific post, "Lines" back in May.]  We ended up having the opportunity to talk at the end of that workshop and saw each other at other times during the week.  That was neat.  Small world. ☺  I also met new folks in the workshops and through the Academy dinner meeting and the Hearts on Fire luncheon.

I'm still processing (and will be processing) all that I heard and learned this past week.  I have notes and pictures.  Just as I had three years ago, I also have some affirmations and rumblings (or guidance) in my own journey.... I say "rumblings" because they are there, but not coming to the surface as clear as I would like them too.  But, that might be my fault.  Honestly, I may not truly want to live into the truth I see and hear.  Why would I say that?  Because I see and hear it, but I don't understand what it means.  So, I have to let it sit longer and allow the Ultimate Guide, God the Creator, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit reveal to me what it means and how it is supposed to be lived out.  The image of guiding others through and out of the wilderness was once again affirmed this past week as one of the speakers, Vance Ross, was sharing about his brother coming to get him out of the woods.  I need (or I think I need) more time to reflect upon the image and what it means for me.  I don't think (or feel) that the time is right for me to step into living it, whatever living it means... but that could be fear of unknown or many other things.  So, I will ask for clarity and guidance and see what happens.

Meanwhile, there is much life waiting on me.... groceries that need to be bought, a trombone that needs to be serviced, school supplies that are waiting to be bought, a class I teach starting next week that needs to be cleared out and readied, some other things and responsibilities that need to be covered.

Living the inward/outward journey isn't easy.  It requires flexibility.  It keeps me humble.  I cannot do it on my own.  SOULfeast has helped to feed my soul, to strengthen my heart and mind.... now to live out what I've been learning in the community (communities) where God has placed me.

Blessings on your journey,


P.S.  Mark your calendars:  SOULfeast 2014 dates are July 13-17.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Christ the King Retreat Center-- a beautiful place to get away to for some quiet time!

This week I spent two nights and three days at Christ the King Retreat Center in Buffalo, MN.  It was my first time to that retreat center.  It was my first time to Minnesota.  Click on the link above to learn more about the retreat center.  I will post some of the pictures I took while there too.

The retreat center is a beautiful place, right on Buffalo Lake.  The grounds are kept up very nicely, with the exception of a few places that could use some care and loving to remove a tree branch, do some weeding, etc.  These areas were on the lower paths near the water.  There are still plenty of wonderful spaces that are kept up pristinely to enjoy without letting these areas get in your way.  You can get through the downed branch, but the path to go further needs repair too.  Some wonderful Scout Troup or other volunteer group could take care of that, I'm sure.

There were benches set up in various places for resting and gazing up the lake.  There was a wagon-wheel bench in a garden setting, other benches in other areas.  The stations of the cross are along a walking path.

Indoors, there are many spaces in which one can find quiet and reflect: a room with icons, an art room, prayer rooms, a chapel, an indoor fountain in a patio setting, and several other spaces.  There is art and antiques from many places.  There is a gift shop/book store with books, cards, icons, journals, etc.  Amazingly, I didn't buy a single thing this time. [I say this time because I will be going back next year for our national gathering and retreat and who knows?!?!]

In addition to the retreat center being a beautiful place and opening up those spaces for quiet and reflection, my time there for the board meeting allowed time and space for quiet and reflection.

This was my first time to meet face to face with the other board members for a Hearts on Fire board meeting.  I came onto the board in the Spring of 2012, had my first phone call with the board while I was at an Academy session in April of that year.  I had met two of the board members in the past, but this week I got to put faces in person to their voices.  It was good to catch up with the two I knew and good to meet and get to know the others. 

It was a wonderful board meeting!  We had worship, prayer time, reflection.  We shared meals.  We did lots of business.  We toured Buffalo, hunting down as many of the Buffalo buffalo that we could find.  We were tacky tourists.  It was fun.  My spirit and soul were refreshed.

Are you ready for the pictures?!?!

Here they are:

view of dining room and lake
the cross on top of the chapel
view of lake
from walking path
the cancer support buffalo
one of three swallow nests under the walkway at the main building
big bloom

the town buffalo
Christ the King statue in front of the main building

the building we stayed in and ate in (it connects one level under along side the lake to the first building via a "tunnel" / hallway)

inside the chapel

the chapel

Sunset from town view on lake
Where are your spaces for quiet time?

I encourage you to check out Christ the King Retreat Center as one of them.  If you need a reason to go there, then mark your calendar for July 22-25, 2014.  That will be the next National Gathering and Retreat for Hearts on Fire.  It will be held at Christ the King Retreat Center.  Terry Hershey will be the keynote speaker.  You can learn more about him at his website by clicking here.

Blessings on your journey!


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Random thoughts as it continues to rain...

We've had rain in our area for the past several days.  LOTS of rain.  The field across from our neighborhood was flooded this morning.  There were roads closed with signs this morning.  In fact, we turned around on Boy Scout as we saw the street flooded and cars backing up.  As we made our way around some back roads to Middle Valley, the road was closed to the left.  The Save-A-Lot / Dollar General parking lot was flooded.  So was the driving range.  These are typical flood spots in our area.  But, more roads were closed off today than normal due to all the rain we have received.

Dollar General / Save-A-Lot Parking Lot, Middle Valley (photo by Charlotte Dickerson, 7/7/13)

Driving Range Parking Lot (photo by Charlotte Dickerson, 7/7/13)

After church, the sun came out for a little while "and dried up all the rain" (as the song goes).

But thunder rolled in.  Then the rain.  We're obviously not done with the rain yet. 

What does one do when it rains so much?!?!  One could read, watch T.V., write, sleep, etc. 

I've watched some T.V. (caught the end of Ice Age), simply can't bring myself to read anything at the moment (my brain is still a tad on overload.... though I have started my reading for the fall), and I don't really feel like sleeping.  So, maybe writing will do it for me.  It may even be just what I need to become sleepy.... or maybe that will happen you to. ☺

Today at church the pastor talked about Jesus being the bridge between man and God.  He talked about us being bridge builders like Jesus.  That resonates with me.  I have felt like a "bridge" person for quite a while.  I build bridges, or try to, between people and in situations, etc. 

Another thing on my mind today is a status update from a local church that started a new series today on "Sacred Refuge."   They had posted a "Post Service Post":

"Christ has extended you an invitation to rest and recover. An invitation to break through the congestion, to still all the voices that are drowning out your truth. The truth that you are a child of God and the truth that a good work has begun in you."

My response to that invitation: "I accept that invitation!"

Here is a link to today's message from St. Marks Church Northshore on Sacred Refuge/Retreat Series.  Carl Greene delivers today's message.

I need time and space to rest and recover.  My brain has been going non-stop since February.  I took some time and space at the last Academy session and at my intensive week in seminary.  But, I really haven't been able to take long periods of time and space to rest, recover, and listen.  Life is like that.  It ebbs and flows. 

My time is coming.  Soon!  I have an opportunity upcoming to attend a Board Meeting for Hearts on Fire (a.k.a. FUMSDRL-- Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders) at Christ the King retreat center in MN.  Though a short time, there will be space and time to rest, recover, and listen.  Then, I'll take a longer time with SOULfeast at Lake Junaluska, NC.  I can sense my spirit saying "ah....." even now. 

In order to adequately be the bridge I'm called to be, to live into the ministries I'm called to live into, I need rest, recovery, and listening time. 

My heart, mind, and soul are thirsty for some holy space, sacred space.

The rain has just now kicked in to a more rapid volume.  Once again it is plummeting upon the earth.  That sound is beautiful!  It's as close as I can get to a waterfall right now, though I've considered checking out some of the local ones.... with all this rain they must be flowing well! 

I am ready to drink more of the waterfall of grace.  I am ready to dive into rest, to recover, to listen.  Then, I will be ready to not simply be who I am called to be, but also ready to do whatever I am called to do.

Whatever stage you find yourself in your journey, maybe some time and space to rest would be just what you need.

Blessings on your journey,


Thursday, July 4, 2013


flag at Camp Dixie, May 2013, dd

July 4th.

Independence Day.  A day of celebration in the United States.   Freedom, liberty, and fireworks.

A time to be with family and friends.

A time to remember and reflect.  A time to be grateful.  A time to consider, possibly, that there is more responsibility given to us than we are living into. 

Being born in the United States of America doesn't make me better than anyone born anywhere else.  And, those that have that attitude frustrate me.  They are the "ugly americans."  (There was a book written about them in 1958 that I read in the 1980s, The Ugly American, by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer..)  This attitude of superiority is part of ethnocentrism.

It is one thing to appreciate one's country; it is another to put others down as if yours is superior.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have studied abroad in Spain in 1984.  That was my first experience in another country and culture.  That trip got me to Belgium and North Africa (Ceuta) too.  Well, I did experience some different culture experiences in the 70s when I got to visit Hawaii and Colorado and some other western states.  Being from the South, there was some culture shock there. ☺

In 1985, I had the joy of going to Mexico with my first cousin.  Great fun and fellowship, a highlight in my trip logs.

Since then, I have traveled quite a bit.  I enjoy languages and culture and meeting people from all over the world.  We can learn much from one another, if we will only listen to one another and treat each other with respect.

What spurred this post this morning was a devotion by Joan Chittister in her book Songs of the heart: Reflections on THE PSALMS.

Song 7, "Patriotism." page 36

It is based on Psalm 47.  This psalm verse is at the beginning of the chapter: "God is the Creator of all the earth, caring for all nations." (36)

She introduces a new term to me, "jingoism."  I learned that it means "chauvinism, a love of country that lacks a critical eye. [...] lacks a loving eye." (36-37)

Interesting.  I took this statement to be one that we need to heed and doing something about: "What we do in the name of "Americanism" to people will be weighed in the light of what is good for all creation, our own and those whose lives as a nation we touch." (37)

This is what Joan Chittister says about patriotism:

"Patriotism, on the other hand, is a commitment to the ideals for which, as a people, we say we strive.  Real patriotism welcomes, encourages, commits itself to the great national debates that question war, resist taxes, and determine penal systems." (36-37)

Under the section "Soul Points", there are several good points. 

Here are two of them:

"Real patriotism will not be reached on this planet until, for each of us, our country is the world.  Until then, we are all merely tribes fighting for territory that doesn't belong to us in the first place." (38)

"It is only when we travel outside our country that we can really come to know what it means to be from the U.S.  It is an exhilarating and humiliating thing.  Real love of country demands that we find the beauty in other cultures and strive to grow from what we learn from others.  As Albert Camus says, "I love my country too much to be a nationalist."" (39)

Take some time to reflect today on your country and what it means to you.  Then, take some time to get to know others from another country... whether that means making friends from another country who have moved into your country or researching information or maybe even traveling. 

What can you and I do to live into the truth that God cares for all nations? 

Blessings on your journey,


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Lessons from The Lorax: Part II-- Be bold and courageous

*Note-- It has now been several more months (actually over a year) since I wrote my first post from this movie (Lessons from The Lorax: Part I--Let It Grow) and since I started this post.  I picked it up today with paragraph three, not having re-watched the movie, but remembering some of the scenes in my mind.
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It has been several months since I wrote my first post from The Lorax movie.  That is because I ordered it soon after seeing it, but it didn't come until about two weeks ago (after its release on DVD).  What a joyous moment it was when I checked my mailbox and found The Lorax movie inside!  I couldn't wait to open it and watch it again, to see the fun animation, and to re-visit the lessons I remembered from watching it the first time. 

But that moment didn't happen right away.  There were other things that called for my time and attention.  So, now I am able to find some time to watch the movie again and write about another lesson, being bold and courageous in spite of the circumstances and the obstacles in the way. This lesson is lived out through the character of the young boy, Ted.

Ted sees things that aren't quite right in his community and he seeks to find a way to do something about them.  [His motivation isn't exactly altruistic in that it's not about saving the environment as his first priority... he is hoping to get the girl (Audrey).] He gets encouragement from his grandmother (Grammy) who tells him a story about the "old days" and how to find a tree and he decides to set out on his monocycle to see if it is true.

[Click here to see a video clip of Betty White telling Grammy's story and clips of the movie.]

As he learns, there are often obstacles in seeking truth and attempting change.  These obstacles came in several forms:
  • he had to find a way out of where he was
  • once he got to his destination he needed to get the attention of the person (Once-ler) in the house and try to convince him of his sincerity and desire to bring about change
  • when he tried to get back out of his community a second time he found it more difficult because his "escape" had been found out and the powers that be didn't want people outside the walls  

[Click here for some of the obstacles Ted had to overcome in his adventures.]

In these circumstances (and others), Ted was bold and courageous to continue doing what he believed to be the right thing for himself and those around him.  He didn't have much support.  In fact, he had strong opposition from the powers that be.  Yet, he was persistent and pursued truth. 

His boldness, his courage, his persistence, his pursuit of truth, his work on behalf of the community.... All are good examples for all of us to model.

What situation in your life calls for boldness, courage, and persistence?  Maybe you can gain some encouragement from Ted's example from The Lorax.

Blessings on your journey,


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July?!?! How did that happen? July 1st Jesus Calling on July 2nd

I didn't really go through yesterday not knowing it was July 1st.  I was and am a little bit amazed that the month of July is already upon us, however.  I know folks say this, but it's true... time sure does seem to fly by.

Yesterday was one of those days that was planned out and didn't quite go as planned.  It was a day in which I knew I needed to spend time being grounded in God's Word and with God.  But, I didn't do it.  I didn't get "a round tuit" (around to it). 

So, when my husband calls from morning swim practice telling me that his car's radiator blew like mine did a few years back, I knew the day would not be as planned.

My major plan was to finish my UM Theology paper yesterday (due today at 11pm).  Then, there was a lunch date (for both of us with a couple, yet separate), piano class for the kiddo, and then an away swim meet an hour down the road.  This busted radiator thing threw a wrench (colloquially speaking) into the mix.

I would like to say that I handled this interruption in my life with grace and ease.  I didn't.  I complained some and grumbled.  I am glad that I didn't go overboard though.  There was definitely grace abounding to keep me from sliding too deep into a murky, mucky place.

Grace carried me through the day.  We took my husband's car to be worked on, he dropped me off for lunch (he had to cancel his appointment), I got a ride home from lunch, I took the kiddo to piano, he took her to the swim meet.  Because he took her to the swim meet, I was able to finish the UM Theology paper last night and turn it in!  [If I had gone to the swim meet I would have been gone from 4pm until 10pm and that would not have been good for the student in me.]  Burden lifted. ☺

This morning, I thought I needed to start with the beginning of July in my devotional reading.  As I read the selection for July 1, I found it to be appropriate for my day yesterday.  If only I had read it yesterday!  Even so, it exhorts and encourages for any day.  And, it shows me even more that I was carried by grace yesterday.

Jesus Calling-- July 1
I AM LIFE AND LIGHT IN ABUNDANCE. As you spend time "soaking" in my Presence, you are energized and lightened.  Through communing with Me, you transfer your heavy burdens to My strong shoulders.  By gazing at Me, you gain My perspective on your life.  This time alone with Me is essential for unscrambling your thoughts and smoothing out the day before you.
     Be willing to fight for this precious time with Me.  Opposition comes in many forms: your own desire to linger in bed; the evil one's determination to distract you from Me; the pressure of family, friends, and your own inner critic to spend your time more productively.  As you grow in your desire to please Me above all else, you gain strength to resist these opponents.  Delight yourself in Me, for I am the deepest Desire of your heart.

Scripture: Psalm 48:9; Deuteronomy 33:12; Psalm 37:4

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By spending time soaking in the Presence of my Creator, I will be energized and lightened.  My burdens will be lifted.  My thoughts will be unscrambled and the day smoothed out. 

This is something I need daily.  What about you? 

I am grateful for grace that covers the days when I don't take the time, for whatever the reason.  But, my heart's desire truly is to grow in my relationship with my Maker.  Therefore, I need to be intentional in spending time in that relationship, ESPECIALLY when it seems I don't have the time. 

May you find/make some time to soak in God's presence today.  May your burdens be lifted and your thoughts unscrambled. 

Blessings on your journey,