Intentionally walking with others, helping them grow deeper in their faith, becomes transformative when we make space to notice others particularly. For it is in the conditions of lives shared, honored, noticed, and enjoyed—that is, friendship—that something of the Spirit’s nurturing grace is imparted to us and through us to others. This noticing involves expecting God to work in the lives of those around us. In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson points out that we must cultivate a sense of expectancy when it comes to helping our community mature and grow. Peterson writes,
It is quite a deal when you discover something new from something familiar. You may have driven by that section of the forest a 110 times, and yet this time you noticed that one particular tree slightly hidden but somehow on this one day more obvious than all the others. The unique color and type set it apart from the rest. It is so obvious. Makes you wonder why you had not really seen it before. Your perspective of that familiar bush is slightly and refreshingly different because of the one very obvious tree that caught your attention.
It is helpful from time to time to take a closer look in order to see the tree in the forest. And when we do it often has the capacity to change the way we see the forest, making it seem refreshingly new.
I would like to have a dollar for every conversation I have with a friend, a facilitator of one of the VP3 processes, a pastor or leader, and even with myself, around “what are you thinking about for next steps?”
Deep in the DNA of my spiritual life, and therefore the lens I see others’ personal spiritual DNA, and also the “BIG C” life of the church, is that we ought to be thinking about our next steps for growth. There are always next steps. Jesus talks about things that grow all the time. There is an expectation that we, too, will grow. And in my language, I’ve adopted the words, “What are your next steps?”
To a friend it may sound like, “So, what’s your next move?”
To a facilitator of The Journey process, “Are you helping each of your group participants think about their next steps after The Journey concludes?”
To a Pastor and church leader, “Are you thinking about your church’s next steps for adult spiritual growth? Do you find yourself thinking about some kind of pathway for that growth?”
Let me pull back the curtain on ways we may find our selves thinking about next step conversations.
19 years ago I followed a nudge to do what I could to help pastors and the leaders in local churches pay greater attention to the development of their adults. At the time I knew part of the concern was a leadership one, and so much of what I put my hand to was couched in the language of “leadership development.” And, in some respect, I was on to something.
The word kairos means a moment in time. It holds a different meaning than chronos, which is how we typically think of time in terms of a sequence of seconds, minutes and hours ticking along. Kairos has more to do with a right opportunity, or a ripe season, or the progression of something toward a perfect moment in time or even striking the right moment. This week five amazing people from the VantagePoint3 tribe came together to begin a timely learning opportunity for their continued growth as leaders. They are part of a creative cohort approach to seminary education sponsored by Sioux Falls Seminary called The Kairos Project.
How many times have you heard yourself saying, or thinking,
“I don’t think I’m going to go to (fill in the blank).”
And then, you summon the energy, obedience, or heart to show up.
Later you hear yourself saying, or thinking, “I’m glad I went.”
What’s that all about?
I think I know the answer.
I’ve been reading comments included in The Journey assessments we have received at VP3.
Here’s a few that stood out:
“Once again I am faced with the fact that I cannot make this earthly journey alone.
I see saints all around me and know that they have a story that would shock me and yet a story that God wrote, is writing, and is totally IN!!!
Understanding that each of us has a unique story makes me so much more accepting of all people….everyone has some kind of battle.”
Susan (my wife) and I decided to tag team leading a Journey group in our church. Seven strong women (Judy, Jayme, Carla, Hannah, Rebekah, Andrea, Susan) as well as Seth and myself (we felt much less strong at times) made up our group. Everyone who leads a VP3 group believes they have the best one, and that would be true in my case. We quickly became a trusted community, learning more fully who we were as persons in the good company of each other.
Something shifts during the narrative sharing time. And it shifted for us. A level of honesty surfaced from the fathoms of our lives…an honesty that brought with it stories of visions and broken dreams, accomplishments and failures, cozy places and harsh desserts, influential heroes and painful abusers. All of it somehow used as tailored curriculum by the Spirit of God to etch out who we really are, and to prepare us for what is yet to come.
What caught my attention when Hannah shared her story was her written prayer–a prayer that reflected her courage to question and to confess. Hannah agreed to share a part of her story and her prayer. May both be a reminder of the One who draws near in those vulnerable moments of honesty.
My brother is one of my favorite persons. Over the past many years he has been an odd blend of friend, priest, absolute favorite guitar player, and sometimes has even played well the role of annoying brother.
One time he said to me, “I think there are rare moments when we are so in-step with the Holy Spirit that it is like cutting through paper with scissors without squeezing the blades together. When all you need to do is lightly push.”
I feel like I’m swimming in the dark.
On a moonless night, my frail arms and legs thrash about in black despair.
I can’t see where I’m going or where I’ve been.
I can’t see the danger lurking beneath the surface,
but I know it’s there.
I am terrified of losing what little independence I have left.
I grope for a glimmer of purpose to keep me afloat, but I cannot find it.
Floundering. Gasping for air. In thick water I can feel but cannot see.
Then I sense your voice speaking to me stirring my soul:
“Look up, child. Put your feet on the rock bottom.
It is solid ground. Holy ground. Stand up and live.”
My mother-in-law is 88 and the small role my husband and I play in the fabric of care for her is spending Sunday afternoon into evenings together. We most often pick her up and bring her the 15 miles back to our home. She seems to really enjoy our intentional conversations about things from the past, and when I include any kind of squash in the dinner menu. Until a couple years ago she was living pretty well. But dementia is having its way with her and to be honest, conversation can be an uncomfortable task. She is many times in the room, but not really with us. It seems.
On several occasions we have been startled when we are talking “about” Mom only for her to say, “I’m right here,” in a gentle yet disappointed voice.
This “I’m right here” is at first embarrassing. It feels like getting caught sneaking or hiding. And then taken another step, her catching us doing this, grounds us in the reality and the mystery that we just don’t know what all IS going on inside her changing cognitive function. Her voice saying, “I’m right here,” wakes us up and humbles us.
”Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or dismayed and do not be afraid.”
This entry is for women. Or anyone who dearly loves a woman.
Christmas is not an easy season for us. I’ve joked that Christmas would not “happen” were it not for women because we add a lot more during the Advent season.
At 55, I have some Christmas seasons under my belt. I have over-bought, over-wrapped, under slept, over-done to impress my neighbors, over written Christmas letters (always in January) and generally buried myself in to-do lists.
I have planned infinite family meals, been to three grocery stores in a day to get all the right ingredients for each special person I love, attended Christmas programs and luncheons, arranged travel and coordinated multiple schedules for loved ones. I’ve changed a lot of bedding and one year hosted five dogs at one time when “they all came home” with their pets in tow. In doing so, I have hurried myself into a short fuse with those I love the most and come out with a fraction of the focus on Jesus I desire.
I am certain this is not the goal. I’m a slow learner, but I’ve been making some adjustments over the years to help me focus on what matters most through this Advent season. My prayer is that you, too, will adjust so that you can see more of Jesus in your days.