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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Finding A New Daily Rhythm; Settling Into A New Groove.

Over the last few weeks as I have been mentioning to folks about what we're experiencing in the transition from residing in Northampton to residing in Shutesbury, I've frequently used two words to describe some of what it feels like: rhythm and groove. Most of you know I'm a drummer so it mightn't be surprising I'd pick those two to explain this change. 

If you're not a musician you might be asking right now: "so what's the difference between rhythm and groove?" Well, it is one of relationship. Rhythm and groove are related, but subtly different. Both are needed to create a certain movement and "feel." Rhythm is a basic musical building block; it creates a sense of momentum. Feel is how the rhythm is interpreted and played to make it feel good, or alive, languid or compelling. Rhythm is an engine in the car; groove how pleasant it is to drive it.

Let me begin with a simple example which should be easy to see related to this idea of finding a new rhythm and settling into a new groove.  Since 1990, Tricia and I have virtually lived where we worked. In the case of the Center For Renewal Retreat House on the grounds of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Simsbury, CT, we lived in the same building as we worked: upstairs was our apartment and downstairs was the retreat space. Similarly, in Northampton, until 10 days ago, we lived on the third floor and have been working on the second floor. In both cases, we merely walked down the stairs to go to work, and back up the stairs to go home--different location same rhythm and groove.

Now, we do this weird thing many of you do called "commuting." We drive to work and drive back home and it takes 35 minutes rather than 35 seconds. That's a different rhythm, and it's not become a groove yet. But, our drive back and forth will soon become a groove when it's established or habitual; it's just part of our usual routine. It feels normal. Normal carries with it a steady predictability that doesn't have to be thought about; it's just normal. Sometimes it does feel good.

There are other parts of our life which still need to settle into a groove as we negotiate this new daily rhythm. We live again in the country and not the city. While living in Shutesbury is much more country than living in Simsbury, living at the retreat house on a 40-acre farm-turned-church surrounded by trees, next to Hop Brook, and with hills to the west, still felt like living in the country. While Northampton is a small city, we've lived right on Main Street at one of its busiest intersections and have seen it get busier and busier over the years, and well into the night, especially on the weekends. The rhythm of Shutesbury is slower, less cluttered, and at the pace of the pastoral. Settling into a groove there has already begun since it fits naturally with our sensibilities and temperaments. Stress subsides in such settings; noise abates, and quiet pervades; (especially at night, most nights). The ancient rhythms of New England woodlands still dominate as the groove.

Not only is our our working finding a new daily rhythm. By living in a quaint manse next to a small 19th century Methodist Church, we feel we're in a home, not a living space. We loved our apartment on Main Street for most of our stay, but it felt less and less a home toward the end. The groove became tired and stale. While we don't own the manse and have no idea how long we'll be there, Tricia has made it a home. She is happy there (she said as much a week ago, and I've not heard her say that in a long time), and the groove she has created reflects a rhythm of sanctuary, welcome, and a fitting design. I feel it too. I'm not displaced or a tenant. I don't and won't own it, but the Holy Spirit has given it for a time of stabilizing and I think healing as well. May it settle into a deep groove.

I feel it important to tell you our move doesn't signify that finding a new daily rhythm will be complete in the next week or two. There are other potential changes on the horizon involving how we and imagine/Northampton move forward. I will not say anything more about that now, but I will write about it soon after the picture takes shape. I know settling into a new groove ministry-wise will take some time. Stay tuned.

Lastly, I need to say something about living on the grounds of Pine Brook Camp. The ministry rhythm there is truly a camp rhythm, It has a robust ministry to kids, teens, church groups, men's and women's groups, etc. Kevin and Janet Williams are the gifted and dedicated leaders of this work (along with an able and dedicated staff, plus volunteers (some long-term), and they are more and more looking at the potential missional opportunities for working with kids who've never had the chance to experience the manifold blessings of a camp with Jesus at the center because of poverty and lack of exposure. We love that groove! 

Also, living at camp not only calms our spirits, but it puts us back in a space where the "unforced rhythms of grace" can linger for awhile, whether through the primordial beauty of God's creation, the abiding presence of prayer, worship, or by reflecting on the Person and ways of God. Just being in such a rhythm has invited us to settle into the groove which has shaped our spiritual our lives since 1985. There are an abundance of places to pray, listen, and contemplate on the 120 acres full of waterways, paths, and even an Adirondack hut or two. We'll take full advantage of that abundance this fall.

In sum, it feels like we're where we're supposed to be presently  It took awhile to get there this trying year. But being "in place" seems to me to manifest rhythm and groove at it's most fulfilling.

So while we have a way to go, we are getting used to the new rhythm and look forward to settling into a groove which will carry us forward into a deepening life with Jesus and the Kingdom mission we are responsible for.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This Move: Grace Trumped Stress In The End.

For most people, I'm sure, moves are stressful. Perhaps the exception are folks with the deepest pockets who have the luxury of paying for every bit of their move from the packing to the setting up in a new home. For the rest of us, stress is a co-pilot at least for some part of the moving ordeal.

I have to say this one is the most stressful I've ever been through, and we've moved many times in our 41 years together. We've also had loads of help at every phase, including packing, although Tricia did the lion's share of that. Age is a factor as well. Moving at 20 is felt differently than moving at 65.

In the midst of the stress was amazing grace.

To begin with, as it became clear we had to move to rebuild a financially sustainable life, we had no idea where we were going to go. We didn't have the money to just rent the next place that seemed agreeable to us. Buying was just not an option either. One option before us was to move back to Farmington, Connecticut where Tricia's mom lives and be closer to care for her. There were a number of problems associated with that, not the least of which was we'd be making an hour and 20 minute commute back and forth to Northampton. We decided we didn't want to leave our office at 70 Main Street so we could continue our missional work there, especially the imagineART gallery and imagine/Northampton Church.

The next, and least plausible option, was to move to the my Mother-in-law's summer house in Ventnor, NJ. We would move her there with us to care for her. I would have to find some sort of job because there'd be no possibility of carrying on with imagine/Northampton. That ministry would be over for us. I could possibly build a Klesis counseling and spiritual direction ministry there, but it would take time, and we didn't have all sorts of time financially.

A third option was offered by a Christian brother, friend and Klesis Board member. He would give us an office to use in a town south of here, help me re-launch the PLAYMAKER Profile work I've done for 25 years, and make it easier for us to live in CT if that was our option. While I was intrigued by his offer, I still couldn't shake the spiritual sense we weren't supposed to leave our ministry in Northampton. In fact, every time I'd think about all of the options to move away from here I was unsettled -- not at peace whatsoever. It felt persistently out of sync with our mission even though this has been the toughest thing we've ever done, and at multiple levels. Inside me I kept hearing that something was wrong with packing up the tents and leaving completely.

Somewhere also during this time of trying to discern what the Lord wanted us to do, our friends, imagineers and co-leaders, Kevin and Janet Williams, suggested the option of living where we do now. They are the directors of Pine Brook Camp in Shutesbury, MA. On Wednesday, we moved into a lovely and remodeled (due to a burst pipe in February) manse on the property. The setting is beautiful: soaring pines, wetlands and trails crisscrossing the 120 acre camp. It's similar to where we lived in Simsbury only more rustic and country. It feels like home. God used Kevin and Janet to get us there. It fits for such a time as this.

So last week was moving week. 11 days ago today, we rented a UHaul truck and moved all our boxes to hold down costs. Seven of our friends came to help us move, imagine and non-imagine folks, including a young homeless man we know. We were stressed because we had very little money. We were moving on faith with a budget cut to the bone, not counting pennies, but we were both paying close attention to every dollar. Everyone worked really hard schlepping moderate to heavy boxes and large plants down three flights of steps. There was sweating going on. Boxes were still being packed as we were loading. After about 3 hours we headed to Shutesbury and unloaded. That part of the process was easy.

Phase One accomplished.

Phase Two commenced on Wednesday the 13th. Similar to the financial concerns we'd had with the box move, we knew this leg of our move would be expensive because we'd hired a local moving company, and up until the day before we didn't have the money at all. Grace would not be deterred by our lack, however. A few weeks earlier a dear couple we've come to know and love as friends since moving to Noho, mentioned they'd be blessed to help us financially. We accepted the idea of it being a loan, and let it sit there until we had a clear idea of how to accept their kind offer. The Sunday before the move, I felt the Spirit prompt me to ask for a certain amount to pay for the truck and related expenses. I contacted my friend, and he responded with great grace and encouragement. Not only that, but he and his wife invited us to a delicious French toast and bacon breakfast on the patio at their home in Connecticut the next day. Here's where grace silenced our stress and fear. When my friend handed me a check he said firmly to "consider this a gift and not a loan." Grace blew us away and lightened our load. We did not expect it. God's friendly graciousness is always far more than I imagine.

As some of you might remember, on the 13th it was raining to beat the band, one of those tropical downpours we get occasionally. Stress reared its ugly head through the storm because of our concern for the furniture getting wet and the logistics of the day. It was a true gullywhomper! While we assumed they'd take precautions for the weather, our furniture would not be hermetically sealed. Fortunately, these guys were professionals and did a great job protecting our stuff. A team of 4  arrived on time and began the substantial task of climbing and descending 38 steps to fetch our furniture and bring it to the moving van parked around the corner on Pleasant Street. They were coordinated and it only took a little under 2 hours. When they arrived in Shutesbury to unload, the rain was beginning to subside, and with the exception of a short climb up the stairs to our bedrooms, the way into the house was on level ground. Again, they were efficient and thorough; the only breakage we experienced was with stuff we'd moved ourselves a few days before. At the end of the day, we felt relief; grace stubbornly abided.

Perhaps most stressful was the unexpected news we'd receive early the next morning. Where we live there is no cellphone service so we were out of touch. We didn't have internet yet either. On Thursday, our plan was to head back to Northampton to clean up the apartment for the landlord walk-through. As we were on our way, Tricia was looking at her text messages and she gasped. Her mom had a stroke the previous night and was in Hartford Hospital. Stress and fear returned with a vengeance. Her plans changed immediately. She dropped me off at the apartment and headed for Hartford where she'd spend the night with her mom in the hospital. But grace would not be silenced or deterred. On Tricia's end, it would come in the form of the news it was a minor stroke related to medication, and her mother could go home. On my end, it came in the form of imagineers Emilia B., Karen P., and Karen S. who showed up to help put our vacated apartment in shipshape for the new tenants who we thought would be moving in the next day. I was told the landlord would do the walk-through in the afternoon, so we had to keep a good pace in our cleaning. We pulled it off; grace silenced my stress.

The walk-through ended up not happening.

By 4:30 I was shot and overwhelmed by the abundant disorder -- which seems to always pervade moving -- magnified by not knowing if we'd have the financial resources to cover everything. I've mentioned before my ADD and introversion which persistently makes even normal life an adventure (ask Tricia), so all my emotional, relational, and spiritual circuits were blown. Wonderful friends earlier in the day had offered to take me back to Shutesbury, or spend the night with them. I just couldn't do either. I was spent. I just needed to hole-up in solitude to unwind so I chose to sleep in Tricia's office. Tricia had graciously left stuff for me to clean up in the morning in the office. It would work out fine. So, I watched a movie and went to sleep with a towel as a blanket.

Stress hadn't left the building just yet, however. I woke up before sunlight, and decided it would be a good idea to check the 3rd-floor apartment one more time. So up I went. It looked fine, back down the stairs I went and as I heard the apartment door close behind me, I had that terrible  "Oh no!" feeling overtake me. I realized I'd left my keys upstairs and now not only could I not go get them, but I couldn't get back in the office to clean up. A friend of mine was meeting me at 8 to bring coffee and a donation. So, I would greet him wearing the wrinkled clothes I'd slept in, a 3-day stubble, greasy hair matted to my head, and the fact I'd not showered since yesterday morning and had sweated all day cleaning. So, I sat at the top of our landing for an hour and a half. I was stressed and self-conscious, but grace prevailed.

Our talk was pleasant. He laughed with me at my predicament. After he left, another friend brought over bread and homemade soup. I know she's never seen me like that, but it wasn't awkward or weird. After she left I called my landlord who was coming into town and he gave me the keys so I could get back in the office. By mid-morning, I heard from Tricia that mom was recovering almost back to normal, and she was coming to get me so we could go home. While stress intruded, grace remained.

Stress is a bully; grace is astounding and freeing. It prevails because God is good and kind and caring. Grace dissipates stress if we let it, but even if we don't, it shows up to make a level playing field, untie the knots, release the captives, and restore God's order. Grace causes us to breathe easier and return to faith-infused hope.

Stress steals; grace restores.

As I mentioned earlier, while a fair amount of our experience in Northampton (especially the last 2 years) has been fraught with troubles, worries, and frustrations, grace has never abandoned us because Jesus has never abandoned us. Moves are stressful for most people, but when I think of the forced diaspora of entire people groups around the world today, our moving troubles were "light and momentary."

Grace trumped our stress in the end. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

T-minus 5 Days Until Moving: Some Thoughts.

I'll bet you've noticed during certain moments of clarity that life can have an unexpected, unforeseen symmetry sometimes. Things line up just so; the end of something fits its beginning; what you experienced in one context you experience exactly again later, as if bookends.

In five days, Tricia and I will move out of our 3rd floor apartment at 70 Main Street never to reside there again. But we will still keep our offices and the imagineART Gallery at 70 Main Street on the 2nd floor. When we came to Northampton we began in an office on Armory Street owned by the same landlord who owns the 70 Main Street building, but we lived in Sunderland for the first year. Now, we will live in Shutesbury but remain at our office in Northampton.

It's as if God sees it as more vital we work in Northampton than live in Northampton. Our work is not finished here (sometimes it feels it's barely commenced).

Truth be told, we loved living in Sunderland. Living on Main Street in Noho also has had it's benefits, for sure: close proximity to interesting stores and restaurants, having the freedom to walk rather than drive everywhere, getting to know people who live and work in town, and being able to experience some of the life that comes from living in such a vibrant place.

Reality is we've lived half of our married life at a retreat center on the lovely grounds of a church before we headed north to plant imagine/Northampton. The grounds maintained a pastoral feel and pace, at least for us residing toward the back of the property. So going to live on the grounds of Pinebrook Christian Camp will offer a similar pastoral feel. We'll be in the country for sure! Yeah, there'll be 35 minute drive to the office; we'll have to manage our schedules, pack a lunch, stay late for meetings and gallery duty...wait a minute, that sounds like what normal working folks do every day. Hmmm. We've rejoined the "great madding crowd!" We'll negotiate the change.

There'll be adjustments, I know -- some pleasant, some not so. We'll get used to a different rhythm and pace. There'll also be some lovely blessings like Fall in the woods, not being awakened at 3AM by someone saturated with alcohol and "good times" had, not listening to ambulance, firetruck or police car sirens blasting 3-5 times per day (I know they are necessary), and being able to walk in the woods for exercise and communion with God.

Just living in a house again will be refreshing and welcomed. While we've enjoyed our Main Street-in-the-center-of town apartment, and prayed we'd live on Main Street before we came to Noho, we are ready to leave it for someone else to enjoy. We won't own the house, but it will give us a sense of sanctuary and peace because of where it is and because it will be our home for a time. We get to leave the hustle and bustle of our small city for a setting which will bring a needed measure of balance and internal quietness. We might even normalize a bit. Well, that maybe going too far, but we'll find another rhythm to offset our Northampton rhythm.

I think we both look forward to that.

Also, multiple thank you's to Kevin and Janet Williams for offering the possibility in the first place, and the Pinebrook Camp Board for supporting it! And thanks for folks who got the place spruced up after substantial water damage last winter, especially Janet, and Kevin's dad, Dick Williams. I also heard a rumor some unnamed folks chipped in to help as well. Wow! Lastly, we want to thank beforehand the people who'll help us move boxes tomorrow. We are wonderfully graced by your generosity to us!

Five busy days more and the next chapter of our Kingdom journey will begin to be written!