When does a winning team look like losers?

At recess, I was never the first one chosen for a team but I wasn’t the last either. It was awkward for everyone when the numbers of kids left was down to three or four. I can only imagine the anxiety of wondering if you’d be chosen on knowing that you’d be picked last. Again.

I’ve noticed businesses are using the word team more these days. People are part of the sales team or team associates. We like to think we are working together, individuals functioning as a unit for the common good. If you’re not a team player, you’re on your own and that can be a lonely place.

band team

our daughter far right

Early Salvation Army musicians

Early Salvation Army musicians

The closest I’ve come to being part of a traditional team is singing in the choir at school and church or playing in the band. We each have our parts to play or sing but we are only at our best when are parts are played collectively.

Since working with folks in the recovery community, I’ve learned even more of the importance of a team. We require our men to get sponsors and attend 12-Step meetings apart from the groups and classes we offer in house. We do this to ensure they are surrounded by others who have been where they are. But a team only works when we call on each other.

This week we’ve brought a few of those men with us to a week long bible conference in the mountains of North Carolina. We’re going with a couple of hundred more who are looking to change our team name from loser to winner. We know it’s doable because Jesus has made a winning team out of losers for thousands of years.

He’s chosen to use the broken-hearted, the grief-stricken, the last one picked, the prescription pill addict, the heroin user, the former professor, the divorced, the childless, the lonely and hurt. He’s chosen all of us first and makes us the best when we follow his voice.

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 1:9 NLT

 

Will you sit in the quiet with me?

Lake Junaluska

Lake Junaluska

Then Jesus went again to walk alongside the lake. Again a crowd came to him, and he taught them. Matthew 2:13 the Message

Perhaps it is fitting we are alongside a lake this week. Perhaps we have been pulled away from the interstate commutes and city lights to sit by this lake or walk its curves in the quiet morning mist.

A crowd has come to this lake to be taught, refreshed and filled with life-giving words. We have come to gain a deeper knowledge of Jesus and what it is like to walk with him wherever we are.

Lake Junaluska

In Jesus’ time, water carried more importance than scenic beauty. It provided transportation and carried sound. In some instances, Jesus’ voice could be carried to people on the other side of the lake. The lake was where he called some of his disciples who were fishermen. Jesus told them he would make them fishers of men.

For us, this lake provides a 3 mile walk around it. It offers a peaceful calm in its gently moving water and a magical reflection of the dusk sky.

I wonder if there is more to it than a backdrop?

IMG_5129

Is it a reminder of Jesus calling us to follow him? Is it a prompt of the masterful creation at the breath of God? Does its stillness evoke an inner peace and bring to mind the Psalmist words telling us  “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.” Psalm 23:2, 3a (NLT)

We are in this mountain region, surrounded by elevations and a landscape foreign to our home. We are on a retreat that allows us to forget the realities awaiting us at home:  decisions that will have to be made, the bills that are waiting to be paid, arguments that have yet been settled.

We are here to silence those distractions so we can better hear Jesus calling us. One by one, our names he calls wanting us to walk with him. And as we walk, to learn from him.

Today, my reminder of Jesus’ calling my name is a lake. What is he using to call your name today?

We’re going to be Sherpas for the week

We are pastors; clergy, ministers, preachers, how ever your faith tradition defines the role of ordained minster, that defines our vocation. Both of us. Pastor and pastor. We demonstrate this in different ways using gifts uniquely given to us.

Our congregation is 99 men living in a residential facility, most fighting the disease of addiction, some fighting the disease of poverty, poor education and lost hope. All have lost their way through various means but found our doors, we believe, through divine leading.

This will be our 12th consecutive year of leading a small group of these men from our door to the mountains of North Carolina where the mist hangs low creating the smoke-like look that names them the Smoky Mountains. We’ll join a larger group for an annual bible conference.

As I thought about this annual trek I wondered how similar we might be to Sherpas. Maybe it’s because I recently saw the movie Everest and it’s still fresh in my mind but our main task is to lead this group of men to greater heights.

In our case, we will literally be leading our group to greater heights. But in our everyday, we aim to stretch ourselves to reach greater heights in life: to finish the program, to fulfill the requirements, to learn new thinking, to trust God as your higher power.

smoky mountains

Smoky Mountains

Lake Junaluska

There are four main tasks for Sherpas

1. Set up camp (arrangements for the event)

Since we can only take a small group of men, a selection process has to be made based on certain criteria including the affirmation of supervisors and counselors. Registrations are sent in, transportation arranged and rooms reserved. A schedule for the week is put into place that will ensure a balance of activities.

2. Responsbile for the groups safety

A Sherpa knows the way. They have traveled it before. They know the paths that are steep and curves that are sharp. They draw on their experience to alert those in their care.

We prepare our group for the winding hills and steep road leading to their hotel and the twisting roads they will encounter where we’ll be staying for the week. We’ve made certain the drivers are qualified and prepared. As much as we can do ourselves to see to their safety, we do, including praying for God’s provision.

3. Support them along the trek

This week the support is easy. They understand the opportunity given them. It’s not an obligation. They want to be part of this event.

Supporting throughout the long haul of recovery is more challenging. There are ups and downs and disappointments that can’t be solved with a platitude or easily prayed away. The wreckage of the past lurks behind the figurative blind curves.

But there will be challenges this week too. The challenge to go higher is scary with a million ‘What If?’ fears screaming in their heads. Our support will need to be more tangible than a reassuring hug. We will need to walk beside them up the mountains they need to climb.

Sherpa from Google images

Sherpa from Google images

4. Lead them to the summit

This is the scary part for me. I have a fear of heights. I have to stand far back from the edge to enjoy the majestic view from the mountaintop. Knowing that I’ll never make it alone, I need to remember none of us are expected to climb alone. It’s dangerous. That’s why only the elite Sherpas climb the summit with the group.

I don’t put myself in the elite group but rather the experienced group. I’m part of a group that has climbed and not reached the summit and some days it feels like the summit keeps moving farther from view. But I know that through supporting another I am encouraged to continue the climb.

This week we won’t be wearing our uniforms, or working in our office or warehouse. We won’t look like Sherpa’s either but we’ll be leading a group to reach higher, go a little further and let God reveal to us the joys of following Him.

The best thing the Olympics does for us

Rio Olympics

We found our spaces on the sectional in the living room. The five of us spanning three generations going from a comfortable recline to leaning forward, voices calling out, “GO! GO! GO!” as if the swimmers could hear our chants. Sometimes our voices erupted in cheers and other times the descending sounds of “oooohhhhh”.

When the cyclist struck the curb,biking flying in the air as she tumbled from of her bike and landed in a crumpled heap on the ground, we let out a collective moan and sat in silence a moment before we quietly started talking about how serious this looked. She wasn’t “our” athlete we were cheering. I didn’t even know what country she represented but we all were captured in the moment, united in our hopes she wasn’t seriously injured.

In the victories, defeats, amusement and concerns we are pulling together.

olympic-rings

Do you find this true in your family or with your friends? Are you watching together or recounting the highlights with your co-workers the next day?

At times this year, it has felt like our world was pulling apart. Politicians are focusing on our differences as they yell across the aisle and television screens at each other.

We want special privileges for this group and that. Special needs aren’t only reserved for physical or mental challenges but gender and faith, rich and poor. Because you live here and not there or you’re over this age.  There’s an exemption for this and an excuse for that.

We have labeled ourselves with so many diagnoses and designations that we are no longer seen. We are hidden by these descriptors.

The Olympics reminds us we are united. We watch the stories of the athletes, we see the different lives they’ve come from but we put these differences aside because we know for these two-weeks we are all one. We will cheer for people whose names we don’t know until they’re flashed on the screen. We will watch events we have no interest in but they are our fellow countrymen and we are for them. And being for them doesn’t mean we hate those from other countries.

We needed this Olympics, in the middle of a tragic summer and divisive political season. We needed to be reminded of the commonality we share as Americans. as humans as citizens of the world. We needed to have reason to cheer and celebrate.

It would be nice to end this with how Christ Jesus unites us. (Ephesians 2:12-14) But we aren’t united in our beliefs or our faith. Even in this arena barbs are hurled at opposing views. We can pick a good fight, alright.

So I’ll take this couple of weeks when it seems like we’re all on the same side. When our voices sound as if we’re cheering for the same team. I’ll take this moment when we put our differences behind us and peel off the labels that separate us. For the moment, we’re united. Maybe we can get to like this. Maybe we can learn not to wait 4 four years to pull together again.

I have a choice and today I choose happy

sunrise in our neighborhood

The quiet calm of our neighborhood in the early morning
The sun peeking over the palms
The mist hanging above the green of the ball field

Happy

The emails from friends far away
The text from family
The voice of a friend

Happy

The ocean lapping around my ankles
The umbrella shielding us from the sun
The rain that will blow hard and green our yards
The thunder that will remind me of summer storms of my childhood

Happy

ocean

A1A at the Atlantic Ocean

A1A at the Atlantic Ocean

lily S and kk happy

We know happiness because we’ve been touched by sadness. One making possible the other and both reminding us we are made to feel. In both emotions I celebrate the feeling rather than numbing.

Sitting on the front porch with family
Giggles from our granddaughter
watching birds flutter on the feeder

Happy

I read one time that happiness is a choice and I believe that. Some days it’s a hard choice and some days I make the wrong choice. We have had a lot of sadness lately. Untimely and tragic deaths, quarrels and hurt feelings…these have left me with the sting of sadness and rightfully so. There will be other times when happiness is the right choice. Even challenging times where I can still choose happy over anger.

Today is new and unknown.
The sun brings promise even as laundry whirls in the washer and errands run.

Maybe the unknown is the best time to choose happy. To ready our smile and set our eyes with an expectation of good to be found. To get away from the news and remember today is a gift.

In this moment I have, I’m choosing happy. Maybe my choice will be contagious because I believe happy spills over to those around us.

Linking up with Kate Motaung at Five-Minute Friday

What If You Don’t Make it to the Mountaintop?

We live at 8’ above sea level. The roads are straight and long, going directly north or south with our hills being concrete overpasses.

Of course, we want to climb mountains. We want to climb where the air is different. where the terrain leads up to new views from heights we’ve not seen.

mountaintop

mountain

Mt. Lincoln

Colorado Mt. Lincoln

Four of us set out to climb one of the 14-ers, one of the peaks in Colorado that reaches 14,000 feet or higher. Our husbands had previously climbed two of these majestic crests. This time we were joining the hike. We were up before the sun for the hour drive to our starting point. We needed to get an early start before the afternoon clouds formed on the mountains and the threat of lightening became dangerous.

We bundled our Florida bodies up in layered hoodies and scarves. We had hiking poles to steady us on this rocky path with it’s steep elevation. We had prepared and we were ready. Or so we thought.

rocky trail Paul

clouds on the mountain
It started with sleet. The icy drops that are thicker than rain started like a tease. Maybe it will pass. The winds picked up and the sleet turned to snow and what little path there was, was now covered with wet snow. We kept walking, up toward that mountain top because that’s where you want to go. The top. That’s where life is good and you feel the real rocky mountain high.

My sister-in-law and I had to stop and bend over to anchor ourselves against the strong winds. Walk, stop, walk some more. We must have looked like ink spots slowly moving up this mountainside now white with the first snowfall on the peaks this summer.

We looked toward the summit and all we could see were clouds. Our view was limited to about 30 yards.

white out conditions

white out conditions

We never made it to the top. The winds got stronger and our visibility less. We found a spot to take shelter and survey the situation.

I wan’t fearful because I wasn’t alone. But I was cautious and not willing to suffer a foolish decision made by sea level living people.

We failed in what we set out to accomplish. It would have been nice to reach the top, to feel the satisfaction of accomplishment. Instead, we came down, quickly.

We use this metaphor for life. Reach higher. Leave the valley, climb the mountain.

What if you don’t make the mountaintop? What if you fail to reach the top? 

G.K. Chesterton said: “One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.”

We didn’t make the mountain top. But we saw great things.  We made memories. We tested ourselves, our determination and our common sense. We made decisions for the group not individuals. We didn’t look at it as defeat or failure but an incredible experience, a new adventure.

To personalize a verse from Psalm 23, even when we walked through the rock-filled valley with high winds and darkening clouds, even then we were not afraid because you were with us. Even when we didn’t reach the top, you were there.

In the valley as on the mountain, He is with us.

Linking up with Holley Gerth for some Coffee for Your Heart today.

Learning to live after all these years

 

I don’t abide well.

We moved. A lot. And when you move, you don’t rest, you don’t settle. Roots can’t dig in, and growth stunts when we don’t remain. It took me many years to realize some of the effects of this wandering.

Making friends doesn’t come easy.

Once you realize the pattern of moving, you’ll spend six months in this state and then six months in another, you don’t put effort into making friends. Seeing the point of making new friends, when you probably won’t be there to finish the school year or to start the next, feels like more than you can handle.

You don’t know how to say goodbye.

The first unexpected move came over Christmas break. Our parents packed up the family, moved us to a new town, and we never returned. There were no goodbyes to friends. Social media wasn’t around, and there was no texting, Snapchat, Periscope or Facebook.

The other moves weren’t as dramatic but still came with little notice. When newspapers from other towns started arriving at our house we knew we’d soon be packing and moving by the end of the semester.

No goodbyes … just leaving.

 

 

Expectations are minimal.

Whatever my expectations might have been, they became lost in the rearview mirror. The only thing to expect was another move. The expectations of getting involved in school groups or the community remained minimal. The one constant was church. It would be the one thing I counted on.

When this happens in your teenage years, it takes time to figure out why you have trouble trusting. And why you crave friendships so much. Mostly, you want to stay in one place.

To read more, hop over to the Middle Places blog where I’m guest posting.

 

What if we look for hidden talents in others today?

 

hidden talents

Have you looked furiously around your house for your glasses? The ones that are hidden in plain view on your head? Or your phone that was right there a minute ago but now it’s hidden in your pocket!

Some things are obvious. And others are hidden inside the ordinary, the every day.

What if we look for hidden talents today? The acts of kindness that need celebrated a little more because this world needs something to celebrate.

Instead of rushing through life, what if we slowed down and noticed the sales clerk who was especially helpful? The teachers who work for little except their desire to help change lives?

What if we focused on the times our children shared with each other or said please and thank you without being coaxed?

What if we noticed these every day things that are hidden right in front of us?

Walking the beach give us the opportunity to see hidden talents of courage. This woman stood in the water, each arm holding on to braces to help support her. Her spirit caught my attention and I told her how she inspired me. Her accent was thick, Russian perhaps, but her smile could hide her delight in living life on her terms.

These joys may feel hidden in a world that screams angry with violence. But we can drown out the noise when we look for the quiet kindness. We can make room for hope when we allow grace to be seen.

Linking up with Kate Motaung as she hosts a weekly free-writing party called Five-Minute Friday. Stop by Kate’s to read other perspectives on this weeks word prompt.

How to turn lost into a detour

Before GPS and SmartPhones there were maps. These big, bulky, paper things that once unfolded could never be refolded flat again.

As a child, I remember pulling into a rest stop where daddy would open the map, look at the routes then tuck the map away until our next stop. It seemed he always knew where were going.

Years later, but still before GPS and technology, the bound US maps lay in my lap as Henry asked me to find a route we could take from this little ghost town in somewhere Arizona to get back to the main road so we could make our destination for the day. Find a shortcut, please.

The map clearly defined a road but it didn’t indicate that a hundred yards or so down the road the pavement ended. We were now driving on a hard, rocky, red Arizona dirt road. But we went on. And on. And on.

The further the road stretched, the farther from civilization (and any life form) we got. I felt lost. He felt like it was adventure.

With a 5 and 6-year old in our minivan I started going through the mental list: we have a cooler full of ice which means we have water should we end up here over night. We’ll be okay. And we were.

detour

NearPerkinsvilleAZ_edited-1

flat tire

After a flat tire and following  this rocky road very slowly on our donut spare, we saw trees, then a homestead or two and, finally, a road sign.

I saw an potential problem. I knew we were lost but to my husband, it was merely a detour. When the road split and we had to decide right or left, I think he felt a wave of excitement. He calmly said, “I’m left handed so let’s go left.” We’ll never know if we’d taken the right if that would have led us to the highway faster. There are times where there’s not a wrong or right. There is a faster or slower, or better or best or just this way or that.

We can wring our hands and fret and get caught up in the feelings of lost. I’ve felt that way a lot in my life. Or we can take a breath and realize we’ll be okay. We have enough for now and now is all we need.

We’ve told this story over and over, showed the photo of the shredded tire and laughed about it with our kids. It’s one of many stories of detours and vacation mishaps. Some detours have been metaphors. They’ve altered the expected course of our lives.

Detours aren’t planned. But they can’t be avoided.  We can navigate them with faith that leads us from lost to found.

Learning to accept help is learning to be humble

help

Big are small, heavy or light, we carry the load alone. We are proud Do-It-Yourself-ers. No help needed, thanks.

People have been quick to offer a hand. They see my hands full and the call comes out, “Need some help?” No, I’ve got it, was my typical reply. I was the boss. I could carry my load too. That’s what I thought I was showing. I thought I was letting them know I wasn’t too big, too proud, too full of myself that I couldn’t carry a few things or move something.

I grew up with strong women and other than a bug squashing here and there and gutting fish, we could do things ourselves. There’s not much harder than giving birth, so trust me, I’ve got this.

Until the day my son saw me decline the offer of help to carry things that were clearly awkward to manage. Mom, you need to let them help. They want to.

I’ve learned to accept help with the physical things. I acknowledge my limitations as I recognize the need to allow others to help.

But I still resist asking for help with the deeper things. The things below the surface that others don’t see. The battle with depression and mood swings. The negative self talk. The trap of comparison. Those things are the heavier burdens to bear.

The Beatles had it right when they sang:

Help! I need somebody
Help! Not just anybody

I need the help of Jesus. I need to recognize he often chooses the most unlikely to be my help.

Humility comes in the bended knee, the silent prayers and the acceptance of help.

“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” Matthew 6:2-4 the Message

Linking up with Five-Minute Friday host, Kate Motaung, as she gives the word and we go. Join us!