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: Tricia@imaginenorthampton.org.
Thanks for reading this. Thanks for praying, supporting us, and reading this blog. It all matters.