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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Need to Say This.

I have the rare privilege today of taking care of my wife, Tricia, as she recovers from flu . Doesn't happen very much. And I would be shamefully lame at this if it wasn't for her example. She has taught me everything I know about care-giving. I have watched her for 35+ years. She has become one of my heroes in this life. I mean that from my core. As I said recently, she is a Proverbs 31 woman and then some!

God has lavished someone like me with a woman of extraordinary beauty, talent and the fierce heart of a redemptive lioness. She has been a creative and dedicated mother to our 3 children. She never tired of it, even when tested to the limit. I have never seen anyone so resourceful and with such a heart for blessing her kids. It never wanes. She was and is relentless in trying to help them flourish. Now I get to watch her do the same for our two wonderful grandchildren. They are very blessed to have her for a "Geema."

I have always been a bit in awe of her tireless ability to work whether she was passionate about what she was doing or the task was understood to be part of her duty. Truth be told, she can work me into the ground, and has. And yet, she holds no pride about it. She just does what has to be done, and because she is wired by God to excel she always strives to do it beyond well.

Her relationship with Jesus pre-dated mine, and she is one of those people who has a sustained an abiding affection for him. She really loves and trusts him at the deepest places of her heart. I have known only a handful of people with the depth of her love for God. It has been that way since the beginning of her relationship with him, and I have never seen it fade. Her living faith has given me not only an example, but the freedom to seek such a relationship with him over the years. I have not been able to get there consistently, but at times, I have known what she lives.

Perhaps the most captivating gift she has given me over the years has been her willingness to walk beside me when we have had to go through the Valley of Tears (there have been many of those experiences), when I have chased after windmills and led us down rabbit trails (lot's of those too),, or when I have been unwilling to lead the way in situations where I was afraid. She never left my side. She never stopped gently calling out the man in me. She was willing to say hard things to me. She told the truth and loved me nevertheless.

I see now that Tricia is one of the most loyal people I have ever known. She exhibits it with actions more than words however unassuming. She never quits trying to help, trying to lighten the load or encourage, or step in to carry the burden when others couldn't or wouldn't. I have seen her do this over and over with: me, her parents, our kids, teammates, and the friends she has loved. I have also seen it with the many people she has counseled and led to healing and freedom, some so abused and broken that it took years to get there. It has been remarkable to me.

To my joy, she has taught me repeatedly about beauty given as a gift whether it be through a gourmet meal that took 3 days to prepare, a stunningly beautiful table to serve it, or a drab and tired looking retreat center transformed over a few years into a remarkable place of healing and listening and peace in the midst of gardens and flowers and art. To her, it has been how she best loves others: through beauty, graciousness and extra effort. She taught me that making the extra effort to create beauty and quality is alway worth it.

So Tricia is a hero to me because of her heart lived out. Her courage and forthrightness has chastened me. Her authenticity has been a quiet standard for me. Her passion for Jesus, for those she loves, and for life itself has enticed my passion and given it credibility. My love for her only grows as we head into the last quarter of our race home together.

Point of fact, God's unexpected love for me was so far beyond what I could imagine on the night of my conversion, when alone in a VW bug on I-84 heading back from Farmington, CT to Boston in 1972, I told him that if he would give me Tricia, I would give him, me and he said quietly, "Done." has felt more and more like the defining moment in my life. I became his--a mystery whose fullness is yet to be revealed--and received a blessing in Tricia beyond anything I had ever experienced.

To be honest, I have to say what I have been able to give him in me pales in comparison to what he gave me that night and everyday since in her. I have been given a beautiful, living pearl. I am truly a blessed and rich man.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's All in How You Sees It.

As I hobble (due to crutches), through our eighth month of launching imagine/northampton this old man is coming to recognize with increasing amplitude that how I think about what I am experiencing from one day to the next determines the trajectory of my attitude. That trajectory defines the quality of my fidelity to God's call to do this. I realize the weight of attitude afresh these days.

In other words, despite some of the obvious pressures that most in my planting shoes would experience such as the amount of work to be done before we are even up and running, by far, the greatest challenge and perhaps the toughest test resides in my head. If I interpret our considerable struggles as evidence that we should not be doing any of this in the first place, my mental trajectory will head for the basement where feeling sorry for myself wallows unchecked. If I judge my struggles as opportunities for perseverance, innovation, and hope, my trajectory locks on the horizon, and I keep to the trail.

The thing is, I can choose which way to go simply by how I read the circumstances and how I let my feelings weigh in. I'm a feeler more than I like to admit, so my feelings shout at me regularly. They seem to influence my thinking more often when I am heading through rough waters. They want my attitude to be that of a weak-kneed quitter. They quickly jump to the conclusion that abandoning ship is the best course of action and soon. Save yourself, pal!

To the converse, if I read the situation with the attitude of hope and faith-filled optimism, I may still not like the pain or fear I am experiencing, but I refuse to surrender my future to the scoundrels of doubt. I keep my eyes on the horizon, no matter. Tomorrow is a new day and God has not said "Hang it up."

I have to admit I am surprised at the fierceness of this battle over the trajectory of my attitude every day. I knew coming up here would not be a cakewalk, but the sometimes fragility of my attitude from one day to the next has taken me aback. I am presented constantly with choices of which way I will head attitudinally. Some days I can get a few steps ahead of the hounds snapping at my heels; other days they turn me into a meal before I know what happened.

I know am being tested and tried. I feel like I am being fitted for a heavier cross I need to shoulder to follow Jesus in Northampton. It has to do with how much I will give; what cost I will pay; how much I am willing to lose for the Kingdom. My faith has to measure the immensity of the call. The faith I brought here needs conditioning. It has to be able to hold fast to the trajectory of hope and resolve no matter the testing and trial. And I have to die to the trajectory of fear, the trajectory of self-love above all. In fact, I have to die to myself in ways I have never given permission before. It's all in how I see it and what trajectory I will ultimately carry.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

After the Jumping and Falling: Week 4


1. My knee continues to heal: lessening pain, the incision is healing nicely; it feels a bit more stable.
2. I can walk some without the crutches.
3. I am beginning to see a few clients again in Westfield and Northampton; more next week.
4. Tricia and I get to spend more time together and I have witnessed afresh what an amazing helpmate she is...a Proverbs 31 woman and then some!
5. I was able to get important reading done and see a few great movies.
6. I get to learn more of the much needed spiritual lesson of accepting and working within limits I can't change.
7. I get to experience humility and vulnerability.
8. God has provided for us even though I didn't work any for 3 weeks!
9. I have been able to attend both Strategic Prayer Huddles and lead one.
10. I was able to write some of the imagine/northampton FAQS.
11. I have been able to resist discouragement and grow tenacity in adversity.
12. I have experienced the generosity and kindness of friends, colleagues and family.


1. I still can't drive.
2. I still get tired sooner and more easily; Tricia is doing the work of both of us.
3. Neither Tricia nor I are sleeping well because I have to sleep solely on my back, and get up in the middle of the night (she has to assist me in getting out of bed so it wakes her up).
4. Scheduling and coordinating counseling sessions again with added PT appointments is challenging and frustrating because Tricia has to drive me.
5. I am not praying and listening to God enough.
6. All the traveling we have to do.
7. The lack of mobility I still experience.
8. Having my leg locked in extension all the time because of the brace.
9. Not being able to get with folks to build community.

I hope you can hear the gratitude I have for the grace I have experienced in this, along with the frustration I am experiencing because freedom is limited and momentum is slowed.

The deal is I am reminded of all the trials and tribulations the people of God have endured throughout the centuries--that such is the normal Christian life. What I am going through now reflects what is normal, and pales compared to what many had to and still suffer today.

Keeps the feet on the ground and the perspective within reality. That's always a good thing.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Strategic Prayer Huddles: Last Night's Maiden Voyage

After our Conversations series ended 2 weeks ago, we took the next step in launching imagine last night--9 of us. We gathered for the first Strategic Prayer Huddle. It was an historic event, the first time we have gathered with other people to pray for the vision and mission of imagine/northampton. We were small, but passionate and focused.

The purpose of gathering was two-fold: To strategically "pray forward" the mission of imagine/northampton. The idea was to begin laying strategic foundations by prayer. The second was by spending time in the intimacy of prayer together a small and focused community would form organically to launch the church in May. Relationships are growing. And we know nothing substantial is accomplished without prayer and lots of it.

As the evening started, we began by being quiet together in the Presence of Jesus. Then, Dan Edwards led us in some worship to continue preparing our hearts and focus rightly. After, we settled into strategic prayer and listening to God. The praying was spontaneous, but we had some structure as well so the focus stayed toward the mission of the church.

After the evening came to an end, Tricia and Jim noted, and I felt the same, how sweet it was for us to hear the hearts of others praying for imagine. There was passion, wisdom and discernment in how they prayed. It felt so good to join with them in this. We felt connected to their hearts. The whole experience was like a refreshing oasis in the midst of struggle. These are wonderful people to be associated with.

We will continue the SPH's each Friday night through March and into April preparing for our first worship in early May.

May the prayer prepare the way for all of it.

Enduring the Ordeal (3 weeks in)

Tomorrow will end the third week since I went airborne from the truck and tore my quadraceps tendon upon landing. The days since have not been full of excruciating pain, although my knee has hurt substantially, especially early on. My recovery process due to God's grace in response to prayer I believe, has actually been rather remarkable. For that I am very grateful and in no way want to sound sniveling by what I am about write.

First a few definitions:

ORDEAL: difficult or painful experience, especially one that tests patience or endurance.

ENDURE: to carry through despite hardships, to suffer patiently without yielding; to bear with tolerance; to toughen.

STEADFAST: unswerving; steady; unwavering; unshakable.

The words above frame for me what my experience has been, what it requires, and what is to be gained by moving through it well, especially in terms of my fit for launching imagine/northampton in a tough place, and through tough times. I need to be toughened in spirit without being hardened in heart.

To explain, I chose the word ordeal because I think it describes my knee injury experience thus far. . . . with one reservation. I realize there are degrees of ordeal involving the intensity of suffering, the duration, and the consequences resulting from having to go through it. From 1-10, I think mine is a 5.

Still, the whole thing has been a painful experience which tests my patience and ability to endure well--by that I mean with integrity, graciousness, humility, faith and courage. I realize unless a person has suffered a substantial injury to the lower back, hips, knees or ankles, he or she cannot deeply appreciate how much we take for granted the ability we have to move about freely with little thought given. With such an injury all routine movements are harder due to pain, crutches, braces and just the need to be careful about doing the most ordinary of movements such as getting dressed, taking a shower, or walking through the house from one place to the next. It all hurts or takes more time and effort.

So there is much to be endured whether I like it or not. My freedom is limited. I must be cared for in the most routine of needs. I have to live with all the extra work Tricia has to do for me above and beyond everything else she has to do in our lives. I can't drive, play drums, sit for long periods (my leg is locked in extension by the brace), or help with the chores I normally do. I must bear all of it with tolerance, suffer patiently, and "carry on through despite the hardships" caused by me, and affecting Tricia. Enduring this injury well is enduring it with grace, flexibility, and laughing at it all sometimes, even when frustrated or tired.

In the end, the outcome I desire to see from enduring this mini-ordeal is my faith and resolve is unwavering and unshakable. I want to be steady toward the vision and mission God has called us to even if the cost is great and the setbacks are frequent. I want to be unswerving, keeping my eyes and heart on the True North that Jesus has called us to. I never want to let adversity tag me as a quitter when the going stays tough. "A long obedience in the same direction," is what I seek to hold fast to, no matter.

Having said the above, I need to finish by documenting 3 tormenters that have constantly tried to poke at me during this ordeal, especially at night or when I fall tired. They come as thoughts seeking to abide in my mind and create unbelief. They lie and distort, looking for an assent of my will and a giving in to fear. Ultimately, they want me to pack it all in, abandon my post, and retreat.

The first is FRUSTRATION. I don't like that I am having to go through any of this. I abhor the physical limits I must submit to until I am well. I feel trapped and blocked at times. Often, I wake up in the morning and the reality of being injured soon reminds me that none of it is going away soon. I must endure it. Also, I have to work through the frustration of having a counseling ministry in disarray right now. I have to start scheduling people in the midst of Physical Therapy appointments and I can't drive myself to any of it--more difficulty. I feel hemmed in and stymied because in a number of ways I am these days. FRUSTRATION seeks to wear me down in irritation and anger. It invites me to the worst kind of self-absorption: entitlement. I should be free to do as I please, when and how I please. Don't slow me down!!!

The second is FEAR. The thoughts begin to whisper to me: If I don't get back to work soon, there will be no money coming in. We'll default on everything. Where will we live? What will we do? People are counting on me to pull my weight. Pretty soon they are joined by reinforcements: The economy is tanking. There's nothing you can do about it. What a lousy time to launch a church! The rest of the team is not even up here and they are struggling as well. What did you get everybody into? What were you thinking? Soon the heavy-hitters come in for the kill: It's too late. Nothing's going to change. You are going to lose everything. You have failed everyone.

Finally, if I am paying attention to the first two, DISCOURAGEMENT drapes its sluggish, bloated body over me, and whines: Oh well, you're too old for this anyway. Your hope just isn't going to work out. Things are going to continue falling apart. Too bad. Nothing ever works out for you, does it? On and on it drones. If I don't wrest my thoughts away at this point I can slip toward depression which I must avoid at all costs. Discouragement wants me to go there so I disappear.

Ultimately, there are all sorts of treasures to learn from this unwanted interruption and I want to learn them all so when the day of full recovery arrives I am toughened in my character for the many challenges that still lie ahead. My injury is a part of this toughening and I submit to it.