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Monday, July 28, 2014

Rounding The Bend Toward Hope.

Proverbs 13:12 avers plainly: "hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." I have experienced the first half of the text excruciatingly in my early 20's, and less so, but still painfully, since the turn of 2014 when it felt the bottom began to drop out of our lives in Northampton.

While certainly not a "perfect storm," the collusion of paying work slowly, but steadily evaporating leading to a deepening debt, and imagine/Northampton not growing - in fact losing folks - made our welfare increasingly worrisome and clearly in jeopardy. With each month, we fell further and further behind financially. Pressure mounted, joined by a growing anxiety, even terror in the deep of the night when we couldn't sleep. When challenged to look at other strategies for solving our problems, I could settle on no consistently clear direction forward given the abiding sense in my spirit we were not to call it quits completely in Northampton.  And the spiritual warfare was fierce: obstruction, confusion, accusation, intimidation, feeling adrift and alienated, fatigue, thoughts of ruin, deep shame, spiritual dryness to the point of disengagement and despair. Some days it was just one thing; other days we were bombarded; sometimes there were brief oases of relief, but not for long. We cried out to Jesus often and prayed consistently for solutions.

The worst of it really has been miserable and frightening...and very lonely. Unless you've been there, it's hard to relate. When the slope turns increasingly slippery, whereas before it was moderately challenging, i.e., you still felt your footing was sure, your heart can begin to listen to the sickening insinuations of despair/ radical heartsickness. Those vile thoughts will come. When they pick up the pace and persist, hope can be snuffed faster than you might realize; it depends on how much stability you've gotten used to, even taken for granted. When despair-laced heartsickness settles in because your desire (or even just being able to keep on top of the ordinary responsibilities and routine obligations of life) is increasingly frustrated or turned aside, fear can sink into terror late at night, and despair can endarken even the most intrepid of souls.

However, to give perspective,, I'd be woefully remiss if I overlooked certain friends and brethren who reached out to us in support, counsel, commiserating, prayer and bolstering. The imagine Board met more than once, but also spent personal time walking with us as we wrestled with what frequently felt like impending disaster and ruination. One in particular, has been willing to go many extra miles with me to make a straight path forward. And the Leadership Team of imagine/Northampton, all of whom are also friends, have walked closely with us. Even some pastoral friends in the Pioneer Valley have consistently been available to talk and pray with me; they've initiated contact. Even today I got a phone call from a man of God checking in; yesterday as well. People have let us know through phone calls, emails, unexpected financial gifts, and words of encouragement that we're not forgotten.

So while our 8-month long, dark night of the soul has enshrouded us in spiritual feelings of intense isolation and bewilderment (when people ask what we're going through, I'll often use the word surreal to describe our experience) at times, we have not been isolated.

Thanks be to God and His servants!


The above serves as a long-winded preface to say Tricia and I feel we're beginning to round the bend toward hope. I have to express a little bit of caution in saying so, however. Since this has been one of the toughest legs of our life journey together, I do not want to assume it's going to be smooth sailing from here forward. It won't be. We still have problems to solve regarding more paying work, cutting costs, and working smarter, but we have reason to hope because we are slowly, sometimes painfully slowly (65 is not the new 35 I'm here to tell you), carving out a path forward.

One great to gift us has been our new intern, Emilia Bauer. She's been asking astute questions and putting solutions in place as to how we can be more efficient organizationally, particularly as the ministry of Klesis. It's through Klesis that we will get back on our feet, especially with PLAYMAKER. If imagine grows, we may receive a full salary, but we shouldn't depend on that happening soon. I think it can grow, but that's for later blogpost. Emilia has helped folks grow their business or ministry, and she has experienced personally the ministry God has given us to share. She wants to learn and grow and be effectual in helping the work move forward. We are very grateful for her (and her husband, Ian, who is on-board with the internship arrangement).

A second great gift is our moving to Pinebrook Christian Camp at the invitation of imagine leaders Kevin and Janet Williams and their Board. While we'll have some minor logistical challenges not living very near where we work, they are doable. And living in the country at the camp will be similar to the living at the Center For Renewal Retreat House on the 40-acre property of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Simsbury. We will be able to decompress from the "urban" life on Main Street, and get back to having a place where we can heal plus regain focus. I have loved much of the experience we've had here on Main Street in Northampton. We've met and befriended some lovely people (who we will continue to see) like Bruce and Tamar, or the folks who keep showing up to the imagineART Gallery, and the artists who've graced it's walls. Living on Main Street was right for the time we've been able to do so.

Heading toward hope very much means getting on our feet financially. As digging holes go, we've dug a whopper. We didn't want to. And in hindsight, I think God has been letting us arrive at Desperation Gulch to say: "Enough is enough! Wake up!!!" I realize we let things slide way too far thinking some sort of grand gesture from God, or the miraculous big breakthrough would show up just in the nick of time to set it all to right. Our magnificent Lord is gracious and merciful, but He's a consummate Realist also: to turn things around you need to roll up your sleeves, while trusting Me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, then hold fast to the hardscrabble faith  to get to work!

While we have not had our desire fulfilled such that we're looking at a robust tree of life right in front of us, we can spot a tiny seedling pushing up through the ground as we make changes in some areas of our journey, and stay the course in others. The stifling feeling of being isolated as you drown is not pervading.

So if it makes sense to you and the Holy Spirit:

We need your prayer and any other way you can support our work through imagine and Klesis.

We need you to hire me for a PLAYMAKER, or tell others about it.

We need you to come on a Klesis Listening in Christ Retreat, or better yet, bring a group to do that.

We need you consider joining the mission at imagine/Northampton for at least a year, and help us Help People Discover and Follow the God Who is More Than They Imagine.

We need you to become a patron of the imagineART Gallery. Ask Tricia what that entails:

Thanks for reading this. Thanks for praying, supporting us, and reading this blog. It all matters.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Challenging the Desiccating Higgledy-Piggledy.

I've been meaning to write for awhile. But writing at all takes presence and peace of mind which has been hard to maintain in the unrelenting higgledy-piggledy. My mind quickly fogs in the stress which has inhabited most of 2014, much of the time. To write, at least for me, requires stress be held at bay. Otherwise, my ADD hitches to the stress train and into the fog we race.

Our scenario for weeks been set by 2 questions: Will we be able to stay here in Northampton, or will we be forced to go?" Every day presents differing degrees of confusion regarding those questions from experiencing brief respites to "it's all over; let's get packing and cut our losses while we still can."

Both of us hate the emotional turmoil to be honest.

There is some clarity. We will move out of our apartment on Main Street by mid-August. The plan is to move to a house on the property of Pinebrook Christian Camp in Shutesbury about 40 minutes away. Kevin and Janet Williams who've been directors of the camp for 18 years and are members of imagine/Northampton (and the Leadership Team) have graciously offered it to us, and their Board has agreed. We will be able to catch our breath, have some room to get back on our feet financially (a great need as it's been really scary) and refocus our energies toward rebuilding.

The above move presupposes we keep the imagine offices and the imagine ART Gallery on Main Street so we're not completely displaced from the city. That way we can maintain our presence in Northampton and pursue the Kingdom mission we were called to. Our new living arrangement will be temporary until we've stabilized financially and regained our bearings. We want to come back and live in or near Northampton, but not on Main Street.

The option we're undertaking also presupposes:

1. The imagine/Northampton Church grows numerically. If it does, it will need to leave the offices and find another space. That's good, especially if we stay in Northampton. There is commitment to do so on the part of the leadership.

2. Klesis must grow and expand the ministries it offers to support Tricia and me financially: more PLAYMAKER Profiles of Motivational Design; more Listening in Christ Retreats for Groups and Immersion Retreats for individuals and couples; more counseling and spiritual direction sessions. We can also take pressure off our small church to support us. It has not really been able to since the beginning of 2014.

3. Develop Patrons for the imagine ART Gallery so we can expand the gallery's outreach and better meet it's costs, especially rent of the space. Maybe some of you would be interested; let's talk.

4. Expanding our donor base for the church, as well as for Klesis.

5. Cutting and holding down costs across the board.

If we can do all of those things by God's grace and supply we have a fighting chance of sustaining and growing the ministries. It would be fairly easy to call it a day given what we've endured. A trusted friend of mine and a Klesis Board member has graciously offered office space in another town. But each time I've considered it, my heart struggles. So much of what has been happening feels as if we're being forced from here against our wills. Sure, we've made mistakes, been dreamers sometimes, and not been as proactive as we've needed to be at times -- especially me -- but my heart kept saying "no" as if I'd stepped out of phase with my purpose for a minute. I've not fought hard enough in the places where I'm uncomfortable, but that shouldn't determine whether we leave or stay.

So I'm beginning to fight. The way I'm doing it is by leaving my comfort zone and advocating for what we need in a way I never have. I did it twice last week and plan to do more this coming week. We won't have if we don't ask. If I venture little, I gain the same - unacceptable.

Also, our landlord has graciously offered to lower the office rent by 25%. That's substantial. He wants us to stay, especially after he attended the last Arts Night Out and saw the space teeming with guests. In his own words: "I want to see the church survive in Northampton. I think it is a fine addition to the downtown." He is not a Christian.

Some friends of ours in the area will be providing monthly support which will help take the edge of. And, we are waiting for tax money our tax preparer found we are entitled to, but had not taken previously. We are also waiting for a state tax refund which will help.

We could really use your prevailing prayer on our behalf, but also your considering giving to the mission, either Klesis or imagine, if you haven't. Contact me and we can talk about it. If you are giving, stick with us until we clear these hurdles. If there are others you think would support what we're about, let them and me know so I can tell them about what God is up to here. I'd love to do that.

There is much more to do; the imagine/Northampton folks need to step up, and Klesis needs to step up. Of course, unless God builds the house we labor in vain, but I'm not convinced He has left us to our own puny building skills.