A few nights ago, I had a brief conversation with two great friends, who I consider to be two of the most tried and true servants of the Most High I've had the undeserved blessing of knowing in my life. Earlier my friend sent an email inquiring if we wanted to transfer our membership from Covenant Presbyterian Church in Simsbury to imagine/Northampton since, obviously, we'd planted the church, and were fully invested members (although we do not have a formal membership process at imagine, nor do we make the distinction between members and non-members).
After we hung up, I got to thinking how important was my time at The Barn (CPC's nickname for decades, as it was planted on a dairy farm in the 60's) in my spiritual formation. I was truly equipped there over 20+ years to do much of what I do today. More importantly, I think it is wise and good to acknowledge those key people God sends into our lives to form us for the work to which he summons us. I have been rich man in that regard. Spiritual mentors and companions make us able to become the grace of God to others. Without them we'd spend most of our lives as spiritual spectators, consumers and infants.
I need to say also I know I will probably miss some folks as I list people. I regret that more than you might realize, but find solace in knowing God knows who they are and smiles. So do I -- the smiling , that is.
So here goes:
1. My fascinating, lion-hearted wife, Tricia: I wrote earlier in this blog about the beautiful treasure she is to me, but I must acknowledge she was the very first person who told me about relationship with Jesus. Her love for him was palpable and authentic. I'd never seen that before. I was intimidated, but intrigued. That was just the beginning. For the last 40 years, her gracious, steadfast example of love, courage, wisdom and tenacious faith has mentored me as no other in my life. Her faithful companionship has steeled my resolve to keep going when I was often ready to quit. She's given me exponentially more than I'll ever be able to repay (not that's she's ever expected me to). She's a Proverbs 31 wife and then some.
2. Our kids, Daniel, Eslie and Alyn: I have to confess I was not the greatest father in the world. I had a load of immaturity, all sorts fears (some crippling at times), blind-spots and selfish attitudes. God in his wisdom knowing I needed extra help, graced me with a woman who was, and is still, an extraordinarily passionate, dedicated and gifted mother (grandmother too). I was amazed at her resourcefulness and creativity with loving and teaching our kids. Our kids, each with their own personality and individual set of needs showed me how small-hearted I was. Wrestling with how to be a dad revealed soon into it how I lacked gentleness and wisdom and patience. I was self-absorbed, and although I know I tried to grow into the role, and I loved them, I was still a boy emotionally. As I've had the gift of watching them grow into talented and courageous adults who have, or are overcoming their own wounds, I've been grateful for God's faithfulness and kindness. They are becoming what any father longs for: people of substance who are striving for a life well-lived. Because of them, I had to grow up and learn how to love from out of my brokenness. They've enriched my life beyond what they realize.
3. Ralph Mattson: Tricia brought me to this brilliant teacher and mentor to countless men and women. He is one of a kind. When she introduced me to him, I was fascinated, because he knew and loved art; his intellect and wealth of understanding relating to human nature and all things Christian was astonishing to me. I'd never known anybody like him. He explained the Gospel one Saturday that tipped me into the Kingdom. Over the next 10 years, he'd keep extending his spiritual friendship by countless discussions over dinner about deep things. He gave me work to do when I was in transition (The Master's School, People Management and DOMA). He revealed, and affirmed my motivational gifts. He even gave me my first leadership role in a small group of Christians and artists - me, a leader??? He saw things in me I couldn't; essential spiritual foundations were set in place through him.
4. Father Earle Fox: In my mid-30's God decided it was the appointed time for me to receive life-changing inner healing. Through a series of "coincidences," Father Fox came into my life and for a year, I was unbound from the effects of wounds which distorted how I understood my worth and power as a man. He was another brilliant man God summoned into my life to spiritually mentor me toward freedom. His manner was gentle, but resolute in helping unlock my heart. Afterwards, through his teaching, Earle set Tricia and I on a path to becoming counselors and Spiritual Directors. We experienced inner healing through him, received training, and have had the privilege of working along side of Jesus in unlocking hundreds of other hearts through inner healing.
5. Bob and Barbara Japenga: We met the Japenga's through a mutual friend when we first moved to CT, and reconnected later in a class we were teaching on Listening Prayer at The Barn. Soon, we realized we were kindred spirits regarding the Christian spiritual life especially, They are teachers, retreat leaders, spiritual directors and disciplers; people of prayer and service; mature leaders in the Church with a deep heart for Jesus and his flock. As long as I've known them, they've taught me much about grace, love, integrity, service, kindness, and generosity of all sorts. They saw me at my weakest and worst, and loved me anyway. They've been faithful friends, ministry companions (CFR Retreat Ministry which they now ably lead) and prayer warriors. Bob and Barbara modeled the Christian life for me and I'm not the same because of their gracious hearts.
6. Reverend Don Haas: I met Don in a class on the Theology of Work I was team teaching at The Barn with a friend. I did not attend the church at the time. Don was in the class. After, we got to know each other and when it seemed right to the Holy and CPC, Tricia and I were invited to take leadership of the CFR Retreat Ministry. In the next 20 years, Don became a friend. He was on the Klesis Board (Klesis was our 501(c)3 ministry through which we did counseling to support ourselves). He would frequently call me into mediation meetings with congregants. He hired me and Tricia as part-time staff. He encouraged me to become an Elder on Session. He was always supportive of our ministry at The Barn; sometimes even defending what we were doing. Through Don, I learned what pastoral care looked like from the heart. He exuded grace, humility, dignity and a deep love for Christian intellectual integrity and truth. He was a man of principle. Pastor Don provided us with a place and the means to grow individually, and through the ministry of healing and spiritual formation God gave us. Without his vote of confidence years ago, I don't know that we'd be here in Northampton.
7. Jim LaMontagne: Jim and I met at The Barn as musicians on the Worship Team. We soon found we shared a mutual interest in creative music, especially that which is innovative - taking things to another level. We also would spend time talking about church in general. Both of us had a longing for something different; something which captured the heart of the Gospel and the Kingdom, especially for people loath to darken the door of a church. That led to conversations with others. A few months after that the Holy Spirit made it clear us, our spouses, and two other couples that we were to plant imagine in Northampton. We've been partners in ministry ever since. For me, Jim has modeled a passion for the Scriptures and skillfully teaching them to others in a way which is transforming. He's also serious about the missional way of following Jesus, and being creative in doing so. He's a true friend and brother who's walked through the imagine ups and downs with perseverance, faith and good humor.
8: Rick Schoenhardt: I've known Rick Schoenhardt since before our years at the BARN. With his wife, Lynne, he has taught me about diligence, faithfulness and duty to that which matters. Rick is one of those "man's men" to me. He's a gifted, creative and gentle man who also played rugby in his 50's. He loves Jesus and has devoted a good part of his life to serving, and being a leader in the church. Rick was always willing to help with what we were doing whether he was on the CFR Support Team, the Klesis Board, serving with Lynne on retreats or praying for us. He's a man of prayer. He was consistently generous with his time and resources. I had many opportunities to learn integrity, perseverance and strength with humility from Rick. When I grow up, I want to be like Rick.
9. All the Volunteers at The Center for Renewal: There have been so many. They showed up again and again; rolling up there sleeves, diving in to get the work done on countless retreats, workdays, events we created at church, meetings, dinners and conversations. They were cheerful, can-do people who believed in the ministry, had received its benefits and wanted to give back in some way. A few of them went well above and beyond the call of duty, and repeatedly. Their servant-hearts taught me the normal Christian life was a life of good-willed service without grumbling or expecting kudos. I learned how to serve from their quiet example, and how to be served, for that matter - something always hard for me. I also got to share companionship and camaraderie with salt-of-the-earth people who loved Jesus and showed it by diving in and helping out.
If you haven't before or recently, take a minute to remember those people God sent into your life to help you grow into the man or woman he intends, and thank him for his lavish love he's shown you through them.